If your idea of travel is an endless stream of famous sights, museums, and monuments, then Novi Sad, Serbia shouldn’t be on your agenda.
But if you’re tired of the tourist treadmill and want to get off for a bit, this relaxed, medium-sized city is a dandy stop. Lonely Planet travel guides describes it as “chipper,” and that word fits it fine.
As long-term travelers, one thing that we’ve learned about ourselves is that we can’t be tourists all the time. Periodically, we need a break from the tourist routine. We want time to relax, reflect and digest what we’ve seen. After the hustle-bustle of Belgrade, we were ready for a change of pace.
We read what a comfortable place Novi Sad was, and because it’s only a two-hour bus ride north of Belgrade, we decided to use it as a base for exploring the area. There were many things we liked about the city, but the quality that appealed most was its people-friendly attitude.
Much of the city center is pedestrianized, and the wide boulevards are lined, both sides, with one cafe after another. The cafes open early and close late, and happy customers while away hours over a coffee, beer, or a large ice cream.
Terri worked her usual magic and found a perfect studio in a wonderful, convenient location. Our tiny second-story studio was at the end of an ancient passage – we rubbed knees when we sat on our postage-stamp balcony – and every view over the terra cotta rooftops was a private moment of travel joy. Our place was buried in the depths of the pedestrian area, so all we heard were the sounds of life afoot: a busker’s flute, far-off conversations punctuated with laughter, and the neighbor’s clinking dishes down the alley. Drinks on the balcony during a world-class thunderstorm was one of the the highlights of our visit.
Unlike some cities we’ve seen, Novi Sad doesn’t have churches on every block, but there was a very active Orthodox Cathedral a stone’s throw from our apartment. We’re early risers, so the sound of morning church bells just around the corner is an endearing, romantic, old world sound rather than a rude wake up. The melodic randomness followed by the chiming of the hour always makes me feel like I’m somewhere special.
Novi Sad won’t knock your socks off with famous attractions and monuments. But what it will do is charm you with its festive pedestrian area, cafe culture, and relaxed ambience.
In our time there, we only saw one small tour group, and the few tourists that come are treated more as a novelty than a nuisance. If you want some time off the treadmill, in this part of the world, you couldn’t pick a better spot.
Novi Sad sounds like a perfect rejuvenate spot. Endless touristing can wear even the most gung-ho person raw. You begin to lose the enthusiasm and start overlooking things on your way to the next dazzling sight. You just stop noticing the little things (like way too funny t-shirts). And a little knee rubbing never hurt anyone 😉
Laura, it was a great stop for a few days. We’ve been moving around more than normal on this trip, so when we can get up without an alarm clock, have coffee, and lounge around in the apartment, it’s quite a luxury. This place was tiny, but it really was super location, and just as romantic as I described. ~James
Looks rather relaxing. You are pushing Serbia up my ‘to do ‘ list!
It takes a bit of research Andrew, but Serbia does have lots to offer. But, I’d let the refugee crisis cool down an bit. ~James
I checked the map. I imagined that you would be travelling south from Belgrade.
The migrant crisis is going to rumble on a bit longer yet I think!
We considered Kosovo, but there are still some problems down that way, so we decided to stay north of Belgrade. ~James
I absolutely love towns like this and activities like NOT touring everything “important.” Thanks for sharing street scenes, people having fun, etc. But I must say that last photo with the huge black graphic is kinda creepy. Know any more about it?
Rusha, we decided years ago that we see what we see, and if we miss stuff, there’s always next time. We’re about quality over quantity. And Luckily, we have the luxury of time, so we aren’t in any rush. The graphic was on a building just around the corner from a small farmers’ market. We don’t really know anything about the artist, but I suspect the interpretation has something to do with the black puppeteer being the government, and the people below cutting themselves free. ~James
You have more insight into that graphic than I could muster. Thanks for replying!
