When I first decided to go to Sarajevo, I had no expectations of what I would find. None. Sure, I had a few strong memories of watching the Sarajevo Winter Olympics when I was a kid and a vague idea that a brutal war had happened there in the 90s – but that was it. By the time my bus had dropped me off in the city, I’d already fallen half in love. There were heaps of things to do Sarajevo and I couldn’t wait to do them all.
The narrow city sits snug in a steep valley, overlooked by the picturesque Dinaric Alps and divided by the slow-flowing Miljacka River. The restored Old Town retains the mystical atmosphere of a Turkish bazaar, the streets ringing with the sound of coppersmiths’ hammers and thick with the scent of pungent Bosnian coffee. The new town, on the other hand, is host to trendy boutiques, bars, and restaurants that buzz with the energy of Sarajevo’s hip, young population.
Sarajevo feels like a city that’s on the move, leaving the horrors of war behind and reinventing itself as a must-visit destination in Europe. From potent historical sites to adventurous mountain hikes, travellers will find plenty of things to do in Sarajevo.
- 1 Discover the City Through the Eyes of a Local
- 2 Fill Your Face with Burek
- 3 Travel Back in Time on the Streets of Old Town
- 4 Hike to the Abandoned Bobsleigh Track
- 5 Meet the Locals Over Bosnian Coffee
- 6 Trek the Via Dinarica
- 7 Go Snowshoeing on Trebević Mountain
- 8 Srebrenica Gallery 11/07/95
- 9 See the Spot Where a Traffic Jam Changed the World
- 10 Appreciate Peace on Sniper Alley
- 11 Read The Cellist of Sarajevo
- 12 Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Saravejo
Discover the City Through the Eyes of a Local
For almost four years, the city of Sarajevo was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska. It’s almost impossible to believe that this could happen in a European capital city during the mid-1990s!
To truly appreciate the significance, start your trip to Sarajevo with a walking tour. Walk with a local guide who lived through Siege of Sarajevo, hearing stories of what it was like to grow up in a city surrounded by snipers — and abandoned by the world. Soak up the history through personal stories, learn to spot “Sarajevo roses” on the streets, and get an insider’s view of the problems facing Sarajevo today. You’ll also get the best tips for where in Sarajevo to sip raki and snack on burek!
Fill Your Face with Burek
A rolled pastry stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach, or potatoes, and cooked in a large metal pan over hot coals, burek is the must-have local dish in Sarajevo. Locals recommend Buregdzinica Sac, where the staff are far too busy to smile or do much customer service. What they lack in charm they make up for by serving heaping plates of delicious burek for just a few euros. The combination of oily pastry and substantial fillings just might make burek the ideal hangover cure.
Travel Back in Time on the Streets of Old Town
Unlike many cities that have been ravaged by war, Sarajevo’s restored Old Town retains an evocative atmosphere, despite sustaining severe damage during the siege. The narrow streets once rang with the sound of sniper’s bullets. Now, cosy cafes hum with conversation and laughter, the aroma of busy sidewalk restaurants laces the air, and minarets reach for the sky above. Walking the streets of Old Town Sarajevo, absorbing the sounds, sights, and smells, was my absolute favourite thing to do in Sarajevo.
Hike to the Abandoned Bobsleigh Track
Once the site of glorious Olympic victories and tragic defeats, like almost everything else in Sarajevo, the bobsleigh track was badly damaged in the siege and has been out of commission ever since. It is now covered in graffiti and overgrown with plants and weeds — and because of that, it has become a tourist attraction again. It’s not easy, but it is possible to hike up the hillside through the city and then find the path that leads to the track.
There are some rumours that tourists have been mugged making the hike up, so if that turns you off, you can get to the bobsleigh track in Sarajevo by public transport, taxi, or take a tour with companies like Sarajevo’s Funky Tours or Insider Tours.
Meet the Locals Over Bosnian Coffee
A visit to Sarajevo isn’t really complete until you participate in the city’s favourite past time — drinking Bosnian coffee. Similar to Turkish coffee (but TOTALLY different, as any Bosnian will tell you), half the pleasure is in the ritual. Coffee is served in the pot (called a džezva) alongside a glass of water and as much sugar as you can handle. First, pour the coffee then spoon a layer of foam into your cup. Never stir the sugar into the coffee. Instead, take a bite from the sugar cube and then sip of the thick, bitter brew. To drink coffee like a true Bosnian, stretch out the ritual over the course of a few hours of conversation and people-watching.
Trek the Via Dinarica
This 1,200-mile long hiking trail snakes through seven countries along the Dinaric Alps. A cultural and nature corridor, the spectacular trail was chosen by National Geographic as one of the Best Trips in 2017. Hiking trails lead out of Sarajevo on all sides of the city. They could be the starting point for a stunning day-hike or a longer through hike which could take you to all the way to Slovenia in the north or Albania in the south. Just keep walking! For local trail information, visit the Via Dinarica website.
