12 things to do in Sarajevo, Bosnia – the most underrated capital in the Balkans
A month ago I was on a plane to Tuzla in Bosnia. As we were about to land, I looked down on the lush mountains blanketed with cute Monopoly houses and towering minarets. And then I wondered what Bosnia and Herzegovina would be like.
Read next: Bosnia Travel Guide: Everything you need to know
I love that feeling. You know, when you’re about to enter a country for the first time.
As I was about to find out, Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, is nestled in a mountain valley. It’s a beautiful city with some of the world’s friendliest people. But most of us only know it for two reasons. Both have to do with war.
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Sarajevo’s war-torn past
It was June 28, 1914 when a fatal gun shot fired beside Sarajevo’s Latin Bridge killed Franz Ferdinand. That’s the Austrian-Hungarian crown prince, of course, not the Scottish rock band. Ferdinand’s murder triggered a series of events that eventually ignited World War I, which ended up claiming more than 16 million lives.
The other conflict ended just 20 years ago. From 1992 to 1996, Sarajevo was held under siege by the Serbian army. During that time, the city was hit by 329 grenades a day on average and snipers firing at men, women and children. Imagine fearing for your life every day. For many Bosnians, this is how life was during the siege.
When the conflict ended nearly four years later, more than 10.000 had been killed in Sarajevo and 100.000 lost their lives throughout Bosnia.
Evidence of the battles waged are still easy to spot around Sarajevo. Whether you come face-to-face with bullet-ridden buildings, pass the seas of white crosses or visit one of the city’s war museums, you’ll get a glimpse into what life was like during those dark times.
However – and this is a big however – Sarajevo is thriving today. So much in fact that it’s even been picked as one of Lonely Planet’s Best Cities to Visit and one of Europe’s most underrated capitals. For me, the biggest charm was the city’s traditional authenticity. Of all the Old Towns I’ve visited in Europe, Sarajevo is the most authentic with an incredible old world feel.
PRIVATE TRANSFER FROM TUZLA TO SARAJEVO
Wizz Air flies to and from Tuzla and offers SUPER cheap flights from Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe. I found really cheap tickets at $45 for a round trip fare from Denmark. Tuzla is 2.5 hours drive from Sarajevo, but with a private transfer it’s easy and convenient to reach. We went with Balkan Transfer, which I collaborated with, and we had such a great experience.
They pick you up right outside the airport (which is really small), and they’ll wait if your flight is late. It felt really safe and very convenient.
You can read more about Balkan Transfer here.
1. Latin Bridge
Our first stop of the day was the Latin Bridge. This is where prince Ferdinand and his pregnant wife were killed by Bosnian-Serb Gavrilo Princip on the 28th of June, 1914. Princip was just 19 years old.
If you walk to the northern end of the bridge, you’ll see the spot of the assassination.
2. City Hall
Entry fee: 5 EUR
Right next to the Latin Bridge and the Old Town, you’ll find the City Hall (Vijećnica). It was midday (a.k.a nap time) when we visited and Theo was in a mood, so I didn’t really get to explore the full scope of it. But when you enter, this is what you’re met with ↓
The city hall was completely destroyed in 1992 by Serb forces, but rebuilt in 2014.
3. Sarajevo Old Town
Sarajevo’s Old Town is the heart of the city, and it’s got an authentic feel unlike any other I’ve seen.
I mean, it has remained pretty much the same since the 15th century. If it’s the medieval relics like the giant Aladdin’s lamp on the below photo or the war souvenirs, I don’t know. It’s just packed with eastern mystique.
Read next: Mostar: the most popular town in Bosnia
In Sarajevo Old Town I found something I’ve only seen in Skopje’s Old Town: old ammunition and other war-related souvenirs like helmets, badges and knives.
Just a word of advice; if you buy some of these – as exciting as it may be – bringing used bullets onto an airplane or in your luggage may not be such a great idea.
4. Sebilj Fountain
If you’ve ever seen a photo of Sarajevo, I bet it looks like this.
This is Sebilj fountain, a symbol of Sarajevo and a magic well from 1753. Legends says that whoever drinks water from it will return to Sarajevo. I didn’t have a sip, but I could easily picture myself coming back some day.
Right next to it is the pigeon square. I’ll give you one guess how it got that name.
5. The Yellow Fort
To get the absolute best view of Sarajevo, you should head to Yellow Fort. Although I have no idea why it’s called that, because there is no fort.
