While Belgrade is all the buzz right now, no place in Serbia has the vibrancy of Novi Sad’s brimming outdoor cafés, nor the beauty of its gardens and patchwork architecture – and then there are the rock festivals. Novi Sad has all the markings of a town on the make.

Serbia’s Athens
Stretching along the banks of the Danube north-west of Belgrade, Novi Sad cuts an elegant vision of barge restaurants, cathedrals and palaces overlooked by the medieval Petrovaradin Fortress. The town is the capital of the autonomous province of Vojvodina (and the second largest city in Serbia) and is popularly hailed as the Serbian Athens (since they’re referring to its flourishing museums, galleries, libraries and theatres, we can assume they’re aligning themselves with Ancient Athens rather than the polluted Greek tourist trap of today). But despite the buzzing cafés that line Novi Sad’s central shopping district, the place has a dreamy, laidback feel, with gardens and ponds snaking their way past strolling pedestrians.

These gorgeous blocks
A real badge of pride for Novi Sad’s locals is the town’s plethora of architectural styles, mixing Gothic, Baroque, Secession and Neo-Classical. It also houses the phenomenal and hulking Centre for Journalism, built in the Bauhaus style to resemble a massive, streamlined tanker sailing through the centre of town.

Street spirit
Serbians rightly regard Novi Sad as the city of communication – the streets are full of chattering locals who are friendly and inquisitive about visitors. The university, museums and art galleries only bolster the town’s social vibe, but it’s the city’s burgeoning festival scene that really pulls in the punters – the Sterijino Pozorje festival of local theatre and the huge (200,000 revellers) EXIT Festival, which is the largest open-air music festival in south-eastern Europe. EXIT attracts thousands of freaks from around Europe to the best bands on the planet. In 2005, EXIT featured The White Stripes, Ian Brown, Underworld and around 60 other acts from Napalm Death to Glimmers.

Worth a look

Petrovaradin Fortress
The city’s trademark is Petrovaradin, which overtakes a hill on the right bank of the Danube and in ye olde times guarded the town against the invading Turks (the only Serbian town to do so successfully). Built in 1692, the massive fortress hosts 12,000 gun turrets, 16km of subterranean tunnels (some are rumoured to be secret passageways into the Danube) with galleries on four levels, and 88 art studios. Tours are available through the fortress’ subterranean alleyways, but the above ground 360° views of Novi Sad are the real draw.

The Strand city beach
Controversially hailed as the most stunning piece of beachfront on the Danube, The Strand is a haven of active bodies, cafés and outdoor sports, including beach volleyball and canoeing. Around this area, some of the land once subsided at an alarming rate. Whole towns that were once built on the top of a hill are now metres under water, so you could be swimming right over the top of a lost church spire. Crazy stuff.

Ribarsko ostrvo
Also known as Fisherman’s Island, the Ribarsko is a nifty complex that boasts sailing clubs for water sports enthusiasts, as well as heaps of excellent restaurants with food from right around the world, as well as some local seafood specialties. Cheap and tasty.

Bonus points for: Narnia meets Woodstock
Loses marks for: Thieving Napalm Death fans