Ada Ciganlija is located on the southern bank of the Sava River, 4 km away from its mouth, and entirely belongs to Belgrade's municipality of Čukarica. Its eastern tip roughly borders the urban neighborhood of Senjak on the west (across an inlet called Čukarica Bay), and the body of the peninsula borders the neighborhoods of Čukarica and Makiš (both across Lake Sava). Across the river, Ada Ciganlija borders Novi Beograd (specifically residential bloks and the urban neighborhoods of Savski Nasip) and another artificial peninsula called Mala Ciganlija ("Little Ciganlija"). Between Ada Ciganlija and Novi Beograd lies Ada Međica, a wholly insulated river island.
Formerly an island, Ada Ciganlija is now an elongated peninsula, stretching for 6 km from west to east and 700 m from north to south at its widest, and covering an area of 2.7 km2. The entire Ada Ciganlija ecological complex, which stretches into the municipality of Novi Beograd, covers an area of 8 km2, including the islands of Ada Ciganlija and Ada Međica, waterways between the two Adas and Lake Sava, and some of Makiš itself. Lake Sava, formerly a branch of the Sava, was turned into a lake with two dams, while the remaining section on the northeast was turned into Čukarica Bay. There is another small lake on Ada Ciganlija itself, known as Ada Safari.
Thanks to the combination of factors, Ada Ciganlija is privileged with a microclimate. Situated between a river, an artificial flowing lake, various islands, and a heavily wooded area, air humidity is heightened compared to the rest of the city, helping to nullify Belgrade's high temperatures during summer.
Ada Ciganlija has a unique ecosystem, creating an oasis in the urban area. Most of the peninsula is forested. The original, thick deciduous forest mainly consists of oaks, elms, birches and willows. In the mid 20th century, further planned forestation of Ada Ciganlija included the planting of American poplars and green ash. This characteristic of Ada gives its visitors an illusion of being in complete wilderness, aided by the fact that city ambient noise is completely muted by the thick forest. Most of the forest on the island is protected, including the entire central, northern and western sections. These parts of the peninsula are entirely wild with uncultivated vegetation and very little or no human presence, making it unique compared to other European city islands and peninsulas.
In terms of fauna, besides having numerous amphibians and insects, Ada Ciganlija contains several mammal species, considered special due to the setting of the peninsula in an urban area. Foxes, hares and roe deer inhabit the peninsula. However, with environmentalists warning that the island's biocoenosis has been overly affected, a new population of 60 hares and 100 pheasants was introduced into the ecosystem in 2006.
Bird species include more common lapwings, mallards, quails and pheasants, but also some threatened migratory birds, most notably the pygmy cormorant which winters in Belgrade in large numbers (over 3,000, as ongoing research by the League for Ornithological Action shows). That represents 5% of the European wintering population of that species. Common woodland and parkland birds during the nesting season include great tit, blue tit, long-tailed tit, Eurasian nuthatch, European green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, golden oriole, nightingale, blackcap, common chaffinch, hooded crow, European magpie, common wood pigeon, feral pigeon, white wagtail and barn swallow.
The only settlement on Ada Ciganlija is located in its northern section, located behind another dam. It is called Partizan, because of the nearby Partizan rowing club. City authorities plan to relocate the settlement alongside its 1,000 inhabitants, who generally oppose the move. During the 2006 European floods, city authorities urged them to move to the mainland from the settlement, which was located almost 8 m below the dam, as the Sava reached a record height of 723 cm. The wall of the dam, on the brink of collapse, was hastily strengthened and elevated in an effort to prevent catastrophe, but even in these conditions, the populace refused to relocate, claiming the city to just be using the situation to relocate them.
Lake Sava (Serbian: Савско језеро, Savsko jezero), often also referred to as Ada, was created from the right arm of the Sava with the building of two dams near the northern and southern tips of the island in 1967. The lake is 4.2 km long, has an average width of 200 m and is 4 to 6 m deep. It covers and area of 0.8 km2 and is 78 m above sea level, one of the lowest areas of Belgrade. 7 km of its shores on both sides have been transformed into a gravel beach. The water regularly reaches 24 °C during summer.