We look forward to the day when full time work allows for less jam packed travel and less tourist driven locations. I would love to know if Terri has a magic website she uses to find such fabulous locations. 🙂
Sue, Terri’s like a dog with a bone when it comes to researching places to stay. It varies from trip to trip, but on this one she said the best ones were booking.com and hotels.com. In the past, we’ve used homeaway with good results. She likes booking.com because you can search for apartments in addition to hotels, and they have reviews. We don’t rent anywhere without reviews, and whenever possible, we rent from an organization instead of individuals. Having a bit of extra time and a nice spot to settle makes all the difference. And the ability to cook, even a bit, is wonderful. Even if its just a microwave and fridge. ~James
We use booking.com all the time and definitely agree about the reviews. I know one shouldn’t wish one’s days away so we will just look forward to the possibility of more time in the future. These days with the oil and gas situation we may have more free time in the near future. Who knows what tomorrow brings. 🙂
Long term travel is amazing but all the foreign stimulus can lead to massive overload and travel burnout. We’ve found that setting up a base and having some semblance of a routine is very important for recharging our batteries and I like your philosophy of we’ll see what we see! Novi Sad looks like a great place to wander around, experience some local life and just chill. Love the picture of the massive bubble! Anita
Anita, we’re reading from the same page. Overload is the word. I don’t have a checklist, and no one is watching. I want to understand what I’m seeing, and it usually takes some time. Terri and I were on our balcony tonight watching the neighborhood come alive. That’s what travel is about . Today, I don’t need another cathedral. ~James
Some of our most memorable travel experiences have been away from well travelled tourist areas. Novi Sad looks like a lovely spot to spend a few days enjoying the quiet. I am not sure if Terri ever uses vrbo.com but it is also a great site to rent properties from. Cheers!
We have used vrbo Lynn, and it worked well – most of the time. But our policy these days is that when possible, we rent from an organization rather than an individual. There are getting to be more and more pros that realize the potential, and they provide good service. We’ve had some great experiences with owners, but we’ve also had some no-shows and missed connections. Mostly, we check the reviews. Usually we can get a good feel from what others have experienced. ~James
Good to know James. That is our 1st rule of them as well, regardless of where we rent from. CHECK THE REVIEWS!
It looks beautiful and colorful and vibrant there. Thanks for sharing it with us.
From the lack of tourists about, I’d say Novi Sad isn’t a big destination. But it was exactly what we needed and we really enjoyed it. ~James
I never made it there – and it looks charming. The colors – unusual and not Balkan feeling at all. Thanks for taking me along!
Tricia, you’re right about the city not feeling Balkan. Of course, it had aspects of that, but it felt a bit more European. I guess this goes back to the days of the Austrian Empire. ~James
Everything about this post said “relax” and unwind. The colors are calming, the people all look so happy and the t-shirt in photo one says it all!!
Martha, we loved this place for lots of reasons, and I’m sure that Novi Sad isn’t a secret, but it felt like our secret. I’ve always thought that tourists warp the feel of a place. I’m a visitor too so I can’t be too critical, but it’s nice to find a genuine place that’s a pleasure and an escape. ~James
I´m starting to appreciate these sort of places more and more. The T-shirt was perfect!
Looks like an enchanting place. My youngest son has the same T-shirt, it seems apt as he thinks he knows everything 🙂
Marie, Novi Sad is charming in a low-key sort of way. It was just what we needed, and it was nice to have a comfortable and fun place to stay. It’s always nice to have a pleasant apartment to return to at the end of the day. BTW, pretty funny about your son. Does he happen to be a teen? ~James
Early twenties but about thirteen in his head!
What timing, we’ll be in town (that same very town) in just over a week! Where are you guys now?
We’ve just arrived back in the US. After Serbia we visited Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria and a stop in London. BTW, if you haven’t planned already, make sure to visit Subotica for the great Art Nouveau. We day tripped from Novi Sad. If you haven’t seen it, here’s our post:
Have a great time! ~James
Thanks James, we already had it in our schedule.
We’re skipping Montenegro this time, however we have plenty of other Balkan countries in our sights!
The current headache we have is trying to figure out where I can arrange a new passport (mine is almost full)!
I’ve had this issue as well Chris, and it’s a pain. One thing that you may or may not have thought of is to just get a new passport instead of extension pages. I did this once and it was amazing how much easier it was to breeze through immigration with a passport with few (or no) stamps and extra pages. In the US, getting a new passport is about the same as getting extension pages. Not sure of your situation, but it’s worth considering. ~James
It is not allowed to actually get additional pages in an Australian passport these days, so a new one is the only option.
Trying to figure out if it’s best to arrange a meeting in Belgrade or Istanbul!
First world problems hey!