Balkans Travel Guide: Our Choice Of Fun Things To Do In Sarajevo
If you’re reading this guide, you probably have an interest in visiting Sarajevo – excellent idea! This is an incredible city to check out, and it is, in case you did not already know, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. For that reason, you’ll find plenty of city life experiences to enjoy, things to do in Sarajevo, but you’ll also get a taste of the history and culture that Bosnia & Herzegovina is known for.
I know, sometimes the thought of going somewhere unknown can be daunting. But don’t panic! We’ve got all the 411 on what you need to know about Sarajevo, a vibrant and historical city. We’ve covered all of the details below to help you plan your visit.
Sarajevo is the cultural and ethnically diverse capital city of Bosnia & Herzegovina. The name might bring up historical memories, especially surrounding wars in the area, and you can certainly see evidence of that former conflict wherever you go. We’re going to talk about history in a second, but for now, let’s cover a few essential facts.
This is the largest city in the country, and it has a current population of more than 275,000 people. The city sits in a valley in the south of the country, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps. The mountain backdrop is pretty impressive, and to the other side, you have green hills gently sloping away from you. It’s all super-photogenic! The sparkling turquoise Miljacka River runs through the city, a colorful and relaxing ribbon of nature in an urban environment.
The official currency is the Bosnian Convertible Marka or BAM for short. You can use the Euro in many large restaurants and stores, but for smaller stores, you’re going to need some of the local currency. It can be hard to order BAM in other countries before you visit, but you can easily use a local ATM to withdraw local currency. You’ll find that most large restaurants and big stores also accept Visa and MasterCard credit cards.
Sarajevo, and indeed Bosnia & Herzegovina overall, doesn’t have an official religion per se. History has made this city super-diverse. However, it is thought that 50% of the population is Muslim. You’ll see mosques all around the city, and you’ll hear the beautiful call to prayer several times per day. Sitting peacefully alongside Muslim building, you’ll also see Christian churches, as well as a synagogue.
There is a real feel of old and new coming together in an incredible blend in Sarajevo, and perhaps that is what makes it such a fantastic place to visit!
A Brief History Lesson
We have to touch upon the history of Sarajevo because it is such an instantly recognizable name related to past conflicts. But never fear, the city is totally safe(as is the whole country).
There are, however, some war-related things you’ll notice parts of the city. You may still see the odd bullet hole in a wall or a building that hasn’t been renovated, and you’ll definitely notice red blood stained moldings in across the city. When you see these, you should know that is where someone lost their life.
Overall, however, the city has done a fantastic job of building itself back up again, and a lot of it is super-modern, yet still maintaining that old-world twist. It’s tough to explain the combination of the two. It’s something you need to see for yourself!
So why the blood stains? Well, it’s complicated, far more so than I can explain. But quickly, I can say that in April 1992 large sections of the city was destroyed over many years, with the conflict ending in October 1995. During this time, the city was badly hit by gunfire, bombs, and warfare. During the siege, food was tough to come by, thousands of people died.
Of course, the war and the reasons behind it are complicated, so, I would suggest you get a local guide who can explain the complicated history.
Must-See Sights & Things To Do In Sarajevo
Now that you know a little about the city and a tiny part of the history (please really do explore that in detail once you’re there), it’s now time to get into the good stuff – what there is to see and do in Sarajevo? Let me show you.
To avoid information overload, we’ll give you the top spots in list form. These aren’t in any order of preference or quality; this list simply contains the key sights of Sarajevo. I know that you’ll enjoy these sights – and the many more that I myself need to go back and discover!
Sarajevo City Hall – Vijećnica
Known as Vijećnica, the Sarajevo City Hall is one of the famous examples of Bosnian multiculturalism. The building stands at the intersection of three main streets, a monument constructed from 1892 to 1894 in a pseudo-Moorish style.
Even though it was built during the Austro-Hungarian rule, its design sources of the City Hall came from Spanish and Northern African Islamic art, honoring the Muslim history of Sarajevo.
Having undergone a major renovation recently, the building reopened in 2014. That was just in time for the centenary of World War I, the start of which was triggered by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
An Ottoman bridge across the Miljacka River in the heart of the city, the Latin Bridge is the spot where World War I actually began. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was gunned down on June 28, 1914, at the northern end of the bridge. This event was the premier cause of the First World War, still one of the bloodiest human conflicts in history.
