Why visit Sarajevo?
Sarajevo is one the most historically interesting and varied cities in all of Europe and the crossroads where Roman Catholic west, Eastern Orthodox east and the Ottoman south collide. Simply walking through Sarajevo is a lesson in the rich tapestry of historical influence. Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s most central district, is a wonderful blend of minarets, grilled kebabs and the pervasive smell of ground coffee, reminiscent of Istanbul but with a Slavic twist. Heading west, the minarets give way to churches and the elegant Germanic influence of the Austro-Hungarian period takes over. Continuing on, and the soaring behemoths of Communist architecture rise into view, heralding your entry into ‘snipers alley’, and the bullet marked remnants of war.
A lively summer scene and, during winter, some of Europe’s best-value skiing, a mere 30km away ensure good times all year round. Throw in some of the friendliest locals in all of the Balkans and very little street crime and it isn’t hard to see why Sarajevo is one of Europe’s fastest growing tourist destinations.
Rating: 1 – Bad Experience 5 – Good Experience
The areas around Sarajevo have been inhabited since Neolithic times, with its most notable early inhabited being the Butmir and later Illyrian civilizations. During Roman times the colony of ‘Aquae Sulphurae’ of which Sarajevo was a part, was a bit of a backwater and was underdeveloped in relation to other parts of the Empire. In the middle ages, Sarajevo was part of the Slavic Bosnian province of Vrhbosn.
Sarajevo, as we know it today, was founded by the Ottoman Empire in the 1450s, when a number of key structures were built including a mosque, a closed marketplace, a public bath, a hostel, and the governor’s castle (Saray) from which the city’s name derives. By the 16th century, Sarajevo was a significant urban centre, noted for its markets and its numerous mosques.
In 1699 Prince Eugene of Savoy led a successful raid on Sarajevo, after which the city was looted and razed to the ground, destroying almost everything, save a handful of neighbourhoods. In the 1830s, the city was to suffer further damage as the scene of the many battles during the Bosnian rebellion.
In 1878, Bosnia was occupied by Austria-Hungary and Sarajevo was to undergo yet another rebuilding project. It was around this time that the Latin script was first introduced to the city. Sarajevo was also the place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were assassinated on 28 June 1914 by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip.
During the 2nd World War, after a brief German bombing campaign, Sarajevo was captured on 15th April 1941 by the Axis powers. It was then subsequently bombed by the Allies from 1943 to 1944. Following liberation, Sarajevo was made the capital of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The Communist period saw Sarajevo grow rapidly, becoming an important regional industrial centre in Yugoslavia. New residential blocks in Novi Grad and Novo Sarajevo Municipalities were constructed and the crowning glory of the Socialist Yugoslavia era witnessed the Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo in 1984.
The history of modern Sarajevo can be said to have begun with the declaration of independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Yugoslavia. Following the declaration, Serbian units of the Yugoslav People’s Army established itself on the surrounding mountains and the longest siege in the history of modern warfare was under way. The city was held without electricity, heating, water, and medical supplies, a feat even more impressive given this whole time, the surrounding Serb forces were shelling the city. It is estimated that 12,000 people were killed and another 50,000 wounded during the course of the siege.
Today, Sarajevo is one of the fastest developing cities in the region after a massive urban renewal program which has helped to repair the clear the majority of the city’s ruins.
Economy & Tourism
Whilst previously a heavy industry stronghold, very few of the pre-existing businesses made it through the conversion to a market economy. The major industries in town today include tobacco production and, furniture, hosiery, automobiles, and communication equipment.
Sarajevo has a wide tourist industry and a fast expanding service sector thanks to the strong annual growth in tourist arrivals which is helped by both its summer and winter appeal. The GDP of Sarajevo is estimated at $16.76 billion which comprises around 36% of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s total GDP.
Sarajevo experience 4 distinct seasons and rainfall spread across the entire year. The average yearly temperature is 10°C (50°F), with January (−0.5°C (31.1°F) avg.) being the coldest month of the year and July (19.7°C (67.5°F) avg.) the warmest. The Adriatic Sea somewhat moderates Sarajevo’s climate, although the mountains to the south of the city greatly reduce this maritime influence.
Weather in Sarajevo now
Sarajevo is well-known for wide variety of cultural festivals that take place throughout the year in the city. Sarajevo Fashion Week takes place in November and contains all you would expect from an international fashion show. Sarajevan Winter is the longest of Sarajevo’s festivals, lasting for 2 whole months in February & March, and is marked by daily events that encompass music, dance and theatre as well as organised museum trips and city walks. The Sarajevo Film Festival is perhaps Sarajevo’s premier event and is arguable the most important film festival in all of south-east Europe. The event prides itself on its unqiue blend of local and international stars and regional shows hosting some of the world’s best documentaries. Bascarsija Nights takes place in July in the city’s old Turkish district and offers a full month programme of folk dancing, opera, ballet, rock, love songs and poetry. The Jazz Festival, which takes place across the city in November is one of Sarajevo’s newest celebrations and is a must for all jazz lovers.
