Don’t Skip Sarajevo on Your Balkan Tour

I wasn’t planning on visiting Bosnia & Herzegovina on my way through the Balkans.  Honestly, I didn’t know where to go after Croatia.  My time in the Schengen zone was expired, so I could not legally enter any of those bordered countries again for 90 days.

I was staying at a hostel in Zagreb and quite frequently saw guests come in traveling from Bosnia & Herzegovina.  Sarajevo was an eight-hour bus ride away, and although I knew virtually nothing about the country, I decided it would be my next destination.

I arrived early in the morning after taking a night bus to the capital.  Walking to my hostel took longer than expected, and during my 45-minute walk, I walked by buildings with bullet holes and shelling completely visible. I knew virtually nothing about the civil war that took place in the early 90’s here, I was six when the war ended, and besides movies depicting the tragic event, my knowledge of the area was lacking.

Local apartment buildings still bearing the sights of the war

Walking around Sarajevo and seeing the shell shocked streets alone was eerie at first; however, this feeling quickly changed as I got closer to the city center of Sarajevo.  The streets were lined with people in all corners, and vendors were selling fresh pressed pomegranate juice, the new mall and megaplex theater was opening.  I kept walking and saw a Catholic church then followed by a synagogue on my left and Muslims in prayer at the mosque on my right this city had it all!

Fresh pomegranate juice lines the streets. Yum!

Exploring more, I discovered the authentic culture that Bosnia’s capital has instilled in the city. Besides the distinct and different religious institutes there are restaurants of every cuisine lining the corners, I was able to buy hand knit slippers at one of the many local shops, and the town square was a perfect place to sit, relax with a 2 Bosnian Mark (BAM) coffee.

Sarajevo town square
People watching in the square

Sarajevo was the perfect city for me to catch up on my history.  In the ’90s after the breakup of Yugoslavia, a terrible war ruined the country as the Bosnian Serbs fought for control over the territory and atrocious ethnic cleansing was committed against the Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks. It was hard to imagine the horrible acts that took place here, but traveling through the country forced me to delve into the facts.  Walking the streets gave me a sense of the horror people must have felt.  If I had missed the opportunity to travel through this country, I would only know what the media, movies, and the internet tell me. It’s genuinely different from being there and understanding the suffering that took place.

Canned Beef Monument
While people were trapped during the Siege, UN forces sent canned beef to feed people. This monument is a joke that represents the unpopular food that was sent to aid people in their time of need.
Latin Bridge
More History – I had no idea that this is the bridge where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated causing Austria-Hungary to declare war against Serbia, starting WWI.

I found that people were very open to talking about the war times, and in general, everyone, I came across was amicable and grateful to get on with their lives. There were a lot of sites to see that were daily reminders of more stringent times, but also happier times as the city is now thriving.  I could have spent weeks just in Sarajevo alone.

If the history and culture don’t pique your interest and you’re still on the fence about making a trip to Bosnia consider the cost. I haven’t mentioned that despite how awesome Sarajevo is Bosnia is also super affordable to travel through.  Especially compared to other European nations, you are going to go far with your dollar here.  A good meal will run you about 7 BAM, one night stay in a hostel will cost 12 BAM, and transportation between cities is convenient and cheap.

Sarajevo is a vibrant city capital city that doesn’t feel like the overcrowded, tourist-filled other capital cities of Europes.  It’s still very much underrated as a travel destination, so get there soon while it is still off the beaten path! Is it traveling through Bosnia? Be sure to check out Mostar as well. 

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