Reasons for visiting Novi Sad
Sat in the center 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.
Serbia’s second city is on the Danube, upriver from Belgrade and downriver from Budapest, which exerted a historical influence on this place. By Serbian standards, Novi Sad is rather young and took off in the 18th century as a trading hub opposite the mammoth Petrovaradin Fortress, an Austro-Hungarian outpost.
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Petrovaradin had been in the hands of the Ottomans for 150 years before it was wrested from them by the Habsburg Empire in the Great Turkish War. Immediately in 1692, the Austrians went about building an eastern bulwark against the Ottomans: A Vauban-style fortress with dimensions that had never been seen before. Most of that building is still standing, from its layers of angular ramparts to the system of catacombs and anti-siege tunnels underground.
On a square with a glorious view of the Danube and Novi Sad is the fortress’s Baroque clock tower, positioned high above one of the gates to the compound. You might realize that something is amiss about the clock face, as the large hand has been swapped for the small one. This was done so that fishermen way below on the Danube would be able to tell the time from further away. There are benches on the terraces for you to savor Novi Sad’s cityscape, and as it faces west this side of the fortress is a joy around sunset.
You can book a tour of the tunnels or content yourself with pottering around the citadel, which has a history museum and restaurants with views of the Danube to die for.
Novi Sad’s streets
Novi Sad’s city center 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 is the tallest church in Vojvodina and rises to 72 meters. It 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.
There’s no better jumping-off point for an amble around the city. Dunavska (Danube) Street is an east to west thoroughfare that is partly pedestrianized and lined with stately mansions and townhouses. The buildings in it are nearly all from the middle of the 19th century, built after Novi Sad took damage in the 1848 Revolution against the Austrian Empire. These are painted in pastel shades and host restaurants, inns, bookshops, boutiques and cafes, while stands on the route serve popcorn and ice cream.
Zmaj Jovina Street is one of the oldest streets in Novi Sad. It extends from Liberty Square to the bishop’s palace. It gained today’s appearance in the second half of the 19th century, during the reconstruction of the city after the bombing. The street was once a place with a number of craft and trade shops, and it was called Magazinska alley. By the early 20th century along the street, everything was working from early morning until afternoon, and after cleaning it was a place for an evening promenade.
Laze at Novi Sad’s Štrand
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.
Matica Srpska Gallery
A must if you want a taste of Serbian art. This gallery is run by Matica Srpska, Serbia’s leading cultural institution, and contains what is considered to be the richest collection of Serbian art anywhere. These works are mostly from the 1500s to the 1900s and run the gamut from modern art and sculpture back to post-Byzantine icons. The gallery draws on a vast archive of more than 7,000 pieces, so also stages new temporary exhibitions every few months.
Fruška Gora and its hidden beauties
Less than half an hour southeast of Novi Sad the right bank of the Danube becomes mountainous as you venture into pasture, woodland and vineyards, all protected by a National Park. This is Fruška Gora, a massif interrupting the Pannonian Basin. Riesling and Traminer grapes are grown on these slopes, which 90 million years ago were the shores of an ancient island in the Pannonian Sea. Great wineries and opportunities for wine tastings. Families head to Fruška Gora on summer days for walks, camping trips and barbecues. You can also visit 15 Orthodox monasteries, most from the 15th and 16th centuries, hidden in the woodland and ready to be tracked down.
A day in Sremski Karlovci
Another of Vojvodina’s prettiest towns is a few moments down the Danube and wrapped in vineyards. Sremski Karlovci is a compact old town, easily tackled on foot and with churches, halls, and palaces that survived 1848 unscathed and all have a tale to tell. You can get a taste for the local wine at caves like Podrum Bajilo and the Zivanovic Wine Cellar, which also has a museum to bee-keeping. But Sremski Karlovci’s fame lies in its cultural institutions and Serbian identity.The town became a center for learning in the late-18th century when Serbia’s first Gymnasium (Grammar School) was established here.
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.
Last, but not least…Much more than just a music festival, EXIT began at the Petrovaradin Fortress in 2000 as a protest movement against the government of Slobodan Milošević, who was overthrown in October of that year. As far as music goes, what began as mostly electronic has embraced every other genre, from hip-hop to folk, reggae, metal and alternative rock. The roll-call of bands and artists to have played EXIT is staggering and includes Snoop Dogg, the White Stripes, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Morrissey, Patti Smith, Massive Attack and many more. The festival lasts for five days at the start of July: There are three main stages, one for rock and pop, another for dance and finally one for hardcore and metal. Side events, DJ sets and acoustic gigs can be caught all over the city.