I recently stumbled upon an article claiming Belgrade, Serbia to be the new Berlin. It got me; I had to read it. Why? Because I, too, love Belgrade and I don’t hear much about Serbia’s capital. I believe that Belgrade is a total hidden gem when it comes to European capital cities, and cool cities in general, and worthy of any recognition it receives. But, the question still begs, is Belgrade the new Berlin?
When I think of Berlin, I think of the king of hipster. The original original. A moody, independent, quirky capital that moves to its own, unique beat. Words like bohemian and edgy, or artsy and young, continuously describe the city. With its exceptional underground nightlife, surge of specialty coffee houses, emerging foodie reputation, quirky accommodations, liberal status, outdoor space, and never-ending art, I don’t think it can ever be dethroned.
But is it the hippest?
I don’t think that Belgrade is the new Berlin. But, I do think that there are many cities across Europe, specifically Central and Eastern Europe, that are serious competitors.
People are drawn to the new, the interesting, the unique. Berlin will always hold a artsy vibe in our hearts. Its hipster status may never be tarnished. But with the growth of other cool cities, it’s starting to lose its novelty.
So, is Belgrade the new Berlin? In short: no. But I think it’s definitely hipper than Berlin, along with these other four European cities.
5 European Cities More Hipster Than Berlin
#1 Belgrade, Serbia
Let’s start with Belgrade since it’s on our minds. Moving through this city is a walk through several stages of history, all seamlessly blending together, yet uniquely standing out on their own. Walking along the main streets, you’ll get glimpses of modern growth, even some international shops and restaurants. But venture outside these walking malls, and you’re in hipster haven.
Trekking from our accommodation to a little known coffee shop, we meandered through Belgrade’s bohemian quarter. Uneven cobblestones led our way through narrow streets. Tree branches hung low, silhouetting weathered storefronts and cafes. Each street featured a sign in Cyrillic, already increasing its cool city vibes. We crossed a busy road, cars and blue trams zooming by, bidding farewell to the cutesy tourist look behind us. The bright sun was blinding as it reflected white cement. Peeking into corridors, we found street art and quirky corners, all begging to be discovered.
The sidewalk abruptly ended and we made the rest of our way along the dusty street, cars hopping curbs to park mismatched. Making a wrong turn into an alleyway, we thought we had found it. But alas, it was just a different hipster zone, complete with food trucks and art shops, all hidden from the main city thoroughways. We kept going and eventually recognized the aroma of crafted java. People sat outside on old metal chairs, leaning elbows to knees in deep conversation, cigarettes dangled haphazardly from their fingers. Surprisingly, no one held a mobile. No screens, no apps, no Instagram. It was so perfectly hipster that it was truly hipster.
For the record, the coffee was amazing. A labor of love for the owners, every cup perfectly crafted. A skill. An art form. You can find a lot of this in Belgrade, food and beverages created from the depths of someone’s imagination; but the best part is that you have to search for it, making it a truly unique off-the-beaten-path city. We found outdoor markets bartering everything you could imagine. We had breakfast at a homemade buffet, close to the Green Market, serving dishes out of old Pyrex. I walked confidently down a street until my foot sunk into unmarked, wet cement. All signs of an emerging, carefree, hipster haven.
#2 Budapest, Hungary
I can’t not put Budapest on this list. In fact, this large, bustling capital city just may be Berlin’s biggest competition.
Although Berlin may be the king of nightlife, Budapest could very well seize that title any day now. The city centre is famous for its ruin bars: old, abandoned buildings and lots, filled with relicts of a past life – furniture, decor, art… even an old Trabant car from the Communist era. Lights are hung above, twisting from each hidden room or walkway, strewn through trees, creating a party glow. Music pulses throughout and movies fill the walls in silence. Does it get any cooler than this?
Not really. Budapest knows how to do nightlife. There are several ruin bars throughout the city, and it’s where you should go. But if you tire of them, or discover that they aren’t your scene, you have endless options. There are bars everywhere: old wooden doors on corners beg to be opened, greeting you with a buzz of energy never felt before. Patrons snuggled into corners or perched on rickety bar stools. Follow your curiosity down those metal steps leading to an unknown space. Old radios buzz and music bursts as you enter. No one looks up, it’s a space for everyone. The nightlife is one-of-a-kind and some of the hippest in all of Europe.