Both dams allow water to flow through tubes and pumps. This way, the main body of the lake is connected to the smaller body of water on the southwest, which is itself separated from the river by the third dam. This mini "buffer" lake called Taložnik ("depository") is used as a purifier for the waters of both Lake Sava and city waterworks, which also use this water. Filtered water is constantly being pumped into the lake while on the northeast, the water is pumped out by electrically powered pumps through another dam into Čukarica Bay. In this way, an artificial flow of water through the lake is created. Because the water is also used for drinking, sanitation and environmental protection of the lake are imperative and the lake is under rigorous environmental protection. Weeds are groomed on the lake's bottom to purify the water by bonding phosphorus, nitrogen and dirt. Use of motorboats is strictly prohibited in the lake and dogs are also not allowed on the beach.
Wildlife in the lake mostly consists of introduced fish species. The most common fish in the lake are silver carp and grass carp but large catfish can also be found, causing concern and an issued statement that they are harmless. The freshwater jellyfish Craspedacusta sowerbyi was discovered in 2008, garnering much attention for the lake. These tiny, transparent and gentle anthomedusae begin their life as polyps and develop into jellyfish only if conditions, such as purity and water temperature over 25 °C, are right. However, authorities claim that these harmless and almost invisible jellyfish have been present in the lake for over 20 years.
Ada Safari is a small, irregularly shaped lake on the northern tip of Ada Ciganlija, primarily used for fishing. It was the last remaining marshy area during the transformation of the peninsula, infested by undergrowth and reeds, until its conversion into a lake in 1994, with an area of 6 ha. Rare species of fish were introduced in order to create a fishing resort, which now consists of 300 numbered fishing seats around the lake with an obligatory special permit for fishing in Ada Safari. Fish species include common carp, grass carp, crucian carp and tench, which is rare in Serbia. A small zoo has been built next to the lake, chiefly containing swamp birds like ducks and swans, as well as more exotic animals such as peacocks and pygmy goats.
The name of the island is derived by some from the word for Romani (cigani, "gypsies"), attested in 1717 as German: Zigeuner-Insel when it was mentioned as a depopulated village after the Austrian takeover of Belgrade. An Italian work from 1788 mentions it as Isola degli Zingari. The original toponym might have been singalia, from Celtic Singi (cf. Singidunum). During World War II it was renamed "Serbian Ada" (Srpska ada). The first part of Ada Ciganlija's name, ada, means "river island" in Serbian, a word of Turkish origin (meaning "island"), but in landlocked Serbia it specifically denotes river islands, beside the already existing Serbian word for island, ostrvo. A river island can also be referred to as ostrvo (e.g. Veliko Ratno Ostrvo) but never vice versa.
The importance of Ada Ciganlija can be traced back to 1821, when it was declared a protected public domain by then Prince of Serbia, Miloš Obrenović. Until 1941, a prison was located on Ada Ciganlija. At that time, Ada wasn't a popular recreational area and the major beach area was across its northern tip, in the Gospodarska Mehana section of the Senjak neighborhood. Still, even then, one of major Serbian writers Branislav Nušić, nicknamed it Vodeni cvet (watery flower) because of its beauty. On the night of July 17, 1946, new Communist authorities executed a number of former politicians on Ada Ciganlija, while military officers were tried as collaborators with the Nazis during World War II, including Chetniks leaders Draža Mihailović and Kosta Mušicki, and ministers of the government of Milan Nedić: Tanasije-Tasa Dinić, Đura Dokić and Velibor Jonić.
For decades, Ada Ciganlija was popular among and fishermen, including the famous actor Pavle Vujisić. After his death in 1988, it was proposed that the access road to Ada should be named after him, but another street in the new neighborhood of Altina in Zemun was later named after him. The situation began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Ada was connected to the mainland and the first sporting championships, such as the kayaking championships in 1971 were organised, prompting the construction of special facilities. The popularity of Ada was further increased in the 1980s with the music and entertainment show Leto na Adi ("Summer on Ada"), televised live by the Radio Television of Serbia.
Ada Ciganlija is today managed by the municipal government via the Public Enterprise "Ada Ciganlija" (JP "Ada Ciganlija"), which maintains the grounds of the recreational areas and, especially, the beach and Lake Sava. It is responsible for cleanliness, maintenance such as trimming of the underwater algae, public safety (lifeguards), and so on. Even though the island is a public asset, the island itself is not exclusively managed and owned by the city. There are numerous private entities that administer businesses and recreation facilities, such as the golf course. Notably, many famous Serbian sports personalities have invested in the area.
Apart from the sport facilities, a 7 kilometer-long beach of Lake Sava has a closely supervised, fenced-off children's swimming area. Ada Ciganlija features a tall sports observation tower and bleachers on multiple levels which is its most prominent structure as well and one of very few permanent solid structures. One of those structures is the "Jezero" hotel at the entrance.
