Novi Sad is the most important center in the north of Serbia, the Vojvodina. It is the second largest city in the country, with its beautiful St. Mary’s Church and Petrovaradin Fortress high above the city. Novi Sad was European Youth Capital in 2019 and even the first municipality outside the EU to be European Capital of Culture in 2022. Reason enough to introduce you to the “Pearl of Vojvodina” and the most beautiful Novi Sad sights!
The history of Novi Sad
Novi Sad came into being only in the Middle Ages, although settlements in the area can be traced back to the Neolithic period. In the late Middle Ages, the town belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary and was called Újvidék. Then in 1526, in the course of the Ottoman advance in the Balkans, the town is conquered by the Turks, who follow a tolerant settlement policy and allow the settlement of Slavs. In 1694, the Austrians begin building a fortress on the opposite bank of the Danube, to which they give the name Peterwardein (Serb. Petrovaradin).
In the Peace of Karlowitz (today’s Sremski Karlovci, the town is only a few kilometers away from Novi Sad), the Ottoman Empire had to cede the entire region to Austria in 1699, and the town was renamed Neusatz. The Austrians subsequently expanded the fortress into the largest defensive fortress in the Balkans, and a small town was created in which only Catholics were allowed to settle. On the other side of the Danube, where today the old town of Novi Sad is located, the town, which is also called Ratzenstadt by Austrians, flourishes.
In 1748, Maria Theresa granted Novi Sad the title of a Royal Free City, which underlined the special importance of the place. Subsequently, more and more Serbs settle here, Novi Sad becomes the most important intellectual center of the Serbs and is also known as “Serbian Athens”. In 1849, the city was attacked by Hungarians and heavily destroyed. After the end of the Habsburg Empire, Novi Sad becomes part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During World War II, the city is besieged by Hungarians, who commit a massacre of the Serb and Jewish population.
After World War II and the Communist takeover, Novi Sad becomes the capital of Vojvodina within the Yugoslav Republic of Serbia, and Petrovaradin is incorporated into the city. During the Kosovo war, the city is heavily damaged by NATO bombers and suffers the worst damage of all Serbian cities, including the destruction of all Danube bridges. Subsequently, reconstruction begins. Due to its outstanding historical significance, Novi Sad bears the title of “European Capital of Culture” in 2022. But enough of the preface, let’s start our visit of Novi Sad sights!
Freedom Square (Trg Slobode)
Freedom Square is the undisputed center of the city, literally all the threads come together here. Here are some of the most famous Novi Sad sights. It is not easy to name the most beautiful building on the square. A hot candidate for the title is definitely the beautiful Novi Sad City Hall. It was built in 1895 and today forms the southwestern end of Trg Slobode.
In front of the town hall there is a statue commemorating Svetozar Miletić. He became mayor of the city at a young age and was one of the most important pioneers of the Serbian nation for its rights within the Danube monarchy; under his aegis, Serbian replaced German as the official language. However, he was not a nationalist, but always sought reconciliation with other peoples in the empire. The monument was created by Ivan Meštrović, who left his mark especially in Zagreb, but also in Belgrade.
Opposite the town hall stands the second important building on the square, St. Mary’s Church (also called Church of Mary’s Name or Crkva imena Marijinog). The Catholic church is the largest place of worship in the city. The neo-Gothic church was consecrated in 1895 and is unmistakably reminiscent of its Viennese model, St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It is one of the most important sights of Novi Sad, mainly because of its colorful roof shingles, four ornate altars and numerous stained glass windows.
Starting from Freedom Square, Zmaj Jovina, Novi Sad’s main pedestrian street, runs northeast. See and be seen is the name of the game here, and the number of chic cafes and restaurants is hard to quantify. It used to be known as “Main Street”, later it was called “Marshal Tito Street”. Baroque, Art Nouveau, Neo-Renaissance and Classicist buildings line the street and, despite their different characters, create an extremely atmospheric overall picture. Especially in the evenings, there is always something going on here in the summer, when the residents of Novi Sad and tourists crowd the terraces of the bars.
While Zmaj Jovina exudes a certain tranquility despite its bustle, Laze Telečkog, a side street, is much wilder and, especially for night owls, the perfect place to turn night into day in Novi Sad. Countless bars and pubs line the relatively short street, which is also home to alternative establishments on many corners and cool street art paintings dominate the scene. You should definitely come as early as possible if you want to grab an outdoor table in good weather!