On this street, you can find “Sarajevo Insider”, a local guide agency that we used (big shout out to Samra!). I highly recommend them or if you want to book online you can do that here.
Sarajevo’s oldest bazaar and historically important cultural spot, Baščaršija is also known as the Old Town of Sarajevo. It is an old bazaar, a bustling marketplace featuring shops, boutiques, restaurants and numerous other kinds of vendors.
This has to be the number one tourist attraction in Sarajevo, and I think you’ll also agree. This is also where you’ll find many important historic buildings, such as the Gazi Husrev Bey’s Mosque, Morića Han, the Sarajevo City Hall, Sebilj Fountain, and The Old Synagogue (Stari Hram) all of which are highlighted individually below in this overview of things to do in Sarajevo.
Gazi Husrev Bey’s Mosque
The 16th-century Gazi Husrev Bey’s Mosque is the biggest historical mosque in all of Bosnia & Herzegovina, as well as one of the most renowned Ottoman buildings in the Balkans. Ever since it was constructed from 1530 to 1531, it has served as the principal congregational mosque in the country.
As such, the mosque is one of the star attractions in Sarajevo, a popular tourist destination among visitors wanting to immerse themselves in the city’s Muslim history and culture.
My little then 5-year-old loved this experience, it was the first time he had ever been in a mosque, and our Muslim guide explained Islam to him in a very age appropriate way – travel as I always say is one of the best ways to teach our children about the world around us.
Built in 1457, this was the first mosque to be built after the Ottoman’s took ownership of Bosnia. The building is dedicated to Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror who conquered Constantinople.
As the largest single-sub dome mosque in the country, it classifies as one of the Balkans’ most significant and beautiful Muslim buildings. The building is open to the public and highly recommended to anyone visiting Sarajevo.
Built way back in 1551, Morića Han used to be a popular roadside inn and is now a spot of true history in Sarajevo. Financed and owned by the endowment established by Gazi Husrev Bey, a Bosniak Ottoman governor of the Sanjak of Bosnia in the 16th century, this is the only surviving han (roadside inn) in the city.
Situated in the Old Town, it is still open and now houses a number of shops and cafes, and a restaurant serving traditional Bosnian cuisine. There really isn’t a better place to experience both history and culture in Sarajevo than this. I’d suggest you get a traditional Bosnian Coffee if you have not already had one by this point in your travels.
You’ll see lots of fountains across the city, but this is one of the prettiest, and the water is drinkable. The Sebilj Fountain stands in the middle of Baščaršija Square, the touristic heart of Sarajevo. It dates from the mid-1700s and is built with wood in a typical Ottoman style.
Warning though if you are scared of birds – you’ll wanna avoid this area. I was a total wreck, with all of those pigeons about! Hence, why I have no photo of the fountain…
Sacred Heart Cathedral
As far as Christian buildings go in Bosnia & Herzegovina, few are more magnificent than Sarajevo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, often called simply Sarajevo Cathedral. With its two bell towers that are 43.2 meters high and length of 41.9 meters, it is the country’s largest cathedral.
Built in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a significant concept in Catholicism, the cathedral dates from the 1880s. It stands in the beautiful Old Town of Sarajevo and is open to the public. Inside, you can admire rich decorations and inspiring frescoes.
While we were here, a man approached us and told us how his wife died right outside where we were standing. It shook me for a bit – so if that happens to you, don’t be alarmed. He does not speak English, but, he is just sad, and wants to share his pain. Give him a hug.
The largest Serbian Orthodox church in Sarajevo and among the biggest in the region, the Orthodox Cathedral is one of the city’s prime architectural highlights. Its full name is the Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos.
With its five domes, three sections and Baroque-style belfry, it’s a striking example of Serbian Orthodox architecture. Painted decorations adorn the interior.
Even though we are not Orthodox, my little man, lit some candles here and we said a prayer as we really enjoyed the vibe at this cathedral.
The Eternal Flame is a monument to the military and civilian victims of the Second World War in Sarajevo. It was dedicated on 6 April 1946, the first anniversary of the liberation of Sarajevo from the four-year-long occupation by Nazi Germany. Locals consider April 6t Sarajevo’s Birthday.
The memorial was designed by architect Juraj Neidhardt and is located in the center of Sarajevo, at the junction of three most important streets in the city center. The flame never stops burning, making it a totally unique thing to see in Sarajevo.