The northern edge of the island is lined with attached floating barges, or houses on the water owned by many inhabitants of Belgrade as a weekend refuge given the peninsula's exceptionally quiet and green environment. In addition, many city dwellers come to enjoy fishing excursions, pic-nics and barbecues.
From the beach, stunning views of central Belgrade can be seen, and sunsets are particularly beautiful when viewed from here.
The island has been conceptualised as Belgrade's focal point for mass sporting activity and recreation. As such, it features a great number of facilities, which get more numerous every year. They include:American football
Ada Ciganlija has in the past been a host to a number of local and international water sporting events such as competitions in rowing and kayaking. The very first golf course in Serbia has been built on this island in recent years along with a golf club house, a golfing store, golfing school and a practice range. This golf course is also the seat of the first and so far only Serbian golfing association. Also there is a separated cycling and rollerblading path that goes full circle around the lake (approximately 8 km long) and is connected to the path that goes all the way by the Sava river in downtown.
The island is home to the "Rowing Sport Club" and several rowing societies like VK Partizan, VK Crvena Zvezda, and VK Grafičar. A sailing school and club, in addition to all accompanying sailing facilities, can be found on Ada Ciganlija.
Belgrade has a reputation for offering a vibrant nightlife, and many clubs that are open until dawn can be found throughout the city. The most recognizable nightlife features of Belgrade are the barges (сплавови, splavovi) spread along the banks of the Sava and Danube Rivers. The island has over 70 restaurants, bars and cafés as well as a café-cinema.
One of the island's most noted landmarks is the fountain, based on the famous Jet d'Eau (water-jet), situated in Lake Geneva. The Belgrade one is also 140 metres high and it was installed in 1996. The fountain operates during the day all year round, except in case there is frost or a particularly strong wind. It also operates in the evening between spring and autumn and is lit by a set of lights. During the summer months in the later hours, the island stages a special laser light spectacle for those still present at the beach.
This Island also has an artistic sculpture workshop located at the eastern end in the direction of the city. Ada Ciganlija also has a children's theatre featuring scheduled performances, as well as a Robinson Crusoe-themed entertainment feature that stages themed performances.
Although there are land routes leading to the island across the artificial dams, they are seldom used due to poor accessibility to the city's main roads and public transport system. Numerous routes of the city's public transport(GSP Beograd) pass close to the eastern entrance: bus routes 23, 37, 51, 52, 53, 56, 56L, 57, 58, 88, 89, 91, 92, 511, 551 and 552, while tram lines 12 and 13 also pass relatively nearby. Due to the ever-larger number of visitors,GSP Beograd introduced special seasonal bus lines, specifically designated for transport to Ada Ciganlija from distant parts of Belgrade. They have been expanding in recent years: Ada1 (Central Belgrade and Vidikovac), Ada2 (Zemun, Blokovi), Ada3 (Konjarnik), Ada4 (Mirijevo), Ada5 (Bežanijska Kosa, Novi Beograd).
There are regular ferry services to take people from Belgrade's river banks onto the island. In 2008, experimental introduction of public transport by boat began, one of whose routes is from Blok 44 (Novi Beograd)-Ada Ciganlija. There is also a small electric road vehicle that tours the island called the "tourist train". There is also an impromptu recreational marina on the island's downstream end. There are plans to expand this marina and make it permanent. Boating in the lake, as well as car traffic on land, is strictly forbidden. There is a large parking lot on the Makiš side of the river.
A new cable-stayed bridge is being built across the Sava, over the eastern tip of the Ada Ciganlija. The bridge is set to be a future landmark due to its height and grandeur. The central abutment is to be 200 meters tall, carrying hundreds of cables suspending the bridge. It will provide a direct land link to the island via the elevators as well as a planned light rail station that will stop mid-bridge to service passengers to and from the island.
Ever since Ada Ciganlija began gaining popularity, there have been varying views of its importance. During the economic hardship of the 1980s and subsequent wars of the 1990s, it was often regarded as an "necessary evil", as the only resort available to masses of economically disadvantaged people. Use of this recreation area has always been free of charge, leading to it often being overcrowded and regarded as having poor hygiene, because, for decades, Ada had no proper facilities or institutionalised care. That has changed however, and the zone is today properly maintained, and has suitable infrastructure and appropriate commercial and recreational content. It is now possible to play sports that were not even invented when transformation of Ada began and it has become a highly popular gathering place, especially among youth, and a must-see destination for foreign tourists visiting Belgrade.