Zemun: The Town Within the City
Zemun, an immediate neighbour of Belgrade, is an area that anyone visiting the city should aim to go and see.Nicholas Comrie, Lucy Moore
Zemun was formerly part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire which stretched as far south as the Danube and was an independent town for 200 years, so its architecture and feel are identifiably different from Belgrade. Zemun’s inhabitants continue to maintain this individual identity and for the visitor the differences are definitely worth a look.
Zemun’s history dates back to the early third century BC and it is first mentioned by name in the twelfth century. Over the next five hundred years it was successively controlled by the Byzantines, Hungarians and Ottomans finally coming under Austro-Hungarian sway in 1717. Unlike Belgrade, which remained just within the northern bounds of the Ottoman Empire, Zemun grew as a border town of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its inclusion in the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918. Zemun was finally to officially unify with neighbouring Belgrade following the Communist assumption of power in 1945.
Nowadays, Zemun which is within spitting distance of central Belgrade can easily be reached in less than fifteen minutes by regular bus or cheap taxi. Once there it is easy and pleasant to explore the area on foot. There are a good number of restaurants, cafes and other places of interest tucked away in Zemun but there are a number of areas in particular that those visiting Belgrade’s northern brother should see.
The first of these areas is Zemun quay and the Danube shore. Zemun quay is the home of many of Belgrade boats that ply the Sava and Danube; their owners enjoying both the weather and the river. The quay is great for a stroll or a roller blade when the weather is good and the area is probably best enjoyed during spring and autumn. However, its cosy restaurants and cafes, often with live music, offer a welcome respite during the colder months too.
There is a good range of restaurants and cafes along the shore and other floating restaurants or ‘splavovi’ on the Danube itself. Fish is the speciality on Zemun quay, both river and sea, although there is also a good selection of alternatives on the menu. Venues range from the traditional, like Galeb (Seagull) with its fishing nets, Old Town music and rakija, to Reka (River) a busy restaurant with a range of live music and colourful local artwork. Food and service is generally good although there is a trick to timing when to find a venue busy and when to find it empty.
The second part of Zemun most worth a look is the Old Town. Very different from the rest of Belgrade the area is one of cobbled, hilly streets and the old quarter charm of Austro-Hungarian style houses.
A complete change to the heart of Belgrade, old Zemun feels as though you have stepped back in time. Small cafes and a number of churches dot the area and it is well worth wandering around as a break from the city centre. There is little noise in Zemun’s old quarter and it has an old world charm that visitors might well be looking for in the Balkans but without having to travel outside Belgrade.
The old town’s historical feel is strengthened by its architecture, churches and the Millenium Tower, Zemun’s very own Austro-Hungarian arsenal, although one that nowadays is looking a little worse for wear. Built in 1896 it was one of numerous monuments built throughout the Hungarian empire celebrating 1000 years of existence as a state.
As the southern-most town within Hungary’s empire, Zemun was chosen as the site for the Millennium Tower, built on the site of its medieval fortress. Today little remains of the fortress, and the Tower is both unmarked and unkempt, but still an interesting sight. Its position at the top of Gardos hill also provides visitors with a beautiful view back over the town center. To find the tower simply follow your nose to the top of the hill.
Mixed in amongst the houses are a number of cafes and restaurants worth visiting although two of particular interest are Ona a Ne Neka Druga (Her and No Other) and Balkan Express. At Ona a Ne Neka Druga one will find a bar/café with a lively atmosphere and crowd that offers traditional live music with very reasonably priced drinks.
Whilst Balkan Express, situated on a cliff overlooking the Danube, offers great views over the river, particularly on the terrace during the warmer months and it has the added attraction of a railway carriage restaurant car for those winter evenings. The food is of a good standard and very reasonable too and due to this, at times, you face the risk of not finding a free table.
Zemun also has its own main street with shops, galleries, a theatre and an outdoor market. Zemun’s galleries offer an interesting range of exhibitions and potential purchases for art lovers. The newly renovated theatre may also be worth a look for those who enjoy modern theatre, although most productions will be in Serbian.
As for the high street, there are a number of boutiques, Diesel having a shop there and a few others besides, so if you are looking for shopping of a less hectic kind then Zemum might well be an option. The market is also work a look for the odd item and is surrounded by elegant, old buildings, churches, and more winding cobblestone streets that give it added charm.
Zemun’s also has a city park, complete with two small churches and Yugoslav era statues, which can be found on the non-river side of town. The park itself is conventional but it does offer a tree-filled refuge from the bustle of the urban centre. Sights of note include St. Roco’s Catholic Church and St. Archangel Gabriel’s Orthodox Church with its two unmarked socialist-era statues.
Although most visitors to Zemun will be travelling from Belgrade, the area does offer its own hotels in this smaller but well-connected part of town.
Hotel Zlatnik: Slavonska 26, 11080 Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia
Hotel Imperium (a small guest house): Partizanska 19a, 11080 Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia
Hotel Central: Glavna 10, 11080 Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia