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Sarajevo is one of my favorite cities in all the Balkans.

It’s stunningly beautiful, even despite a stark history that quite literally is scarred into the building walls and pavement.

It’s resilient, where even the longest siege of a capital in modern-day history wouldn’t stop its citizsens from living. The Sarajevo Film Festival, now an international phenomenon, began during the siege, run clandestinely on generators to give its citizens something to enjoy and look forward to, instead of merely survive.

It’s diverse and multicultural, despite the intentions of genocidal war criminals (looking at you, Milošević) who made Bosnia & Herzegovina one of the most heart-wrenching sites of ethnic cleansing in the second half of the 20th century.

Despite all these hardships, Sarajevo stands strong: a beacon of tolerance amidst a sea of ignorance, a city bent on rebuilding despite enormously staggering odds, a city with heart and soul and more than a few battle scars.

I urge you to look at Sarajevo’s many faces – not only its dark more recent past, but also its past and its present as the “Jerusalem of Europe,” a crossroads of religious tolerance and diversity amidst one of the most beautiful landscapes of Europe.

If you’re convinced to visit this gorgeous capital city at the heart of Bosnia & Herzegovina, keep on reading.

The Best Things to Do in Sarajevo

Stroll and shop in the bazaar district of Baščaršija

One of the Balkans’ most charming Old Towns, the district of Baščaršija has roots dating back to the 15th century, when the area was founded by Isa-Beg Isakovic. He was originally of Bosnian noble heritage, but was captured and eventually recruited by the Ottoman Empire and later became an Ottoman general and the governor of the Bosnia Sanjak (the way the Ottoman empire divvied up its territories).

As such, the name Baščaršija was originally derived from Turkish but written with Bosnian diacritics… which is why it looks like a bunch of gibberish to an English speaker. Literally, the name translates something to like ‘main market’.

While the Baščaršija district is still large and impressive, it’s important to note that it’s actually only half of its original size after a large fire in the 19th century tore through it, ruining most of it. Visiting now and seeing what remains, you can only be doubly impressed by just how beautiful it must have been before the fire.

There are several important things to do in Sarajevo’s Baščaršija district which I’ll get into more detail on soon, such as seeing the beautiful Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and the Clock Tower (Sahat Kula).

Just try not to buy something in Sarajevo’s bazaar

However, my favorite thing to do is stroll through the streets looking at all the beautiful Bosnian souvenirs, many of which are hand-crafted and sold at a bargain. While we’ll write a post about Bosnian souvenirs in the future, here are a few recommendations for what to buy in Baščaršija now: Bosnian coffee makers (called a džezva), house slippers, copperware, and traditional rugs. These blend the Ottoman influences with local Bosnian craftsmanship to make truly spectacular souvenirs to bring home.

In between all your shopping and sightseeing, be sure to save time to stop for a Bosnian coffee or a delicious traditional meal at one of the cafés or restaurants in the district. Meals and coffee will be slightly more expensive here versus other parts of town but it’s definitely worth it for the vibe. The most traditional Bosnian dish is ćevapi which is a minced meat sausage (usually made of only beef as many Bosnians are Muslim; in other parts of the Balkans such as Serbia, ćevapi almost always contains pork) served with bread.

Marvel at the beautiful interiors of Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque

At the heart of Baščaršija, you’ll find the impressive Gazi Husrev-beg mosque, which dates back to the early 1500s and was built by the then-Sanjak governor Gazi Husrev-beg, who was also the grandson of the Sultan at the time.

This is one of the most ornamental and beautiful mosques built during the Ottoman years in Bosnia. During the four years Sarajevo spent under siege, the mosque complex was damaged significantly by mortar fire and grenades. Luckily, with walls that measured two meters thick and a solid construction, the mosque was able to be restored without a complete rebuilding, maintaining much of its original elements.

The mosque that survived hundreds of mortar attacks

An interesting fact about this mosque is that it was the first mosque in the world to receive electricity, thanks in part to the Hapsburgs’ (who governed over Bosnia & Herzegovina in the late 1800s) policy of religious tolerance which permitted those who practiced Islam to do so freely.

To this day, this mosque is the heart of Bosnia’s faithful Muslim community and history. Several Bosniak leaders, politicians, writers, and other famous Muslim Bosnians have been laid to rest in the courtyard.

Note: Entrance costs 3 KM (1.50 euros) and the mosque is closed during prayer times. Remove your shoes and make sure to cover your knees and shoulders, and your hair as well if you’re a woman! If you don’t have one, you can borrow it from the information desk when you buy your ticket.

