Novi Sad – European Capital of Culture
Can you guess which city was named European Capital of Culture for 2022? Forget Vienna, Florence, and Athens… introducing Novi Sad, Serbia!
The capital of the autonomous northern Vojvodina province, Novi Sad is the second-largest city in this Balkan state and a real powerhouse of history and culture – perfect for backpackers! The Danube cuts the city in two and acts as a bridge to the rest of Europe, including the neighbouring countries of Croatia, Hungary, and Romania. But first, let’s explore the European capital city of culture. Grab your passport and take a journey along the Danube with us!
If you are arriving by plane, book tickets to Belgrade’s Nikola-Tesla airport (BEG), which hosts several Air Serbia flights, as well as other well-known airlines such as the budget Wizz Air and the popular KLM and Lufthansa. A short bus or transfer service will drop you at Belgrade bus station. From there, you are only an hour-long bus journey to Novi Sad. Alternatively, the Serbian train service, Србија Воз – Srbija Voz, will get you to your destination in 45 minutes from Belgrade central station. Transport is relatively cheap in Serbia, making it a great destination for budget backpackers!
Novi Sad Sights
When it was built in the 18th century, the Petrovaradin Fortress was the most significant fortification in the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire. This strategic vantage point provided a tactical viewpoint from which the approaching Ottomans’ ships could be spotted from afar. These days, visitors enjoy magnificent panoramas from the terrace café, taking in the view that stretches across the Danube. Understandably, the fortress is famed as the top attraction of the city and the surrounding district. The Novi Sad Museum in the castle details all there is to learn about the history of the city. In addition, one of the biggest music festivals in Europe, EXIT, is held here. More on that later!
Many legends float around this mighty, historical structure. According to such a tale, for example, the designers built cats into the fortification’s walls in the hope that their nine lives would support the fortress’ endurance. Want to know more? Dark tourism fanatics can explore the underground catacombs and listen eagerly to mystifying myths about the underground ruins. Some claim that the Habsburgs hid treasure here, whilst others say that they built a secret tunnel that runs underneath the Danube…
A 25-minute stroll across the Varadin Bridge that spans the Danube will take you to Novi Sad’s old town. The jewel in the crown of this charming area is the expansive Trg Slobode (Freedom Square). Neo-Renaissance buildings frame the square, making it the ideal spot to enjoy a coffee and watch the world go by. One of these magnificent buildings is the impressive City Hall, an important cultural centre of the city. Standing in the middle of the square, you will find the famous statue of Svetozar Miletić. A prominent 19thcentury politician, this former mayor was instrumental in getting the Serbian region of Vojvodina recognised as an autonomous province by the Habsburgs. The statue itself was built by the renowned Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.
From Freedom Square, a promenade down the oldest street in Novi Sad, Dunavska Ulica, will take you directly to the bank of the Danube. (Linguists among us may have already recognised the name as Danube Street.) Stop by the city’s museum district on your way to the river to learn all about Vojvodina province’s long history. Take your pick from the Collection of Foreign Art, the Museum of Vojvodina, and the Museum of Contemporary Art!
Dunavska Ulica snakes around the corner of another symbol of the city, the ever-popular Dunavski Park (Danube Park – keen-eyed linguists!). Covering an impressive 33,695 square metres, this protected nature reserve is a green oasis of relaxation in the middle of the bustling city. There are over 700 different species of trees here, as well as vibrant flower meadows, and tranquil ponds with ducks and swans.
In the winter, Dunavski Park morphs into an enchanted ice forest for the Ledena Šuma festival. Thousands of twinkling soft blue lights adorn the trees and shrubs, creating a fantasy landscape, which you can even ice skate through!
Futoška Ulica, one of Novi Sad’s main streets, hides a little green secret. Futoški Park is located directly on the street, but it is so thickly wooded that you won’t notice any of the bustling traffic just outside. The walking paths are surrounded by densely wooded meadows, whose trees act as a kind of natural noise barrier for this delightful natural haven.
