The first time I had a chance to visit Novi Sad, Serbia was by accident really. I didn’t know much about the city, didn’t prepare at all. It was the most obvious stop between Belgrade and Subotica (where I was about to stay overnight) and I figured I can as well stop in the city and see what are the best things to do in Novi Sad.
And I was enchanted! It was mid-November but felt more like spring with sunny weather and warm yet crispy air. Outdoor cafes were full, people were slowly strolling around and the vibrant atmosphere of Novi Sad took me by surprise. Not to mention there were so many Novi Sad attractions that kept me really busy during my short stop there.
I spent a few hours in Novi Sad, knowing I will be back there eventually. And I was, a few years later! This time I spent three days in the city, not only doing well-needed Novi Sad sightseeing but also simply enjoying the city and its vibe. And I loved it even more! This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Serbia and you can’t miss it during your Balkan trip.
And so today I’m sharing with you what to do in Novi Sad, the third-largest city in Serbia and a real Balkan highlight.
Table of contents
- 1 Where is Novi Sad, Serbia
- 2 Why visit Novi Sad
- 3 A brief history of Novi Sad
- 4 How to get to Novi Sad
- 5 How much time in Novi Sad
- 6 Where to stay in Novi Sad
- 7 Things to do in Novi Sad
- 7.1 Wander around the old town
- 7.2 Marvel at the Main Square
- 7.3 Enjoy local cafe scene
- 7.4 Find beautiful hidden gems
- 7.5 Visit H&M store
- 7.6 Relax in the Dunavski park
- 7.7 Visit Petrovaradin fortress
- 7.8 Admire beautiful art nouveau architecture
- 7.9 See impressive modernism
- 7.10 Enjoy the local street art scene
- 7.11 Discover the Jewish past of Novi Sad
- 7.12 Enjoy the cultural events
- 7.13 Marvel at the beautiful Bishop’s Palace
- 7.14 Visit museums
- 7.15 Relax at Štrand beach
- 7.16 Wander around streets of Petrovaradin
- 7.17 Go for day trips from Novi Sad
- 8 Final thoughts on visiting Novi Sad
- 9 Travel Resources
Where is Novi Sad, Serbia
Novi Sad, the capital of the Vojvodina region in Serbia, is located at the Danube river in the northern part of the country, some 90 km away from Belgrade. It is also close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary and Romania.
Why visit Novi Sad
There are so many Novi Sad attractions that you will be busy for at least two days. You can find there a beautiful old town, some interesting museums and, across the Danube river, there is one of the largest fortresses in Europe – Petrovaradin.
There are also plenty of cultural events taking place in the city, especially since Novi Sad got the title of European Capital of Culture in 2021 (it was eventually postponed to 2022). It is also one of the most multicultural cities in the region, where, besides Serbian inhabitants, you can also find Hungarian or Ruthenians communities.
Novi Sad can be also a good base to explore the interesting yet overlooked Vojvodina region with all it has to offer.
A brief history of Novi Sad
First settlements in the area of Novi Sad date back to the Stone Age but the town was founded at the end of the 17th century when the new Petrorvaradin fortress was being built. It got its current name in 1748 when the inhabitants bought the title of the “free royal city” from the Habsburg Monarchy. Novi Sad developed really quickly and shortly after there were a brewery and a few factories located in the city.
In the 18th and 19th century, this was the largest city in the world inhabited by Serbs and a cultural and political center of the nation (back then Serbians didn’t have their own country), therefore Novi Sad is often called ‘Serbian Athens’. In 1849, during the Spring of Nations Revolution, Novi Sad was bombarded and badly destroyed, most of the buildings were in ruins.
In 1918 the Vojvodina region was proclaimed to join the union with the Kingdom of Serbia and, with a short break during WW2 when it was again under Hungarian rule, has been part of the Serbian country till today.
How to get to Novi Sad
Getting to Novi Sad is actually very easy. There are very frequent bus connections with Belgrade, the journey takes around 1,5 hour. Normally there are also trains connecting these two cities but since the train station in Belgrade was moved outside of the center it makes more sense to use a bus.
If you land at Belgrade Airport and want to go directly to Novi Sad you can use the private transfer – click here for details.
There are also direct trains from Budapest (Hungary) to Novi Sad as well as from Subotica in northern Serbia.
In Novi Sad, the bus and train stations are located next to each other, some 2 km away from the central part of the city. You can take the local bus to get there.
