The Freedom Square with the Name of Mary Church is the heart of Novi Sad. Credit: Shutterstock

What to do in Novi Sad, Serbia

Discover the hip and varied European Capital of Culture in 2022

Published 09/15/2022 by Lisa Hübener

Even as the second largest city in the country, Novi Sad, Serbia, may not be a household name to many. But “If there were a competition for the most beautiful city in the country, Novi Sad would win the Grand Prize,” say locals. Even though Novi Sad has retained its tranquility, you can feel its youthful exuberance and creativity in many places around the city. This contrast ensures Novi Sad’s place as a European Capital of Culture for 2022. 

The European Union has awarded the European Capital of Culture to cities across the continent since 1985—Novi Sad is the first city outside the EU to receive this honor. Located about 44 miles west of the Serbian capital of Belgrade, the city of bridges is divided into two by the Danube, with Petrovaradin Fortress on the opposite bank of the Old Town. Empress Maria Theresa granted the city royal status in 1694. The city quickly blossomed into a Serbian economic and cultural center. Slavs, Hungarians, Romanians, Germans, Turks, Greeks and countless other ethnic and religious communities also found a home here, which makes its European Capital of Culture designation so apropos. The city’s intent to build bridges between artists and cultural organizations in Serbia and the EU feeds into this designation. Novi Sad’s new motto, “Four new bridges,” symbolizes this cooperation. Each of the city’s main bridges represents a different theme: rainbow, freedom, love and hope. 

Now is the perfect time to explore this city of freedom, love and hope.

Tickets to Novi Sad

 

Eat

A culture is also experienced through its food, and Serbian Culture is no exception. The local specialties have been shaped both by the people of different cultures and by Novi Sad’s two rivers: the Danube and the Tisza, through which all kinds of trade goods and spices came to the city. Expect hearty dishes with a strong Austrian and Turkish influence.

A popular snack for in-between meals is kulen, which is also eaten as an appetizer. The spicy-sour, smoked raw sausage gets its deep red color from lots of paprika and is served thinly sliced on bread. Kajmak, a type of layered cream, is also eaten as a coarse-grained cheese spread on bread, but also used for fillings or as a garnish for numerous dishes.

The most internationally famous dish is Ćevapčići. The spicy, grilled minced meat rolls are considered a national dish in various Balkan states. In Serbia, they are eaten with Turkish-influenced ajvar, a spicy puree of grilled peppers and eggplant, or with kajmak.  

Djuvec is a traditional stew of vegetables and meat whose ingredients can vary from region to region or even from family to family. No wonder as đuveče simply means “pan-fried dish” in Serbian. Peppers and tomatoes form the base, accompanied by rice, noodles or potatoes and lamb, pork or beef, according to taste. Garlic provides the right seasoning. 

A notable specialty is Karađorđeva šnicla. Named after Karađorđe, the leader of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire, it is a cutlet stuffed with cheese or kajmak, which is first rolled and then fried in breadcrumbs.

On holidays, people like to serve sarma, the Serbian variation of the cabbage roll. A seasoned minced meat mixture is wrapped together with rice in leavened white cabbage leaves and slowly braised. 

Sweetly filled, thin palačinke are served for dessert. They are the Serbian version of pancakes (Palatschinken) and still bear witness to the Austrian-influenced past. 

A Serbian dessert highlight is the Vasina cake, flavored with brandy and filled with a walnut, almond and hazelnut cream. According to legend, Vasa Čokrljan created the cake out of gratitude and joy that his wife and daughter survived the severe complications of childbirth unharmed. Even today, the cake adorns celebratory birthday tables.

To experience authentic Serbian dishes, be sure to stop at one of the old farmhouses called salaši. Both their traditional architecture and furnishings have been preserved. The old taverns on the banks of the Danube, called Čarde, are also a great place to visit for traditional dishes deeply rooted in Serbian culture. Our tip: the fish soup.

If you’ve acquired a taste for Serbia and want to take home some of its culinary highlights, The Mother is the place to go. In the middle of the old town, Serbian delicacies are sold and served here: from cheese platters to wine and honey to Ajvar and Rakia, the typical fruit brandy, no wish is left unfulfilled.

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When you ask yourself what to do in Novi Sad, you’d best start your exploration at the Petrovaradin Fortress. It sits elevated above the district of the same name. Built between 1692 and 1780 according to the latest standards of that time, the fortress is still one of the best preserved artillery bastions in Europe. Baroque buildings mix with half-timbered houses and one can only imagine how the Habsburgs’ stately carriages once rumbled through the small streets here. Beneath the fortress, which covers a total of 100 hectares, run numerous hidden tunnels, spread over four levels with a total length of 10 miles. On hot days they offer a welcoming respite and maybe you will even discover the Habsburg treasure, which according to legend was hidden here.

