The EXIT Festival, Novi Sad
It is amazing to me, though perhaps it should not be, that after all the turmoil of the nineties in Serbia, the war, sanctions, isolation, dictatorship, the one single thing to put Serbia back on the European map is a music festival! That festival is of course the EXIT festival, held annually since 2000 in Novi Sad at the Petrovaradin Fortress, overlooking the river Danube.
Background to EXIT
The event now lasts 4 days, although to begin with it was an all-summer, rag-tag event comprised of lots of different music and arts events, born partly from the famous Serbian student protests – Milošević was still in power in 2000. Now, tens of thousands of people from all over Serbia, the region, Europe and the world flock to the event, which is localised on the fortress site and which attracts some of the biggest names in popular music. Just some of the artists at the EXIT festival have been: Rollins Band, Stereo MC’s, Chumbawumba, Cypress Hill, Brand New Heavies, Slayer (?!), Pet Shop Boys, Billy Idol… Sting also performed a one-off concert up on the fortress, no doubt under the influence of the EXIT festival.
Now you have to put this in context – Serbia barely saw a major musical act visit from 1992 onwards due to the above-mentioned factors. So what is it about the EXIT festival that suddenly got the world’s top music acts so excited about coming to Novi Sad?
The secret to EXIT’s success
My opinion can be summed up in three words: location, location, location.
Whatever the story behind the initial approval to allow a huge musical festival to be held on what is effectively a protected historical monument, the amazing hilltop fortress location surely became the key reason that the EXIT festival organisers find it so easy to attract major acts, despite what was probably, at least initially, a slightly lower budget to pay performers (though ticket prices have crept up, especially for those sold via agents in London etc.) I mean what country, other than a crazy state like Serbia, would allow tens of thousands of young people to swarm over a major historical landmark for four days per year, as the pounding music on multiple stages and the feet of the multitudes of visitors slowly erode away this famous fortress?!
In any case, the EXIT festival has done wonders to get people talking about Serbia again as a country with something to offer the world, rather than as an international pariah, haven of war-criminals, nation of nationalists…
Accommodation for the EXIT festival
You can find out most of the info you need on the official website, link above. Accommodation for most visitors is in the well-organised campsite that is set up in a riverside copse just across the Danube from the fortress. From there it is a few minutes walk across the bridge and up a long flight of stairs to the entrance. And no thinking you might be able to sneak in – the fortress was built to stop that sort of thing!
If you are looking for something a bit more comfortable, well Novi Sad is a bit lacking in low-priced hotel space, but you could try this youth hostel, which is in a great location in the centre of town. But you will have to book well in advance of the festival – in fact I seriously doubt you can get in there, someone will always have got there first, maybe locals. There is a more complete list of other hotels in Novi Sad on the Wikitravel page – if you are ready to pay an arm and a leg, there is always the four-star Hotel Aleksandar…
Getting to the EXIT festival
Check out the other pages on this site to figure out how to get to Serbia first:
Flying to Serbia (you can do a ticket search for cheap flights here)
As I explain in the Flying to Serbia section, you will most likely be coming to Serbia via Budapest. So what next? A lot of people have asked whether it is possible to get a taxi from Budapest to Novi Sad. The short answer is I don’t know. It sounds like an idea with potential: could be pricey, but might work out reasonable if you collect 4 people to share the car. However, I have a feeling that it might work out just TOO steep, I can imagine it being several hundred Euros. OK, so even 50-100 EUR per person might be worthwhile, but the other consideration is whether a taxi driver would even be willing to do a cross-border trip like this. I suppose your best bet would be to try to negotiate a fare once you arrive in Budapest – or possibly phone one of the companies in advance, though their English is not always great. In any case you should ALWAYS negotiate taxi fares in advance, especially more distant trips, wherever you are in the world. Here is a useful page on Budapest taxis.
