This post is about the best things to do in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Sarajevo remains my favourite city in Europe and it is one of the most charming and interesting places I know.
Why visit Sarajevo?
I could talk for hours about my love for Sarajevo. However, if I had to sum up why people should visit Sarajevo it would be the scenic location of the city and the charming center with its vibrant cafe culture.
Personally I fell in love with Sarajevo in the hills of the Dinaric Alps that surround the city and the cobble stoned streets of the old town. In both places Sarajevo feels more like an Eastern traditional village rather than a European capital.
It’s this friendly and multicultural atmosphere that makes Sarajevo such a unique place. It’s not for nothing that it is sometimes called the Jerusalem of Europe. Beautiful mosques stand alongside catholic cathedrals and orthodox churches.
Sarajevo gets more visitors every year, but 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.
What to do in Sarajevo?
Even though Bosnia’s capital is not that big, there are plenty of things to do in Sarajevo. You can visit some of the fascinating museums, try delicious Bosnian food in traditional restaurants, wander through the Ottoman streets of the old town or hike in the hills for beautiful views over the city.
With the mountains just a stone’s throw away it’s a great mix of indoor and outdoor activities. No matter what time of the year you visit, there are always some interesting things to do in Sarajevo. The colours in the trees in autumn, winter sports in winter, blooming flowers in spring and hiking in summer. Sarajevo really is a year round destination.
Sarajevo’s multicultural history
Sarajevo’s turbulent and fascinating history is another reason that makes Sarajevo an interesting visit. There is a long tradition of tolerance and religious diversity as different empires ruled the city. Sarajevo has always been a meeting point between east and west.
The influences of the different cultures are clearly visible in the city. Someone told me Sarajevo is like an onion with layers that represent different time periods.
The heart of the city is the old town where you travel back to the Ottoman times with its narrow alleys and minarets. 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
Sarajevo’s multicultural nature didn’t always go well and more than once it played a crucial role in European history.
Did you know for example that it was the murder of prince Ferdinand at the Latin Bridge that triggered the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the first world war.
During the second world war Muslims in Sarajevo condemned the persecution of the Serbs by the pro Nazi Croatian Ustase. They demanded security for all its citizens, regardless of their identity. The resistance was led by a partisan called Walter. He was sadly killed on the day of Liberation in 1945.
Sarajevo then became part of Tito’s socialist federal republic of Yugoslavia and in 1984 hosted the Winter olympics. Tourism increased and this was a good time for the city, despite its lack of democracy.
The civil war in Sarajevo
When Yugoslavia fell apart and the Bosnian civil war broke out, Sarajevo saw some of its darkest times. The capital suffered the longest siege in the history of modern warfare as the Serbs encircled the city for 4 years and assaulted it with artillery from the surrounding hills.
It is estimated that more than 12,000 people died because of the siege in Sarajevo. 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.
Things to do in Sarajevo
1. Visit Galerija 11/07/1995
To get a better understanding about the civil war in Bosnia you can visit some interesting museums in Sarajevo. Even if you are not a museum person they are among the top things to do in Sarajevo and I can recommend you visit at least one of them.
First of all there is the well organised exhibition called Galerija 11/07/1995 about the genocide in Srebrenica. Srebrenica was a town in eastern Bosnia that was under protection of international peace forces. About 40,000 Bosnian muslims sought refuge in what they thought was a safe place.
However on the 11th of July 1995, The Serb army invaded the town and systematically killed more than 8000 Muslims. The international peacekeepers did not respond.
This museum has left a deep impression on me and some of the information was not easy to digest. Personally I feel this is one of the best museums in Sarajevo.
2. The Tunnel museum
To learn more about the siege of Sarajevo you can visit the tunnel museum at the outskirts of the city. This is where the Bosnian army built a tunnel to smuggle food, weapons and humanitarian aid into the city.
The family that lived at the entrance of the tunnel have changed their house into a museum with information about the siege and the importance of the tunnel for survival.
How to get there: 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.
3. The Museum of crimes against humanity
Nearby the cathedral you will find the nelatively new museum of crimes against humanity that focuses on the genocide in Bosnia in general. The museum includes topics like sexual violence, crimes against children and concentration camps.
The exhibition includes photos, documentaries and personal items. It’s a bit chaotic and there is a lot of information that sometimes lacks context, but overall the museum manages to show some of the tragic stories behind the hard cold facts.
4. 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 the time under Tito’s communist regime.
In fact, the museum used to be the revolutionary museum of Bosnia during the socialist federal republic of Yugoslavia. The nearby café Tito is a museum on its own and a great place to get a drink.
