When it comes to Serbia, Belgrade gets all the attention. And I get it – the city is electrifying. The architecture is gorgeous, the nightlife is incredible, and the atmosphere is youthful and fun. But I think you’d be missing out if you visited Serbia and didn’t give Novi Sad, about an hour north of the capital city, a visit.
Novi Sad is unique. For one, it’s the capital of the Vojvodina province, an autonomous region within Serbia with 26 ethnic groups and six official languages. Yup, six. It’s more colorful than other cities in the Balkans, with more intriguing and characterful architecture. It’s also set to be the European Capital of Culture in 2021, and damn, are they excited about. Five years in advance of this, I saw signs all over the city about 2021! And I thought Olympics fervor started early…
If you’re doing a tour of the Balkans and Belgrade is on your radar, be sure to take a quick trip north. While it doesn’t have Belgrade’s thumping nightlife, there’s still plenty of things to do in Novi Sad. Even better, rent a car for a day and explore some of the surrounding areas – it’s surprisingly cheap if you can get a few people together, and even cheaper if you know how to drive a manual car.
Things to do in Novi Sad
Take a free walking tour
Novi Sad has jumped into the free walking tour fray gripping all of Europe and offering its very own donation-based tour. It starts by the National Theatre and ends at the fortress, truly showing you each and every highlight of Novi Sad in a few short hours. If you’re planning on only doing a day trip to Novi Sad, this is the way to do it: you’ll see all the highlights and still have time to indulge in some delicious food, relax in some kafanas, and amble through the streets are your own pace.
Admire the colorful buildings
Novi Sad is a surprisingly colorful city – in fact, it even made my short list for the most colorful cities in the world! There are many colorful streets throughout the city, but Dunavksa Street was one of my favorites. The area around the main Town Square is really vibrant and beautiful as well.
Marvel at the colorfully-tiled cathedral
You’ll probably never see another cathedral quite like the cathedral in Novi Sad. While our tour guide informed us that it’s not technically a cathedral (that honor belongs to the cathedral in Subotica, Serbia) – all the locals ignore this pedantry and call it “the Cathedral.” Its roof is distinctive for its incredibly colorful tiles on the roof, which glint and glitter in the sun.
Walk through Danube Park
Danube Park is the primary green space and the heart of Novi Sad in the summer. If you’re looking for a break from the streets, or if you’d like a place to wander before making your way over the bridge to the fortress, Danube Park is the place to be.
Go to Petrovaradin Fortress
The fortress in Novi Sad is one of the biggest in the region. It’s best to go there with a walking tour, so you can understand its strategic importance. It has a great view overlooking the Danube and the city center. There are also many kilometers of underground tunnels beneath the fortress, but you have to go with an organized tour. I didn’t have time to check this out but it sounds like an awesome experience!
Eat some ćevapčići
Roughly pronounced “che-vap-chi-chi”, these sausages are the quintessential Balkan experience. Eat more than you can reasonably stomach in one of the many rostilj (barbecue restaurants) scattered throughout Novi Sad and basically anywhere in Serbia.
Visit Fruska Gora National Park
Fruska Gora is filled with woods and hiking trails. Unfortunately, the day we rented a car, it was super rainy. It wasn’t ideal weather for hiking, but it was still beautiful to drive around in. We also stumbled across the TV tower in the middle of Fruska Gora, bombed out during the NATO bombings in 1999. It was odd to see this giant destroyed structure arising from the middle of nowhere. If you like a side of destruction with your natural beauty, I suggest giving it a quick look before enjoying some of the many beautiful hiking trails in the area.
Tour the monasteries surrounding Novi Sad
One of the most interesting things to do in Novi Sad is not actually in Novi Sad, per se. Just outside Novi Sad, about a ten or fifteen minute drive, you can access tons of beautiful monasteries as well as small local wineries. One of my favorites was Krusedol, with its bright red gatehouse and beautiful grounds. Even better, you can buy homemade local honey (med), rakija (essentially fruit-based moonshine), and wines produced by the monks who live there.