There are so many interesting things to do in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, but it’s often overlooked by travelers in the Balkans. For many people, mentioning the city brings up images of the conflict during the fall of Yugoslavia and there are plenty that have never even heard of Sarajevo. If the idea of visiting this place is new to you, here are ten reasons why it should absolutely be on your bucket list!
Sarajevo has a special place in my heart. I first fell in love with the city while on a six-week solo trip in 2015. Since then, I’ve visited three more times and have now spent about two months in the city. Honestly, I can’t imagine not going back. Most likely, you’ll find me there again within the next few years.
Even though I’ve done all the things to do in Sarajevo, I simply love being there. Now when I visit, I usually spend my days wandering through Baščaršija (the old town), eating all the delicious things, drinking coffee, sitting in a park watching the world go by, and visiting with friends I’ve made there over the years. I love going with others who have never been because I get to revisit all the things to do in Sarajevo and see them through someone else’s eyes! In this article, I’m sharing my top things to do in Sarajevo for first-time visitors.
Top Things to Do in Sarajevo
Take a free walking tour to learn about the city and its history.
Wander through the old town of Baščaršija to see the Sebilij Fountain, Bey’s Mosque, City Hall, the clock tower, and eat the best traditional food in the city.
Take the Sarajevo Cable Car to the top of Trebević mountain and walk on the abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Stop at the Sarajevska Brewery for a local brew and visit the attached museum that showcases the integral part it's played in the city’s history.
Hike up to the Yellow Fort at sunset for incredible views of the city.
Walk across the Latin Bridge and visit the Sarajevo Museum to learn about the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which sparked the first world war.
Pick up fresh produce at the open-air market in town and see the memorial to those who were killed when a shell hit during the Bosnian War.
Visit the museums dedicated to the Bosnian War to learn about the history and discover the incredible resiliency of the Bosnian people.
Experience the Bosnian sense of humor by visiting the ICAR Canned Beef Monument, a memorial to the rations received during the Bosnian War.
Slow down and enjoy a Bosnian Coffee at one of the hundreds of cafes around the city while you watch the world go by.
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The First Thing to Do in Sarajevo: Take a Free Walking Tour
Because Sarajevo has such a rich and complicated history, start your trip with a free walking tour. You’ll learn about the city from people who live there and can give you a completely different perspective than you’ll get from a guidebook. I’ve taken two different walking tours with Neno & Friends and have been impressed both times. The guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and seem to love sharing their city with visitors. Don’t forget to tip at the end of the tour!
Things to Do in Sarajevo #2: Wander Through the Old Town (Baščaršija)
Baščaršija is where you’ll see the original Ottoman settlement of Sarajevo. There are no cars in the area, making it the perfect place to wander aimlessly. So many of the things to do in Sarajevo are concentrated in this area! The narrow alleys are lined with souvenir shops, restaurants with some of the best traditional food in the city, workshops where traditional handicrafts are made, and many of the city’s most iconic sights.
Ottoman Sites in Baščaršija
Start your wanderings through the old town at Sebilj Fountain, one of Sarajevo’s most recognizable features. Take a walk down Coppersmith Alley to see the traditional craftsmen creating their art. It’s a great place to find unique souvenirs too!
In the heart of the old town you’ll find Bey’s Mosque, which is the largest mosque in the country and one of the main Ottoman complexes in the Balkans! Outside of prayer times, you can go in and see the beautiful architecture dating all the way back to 1532.
Only half a block further west you’ll see the clock tower that dates back to the 17th century. If you look at the time, you may think it’s broken. Instead of traditional clock time, it counts down to the evening prayer. It’s one of the few of its kind in the world and has been manually adjusted by the same family for generations.
Food & Culture in Baščaršija
Baščaršija is also where you’ll find the best traditional food in the city! Ćevapi makes for a great lunch or grab a burek snack to sustain you through the rest of your wanderings. The aščinica restaurants are like a lunch counter where you can try a number of traditional dishes.
For a view of City Hall, which has been restored after the 90s conflict, take a walk along the Miljacka River at the edge of the old town. You’ll catch a glimpse of the old tram line, one of the first in Europe! Don’t forget to stop for a Bosnian Coffee at one of the cafes and take a moment to soak it all in.
