The Best Things to do in Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina
This post is about the best things to do in Sarajevo. The capital of Bosnia 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 all the things to do in Sarajevo and my love for this city. However, if I had to sum up why people should visit Bosnia’s capital, it would be the scenic location and the charming old town. In both places Sarajevo feels more like an Eastern traditional village 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’s historic center has some of the oldest mosques in Bosnia. The pastel coloured Austro-Hungarian architecture and the ancient bridges over the Miljacka river have a beauty of its own. Furthermore there is a vibrant cafe culture with plenty of teahouses to sit down.
Sarajevo gets more visitors every year. However, tourism is still developing and this keeps prices low. The interesting museums ask just a small contribution, restaurants serve huge portions of Bosnian food 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.
Lots of things to do in Sarajevo
Even though Bosnia’s capital is not that big, there is something for everyone. If you love history, nature or culture there are plenty of things to do in Sarajevo. You can visit some of the fascinating museums, wander through the old town or hike in the hills for beautiful views over the city.
Sarajevo is situated in a valley surrounded by the Dinaric Alps. With nature just a stone’s throw away there is a great mix of indoor and outdoor activities. The mountains are great for hiking in summer and winter sports in winter. No matter what time of the year you visit, there are always some interesting things to do in Sarajevo.
Even those that love good food can have a great time in Sarajevo. Going out for dinner is relatively cheap and the city has a number of excellent restaurants serving delicious Bosnian cuisine.
Sarajevo’s multicultural history
Sarajevo’s turbulent and fascinating history is another reason that makes Sarajevo an interesting place to visit. The different empires that once ruled Sarajevo left the city with a unique blend of cultures and a rich architectural heritage. There is a long tradition of tolerance and religious diversity and 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 and elegant architecture from the Austro-Hungarian empire and on the outskirts of the city the sober flats of Tito’s socialist rule when Bosnia was part of Yugoslavia.
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 during the siege in Sarajevo. However, its multicultural spirit could not be destroyed completely. 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.
Things to do in Sarajevo on foot
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. It’s a great introduction to the city and I suggest you do this on your first day in Sarajevo.
Walk to 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.
The fortress was built in the 18th century during the Ottoman period, as part of a system of fortifications designed to protect Sarajevo from potential attacks. The Yellow Fortress is one of several fortifications that were built on the hills around 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.
Walk through the Baščaršija
Another one of my favourite things to do in Sarajevo is a visit to the Baščaršija. The Baščaršija area of Sarajevo’s Old Town is a maze of narrow streets and alleys that will allow you to travel back to Ottoman times. This is where east meets west and you can feel the influence that the Ottomans 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 Baščaršija are also home to some of the best restaurants and cafes in Sarajevo. There is a lively cafe culture and a warm cup of tea or coffee is never far away.
Things to do in Sarajevo: Baščaršija
The Sebilj Fountain is a beautiful wooden fountain that was built in the 18th century. was built by Mehmed Pasha Kukavica, a wealthy Bosniak from Sarajevo, as a public water source for the citizens of the city. The word “sebilj” comes from the Arabic word “sabil”, which means “roadside fountain”.
There used to be hundreds of such 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 Baščaršija square is the only one that still remains in Sarajevo. It’s still a central place in the Baščaršija where both old and young gather to feed the pigeons.
Gazi Husrev-beg mosque
Gazi Husrev Beg was an Ottoman governor and military commander who played an important role in the history of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was appointed as the governor (beg) of Bosnia in 1521 by the Ottoman Sultan. Under his rule he built numerous mosques, madrasas, and other buildings throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.
One of his most famous works is the Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque, which is located in the heart of Sarajevo’s old town. The mosque was built in the 16th century and is considered one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture in the region. 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.
6. 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. Morica Han was originally built in the 16th century and could accomodate up to 300 tradesmen and 70 horses. The ground floor was for the horses while the rooms for travellers were on the second floor.
Caravanserais are found throughout the Silk Road from Uzbekistan to Azerbaijan and Istanbul as well as Bosnia. These places offered food and accomodations for merchants and traders passing through. Outside you can still see some of the ruins that show the caravanserai used to be much bigger. The renovated courtyard now has a nice coffee house and the Morica han restaurant.
Meeting of Cultures
As you leave Baščaršija towards Ferhadija street you will find the Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures sign. It indeed lies at a location where the Baščaršija with its more oriental atmosphere and old mosques ends and the Ferhadija street with its western shops 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.
Things to do in Sarajevo: city center
Shopping in Ferhadija street
The more modern shopping street of Ferhadija is a completely different world from the Baščaršija. 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.
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 one of the symbols of the city.
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.
The Latin bridge
Behind the Baščaršija 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.
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.
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.