The military importance of the Petrovaradin Fortress decreased over the years as its cultural significance grew. Today, numerous Serbian cultural and educational institutions have created a small town, including a city museum, the historical archive, a planetarium and the Academy of Arts. More than 100 artists studios—among them Atelier 61 with its artfully hand-knotted carpets—and galleries dot the landscape, along with a hotel, restaurants, cafés and a jazz club. Since the year 2000, Exit Festival has attracted around 200,000 music and party seekers to the fortress for four days of rock and electronic music.

Before you leave Petrovaradin Fortress and cross the Varadin Bridge towards the city center, pay a visit to the Clock Tower (a gift from Empress Maria Theresa) in the southern part of the complex. From here, let your eyes wander over the Danube visual feast that is the rooftops of Novi Sad. Follow the bridge over the Danube and you’ll find yourself at idyllic Dunavski Park, one of Serbia’s natural monuments. Get a drink and a snack at the nearby Izlet Café and take a break right there or on one of the benches around the big pond. 

Refreshed, continue to the adjacent Dunavska, one of the oldest streets in the city. Lined with picturesque, partly Baroque houses in pastel colors, Dunasvska hosts some of the oldest shops in Novi Sad. Its quaint charm is enhanced by the many small passages with hidden stores and boutiques. Dunavska leads directly from the Danube into the city center and to the heart of Novi Sad: Trg Slobode (Freedom Square). Among residents, the square is also called “the square of Miletić” after Svetozar Miletić. The two-time mayor of Novi Sad is considered one of the most important leaders of the Serbs and the larger-than-life statue dedicated to him is prominently displayed here.

On Freedom Square, the first thing that will catch your attention is the Name of Mary Church. Even though it does not correspond to its rank, it’s affectionately called “cathedral” by residents—and looking at the neo-Gothic elements such as the rose window, it’s clear why. After the first building was destroyed in 1848 during the revolutionary years, calls for a more opulent church befitting the city’s new status as a free royal city were quickly heard. In 1894, the present church building was completed, and since then it charms as the tallest church (236 feet high) in Novi Sad, with yellow façade tiles and a particularly splendid, colorful roof made of Zsolnay ceramics.

Across from it, at the other end of the square, you’ll find the Town Hall. Since 1895, the richly decorated facade with the characteristic tower has dominated Freedom Square and amazes visitors. The architecture combines various styles, with Neo-Renaissance dominating. The town hall appears particularly beautiful in the evening hours, when the lights softly illuminate the numerous decorative details. Locals and tourists sit in the cafes and bars at the square and enjoy the lively ambience.

On good weather days, numerous refreshment seekers are drawn to the beach promenade in the shadow of the mighty Freedom Bridge. Štrand is a sandy beach about a half-mile-long on the banks of the Danube with an ice cream parlor and beach bar—it’s considered one of the most beautiful beaches on the Danube. The dense trees provide shade during hot Serbian summers and make you forget that you are in the middle of the city. While during the day the lido atmosphere prevails with bathers and beach volleyball, in the evening people like to turn up the electronic music and invite you to a rave. 

Tickets to Novi Sad

Almaški Kraj is a neighborhood north of the Old Town that received more attention in the wake of Novi Sad’s nomination as the European Capital of Culture. As one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and once somewhat neglected, Almaš is now morphing into a cultural hotspot. The abandoned silk factory has been renovated and converted into the Svilara Cultural Station as a venue for various events. Matica Srpska, a Serbian cultural association founded around 1826, is also based at Platoneum Palace. The association’s goal is to preserve Serbian culture while integrating it into Europe—which brings us back to cultural bridges. The exhibition includes Serbian paintings and graphics from the 16th to 20th centuries, as well as a library with around 3,500,000 literary works.

The Chinese Quarter is the hip, alternative part of Novi Sad, located somewhat away from the classic sights. The old factory area is now home to many artists’ studios, small galleries, bars and clubs. Numerous small festivals, theater performances and whimsical exhibitions are also held here as part of the European Capital of Culture program. The decaying industrial buildings, artistic graffiti and creative atmosphere form the perfect contrast to the rather bourgeois old town and once again build an artistic bridge—between old and modern, traditional and innovative, time-tested and forward-looking. 

Stay

Corso Rooms City Centre

The Aparthotel Corso Rooms captivates with its central location in the heart of the old town. In the immediate vicinity you will find numerous sights. Don’t be dazzled by the detailed, historic exterior, as the interior design is dedicated to the elegant Scandi style with indirect lighting. Rooms are spacious with well-appointed bathrooms, Wi-Fi, TVs, and air-conditioning. Breakfast is served in the in-house bar and restaurant, and the garden invites you to unwind.

Tickets to Novi Sad

Boutique Macchiato House 

At the Boutique Macchiato House, love of historic details meets modern comfort and splashes of color meet soothing shades of brown. The bed and breakfast in the old town leaves no wish unfulfilled. Lovingly antique-furnished rooms with modern bathrooms, Wi-Fi, and TV await you. The restaurant is rustic, but with elegant details, and serves à la carte breakfasts that guests rave about. Room service, private parking and an inviting terrace with garden complete the all-round feel-good ambience.