I spent three non-stop days in Sarajevo, and fell in love with city. Sarajevo is teeming with fascinating history, beautiful architecture, interesting people, and, of course, delicious food. Here’s my guide to a jam-packed weekend!
I like to begin my visit to a new place with a free walking tour, if possible. I love how it helps me get my bearings in a city, and find out which places I would like to visit during my stay. The Sarajevo Free walking tour (http://www.sarajevowalkingtours.com/east-meets-west-free-sarajevo-walking-tour/) begins at 10:30 AM every day between April-October, and takes you through many of the main sites in the city. My guide had actually grown up in the city when it was under siege, and it was fascinating to hear his experience. Always more fun to hear about a city from a local than from a guidebook!
Stop for lunch at one of the local pita shops. Bosnian pita (nothing like the Middle Eastern one we dip in hummus!) is a filo dough pastry filled with either meat, cheese, spinach, or other vegetables. My favorite variety was filled with squash. The pita is made in a large spiral, and served in slices. Cost depends on how big the slice is, but I was able to eat my fill for about $1.50, or 2.6 BAM (Bosnian Convertible Mark).
Visit the 16th century Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque. Gazi Husrev-beg, a Bosnian-Ottoman governor, left a generous endowment that has funded institutions in Sarajevo, like hammams (public baths), schools, and this mosque for over 500 years. The mosque is architecturally beautiful, and the story behind Husrev-beg’s 500 year charitable gift is fascinating as well. The mosque is only open to visitors at times when there is no prayer, so make sure you check ahead of time it it’s open.
Check out the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. The museum is located very near to the main cathedral in the old town. Entrance is 5 BAM (or about $2.80). Walking through the museum gave me a very basic and thorough understanding of the war that occurred in the region and the genocide against Bosnian Muslims. I knew very little about this prior to my visit, which left me questioning why I had never learned anything about this genocide, which killed over 100,000 people. The museum offered clear explanations not only about the genocide, but about war crimes (and trials against them) in general. The museum looks distinct from other museums, as it was created by the survivors themselves (rather than trained professionals), but be warned it is very graphic.
Take a coffee break! There are many small streets in the old town of Sarajevo lined with little cafes, where you will see locals enjoying each other’s company and drinking cups of Turkish coffee. I personally don’t drink coffee, but for those of us who are not caffeine addicts there is tea as well.
Visit the Franz Ferdinand Assassination Museum and site. On this street corner in Sarajevo Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a local boy named Gabril Princip, and, well, the rest is history. The museum is quite small, but worth a look around. The site itself is well-marked, and standing there it’s hard to believe that on this pretty corner occurred the catalyst for the First World War.
Stroll through the old town, explore the corners and alleyways, and shop around! In the old town of Sarajevo, a vestige from its Ottoman era, you can find many shops and market stalls, small pita cookeries (a delicious spiral pastry filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables), and a lively atmosphere. There are many reasonably priced restaurants in this part of town where you can enjoy many popular meat dishes, or some of the tasty vegetarian dishes I found. My favorite was Ustipci, a savory donut served with Kajmak (a creamy cheese), yogurt, and grated cheese. The combination was mouth-watering, though my lactose intolerance did not forgive me! Aside from the tasty pita and Ustipici, you must try the Baklava (a filo dough and honey pastry)! I found Nutella flavored Baklava surprisingly delicious, and genius combination of flavors.
Get a drink and enjoy some Bosnian music! Along with some of the friendly people I met at my hostel, we made our way to a local “club.” I say club very liberally, as it was really a large bar, where one stood at cocktail tables surrounded by clouds of smoke. You can get a cheap beer for the equivalent of less than $1, but that wasn’t the only highlight. The night we were there we enjoyed the music of a local Bosnian band. Though we couldn’t understand any of their songs, we could tell they were quite popular as it seemed that everyone in the crowd could sing along!
After sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely breakfast, head out of central Sarajevo to the Tunnel Museum. It’s a bit far outside the city, but I was lucky enough to meet a friend who drove me out there. The museum itself is incredibly powerful- while Sarajevo was under siege during 1992-1995, surrounded by Serbian forces, escaping through these tunnels was the only way out. The museum offers information about the tunnels, and you can also walk through these tunnels exactly as those fleeing the warring city did almost 25 years ago. My friend herself had escaped through these tunnels as a child during the last few months of the war, and walking through these same tunnels with her once more, during times of peace, was an experience I will never forget. Cost is 10 BAM, or about $5.60.
Eat lunch at one of the cafes in Vrelo Bosne, a very pretty park with springs running through it, we strolled through the woodlands surrounding the park. After experiencing the utter darkness, both literally and figuratively, of the tunnels, it was refreshing to walk through the greenery and sunshine.
It’s time to head back to old town! When you return to the center of old town, visit the Gallery of 11/07/1195. The gallery depicts the events of the genocide in Srebrenica, where there were brutal mass massacres of Bosnian Muslims. The multimedia display includes video footage, haunting photographs, and chilling explanations. I usually do not pick up audio guides, but I felt that in this case the guide was integral to my understanding of the experience and I would highly recommend it. This exhibition was the most memorable of all the sites I visited in Sarajevo, and left a truly lasting impact on me.
Visit the old bobsled track from the 1984 Olympics. It takes about 15 minutes by taxi to arrive at the track, and cost us a total of 40 BAM (including the taxi waiting for us at the top while we took many pictures!). The drive itself takes you through the beautiful winding hills of Sarajevo. The track has been since decorated with graffiti, and is an interesting relic of this part of the city’s past. It was so hard for me to believe that this city, the host of the winter Olympics, could turn into war-zone only a few short years later. Up the mountain a few minutes from the track is a lookout point where you can see the entire city below, as could the troops who surrounded the city during the 1992-1995 war. The experience was in a way chilling, but I highly recommend a visit.
Dine at the Park Prince restaurant overlooking the city. The taxi cost us 3 BAM, or $1.50, and from the restaurant we had an amazing view of the city below us. While more expensive than the places in Old Town, it was worth it for the stunning view!
It’s time to head out and explore the rest of Bosnia! While I could have spent many more days in Bosnia, the surrounding countries in the region are also well worth a visit. Mostar, another city in Bosnia, famous for its ancient bridge which was destroyed during the war and then revisited, is only 2-3 hours away, and an easy bus ride. I also recommend visiting nearby Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro.
Any other tips or recommendations? Think there’s anything I should add to my weekend itinerary? Leave your thoughts here!