The capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina still retains its reputation as a war-torn city under siege. In reality, it’s an incredibly vibrant and fascinating city with different cultures constantly mixing. The territory of Bosnia & Herzegovina was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks for centuries, something which is still evident today—meandering around the Old Town, I felt like I was in a Turkish bazaar. If you’re headed to the Balkans, don’t miss Sarajevo! Here’s my guide for the city’s can’t-miss sites:
Wander around Old Town/Bascarsija
Sarajevo’s Old Town is full shops, restaurants, and cafes—the pedestrian streets and storefronts give you the feel of a bazaar. Get lost and see what you discover!
Sarajevo is undoubtedly famous for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (and his wife, Sophie) in 1914, the event which started World War I. You can see the exact spot of the assassination right next to the Latin Bridge, which is marked by a plaque.
Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque
This is one of Sarajevo’s many mosques, and features an ornate interior. Tourist tickets are available for 3 km (~$1.75), which I thought was well worth it for the guided tour and explanations of the building. Ladies, remember to wear long pants and bring a scarf to cover your hair, as it is a religious building.
Sacred Heart Cathedral, Old Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, and Old Synagogue
If you’re interested in more religious buildings, there are two Orthodox churches, a Catholic church, and a Jewish synagogue (with a museum) within 5 minutes of the mosque. Talk about tolerance! All of the other buildings are interesting in their own way.
Views from Yellow Bastion
Climb up to the old fort, the Yellow Bastion, and enjoy the amazing views over the city.
There are several museums in Sarajevo if you’re interested: the National Museum of Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Sarajevo Museum 1878-1918, as well as two house museums: Svrzo’s House and Despic House. The Old Synagogue and the Old Orthodox Church also have small museums as well.
Sarajevo Memorial to Children Killed During the Siege
The siege of Sarajevo lasted from 1992-1995. Of the 11,000+ civilians killed during the siege, 1600 were children. This memorial is made from broken glass and mortar shell casings in their memory.
Tunnel of Hope
During the siege, the Bosnians built a secret tunnel under the UN-controlled airport. The tunnel was 800m long and allowed for the transportation of food, fuel, arms, and other basic necessities back into the city—keeping the city alive. Today, the Tunnel of Hope Museum is in the house of the main entrance to the tunnel, a bit outside of the city center. I visited the museum on a tour, which was great not only to have everything explained, but also to hear my guide’s personal memories.
Sniper positions during the siege
On my Tunnel of Hope tour, my guide also stopped off in one of the mountains above Sarajevo that was used by the Serbian army’s snipers during the siege. I also saw the Old Jewish Cemetery, the second largest Jewish Cemetery in Europe (after Prague), which was a strategic location above the city and constantly fought over by the Bosnians and the Serbs—lots of tombstones still have bullet holes. The first two people killed in the Bosnian War in 1992 were shot from the Cemetery.
1984 Olympic Bobsleigh Track
Sarajevo was chosen to host the Winter Olympics in 1984, the first time the Olympics came to Yugoslavia. Today, the Bobsleigh Track is broken in parts and much of it is covered in graffiti. You can walk down the track, just don’t wander off into the woods (there might still be mines there). This is more or less inaccessible with public transportation, so I advise trying to visit on a tour.
On July 11th, 1995, the Bosnian Serb army captured the town of Srebrenica (in eastern Bosnia) and began the killings of 8000 Muslim Bosnian men and boys. This genocide is commemorated with a huge cemetery (new graves are being added each year, as more and more bodies are found), and it is possible to walk through the factory buildings that housed the UN-Dutch Battalion. It was an educational and emotional visit, but well worth seeing to fully understand this part of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s history. Srebrenica is nearly 2.5 hours away by car, and so I highly recommend visiting on a tour.
The Basics: Sarajevo has a population of about 370,000. Bosnia & Herzegovina is not a part of the EU, and is typically abbreviated to “BiH.” They use the Bosnian Convertible Mark (BAM, often shortened to km) for their currency. Seeing the prices in Euros is common, although not every place will accept Euros (the exception is tours, which you can usually pay in Euros). The language is usually written in the Latin alphabet, although you’ll see both Latin and Cyrillic in some places. Bosnia & Herzegovina suffered a great deal of damage (physical and otherwise) during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, and some buildings are still in ruins—particularly evident in Mostar.
Getting Around: Everything within Sarajevo’s Old Town is within walking distance. Sarajevo is a large city and has an extensive bus and tram network—I never needed to take public transportation, but note that both the train station and bus station are about a 30-minute walk away from the Old Town. There are many sites outside the city that I visited on a tour—it would have been anywhere from tricky to impossible to see them with public transportation.
Where I Stayed: I stayed at Franz Ferdinand Hostel for 3 nights in a 4-bed dorm. The hostel’s theme is (you guessed it!) Franz Ferdinand and World War I. The beds have a cubicle-like privacy and mine was very comfortable, even if the dorm room was very narrow. The thing that bothered me the most was that the dorm door didn’t have a lock—so anyone of the 10ish dorm rooms in the apartment could have walked into my room. There was also a very basic breakfast that was included. The location could not have been better, right in the heart of the Old Town where everything was walkable. Overall, I would stay here again for the location, but might look for somewhere else with better security.
Sarajevo is a fascinating city and is definitely another of the Balkans’ many gems! The city is lively and retains a blend of cultures that is so interesting. Don’t let the stories from twenty years ago scare you away from BiH—Sarajevo is a wonderful place to explore!
Have you ever been to Sarajevo or BiH? What did you think?