War-torn Belgrade may sound like an unlikely holiday destination, but the Serbian capital has been busy winning over European travellers who find it’s one of the hottest city-break spots on the continent.

Belgrade is a city moving out of its darker past and into its buzzing, vibrant present. It is no longer just synonymous with war-driven devastation, and is now regarded as one of the hippest cities in Europe.

The locals’ appetite for a good night out has generated a stir that is attracting the chicest social sets from countries all over the world.

But it’s the combination of its incredible cultural past (long before the wars changed people’s perception) with the emerging arts and social scene that makes it so alluring to me.

Great nightlife can be found the world over. But when it’s interwoven with beguiling architecture that often hugs the banks of one of the world’s great rivers — the mighty Danube and its tributary, the Sava —well, then you have something pretty special.

It’s hard to describe the potential of such an exciting city in so few words, so here are a few tips on how to get under the skin of the place through one of my favourite methods — finding music and the best bars.

My advice for anyone visiting a city for the first time is to head for the music scene. By doing so, you get a feel for the soul of the place and can plan your trip by discovering where to go from talking to like-minded locals. It works, trust me, and the good news is that Belgrade does music very well.

Serbia might be known for the annual Exit Music festival based in the nearby city of Novi Sad in July, but Belgrade is home to brilliant music all year round. This can be found in any of the serpentine chains of music-playing “splavovi,” or floating barge clubs, that roll away into the Serbian night along the confluence of the Danube and the Sava. But it’s also found in less-discovered venues.

For a classic insider’s experience, head to some of the infamous hidden bars and clubs that were established as dens of escapism for the locals during the Slobodan Milosevic regime. This is where the house music and dance scene survived and actually grew, contributing in large part to the reputation the city has now.

The underground bars could be found in apartments and down alleys where the only sign of one of the best nightlife experiences in the world was the thudding beat coming from behind anonymous doors.

This still continues, and new venues pop up all the time that are so fresh and fleeting that I couldn’t list them here. My tip for finding these is to just ask the locals where their current favourite bar and club is. In the meantime, the venues Ben Akiba, Club Mama and The Federal Association Of Globe Trotters will give you a great flavour of the hidden treasures of Belgrade nightlife.

All three have no public markings or phone numbers but ask for them and locals will show you the way. Ben Akiba is based in private apartments, Club Mama in a basement below the Cumicevco Sokace shopping centre and The Federal Association Of Globe Trotters is down a badly-lit staircase where a basement bar of weird and wonderful objects (and clientele) await you.

I could also write volumes on the great local cuisine and which galleries and monuments to visit, but I will leave that for the locals to tell you. After all, you’ll need an ice-breaker for your first conversation at the bar.

Tom Marchant is the founder of award-winning travel company Black Tomato, www.blacktomato.co.uk

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