From Futoška Ulica, you can go to the Jevrejska Ulica, the city’s former Jewish quarter. The Novi Sad Synagogue at 11 Jevrejska Street, now used for cultural events, has been rebuilt five times in its three-hundred-year history and is recognised as a cultural monument.
After a long walk around the city, you can relax on the beach promenade, the Štrand, near Limanski Park. Štrand is a sandy beach, running along the bank of the Danube for 700 divine metres. This shoreside paradise is protected from the noise of the rest of the city by dense rows of trees, offering relaxation as well as a breathtaking view over the Danube.
Along the Danube and scattered throughout Vojvodina are the so-called salaši, old farmhouses which showcase traditional Serbian architectural styles. You will find typical Serbian food and traditional furnishings in any one of these salaši. One type of salaši is the so-called Čarde, an old riverside tavern. Here, fish soup is prepared in a cauldron over an open fire, staying loyal to a centuries-old method.
Culture in Novi Sad
Capital of culture
Novi Sad was chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2022. In general, the city is considered the centre of Serbian culture as it is an exciting urban melting pot with 26 ethnic groups, six official languages, diverse religions and a myriad of sights and attractions.
Cultural institutions are also right at home in Novi Sad’s city centre. The national Serbian association for language, literature, and culture, the so-called Matica Srpska – literally translated as Parent of the Serbs – has its headquarters in the city. Serbia’s first national theatre, founded in Novi Sad in 1861, remains one of the country’s major theatres.
The EXIT Festival at Petrovaradin Fortress is one of the biggest music festivals in Europe, and the biggest in Southeast Europe. The mystical ambience of the fortress enhances the effect of the music and is guaranteed to sweep you off your feet. Founded by social-minded students in the year 2000, EXIT has established itself on the international scene, winning multiple awards. The original aim of the festival was to give Serbian youth a voice for social causes, as well as the opportunity to express themselves through music. Today, musicians from all over the world take to the stage to perform in front of an ever-more international crowd, but social responsibility still remains at the heart of the festival’s ethos. Co-organised by the youth, the event also incorporates fundraising for local projects, as well as workshops and market stalls.
Fruška Gora refers to the mountainous landscape around Novi Sad, which is also the oldest national park in all of Serbia. It was opened in 1960 and offers secluded picnic areas as well as bicycle paths and quiet areas for birdwatchers and fishermen.
Nestled on the southern slopes of Fruška Gora, the Vrdnik Recreation Centre offers rest and relaxation against an idyllic backdrop. The entire establishment is built in the shape of a typical Serbian village and champions tradition and nature. The fresh mountain air and spa treatments will have you feeling good as new. Knowing the whole facility is sustainable will boost your mental wellbeing that little bit more, too!
Just eight kilometres along the Danube from Novi Sad, the town of Sremski Karlovci is famous for its countless churches and monasteries. One of the most beautiful and oldest towns in the entire country, Sremski Karlovci has a rich history which was first documented all the way back in the 14th century. At the time of the Habsburg Dynasty, the town was an important border point to the Ottoman Empire. The Austro-Hungarians constructed many Orthodox and Christian places of worship along this border. The elegant charm of the town and its buildings have led many people to consider it among the country’s most splendid sights. Serbia’s first grammar school is a fine example of this irresistible aesthetic. The sub-region is also renowned far beyond the country’s borders thanks to the delicious wine that is produced here.
The 2022 European Capital of Culture is truly a vibrant and unique experience. If this off-the-beaten-track Danube city has piqued your interest, you may want to plan a Balkan road trip. Or perhaps exploring the peninsula with the flexibility and freedom of an Interrail or Eurail pass would be just your thing! Whether it’s Croatia’s 1,777 kilometres of mainland coastline or the mountains and canyons of Bosnia, the Balkans have so much to offer, and Novi Sad is a fantastic starting point!