I Visited Sarajevo For 4 Days And Was Shocked By What I Experienced
Welcome To Sarajevo, The Melting-Pot Of Europe
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo is a city with a troubled past but a very bright future. This small Balkan capital is full of history, colorful locals, amazing food, and endless cobblestone alleys to explore.
Recently named a best value destination for 2023, the reasons to visit Sarajevo just keep growing. I spent 4 days exploring this city and left with a strong impression of not only Sarajevo, but Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole.
Sometimes referred to as the Jerusalem of Europe, Sarajevo is a city of contrasts around every corner. In the same afternoon, you can visit a Mosque, a Synagogue, an Orthodox Church, and a Catholic Church. Turn a corner in this city, and you can see hints of Vienna and Istanbul in its architecture and history everywhere you look.
Is It Safe?
The very mention that you are traveling to Sarajevo might be met with some trepidation or worry from your loved ones, as it’s known for its violent past. While the infamous siege from 1992 -1996 is one of the main things people know about Sarajevo, today, it’s safe to visit.
The Balkan region is no stranger to politically complex cities, and Sarajevo is no exception. The complexities of the political situation that led to the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992 are a history lesson in itself, so I won’t get into it here. There are numerous resources to learn about the longest siege in military history and how it came to be. A visit to Sarajevo is a history lesson in itself, and the many local guides who lived through it will be your best way to learn about this major historical event.
So, why did I venture to Sarajevo, and what kind of impression did it leave on me?
Let’s just say that after an 8-month trip exploring the Balkans, this city was one place that really stuck with me for many reasons.
5 Reasons You Should Consider A Trip To Sarajevo
Did you know World War I technically started right in the center of Sarajevo?
The Latin Bridge in the middle of town is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated while riding in his motorcar. This event triggered a political crisis among the major European superpowers and led to a domino effect of decisions leading to the start of WWI.
Endless Things To Do
There is just so much to see and do in this small capital city, and my 4 days were not enough time to explore everything. The entire city is basically a history lesson in itself, with many walking tours dedicated to the siege, history, architecture, or street art. When you are exploring, make sure to look for the Sarajevo Roses. I won’t spoil it for you here, but let’s just say they are not what you think.
While there is SO much to do in Sarajevo, here is a brief list of things I did and 100% recommend:
- Take a siege tour to really get the full experience of what happened when the city was blocked off from the rest of the world in the 90s. I went with FunkyTours, and they are known as the most reputable agency in town for a good reason. Our guide spoke passionately about his experience, and the tour was very eye-opening.
- You cannot miss the war tunnel experience, where you can witness the drastic measures locals took to move goods in and out of their city.
- Head up Trebević Mountain and walk along the abandoned bobsled track used in the 1984 Winter Olympics.
- Check out the historic Sarajevo Brewery, taste the local brews and learn why this brewery is considered to have saved the city.
- Spend hours wandering around the old bazaar, full of metal works and other stalls. Sit in Baščaršija Square and sip a Bosnian Coffee next to the famous Sebilj Fountain. I spent far longer than I care to admit watching the locals and tourists feed, photograph, and get bombarded by the famous pigeons that call this area home.
- Head up past the striking Alifakovac cemetery to the Yellow Bastion for a great sunset over the city. While you are up there, check out the little hidden Kamarija cafe nearby. This place has amazing views over the valley, nestled in the trees of the hillside.
A City Full Of Characters
The people of Sarajevo have been through a lot, that goes without saying. The siege was not all that long ago and most of the residents are old enough to remember the daily terror they lived through for 4 years, and every local I spoke with had lost family or friends in the violence.
Despite their bloody past, the people of Sarajevo are absolute characters. I couldn’t believe the smiles, belly laughs, and overall happiness that I saw in this city. I was expecting rough and tough and was blown away by the opposite. Sarajevo is full of talkative, friendly, and yes sometimes solemn locals. If you ask questions, they are eager to answer and educate foreigners on the complexity of their city’s past. After 8 months of traveling throughout the Balkans, I quickly listed Sarajevans as the friendliest people I had encountered.
Sarajevo is becoming increasingly connected to the U.S. and Canada, with more airlines including it in their 2023 routes, and this is one of the main reasons I was able to sneak it into the end of my Balkan trip.
Finding ourselves in Split, Croatia, and needing to get back to New York rather quickly, the best flights I could find were actually out of Sarajevo. After a quick search, I realized that reaching Sarajevo from split was fairly straightforward, cost-effective, and allowed us to stop in Mostar on the way. So not only did we save hundreds of dollars on flights, we also got to explore Bosnia and Herzegovina a bit.
Aside from flying, Sarajevo is well connected to the rest of the Balkan region via bus and rail, and traveling these methods is easy and cheap. Located between Belgrade and Croatia, the city makes a logical stopping point to explore.
One thing not to miss when talking about Sarajevo transportation is the tram network. In fact, this might be where my love of tram travel started. Sarajevo’s trams crisscross the city and into the suburbs. Some are quite old and rustic, while others are a bit more modern. A local told us that the Sarajevo tram network is actually one of the oldest in Europe and was used as the model for other famous tram systems, such as Vienna.
One Word: Mostar
As I mentioned before, our trip from Split, Croatia to Sarajevo required a stop in the small town of Mostar. Being one of those places I have always wanted to see for myself, there was no way I was settling for just an afternoon in this little gem tucked into the southwest corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While we stayed 3 days and had to pry ourselves away, Mostar is an easy day trip from Sarajevo if you want to get out of the city for a bit.
Reachable in under 2 hours from the city by bus or train, a day trip to Mostar is a must when visiting Sarajevo. Amble among the hilly cobblestone streets and market stalls, and head for Stari Most (Old Bridge), easily the most famous landmark in Mostar. If you are lucky, there will be high-rise divers on the day of your visit, collecting money and taking the death-defying plunge into the shallow Neretrva River below.