Editor’s Note: Heading to Europe? Don’t forget to check out our Europe Packing List
Go Snowshoeing on Trebević Mountain
If you happen to visit Sarajevo in the winter, don’t miss a trip to Trebević Mountain, the site of the bobsleigh and luge events at the 1984 Winter Olympics. With a pair of snowshoes strapped to your feet, you can climb up to the peak of Trebević where you’ll be rewarded with pristine snow-covered views of Sarajevo and the surrounding mountains. Go with a guide or take a tour, since there still may be landmines on the mountain – and you probably didn’t pack your own snowshoes.
Srebrenica Gallery 11/07/95
Though visiting a war museum is never high on my list of travel activities, there are certain places that warrant a thoughtful visit — Auschwitz in Poland, the Killing Fields in Cambodia, the Torture Museum in Budapest. I would add the Srebrenica Gallery 11/07/95 in Sarajevo to that list. It tells the story of the Bosnian War through beautiful and devastating photos documenting the 1995 slaughter of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by the largely Orthodox Christian Bosnian Serb Army. It is every bit as moving and disturbing as you might expect and it gave me a new perspective on the modern-day Muslim-Christian conflicts.
See the Spot Where a Traffic Jam Changed the World
You probably know that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand is said to have been the shot that started World War 1. But did you know that it came about because of a comedy of errors – that ended in a tragedy so great it changed the world? In a story involving incompetent assassins, ill-informed chauffeurs, and one sneaky dude armed with a small pistol, Ferdinand was killed and a world war was born. It all happened right in Sarajevo’s city centre and you can stand on the exact spot where the day’s fateful events took place.
Appreciate Peace on Sniper Alley
Though there was no truly safe place to go for a stroll in Sarajevo during the siege, a wide straight boulevard connecting Old Town to the industrial end of the city was so dangerous it earned the nickname Sniper Alley. Many of the buildings along the street are still riddled with bullet holes acting as a reminder of what the city has experienced. By walking this street and trying to spot potential sniper hideaways in the surrounding hills, you’ll gain a little more understanding of what living in a city under siege was like. More importantly, you’ll gain a far deeper appreciation of what it means to live in peace.
Read The Cellist of Sarajevo
To put yourself in the shoes of the people who lived through the Siege of Sarajevo, grab a copy of the novel The Cellist of Sarajevo and read it before you go. Walking around the city with this book fresh in my mind, I recognized landmarks and sites that were very recently part of a brutal war. It was a reminder of how quickly things can change — for better or worse — in such a short period of time.
Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Saravejo
Sarajevo has long shed its war associations and successfully transformed itself as an underrated, yet vibrant backpacker destination. Plan your next trip to this enigmatic capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina with our top recommendations on where to stay in Sarajevo. If you want a more detailed list, check out the author’s full suggestions on Apartments in Saravejo.
Hotel Grand – Want to have your own clean room and bath on a budget? Hotel Grand is a great place to stay that’s also walking distance from the main train and bus station and is close to Stadium FC Sarajevo and the Eternal Flame in Sarajevo. The hotel also offers an airport shuttle, which is awesome especially if your plane landed late and there are no taxis waiting in line at night. There’s also breakfast at the hotel, but the staff can prepare a lunch packet for you if you need to leave before the service.
Hostel Lucky – A popular option for budget travelers, Hostel Lucky is a highly-recommended property for people looking for accommodation in the quieter area near the old town and is close to popular attractions like the Sarajevo City Hall and Eternal Flame in Sarajevo. The property is quite nice, clean, and homey, thanks to its very attentive and helpful staff. The bathrooms and kitchen are shared, so do mind of the hostel’s rules about upkeep and use.
Halvat Hotel – Close to the Stadium FC Sarajevo, the rooms offered at this hotel do not just only exude an Old World charm but are also much larger compared to others in the area. Some rooms come with a balcony or patio, which is great to have if you like to enjoy the views of the old town. The staff at the hotel are pretty exceptional, and can even help you explore, dine, or experience the best of Sarajevo.
Hotel Old Sarajevo – This hotel located in Bascarsija is a popular choice for most travelers because of its accessibility. The all-white rooms are a stark contrast to the activity outside the hotel, which is great if you want a property to come home to an relax after some sightseeing and shopping. The staff are friendly and accommodating as well, and can even whip up a good cup of coffee if you put in a request.
Malak Regency Hotel – This five-star hotel is just 20 minutes away from the old town and close to the airport. Malak Regency also has rooms that offer great river views. Everything here is excellent – from the rooms, health and wellness facilities, food, and room service. There’s also free private parking available for your rental car.
Hotel Hills Sarajevo Congress & Thermal Spa Resort – A thermal hot spring resort in Sarajevo? Featuring a seasonal outdoor pool and water sports facilities, Hotel Hills Sarajevo Congress & Thermal Spa Resort is a great alternative for those who want to stay somewhere relaxing and uniquely amazing. If you wish to explore the city center, there is a train station that could take you there at around $1.