Sarajevo is located in the centre of Bosnia & Herzegovina and and lies іn the Sarajevo valley, іn the middle оf the Dinaric Alps. The area is surrounded by heavy woodland and 5 large mountains: Treskavica (2088m), Bjelašnica (2067m), Jahorina (1913m), Trebević (1627m), and Igman (1502m). The River Miljacka flows through the centre of the city from east to west. Downtown Sarajevo consists of 4 districts: Centar (Centre), Novi Grad (New City), Novo Sarajevo (New Sarajevo), аnd Stari Grad (Old City) and there are numerous suburbs. The majority of the tourist attractions are located in Stari Grad and particularly the Baščaršija (Old Bazaar) which lies at its heart.
Sarajevo Free Walking Tour
Sarajevo Monument & Sights Guide
Crkva svetog Antuna Padovanskog
(Church of Saint Anthony of Padua)
Monument Type: Church
Address: Franjevačka 6
Opening Times: 7.30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Information: The Catholic church of St. Anthony was originally constructed at the end of the 19th century as a place of worship for Sarajevo’s catholic community but was reconstructed just 10 years later due to structural weakness. Today, notable features of this Gothic style church include two marble mosaics of St. Anthony and four niches by sculptor Zdenko Grgić portraying the way of the cross.
Monument Type: Mosque
Opening Times: Recommended around 5 p.m. but can be visited any time outside prayer hours.
Information: The Emperor’s Mosque is the oldest Mosque in Sarajevo and was originally constructed 1457 after the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia. It was dedicated to the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the man who conquered Constantinople, and was considered one of the most beautiful Mosques in the city with its spacial interior and highly decorative features. It was rebuilt in 1565, the time dedicated to Suleyman the Magnificent and notable features include the semicircular main dome and adjoining caravanserai.
What is it? Historic Ottoman bridge and site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914
Where is it? Spanning the River Miljacka, to the south of Baščaršija (old town)
Information: The distinctive Latin bridge is a small stone bridge that is one of the city’s oldest but that is not why it is famous. It is famous because, in 1914, on the northern end of the bridge Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip which helped to trigger the First World War. Today there is a museum dedicated to that infamous moment and a plague marking the spot where it all happened.
Narodno pozorište Sarajevo
(Sarajevo National Theatre)
Monument Type: Theatre / Opera House
Address: Obala Kulina Bana 9
Opening Times: only show times
Information: Founded in 1921, the Sarajevo National Theatre is the oldest theatre in the country and also houses the Sarajevo Ballet and Opera companies, which were established in 1946. The building was built in 1897 in the Austrian Baroque style and today the theatre is the centre of high culture in the city.
Katedrala Srca Isusova
(Sacred Heart Cathedral)
Monument Type: Church
Address: Trg fra Grge Martića 2
Opening Times: hours of worship
Information: The Sacred Heart Cathedral took 5 years to build and was opened in 1889. It is designed mainly in the neo-gothic style and is a three nave construction. Notable features include the giant bell, notated by Pope Pius XI and the elegant stained-glass windows, pulpit and altars.
Gazi Husrev-begova Džamija
(Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque)
Monument Type: Mosque
Address: Sarači 8
Opening Times: Recommended around 5 p.m. but can be visited any time outside prayer hours.
Information: Constructed by the famous Ottoman architect Acem Esir Ali “Alaüddin” in 1537, the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque is considered the most important Islamic structure in the city and one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture anywhere in the world. Notable features include the stalactite ornamentation in the angles under the dome, many valuable carpets and the magnificent effect of the sunlight pouring through the 51 windows, creating a distorted sense of greater space than is in reality. Interestingly, it was also the 1st mosque in the world to be connecting to an electricity supply, in 1898. During the siege of Sarajevo, the mosque was badly destroyed but following the war’s end, and with international help, it was restored to its former glory.
What is it? Sarajevo’s old bazaar and the historical and cultural centre of the city
Where is it? North of the River Miljacka in the Stari Grad (Old Town) district
Information: Built in 1462 by the Bosnian-Ottoman general Isa-Beg Isaković the Old Bazaar is the centre of life in Sarajevo. Amongst the narrow alleys of vendors and shops are several important historic buildings, such as the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and sahat-kula, as well as countless restaurants, coffee houses and tea houses. We found it spell-binding and reminded us of a mini-Istanbul.