How much time in Novi Sad
You can visit Novi Sad as one of the day trips from Belgrade and see some of the highlights of the city. But I personally think you need at least two days for Novi Sad, to visit all the attractions properly and to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the place. If you want to explore Vojvodina add a few more days to your itinerary.
Where to stay in Novi Sad
The best are to stay in Novi Sad is near the Old Town so you can be close to all the attractions. If you plan to go for some day trips, using public transport, you might want to consider staying closer to the train and bus stations.
Here are some of the recommended places to stay in Novi Sad:
- Budget: Hostel Nomad (9,3/10) / Exit Labirint Centar (9,2/10)
- Mid-range: Kombinat Rooms City Center (9,5/10) / Garni Citi Hotel Veliki (9.0/10)
- Luxury: Arhiv Boutique House (9.3/10) / Garni Hotel Centar (9.2/10)
- and more!
Things to do in Novi Sad
And now, let’s talk about all the best things to do in Novi Sad. You will see how much this city has to offer! They are listed below in no particular order because they all are pretty great.
Wander around the old town
The first thing you should do when visiting Novi Sad is to wander aimlessly around the central part of the city to get a feel of the place. It’s small but really pretty, with beautiful houses in the typical Central European style known in the whole former Habsburg Empire (like the stunning Central Credit Institute Building at the corner of Mileticeva and Grckoskolska streets). The old town was rebuilt after the 1849 bombing hence this style.
Most of the old town is a pedestrian zone and you will be joined by many local people who enjoy spending time here too. And if you want to just sit down and do people watching, there are plenty of sidewalk cafes to do so.
The main streets of the old town are Zmaj Jovina and Dunavska (one of the oldest streets in Novi Sad) – you will definitely end up on both at some point of your Novi Sad sightseeing!
Marvel at the Main Square
When exploring the Old Town stop for a little longer at the Main Square – Trg Slobode (Liberty Square). You will find many of Novi Sad attractions there, including the beautiful NeoRenaissance town hall built in 1895 and the Name of Mary Church dating to the same time, the tallest church in the Bačka region on the border of Serbia and Hungary.
While these two buildings will catch your attention right away there are more sights you can’t miss here. On one side of the Trg Slobode, you will see the beautiful building of Vojvodjanska bank. In the past, it used to serve as a luxury hotel, the most popular venue for fancy balls, and a meeting place for local politicians (in here, in November 1918, the annexation of Vojvodina to the Kingdom of Serbia was proclaimed).
Another interesting building is Hotel “Vojvodina”, on the other side of the square. It’s been a hotel since the beginning, over a hundred and fifty years ago, and was another popular place for fancy balls and celebration or even a theater (unfortunately this part burnt down before World War 2). Hotel Vojvodina was also a favorite accommodation of many famous guests from Serbia and abroad.
On the edge of Trg Slobode, you can see one building that doesn’t really fit into the fine architecture of the square but fans of modernist architecture will surely appreciate it. Tanurdžić Palace was built in 1934 for the local merchant and philanthropist Nikola Tanurdžić.
Right in the middle, you will find a monument dedicated to Svetozar Miletic, the most important 19th-century Serbian politician and a former mayor of Novi Sad. The monument was made by the famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic (you might have seen his works in Zagreb or Split).
Enjoy local cafe scene
Both, the former Austria-Hungary and the Balkans are known for their splendid cafe culture and Novi Sad, as a perfect combination of these two legacies, has a wonderful cafe scene. Whenever you want to sit down for a cup of coffee you won’t need to look for a fine place as in the central part there are good cafes around each corner really.
You might sit down in the outdoor cafe and watch the street life around, you might relax in some cool places with a great interior, you might hide in the passages and visit a quirky cafe located in the tram – the choice is really wide!
I can’t name all the great cafes I visited in Novi Sad, there are so many of them and I’m sure you will quickly find your favorite one too!
When wandering around the old town follow your intuition and don’t be afraid to enter the gates – you might be surprised how many gems you can find there, hidden from the street view.
I managed to discover a few beautifully decorated passages (some of them had small exhibitions on the walls, like with old pictures of Novi Sad) or a stunning art-nouveau staircase. And I’m sure this was just a foretaste of what Novi Sad hides behind the main facades!
Visit H&M store
This might seem like a weird thing to do in Novi Sad but even if you don’t plan any shopping trust me, you want to visit the local H&M store. It is located near the Trg Slobode, at Kralja Aleksandra 3, and looks already beautiful from the outside. But the interior is really mindblowing!
