Located less than 90 minutes from Belgrade, Novi Sad is Serbia’s second city and the administrative center of Vojvodina province. Sometimes overlooked, it’s an ideal destination for a short break or weekend away from the capital. If you can, stay in the charming Stari Grad or Old Town from where all the main sights are within easy walking distance.
Start at the Orthodox Cathedral of St. George [Zmaj Jovina Street] with its white painted exterior and elegant, decorative steeple. Built during the Hapsburg Empire, its neo-classical and neo-baroque lines are an interesting departure from the more usual eastern orthodox style of church architecture. Adjacent is the impressive red brick Bishop’s Palace with its highly decorative façade.
Whatever the season, take your lead from the locals and head to Dunavski Park. Located between the town and the river Danube it is one of the prettiest and most popular parks in the city. By day, the many benches are the preserve of the elderly and mothers with prams. In the evening, it’s a meeting place for teenagers who mill around in groups chatting or playing games on their ‘phones. Dispersed throughout the park are numerous busts and statues. Best loved is the well-worn statue of Đura Jakšić, one of Serbia’s greatest painters. The city’s inhabitants believe that rubbing the statue’s nose will bring good luck.
Kralja Aleksandra, a pedestrianized avenue in the center of the old town, is the perfect place to see and be seen in the early evening. In summer, join the throngs of families, teenagers, and couples of all ages parading up and down or sitting in the many pavement cafes and restaurants.
The top end of the avenue opens on to Freedom Square dominated by the towering Name of Mary cathedral with its pale blonde brickwork and colorful tiled roof and spire. Directly opposite is the elegantly arched façade of the Town Hall; whilst off to one side sits the once-grand Hotel Vojvodina. Lastly, taking pride of place in the center of the square stands a statue of Svetozar Miletić, freedom fighter, protector of Serb rights, and a former mayor of the city.
Across the river on the right bank of the Danube, perched on an outcrop of volcanic rock, known locally as ‘Gibraltar’, Petrovaradin fortress commands the landscape. The red tile roof and vibrant yellow plasterwork make it an unmissable landmark. Behind the now, largely administrative, buildings lie some of the most complex and best-preserved military bastions in central Europe. These days the fortress is best-known as the venue for the annual Exit music festival – one of the largest in Europe – and for its unusual clock tower. The minute and hour hands on the black-faced clock are reversed; the small hand showing minutes and the big hand showing hours. Lore has it that, in days gone by, this enabled fishermen on the Danube to tell the time from a distance.
By way of recreation, swimmers and sunbathers can enjoy the excellent sport and recreation facilities at Štrand, arguably one of the most beautiful beaches on the Danube. Popular with locals and visitors alike, it provides all-year-round leisure activities, cafes, and restaurants in a picturesque setting.
At the weekend, escape to Ribarsko Ostrvo, or Fisherman’s Island, a small peninsula on the river. Green and lush, it’s an eclectic mix of rustic holiday cottages, smart permanent homes, and restaurants and bars set in shady woodland.
Families come here to relax and unwind at the end of a busy week and young people to dance into the early hours on the floating nightclubs anchored in the river.
Alternatively, hire a car and head off into the mountains. The narrow ascent up Mount Fruška Gora winds through the national park and is the only route to the summit for all vehicles; there is a separate road down. The climb is steep and dotted intermittently along the route are designated rest points with spectacular views over the vast Pannonian plain.
Vineyards have covered the slopes of Fruška Gora since the fifteenth century and a wide range of grape varieties is grown. Kovačević near Irig is a modern, commercial vineyard with a charming, airy restaurant. Stop for an old-style Serbian lunch or buy a souvenir bottle of wine in the shop before making your way back down the mountain.
If you return to Novi Sad on the right bank of the Danube be sure to make a detour at Beočin to watch the car ferry ease itself slowly into the mainstream, then chug across the river to Futog.
Text © Brenda Gvozdanović 2017
Photographs © Brenda Gvozdanović and Rade Gvozdanović 2017