There is a quote on the monument that reads:
“With courage and the jointly spilled blood of the fighters of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian brigades
of the glorious Yugoslav National Army; with the joint efforts and sacrifices of Sarajevan patriots Serbs, Muslims, and Croats on the 6th of April 1945. Sarajevo, the capital city of the people’s republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina was liberated. Eternal glory and gratitude to the fallen heroes of the liberation of Sarajevo and our homeland, on the first anniversary of its liberation. Grateful Sarajevo”
One of Sarajevo’s several historic shopping streets, full of small old-world stores, Ulica Bravadžiluk is in the Old Town, so it’s easy to find.
There are two streets in the area of Baščaršija that are named “Bravadžiluk”. Bravadžiluk Veliki, runs west to east, from The Baščaršija Square along the southern wall of the courtyard of Baščaršija (Havadže Duraka) Mosque to where Telali and Brodac meet on the western side of Vijećnica. Then there is Bravadžiluk Mali, which runs north to south, from Bravadžiluk Veliki to Tabaci St.
On these streets, you’ll find historic shops and welcoming restaurant patios. This particular area was the place where blacksmiths hand-forged a variety of items as early as the 16th century. Eventually, the street became known for its lock and padlock makers. The street itself got its name after these artisans —brava means lock.
Stretching from the eastern end of Baščaršija Street to Bravadžiluk Street, Kazandžiluk is an old shopping street and the famous coppersmith trading area. It is one of the city’s most famous streets, an easily recognizable pedestrian strip lined with bazaars and shops.
The street is named after the kazandžijas, skilled metalworkers and coppersmiths. They started producing kettles for the army in the 1500s but soon went on to also make other copper and metal tools and equipment, such as coffee pots and pitchers, trays and table tops. Nowadays, you can still find several metalworks being sold – and made – along this street. It’s an ideal place to pick up an authentic Sarajevan souvenir.
Be sure to bargain with your shopkeeper – the prices they quote are far too high – I managed to get the price down just by saying ‘hmm, I don’t think so’.
Avaz Twist Tower
Rising 176 meters to the sky, the Avaz Twist Tower is a skyscraper and arguably the most notable modern building in Sarajevo. It is the headquarters of a Bosnian newspaper, renowned not only for its height but also for its twisted design.
At the moment, it is the former Yugoslavia’s tallest skyscraper. Head to the 35th floor for amazing panoramic views of the entire city.
This is a huge bobsled track on the Trebević Mountain (you can stay on this mountain like we did, see below), built for the 1984 Winter Olympics. It is now abandoned and is a walking graffiti art museum. To get there, you can walk, but bear in mind it is quite overgrown, and the terrain isn’t particularly flat, so do not take small children. You can take a taxi to make it easier.
If you want to walk, the track is situated on the mountain, behind the clearly visible white stone section. If you have GPS on your phone, this will definitely help you out.
The Yellow Fortress
Set atop Jekovac Cliff, the Yellow Fortress is part of the fortified defensive wall outside the historic city center. Construction was commissioned by the 18th-century Bosnian Governor Gazi Ahmed Pasha Rustempašić Skopljak after Eugene of Savoy had sacked Sarajevo in 1697.
During the project, five fortresses were built at certain points along the defensive wall. The Yellow Fortress, named after the type of rock with which it was built, was one of them. Another one was the nearby White Fortress.
Having lost its original purpose the moment the Austro-Hungarians became the rulers of Bosnia, the fortress is now a popular vantage point overlooking Sarajevo. Sunsets are particularly jaw-dropping here.
Old Sarajevo Clock Tower
Known to locals as “Little Ben”, this historic clock is speculated to be the only public clock in the world that keeps lunar time. Positioned in the historic old town section of Sarajevo, the Old Clock Tower is not only one of the largest in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is also believed to be the only clock tower in the world that keeps lunar time making it always seem like it is broken.
Officially called the Gallery 11/07/95, the Srebrenica Gallery is where you can learn about the horrors of the Bosnian War in art form. This memorial gallery is dedicated solely to the Srebrenica massacre that took place on July 11, 1995. More than 8,000 people lost their lives that fateful day.
