Just 8 km from central Novi Sad, Sremski Karlovci has a population of fewer than 10,000 people. But the small town is rich in beautiful architecture and historical monuments, not to mention a few fascinating museums and wineries.
According to archaeological evidence, the area has been inhabited since at least Neolithic times, while the Romans would later build a fortress here. But Sremski Karlovci, then known as Karom, doesn’t appear in history books until the Middle Ages.
Having been controlled by Hungarian nobility for centuries, it was eventually taken by the Ottomans in 1521. And in the late 17th century, Sremski Karlovci hosted the first-ever roundtable discussion between political powers.
During the talk, the Ottoman Empire met with a coalition of various European powers, after which it was decided that the town would be ruled by the Habsburg Monarchy.
And it was during Habsburg rule that Sremski Karlovci became the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church. While that honor now belongs to Belgrade, the town, despite its small size, continues to play a major role in Serbian culture and religion.
Central Sremski Karlovci
The town’s main square is named after poet Branko Radičević (1824-53), who lived and produced many of his major works in Sremski Karlovci. As one might expect, surrounding the square are some of the area’s most prominent landmarks.
Among them is the Four Lions Fountain, created in 1799 by Italian architect Giuseppe Aprili. The red marble fountain has since become a symbol of Sremski Karlovci.
According to a local legend, those who taste the fountain’s water will come back to the town someday to get married. As I didn’t end up trying the water, I won’t be able to confirm whether the legend is true!
Also nearby the square is the Karlovci Gymnasium (high school). Established in 1792, it’s the oldest secondary school in Serbia. The beautiful yellow and red building is still used to educate local teenagers to this day.
Another significant structure facing the square is the St. Nicholas Cathedral, the town’s most prominent Orthodox church. Built between 1758 and 1762, it replaced an older church on the same spot. While photography is discouraged inside, don’t miss the colorful stained glass window and the beautiful baroque iconostasis.
Just nearby, meanwhile, is Sremski Karlovci’s largest Catholic church, the Holy Trinity Church. First built in the 16th century, it was later reconstructed in 1768. It was visited by multiple emperors during Austro-Hungarian rule and is said to have a beautiful interior, though it was locked at the time of my visit.
Other highlights around the center include the Clerical High School of Saint Arsenije and a monument to the fallen soldiers of World War II. And of course, don’t miss the Patriarch’s Palace and the Karlovci Grammar School which are covered in more detail below.
Sremski Karlovci also has an abundance of restaurants. I had lunch at Bermet Villa, which faces the central square, and it was one of the better meals I had in Serbia.
The Patriarch's Palace
As mentioned above, Sremski Karlovci was the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate during Astro-Hungarian rule after it was moved here from Peć (Peja, Kosovo).
In particular, the Patriarch resided here from 1848 to 1920. But this particular building wasn’t completed until 1895, replacing an older palace at the same spot. And it remains a summer residence of the Serbian Patriarch to this day.
Presently, the building hosts a fascinating museum dedicated to the Serbian Orthodox Church. It contains a wide array of unique and valuable icons from the Middle Ages onward, along with paraphernalia used by the Church over the years.
For just a few hundred dinars, a ticket to the museum even includes a guide who will tell you the history and significance of the most important items.
Highlights include a harrowing depiction of the Last Judgement from the 16th century and a 19th-century icon of the Black Madonna from Coptic Egypt. In the main hall, also don’t miss the beautiful details of the wallpaper.
Officially, the museum is open daily except Sunday from 9:00–14:00, and from 9:00–12:00 on Saturdays. But even if you show up during opening hours, don’t be surprised to find the museum locked.
I made a couple of stops inside before I finally managed to find someone – but only after knocking on some random doors. The staff member then called the man in charge of leading the tours, after which he appeared shortly.
While a bit tricky to visit, the effort is worth it, as the museum is easily among the top things to do in Sremski Karlovci.
The Karlovci Grammar School
Founded in 1791, this is the first grammar school in Serbia, established in response to the country’s low literacy rates. While the Austrian rulers were not supportive of the plan, the project received funding from local merchant Dimitrije Anastasijević Sabov, along with support from the archbishop.
The former school building now functions as a small museum. While the main theme probably won’t be of interest to many, the building also features some interesting ethnographic exhibits, along with a couple of archaeological displays from the Neolithic era.
The museum costs a small fee of a few hundred dinars to enter.
Before leaving the town center, don’t miss a walk up to the viewpoint to the south. Officially known as Duško’s Viewpoint, you can use the Maps.me app if you have trouble finding the staircase up.
Reaching the top, you’ll find a golden cross and some semicircular bleachers. Sitting on the steps is a bronze sculpture of Yugoslav poet Duško Trifunović (1933-2006).
After having established a successful writing career in Sarajevo, he would later spend the final years of his life in Sremski Karlovci.
From the top, you’ll be able to see many of the landmarks mentioned in the Sremski Karlovci guide above. And behind them are the Danube river and parts of the Fruška Gora National Park, a region known for both its monasteries and its wine.
Museum of Beekeeping and Winery Živanović
Located about a10-minute walk southeast of the town square, no visit to Sremski Karlovci is complete without a visit to the Museum of Beekeeping and Winery Živanović.
Entering the complex, you’ll be given a choice of a museum tour only, or a tour combined with wine and honey tasting. The tour and tasting together cost only around 1000 RSD, and is well worth it.
