Are Belgrade Streets Accessible?
Yes and no. Belgrade is rollable and not rollable, depending on where you are. First things first, it’s important to understand the layout of the city, because the two halves of it were built in different eras, which means that they are pretty distinct when it comes to accessibility of sidewalks and streets.
First, a Little Background
Belgrade is split into two and is separated by the Sava River, joining up with the Danube, which borders the city to the north. The western portion was built after the rise of the socialist Yugoslavia, and the structure of this part of the city is reflective of that. It’s split into blocks and is full of concrete. To me, it had a somewhat bleak feel to it. It’s also a business center and home to the large cultural and conference center known as Sava Center.
The part of the city on the east side of the river is the older section, which has been around in one form or another for many hundreds of years, originally in the form of a fortressed city, whose last representation is still standing and is called Kalemegdan Fortress. There is also an old Bohemian quarter called Skadarlija which dates from approximately the middle of the 19th century.
New Belgrade – the West Side
As the primary purpose of our trip to Serbia was to attend a conference, I chose to stay as close as possible to the conference center, surmising that we would be able to easily walk to and from, our hotel being only 1 km away. Well, we did find it to be true that we could walk to the conference center, but on the other hand, there wasn’t very much else to do on that side of the city.
There wasn’t much of anywhere to walk to or that we even could walk to from our hotel. To get to an after-party venue across the highway that the hotel was located on, we had to go an extra 1.5 km out of the way to go what should have been only .5 km.
That’s because there is a highway to cross, and the only way to cross it is via long flights of stairs or circumventing those areas and crossing at a level juncture. This proved to be an unfortunate and somewhat frustrating theme to our time there, coming up against roadblocks and needing to find an alternate route.
But happily, we did find this straight and level shot from our hotel to the conference center. And it was fun to walk through this neighborhood, where there was a large park and lots of children and parents spending time socializing after school.
Aside from not having access to many activities near our hotel, we were quite pleased with not only the hotel room but also the whole hotel. Here’s my review of IN Hotel, where we stayed. It’s located just a couple blocks from some small shops and a whole street of fun little eateries.
We were also a few-kilometers stroll away from a large park called Prijateljsva Park, bordering the river, from which the other half of the city was visible. This was a fun walk and a nice place to spend a few sunny hours.
Along this walk, you can see the river lined with clubs of all varieties. We never did check them out in the evening, when they liven up and turn on the music, but it also would have been physically inaccessible for us because of the embankment that was only accessible with stairs. If you do get down the stairs, then I’d imagine you could manage getting across the gangways to the floating buildings.
Read more about the clubs in my post on accessible sightseeing in Belgrade.
New Belgrade, as it is called, is dominated by wide expanses of roadways and highways, as alluded to earlier. There were also typically sidewalks along most streets and main roads. Though it was only those along busier roads that the more reliable in terms of relative smoothness and presence of curb cuts. However, most of the sidewalks that we used weren’t necessarily smooth and were definitely in need of repair, though usable.
The good thing was, that the busier roads that we used also had bike lanes, which was surprising and welcome, as they were in much better shape than the sidewalks, and Michael could easily and smoothly roll along them.
Another point in regard to the wide roadways, is that the crossings were often rough. There are often tracks to cross because of the use of trolleybuses and trams, and wide and rough roadways sometimes made it challenging to get across in the allotted time. But we did manage.
You can also see examples of the curb cuts here. Though not entirely flat, most areas were at least cut back at an angle and/or lowered. A good example is the median on the center left in this picture. That’s higher than in most areas where one was meant to cross, but in areas where the curb was cut at an angle like this, it was surprisingly smooth to maneuver.
Fair warning, though, it would not be easy to manage getting around here without a set of hands to help push and steady sometimes.
From what parts we saw, it wasn’t the most beautiful side of Belgrade, but this makes it all the more interesting. It’s intriguing to learn about culture, history, and politics, and how they combine to make a place and a people what they are today.
On the eastern side of the Sava is where the real appeal is for those coming to the city for touring and sightseeing. In comparison to the western side, and to our surprise, we actually found the curb cuts better in Old Belgrade. However, outside of the more touristy areas, things changed, and there were often rather challenging street crossings that were steep, rough, or otherwise difficult to manage.
We did go into the city on our first afternoon of touring, tackling it on foot and wheels and were exhausted by the end of the evening. We spent hours managing unexpected stairs, rough cobblestones, and high curbs and trying to see things and go places that were on our list but closed (because it was Sunday) or otherwise unaccessible because of said obstacles. Granted, our list wasn’t necessarily the typical tourist stops, as we enjoy trying the best local specialty coffee shops and eateries.
At the end of our first solo touring evening, our conclusion was that it was worth it for the experience but never again. We decided to hire our driver the next day to drive us around in luxury to all the stops we wanted to visit. So much easier, more pleasant, and way less stressful.
There are lots of things to do and see in Old Belgrade and New, and I talk more about those here:
Just be prepared to get creative with wayfinding if you venture out on your own. You may very well run up against unexpected stairs, lengthy detours to find curb cuts in order to cross busy roads, rough curb cuts, cobblestones, and steep grades. We had a particularly interesting and ironically laughable time when we were trying to cross a busy intersection more directly, saw this amazing ramp to an underpass, went down and found that all the other ways to get out were tall staircases. Oh, the irony.