The beautiful townhouse from the turn of the centuries kept its original decor with tiled floors, amazing frescos on the ceiling, a beautifully decorated staircase, and an iron door. Only the clothes don’t really fit there. I was walking around with my jaw dropped, literally.
I was so happy I randomly entered the shop, if it wasn’t for the umbrella I had to buy (the weather forecast for my next destination, Vukovar in Croatia, suddenly has changed and I wasn’t prepared for heavy rains there) I would have missed such a gem! (Then I remembered my friend Emily mentioned this H&M store but I was still surprised when I visited it)
If you would like to relax a bit in a green area there is no better place than Dunavski (Danube) park. Located conveniently between the old town and the Danube river, this is such a perfect oasis in the city.
Like many important Novi Sad attractions, Dunavski Park also dates back to the end of the 19th century and today is a protected natural monument. It’s not very big but so pleasant! You will find there a small pond, a gazebo, numerous monuments, statues and busts of famous Serbs, and diverse vegetation.
When you go from the old town towards Petrovaradin fortress be sure to go through the park and see how pretty it is.
Visit Petrovaradin fortress
Visiting Petrovaradin fortress is, hands down, one of the best things to do in Novi Sad. To get there you need to cross the Varadinski Bridge over the Danube and this already is a great thing to do as the views to the fortress are simply splendid (you can also take the bus but it’s not as much fun).
The fortress was built between 1692 and 1780 however the first fortifications were present in this area a few centuries before. Once the Austrian Army captured the place during their war with the Ottoman Empire they demolished the old buildings and built a brand new fortress that we can admire today. And what a divine place it is!
You can enter the Petrovaradin fortress through one of the few gates and this can already give you an image of the solid construction of the place. Most of the visitors only go to the Clock Tower in the upper part of the fortress (that always reminds me of the clock tower in Graz, Austria) and surely you can see the best panorama of Novi Sad from there.
But be sure to also wander further into the fortress and see its bastions, barracks, and gates, there is also a large underground area that you might visit. You might even see pillars of the old, destroyed bridge in the Danube.
These days Petrovaradin fortress is home to one of the biggest music festivals in the region – EXIT (awarded twice with the title of Best Major Festival in Europe). Each year it attracts tens of thousands of people who want to see live some of the most popular performers of different music genres, from rock to techno.
There are a few cafes and restaurants at the fortress if you would like to sit down and relax a bit. If you would like to get some unique Novi Sad souvenirs you can stop at the Studio Radošević, located right at the entrance to the fortress through the Ludwig gate (I ended up buying a bit too many things there).
Admire beautiful art nouveau architecture
Novi Sad might not have that many spectacular art nouveau buildings like nearby Subotica but there are some gems worth admiring. You will find them in the central part of the city, sometimes when wandering around you might see a building that will leave you in awe – that was the story with me.
My favorite art nouveau buildings in Novi Sad were the already mentioned Central Credit Institute Building, Menrat’s palace (in front of the Trčika, the tram cafe), Tomin Palace (at Trg Marije Trandafil 12), and the synagogue.
See impressive modernism
Novi Sad has something interesting for fans of modernist architecture too. Besides the already mentioned Tanurdžić Palace at the corner of Trg Slobode, you can find some more examples of this style around the city.
The most impressive one is the Building of the Provincial Government and Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina – a large building designed by one of the greatest Serbian architects Dragiša Brašovan and built between 1936 and 1940. It is possible to visit the building during “The Days of European Heritage” but even from the outside, it looks amazing.
I also found nice modernist buildings at Ilije Ognjanovića street (parallel to Zmaj Jovina pedestrian street) and at Bulevar Mihajla Pupina near the Varadinski Bridge.
Enjoy the local street art scene
One of the things that really surprised me in Novi Sad was a great number of really good street art works (although I shouldn’t be that surprised, after all this is a student city and that usually means street art around).
I randomly found some really great works, both big murals and smaller pieces. There was even a copy of one of my favorite murals by the Polish artists known as ETAM Crew (you can find the original work in Richmond, Virginia).
What I managed to find was only a small example of Novi Sad street art, when I googled there are so many great works there, just not exactly in the central part of the city. But even if you see only a fraction of the local street art scene you will be satisfied.
