A young, cosmopolitan city on northern Serbia’s Vojdovina Plains, Zrenjanin leaves you in no doubt that it’s a regional capital. Exploring the plush city centre, you’ll be pleased with how easy it is to get about.
In the 1980s much of the old quarter was pedestrianised, so you can go in your own time and get clean views of the big landmarks. One of the car-less arteries is King Alexander Street there’s a long line of cafe terraces lending it a cordial, open atmosphere. Freedom Square is where you’ll spend a lot of your trip, taking in the postcard sights like the palatial City Hall, and catching up on Zrenjanin’s complicated history at the National Museum.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Zrenjanin:
1. Freedom Square (Trg Slobode)
Your sightseeing trip in Zrenjanin should begin at the central square where many of the city’s big landmarks surround a big plaza.
The City Hall, City Library, Cathedral, National Theatre and old Stock Exchange (Finansijska Palata) are all here.
The last building is an impressive Neoclassical hall now housing the National Museum.
And on a dark marble plinth in the centre of the square is a horseback statue of Peter I King of Serbia and then all of Yugoslavia after First World War.
2. City Hall
At the start of the 1800s a fire obliterated most of old Bečkerek, and the fine City Hall (Gradska Kuća) rose from the ashes.
It’s Zrenjanin’s most recognisable building and has been a symbol for the city for almost 200 years.
In 1887 new wings were added, and this is when the courtyard was also turned into a park.
The City Hall’s interior is splendid and the outstanding feature is on the stairway where there are stained glass windows with figures representing Justice, Wisdom and Power.
3. Cathedral of St John of Nepomuk
Also on Freedom Square is the seat of the region-wide Catholic Zrenjanin diocese.
This building is roughly where the city’s mosque used to be in Ottoman times, before the town was taken by the Austrians in 1718. A church was built right away, but after a century it had started to collapse, so this Neo-Romanesque replacement was erected in 1868 and has a strong Austrian flavour.
The delightful stained glass windows are from 1907, while the luxurious interior decoration was the work of the Tyrolean artist Josef Goigner.
The cathedral’s treasure though is the organ crafted in the workshops of the Austrian master organ-maker Carl Leopold Wegenstein, in the Romanian city of Timișoara.
4. Ulica Kralja Aleksandra
Ever since the Ottomans withdrew from Zrenjanin in 1716 this street off Freedom Square has been somewhere to dine, do business and meet up.
Almost every building has an interesting piece of trivia attached to it.
The stylish Benceova Kuća is Art Nouveau and dates to 1906, when it became the city’s first department store.
Another that turns heads is Kuća Kamenoresca Tunera Teodosija, which sticks out for its Moorish Revival style and is popularly known as “Scheherazade”. There are outdoor tables for cafes and restaurants all along this broad street, opposite a continuous parade shops in handsome buildings.
5. National Museum
Zrenjanin’s award-winning museum was inaugurated in 1906 and spells out the archaeology, ethnography, art and natural history of the Banat region.
The archaeological galleries have 8,400 years of history for you to browse: There’s a Bronze Age burial, skeleton included, as well Neolithic tools and ceramics, jewellery and weapons from different periods up to the middle ages.
The collection of fine art is cited as one of the richest in Vojdovina, there are numerous plant and animal specimens, and finally you can learn how homes, both affluent and humble, changed from the 18th to the 20th centuries.
6. Church of the Assumption (Upenska Crkva)
The fire that took out most of Zrenjanin in 1807 spared this church, which was completed in 1746 and is a Serbian “Cultural Monument of Great Importance”. In the High Baroque style it has blind semi-circular niches and pilasters under a tower with an ornate black bud dome.
One of the most compelling details in all Orthodox churches is the iconostasis.
This one was assembled by the local designer Georgije Popović, while the icones, depicting episodes from the New and Old Testaments were carried out by the preeminent Academic painter Aleksandar Sekulić in 1924.
7. Gradska Bašta
The park in the courtyard of the City Hall is open in summer, and is like a secret garden in the middle of the Zrenjanin.
It all dates to when the extensions were made to the building in 1887, and the City Hall’s facade lends this space a real sense of gravitas.
The park has carefully manicured lawns, flowerbeds and a pavilion where musicians and theatre groups perform on summer evenings.
There’s also a cafe, a 19th-century fountain in the form of a stork, various sculptures and a mural of the old Bečkerek fortress
8. Church of the Holy Presentation (Crkva Svetog Vavedenja)
In 1777 Gradnulica was an independent settlement from Bečkerek, and this elegant Baroque church was its main place of worship.