5. Walk in the surrounding hills and watch the views from the Yellow fortress
One of my favourite things to do in Sarajevo is wandering through the hills that surround the city. The afternoon is the perfect time to walk up 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 very peaceful and quiet.
6. Walk through the bascarsija
Another one of my favourite things to do in Sarajevo is a visit to the Bascarsija. The old town will allow you to travel back to Ottoman times. This is where east meets west and you can feel the influence that the Turks left behind many years ago.
You will find old mosques, Quran schools and oriental shops selling souvenirs. If nature calls, you can go to the oldest public toilet in Europe built-in 1530. A modernised version is still up and running.
The cobbled stoned streets of the Bascarsija are also home to some of the best restaurants and cafes. There is a lively cafe culture and a warm cup of tea or coffee is never far away.
7. Sebilj Fountain
There used to be hundreds of kiosk shaped fountains in Sarajevo. It was an Ottoman custom to dispense free water. The workers who manned the kiosks were paid by the state and called Sebiljdzija. The Sebilj at Bascarsija square is the nly one that still remained in Sarajevo.
8. Gazi Husrev-beg mosque
The 16th century Gazi Huzrev Beg mosque in the bascarsija is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia. It’s in typical Ottoman style and for me it very much resembled the mosques I have seen in Istanbul.
Visitors are free to enter the peaceful courtyard any time of the day. The mosque itself is only open outside of prayer times, because it is still the center of worship for Muslim Sarajevo.
9. Morica Han
In the center of the Bascarsija you will find Morica Han. A renovated covered bazaar that is the only remaining caravanserai in Sarajevo. It was built in the 16th century and could accomodate up to 300 tradesmen and 70 horses.
Outside you can still see soome of the ruins that show the caravanserai used to be much bigger. Inside are some overpriced souvenir shops and the Morica han restaurant.
10. Meeting of Cultures
As you leave Bascarsija towards Ferhadija street you will find the Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures sign. It indeed lies at a location where Ferhadija street with its western shops ends and the Bascarsija with its more oriental atmosphere and old mosques begins.
The sign was the initiative of the Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures (SMOC), an NGO that wants to promote Sarajevo as a city of peace and tolerance where different cultures meet.
11.Shopping in Ferhadija street
The more modern shopping street of Ferhadija is a completely different world from the Bascarsija. 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.
12. The sacred heart cathedral
When you walk through the Ferhadija street you will also pass the sacred heart cathedral. The Sarajevo cathedral is the largest catholic church in Bosnia and a symbol of the city.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. Ali Pasha mosque
The Ali Pasha mosque was built in the 16th century in Ottoman style. Like the city hall it was heavily damaged by the Serbs in the Bosnian war. Since the restorations in 2004 it is a National Monument.
17. Sarajevo Roses
During the siege of Sarajevo hundreds of grenades fell on the city leaving deep marks in the street. In memory of those that were killed the marks were filled with red resin and they are now known as Sarajevo’s roses.
18. 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.
19. Trying Bosnian Cuisine
Sarajevo has plenty of opportunities to find the delicacies of Bosnian cuisine. Cevapcici (Bosnian kebab) and Burek (filled pastries) 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.
Other traditional Bosnian dishes include Muckalicka (vegetable stew with meat), Dolma (stuffed vegetables) and Sarma (filled cabbage rolls).
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 most delicious places to eat on a budget in Sarajevo please check my post on the best restaurants in Sarajevo
Things to do near Sarajevo
There are a number of exciting things to do near Sarajevo. The foothills of the Dinaric Alps are visible from the city. These mountains offer plenty of hiking opportunities in the summer and are a center for winter sports in the winter.
20. Trebevic mountain and the Olympic bobsleigh track
In 1984 Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics. Years of communist rule and the war have left most buildings abandoned and deserted. Up in the Trebevic mountain you can find the abandoned bobsleigh track that is now used for graffiti art. In the summer it is a nice hike 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 away from the abandoned bobsleigh track.
21. Vrelo Bosne
Vrelo Bosne is Sarajevo’s most peaceful park that lies at the spring of the Bosna river. It is very popular among locals as an escape of the city. In autumn it is one of the best places to see the colours in the trees and it’s a must visit during this time.
How to get there: You can take tram number 3 to Ilidza. From there you can either take a taxi or walk the tree lined avenue towards the park (3 kilometers). There are also horse carriages available.
22. Bjelasnica and Lukomir
Bjelasnica is one of the largest ski resorts near Sarajevo. It is famous for its steep slopes, but for amateurs there are also easier options to begin with. In winter this is the best place to go skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing.
Several snowshoe trails lead from Bjelasnica through snow covered pine forests to scenic villages. Mountain resorts offer cosy log cabins to spend the night so you can wake up in a magical winter wonderland.
