If you only have time to visit one city in Serbia, make sure it’s Belgrade – it’s one of the best cities in Europe! However, like is often the case, the largest city isn’t always representative of the whole country and the people that live there. It’s therefore worth considering to visit Novi Sad or to visit Nis (or more accurately Niš) – two of Serbia’s smaller cities. This will enable you to experience another, quieter side of Serbia that you won’t find if you spend all your time in the capital city!
Visit Novi Sad
Located a one-hour bus ride away from Belgrade, Novi Sad makes a great day trip option if you’re in Belgrade or alternatively a logical stop if you’re travelling from Budapest as the regular train from the Hungarian capital to Belgrade stops in Novi Sad.
When you first arrive at the main bus or train station your first impressions of this city might not be great. It has a desolate feel with a large amount of grey, communist-era style buildings and rundown public buses. However, as you edge closer to the old town and centre of the city, the charm of this place starts to become clear with its cute cobblestone streets and a plethora of open squares inviting you to sit down for a coffee or beer.
One full day in this city is enough to visit Novi Sad and see the majority of the sights. I would recommend starting the day with a stroll along the Danube River to Petrovaradin fortress. These days best known as the location of the EXIT music festival held every July, this fortress has never been penetrated by enemy forces and is a great way to spend a leisurely couple of hours walking around and exploring the small artist studios and main museum. If you happen to visit Novi Sad in July and don’t have tickets to EXIT, follow the lead of the locals and head to the banks of the Danube where the party from the fortress overflows.
In the afternoon, spend some time walking around the Old Town, taking in the main sights like the Old Town Hall and Cathedral of Saint George. Locals are proud of the relaxed atmosphere this city offers compared to Belgrade, so follow their lead and have a leisurely meal and drink in one of the many outdoor restaurants.
Novi Sad is a university town so if you feel like partying, make sure you ask your hostel or hotel for some recommendations on where to go – we stayed in City Hostel which was located in the centre of town, had large, clean rooms and very friendly staff that mingled with the guests and weren’t shy about sharing around some homemade rakija to start the night!
We were never supposed to visit Nis. The initial plan was to take a direct bus from Belgrade to Sofia however when the daily bus unexpectedly sold out twenty minutes before departure, we decided to break up the journey and catch the 3.5-hour bus from Belgrade to Nis.
Historically, Niš is best known as the birthplace of Constantine the Great. The small city has influences ranging from the start of the Roman Empire to the Ottoman era. One day is enough to take in the main historical sites and I recommend visiting the Niš fortress which was originally built during the Ottoman era in the 18th century and later used as a Serbian prison during WWI by the Bulgarians. The fortress is well preserved and has a large park around it which is perfect to lay in on a nice, sunny day!
After the fortress, head to the Old Town square and indulge in a traditional Serbian meal of ćevapi or pljeskavica. There are a few places dotted around the main square so follow the lead of the locals and head to one that looks the most crowded!
In the afternoon, the Skull Tower is definitely worth exploring. It was built by the Turks in the 1800s using the skulls of Serbs killed in the Battle of Čegar and whilst only a handful of the original skulls used still remain in the tower, it is an eerie reminder of some of the dark history in Serbia.
We spent the night at Aurora Hostel which is a really clean and quiet place located a peaceful 10-15 minute walk from the main tourist sites and has a lovely outdoor patio area and friendly staff. When torrential rain and a hailstorm hit on the night we were there, the staff helped us order some of the best takeaway pizza we’d had in months!
Novi Sad and Niš are both great cities to spend a day in. If you only have time one, I’d recommend visiting Niš if you’re more interested in historical sites whilst Novi Sad is a better option if you’re after picturesque strolls and a more happening nightlife and restaurant scene.
Have you visited Novi Sad or Niš? What are your thoughts on these two cities? Add a comment below!