The church is only a few minutes on foot from Freedom Square and warrants the walk.
It was built on top of a monastery that was a branch of Hilandar at Mount Athos in Greece, which is a cornerstone of Serbian religious and secular culture.
The chapel on the south side of the church contains the relics of the Hilandar monk Prepodobni Rafailo Banatski and is a pilgrimage site for Serbian Orthodox worshippers.
The icons in the richly carved iconostasis were painted in the 1810s and you might be able to decipher the biblical scenes in the backgrounds.
9. Zrenjanin Courthouse
Maybe the most striking sight in Zrenjanin is the Neo-Romanesque Courthouse on Kej 2 Oktobra a few steps from the City Hall.
This is best seen from quayside next to a lake where the Begej River used to be before its course was changed in the 1980s.
The Courthouse was finished in 1908 and its splendour and size tell you all you need to know about Zrenjanin’s status in the Austro -Hungarian Empire.
The central avant-corps is the most ornamented part of the facade, with a balustrade, pyramidal spires and portal with three arches.
Now the Courthouse is the administrative building for northern Serbia’s Central Banat District.
10. National Theatre Toša Jovanović
Zrenjanin’s theatre is named for a feted 19th-century stage actor and is in a stately Baroque hall that goes back to 1836. This makes it the oldest theatre building in Serbia, and it’s located where Bečkerek’s (the old name for Zrenjanin) fortress used to be.
The theatre was founded in 1946 and is well-known for its smaller puppet theatre, which staged its first shows a decade later.
The resident ensemble of puppeteers is the most decorated in the country, putting on 250 shows a year and making regular international tours to the Netherlands, Greece, Hungary, Bulgarian, Romania and Austria.
11. Modern Art Gallery (Savremena Galerija)
Yet another of the attractions on Freedom Square, Savremena Galerija was the first gallery devoted specifically to modern art in Yugoslavia.
The gallery has been putting on shows since 1962, and came about after an art colony sprang up in the nearby village of Ečka in 1956. Since then the gallery has built up an extensive reserve of Serbian paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints.
There are also numerous pieces by the many foreign artists who have chosen to paint in Ečka.
The gallery’s most anticipated event is its International Aquarelle Biennial, hosting a special exhibition, prize ceremony and workshops.
12. National Library
On Freedom Square this is more of a landmark to admire from the outside, although you can go in if you’d like to see more.
It’s a stately edifice from 1882 and has a facade painted pink and terracotta.
The library moved here 1967, while The building’s original role was as the headquarters of Bečkerek’s first newspaper.
There are more than 150,000 titles in the library’s collection, and, if you’re undaunted by the language barrier, hosts a calendar of literary evenings annually.
13. Carska Bara
Outside Zrenjanin on the road south to Belgrade is Serbia’s largest wetland site, a mosaic of ponds, marshes and woodland.
This has been protected since 1955, and is a habitat for colonies of herons and cormorants.
Many of the park’s bird species, like the greater white-fronted goose, pass by in December and January, and in mid-winter the marshes teem with so many birds that the water never freezes.
Well, at least that’s what they say! On the shores, rare pendulate oaks, ancient willows and orchids make up some of the 500 plant species.
In summer fishing and canoeing are on the agenda, and you can go on a jaunt aboard the Carska Lađa tour boat.
The Carska Bara park also has a small visitor centre at the entrance with a mini-zoo.
14. Beer Days Festival
A city-wide fair at the end of August, Beer Days is one of the largest events of its kind in Serbia and a good way to connect with Zrenjanin’s culture and customs.
Beer is the star at the festival, and stalls in the centre of Zrenjanin pour more than 20 different types, which you can try with classic Serbian snacks.
There’s much more going on, like impromptu performances by folk bands playing tamburicas, an international folklore festival, sports events and rock concerts at night.
One of the more unusual customs is a cooking competition for local fish soup, which is made in cauldrons hanging over wood fires.
On the north shore of Carska Bara, Ečka is a pretty village in green, low-lying countryside.
We’ve mentioned the art colony that alighted on Ečka to paint Carska Bara’s water, greenery and immense skies.
But long before that, this village was home to nobility: In 1820 a member of the Lázár family built a hunting lodge, the “Kaštel” in Ečka, and it’s a peculiar cross between a Central European castle and an English Georgian manor house.
The estate is now a luxury hotel, but if you haven’t booked a room you can get a good look at the outside from a park in front.