Novi Sad may be the second largest city in Serbia, but those expecting the same experience as the chaotic capital are going to be in for an entirely different kind of shock. The Vojvodinian capital is a very different city compared to Belgrade, one with a different history and a different architecture to boot. Sat in the centre of one of Serbia’s prettiest regions with some of its most gorgeous villages, Novi Sad is worth a visit all on its own – and here is why.
Ironically, the most visited tourist attraction in Novi Sad isn’t exactly in the city proper. Petrovaradin Fortress is on the other side of the river in the municipality of the same name, although it is inherently linked to the big city across the Danube. Work on the fortress began in 1682 and ended nearly a century later in 1780, with that whole ‘war’ thing causing most of the disruptions.
The fortress is known more for festivals than fighting in the modern age, however, and it is here that EXIT Festival takes place every summer. The fortress is party to some of the best views in the area, and it is also home to the famous ‘drunk clock’, where the big hand tells the hours and the little the minutes.
Novi Sad’s city centre is based around the inspiringly named Freedom Square (trg Slobode), itself hemmed in between two of the city’s most impressive buildings. The neo-gothic Catholic Cathedral stands opposite the neo-renaissance town hall, divided by a statue of Novi Sad’s greatest politician, Svetozar Miletić. Many of the most important political and cultural events in the city’s history have taken place here, and it acts as a major meeting place in the modern age.
While we wouldn’t recommend visiting in winter, Novi Sad’s Štrand is a must in the hotter months. A sandy beach along the Danube, it becomes a hive of activity during summer as the masses descend upon it for drinks, frolics, food, or all of the above. Those looking for somewhere to swim are advised to head here, although be careful not to get swept away by the strong currents of Europe’s second biggest river.
A short walk from Freedom Square lies the Bishop’s Palace, sitting snugly at the end of the fabulously named street Zmaj Jovina. The palace is the work of Vladimir Nikolić, although Nikolić’s worries about public perception meant the project was attributed to Hungarian architect Ferenc Raichle. The palace is also fronted by a statue of another Novi Sad great, poet Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, and yes the street is named after him.
A majestic art nouveau building a short walk from Freedom Square, Novi Sad’s Synagogue seemingly comes out of nowhere but is one of the city’s most impressive buildings. The synagogue saw its fair share of tragedy in the 20th century, and Novi Sad’s Jewish community was depressingly decimated during World War II. This isn’t forgotten in Novi Sad today, and the synagogue stands as a symbol of pride and defiance.
As one can expect from a city known as the Serbian Athens, there is no shortage of museums waiting to be explored in Novi Sad. The City Museum and Museum of Vojvodina are undoubtedly the jewels in this particular crown, and the latter is one of the oldest museum complexes in all of Serbia. The city also has a number of excellent galleries, including the Matica Srpska gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina.
Vojvodina is home to Fruška Gora, the northern province’s lone mountainous region and a veritable feast for nature lovers worldwide. The lush greenery of the national park is frequently interrupted by the tranquility of a host of monasteries, showcasing some of the best religious art in the entire nation. Krušedol and Grgeteg deserve to be mentioned in particular, but you can’t really go wrong with any of the monasteries. Fruška Gora gets that elusive blend of nature and construction just right.
Many towns and villages can make a convincing argument for that title, but for our money Sremski Karlovci pips them all. A short drive from Novi Sad, the town was the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church within the Habsburg Empire, and as such it is as grand and elegant as any town of 9,000 can be. The town is full of churches and other impressive buildings, not to mention delightful fountains. The hills that surround it are beautiful, too.
Novi Sad is surrounded by lush farmland and it is no surprise that many of the farms have opened up their doors to visitors. Salaš is another word for farm, and those lucky enough to visit one will be treated to some of the finest food and drink in the entire region. Portion size is almost certainly going to be on the side of the gluttonous, and those in a rush certainly need not apply. If you’ve got the time, head to a Salaš and be ready to loosen that belt a notch or two.