Most people are surprised when they ask about my favorite places and find out that Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina is in my top two. For some, it brings up images of conflict and strife. Others have never heard of it or only in passing. Inevitably, they always want to know why I love it so much. In this article, I’m sharing all the reasons why you should visit Sarajevo as part of your trip to the Balkans!
Since my first visit, I’ve returned to the city three times, once for an entire month. It’s one of those places that I can’t get out of my head or heart and will return to over and over again. If Sarajevo isn’t on your bucket list yet, I hope it will be by the time you’re done reading!
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How I Fell in Love With Sarajevo
My first visit was in 2015 and the city totally took me by surprise. The only things I knew about Sarajevo before arriving was that Franz Ferdinand was shot there, sparking WWI, and there had been a lot of conflict as Yugoslavia broke up in the 90s. That’s it. I had no idea what to expect and it was a thousand times better than I could have imagined!
Originally, I’d only planned to spend two or three days in the city. Thanks to a mishap involving a lost bag of dirty clothes and my complete naivety about the local postal service I ended up spending an entire week. During those seven days, Sarajevo worked its way into my heart like no place ever has before or since. I can’t help but see that lost bag of dirty laundry as a fortunate happenstance.
Reason #10 to Visit Sarajevo: It’s Super Affordable!
Of all the places I’ve visited in Europe, Sarajevo is one of the most affordable. The city is walkable so there’s no need to rent a car or even use public transportation. The food is insanely delicious and inexpensive. If you’re down for street food or a picnic, you can get a full meal for less than $5. Even a restaurant meal is usually less than $10. For the details on good eats, check out this article.
It’s easy to have a great time in the city for $50 per day or less. For accommodations, you can find a lot of great places to stay for $20 to $30 per night. With that budget you can get you a comfortable apartment or room at a boutique hotel. If you want to save even more, there are a number of great hostels too!There’s no shortage of interesting attractions and museums, most of which cost around $10 or less for entrance. For everything you need to plan a trip to Sarajevo and other parts of the Balkans, check out this guide.
Reason #9 to Visit Sarajevo: The Nature
The city of Sarajevo sits in a steep valley with the Miljacka River flowing through the center. The surrounding hills are covered in gorgeous trees! Take the gondola to the top of Trebević, where you’ll find hiking trails and also the bobsled track from the 1984 Olympics, which is slowly being reclaimed by the forest. Last time I was in the city, it was October and the fall colors were absolutely breathtaking! It’s also beautiful in Spring and Summer when the trees are blooming or in their full, leafy glory.
You’ll find many parks around the city as well. One of my favorites is right next to the large Serbian Orthodox Church where the men gather to play chess on the giant board created in the paving stones. I could sit there all day watching their matches and banter. As you head west out of the pedestrian center, you’ll encounter more parks dotted with benches where you can sit and watch the world go by.
At the western end of the city in Ilidža, you can visit the Vrelo Bosne Nature Preserve. The walkway to the park is lined with massive chestnut trees and the grounds are incredibly peaceful. Visiting this spot is one of the few times you’ll need to use public transportation or a taxi during your visit.
Reason #8 to Visit Sarajevo: It’s Off the Beaten Path
Every time I visit Sarajevo, I’m shocked that there aren’t more tourists! Most people traveling to the Balkans head for the Croatian coast. If they go into Bosnia & Herzegovina at all, it’s only to Mostar for a day trip. Very few continue on to the capital, which is unfortunate. They have no idea what they’re missing!
The good news for those that take the time to go onward is that it’s rarely crowded and has a more authentic feel than you get in the busier destinations. Sarajevo isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is. There’s no veneer put on for the visitors. It’s completely unpretentious, which is one of the things I love most!
Because it’s not a major tourist draw, it’s easy to leave a lot of unplanned time in your schedule. If you fall in love with the city and want to extend your stay, you can usually add an extra night at your accommodation without any hassle. You don’t need to pre-book attractions or plan a detailed agenda. Just take your time and let the city work its magic on you. 🙂
Reason #7 to Visit Sarajevo: It’s Where East Meets West
When people think about the place where East meets West, Istanbul is usually the city that comes to mind. Having visited both Istanbul and Sarajevo, the connection of East and West is more obvious in Sarajevo than in the massive, bustling metropolis of Istanbul.
Walking through Baščaršija (Sarajevo’s Old Town) feels like stepping back in time hundreds of years to a small Ottoman city. Everything, from the architecture to the food, feels like you’ve left Europe behind and stepped into a distinctly different culture. This part of the city is where you’ll find the best Bosnian coffee and traditional food, which is heavily influenced by Turkish flavors.
As you walk west, you’ll suddenly find yourself surrounded by more traditional European architecture. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire pushed out the Ottomans, they expanded the city in their own style. The buildings and pedestrian areas feel much more European than you find just a block or two to the east. Seeing such clear markers of where these Eastern and Western influences collide is an experience unique to Sarajevo.
Reason #6 to Visit Sarajevo: Fascinating History
Sarajevo has a long history, dating back to the Stone Age, but the city as we recognize it today was settled by the Ottomans in the 1400s. In the Old Town you can still visit some of the first major sites in the city like the old bazaar and the clock tower that’s been maintained by the same family for generations.
When the Austro-Hungarians took over, they used Sarajevo as a testing place for modern innovations they hoped to use in their larger cities. The government in Austria installed the tram system to make sure it worked properly before building a larger-scale version in Vienna. The old-style trams are still running today!