The Bishop’s Palace is located at the end of Zmaj Jovina and you can’t miss it because of its magnificent, recently repainted facade. Although you cannot visit the building, it is one of the most important Novi Sad sights. By the way, the area was not always as chic as it is today, because in the 19th century there was still a swamp area here, which according to contemporaries must have spread a horrible stench. The palace was built in 1901, and then, as now, it delights onlookers with its exotic-looking exterior, whose decorative elements meander somewhere between oriental motifs, Byzantine echoes and classicist austerity.
Church of St. George (Crkva Svetog Đorđa)
Right next to the Bishop’s Palace stands the most important Orthodox church in the city. The pretty St. George’s Church is already a real eye-catcher from the outside, but its true splendor unfolds only inside. Originally, there was a baroque building from the middle of the 18th century, which was destroyed by the Hungarians in 1849. The church was built in its present form between 1860 and 1880. Today the church is the seat of the Eparchy of Bačka.
Museum of Vojvodina (Мuzej Vojvodine)
The quaint Danube Street (Dunavska) with its pretty backyards leads directly to the Museum of Vojvodina, the most important in the city. It is dedicated to the region’s eventful past. Starting with archaeological finds from the Neolithic period, it spans the Middle Ages to modern times. The history of the Serbs is not the only theme; religious and ethnic groups that once lived here are also given space. Highlights include a collection of magnificent Roman helmets, the bishop’s carriage from the 18th century and a replica of a typical Novi Sad street from around 1900. Life in the city and countryside in times past is also well staged thanks to numerous exhibits.
Danube Park (Dunavski Park)
Opposite the Museum of Vojvodina lays the most beautiful park in the city. Like many other large projects in Novi Sad, it was initiated towards the end of the 19th century. Several monuments commemorate important historical personalities and mythical figures, but above all, the Danube Park is a small oasis of peace and radiates a very special atmosphere with its pretty pavilion, the pond populated by ducks and the many benches. Over 600 trees provide shade, so it never gets too hot here, even in the height of summer.
Futoška Market (FutoškaPijaca)
If you want to dive deep into the Serbian everyday life, then you should definitely visit the most important market of the city. It is located southwest of the old town. Many Serbs do their shopping not only in supermarkets, but in such markets. In the narrow streets of the market you will find everything you need for everyday life. In addition to food from local farmers, you can also find clothing, accessories and everything from toothpaste to detergent, just like in a modern supermarket. You can spend hours here, after all there are over 400 stalls and a sea of smells and colors to explore.
Tip: After visiting the market, you should definitely stop by Jevrejska Street. It is home to the old synagogue of Novi Sad. If you report to the security guard, you can get a glimpse of the magnificent house of worship, which was once the center of the Jewish quarter of Novi Sad, for 100 dinars.
Quay (Kej) and Štrand
Now we leave the center and go to the bank of the Danube. Of course, the first thing to look at is the mighty Petrovaradin Fortress on the opposite bank, but you should definitely take a walk south along the shore. You’ll first come across an impressive memorial created by Jovan Soldatović, commemorating the massacre of the local population here by Hungarian fascists during World War II. Following the quay to the south, you will pass some outdoor fitness equipment and finally reach Štrand.
Štrand, whose unusual name dates back to the Austrian period, is exactly what you would expect under this name (Strand means beach in German). Here you can sunbathe on a deck chair, enjoy the wide gastronomic offer and the view of Petrovaradin, or take a swim. But beware: the Danube is notorious for its whirlpools that cannot be seen. One’s gaze inevitably falls on the remains of an old Danube bridge, which here commemorates the bombardment of the city by NATO. By the way, just a stone’s throw from Štrand lays the Fishermen’s Island (Ribarsko ostrovo), although it is a bit awkward to reach. There are several good restaurants with fish dishes here.
Perhaps the most important of all Novi Sad sights and the undisputed landmark of the city is the mighty Petrovaradin or Peterwardein fortress perched on a rocky spur. Already around 3000 BC the location above the river was appreciated by settlers. However, the area was not really developed until the Austrians, who built a huge defensive complex here between 1692 and 1780, at the feet of which a small town was built, which to this day still looks as if the soldiers had just gone for a walk down to the Danube.
The largest Austrian defense position in the Balkans was built on 120 hectares, a bulwark against an impending Ottoman attack. The landmark of the complex is the White Clock Tower, from which you can enjoy a sensational view of the city. Several terrace restaurants await their hungry and thirsty customers here. In addition, there are several art galleries and above all the city museum, which informs about the eventful past of Novi Sad, while the music festival EXIT, one of the most important in Europe, takes place in the fortress in the summer.
Novi Sad Sights Book Tip
Serbian roads can be a challenge. Good thing there are the maps from the World Mapping Project, with which you can travel safely and reach even remote places on your Balkan road trip without any problems.
- Peter Rump, Reise Know-How Verlag (Author)
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