Photograph the beautiful Sebilj fountain

Perhaps one of the most photogenic fountains in the world (ok, fine, maybe the Trevi Fountain would win out in this contest), you can’t skip the Sebilj fountain on your list of things to do in Sarajevo.

Interestingly, the Sebilj fountain that you’ll find in the heart of Baščaršija was originally created by the Ottoman architect Mehmed Pasha Kukavica in 1753 just a few meters from its current position. However, it was badly damaged in the fire which tore through Baščaršija and it had to be knocked down. It was re-created by the Austrian architect Alexander Wittek’s in a pseudo-Moorish style and was put in place in 1891. Two major renovations occurred in the last century, one before the Winter Olympic Games in 1984 and again after the Siege of Sarajevo ended.

The beautiful Sebilj fountain, the heart of Sarajevo

These fountains originated all over the Arabian Peninsula during the Ottoman regime and the tradition eventually made its way to Bosnia. The fountains were manned by state workers and passed out free water to passersby as part of the social safety net of the Ottoman empire.

The Sebilj fountain is now an important and beautiful symbol of the city: a dash of Ottoman history, a touch of Austrian influence, and all held together by Bosnian resilience.

See the spark that caused a World War at the Latin Bridge

Dating back to 1541, the Latin Bridge was originally made of wood but was later rebuilt in stone. Then again, it washed away in 1791 – perhaps a sign that maybe this bridge wasn’t such a great idea – only to be rebuilt in its current form in 1798, after a wealthy trader donated money to fix it up.

The Latin Bridge gets its name not from its builders or its benefactors, but rather for its proximity to Sarajevo’s Catholic neighborhood. But that isn’t exactly why it’s known – it’s known for being (almost exactly) the site of the Sarajevo Assassination, which would later lead to World War I.

See that stone facade underneath the red building? That’s right about where the assassination happened!

What happened, basically, is as follows: Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb who was dedicated to the Young Bosnia cause – a Yugoslavist organization which wanted to unite the Yugoslav lands and free them from Austro-Hungarian rule. At the age of 19, he (and a handful of accomplices) shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sofie, his wife, just a few feet away from the bridge as they drove through central Sarajevo.

There is a placard at the exact place where the assassination occurred, just a short distance away from the Latin Bridge, which is quite interesting to see from a historical perspective: to stand in the place where the match was lit that would later ignite a war of epic proportions.

Check out the rebuilt City Hall (Vijećnica)

The red-and-yellow layers of the City Hall have endured a lot, and still it remain one of the most iconic buildings in Sarajevo.

If it looks like something you’d find in Spain or Morocco, that’s intentional: the pseudo-Moorish style was trendy in Sarajevo in these days. Alexander Wittek, who re-created the Sebilj fountain in the same style, had designed the Vijećnica to represent through architecture the meeting of East and West. However, he passed away in Austria before the design could be completed, and instead, it was taken over by the architect Ćiril Iveković.

Well worth the years of renovations!

It was finished in 1896 and, at the time, was the greatest architectural achievement of the time period during which the Austro-Hungarians ruled over Bosnia. In 1949, it became the National Library of Bosnia & Herzegovina (then part of Yugoslavia), and it would remain this way until the early 1990s. But on August 25th, 1992, a few months after the Siege of Sarajevo began, Vijećnica was set on fire and lost some 90% of the library’s books.

After the Siege ended in 1996, reconstruction began almost immediately, but it took nearly two decades to complete. It officially opened again on May 9, 2014 – perhaps not coincidentally, on the anniversary of the Day of Victory over Fascism.

Helpful tip: Entrance costs 10 KM (5 euro) and you can take a tour of the inside and snap some photos of the gorgeously refurbished interior. There is apparently a smartphone app that guides you but you’ll need functioning data for it to work.

Have your heart break at Gallery 11/07/95

While Sarajevo endured an unbelievable amount of terror during its 44-month long siege, that’s not to say that the rest of Bosnia didn’t suffer as well. As a large city, Sarajevo was able to defend itself somewhat from a total slaughter at the hands of the Bosnian Serb army.

This was not so true in many of Bosnia’s villages, where Bosniaks (Muslim Bosnians) were victims of horrific war crimes that amount to genocide. Some 10,000-50,000 Bosniak women were raped during the war – though as you can imagine, getting a real number can be nearly impossible. A further 100,000+ people were killed, the majority of them Bosniaks. Many of these killings were mass murders of civilians, and what happened in Bosnia was ruled to be the first genocide in Europe after the Holocaust.