Unfortunately, Sarajevo is often associated with conflict. Because of its location at the crossroads between empires, some of the city’s most prominent moments are related to war, though it’s a lovely and peaceful place to visit now.
You can visit the site where Franz Ferdinand was shot, along with the museum telling the story and displaying artifacts. As Yugoslavia fell apart in the 90s, Sarajevo was under siege for nearly four years. You’ll see a number of memorials as you walk through the streets. If you want a better understanding of the 90s conflict, there are many museums and local tours available in the city.
Reason #5 to Visit Sarajevo: The Culture
The rich culture is another unique element of Sarajevo that comes from being situated in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula. You can see the influences of the powers that have passed through in the architecture, food, and social life. It’s a totally unique experience you won’t get anywhere else in Europe!
This area has been religiously diverse for centuries. Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Jews have all called this city home. This diversity has also fostered tolerance. You’ll find the main Serbian Orthodox church situated only a couple blocks away from both mosques and the Catholic cathedral.Café culture is at the heart of social life and you’ll find cafes everywhere! Taking time for a coffee with friends and loved ones seems to take priority over everything else, which is refreshing coming from a culture that values hustle over heart. Because locals enjoy spending time outdoors with their loved ones, you’ll find the city very walkable and pedestrian-friendly. To get the most out of your experience, check out this article with tips for traveling in the Balkans.
Reason #4 to Visit Sarajevo: Unique Sights & Museums
Because of the history and mix of cultures, there are a wide variety of sights and museums to visit. Seriously, there’s something for everyone! To get your bearings and an overview of the city’s background, this free walking tour is a great place to start.
Museums like the Sarajevo Museum and Old City Hall provide a glimpse into the past and major moments in the city’s history. Others, like the War Childhood Museum, 11/07/95 Gallery, and the Tunnel of Hope Museum each shed light on the recent hardships the city has faced. Offbeat sites like the Canned Beef Monument, an ironic and darkly humorous nod to the food rations residents received during the 90s conflict, and the abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Olympics remind you of just how unique this city really is.
These monuments and historical sites simply exist as part of everyday life. Pedestrians walk across the Vrbanja Bridge, once known as “sniper alley”, on their way to the Sarajevo City Center, a huge modern shopping mall. The largest open-air market in the city is bursting with colorful produce and also houses a monument to those who died there when a mortar hit the complex. Life continues on with these memories and memorials as a backdrop. This city and its people are truly a testament to the resiliency of the human heart.
Reason #3 to Visit Sarajevo: The Food
Oh lord, the food in Sarajevo, and the Balkans in general, is some of my favorite ever! This is another part of life where you’ll see the unique mix of cultures on display. Many of the most beloved dishes can trace their origins back to the Ottomans, since they were the original settlers. You’ll also find dishes from other neighboring regions readily available.While you can find amazing food all around the city, there are a few dishes you absolutely must try! Ćevapi and burek and two staples of Bosnian cuisine and you’ll find some of the best of them in Sarajevo, especially in Baščaršija. A great way to kickstart your day is with a traditional Bosnian coffee! It’s very similar to Turkish coffee, but it’s not sweetened. Read this article for a full list of the best foods to try in Sarajevo and around the Balkans.
Reason #2 to Visit Sarajevo: The Pace of Life
One of the things I love most about this city is the pace of life. Everything moves just a bit slower than life at home and I love it! No one seems to be in a rush. Local life feels more leisurely with people focusing on enjoyment and connection rather than prioritizing productivity and money. When you look at all they’ve been through over the last century, It makes a lot of sense that they’re able to appreciate the little things. It’s refreshing to see that time with loved ones is more important than the hustle.The café culture and coffee, at least in my mind, is synonymous with connection and relationships. You’ll see people sitting in cafes all hours of the day and night, chatting with friends and enjoying a beverage. It can be a bit of a shock to the system for some of us, but it’s wonderful to not have the clock driving your days. Let yourself slow down and enjoy it! This article has some helpful tips so you’ll have an idea of what to expect during your visit.
Reason #1 to Visit Sarajevo: The People
Of all the places I’ve visited so far on my travels, I found the people in Bosnia & Herzegovina to be the most warm and welcoming I’ve encountered. Honestly, I didn’t know how the locals would react to visitors. With everything the city and country have been through, it would seem perfectly natural if they were wary of outsiders and standoffish. My experience has been the exact opposite every single time I visit!
On my first trip to the region, I was chatting with the gentleman camped in the site next to me in Croatia. He was from Berlin and was biking his way from Tehran, Iran back home. He’d just come from Bosnia & Herzegovina and had nothing but wonderful things to say about his time in the country. I found everything he told me to be absolutely true! Everyone I encountered was so kind, offering me coffee, sweets, and friendship without a second thought.
Every single time I visit Sarajevo, I want more of it. Before my last visit, the adventure partner and I were in Dubrovnik. It was lovely, but if I never visit again, that’s okay. As our bus was entering Sarajevo, the familiar structures of the old Olympic Village and the shiny Avaz Twist Tower welcomed me back to the city. Even though I’ve visited four separate times and spent more than two months there, I couldn't imagine never going back!
The chance to revisit Sarajevo is one of the many reasons I continue to go back to the Balkans for more exploration. It really is that special! If you’re curious and would like to plan your own trip to the region, here’s a guide with all the information you need to create an incredible experience! If you’d like to ask questions or get a little help, check out these consulting services created specifically for indie travelers.
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Which of these reasons to visit Sarajevo is most appealing to you? Have you been already? What did you think of your experience?
Share your thoughts in the comments!