But Budapest is so much more than nightlife. You can fill your days summiting old Communist monuments, touring Austro-Hungarian Empire grandiosity, and admiring the famous Zsolnay tiles that crown every building. Watch the sun melt behind the Buda hills (filled with excellent hiking and mountain biking trails) from hip rooftop bars. You can shop for one-of-a-kind art and vintage, antique stores are essentially museums. And when the day is done, you can just sip wine on the riverfront from one of the many pop-up bars. Budapest is the definition of European hip.
#3 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Move over, Berlin. Ljubljana is the new, hip artsy city of Europe. Just look up Metelkova, and you’ll see what I mean. This little corner of the city was once home to the military barracks of the Yugoslav National Army. It’s now autonomous and filled with public art, a bar, a hostel (where you can sleep in the old prison cells), and a music venue. It’s like Copenhagen’s Christiana, but much smaller, less anarchist, and more focused on art and expression. You can still take pictures, just not of the people. Bottom line, it’s cool.
But getting to Metelkova is half the artsy fun. From the city centre of Ljubljana, just mosey up Trubarjeva street, a mostly pedestrian-only corridor that runs parallel, and one block up, from the river. And when I say mosey, I mean it. Because you don’t want to miss the countless street art, hiding in every nook and cranny. Big eyes stare at you from a corner, only to morph into a totally different scene as you round the bend. Shoes sway in the wind as they clench power lines above. Quirky vintage shops, hip cafes, and alleys that twist and turn offer an insight into how the city breathes. Ljubljana has embraced its street art and graffiti culture so much, in fact, that you can take guided tours. In a way, graffiti has transformed from rebellious tagging to full fledged stories.
#4 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo can easily evoke feelings of deep sadness as one remembers the city’s horrific recent history. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted nearly four years – longer than the Bosnian War itself. But the city is slowly making a comeback, doing it in a way that respectfully holds on to its tumultuous past while embracing its future. The locals are on board, extremely proud of their city, even funding some of the museums to keep them open during economic hardship.
This slow growth has allowed the city to develop its hipster appeal in a genuine way. It’s simply Sarajevo; there is no desperate attempt to be hip and cool, it just is.
The moment you step foot into Baščaršija, you’ll feel it. It’s the oldest part of the city, reminiscent of the past with its religious diversity. Here you can find several mosques neighboring catholic and orthodox churches and synagogues. Saturdays are filled with the bells all chiming at once, their first tones sending birds high into the sky.
Wandering through the old bazaar, you will pass cafes with locals sipping Bosnian coffee (not to be mistaken with Turkish coffee), one lone sugar cube resting against the copper džezva. People lick their fingers as they devour ćevapi, an addicting local food. You’ll pass shop after shop selling copper everything, made with a special technique passed down generations. And treasure hunt to your heart’s desire at Buvlja flea market.
- Flea market Buvlja
- Coffee break at Kuća Sevdaha
- Visiting the abandoned Olympics ruins
#5 Krákow, Poland
Walking into Kazimierz at night in hunt of a snack, we wandered into the neighborhood’s main “square”. It’s more like a stone path encircling a hexagon of windows, each one selling the same traditional baguette stacked with flavors. By day, a flea market sits here. Canopies pop up, covering clothes and cleaning supplies, produce and local honey, cheeses and meats. It’s packed with locals digging deep into the stacks of jeans. It’s difficult to move. But by night, the vendors clear out and the youth emerge. Follow the locals and choose the longest line, everyone ready to devour their zapiekanka amongst the crowd.
Your next stop must be one of the old (and I mean OLD) bars. There are too many to choose from, so again, follow the crowds of local youth to skip the touristy lines and find the genuine beats. As you duck into an old stone doorway, the warmth of bodies hits you with an unexpected humidity. Shrugging off your coat, your eyes adjust to the dim light. Candles flicker on each table as patrons lean over glasses of red wine, craft beer, and vodka. The chairs and tables are all mismatched, salvaged from decades before. Find one and claim your spot.
As you sip and chat, you may notice a wall begin to shift. A secret doorway leading to an unknown room, once used for hush-hush meeting. If this it too hipster for you, you can find another ancient establishment, still decorated with antique furniture, still lit by candlelight, but maybe not as cool-kid intimidating. Music will waft from accordions and guitars. The place will be packed, the hum of chitchat acting as a bass. This is secret Krákow. Hipster Krákow.
What do you think? Is Belgrade the new Berlin? Or is it Budapest, or Sarajevo? Krákow or Ljubljana? Or, did I miss one? What is your favorite hipster city in Europe?