Gradska vijećnica Sarajevo
(National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Monument Type: Library
Address: Obala Kulina bana
Opening Times: –
Information: Designed in 1891 and eventually built in a predominantly pseudo-Moorish expression. The building was initially the largest and most impressive building of the Austro-Hungarian period and was put to use as the Town Hall. However, On 25 August 1992, Serbian shelling during the Siege of Sarajevo caused the complete destruction of the library. This sad episode saw the loss of around 700 manuscripts and unique collections of Bosnian cultural revival publications. Today it is in the process of being rebuilt and in the future will be used for a variety of events.
What is it? Ruins of a 17th century fortress that offers great views over Sarajevo
Where is it? Up the hill to the east of Baščaršija (old town)
Information: The polygonal Yellow Bastion is a 15 minute walk up hill from the old town but once achieved there are fantastic views to be had over the city. Try to come around sunset.
Sarajevo Tunnel Museum
Monument Type: Museum
Address: Tuneli 1; Donji Kotorac 34; Ilidža
Opening Times: 1st Nov – 31st Mar: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. 1st Apr – 31st Oct: 9.15 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Price: General Admission: 10 KM Student & Children (-6): 5 KM
Information: During the siege of Sarajevo, the city was almost completely cut off from the outside world, save the district Butmir which is divided from the main city by the airport runway. Crossing it would have been suicidal so a tunnel was built underneath as the only means of getting supplies into the city. Most of the tunnel hasn’t survived to this day, but a 20m section has been turned into a museum which gives an insight into the horrors of living in the city, and using the tunnel, were like. To get to the museum either take a taxi or tram 3 to the end of the line, change to bus 32 direction Kotorac and ask the driver when to get off.
8 things to do for free in Sarajevo
Sarajevo is a gem of a city. It is one of the true crossroads of the world, where Muslim east meets Christian west with architecture and food to make the mouth water. But that doesn’t mean we are so awestruck we have lost our senses, however. So here is our suggestion of 8 Things to do for Free in Sarajevo because we all love free things…
① Crkva svetog Antuna Padovanskog (Church of Saint Anthony of Padua) (Franjevačka 6) is a Gothic Catholic church and was constructed at the end of the 19th century. It is Free.
② Soak up the atmosphere of Baščaršija (Old Bazaar) the most atmospheric and interesting part of the city with its narrow alleys and varied stalls.
③ Careva džamija (Emperor’s Mosque) (Konak) is the oldest Mosque in Sarajevo and was originally constructed in 1457 after the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia. It is Free and can be visited any time outside of prayer hours although it is recommended around 5 p.m.
④ Gradska vijećnica Sarajevo (National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina) is one of the iconic buildings of the city, an emblem for its people’s endurance and resurrection. You can see parts of the building from the outside whilst it is being rebuilt.
⑤ Gazi Husrev-begova Džamija (Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque) (Sarači 8) is considered the most important Islamic structure in the city and one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture anywhere in the world. It is Free and can be visited any time outside of prayer hours although it is recommended around 5 p.m.
⑥ Latinska cuprija (Latin Bridge) is a must for all those with even a passing interest in European history, marking the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, an event which helped to trigger the First World War.
⑦ For great views over the city head up to Žuta Tabija (Yellow Bastion), the remains of a 17th century fort. Try to make it for sunset.
⑧ Katedrala Srca Isusova (Sacred Heart Cathedral) is designed mainly in the neo-gothic style and is a three nave construction. It took 5 years to build and was opened in 1889. It is Free to visit during hours of worship.
Staying in Sarajevo should be relatively painless. Accommodation is plentiful, and reasonable priced and more often than not you will likely be approached as you are walking around town, with offers of private home-stays and guest-houses. If, however, you like a little piece of mind before you set off, below we have listed some of the cheapest accommodation options in the city.
Search for Sarajevo’s cheapest accommodation (hostels, airbnb, home-stays etc.).
Haris Youth Hostel (Vratnik Mejdan 29) comes highly recommend and is located a short walk from the old town, up the hill, just behind the Yellow Bastion. In the summer months there are options in a 6 bed dorm (10 €) and twin privates (12.50 €) available. Also included is a common room, 24hr reception, lockers and social event nights organised by the hostel throughout the week.
Hostel Ljubicica (Mula Mustafe Baseskije, 65 Basèar) is centrally located and offer perhaps the cheapest accommodation options in the city. There are multiple dorm beds available with 14 bed mixed (6 €), 12/24 bed mixed (7 €) and 4/5 bed dorms (10 €) ideal for those looking to save a few pennies. Amenities include kitchen & cafe, WiFi and laundry facilities.
Hostel Bas Bascarsija (Mula Mustafe Baseskije 60) is ideally located very close to the city centre. We, ourselves, stayed here after being approached in the street. There are 6, 7 & 10 bed dorms available (starting from 10 €) and private rooms from (25 €) Prices can be negotiated down with a little charming. There is WiFi, Laundry service and a nice smoking balcony that offers nice views over the rooftops.