Read next: 7 most beautiful places in Bosnia and Herzegovina
However, where the fort is, isn’t or once was, you’ll get THE best view of Sarajevo. Plus, this is also where you’ll find Kovaci Cemetery, the final resting place of those killed during the 1990s conflict.
6. Sarajevo Tunnel of Hope
If you’re a history buff or know a lot about the conflict in Sarajevo, then you’ve probably heard of the Tunnel of Hope. As for everyone else… it’s known as the tunnel that saved Bosnia.
During the siege of Sarajevo, the city was cut off from the rest of the world. The only link to the outside was an 800m-long, 1m-wide tunnel, allowing food, war supplies and humanitarian aid to come into the city, and allowing people to get out.
The tunnel is fairly easy to reach, so if you’re in Sarajevo, you should visit.
7. Sarajevo’s abandoned Bobsleigh Track
So, I actually didn’t make it here, but everyone said that I should really see the abandoned bobsleigh track. It’s probably worth visiting if you’ve got time.
In 1984, this is where Sarajevo hosted the Olympics, then the Serbs used it as a base during the siege and today it’s covered in cool graffiti art.
Read next: 10 tips for visiting Kravice Waterfalls, Bosnia’s paradise
It’s located on Mount Trebevic about an hour’s walk from the centre, but I recommend taking a taxi, the cable car or joining an organized tour.
8. Ashkenazi Synagogue
Entry fee: $1.2
The Ashkenazi synagogue was one of my favorite things to do in Sarajevo. Why? Because there are basically no people there. Well, except for the local jews who attend service here.
If you’re a fan of religious buildings and pretty interior, then this is for you.
9. Jewish Cemetery
After the synagogue, we went to the jewish cemetery, which is actually the second largest in Europe after the one in Prague. I don’t know what it is about cemeteries, but they intrigue me. Not in a dark twisty kind of way, but honestly I prefer this ↓ any day over shopping and regular sightseeing.
Read next: The Ultimate Balkan Travel Guide
The jewish cemetery is a bit tricky to reach. You can’t really go there by foot, but you can grab a taxi, which is what we did. We just asked the driver to wait for us outside.
10. Gazi Husrev-Beg Mosque
Entry fee: $2.1
Back in the Old Town where most of the action is, you’ll find the Gazi Husrev-beg mosque.
It deserves a visit because it’s the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans. And it’s photogenic, which is reason enough for me.
Also, I liked visiting churches, a synagogue and a mosque while I was in town. They showed the religious diversity and how people from different faiths have coexisted in Sarajevo both before and after the war.
11. The Eternal Flame
Last sight on the checklist is the Eternal Flame, which is a memorial to the victims of World War II in Sarajevo. It’s a short walk from the Old Town and pretty easy to reach.
12. The best Sarajevo food and drink
And now onto the food!
I say this about most places I visit, so of course I’m going to say it here as well: the food is totally amazeballs.
Honestly, I didn’t really expect much from Bosnian food. I figured it would be different from Croatian food, which is probably my favorite food in the whole wide world along with Thai, Mexican and Middle Eastern. And although it was different, Bosnian food was still super delicious. It’s really flavorful with a Greek/Turkish flair – I had not expected that at all.
Oh, and you can read all about Croatian food in my post here.
If you’re looking for traditional Bosnian food, you should try these delicious dishes: cevapi (grilled meat like kebab), burek (pastry dough with meat), raznijci (kind of like souvlaki), uštipci (pancakes), and of course Bosnian coffee, which deserves a chapter on its own.
The best restaurants for Bosnian food in Sarajevo:
- Caffe Tito (for coffee)
- Zeljo (for cevapi)
- Buregdninica Sac (for Burec)
Local food markets
For some reason, I always look for local food markets when I travel. Not to buy anything because I never really do, but food markets are always packed with atmosphere. When you visit a food market, you get to really see the locals; what they eat, how they dress and how they interact. If you’re looking for a real cultural insight, a food market will give it.
Where to stay in Sarajevo
I stayed at Apartment Vatra, which is located right next to the Eternal Flame and 10 minutes walk from Sarajevo Old Town. The apartment was really spacious and super neat. It had two bedrooms and a living room, and everything was new and modern. All rooms have flat screens and air conditioning.
If WHEN I return to Sarajevo, I’ll definitely stay here again.
