The past few months have been a complete whirlwind. Most of the places I have visited were last minute additions to my itinerary and the result has been an exciting, unexpected and quite often stressful few months. I took some surprising turns and found places like Sarajevo which I had never expected to see let alone fall in love with. One such turn took me to Subotica.
On the flip of a coin, I ended up in the small Serbian city. The second coin toss of the day, the first being what led to the road trip in the first place. Somehow flying from Croatia to Italy turned into driving which turned into a rather meandering scenic tour of what felt like half of Europe. Planning this two-week journey about a week out from departure was an absolute beast. Subotica was a last minute addition and chosen solely based on its position on the map. It was close to the Hungarian border and that’s all that mattered to me. At that point, I couldn’t have cared less if Subotica was a landfill as long as it had one clean apartment to stay in.
What I expected was a small city with next to nothing to do where I could relax and recuperate, probably in a dark room with the covers pulled over my head, before the second week of driving. What I got was a beautiful little city, which felt more like a large town, full of little shops, cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalks and the main square. The city is the sixth largest in Serbia but with only around 100,000 inhabitants, it is small in comparison to most European or American cities. With its lack of skyscrapers, traffic, noise, pollution and other inherent big city characteristics, it certainly does not have the feel of a big city. It is more reminiscent of smaller southern US cities like Savannah, Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina.
The city does not attract many tourists so rather than flashing cameras and tour groups, the main square is full of the peaceful hum of everyday life. The square is dominated by the city hall, a beautiful pink art nouveau building complete with a large clock tower. It is the kind of city hall you would expect to find in a storybook village. The whole town is peppered with art nouveau architecture. In front of the city hall, there is a beautiful little park with a large blue fountain as its centrepiece. In the square and along the edges of the park are shops and several cafes and restaurants, all with tables and chairs set up outside for people to relax and enjoy a meal or coffee. Large trees lining the roads shade many of the surrounding streets and looking up, many of the buildings are decorated with small, picturesque balconies.
Subotica is clearly trying to improve its tourism. The tourist centre was empty except for some very enthusiastic staff members. There are a few attractions which tourists might be enticed to visit. There is a small art museum as well as a beautiful, large synagogue also built in the art nouveau style. But the real attraction is the town itself and for entirely selfish reasons, I hope that tourism does not improve too much. The charm of the town is accentuated by the fact that there are not hoards of tourists running around and taking photos. It is a gem, unbeknown to most tourists outside of Serbia, and the perfect place to spend a weekend relaxing and enjoying the outdoor cafes and shops in peace. Especially if the rest of your trip is packed out with bustling big cities and crowded tourist destinations. After visiting, I am already excited to plan my next European road trip. This time, hopefully, exploring the many small cities and towns that are so often overshadowed by Europe’s bigger, more monumental cities and seaside resorts. Anyone else want to join me?
Top: City Hall
Middle: National Theatre
Photography by Savannah Hayes