Discover the Jewish past of Novi Sad
In the past, there was a large Jewish population in Novi Sad. The Jewish quarter was established in the city in 1748 and its center was Jevrejska (Jewish) street. From the 19th century, it was lined with shops, craft shops, doctor’s offices, it was also home to many notable citizens of Novi Sad.
The center of the quarter was the Synagogue with Jewish School and Jewish Community Center. The Synagogue was built in 1909 and is one of the largest in this part of Europe. Today the Jevrejska street is one of the main roads in the city but the majestic and beautiful Synagogue building still impresses passers-by.
If it is open be sure to visit it inside too as the interior is just as pretty as the building itself. I was lucky as there was a concert playing when I visited, it only added up to the overall atmosphere of the place.
Enjoy the cultural events
Since Novi Sad has a large student population and always has been one of the most important centers of the Serbian culture, you can expect some good cultural events taking place in the city.
There is the annual EXIT festival that takes place at the Petrovaradin Fortress in the summertime and while this is a highlight, there are more events happening in the city all year long. There are concerts, theater plays (be sure to check the Serbian National Theatre), culinary festivals, art exhibitions, and more.
In 2022 Novi Sad will hold the title of the European Capital of Culture (the first city with this title outside of the European Union) so you can expect even more events taking place there. The ECC title was moved to 2022 due to the pandemic, Novi Sad will share this title with Kaunas (Lithuania) and Esch (Luxembourg). Be sure to check the official website of Novi Sad 2021 for more details.
Marvel at the beautiful Bishop’s Palace
At the end of Zmaj Jovina street, going from Main Square, you will find a beautiful building of Bishop’s Palace. The original palace was standing here since 1741 but was destroyed during the mid-19th century bombing and what we can see today dates back to the very beginning of the 20th century.
The stunning building in the eclectic style, a mix of Romanticism and Secession with influences of Byzantine and Eastern motifs impresses especially with its richly decorated facade.
Today the Bishop’s Palace still uses its original functions and is the residence of the Bishop of Backa. In front of the palace, you can see the monument to the famous local children’s poet Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj.
If you like visiting museums you will be pleased to hear there are a few good ones in Novi Sad too.
The most popular one is the Vojvodina Museum, located in the building of the former court, next to Dunavski Park. It hosts a collection of over 400.000 artifacts, including traces of material and spiritual culture from the territory of Vojvodina starting from the Palaeolithic Age to the 20th century as well as some well-known paintings by famous artists like Peter Paul Rubens.
Other museums worth visiting are The Museum of the Unification of Vojvodina to Serbia, Museum of contemporary art of Vojvodina, Collection of Foreign Art, or City Museum of Novi Sad.
Most of the museums are located at Dunavska street.
Relax at Štrand beach
If you need to relax a bit, especially on a hot, sunny day, there is no better place to do it than Štrand beach. It is located near the Liberty Bridge and is one of the favorite leisure areas of locals, welcoming up to 20.000 people per day in the summertime.
The first beach was established here already in 1911 and over the years it expanded and developed. You can rent a sunbed, get a drink from one of the bars, swim in the Danube, or simply relax.
Wander around streets of Petrovaradin
Once you cross the Danube to visit Petrovaradin fortress be sure to wander a bit around the surrounding area too.
The town was founded by Celts and over the centuries it developed around the fortress. It kind of feels like the time has stopped there. Petrovaradin is really pretty and picturesque, with cobbled streets and small yet nicely decorated pastel townhouses (some of them need a renovation though).
When you look at the town from above you can see rows of red rooftops – wandering around in this maze of lanes is a real pleasure!
Go for day trips from Novi Sad
While Novi Sad itself is a great destination, the city is also a getaway to the Vojvodina region covering the northern part of Serbia. And there are so many interesting places you can find there! There is a national park, old monasteries, small charming towns or vineyards. Vojvodina really has a lot to offer!
Some of the places you should visit include Fruška Gora National Park, Subotica (the jewel of art-nouveau architecture) and Lake Palic, old monasteries like Krušedol and Grgeteg, Sremski Karlovci (most likely the prettiest town in Serbia), Sremska Mitrovica or Vršac.
Final thoughts on visiting Novi Sad
I’m always surprised that Novi Sad isn’t more popular among tourists visiting the Balkans. This city is so beautiful and has so much to offer that everyone should find something interesting there.
As much as I like Belgrade (and especially its brutalist architecture), I think Novi Sad is my favorite city in Serbia and I can’t wait to visit it again!
You should include Novi Sad in your Balkan itinerary too, I’m sure you will be positively surprised with the place too!
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