Apart from this, I have a strong suspicion that some enterprising people will have set themselves up in business providing transport from Budapest airport to Novi Sad, so you could chance one of those, as long as you make sure you negotiate the fare in advance, and insist on the driver driving SAFELY, rather than launching into a kamikaze run for Novi Sad so he can get back up to Budapest for another run.
All this said, my personal preference would be one of the airport minibuses, which you might be able to book in advance or the train. The train is it is a bit of a hassle getting from the airport to Keleti station (a bus, then two underground trains – ask at the airport for info on this), but there is far less chance of getting ripped off.
Whatever mode you choose to get to Serbia though, the real question is actually how to get to Novi Sad. Once in Novi Sad, well, just follow the crowds, head for the river and you’re there!
Bus or train from Belgrade
If you flew into Serbia you will have ended up in Belgrade. Belgrade airport does not usually have a direct service of any kind to Novi Sad.
However in previous years there have been plenty of entrepreneurs offering rides from Belgrade airport to Novi Sad (70 km). There were tales of them charging a good 100 EUR for this service last year. Now that is way over the odds – if you could find a regular taxi it might only come to 60. But then shared between four people, it could save you a lot of hassle either way and come out little more than messing around with buses and trains, and you’re probably not bothered by 20 EUROs either way, which is what the locals figure…
However, there might be an official transfer service laid on one of these days, though I haven’t heard anything to that effect. If you want to do it the long way, you will need to get into the city of Belgrade. Follow the instructions given in the Flying to Serbia section for this.
On arrival in Belgrade, head for the main bus and/or train station (whatever way you came, you should end up pretty close, but ask someone if not – most young people speak English). They are right next to each other, though not for much longer (the train station is to be relocated in the next few years), and there are numerous services to Novi Sad which run all day and until late at night. A train is really cheap, just 3-4 EUR, but they are not that frequent and can be pretty slow – you should buy a ticket in advance over the counter, they are much cheaper than when you buy on board the train, though it will hardly break the bank either way. You are probably better off heading for the nearby bus station though, towards the non-river-side platform (“right-hand”, behind the multistorey carpark), which is the departure point for northbound buses, though only during the day – night services run from the other side. Buy a ticket for around 500 din (6 Eur), but try to communicate the fact that you want an express service, i.e. via the highway. Wave your arms around and say, “Novi Sad, autoputem!!” and they will know what you mean. Otherwise you will have a 90-120 minute ride around the Vojvodina countryside instead of a 75 minute motorway run. Services are as frequent as every 20 minutes, but you shouldn’t need to wait more than 45 minutes in any case.
Other entry methods
If you are coming to Serbia by train then you will most likely be coming from Budapest Keleti Palyaudvar station, in which case it is a piece of cake – the service runs through Novi Sad, so just leap from the train at the appropriate point. Here is a search of train times from Budapest.
The train and bus stations are not really within walking distance of the EXIT site, unless you really want to saunter into town, along the Bulevar oslobodjenja (turn left after the market on the left and you’re in the centre – then just do the arm-waving thing again and say EXIT very loudly – someone will help you out!). So get a taxi, but DO NOT use any taxis waiting outside the station – these are always a rip-off at the best of times, and during EXIT unfortunately the worst comes out in certain locals and they will try to charge you, like, 20 EUR, to take you to the site. Try to hail a reputable company like Grand, Dobro jutro or Halo. Just moving a little way from the station should improve your chances of getting a reasonably-priced taxi.
THE PROPER PRICE OF THE TAXI FARE TO THE EXIT CAMP SITE FROM NOVI SAD TRAIN/BUS STATION IS 150 DINARS AT MOST (£1.50). I know you have the money, I know the locals need the money, but I don’t like visitors getting ripped off, and nor do many people from Novi Sad, so I say – don’t encourage these tourist-fleecing practices.
After that, you’re on your own! Enjoy the EXIT festival, and don’t forget to drink plenty of Voda Voda…!!
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