Known for its thrilling nightlife and great culinary tradition, Belgrade is often overlooked by travellers with a passion for culture and arts. However, the Serbian capital has loads to offer to each and every museum lover – from Yugonostalgia and applied arts to legacies of world-renowned scientists and writers. Here’s our selection of the must-sees as well as some lesser-known places to add to your Belgrade museum-hopping itinerary.
While the main buildings of two big hitters, the Museum of Contemporary Art (msub.org.rs) and the National Museum (narodnimuzej.rs), have been under reconstruction for years now, the good news is that their reopening is expected in late 2017 and early 2018 respectively. In the meantime, temporary themed exhibitions are held at other locations around town, including the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Belgrade City Museum (mgb.org.rs).
Museum of Yugoslav History
‘Revolution Paths’ map at the Museum of Yugoslav History © Mladen Savkovic / Lonely Planet
As one of the most visited museums in Serbia, the Museum of Yugoslav History owes its status to widespread ‘Yugonostalgia’ and the grave of socialist Yugoslavia’s lifelong president Josip Broz Tito, situated inside the museum complex. But most of all, the museum offers an often critical insight into the various aspects of life in Yugoslavia over the 20th century – from everyday life to economic ups and downs, arts, politics and so on. The permanent collection features priceless gifts that Tito received in his lifetime, such as the fragment of the Moon’s surface from the crew of Apollo 11 or the gold sabre of a Soviet commander from Stalin.
Alternative: Historical Museum of Serbia for the turbulent pre-Yugoslav history from the Middle Ages to the Kingdom of Serbia, including personal belongings of the members of Karadjordjević and Obrenović dynasties.
Museum of Science and Technology
Vintage display at the Museum of Science and Technology © Mladen Savkovic / Lonely Planet
Nope, science is not just for nerds! There are several hundreds of items on display at Belgrade’s Museum of Science and Technology that will prove you were wrong about skipping those science classes. Discover how Serbian scientists have changed our everyday lives, or visit the special part of the museum dedicated to toys and their history. Only a few streets away you’ll also find a department dedicated to the revolutionary, often bizarre but always fascinating history of medicine; it’s actually located inside a 19th-century hospital building.
Alternative: Museum of Anatomy (facebook.com/Anatomski-muzej-FVM) for an incredible collection of animal skeletons, including one of a horse that survived WWI and the Serbian army’s retreat through Albania.
Museum of Applied Arts
Seating furniture exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts © Mladen Savkovic / Lonely Planet
Whether you’re into design or perhaps fancy ancient coins, unique jewellery or even some fine old furniture, the Museum of Applied Arts is a great place for you. Its collection has more than 37,000 different kinds of objects of applied art, with the oldest one dating back to the 4th century BC. Here you can check out art events such as the Salon of Contemporary Applied Art or Salon of Architecture, and the museum often hosts temporary exhibitions on various interesting topics or the ones dedicated to Serbian artists.
Alternative: Ethnographic Museum for Balkan folk culture, from rural and urban housing and design to traditional tools and dress, including examples of national costumes from all ex-Yugoslav republics.
Museum of the Yugoslav Film Archive
Entrance to the Museum of the Yugoslav Film Archive © Mladen Savkovic / Lonely Planet
The first film in Belgrade was screened on 6 June 1896 (only six months after the world premiere in Paris), so it’s not surprising that the Yugoslav Film Archive is among the finest of its kind in Europe. The newly opened museum building in the city centre is also impressive. Here you can see the camera which originally belonged to the Lumière brothers, or Charlie Chaplin’s notorious stick, as well as tons of memorabilia from Serbian and Yugoslav movies. Don’t miss the ‘Royal Panorama’, which was especially designed in the 1880s for watching 3D pictures and is among the rare ones still functioning today.
Alternative: Museum of Theatrical Arts (mpus.org.rs) for a look at Serbian and Yugoslav drama, opera and ballet through the centuries, including over 3500 exhibits in the scenography and costume design collection.
Nikola Tesla Museum
Nikola Tesla Museum celebrating Tesla’s 160th anniversary © Mladen Savkovic / Lonely Planet
Fun fact: the great Serbian-American scientist (and Thomas Edison’s rival) Nikola Tesla spent only one day in Belgrade, way back in June 1892. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on at the Nikola Tesla Museum, where his personal belongings and technical items are displayed. This is also one of the few museums in the world serving a memorial function, as it holds the gold-coloured urn with the remains of this genius inventor. Here you can admire plenty of Tesla’s working models showing you how he just might have inspired the Star Wars lightsabers.
Alternative: Aviation Museum at the Nikola Tesla Airport for an impressive display of old and rare civilian and fighter planes, including some fine specimens from WWII and parts of the US F-117 Nighthawk downed in 1999.
Memorial Museum of Ivo Andrić
Nobel laureate’s study at the Memorial Museum of Ivo Andrić © Mladen Savkovic / Lonely Planet
The works of Ivo Andrić, Yugoslavia’s only Nobel Prize laureate for literature (1961) and one of the key Yugoslav writers and public figures, can be found on nearly every bookshelf in almost every household in Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and the rest of the region. The Memorial Museum of Ivo Andrić (mgb.org.rs) was established four decades ago and is housed in the old apartment where he lived since 1958 until his death. You can access the authentic salon and the writer’s working room, and be mesmerised by the incredible life stories behind the work of the author of The bridge on the Drina, who was also an esteemed Yugoslav diplomat.
Alternative: Museum of Books and Travel (adligat.rs) for old, rare, miniature books or exotic ones brought from faraway lands, including those made of rice, bamboo sticks, elephant excrement or even human bones.
Legacy of Petar Lubarda
Expressionist paintings at the Legacy of Petar Lubarda © Mladen Savkovic / Lonely Planet
Montenegro-born Petar Lubarda was one of the most important Yugoslav painters of the 20th century, a real game changer who created raw, powerful and extraordinary works of art. Inspired by Serbian historical themes and epic Montenegrin landscapes, his style is usually described as expressionism. His villa (kucalegata.org) in Belgrade’s Dedinje neighbourhood was neglected and damaged for quite some time, but it was eventually reopened in 2014. It has since become one of the nicest places in the city where one can enjoy modern art – a bit tricky to reach, but totally worth it!
Alternative: Paja Jovanović Museum (mgb.org.rs) for the legacy and paintings of the most famous artist of Serbian realism, including sketches, historical paintings and portraits of famous people.
Museum of Vuk and Dositej
Chronology of Serbian culture at the Museum of Vuk and Dositej © Mladen Savkovic / Lonely Planet
Introducing the life and legacy of two of the greatest personalities in Serbian culture – linguist Vuk Karadžić and philosopher Dositej Obradović – the Museum of Vuk and Dositej (narodnimuzej.rs) is located in one of the oldest parts of Belgrade. In fact, it’s housed in the city’s oldest preserved residential building dating from the first half of the 18th century. If you’re visiting in the summertime, be sure to check out its ‘Summer in the neighbourhood’ programme, which includes sleepover for kids inside the museum, coffee and the possibility to chat with older neighbours, pet-friendly tours and more.