Planning a trip to Serbia? Don’t miss Novi Sad, the country’s second-biggest city and northern cultural hub. Here’s what to do in Novi Sad, including my favourite top sights and off-beat attractions.
Cradled by a crook in the Danube and shielded by a 17th century fortress, Novi Sad could have been ‘just another’ medieval town. But Serbia’s second-largest city and capital of the autonomous Vojvodina Province doesn’t rest on its laurels.
Hints of old-world Habsburg charm can be found on the workbenches of Novi Sad’s leather shops, carved into its historic facades, and worn on the faces of the dapper locals who frequent its suave cafes and bustling markets. First established by Serbs denied the freedom to practice their Orthodox faith, an undercurrent of rebellion still runs through Novi Sad, bubbling up in the city’s art and culture scene.
Novi Sad was our first stop in Serbia and created an instantly positive first impression of the country. I love Novi Sad for its marriage of straight-laced piety (the Bishop lives here) and cultural vibrancy. It’s not just me who rates Novi Sad highly: The city was named European Youth Capital for 2019 and is pegged to be European Capital of Culture in 2021—the first non-EU city in history to be awarded the honour.
Barely an hour out of Belgrade and small enough to navigate by foot, it’s a perfect add-on to your Serbia itinerary. If you have more time to spend in northern Serbia, Novi Sad is a gateway to the national parks and wineries of Vojvodina, cute towns such as Sremski Karlovci, and further afield, the Art Nouveau outpost of Subotica.
My complete guide for what to do in Novi Sad covers the city’s top tourist attractions, a few hidden gems, plus food and drink recommendations.
Where to stay in Novi Sad
I recommend spending at least one night in Novi Sad. We stayed for three nights and although we tend to do things at a (much) slower pace, we still found enough to keep us occupied.
Novi Sad is a compact city, so you can’t really go wrong when looking for an area to base your stay. If you want to be in the heart of the action, I recommend choosing accommodation that’s close to Trg Slobodan, Novi Sad’s main square. We stayed a little bit further out, close to the synagogue, and still had no trouble getting to and from the downtown area on foot.
Budget | Hostel Kutak offers bunks in bright, minimalist dorms for as little as 9 USD/night. The location is great—just 7 minutes’ walk to the main square.
Local | We love staying with local families when we visit new cities. In Novi Sad, we were hosted by Nikola, who provided us with some excellent local tips and really made our time in the city that much more memorable. Nikola’s place—a very comfortable private apartment with full kitchen—is available to rent here on Airbnb. If it’s your first time using Airbnb, you can sign up with this code to receive $55 AUD off your booking.
Boutique | Elegant rooms and a chic cafe/bar make Boutique Hotel ARTA the top choice for bespoke accommodation in Novi Sad. The location is a little bit out of the way; but with parking available on-site, it’s a good option for anyone who has their own wheels.
Atmospheric | Located inside one of Novi Sad’s most iconic buildings, the Tanurdžić Palace, Hotel Putnik is a top choice for anyone who likes their accommodation with a side of architectural flare. It receives good reviews from travellers, and the location right on the main square is unbeatable.
What to do in Novi Sad: My favourite top attractions & hidden gems
Here are my 17 recommendations for what to do in Novi Sad. This post could also work as an action-packed one-day Novi Sad itinerary. At the end of the list, you’ll find a handy Novi Sad map.
Cruise Novi Sad’s morning markets
Potted flowers, local honey, pyramids of paprika and little bundles of spring onions—these are just some of the delights you can find in Novi Sad’s morning markets. We visited two green markets during our visit: The first, Futoška Pijaca, is tucked behind a row of buildings in the newer part of town. There is also a market located behind Danube’s Park. The latter is more established, with wooden Christmas market-style stalls. I also found it a bit more touristic.
For a truly local Novi Sad experience, head to the local market first thing on a Saturday morning, when most people are out doing their grocery shopping.