The gallery keeps the memory of this tragedy alive through a collection of documentary images. There are scenes of survivor camps, old family photos, a wall bearing the names of all victims,… It’s an incredibly humbling place, a must-visit museum for anyone who really wants to understand the horrors of the war.
The Miljacka River cuts through the heart of Sarajevo. Numerous bridges span the river, connecting the northern and southern parts of the city. One of the greatest things to do in Sarajevo to really get a feel for the city is wandering along the banks and seeing the ornate bridges.
Sarajevo Tunnel Of Hope
This is a man-made tunnel that runs for 800 meters and goes from the city to the United Nations Safe Place, which existed during the war. It was constructed in the first half of 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo. The tunnel served as a supply line and a way of escaping. Food, weapons and humanitarian aid were able to come into the city via the tunnel, while people under siege could get out.
The best way to get your bearings in this historic city is joining a walking tour like this. Under the guidance of a professional guide, you’ll explore the Old Town and see the main attractions in Sarajevo. You will learn about the city’s rich heritage and history from a knowledgeable local. There are various walking tour choices, from tours that focus on the Bosnian War to those with a focus on food and local customs.
Where To Eat In Sarajevo
All that exploring calls for a foodie pit stop! There are some fantastic places to eat in Sarajevo, from international restaurants to more traditional fare. Remember to try the national dish – cevapi. This can be roughly described as a flatbread with various fillings, whether you want something meaty or sweet.
As with most cities, you can find the food quite cheaply if you head away from the tourist streets, and steer clear of more international dishes. Go for the traditional foods, and you’ll pay much less. You’ll also get to truly experience Sarajevo in its sincerest form.
A few of our recommended spots to try include:
- Vidikovac Cafe
- Pod Lipom
- Behar Cafe
- Ćevabdžinica Petica Ferhatović
- Zeljo Restaurant
- Zmaj Restaurant
Where To Stay In Sarajevo
Despite the fact that Sarajevo is a large city and one that is becoming increasingly modernized as time goes on, you’ll still find plentiful places to stay for a relatively low cost. There are hostels, big hotels, and guesthouses to choose from, as well as apartments if you prefer a more home from home kind of vibe. A few of our favorites include the following.
Pino Nature Hotel
This is where myself and the boys stayed.
One of the most noteworthy places to stay in Sarajevo is the Pino Nature Hotel just outside the city center. Situated on Trebević Mountain, this high-end and family-friendly hotel focuses on relaxation, healthy living, and organic food. Amenities are fantastic, ranging from a 50-feet swimming pool, a kids’ pool, a fitness center, a children’s playground, an on-site spa, free Wi-Fi and a grand restaurant serving organic Bosnian cuisine.
The rooms are very big! We had loads of space even with the port-a-cot (they provided) set up.
We found this to be a wonderful place to get away from the busy city center while still being within easy reach of all Sarajevo attractions.
Oh, and if you have kids, they’ll totally love the horses on-site along with the enormous children’s playground.
Situated in the Sarajevo city center, Hotel Bistrik lies a stone’s throw from the bustling and attraction-filled Old Town. In addition to a superb location, the hotel has numerous excellent amenities as well. There’s a restaurant on site, free Wi-Fi throughout the building and free parking upon request. Rooms come with a mini-bar, flat-screen TV, air-conditioning and private bathrooms. A 24-hour front desk and snack bar round off this incredible hotel’s appeal.
One of the best hotels in Sarajevo, 5-star Hotel Europe has a 100-plus-year tradition of hospitality in the heart of the city. It lies strategically between the Ottoman Old Town and the Austro-Hungarian area in central Sarajevo, making it a perfect base to explore everything the city has to offer. The hotel boasts a Viennese café, a wellness center with Turkish baths, massage rooms and saunas, a swimming pool and gym, and free Wi-Fi.
A well-rated accommodation in central Sarajevo, Hotel Michele has everything you could want from a hotel in a historic city. Its spacious rooms put travelers at ease immediately, while it’s elegant design, colorful decorations and antique furniture make it stand out among other Sarajevo hotels. There is air-conditioning, Wi-Fi and rooms come with well-equipped kitchens.
Isa Begov Hamam Hotel
People rave about their stays at the Isa Begov Hamam Hotel, located mere steps from the Latin Bridge and Baščaršija. This is an exceptionally stylish place to stay, adorned with furniture with hand-carved Ottoman motifs, wooden floors, and amazing carpets. You can enjoy complimentary tea and coffee in the lobby; the room rate also includes a Turkish breakfast in the morning. On top of that, there is a sauna and hot tub that guests can use free of charge. Massages in the hamam can be booked for an extra fee.
