OPINION - Belgrade is so fun it makes London look dull — why can't we be more like them?

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

It was, I admit, an obscure destination for a weekend break. An unsmiling Serb in a bar was so bemused by the presence of two Brits in his nation’s capital that he seemed to believe we were spies. My answer to his question “How did you get here?” (“Aeroplane”) did not humour him.

But despite its size, population and economy standing dwarflike next to the London giant, I did not feel like I was “downsizing” on my trip to Belgrade. Quite the contrary.

Hopping off the practically free transfer from the airport in the city centre, we wandered at midnight through the streets and into one of the many restaurants that was still making a killing in the early hours. Live music played, cigarettes smouldered, their smoke mingling with that of grilled meat in the air.

Oh the shock, to be in a city where it is both legal and encouraged to have fun and build things!

Paying up in the wee small hours, for the largest meal I have eaten since Christmas and round after round of beers, we were met with a bill for under £30. Onto the bars and nightclubs which were open and rowdy all night.

The skyline at sunrise was a picture of growth, with swinging yellow cranes and the new high-rise headquarters of foreign companies all along the Sava (Huawei, for example, which many British politicians want to ban). And then a huge residential development on an old patch of waterfront scrubland that has been backed by billions of foreign investment. Oh the shock, to be in a city where it is both legal and encouraged to have fun and build things! Imagine telling someone a few decades ago, when it was war-torn, that the vibes could be more optimistic in Serbia than London.

I love our capital, but in key areas it is losing its mojo. First the building problem. We don’t have enough homes and need creative ways to find them — let’s start by requisitioning the golf courses and concreting over them with houses. Then there’s the key ingredient of any city — having fun. Liverpool and Birmingham now surpass London in nightlife transactions. Meanwhile our Mayor continues to pay a fatcat salary to a “night czar” who presides over ever more club closures.

And I know. Serbia has problems you can’t sum up in a long weekend (not least a dodgy relationship with Russia) — but when it comes to making their capital better and richer for the people who live in it, I fear we’re falling behind.

Ethan Croft is editor of Londoner’s Diary