Eat brunch at Kombinat
Now that you’ve seen Novi Sad’s fresh produce at the market, it’s time to sample the goods. Kombinat doesn’t serve traditional Serbian food (that’s coming later); rather, this trendy cafe specialises in healthy brunches. Kombinat is packed to the rafters on weekends with local families. Arrive early to score a table outside. We loved Kombinat’s fresh juices, the zucchini fritters with sour cream and the house frittata—all prepared with fresh ingredients and very reasonably priced.
Hunt down Novi Sad’s best street art
Novi Sad has a couple of cool large-scale murals and smaller pieces. You can find the best street art outside Kombinat and hidden in the alleyways along Novi Sad’s main street.
One of my favourite murals is dedicated to Novi Sad’s long history as a bicycle-friendly city (another contrast to Belgrade, which is still a great city for cycling but has less infrastructure). Part art and part didactic, it offers a timeline of the city’s bicycle-related developments and explains why you see so many bike lanes and cyclists in Novi Sad today. Find it behind Novi Sad Synagogue.
Do a 360 in the main square
Trg Slobode (Freedom Square) is Novi Sad’s main plaza and anchors the rest of the city. Standing in the centre and doing a spin reveals a panorama of Novi Sad’s finest architecture and most important buildings. Novi Sad’s biggest cathedral stands prominently at the north-eastern end, mirrored by the Neo-Renaissance-style Town Hall at the opposite end.
The two longer sides of the square are lined with 18th-century facades, including the Hotel Vojvodina. Built in 1854 and running for 60 metres along the square, it was once one of Novi Sad’s finest establishments. Tanurdžić Palace, the seemingly missfit brick building on the south-east corner, was built in 1934 and inspired by the Bauhaus school of design. It now houses Hotel Putnik.
The imposing statue in front of the City Hall is dedicated to Svetozar Miletić, former mayor of Novi Sad and political leader of Serbs in Vojvodina.
Discover the dazzling churches and synagogue
The Name of Mary Church, Novi Sad’s biggest Catholic church, dominates Trg Slobode and tops most tourists’ list of things to do in Novi Sad. The square-facing entrance is topped with a 76-metre-high bell tower. The cavernous church interior is modestly decorated with a white roof and stained glass windows. Its most impressive design features are without a doubt the roof gables and spire, both covered with colourful Zsolnay tiles. These are the same Hungarian-made porcelain tiles used on rooftops in Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, and elsewhere throughout the former empire. Try crossing the garden to the row of nearby restaurants to get a good view of the colourful mosaic.
Behind the cathedral, you’ll find Novi Sad’s main Orthodox cathedral. Saint George’s is the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Eparchy of Bačka and strolling distance from the Bishop’s House. The church was finished in 1905 and is topped with a lovely clock tower. The interior decoration is more lavish than The Name of Mary, as is the way with Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Both Novi Sad and Subotica boast beautiful synagogues—although neither is in use (Serbia’s only active synagogue is in Belgrade). Novi Sad Synagogue and an adjacent school were built in 1909 for the city’s Jewish community, which numbered roughly 4,000 people. After WWII, the synagogue fell into disuse. Today, it serves as a venue for cultural events.
Amble down the main street
To reach the Orthodox cathedral from the main square, you’ll need to take Zmaj Jovina, Novi Sad’s main pedestrianised street. The wide boulevard, the city’s main artery, is clotted with tables and umbrellas belonging to outdoor cafes and bistros. Unlike shades-of-grey Belgrade, everything is painted in pastels.
Beautiful passageways with plaster ceilings cut into the sides of buildings reveal courtyards filled with bakeries, clothing boutiques and yet more cafes. Don’t miss ducking down a few of the arcades to see what lies behind Zmaj Jovina’s facades. At the north-eastern end, the street opens out onto a small square dominated by the Bishop’s Palace.
Visit the Bishop’s Palace
The Bishop’s Palace isn’t just a palace by name: It’s the chief residence of the Bishop of Bačka Eparchy. Given that it’s still used as a private residence, visitors aren’t allowed inside. Instead, you’re left to marvel at the three-storey house’s exquisite facade, which is covered with subtle terracotta-coloured tiles that shimmer in the midday sun. The design is the work of Vladimir Nikolić and Julijo Anika, and follows a Serbian-Byzantine style. The Serbian poet, Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj, who was born in Novi Sad, is memorialised in the statue out front.