One final spot you’ll want to see as you leave Baščaršija is the spot where East Meets West. This spot marks the place where the Ottoman architecture and vibe gives way to the more traditional European building style brought to the area by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Things to Do in Sarajevo #3: Visit the Abandoned Bobsled Track
Once you’ve had a chance to soak in the wonder of the old town, take a ride out of the city and into nature. On the south side of the river you’ll find the Sarajevo Cable Car that will take you to the top of the Trebević Mountain. There you’ll find some hiking trails, but the biggest draw is the abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Sarajevo was the first communist city to host the winter Olympics when it was still part of Yugoslavia. During the 90s conflict, holes were cut into the track by the Chetnik Army and used as gun emplacements to shell the city. As you walk along the track, you’ll see places that look like scars in where the concrete has been filled in. Since then, the track has been reclaimed by the forest and is full of urban art and bright colors! Seeing the layers of history visible in this place is truly a unique experience.
Things to Do in Sarajevo #4: Stop for a Beer at the Sarajevska Brewery
Once you’ve had your fill of lush forest, take the cable car back to the city and head to the Sarajevska Brewery. The interior is full of gorgeous woodwork and the perfect place to relax for a bit. Try their dark beer, which you can only get at the brewery! They also have a great menu, if you want something to nibble on (I always have room for a snack)!After you’ve enjoyed a beer or two, stop in the little museum attached to the brewery before you go. It has a ton of great information about the city and the brewery’s history. This was the main source of clean water in the city during the Bosnian War, making it a lifeline for many of the city’s residents and an important part of the city’s story.
Things to Do in Sarajevo #5: Hike to the Yellow Fort
The Yellow Fort offers incredible views of the city. There used to be a café and tables, but during my last visit they were removing them. I’m hopeful that they’ll put something else in their place since it’s a popular spot to relax and enjoy the vista.To reach the Yellow Fort, you’ll head east out of Baščaršija and up the hill. The climb is short, but pretty steep. The views are worth the effort, I promise. This spot is popular during sunset, but I also love it early in the day when the light is behind you, shining down on the city.
Things to Do in Sarajevo #6: Visit the Latin Bridge & Museum Sarajevo
The Latin Bridge is another iconic landmark and one of the most popular things to do in Sarajevo. It’s one of the oldest bridges in the city, dating back to approximately 1541, but that’s not why it’s famous. At the north end of this bridge and just across the street (in front of the Museum Sarajevo) is where Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. There’s even a plaque on the wall outside the museum to show exactly where Princip was standing.
The Museum Sarajevo documents the history of Sarajevo when it was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It’s a fascinating look into the politics of the time that led to WWI. You can see artifacts from the time period, including some from the assassination. There are even life-size models of Franz and Sophie Ferdinand on display. When I visited they also had a replica of the car they were riding in when the shooting happened.
It’s crazy to stand in the place where this moment of world-changing history happened. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Sarajevo if you really want to understand how this city fits into the larger picture of European history.
Things to Do in Sarajevo #7: Pick Up Fresh Produce at the Main City Market
Every time I visit Sarajevo, I have to make a stop by this market for some insanely delicious fresh produce. My personal favorite is the stone fruits -- cherries, peaches, plums, and more. The melons are also incredible in the Balkans. Here’s an article with more about Balkan food you must try and you can find some of the best in Sarajevo.
This market has more than shopping. If you look at the back wall, you’ll see that it’s a memorial as well. During the Bosnian War, a shell hit the market killing 43 people. They’ve actually preserved the shell in the ground and commemorated those who died by putting their names on the memorial wall.
One of my favorite things about Sarajevo is seeing the vibrant and beautiful city it is today contrasted against the memories of the struggles it’s been through. There’s nowhere else I’ve been where the resiliency of the human heart is so obviously on display. While it’s somber, it’s also inspiring and heartwarming.
Things to Do in Sarajevo #8: Visit These Museums to Learn About the Bosnian War
For many visitors to Sarajaevo, myself included, there are a lot of questions about what happened in the 90s as Yugoslavia was breaking up. On my first visit, I had no idea about the details of the Bosnian War and wanted to know more without starting an uncomfortable conversation with the locals.
Thankfully, there are three museums that really help to give a clearer picture of the conflict. Coupled with the information I received during the walking tour, I had a much better understanding of what the city went through during that horrific period. I’ve listed these three three museums in the order I recommend visiting.
While the Gallery 07/11/95 is at the top of my list of museums to visit, there’s a reason I think you should save it for last. It’s heavy. I mean, really heavy. Before you visit, I want you to fall in love with this place for the incredible city it is right now so that when you see the difficulties the Bosnian people have been through, you’ll appreciate it even more.
The Tunnel Museum
The Tunnel Museum is built around the tunnel that was constructed in 1993 when the city was under siege. Because the city was completely cut off by the Serbian forces, a passage was dug underneath the airport to neighborhoods that were still free. Food and supplies reached the occupied parts of the city through the tunnel and some residents were even able to escape.
