A church rests near a mosque. Tight jeans mesh with head scarves. Nargila smoke wafts through the alleys. You are in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as BiH. BiH is scrunched next to Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro in the convoluted Balkans. Sarajevo surrounded by the Dinaric Alps numbers near 400,000 residents. The city is sometimes neglected in comparison to its neighbors. Ljubljana, the alluring capital of Slovenia, and seaside Dubrovnik were crawling with tourists. In comparison, only one individual appeared for my walking tour in Sarajevo, me. And it was a free tour.
Ljubljana is an incredibly compact and picturesque town. It is easy to be charmed by its beautiful old town. And Dubrovnik, wow. The walled town is historic perfection. Sarajevo will not beguile you with its physical aesthetics but will seduce you with its character, culture, diversity, and history.
I want to share with you some of my favorite experiences and sights of Sarajevo. Many of them are located in the Baščaršija. Baščaršija is the heart of Sarajevo and dates back to the 15th century. It is a fantastic place to explore.
Savor the desserts and café life. Become a glutton and feast on some of the sweets like the rich baklava, as cheap as 2 Marks (a little over a dollar). Wash the dessert down with a cappuccino or Turkish coffee. There is a plethora of cafes to choose from in the Old City. And weekdays feel like weekends with the abundance of others lounging in the cafes.
East meets west in Sarajevo. Sometimes I felt like I was in the backwaters of the Ottoman Empire as I snaked through the alleys. Nargila smoke tingled my olfactory senses. Again, relax, and drift through the evening puffing on a nargila. I suggest double apple. A nargila will set you back around 6 Marks.
As my AP European history teacher stated, this was the “occasion but not the cause.” Sarajevo and more specifically the somewhat nondescript Latin Bridge was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife on June 28, 1914. This event ushered in the brutally violent World War I. And the match that lit the flame was nationalist Gavrilo Princip . Over 17 million died in this war. Next to the Latin Bridge is the dainty but interesting Princip museum. And if you are willing to drive out of town, you can find a Princip statue. He is considered a hero in BiH since he was fighting for Slav rights.
When exploring the alleys of the Old Town, make sure you stroll through Kazandžiluk street (Coppersmith street). Here you can see dozens of shops displaying their copper and metalworks crafts. While some of these works are factory produced, I believe some of them are the work of local craftsman, since you can watch them labor in their shops.
Also, remember to check out the world’s oldest working public toilet. 1530.
Sebilj Brunnen is a wooden Ottoman-style fountain in the heart of Baščaršija. It is a central meeting point in the area and great place to people watch. Otherwise, just stroll though the labyrinth.
Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque was constructed in the 16th century. It is also located in the Baščaršija.
Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics when 49 nations descended on the then known Yugoslavia. After a war and economic challenges the Mount Trebević Olympic site is completely abandoned and unused. Vegetation and graffiti have consumed the bobsled track. Nearby is also the abandoned and daunting ski jump hill. Both of these sites are outside of the city center.
If you want to enjoy a majestic sunset head for Yellow Fortress. It sits on the edge of the hill overlooking the valley of Sarajevo. You can walk up or take a flat rate of 5 Bosnian Marks taxi up to the perch. Here you can mix with some of the locals while watching the sun set over the city. Remember to bring you tripod!
My final advice is to take walking tour as soon as you get to Sarajevo. This will be a great introduction to the city and help you get your bearings. I would strongly recommend the free city tour offered by Toorico Tours.
To learn more about Sarajevo, check out the Siege of Sarajevo!