Peek inside Serbia’s prettiest H&M
I don’t normally advocate fast-fashion, but I’ll make an exception for Novi Sad’s H&M. The branch of the store—located at the southern corner of City Hall, just off Trg Slobode—has to be counted among the prettiest in the world. Part of a large turn-of-the-century apartment row, the portion of the building occupied by H&M features heritage floor tiles, a perfectly restored ceiling fresco in the stairwell, carved banisters, and wrought iron grills. The stunning craftsmanship is a sharp contrast to the racks of mass-produced clothing.
Shop for local leathergoods at The Manual Company
One place I do recommend for your Novi Sad souvenir shopping is The Manual Company. Founded in Novi Sad in 1985, the brand crafts cow’s leather bags, wallets and accessories according to traditional methods. The Manual Company currently employs 50 master craftspeople in its Novi Sad factory who design for its house labels and contemporary brand, Coffee With Milk.
There are two Manual Company boutiques on Zmaj Jovina, Novi Sad’s main street. The larger store is an attraction unto itself: English pub-style on the outside, inside it’s dressed up like an historic shoppe, with an antique crank-operated cash register, a wrought iron staircase, a dark wood shopfit, and more incredibly detailed frescoes on the concave ceiling.
If you run out of time, The Manual Company also has branches in Belgrade. Check out the Manual Museum of Forgotten Art, also in the capital, which displays some of the 200,000-odd artefacts in the company’s collection. These include antique instruments, packaging, and other accoutrements related to leatherwork and Serbia’s belle epoque of handicrafts.
Make a coffee stop at Trčika
Another example of Novi Sad’s old-world charm, Caffe Bar Trčika pays tribute to the city’s tram system, which launched in 1911 and ceased in 1958. The cafe is located inside the bright-blue shell of one of the first locomotives to ply Novi Sad’s streets. The most unique cafe in the city, Trcika sits on a portion of railroad track at the end of the main street. Guests can choose between blue velour seating in the downstairs extension, or the upstairs section of the tram that resembles a dining carriage, with leather booths and a long bar lined with stools.
By day, Trcika serves excellent coffee and cold drinks. At night, the cafe flings open its glass doors and transforms into a party tram, replete with DJ decks. Like most venues in Novi Sad, smoking is allowed inside. We visited at opening time (9am) to avoid the fumes.
Stroll through Danube’s Park
One of Novi Sad’s biggest and most popular green spaces, Danube’s Park is a cross between a public park and an arboretum. 250 species of trees, flowers and plants, including many rare varietals such as English oak, line the park’s snaking pathways and the edge of an artificial lake. Locals have been gathering here since the park was first designated in 1895. Although we were too early to see the park in its green finery, the autumnal colours are spectacular.
The park sits right on the Danube waterfront and serves as a front garden for more of Novi Sad’s finest homes and the nearby Museum of Vojvodina.
Cross the bridge to Petrovaradin
Petrovaradin, Novi Sad’s second municipality, is separated from the rest of the city by the Danube. To get there, you’ll need to cross the Varadin Bridge. There are regular city buses connecting Novi Sad’s two halves, but I highly recommend crossing the river by foot to get the best views of the fortress and its rocky bluff. The scene is especially pleasant at dusk.
Petrovaradin was originally founded by the Celts before being occupied by the Ottoman Empire. If you plan on travelling further afield, Petrovaradin is also the gateway to Fruska Gora National Park and Sremski Karlovci, with buses passing through the impressive Belgrade Gate.
Sample something sweet at Novi Sad’s best cake shop
Novi Sad has dozens of bakeries and patisseries to satisfy sweet tooths. Our favourite, Multi Tarte, is located on Petrovaradin’s colourful main street, Beogradska. Biscuits, French flans and Serbian classics are all made on-site. We really enjoyed the lemon tart and apple-vanilla pie. The shop is on the way from the bridge to the side roads that lead up to the castle, making it a perfect pit stop for a pre-fortress pick-me-up.
