Last updated in October 2018
Sarajevo remains my favourite city in Europe and it is one of the most charming and interesting cities I know. There are so many things to do in Sarajevo and in addition it is also a very budget friendly destination.
Tourism is still developing and this keeps prices low. The interesting museums ask just a small contribution, restaurants serve huge portions for little money, accommodation is cheap and most things can be explored on foot.
In Sarajevo you pay almost nothing, but get a lot in return. It’s one of the most multicultural cities in Europe and the mountains are just a stone’s throw away.
Sarajevo’s multicultural history
Sarajevo’s long and fascinating history of cultural and religious diversity is clearly visible. Someone told me Sarajevo is like an onion with layers that represent different era’s in the city’s history and I realized how true this is.
The heart of the city is the old town where you travel back to the Ottoman times. Then surrounding the old town is the beautiful architecture from the Austro-Hungarian empire and on the outskirts of the city the sober flats of Tito’s communist rule.
Sarajevo’s lessons from the past
The highly multicultural city was not surprisingly called the Jerusalem of the Balkans. Unfortunately this didn’t always go well.
Sarajevo is a city that entails many lessons from Europe’s turbulent past. Did you know for example that it was the murder of prince Ferdinand at the Latin Bridge that triggered the first world war.
Did you know that during the second world war the Resolution of Sarajevo Muslims condemned the persecution of the Serbs by the Croatian Ustase. The muslims demanded security for all citizens, regardless of their identity. The Sarajevo resistance was led by a soldier called Walter that was sadly killed on the day of Liberation on 6 April 1945.
Sarajevo then became part of the socialist federal republic of Yugoslavia and in 1984 hosted the Winter olympics. Tourism increased and in general this was a good time for the city, although democracy was low. With the declaration of independence from Yugoslavia one if its darkest times started.
The war in Sarajevo
The capital suffered the longest siege in the history of modern warfare during Bosnia’s civil war.The Serbs encircled the city for 4 years and assaulted it with artillery from the surrounding hills. An average of 329 shell impacts occured every day.
It is estimated that more than 12,000 people died because of the siege in Sarajevo. Where mortar shells killed people the ground was filled with red resin. These so-called Sarajevo roses remain as a memory to those who lost their lives.
Despite the traces that are left from the war it is now one of the safest cities in Europe and a symbol of hope and reconciliation. The city might have gone through difficult times, but the current developments have shown that its even harder to crush Sarajevo’s multicultural spirit.
Travel guide to the best things to do in Sarajevo
1. Visit Galerija 11/07/1995 and the Museum of crimes against humanity
To get a better understanding about the civil war in Bosnia you can visit some interesting museums in Sarajevo.
First of all there is the well organised exhibition called Galerija 11/07/1995 about the genocide in Srebrenica. This museum has left a deep impression on me and if you have time to visit only one museum go to Galerija.
Nearby is the newer museum of crimes against humanity that focuses on the genocide in Bosnia in general. Its informative and worth a visit.
2. The history museum and café Tito
The history museum is maybe not as well organised and impressive as the museums above, but they nonetheless have some interesting exhibitions that are not only about the Bosnian war, but also about the second World war and time under Tito’s communist regime.
In fact, the museum used to be the revolutionary museum of Bosnia Herzegovina in the socialist federal republic of Yugoslavia. The nearby café Tito is a museum on its own and a great place to get a drink after your visit.
3. The Tunnel museum
To learn more about the siege of Sarajevo you can visit the tunnel museum at the outskirts of Sarajevo where the Bosnian army built a tunnel to smuggle food, weapons and humanitarian aid into the city. A small part of the tunnel is still there.
The family that lived at the entrance of the tunnel have changed their house into a museum with information about the war in Sarajevo and the importance of the tunnel for survival.
Logistics: to reach the tunnel museum a taxi would be easiest, but it is possible with public transport as well. You can take tram number 3 to Ilidza. Get off at the last stop and walk (30-40 minutes) or take bus 32 heading to Kotorac, also till the last stop. Another option is to take a tour. Infobosnia runs daily tours at 14:00 for 15 euro. If you are a student, bring your student card as the student price is considerably less.
4. Walk in the surrounding hills and watch the views from the Yellow fortress
The afternoon is the perfect time to walk up the hills towards the Yellow fortress. These ruins from the old fortifications protecting the old town now offer wonderful views on the city. The first thing you will notice are the war cemeteries and beyond you will see the buildings and homes of modern Sarajevo.
This is also the best place to escape the crowds. The small narrow streets give a village like atmosphere and its peaceful and quiet.
5. Walk through the bascarsija
The old town will bring you back to the Ottoman times. This is where East meets West and you can feel the influence that the Turks left behind many years ago.
Old mosques, Quran schools, Oriental shops selling souvenirs and hip cafe’s and restaurants with herbal tea and Bosnian food. If nature calls, you can go to the oldest public toilet in Europe built-in 1530. A modernised version is still up and running.
6. Shopping in Ferhadija street & The sacred heart cathedral
Close to the old town is the shopping street of Ferhadija. Ferhadija will bring you to contemporary Sarajevo where the government is working hard to erase all traces of the war.
