It’s been a long-time coming, but finally here’s my take on what to do (and not to do!) in one of the cities closest to my heart. Bosnia’s capital makes for a great city trip or 2-3 days stop-off on your Balkans round trip. I’m sharing some things you should do in Sarajevo, some things to watch out for and some things that I missed out on or weren’t for me, but that might be for you.
Sarajevo was under siege for almost 4 years – to help understand what was going on and learn about the day-to-day life, head to the city’s History Museum – just off ‘Sniper Alley’ which tells the complex history of the Balkans, and details life in a city under siege. For extra credit, read Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipović, where 12 year old Zlata documented her wartime, and Fools Rush In by Bill Carter, an aid worker in the region at the time with an incredible story to tell.The city had a hectic history long before the siege, so join a walking tour to get the low down on this. The tour stops include the spot which kicked off World War I (where Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot), the so-called ‘Sarajevo Rose’ – where the mortars hit and were later filled with red resin creating a floral-like memorial, and the Canned Beef Monument, an ironic statement on the quality of food aid given during the siege.
Allow some time to get lost in the cobbled streets of the Old Town, a crossroads of cultures with the Ottoman architecture alongside Austrian-Hungarian. Wander around market stalls, and stock up on hand-made woollen socks, jewellery or local copper-ware. Followed this up with a traditional Bosnian coffee at a ‘Kafana’ or Cafe bar – they come with a sugar cube or piece of Turkish delight.
The Old Town is also where it’s at for food. For lunch grab a sandwich at Fan (Kundurdziluk 11) or chown down on burek (meat or veggie filled pastries) from one of the many bakeries. Or maybe skip lunch and wait for dinner with cevape at Ferhatović Petica (Bravadžiluk 21). Everyone will tell you to go to the famous Željo 1 (Kundurdžiluk 19) for their cevape, but after some very in-depth research I can tell you Petica is the only location you need to know about.
Just outside Sarajevo, in the village of Donji Kotorac, is the famed tunnel the Bosian Army built during the Seige of Sarajevo to bring supplies into the cut-off city. Today, the tunnel entrance has a small museum where you learn how it worked and you can enter a small section of it to feel what the people at the time went through.
Don’t spend money on bottles of water ad it’s safe to drink the tapwater. Plus if you fill up your bottle at the Sebilj Fountain in Old Town, legend says you’ll return to the city again!
Hiking in the mountains is definitely something you should add to your to-do list, but do not wander off trails as some of the hills around the city may still contain unexploded landmines. There are enough ways to safely explore the Bosnian countryside, but make sure to check the latest info at the tourist information or take a guided tour.
This brings me to empty and abandoned buildings in rural areas that might look like great for urban exploring. Just don’t as they might be booby-trapped with explosives and mines to stop looters from stealing their homes. The explosives may not have been removed so stay on the safe side.
Of course not everyone who is being up-close and friendly is on the hunt for your wallet or phone, but keep an eye out for pickpockets on trams. It’s not terribly bad, but similar to Prague or Paris.
Did you know that Sarajevo played host to the ’84 Winter Olympics? The abandoned 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics Bobsleigh Track, found high in the mountains above the city is the place to be for urbex. Remember to stay on the tracks though.
A day trip to Mostar to see the Stari Most, Old Bridge of Mostar – a rebuilt 16th-century Ottoman bridge connecting the two parts of the city. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed in 1993, the replica was rebuilt in 2004 and it’s as glorious.
Have you been to Sarajevo? What did you think?