The city of Novi Sad in Serbia’s north can be a tricky one to unpack. Lying on the banks of the Danube River, the city manages to somehow juggle a bunch of opposing characteristics. Novi Sad is Serbia’s second biggest city and yet seems mostly overlooked by tourists. Day to day city life seems quite calm and casual, but when summer rolls around it’s home to one of the best music festivals in Europe.
All of these points may be paint an intriguing picture of Novi Sad, but they don’t immediately convey what it is that visitors can do there. And the truth is that what may be most appealing about a trip to Novi Sad is the city’s atmosphere and complexity. However, it does also have a number of things to do if you want to make the most out of your visit. Take a look below to see what there is to do in Novi Sad.
1. People Watch from a Cafe
An ever-present staple of the Balkans, cafe culture is alive and well in Novi Sad. Throughout the city centre and its pedestrian streets, you’ll find dozens and dozens of cafes to choose from. In the warmer months, each has ample outdoor seating areas which are rarely empty. The pedestrian street of Zmaj Jovina is the centre of all this and a cafe there offers a perfect vantage point to people watch.
If you’re not a fan of Turkish coffee, never fear. Novi Sad cafes serve more than just the local brew and often also do ice cream during summer. True to Serbian form, don’t expect to pay much for coffee either as it’s extremely affordable.
2. Look Around Freedom Square
If it were not for the Danube river carving through the city, Freedom Square would be the undisputed centre of Novi Sad. Freedom Square or Trg Slobode in Serbian, is the grand old square in the centre of the old town. Lining the square are some of Novi Sad’s most important and beautiful buildings and landmarks.
Hard to miss is the towering spire of the Name of Mary Church. This gothic revival church may look like a cathedral and be called as much by locals, but is in fact not one. It should be noted that this 19th century building is a Roman Catholic church and not orthodox like most in Serbia.
Across the square from the church, past a statue to former mayor Svetozar Miletić, lies the elegant City Hall. Between the two, a row of gorgeous neo renaissance buildings lends the square a certain air of nobility. Much of the city had to be rebuilt after the 1848 Revolution which is from when many of these buildings date.
3. Explore the City’s Architecture
Remarkable architecture is not only found around Freedom Square, however. Throughout the Old Town or Stari Grad in Serbian, you can find glimpses of nobility from the days when Novi Sad belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Along Zmaj Jovina street and at the far end from Freedom Square, there are some beautiful and elegant buildings to admire. Of particular note is the Bishop’s Palace seen above, built in 1901 with a mix of architectural styles. Nearby Dunavska street also has some delightful buildings to admire.
Beyond the old town, the architecture of Novi Sad can be a bit hit or miss. There’s a number of modern buildings like the National Theatre but they didn’t really work for me.
4. Wander its Backstreets
The centre of Novi Sad is laid out in quite an interesting manner. Beyond a few main streets, much of the city centre makes you feel like you’re somewhere in the city’s backstreets. I tend to think the backstreets of a city show you an unfiltered view of the place, as they receive less care and attention.
In Novi Sad, simply deviate off a major spot like Freedom Square and it can feel like you’re in a much quieter, more humble city. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t come across plenty of grand buildings, they’re just in a more worn state. In several spots near Zmaj Jovina, you’ll find arcades that pass through building complexes to the next street over.
I should add that walking through the city centre felt totally safe as there are plenty of people about always and elegant lamp posts illuminate your way at night.
5. Admire the City Synagogue
Slightly removed from the main centre of the city, Novi Sad Synagogue is well worth seeking out. Novi Sad is home to places of worship for many different religions, but the synagogue has to be one of the most visually striking. Built in the early 20th century, it serviced the sizeable Jewish population of the city before the horrors of WWII. With only a small Jewish community in Novi Sad today, the syangogue is mostly used now for cultural events.
6. Head to Petrovaradin Fortress
Possibly the most well known landmark of Novi Sad is Petrovaradin Fortress. Resting above the Danube on the far bank, this impressive fortress is worth crossing the river to see. With a deep, deep history, the area of Petrovaradin appears to have been settled as far back as the Paleolithic era. Situated on a strategically-placed large rock it’s not hard to see why.
The current fortifications owe their current design to the Austrian Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, although fortifications in Petrovaradin have existed since the Romans conquered the region. Today, the fortress has been opened up to the public and hosts the Novi Sad City Museum.
While there is an entrance fee for the museum, it’s free to roam the grounds of Petrovaradin. From the upper ramparts, you get exquisite views out over the Danube and of the Novi Sad skyline. With several restaurants there, you can also enjoy the view while you try local Serbian cuisine.
Directly below the fortress is a small neighbourhood full of antique charm. With traditional roofs, elegant street lamps and quiet cobbled streets, this part of the city is unlike any other. How and why this part of Novi Sad has been preserved escaped me, but I appreciated it nonetheless.
7. Experience Exit Festival
The biggest influx of people to Novi Sad each year is for the immensely popular Exit Festival. Held during summer inside Petrovaradin Fortress, this four day festival combines world class music acts with important social messages. The likes of The Killers and Jason Derulo performed there in 2017 and I was disappointed to miss the event by a week during my Serbian travels. How often do you get to party in a fortress after all?
8. Venture out to Fruska Gora National Park
Immediately to the south of Novi Sad, lies the forested hills of Fruska Gora National Park. As the park only lies about 10km away from Novi Sad, it becomes a pretty easy day trip option from Novi Sad. Scattered through the park are hiking trails and monasteries, all among some truly beautiful woods. I only explored the southern side of Fruska Gora, but the drive through the northern end was just as serene and scenic.
Visiting Novi Sad
- Regular trains easily connect Novi Sad with Belgrade to the south and Subotica to the north. Buses run even more frequently, as well to other parts of the country.
- Novi Sad has a vast amount of accommodation available in the city centre, particularly apartments designed for festival-goers in summer. Accommodation will therefore probably fill up around the time of Exit Festival, so plan accordingly.
If you were to visit Novi Sad, which of these things to do would be at the top of your list? Have you been before and have suggestions of your own? Please share in the comments below.
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