Visitors can walk through a small part of the tunnel to get a glimpse of what people had to go through just to get the basics for survival. On my first visit, the owner of the hostel where I was staying took my roomie and I on a tour that included this museum. He told us his story of going through the tunnel when he was seven or eight years old with one of his parents to get supplies. While it’s hard to wrap your head around what life was like here during that time, hearing it from someone who experienced it hits it home.
Because of its location, the best way to visit is to join a local tour or hire a taxi. You can take a taxi from the city or take the tram to the end of the line and hire a taxi there.
War Childhood Museum
The War Childhood Museum tells the stories of those who were children during the Bosnian War. Objects are displayed throughout the museum along with stories from their owners chronicling the experience of growing up during the conflict. Some of the stories are heartbreaking and others will make you laugh, in spite of the heavy subject matter. While it’s somber, it’s also beautiful and worth your time to visit.
If you only visit one of the three museums, choose this one. Plan to visit on your last morning in Sarajevo. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Gallery 11/07/95 is a photo gallery dedicated to telling the story of the Srebrenica genocide that happened during the Bosnian War. 8,372 people lost their lives in the massacres. This is some seriously heartbreaking stuff, my friend, but it’s so important that these stories are told. It’s our job as travelers, to learn from what’s happened in the places we visit and carry their stories home in our hearts. We allow their stories to wash over us and break our hearts. We promise to never let these kinds of atrocities happen on our watch.
Once you’ve gone through the gallery, step back out into the sunshine (hopefully), walk across the square to one of the cafes and order yourself a beverage. Take a moment to process what you’ve seen and wonder at how this country has come so far -- from living with tragedy as a part of everyday life to the vibrant, welcoming city you’ve been enjoying on your trip. This is where you get the opportunity to slow down and appreciate how incredibly fortunate you have been in your life and fall in love with this city in a whole new way.
Things to Do in Sarajevo #9: Visit the ICAR Canned Beef Memorial
One of the most memorable things from the first walking tour I took here was my guide talking about the dark sense of humor the people of Sarajevo have after surviving the war. You can see this sense of humor made real at the ICAR Canned Beef Memorial. This is one of my favorite off-the-beaten-path things to do in Sarajevo.
During the Bosnian War the food received from humanitarian aid was less than ideal. One of the least enticing items was the ICAR canned beef. My tour guide described it as a slimy, pink gelatinous goo that they choked down so they would have something in their stomachs. After the war, they made a memorial to this terrible substance that kept them from starvation. Though the monument has been sitting out in the elements over the years, it’s still worth a visit.
To get the most from your walk to the monument, take a left at the Sarajevo City Center Mall. You’ll turn right onto Vilsonovo šetalište just before the bridge. Before you turn, stop and have a look around. The Vrbanja Bridge was once known as “Sniper Alley”. Look at the building on the corner. You can still see where the bullets and shrapnel damaged the building.
Stroll along the Miljacka River under the towering trees and take a moment to appreciate how beautiful the city is now. Have a good laugh at the memorial and stop at one of the cafes on your way back, just to relax.
Things to do in Sarajevo #10: Slow Down and Have A Coffee
Cafe culture is everywhere in Sarajevo. You can hardly walk a whole block without seeing at least one cafe. The locals love to spend time sitting with friends sharing a beverage. This is a great opportunity for you to slow down and embrace the pace of life here in the city. There’s no need to rush. Enjoy the little things.
Now that you’ve learned about what this city has been through, especially in the most recent conflicts, it’s easier to understand and appreciate the simple joy of sitting in a cafe. There are no bombs dropping, running water is abundant, and there’s enough food to eat so canned beef that looks like jelly is no longer necessary. Soak it in, my friend. This is the good stuff.
There’s a reason I always say, “Sarajevo is where I go when I need to remember how to live.” The people of Sarajevo, and Bosnia in general, understand what’s really important and we can learn so much from spending time in this place.
If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re excited to visit Sarajevo when you find yourself in the Balkans! It truly is one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited and I will continue to go back over and over again!
Here are a few resources to help you in planning your own trip to the Balkans and Sarajevo!
- How to Plan Your Holidays in the Balkans: The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Perfect Trip
- The Best Places to Visit in the Balkans: 9 Incredible Destinations for Nature, History, and Food
- Balkan Tips: 6 Important Things to Know Before You Go
- Balkan Food: Top 10 Dishes to Try on Your Travels
- Visit Sarajevo: 10 Reasons Why This Hidden Gem Should Be on Your Bucket List
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Now get out there. The world is waiting for you!
Is Sarajevo a destination you’d like to visit? What things would you like to do while you’re there?
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