Explore Petrovaradin, Novi Sad’s Fortress
Petrovaradin, Novi Sad’s most iconic landmark, is nicknamed ‘Gibraltar on the Danube’. The cornerstone of the present-day structure was laid in 1692 atop the remains of ramparts, city walls, monasteries and other left-overs from the area’s time under Roman, Turkish and Hungarian rule. Unlike many of Serbia’s other fortresses which were single-mindedly destroyed in the interwar period, Petrovaradin was spared. It lives on as one of the country’s most impressive monuments.
To get up to the fortress, visitors must first navigate a winding stairway followed by a walk through a long, dark tunnel. Petrovaradin has two levels, an upper and lower section separated by a moat and connected by arched gates, drawbridges, uphill paths and subterranean tunnels. The layout and scale reminded me of the fortress in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Both have fulfilled a similar fate in being transformed into cultural and civic spaces, but how visitors experience Petrovaradin fortress is very different to Ljubljana.
As with Belgrade Fortress, Novi Sad’s fortress hasn’t been turned into a museum (although there is a museum and planetarium on-site)—rather, for the most part, it’s been left as an open-air playground with a sequence of public spaces. There aren’t any signs or maps, no designated paths, safety barricades or instructions. Visitors are instead free to roam around the grounds as they see fit.
At the top, terraces and some buildings have been co-opted for modern-day use as shops and cafes (see more below). The clock tower, with its reversed hands (a trick to allow Danube fishermen to read the hour from afar), is also accessible from the top level. Its design is straight out of Transylvania.
Pick up a Novi Sad souvenir at Studio Radošević
Every year, Petrovaradan plays host to EXIT Festival, one of the biggest music and culture events in Europe. Outside of festival season, you can still get a feel for Novi Sad’s subculture in Petrovaradan’s art studios and design boutiques. There are a series of ateliers set inside one of the fortress buildings. My favourite belongs to Studio Radošević. The shop-gallery features a great display of graphic art posters created for bands and festivals, all in frames suspended from the arched roof and walls of an old tunnel-like store room. It’s definitely one of the more unusual galleries in Serbia.
The studio’s small shop sells tote bags, t-shirts and other souvenirs printed with quirky Novi Sad-inspired designs.
Sip sunset drinks at Restoran Leopold
Also at the top of the fortress, you’ll find a string of west-facing cafes and bars that offer perfect sunset views over the low castle wall. Restoran Leopold is one of the fancier restaurant-bars and serves local beer, cider, cocktails and coffee as well as light meals. Locals stream into the fortress complex in the hours leading up to sunset, so get there early to stake out a seat in summer.
Eat dinner at Fish & Zeleniš
Back in town, my favourite restaurant in Novi Sad is Fish & Zelenis. Our guesthouse host, a chef by profession, recommended it to us. The nautical theme is slightly jarring, but the food and service are both superb. Fish and seafood are the house specialties, and the menu draws influence from Dalmatian, Istrian and Greek cuisines. We loved the hummus with homemade bread, the grilled squid, and the turkey stuffed with feta. At the end of our meal, our waiter gifted us two little pots of house-raised honey to take home. Such a sweet gesture.
What to do in Novi Sad: Novi Sad map
Use this map of what to do in Novi Sad to help plan your visit.
More time in Novi Sad?
We decided to spend a little more time in Novi Sad so that we could fit in a half-day trip. We chose to visit the nearby town of Sremski Karlovci, which was easy to reach by bus. The main attraction is the architecture and the pretty town square.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the right time of year for us to visit Fruska Gora National Park or the wineries and monasteries around Novi Sad—if we ever return to Serbia, this will be at the top of our list!
How to get to Novi Sad
We travelled to Novi Sad from Osijek in Croatia and left by way of Subotica. Novi Sad is well-connected to all major cities in Serbia and Croatia, with buses to and from Belgrade departing every 30 to 60 minutes. Novi Sad bus terminal is located 2km north-west of Trg Slobode. Staff speak English.
Check for specific bus times and fare information on Balkan Viator.
Have you been to Serbia’s second city? What are your favourite things to do in Novi Sad? I’d love to hear your recommendations!