When you enter Ferhadija you will see the eternal flame. A memorial to the civilians and soldiers who died in Bosnia during the second World war. A bit further on you will find the sacred heart cathedral that is often considered as the symbol of the city.
7. The Latin bridge
Behind the Bascarsija you can visit the Latin bridge. This Ottoman bridge over the Miljacka river is one of the oldest in Sarajevo. This fact is often overlooked, because the bridge is more famous as the site where Archduke Ferdinand was killed in 1914. The event that triggered the first World War in Europe.
8. Markale Market
Markale Market is a small fresh produce market right next to the Bascarsija. It is of great signifance in Sarajevo, because of its sad history. A shell blast from the Serbian Army killed 68 people on 5 February 1994 and again 43 people on 28 August 1995. A small memorial at the back of the market depicts the names of the civilians that lost their lives in these events.
9. City hall: Vijecnica
Almost every building in Sarajevo has more stories to tell than first appears. Sarajevo’s City hall is one of the largest Austro Hungarian buildings in the city. In 1949 it became the National library with over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts. Some were from the 19th century about Bosnian cultural history. Unfortunately Serbian shelling in 1992 completely destroyed the library.
After years of restoration the building reopened as a National monument in 2014. It is now used for a variety of events and exhibitions and it is definetly worth a look inside.
10. Neno’s Free walking tour
If you want to know all the ins and outs of Sarajevo, I can recommend Neno’s free walking tour. Neno will show you all the secrets of Sarajevo and meanwhile shares his own experiences of his life during the siege. While walking through the city he will point out the Sarajevo Roses for you and share the stories behind some of the bullet holes on the buildings.
11. Trebevic mountain and the Olympic bobsleigh track
In 1984 Sarajevo hosted the winter olympic Games. Years of communist rule and the war have left most Olympic buildings abandoned and deserted. Up in the mountains you can find the abandoned bobsleigh track that is now used for graffiti art. In the summer it is a nice hike up the mountain and the view over Sarajevo is beautiful.
Logistics update: in April 2018 Sarajevo’s landmark cable car has reopened and will bring you from the old town to the top of mount Trebevic, only 5 minutes from the abandoned bobsleigh track.
12. Bjelasnica and Lukomir
In the winter Bjelasnica offers a winter paradise for skiing and in the summer it is a hikers paradise with interesting trails to mountain villages such as Lukomir.
How to get there: You can take a bus to Umoljani and then hike 3-4 hours to the village of Lukomir.
13. Igman: the abandoned Olympic hotel and memorial to the partisans
Not far from Bjelasnica is Igman where there is a small memorial to the Yugoslav Partisans that fought against Germany during the Second world war. Behind the memorial lies an abandoned hotel that was used during the Olympics in 1984.
I haven’t been there, but according to Atlas Obscura there are also some abandoned Olympic Jumps at Igman.
How to get there: unfortunately this place is difficult to reach with public transport and you will need your own car
14. Daytrips from Sarajevo
Sarajevo makes a great place to make some interesting daytrips. For example you can go to Konjic and visit Tito’s bunker or visit the old city of Mostar. Although I would recommend 2 days for Mostar it is posssible as a daytrip. You can read more here about how to organise a visit to Konjic and Mostar and other interesting places in Bosnia in my post Backpacking Bosnia: Europe’s best kept secret.
Where to eat Bosnian food in Sarajevo: Cevapcici, Burek, Baklava and Tufahija
Sarajevo has plenty of opportunities to find the delicacies of Bosnian cuisine. Cevapcici and Burek are everywhere in Sarajevo. For a good burek, just follow the smell coming from the bakeries. The most common are with spinach or cheese, but I also saw some with pumpkin. At last treat yourself on one of Bosnia’s sweet deserts. Forget about any diet you might have and treat yourself on baklava or tufahije (walnut stuffed apples stewed in sugar-water).
For the best restaurants and cafés in Sarajevo please check my post here
Where to sleep in Sarajevo
Check out Airbnb if you look for a place to stay. Where else can you have a whole apartment for yourself for just 10 euro per person per night. If you haven’t registered yourself yet, click here to register and you get 30 euro’s once you finished your first trip with Airbnb of 65 euro’s or more.
Sarajevo also offers some great hostels for those who like to meet up with other travellers.
For a unique experience you can stay in the War hostel. This hostel was set up by a survivor of the siege and the hostel is all about experiencing what it was like staying in Sarajevo during that time. This is not for the faint of heart and don’t expect any luxuries. He also organises tours about the war such as the city war scars tour or a visit to a bunker or the frontline.
How to get to Sarajevo
Sarajevo has an airport, but unfortunately flying directly to Sarajevo is not cheap. Wizz Air has flights from several destinations to Tuzla that is 3 hours from Sarajevo by bus.
Sarajevo has 2 bus stations. The main bus station serves almost every destination in Bosnia itself, including Mostar (4 hours) and Tuzla (3 hours).
International destinations include Zagreb (6 hours), Dubrovnik (8 hours), Split (8 hours), Podgorica (7 hours), Kosovo (8 hours), Ljubljana (9 hours), Vienna (12 hours) and even Belgium and the Netherlands.
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.