During the tour, you’ll learn how the family’s winemaking tradition was started by Teodor Živanović in 1770. Later in the 19th century, Jovan Živanović would innovate new beekeeping techniques while spreading his knowledge of bees throughout the region.
On display at the museum, you’ll even find a bee house that was made in the shape of an Orthodox church! Along the walls, meanwhile, are some old informational posters about bee anatomy, along with numerous awards and diplomas members of the family have received over the years.
Onto the tasting, you’ll get to try no less than seven different types of wine and three types of honey. Expect to get a little tipsy by the time it’s over.
The main type of wine produced in the Fruška Gora region is a type of sweet dessert wine called bermet. It was a special favorite of the Habsburg royals during Austrian rule, while bermet was even brought on the Titanic.
Bermet continues to only be produced in Sremski Karlovci, with the several families who make it keeping the process and ingredients a deeply guarded secret. And while they used to export it all around the world, it’s now only sold locally.
The honey in particular was delicious – especially the variety that was mixed with sesame seeds. Having never tried anything quite like it, I made sure to buy a jar before leaving.
The museum is open daily from 9:00–16:00. And while I’d read reports online of individuals being turned away in favor of groups, I had no problems when I showed up solo.
Chapel of the Virgin Mary of Peace
As mentioned above, Sremski Karlovci was host to the world’s very first roundtable discussion which took place in 1699 following the Great Vienna War. And it took place at the hill which is now home to the Chapel of the Virgin Mary of Peace, at which you can stop by on the way back from the winery.
It was at this spot that the Ottomans met with a coalition of powers that included Poland, Russia, Venice and of course, the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy, which culminated in the Karlovci Treaty.
The chapel itself, which was closed during my visit, was established in the early 19th century. Interestingly, buried in the yard out front is a Venetian diplomat who passed away during the negotiations.
Sremski Karlovci can easily be reached from Novi Sad via public bus, with the journey taking 20-30 minutes. Specifically, you’ll want to take bus number 62 (or perhaps a couple of other buses in the 60s).
While these buses don’t leave as frequently as the regular city buses, the good news is that you don’t need to go all the way to the bus terminal to catch one. I recommend using an app like MoovIt that will tell you exactly which bus number you need and where the closest bus stop is to wherever you are.
The ticket should cost around 135 RSD. Note that while typical city buses in Novi Sad have a set price no matter how far you’re going, the driver on bus 62 will likely ask you where you’re headed so he knows how much to charge.
Arriving in Sremski Karlovci, be sure to snap a picture of the timetable for buses back to Novi Sad.
Sremski Karlovci is located within Vojvodina’s Fruška Gora National Park, the country’s oldest. When most people think of national parks, they picture mountains or lush forests, but the wine-making region of Fruška Gora is largely flat.
Rather than hiking, the main reason to visit Fruška Gora National Park is for its monasteries. The park is home to no less the 35 medieval monasteries, of which 16 are currently open to the public.
But if you’re thinking of exploring via public transport you can forget about it. The tourism information office in Novi Sad told me it may be possible to visit some landmarks by bus, though nobody seems to know the routes or timetables for buses running through the park!
In Sremski Karlovci itself, I was told that taxi is the only option, and that just visiting one nearby monastery would cost me around 2000 RSD. Having already seen plenty of excellent monasteries throughout Serbia, I decided to give exploring Fruška Gora National Park a miss.
As Serbia’s second-largest city, you’ll find numerous bus routes linking Novi Sad with the rest of the country. Despite having a very different vibe from Belgrade, the two cities are only 90 minutes apart, with buses leaving very frequently.
Belgrade and Novi Sad are also linked by several trains which run throughout the day.
Internationally, Novi Sad is connected with many major cities in the surrounding Balkan countries as well as nearby Hungary.
The bus and train stations are located right next to one another to the north of the city. If you don’t have a lot of luggage, you can easily find public city buses to the center or wherever it is you’re staying.
But if you opt to take a taxi, beware.
A Warning About Taxis
Traveling with lots of luggage and staying at the other end of town, I decided to take a taxi from the bus station to get to my accommodation.
While I’ve traveled more than enough to know how shady taxi drivers at bus stations can be, the one I encountered told me he’d use the meter.
I’d heard from my host that a taxi from the station should only cost 400-500 RSD, but the meter ended up showing 1000!
I wasn’t quite prepared for that, as the last time I fell victim to a rigged meter was many years ago in India. Even worse, the guy even wanted to charge me 50 dinars for putting luggage in the trunk!
Standing in front of my rental apartment, I called the host before handing over any money. The driver was threatening to take me to the police station and kept trying to grab my suitcase. But as soon as a local appeared, he suddenly calmed down and said ‘Okay, okay, 500.’
The ordeal wasn’t quite over yet, as after taking my money, he began insulting me in Serbian and English and things nearly escalated. Fortunately, though, he got back in his car in drove off before the situation got out of hand. Needless to say, this was a horrible first impression of Novi Sad.
Admittedly, my guard had been down after my very pleasant experience with a driver the previous day in Novi Pazar. But what is one arriving in Novi Sad supposed to do?
As ridesharing apps don’t exist in Serbia, be sure to look up a list of official Novi Sad taxi companies online and call them when you arrive at the station. They’ll send you a driver at a fair price.