Get the latest prices for Apartment Vatra here: booking.com
Get more tips about Bosnia
- Everything you need to know before you visit Bosnia
- 10 tips for visiting Kravice Waterfalls
- 10 legendary things to do in Mostar
- 7 most beautiful places in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Nice work Miriam 🙂
Thank you for promoting Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We hope to see you again.
All the best from Sarajevo.
Sarajevo Funky Tours
Thanks so much! I loved Sarajevo and would definitely go back for more 🙂
All the best from Denmark
Miriam, I was stationed with NATO toward the end of the war and lived in Ilidza Park in the Bosnia/Serbia Hotel where Arch Duke Ferdinand and his wife spent their last night. We had a unit that you had to cross the Latin bridge to gain access. I left BiH in 1997 and have not returned. It was amazing to see pictures of a rebuilt Sarajevo. I spent a lot of time in Mostar traveling in and out of Medjgoria(sic) where Mother Mary appeared to the children. Thank you very much for sharing your pics and your stories. Means a lot to me and I’m looking forward to other places you visit. Jim
Great to see a really original blog post, full of off-the-beaten-track locations. I really enjoyed reading this 🙂
Keep up the great work!!!
Thanks so much for the kind words, Freddie. They really mean a lot to me!
Big hello from Sarajevo and Happy New Year!
I think you covered most of the things and places to visit. If or when you come back you really should visit Trebevic and the bobsleigh track, it is really cool and the view is amazing. About the City Hall, I don’t know if you have noticed but each room has a part of the original building, not reconstruted left as it was, and that standing next to new parts really shows that people who worked on reconstruction went aboved and beyond to make it the same as it was. Also there is a museum there covering a lot of historic events from 1914 til today.
Thank you for visiting and all the kind words, we are glad you had a nice time here!
Happy New Years, Hana. And thank you so much for your comment – I love hearing from locals!
I will definitely visit Trebevic and the bobsleigh track when I return. There’s still so much to see, I feel.
All the best to you.
With all due respect, this is very shallow view of my hometown. You haven’t had time to visit “ Vijecnicw” ???How much tome did you actually spent in the city?
And Vijecnica is not the Town Hall , but the the City Libeary!!! Why mention bob sled tracks when not bother to visit it ? Although, I’m thankful to anybody promoting my beautiful city, ii find it offensive not giving it proper time for research and discovery. We deserve better!!!
With all due respect? No. You’re quite disrespectful and rude. This is a travel blog, not an encyclopedia of things to do in Sarajevo. Everything I write here is based on my personal experiences. If you feel like something is missing from the list, you could have just said that in a nice, friendly tone. I – and everyone reading this blog – would have found it super helpful that a local pitched in with her advice and tips.
Think about the way you communicate online, Svjetlana. Be nicer.
Thanks for the Tips Miriam, I’m planning a trip there and was looking for some inputs.
I’m glad you found it helpful. Have an amazing trip to Sarajevo – it’s such a lovely city.
I am British and have traveled around Bosnia as well almost half the world 🙂 . May I encourage you to travel and experience the Serbian side of Bosnia. It has lots of open space and countryside. Excellent food and drink. Pay a visit to a city called Banja Luka. Its one of the traditional/modern serbian cities.
I would love that. Banja Luka is hereby on the list for my next visit 🙂 Thanks for the tip.
Greetings from Canada,
Bosnia and Herzegovina has been on my mind for a very long time. I read from a few travelers that tourists are required to leave their passports at reception during their stay, is it true?
I would like to thank you for the great information on BiH.
Hi Dulciana, thanks for writing me. It is normal procedure to hand over your passport at any hotel so they can take a copy. But you should always get it back right away. Never leave your passport with someone else, always ask for it back.
Great Post!!! I truly believe that there is much more to explore new places. The world has incredible beauty which makes us visit new places for sure.
It does, doesn’t it?
jel ste otisli u Kakanj ????????????? bas trebate tamo da idete, bas je ljiepo !!!!!!! tijela sam da jugoslavia bude velika sa Titom. Bisou, vidimose
Wery well-written article about my beautiful country. It’s always a pleasure to read about how foreign tourist sees it
Thank you. It’s always a pleasure hearing from a local 🙂
Fantastic Post! I really believe there is still a lot of the world to discover. The breathtaking beauty of the planet undoubtedly inspires us to travel.