The Sarajevo Roses are concrete scars that mark the spots where mortar shells hit during the Siege of Sarajevo, which lasted from 1992 to 1996.
During the siege, which was the longest siege of a capital city in modern history, the city was bombarded by artillery and mortar shells on a daily basis. Many of these shells hit public spaces such as parks, sidewalks, and playgrounds, killing or injuring civilians.
After the war, local authorities began filling the craters left by the shells with red resin, creating a unique and poignant symbol of the city’s suffering during the war. The red resin is meant to symbolize blood and the resilience of the city and its people.
Today, the Sarajevo Roses are an important part of the city’s cultural heritage, and they serve as a reminder of the horrors of war and the need for peace and reconciliation.
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).
Things to do in Sarajevo: museums
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.
The Tunnel museum
To learn more about the siege of Sarajevo you can visit the Tunnel Museum. The Tunnel of Hope was an underground passageway that connected the besieged city of Sarajevo with the outside world, serving as a lifeline for its residents during the war. This is where the Bosnian army smuggled food, weapons and humanitarian aid in and out of the city.
The family that lived at the entrance of the Tunnel have changed their house into a museum. The exhibition shows the challenges faced by the city’s inhabitants, the humanitarian aid efforts and the resilience during this time. Through this you will gain a deeper understanding of the war’s impact on Sarajevo.
You can still walk through a section of the tunnel itself as well. It provides a tangible connection to history and a chance to physically experience the cramped and challenging conditions that the tunnel’s users endured.
How to get there: The tunnel Museum is at the outskirts of Sarajevo. 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.
Tickets: Tickets are 10 Bosnian Marks and you can buy them at the entrance. If you are a student, bring your student card as the student price is considerably less.
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.
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 sit down after your museum visit.
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 a number of exciting daytrips from the city with plenty of hiking opportunities in the summer and winter sports in winter.
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.
How to get there: 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.
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. Waterways are intertwined with footpaths that are lined with tall trees. Therefore it is one of the best places in sarajevo to see the fall foliage.
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.
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. These cute little mountain villages like Lukomir, Cavljak and Bukovik that offer a glimpse into rural Bosnian life.
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.
Where to stay: If you want to stay you can check out Honey valley Bjelasnica in Bjelasnica. In Lukomir are a few homestay options such as the Letnja Basta guesthouse, the Etno house Lukomir or the friendly Bobica Konak.
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.
How to get there: unfortunately this place is difficult to reach with public transport and you will need your own car
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.
How to get there: Konjic is 1 hour by bus from Sarajevo
Where to stay: Pension Neretva is a good budget option in Konjic
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.
Mostar itself is the gateway to a number of interesting daytrips as well. From Mostar you can visit the Blagaj monastery, Kravice waterfalls and Pocitelj
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.
Things to do in Sarajevo Travel tips
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.
What to eat in Sarajevo
Sarajevo is a great city to try the cuisine from all over the Balkans. The diverse and flavorful culinary scene is influenced by Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Eastern traditions.
Some of the most popular and common Bosnian foods are Cevapi (Bosnian kebab) and Burek ( pastry dish made with layers of thin filo dough filled with various ingredients ).
Tufahija is a traditional Bosnian dessert that originated in Sarajevo. It is made by poaching whole apples, removing the cores, and filling the cavities with sweetened walnuts. Tufahija is often garnished with whipped cream and sometimes a drizzle of syrup.
For more information about Bosnian food and what dishes to try I recommend my post about Bosnian food.
Where to eat in Sarajevo
Sarajevo has plenty of great restaurants to try Bosnian Cuisine. For the most delicious places to eat on a budget in Sarajevo please check my post on the best restaurants in Sarajevo
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 (3 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.
How to get around in Sarajevo
Sarajevo is a relatively small city, and many of its main attractions are located within walking distance of each other. Walking is a great way to explore the city’s historic neighborhoods and enjoy its beautiful architecture.
Sarajevo also has a well-developed public transportation system with a popular tramline as well as buses. Tickets can be purchased from the driver or from kiosks around the city.
At last, taxis are readily available in Sarajevo and can be hailed on the street. Taxi fares are very reasonable.
When to visit Sarajevo
Sarajevo is a great city to visit any time of the year. 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.
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.
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.
Safety in Sarajevo
Sarajevo is generally a safe city to visit. The city has undergone significant redevelopment and transformation since the end of the Bosnian War in 1995, and its infrastructure and security measures have improved.
However, like any other city, visitors should still exercise caution and common sense while traveling in Sarajevo. Petty theft and pickpocketing can occur in crowded areas, so it’s important to keep an eye on your belongings and avoid carrying large sums of cash or valuable items.
It’s also a good idea to avoid political demonstrations and large gatherings, and to stay aware of any security concerns that may arise.
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