With a local fruit brandy in one hand while the other keeps pace with the techno beat reverberating off the walls of the 17th century fortress surrounding you and the other 20,000 people with their eyes trained on the world-class DJ, you can only be in one place: The EXIT Festival at 3 a.m.
For the past 16 years, tents have lined the Danube River and major artists—from the White Stripes to Skrillex—have descended upon the city of Novi Sad in northern Serbia each July for one of Europe’s biggest music festivals. Named the Best Major European Festival of 2013, EXIT continues to reach new heights each year with a record 200,000 attendees from over 60 countries last year alone.
The theme of the 17th annual festival—which will take place July 7-10, 2016—is “Magic,” a common reference to the festival’s vibe and “the emotion of love of music and freedom” that attendees share. At just over $100 for a four-day pass, the festival is not only affordable, but socially conscious as well. Launched in 2000 as a 100-day student movement around the city of Novi Sad, the festival continues that tradition today through its foundation, which focuses on education and youth empowerment and is leading the charge for Novi Sad to compete for youth capital of Europe 2018.
If four nights of nonstop entertainment weren’t enough, 2016 is also the third year for seaside partner festival, Sea Dance, which will take place July 14-16 on Jaz Beach in Budva, Montenegro. You can add entry to this nonstop beach party for just $27.
With 15 stages (including a karaoke stage and silent disco), the original EXIT Festival alone can be pretty overwhelming, so we’ve done the hard work for you to break down what you must see and do during your time at the iconic Novi Sad festival.
Who to Hear: Paste Picks
Thursday, July 7
Photo courtesy of EXIT Festival
As soon as the gates open at 7 p.m., make a beeline for the Main Stage to get a good spot because EXIT is starting off with a bang this year. First up are British indie darlings Bastille who came to the world’s attention with 2013’s massive hit “Pompeii.” With a few more hits racked up since then, the Londoners will make an excellent introduction to the night’s big draw: Ellie Goulding. The festival’s iconic fireworks display will come out as the multiplatinum sensation takes the EXIT stage for the first time as part of the promotional tour for her third studio album, Delirium. Over at the mts Dance Arena—which has grown to rival the Main Stage with the level of artists it attracts—you will find DJ superstar duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike (best known for their club hit “Tsunami”) who have smashed European ticket sale records in recent years.
Friday, July 8
Photo courtesy of EXIT Festival
On the second night of the festival, the Main Stage features an odd couple pairing: funk icon George Clinton and legendary producer and DJ David Guetta. Dr. Funkenstein and the Parliament Funkadelic will no doubt bring the energy and style they’ve been known for since the 1970s, while you can expect Guetta to bring his wide catalogue of smash hits including the recent “This One’s For You”—the anthem for the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament. The mts Dance Arena will deliver a solid second night with late addition EXIT veteran Maceo Plex and up-and-comer Jackmaster. If you didn’t get a chance the previous night, make your way over to the Fusion Stage to see the reunited darlings of EBM, Borghesia, or—for a harder sound—check out Swedish hardcore fury band Raised Fist over on the Explosive Stage. No matter where you start, we highly recommend you wind up your night with local favorite Filip Xavi over at the Guarana No Sleep Novi Sad Stage.
Saturday, July 9
The lineup on the third night has something for everyone and provides a chance to stage hop and spend some time in the Chill Zone. The Main Stage will have us whipping between the Ramones-like indie sounds of The Vaccines and the electric guitar-infused desert sounds of Tinariwen. If you only see one band this night, make sure it’s Tinariwen. The Tuareg musicians from northern Mali have redefined what rebellion sounds like. The mts Dance Arena will also have a great contender in Avicii protégé Nicky Romero, while the Fusion and Explosive Stages will feature icons of their styles: Dub Pistols, punk band Cock Sparrer, and metal band Paradise Lost.
Sunday, July 10
Photo courtesy of EXIT Festival
Having set the record last year for the biggest attendance of any one performance in EXIT’s history (52,000), The Prodigy returns to Novi Sad as part of a multicountry swing through the region.
Hip-hop will dominate the rest of the evening on the Main Stage with first-time performances from British rapper Stormzy and Wiz Khalifa, who hits EXIT ahead of his much-publicized summer tour with Snoop Dogg. Not a hip-hop fan? Head over to the Explosive Stage and head-bang along to Swedish death metal band At the Gates. The mts Dance Arena will also finish the festival strong with performances from electronica royalty Richie Hawtin and Dave Clarke.
What to Do During the Day
Even if you don’t choose to camp on the Štrand (see below), this is where the party will continue round the clock throughout the festival—so don’t miss out. With music constantly pumping, foam parties raging, and beer flowing, visitors and locals alike will mingle on the riverside beach all week. You should also take the chance to explore the inside of the Petrovaradin Fortress by pre-arranging a tour of its 10 miles of catacombs and tunnels. Selected as one of our top Balkan towns to visit in 2016, the rest of Novi Sad has plenty else to explore, so make sure you take the time to get into town and check out Trg Slobode (Liberty Square) and the shops and cafes along the pedestrian street of Zmaj Jovina.
Where to Eat
If you are looking to escape the festival food truck offerings or carb-load before a long night of dancing and drinking, Novi Sad has a great selection of local and international restaurants to choose from. Along Zmaj Jovina, make sure to hit Wake Up Juice Bar for a recovery smoothie or La Morena for lunch on a day of sightseeing. For a hearty dinner, head to Cafe Veliki for the city’s best local food or Project 72 Wine & Deli for some impressive Mediterranean fusion—be sure to make a reservation ahead of time for either.
How to Get There
Through the festival’s tourist service, you can book a shuttle to Novi Sad from eight airports throughout the region—Belgrade, Budapest, Timisoara (Romania), as well as Osijek, Zagreb, Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik in Croatia. There are also regular trains connecting Novi Sad with other international destinations in the region via Belgrade.
Where to Stay
Camping at EXIT Village on the Štrand is the best way to get the full festival experience. For just $43 per person, the camping pass gets you access to the village from July 5-12 and its shower and toilet facilities, food and drink stalls, camp gear shop, and charging station for your electronics. If camping isn’t your thing, the festival tourist office has negotiated discounted rates for various local hostels and hotels. Find out how to reserve camping spots or where the best budget hotels are at any of these EXITTRIP stands. Feeling fancy? Splurge on a room at the Hotel Park, which starts at $133 per night and includes access to the hotel’s pool, spa, and fitness center.
Breathtaking Balkans columnist Bridget Nurre Jennions is an Emmy-winning TV journalist and an international development specialist in Kosovo. Follow her travels on her blog, Bridgekrieg.