Top tips for visiting Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo was a difficult city during our Balkan road trip. Not that I didn’t love it: I did. But we had forgotten is was Eid al-Fitr (the end of the Ramadan) while we were in Sarajevo. Bosnia has three major religions, but islam is the biggest. Everyone told us “wow, you’re so lucky, Sarajevo is one big party during Eid al-Fitr!” And it turned out to be, well… not true (in our experience anyway). I would 100% go back another time though: Sarajevo is a fascinating city with a wonderful culture and a big, open wound from the war.
Ramadan-period isn’t the best time to visit Sarajevo, to be honest. It was kind of deserted. During the day it was incredibly hot, and since it was Ramadan all the locals were sitting inside. In the streets you’d only find tourists. At night the city came to life, but where we expected a big party at the night of Eid al-Fitr (since many people told us so) there was nothing. It was hardly any busier than the night before! Maybe the party was mostly indoor, but I didn’t experience much of it.
The first day in Sarajevo we took it easy: we went to a pretty ‘heavy’ museum, wandered around the (super tiny) city center and enjoyed the view from the yellow fortress. On the second day we were hoping to visit another few spots and go on a free walking tour, but because it was Eid al-Fitr almost everyone was off from work and there was nothing to do for tourists. Bummer. So in the end we probably could’ve experienced a lot more if we would’ve visited Sarajevo at another time.
Don’t visit the yellow fortress for the fortress itself, visit for the view. From this fortress (with free entrance and a little cafe) you’ll get a far-reaching view of the city and its surroundings. Beautiful. It’s quite the climb (especially in summers hear), but definitely worth it. Once I got to the top, it was like someone punched me in the stomach. All around (close to us as well as far away) I counted at least four or five burial sites, covered in little white crosses. All carrying roughly the same date of death. All these lives, young and old, lost by a war in Bosnia. The impact of the war really hit me then.
I really like the city center of Sarajevo. It’s very compact, with all sorts of narrow, winding streets which caused me to constantly lose track of where I was. It was fun nevertheless! There’s a few beautiful Islamic buildings and mosques, but I haven’t been inside. The city is old and charming, but you can clearly see the scars from the war. In some places the houses are in ruins and the bullet holes are countless. I personally appreciate it when a city wears its history for everyone to see, but it is very confrontational.
Sarajevo has been through a lot during the war. For a long time people fought over the city, and it was surrounded on all sides by the Serbs who attacked the city over and over. In the hills around the city people were throwing around landmines like it was candy. The only way to provide the city with supplies was through a long, secret tunnel underneath the ground. None of the citizens were ever safe, and you could suddenly get shot by snipers for no reason. It’s incredibly intense if you hear and learn about these stories.
One of the main attractions of Sarajevo is this bridge, which has a special claim to fame. Do you still remember the First World War that you learned about in high school? The assassination of Franz Ferdinand from Austria was the immediate cause for the beginning of the First World War. And where did the assassination take place? At a completely non-important bridge in Sarajevo. There’s still hardly anything that reminds people of what happened here, apart from a commemorative plaque. The funny thing is that I knew the assassination took place in Sarajevo, but as a child I had no idea that it was so far to the south and so far from Austria. So there you go!
(Haha! A Dutch sign on a Bosnian bus :-))
Without a doubt one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever been to. This was so intense. This museum is about the fall of Srebrenica. The name of this place is one that, as with all Dutch people, is burned into my memory. Not a day went by that Srebrenica wasn’t on the Kids News, when I was still in elementary school. But I was too young to understand what was going on, I just knew that something bad happened during the war. To visit this museum and find out what actually happened during those days in the summer of 1995 was incredibly heavy. With a heavy heart and tears in my eyes I looked at the videos and photos displayed all around me. I think I’ve been inside for almost three hours taking everything in, while it’s such a small place.
By now we were two weeks into our Balkan trip, and I suddenly felt like sushi. Good luck trying to find sushi in a country that’s not located along the ocean (apart from one village) like Bosnia. It turned out there were two sushi places in all of Sarajevo. We got some sushi at the most central place. It’s too small to eat in, so we took it with us to our room. It was quite pricy, but really good.
Tucked away in a little side street you’ll find some nice terraces. I also tried the place opposite, but where you really need to go is Barhana. It’s a restaurant with delicious freshly made food. From traditional dishes to pastas and pizzas. All of it was just too good. And if I have to believe Mr. (I didn’t go inside, I sat outside on the terrace) as soon as you step inside you’ll see the kitchen where an old lady is preparing all the food. Highly recommended!
I really hope to go back to Sarajevo one day, maybe during winter (that must be so romantic!), because Eid al-Fitr made me feel I didn’t experience everything there was to experience. Sarajevo: I’ll be back!
Where to stay in Sarajevo:
$ – Sarajevo can be done really cheaply. Franz Ferdinand is a highly recommended well designed hostel in Sarajevo, where you can get a twin room with shared bathroom for $38 per night. Check availability here.
$$ – Halvat Guesthouse is located in the middle of Sarajevo. The rooms are beautifully decorated, and the guests love the tasty free breakfast. From $73 per night. Check availability.
$$$ – For those looking for a five star experience, Apartments Bascarsija Live offer a central location, kitchen, two comfortable bedrooms and a spectacular view of the city. Perfect for families. From $130 a night. Check availability.