In summer this is hikers paradise with several paths to alpine pastures and small villages like Lukomir.
How to get there: To reach Bjelasnica it is best to have your own car, especially during winter. If you want to hike to Lukomir in summer you can take a bus to Umoljani. From there it is a 3-4 hours walk to the village of Lukomir.
23. 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
Another popular ski resort in the mountains near Sarajevo is Jahorina. This is the second tallest mountain peak in the Dinaric Alps and was home to the Women’s Alpine competitions in the 1984 Winter Olympics. Again this is a great place for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in winter.
Konjic is a small town that is about one hour from Sarajevo. It has a scenic location next to the deep blue Neretva river and has a beautiful old Ottoman bridge. The main reason to come to Konjic though is to visit Tito’s bunker.
The large underground nuclear bunker was kept a secret for years. Even the people in Konjic were unaware of what it exactly was that Tito was building in a narrow gorge north of the city. This cold war remnant opened its doors in 2011 and tours are organized through visit Konjic.
Visit Konjic also arranges rafting tours on the Neretva river as well as hiking, canyoning and canoeing.
Many people visit Mostar as a daytrip from Sarajevo. Although this is possible, I would strongly recommend to take at least 2 days for this trip.
Mostar was heavily damaged during the Bosnian war including the famous bridge that connected the Croatian and Bosnian parts of the city. The old town and the bridge are beautifully renovated to its former glory. Its scenic location besides the Neretva river makes this one of the most beautiful towns in Bosnia.
Mostar is therefore a very popular tourist attraction. During the day it can get very crowded. If you want to escape the crowds, early mornings and evenings are the best time to wander through town.
How to get there: Because of the new highway it is now a 2,5 hour drive from Sarajevo or a 2 hour train ride. The train from Sarajevo to Mostar competes with the Belgrade to Bar train in being the most beautiful train journey in Europe.
The best things to do in Sarajevo in 2 days
I can’t get enough of Sarajevo and even after 4 visits I keep finding new surprises. It’s easy to spend weeks in this city, but most people have only one or two days.
Things to do in Sarajevo on day 1
If you have only 2 days in Sarajevo I suggest you start your first day with a free walking tour to get a sense of the city. Most free walking tours end in the Bascarsija. The perfect place to have lunch. If you like to keep things cheap eat cevapcici at cevabdzinica Zeljo or have a filling traditional lunch at Inat Kuca.
The rest of the day you can have a closer look at the bascarsija and either visit Galerija 11/07/1995 or the museum of crimes against humanity. Reflect on what you have seen with a cup of tea at Rahatlook or Cajdzinica Dzirlo and then walk towards the yellow fortress for a beautiful sunset over Sarajevo.
Things to do in Sarajevo on day 2
The second day you can visit the tunnel museum. Then head back into town for a traditional lunch at one of the Ascinica’s such as ascinica hadzibajric in the Bascarsija. You can now wander around some places around the bascarsija such as Ferhadija street, the sacred heart cathedral and the latin bridge. With the new cable car it is also a short trip up to the abandoned bobsleigh track at Trebevic mountain where you have a beautiful view over Sarajevo. A perfect end of your visit to Sarajevo.
When to visit Sarajevo
Sarajevo is a great city to visit all year round. Summers can get pretty hot in the Balkans, but they are a great time to go hiking in the mountains near Bjelasnica and Jahorina. Sarajevo is a year round destination, but with the summer heat Summer is my least favourite time and I would prefer autumn, spring and winter.
Things to do in Sarajevo in spring and Autumn
Spring and autumn are maybe the most beautiful seasons to visit Bosnia. Sarajevo is a green city and with the hills nearby there are plenty of places to see the flowers bloom or the autumn colours in the trees. The mountains are at its best during this time and both seasons offer pleasant temperatures and great weather.
Things to do in Sarajevo in Winter
Winters can get very cold in Sarajevo, but after my last visit to the city in february I can say that it is a great winter destination. In Sarajevo itself there are several events such as the holiday market and the Sarajevo Winter festival.
With plenty of indoor activities in the city there are enough things to do in Sarajevo. Furthermore, because of the vibrant cafe culture there is always a place nearby to warm up. Sarajevo’s cozy atmosphere is at its best and the snow turns the old town in a fairytale.
Outside of the city there are the ski resorts of Bjelasnica and Jahorina that are great places to go skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. The latter is a form of hiking through the snow and Bosnia has 8 exciting snowshoeing trails. Most of them in the mountains near Sarajevo. Staying in one of the mountain resorts and waking up in a winter wonderland is a memorable experience.
Where to sleep in Sarajevo
Sarajevo offers some great budget 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 the cheapest option. 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.
Last updated: September 2019
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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.