“Why would you want to visit Novi Sad!?” That’s what my Belgrade hosts asked me when I mentioned that I was contemplating a day trip to this city, about an hour’s drive north of Belgrade. “Why don’t you just go to Zemun? It’s much prettier!”
Their reaction completely took me by surprise! Novi Sad is a popular day trip from Belgrade – I had seen some beautiful pics of the old town and, well, I just wanted to get out of the city for a bit. So, why on earth not!?
Zemun vs. Novi Sad
But, after some reflection, I came to understand Belgrade citizens’ bias towards Zemun. It is a mixture of simple logic and pride! You see, both Zemun and Novi Sad are situated on the banks of the Danube and both exude the wonderful Central European charm and architecture that is the happy by-product of once having been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (Yes, the empire stretched that far south!)
Furthermore, both Zemun and Novi Sad are being watched over by imposing fortresses: the Belgrade and Petrovaradin fortresses, respectively.
The big difference, however, is that Zemun is situated just 6km from Belgrade’s centre (you could walk there along the Danube) whereas Novi Sad requires a trip by bus, train or car.
So, for a Belgrade citizen it makes perfect sense that a visitor invests extra time in their beloved city by visiting beautiful Zemun, instead of going somewhere else.
In my defence, though, I had already visited Zemun, which admittedly is a really gorgeous little town. It used to be an independent town until it was absorbed into Belgrade in 1934. (If I ever had to move to Belgrade, I would probably choose to stay in Zemun.)
Novi Sad, the perfect day trip
Anyway, I digress. The tourist in me was really curious to explore the world beyond Belgrade’s city boundaries, so I did the ‘unthinkable’ and travelled to Novi Sad for the day!
If you are feeling equally ‘rebellious’, here are a few things you can expect to find on your visit to Novi Sad:
Novi Sad (which means ‘new garden’ in Serbian) is Serbia’s second largest city and the capital of the province of Vojvodina.
The pretty old town centre is compact and all the main sights can be reached comfortably on foot. It is fun to explore and there are many little cafés where you can treat yourself to a drink or a snack.
Novi Sad is set to be the European Capital of Culture in 2021, a rather fitting title as it was the centre of Serbian culture in the 18th and 19th century (during the reign of the Habsburg Dynasty) and even earned itself the nickname of ‘Serbian Athens’. Most of Novi Sad’s buildings date after 1848 as much of the city was heavily damaged during the 1848 Revolution.
Novi Sad’s top attraction is the imposing Petrovaradin Fortress. Called the ‘Gibraltar on the Danube’, it has been keeping a watchful eye over Novi Sad for centuries and witnessed many important chapters in history. Once a year, it lets its hair down for EXIT, one of Europe’s largest summer music festivals.
A visit to the fortress is a must. Your leisurely walks along the fortress walls will reward you with magnificent views across the Danube to Novi Sad!
Don’t miss the quirky Clock Tower – famous for having its hands the wrong way around (the small hand shows minutes and the big hand shows hours) to help distant fishermen on the Danube read the time more easily.
Within the fortress walls, you will also find the Novi Sad City Museum where you can learn a bit more about the city’s history.
And, if you have always dreamed of sleeping in a fortress, you’ll be happy to learn that there is a 5-star hotel where you can check in!
The heart of Novi Sad – Freedom Square
From Petrovaradin Fortress, cross the Danube, via Varadin Bridge, to reach the heart of Novi Sad, Freedom Square (Trg Slobode) within a comfortable 15-minute walk.
In the centre of the square is a statue of Svetozar Miletić, a 19th-century politician and city mayor who championed the political rights of the Serbs.
Freedom Square is flanked by two beautiful 19th-century buildings: the neo-Renaissance Town Hall and the neo-Gothic Name of Mary Catholic Church with its 72m-tall tower, stained glass windows and colourful ceramic-tiled roof.
Freedom Square extends into the city’s charming pedestrian zone with nice little cafés, shops and more historic spaces to explore.
On the opposite side of Freedom Square, past the Catholic Church along the pedestrian zone, you will find another beautiful building – the Bishop’s Palace (Vladicanski Dvor), which is the residence of the (Serbian Orthodox) Bishop of Backa. In front of this residential palace is a statue of Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, a famous Serbian doctor and children’s poet, who is especially known for his nursery rhymes.
Orthodox Church of St George
The Orthodox Church of St George is just behind the Bishop’s Palace. The present-day church was built in 1905, on the ruins of a church built in 1734 and destroyed in 1849. I was lucky to arrive at the church shortly after a wedding. There was such a lovely atmosphere with a few musicians making music, while the bridal couple still posed for a few more wedding pics. inside the church.
In the church courtyard, there is an Orthodox cross of red marble, said to be Novi Sad’s oldest public monument.
A few minutes’ walk away from the pedestrian zone, you will reach the Danube Park (Dubavski Park), a nice green space where you can relax next to a small lake. I discovered the park by chance. It is built on marshy land, close to the bank of the Danube (and Varadin bridge). While the park did not wow me (maybe because I visited early Spring and not much was flowering), I enjoyed the small collection of sculptures. And, if you are a fan of Sisi (the Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth, who was killed in 1898 in Geneva), there is a small island in the lake named in her memory (‘Erzsébet Island’) with a single weeping willow tree on it …
Last, but not least, there is the Synagogue – a beautiful Art Nouveau-style building built in 1909 by Hungarian architect Lipót Baumhorn for the once-large Jewish community. It used to form the centrepiece of a trio of buildings by Baumhorn, the other two buildings having been the Jewish school and Jewish community building.
Today, the Synagogue is frequently used as a concert hall, because of its fine acoustics, while the old Jewish school is home to a ballet school.
To reach the Synagogue, walk away from Liberty Square past McDonald’s and the (rather ugly – no town is perfect!) National Theatre onto the busy Jevrejska (Jewish) Street. After a five-minute walk along this street, you’ll reach your destination.
Not a shabby way to spend a day trip from Belgrade, right? To learn even more about Novi Sad, visit the city’s official website.
Have you ever been to Novi Sad? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?
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