What to See in Two of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Most Popular Cities
Sean and I spent a month in the small southeastern European country of Bosnia & Herzegovina (more easily referred to as BiH). We spent 3 wonderful weeks in the capital city of Sarajevo and the remaining week in the beautifully tranquil city of Mostar. Just as a disclaimer, there is a lot of recent, terrible history related to the war in the 90’s. Some of it we will get into, but we do not intend to make any political stance or cause any offense.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what it is about BiH and in particular, Sarajevo and Mostar. Right from the start we loved it. Maybe it was because it felt like such a different place than we had been (so far) on this trip. All of the other places had the feeling of traditional European cities, while Bosnia & Herzegovina exudes a place of cultural joining. It’s the Ottoman/Turkish influence that really stood out.
Sarajevo felt both comfortable and exciting. Being surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, and especially with the backdrop of Trebević mountain, felt like being cuddled by natural beauty (though locals may feel differently and I’m sure it didn’t feel that way during the war). There’s just something about the mountain air, the wood smoke curling up from buildings, and the call to prayer that echos around the city that creates a feeling of coziness.
Sarajevo is a small city but is best suited for exploring slowly. With all the history, how can you rush through? So here are some of the things we recommend seeing in Sarajevo:
1. Visit the war museums. Though not particularly enjoyable, these museums really give you the scope and feel for life in Sarajevo during the war. It’s difficult to read some of the stories but important. The top 3 are: Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide, Gallery 11/07/95, and War Childhood Museum. We would also recommend taking the the Fall of Yugoslavia Sarajevo Siege Tour with Meet Bosnia to hear from a local.
2. Take the cable car (or hike) up Mount Trebević. The hike is steep and around 2 hours. We recommend the cable car to be able to relax and enjoy the views. Once here you can hike the various trails. Definitely walk the bobsled track from the 1984 winter Olympics. From there you can reach the ruins of Bistrik Tower. Originally an Austro-Hungarian fortification that was destroyed during the war in the 90’s. While hiking back down we also encountered other destroyed and abandoned buildings.
3. Visit Sarajevo City Hall (Vijećnica). The building is difficult to miss with its gorgeous yellow and red striped Austro-Hungarian architecture. We recommend not missing a visit inside. For only 10 Bosnia Marks (per adult) you can wonder at the fabulous interior. Hit by incendiary artillery projectiles on August 25, 1992, the fire destroyed 2 million items in the National University Library. The building itself was rebuilt and officially reopened May 9, 2014.
4. Marvel at the skilled cooper-smiths down Kazandžiluk. Hands down one of the most fascinating streets to walk down in Sarajevo is Kazandžiluk. Full of handmade cooper products, walking through this street feels like going back in time. It is one of the oldest streets in Sarajevo and a great place for souvenir shopping.
5. Drink from Sebilj fountain in Baščaršija. Known by tourists as pigeon square, Baščaršija is home to the iconic 18th century wooden fountain (as well as tons of pigeons). The tradition goes that if you drink from the fountain, you’ll return to Sarajevo.
6. Visit the beautiful religious establishments. From churches, to mosques, to synagogues, there is so much beautiful architecture to see in Sarajevo. One of the most iconic mosques in Sarajevo, Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, was built in the 16th century. Then you have Sacred Heart Cathedral, built in the 19th century with Pope John Paul II out front (you’ll also see damage from mortar blasts on the bottom and a Sarajevo rose around the side). Finally, the only operating synagogue in Sarajevo is the Ashkenazi Synagogue constructed in 1902.
7. Visit the site of the start of World War I. Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, which eventually led to the start of World War I. Take a picture of the beautiful Latin Bridge and see the plaque commemorating the site. In our opinion, skip the museum, it’s extremely small and not really worth it.
8. Take in the view at the Yellow Bastion. An easy walk from the old town, you can get a wonderful view overlooking the city from the Yellow Bastion. Grab coffee or capture a beautiful sunset.
9. Walk to Goat’s Bridge. If you’re interested in an easy, quiet walk, then check out Goat’s Bridge. On the outskirts of the old town, it’s a great example of Ottoman architecture.
10. Tour the Sarajevo Tunnel of Hope. If you decide to take the Fall of Yugoslavia War Tour, then this will be included. If not, then you will have to figure out how to get to the Sarajevo Tunnel as it is a bit away from the city, by the airport. There is a tram and bus that take you there but as of 2022, the city was constructing a new tram line, blocking the route.
11. Take a day trip to Travnik and Jajce. Discover the beauty of the watermills in Jajce and the teal waters of Jajce waterfall. At Travnik, explore the historical capital city of Bosnia and take in amazing views at Travnik Fortress.
12. Finally, eat, drink, and be merry. No trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina is complete without coffee, cevapi, and burek. Made in a traditional džezva, the coffee is bold and strong. Cevapi is the national dish of BiH. Uncomplicated grilled minced meat similar in shape to sausages, served with somun (flatbread), chopped onions, and for an even a special treat, ask for it with cheese (kajmak). Not to be forgotten, burek is a flaky dough filled with either cheese, meat, potatoes, or spinach. Our favorites: Caffe Divan for a great atmosphere, coffee, tea, and cakes. Buregdzinica Sač for fresh and warm burek. Finally, Buregdzinica Nune for incredible cevapi.
Undoubtedly, the charming city of Mostar is famous for its iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge). Despite it being the same country, Mostar definitely has a different feel and vibe to it. Situated in the Herzegovina region, Mostar was described to us as the California of BiH. I guess because of the more temperate climate and beautiful waters? Sean and I spent 1 wonderful week in Mostar after Sarajevo, so here are some things to do there:
1. Obviously visit Stari Most. Hard to miss, as it connects the two sides of the city, definitely take in the awe of the bridge’s construction. Walk across it and get the breathtaking views, then head down below for inspiring views of it from afar. If you’re lucky, you may also get to watch some brave soul dive off the bridge.
2. Enjoy a wonderful meal overlooking the water. With various restaurants surrounding the bridge and lining the water, you’ll undoubtedly find something to your liking. Both Sarajevo and Mostar have wonderful food. Our recommendations: Restoran Labirint and Hindin Han.
3. Take a trip to Kravica Waterfall. If the weather is warm enough, swim in the waters surrounded by flowing waterfalls.
4. Go to Blagaj. About a 20 minute car or taxi ride southeast of Mostar, you can be astonished by the emerald waters flowing through the mountainside. Explore the Dervish House (built around 1520) that overlooks the water. Or hike to Blagaj Fort.
5. Visit Počitelj. The historic village overlooks the river where you can walk the old fortress walls in the open-air museum.
For a highly recommended place to stay that offers the most amazing tour of Kravica, Blagaj and Počitelj check out Hostel Majdas (also affectionately known as the “One More Night” hostel).
So needless to say, we (or more specifically, I, Ronnie) loved Bosnia & Herzegovina. I think it is an overlooked and underappreciated destination that deserves more time spent. Whether you’re going from Sarajevo to Mostar, or anywhere in BiH, take time to appreciate the wonderful country.
Head here to check out our other travel destinations.