Nightlife in Sarejevo is based around the Bascarsija district (old town) and thrives on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and especially in the summer. All other nights of the week are a lot quieter. Check out this useful map with the best bars and clubs marked.
Things to Try & Buy
The best place to start souvenir shopping is the narrow winding alleys of the Bascarsija. There are countless stores selling everything from carpets to antiques and handicraft products made in their own workshops. A good idea for a gift is one of the copper coffee sets, a decorative and useful buy. Shells and bullets that fell on the city during the siege have been transformed into pens and salt & pepper pots. There is also a vast variety of memorabilia from the Communist period, lots of it idealising Tito.
Bosnian food is meat and potatoes-heavy which leaves a rather limited selection for vegetarians as even traditional vegetarian staples like beans are also likely to be cooked along with bacon or smoked meat. Cevapi, Balkan mince meat kebab served with bread and chopped onion, is an extremely popular fast food option. For breakfast, Pita, stuffed pastry pies are a filling if slightly greasy option. Popular types include burek (meat), sirnica (cheese), zeljanica (cheese and spinach), krompirusa (spicy potato) and tikvenica (pumpkin). Trahana which is eaten especially during Ramadan is a traditional sour-dough soup and is a local speciality. To drink, Sarajevo is a coffee lovers paradise, with the local Bosnian coffee very reminiscent of its Turkish cousin.
Here’s a useful map with a few places offering Wi-Fi marked:
Sarajevo Airport is located 6 km south west of the city is the suburb of Butmir. Numerous airlines operate services there including National Carrier B&H Airlines (Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Gothenburg-Landvetter, Istanbul-Atatürk, Zürich), Austrian Airlines (Vienna), Lufthansa (Munich) and flights to other Balkan countries.
Trains in Bosnia are generally a bad idea, and if you do insist on taking the train we strongly advise you to check ahead as trains and infrequent and extremely slow. That said however, at Sarajevo train station (Put Života 2) you can catch domestic trains to Mostar (S/R: 9.90/15.90) Bihac (S/R: 40/64) as well as other destinations. There are also international trains to Belgrade (32.90), Budapest (105,90), Zagreb (74,30) and others.
There are two bus stations in Sarajevo. Autobuska stanica Sarajevo (Sarajevo main bus station; Put života 8) is located next to the train station and covers services to Croatia, most other international routes and domestic buses within the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina including regular buses to Mostar and Banja Luka. Autobuska stanica Istočno Sarajevo (Lukavica Bus Station; Srpskih vladara 2) is a little out of town but can be reached by taking trolley buses 103 or 107 all the way to the last stop. From here can be found buses to Serbia, Montenegro and the Bosnia and Herzegovina entity Republic of Srpska.
Local transport within Sarajevo is run by JKP GRAS. The centre is dissected by a spinal tram system which makes a loop around the city centre and there are numerous buses and trolley-buses which head out to the suburbs. Tickets must be bought in advance from a kiosk and changing transport means validating a new ticket. Be warned that ticket inspectors are very frequent! A useful map of the system can be found here.
Due to its central location with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo has many established road connections around the country and to its neighbours, To the east the M5 heads to Serbia. The north-south running E73/A1 connects to Mostar in the south and Croatia and onto Budapest in the north. The M18 also heads south but connects to Montenegro.
Sarajevo Hitchhiking Out
North towards Tuzla Canton & Banja Luka
From the city centre take the bus 21 all the way to the last stop in the village of Vogosca. From here, it is a short walk to the bridge where the road divides: to get to Zenica and beyond Banja Luka, it is recommended to walk until reaching the tolls on the M-17.
North towards Banja Luka, Zagreb & Zenica
Take the tram 3 direction Ilidza, from the centre, and get off after 20min at Stup (ask the driver, there are no signs). When leaving the tram, take the street on the right and walk about 1km, crossing a bridge, passing a massive Konzum supermarket on your right. Eventually you’ll reach an OMV petrol station from where you can hitch-hike.
Southwest towards Mostar & Dubrovik
From the centre take tram 3 getting off after about 15 minutes when you see a collection of petrol stations on your right.
East towards Serbia (Belgrade, Zvornik & Niš)
From Obala Kulina Bana go east past Baščaršija, past Vijećnica (city hall/library). After the crossroad walk around 50 m, there is some space outside the Slovenian Embassy.
South towards Montenegro (Nikšić & Podgorica)
Take trolley buses 103 or 107 from the centre, alighting at the final stop. After locating the Autobuska Stanica Istočno Sarajevo you need to walk a little further onto the road Kurta Schorka from where you can hitch-hike to the Montenegrin border.
Written by: Jon