The EXIT Festival, in the second city of Serbia, Novi Sad, has come an awfully long way since three University students had the idea of a festival in the summer of 2000. The River Danube might have had musical associations for many years but now, with the stunning backdrop of an eighteenth century fortress, it is the Serbian section of Europe’s only major west to east flowing river which now attracts 200,000 visitors – more than half of them foreigners – for four days every July.
Where is the EXIT Festival?
The unique site for the EXIT Festival is the huge Austro-Hungarian Petrovardin Fortress, which, from its daunting promontory, majestically overlooks the Danube as it winds its way through the city. Such an impressive location, though, is only one of the reasons that in 2007, EXIT was recognised as ‘The Best European Festival’ in the UK Festival Awards, in only its seventh year of existence.
The original intention of the student founders, who were aided in their work by not only their Student Unions but also by several NGOs and commercial organisations in order to develop the full potential of the event, was to not only provide high quality music for Serbian young people but also to help raise relevant social issues amongst them. These aims are still adhered to, resulting in top quality line-ups of artists from around Europe, combined with political debates and documentary films. Currently, the Festival site can boast 11 separate performance areas – which includes a Main Stage and a Dance Stage – plus an extreme sports’ area, a Technology Zone, an open-air cinema and an NGO area.
There are many exciting aspects of EXIT. Firstly, the impressive size of the site means that, even with so many festival-goers, there is always plenty of space to move around and even the main stages never seem to be too overcrowded. Additionally, even though some of the smaller performance areas can be quite close to each other, because of the thick castle walls, the sounds are easily absorbed and you do not get that annoying ‘interference’ from other stages disrupting your concentration.
The music is obviously right at the heart of EXIT and this Festival gives people from Western and Eastern sides of Europe the perfect opportunity of hearing the latest sounds from all over the continent; this is often a very exciting aspect for many visitors. Balkan folk music and modern hip hop, dance and electronics can exist happily side by side.
Differently to most modern festivals, EXIT doesn’t really get into full swing until the evenings, with the main acts generally performing from about 8 pm. The Main Stage will finish at about 2 am but that’s when the Dance Stage comes into its own. By early morning, the majority of the outside stages finish but the Dance Stages may continue for a few hours more.
Where to Stay in Novi Sad
Many visitors to EXIT will want to camp and the main camp-site is in the University Park, directly opposite the site. This is the only officially approved site, guaranteeing comfort and security. Unlike in some places, amplifiers might be blasting out at all hours, so don’t expect too much sleep. The site is open for visitors for a week or so before the Festival actually gets under way. The EXIT Festival camp-site has the added bonus of its own stretch of Danube beach for the campers to enjoy. This really is Party HQ for a few days!
There are a number of fine hotels in Novi Sad itself, a short walk across the Danube. Predominant amongst them is the Hotel Aleksander, a four star hotel. It is recommended that, if you wish to stay in the city, that you make your reservation well in advance as the demand is very high for the Festival period.
Additional information can be found on the official EXIT website.
EXIT has had its problems over the years – Björk’s controversial non-appearance and the death of a camper because of a fallen tree branch being the major ones – but it has developed into one of the liveliest, happiest festivals of the season and, for large numbers of people, the middle of July wouldn’t be the same without their visit to the castle by the side of the Danube.