As a rule, Novi Sad, which straddles the banks of the Danube in Serbia’s autonomous province of Vojvodina, keeps a low profile – even though it’s culturally diverse enough to have six official languages. Ask nearly any local to describe the city, and the most common phrases will inevitably be "laid-back" and "relaxed".
In 2021, the town was European Capital of Culture. It also attracted over 180,000 people to the 20th anniversary of award-winning music festival EXIT, the first major music event to take place in Europe since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About an hour’s drive north from the Serbian capital Belgrade, settlements in the area of the Petrovaradin Fortress – Novi Sad’s calling-card attraction – date back thousands of years. With great wine from the slopes of nearby Fruška Gora mountain, hearty Vojvodinian food, a sandy beach on the Danube, and worthwhile galleries and museums, you’re in for a good time. Here's how to spend a fantastic couple of days in this historic city.
Day one: history, culture, and architecture
Tour the iconic fortress in the morning
Start your pursuit of the perfect Novi Sad weekend where everything began, at the Petrovaradin Fortress. Many today see the ramparts as synonymous with the EXIT festival, making this one of the planet’s most iconic and unusual music venues. History buffs, however, see the site’s 18th-century citadel – on a 40m-high rock guarding the Danube – as one of the most ingenious systems of defence ever created. A maze of trenches, moats and walls constructed by the Austro-Hungarians protected its holdings during conflicts with the Ottoman Empire. After perusing the fortress and its museum, be sure to book a tour of 16km (10 miles) of spooky underground tunnels.
Wander the city center in the afternoon
Coming down from your strategic perch, cross the river and lose yourself in Novi Sad’s city center. Amble to the Gallery of Matica Srpska for one of the country’s most important cultural collections. Approximately 500 pieces from the 16th to 20th centuries provide a deeper insight into Serbian art, heritage, and traditions. After, stroll along the avenues of Zmaj Jovina and Dunavska – a classical Central European cityscape framed by cafes, boutiques, galleries, and Austro-Hungarian pastel- and mustard-colored architecture. A walk through the historic center between the Roman Catholic Church of the Name of Mary, the Orthodox St George Church, the Synagogue, City Hall, and the Bishop’s Palace is an architectural masterclass and a swirl of Secessionist, Neo-Gothic, and Neo-Renaissance styles. Then turn into Misha concept store, which provides a spotlight for around 50 local designers. The well-curated showroom is stocked with clothes, shoes, jewelry, and home items.
Enjoy dinner and live music in the evening
Make your way to Fish i Zeleniš for an unexpected Mediterranean meal with only organic and in-season ingredients. Servers carry dishes from the kitchen across the street to a dining room with wooden plank floors, blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, and walls covered in old photos and vintage knickknacks like cooking ladles and scales.
Things rev up in Novi Sad when the sun goes down. Stroll the main pedestrian thoroughfare, known colloquially as Corso, and pause at one of the many bars and pubs for a glass of local wine. Get into the mix at PUBeraj, which serves cocktails and hosts DJs and live music several times a week.
Day two: explore beyond Novi Sad
Spend the morning touring wineries or the national park
Part of the magic of being in Novi Sad is getting out of it – and into the beautiful surroundings south of the Danube on the slopes of Fruška Gora mountain. Here, vineyards stitch communities together, and wine and food are life’s essential elements. Start in the picturesque town of Sremski Karlovci – the gateway to the national park – where you can visit the region's wineries and winemakers. Follow one of the hiking and off-road biking trails through the forest of the national park, or visit one of the monasteries built in the hills here between the 15th and 18th centuries.
Sample some local wines in the afternoon
Back in Novi Sad in the afternoon you might feel it's time to try some Serbian reds and whites. "The cultivation and production of wine in this part of Serbia is among the oldest in Europe," says Mirjana Maksimović, the president of Žene i Vino, an NGO committed to promoting Serbian wine. "Though nearly impossible to choose, try a white blend called Neoplanta, from Šijački Winery in the village of Banoštor. For a red, taste Probus, a blend from Milanović Winery in Surduk village."
Party into the evening in the Chinese Quarter
Later, head to Project 72 Wine & Deli, a bistro with a cosmopolitan take on local cuisine – and one of the best meals you’ll have in Novi Sad. The ingredients are sourced from small producers in Serbia and the menu changes with the season.
End the night investigating the so-called Chinese Quarter – a former industrial zone turned creative district comprising 10 buildings that once churned out metal products. Today the neighborhood is a community-driven project and incubator for cutting-edge artists, as well as a venue for music and dance. Check out the gigs and exhibitions at its next-door clubs The Quarter and Fabrika.
Day three: chill out by the Danube
Relax on the beach in the morning
Begin your last day with a stroll to Štrand, Novi Sad’s 700m-long (2300ft-long) beach on the Danube. Luxuriate on the sand or in a cafe overlooking the water, as boats, birds, fishers, and swimmers go drifting along. If the tide is low, you can even cross over from its western end to the green haven of Fisherman’s Island; or, if you feel like getting active (and the weather is nice), rent a bike from NS Bike or a kayak from Dunavski Rafting to explore the river along the Danube Cycling Path or from the water.
Have a leisurely lunch by the fort in the afternoon
For a late lunch, go back to where you started – at the foot of the Petrovaradin Fortress you’ll find one of the most iconic restaurants in town, Čarda Aqua Doria. Make sure to secure reservations early and take a riverside seat inside the seductive, dark-wood dining room with views of the bridge. Toast the end of a great couple of days away with a glass of red from Fruška Gora before digging in to a fish stew or other delights from the Danube.
How to plan a great trip to Novi Sad
Novi Sad is less than an hour’s drive from Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport, the increasingly popular regional hub. There are multiple transfer options: bus, shuttle, taxi, and train. In town, there are plenty of lodging possibilities, from classic hotels to Airbnb. The huge rooms at Hotel Veliki, around the corner from happening Zmaj Jovina street, are a great central option.