Hotel President Sarajevo
Another Sarajevo hotel featuring a spectacular location is Hotel President. This one also lies a short stroll from the Old Town and Latin Bridge—its terrace provides views over the city and the river. All rooms have a seating area, flat-screen TV, mini-bar and air-conditioning, as well as a private bathroom with a shower or bath and a hot tub.
Old Town Hotel Sarajevo
In the pedestrian zone of Baščaršija lies the Old Town Hotel, arguably the best-located of all hotels in Sarajevo. It lies so close to several major attractions; you could almost touch them from your room. Parking is free—a huge bonus—and there is also free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, and a buffet breakfast. Airport shuttles are available, as well as paid transfers to other major cities in the Balkans such as Mostar, Dubrovnik, and Medjugorje.
The Doctor’s House Hostel
A popular hostel on a hill to the north of the Old Town, the Doctor’s House Hostel is one of the best cheap places to stay in Sarajevo. Accommodation is available in dorms, which have lockers and a wardrobe. All beds have their own curtain for extra privacy, as well as outlets and a reading light. Shared facilities include bathrooms, showers, a kitchen, and a lounge. On the terrace, you’ll find barbecue facilities for a good time with friends, while the on-site bar is another popular hangout among guests.
How To Get To Sarajevo From …
Sarajevo has some fantastic transport links in and around the city, so getting to and from isn’t tricky at all. Sarajevo International Airport has an international connection to places around the world, while a quick shuttle bus service commutes between the airport and the city center. You could, of course, also take a taxi, take a private transfer, or hire a car.
So, how do you get into Sarajevo from some of the surrounding countries? Bosnia & Herzegovina is bordered by Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro, and crossing over those borders is quite hassle-free, provided you have the right travel documents with you, and you’re patient during the busier times of the year.
Let’s check out exactly how you do it from some of the most popular locations.
Getting To Sarajevo From Split
When traveling from Split to Sarajevo, you have two main options, which both take four hours or less. You can go by bus, with big-name companies such as Promet Makarska as a good option, and this will take you four hours exactly. The bus leaves the main station in Split three times per day.
Alternatively, you could hire a car and drive yourself. Obviously, the route includes the border crossing, which can be time-consuming during the summer months. Just make sure you have your passport and driving license to hand. This will take you around 3 hours and 40 minutes, and you will travel roughly 240 kilometers.
Getting To Sarajevo From Dubrovnik
Again, we’re talking about bus or driving to make life easier, with the self-drive option from Dubrovnik taking you around 3 hours and 40 minutes. The distance is 244 kilometers. From Dubrovnik, too, you’ll need to wait at the border crossing, but there are times when you can simply sail through the queue and pass without much time wasted.
If you prefer to go by bus, there are two options. Promet Makarska has a three times daily service via Ploce, which takes 5 hours, or you can go direct with Centrotrans Eurolines, which is just short of 7 hours. This is also a three times daily service.
Getting To Sarajevo From Zagreb
You have a few more options when traveling from Zagreb, and one of them is to fly. The flight lasts around 50 minutes, and there are several services per day. Obviously, check online for specific times and airlines. Alternatively, you can take the bus, but this will take you around the 8-hour mark. There are many services per day, including services with Croatia Bus and Centrotrans Eurolines, which both go three times daily.
If you want to drive, this is certainly a scenic route. It will show you the best of not only Croatia but the road past the Bosnia & Herzegovinian border too. The journey will take just short of 5 hours, and will cover a distance of 404 kilometers.
Getting To Sarajevo From Mostar
Driving from Mostar to Sarajevo is undoubtedly the best and easiest way to travel to the capital, and will also show you the best of two of these Bosnian hotspots. The journey is just short of 2 hours and covers around 127 kilometers. You can take the bus, and there are several services per day, which will take anywhere between 2 to 3 hours, depending upon the number of stops.
Ready to Visit Sarajevo?
We’ve given you tonnes of information on the capital city. Now it’s up to you to head off and explore at your own pace! Let us know how you get on, and if you have any top tips for a visit to the Bosnia & Herzegovina capital.