If you can’t make it to the Srebrenica Memorial site, the Gallery 11/07/95 in Sarajevo is well worth a visit.

Numbers this big seem impossible to comprehend. Gallery 11/07/95 does a fantastic job of doing the difficult work of bringing the horrific scale of this genocide to a level where you can understand it.

One of the most horrible things about genocide is how each individual loses their identity in the mass of all the deaths. Gallery 11/07/95 tells the stories of victims and survivors in an interactive, immersive way that humanizes the people affected. It does so without losing sense of the big picture of what happened in Srebrenica starting on this specific day, July 11, 1995, when over 8,000 Bosniaks lost their lives in a planned, systematic massacre over an 11-day massacre.

I warn you that going here will make you cry and hate the world for a little bit, but it is so, so important to understanding modern-day Bosnia and the Balkans as a whole. You shouldn’t skip it.

Admire the Sacred Heart Cathedral

Part of the architectural legacy of the Austro-Hungarian years, the Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart (usually just called Sacred Heart Cathedral) was built in 1889 and is still the heart of Sarajevo’s Catholic community.

The Cathedral was done in the Neo-Gothic style that was quite popular in Europe around this time. It was created by a Hungarian architect who was enamored with this style and so he melded design elements from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Dijon, France and St. Teyn Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic.

France? Nope, Bosnia!

Sarajevo’s Catholic community was not just limited to its Austro-Hungarian occupiers but also its large population of Bosnian Croats who were religiously Catholic. The religious mix of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been ongoing for centuries and continues to this day. Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism are its three main religions [in that order], mostly broken down by ethnic group – Bosniak, Serb, and Croat, respectively.

In front, you’ll see a statue that honors of Pope John Paul II for his visit to Sarajevo in 1997 after the fighting ended, who wanted to send a message of tolerance and hope from the formerly besieged city.

Like most of the buildings in the city, it was damaged during the siege but has been lovingly restored.

Note: The cathedral is closed to visitors on Sundays. It is open all over days from 9:00 – 17:00. It is free to visit, and inside you’ll find some beautiful frescoes and stained glass.

Pay respects at the Eternal Flame

A bit of an anomaly to North Americans, Eternal Flames are common throughout Europe and typically represent a commemoration of the lives lost during World War II.

This particular Eternal Flame (Vječna Vatra in Bosnian language) and it was lit in a ceremony on April 6, 1946 – one year to the date of the liberation of Sarajevo from Nazi occupation.

A memorial to those who helped liberate Sarajevo in WWII

The monument is beautiful, with blue, white, and red tiles in homage to the Yugoslav flag (as Bosnia was part of Yugoslavia when this memorial was created). The fire rests inside a copper pit shaped like a wreath of bay leaves (which represent peace), always burning.

While the Eternal Flame is specifically meant to honor the liberators of Sarajevo, it takes on another meaning when you think of all the people who have given their lives over the years to keep Sarajevo free.

See the city from the Yellow Fort

Not much of a fortress anymore, this is still an incredible place to visit in Sarajevo for its epic, sweeping city views. I recommend going for sunset, especially as it can be quite a hot and sweaty walk during a summer’s day and you’ll want to go when the air is a little cooler.

This fortress is part of the fortifications which once belonged to the old town of Vratnik. Five bastions were used to fortify the wall, including this specific one, the Yellow Fortress – so named for the yellowish rock used.

However, the fortress was no longer used once the Austro-Hungarians took over in 1878, and so it fell into a bit of disrepair. Still, today it’s a beloved sunset spot, and it’s beautiful with its unique view from the white gravestones of the Muslim cemetery (Kovači Cemetery) just nearby it.

The Kovaci cemetery which you pass on your way to the Yellow Fort

Tip: It takes about 15 minutes to walk here from Baščaršija, though it is all uphill. There are signs which should point you in the right direction or you can have it marked on Google Maps / Maps.me

Go even higher at the White Bastion

The White Bastion, called Bijela Tabija, is even higher than the Yellow Fortress so the views are even more impressive. At 667 meters above sea level, you’ll definitely be huffing and puffing when you get to the top – but it’s worth it for the views.

Like the Yellow Fort, it is one of the five original fortifications that made up the defensive wall (the other three are no longer visible). Whereas the Yellow Fort was made of yellowish stone, the White Bastion was made of… well, you guessed it – white stone.

The impressive fortifications of the White Bastion

Archaeologists believe the building dates back to the end of the 14th century, and it was used to house ammunitions and shooters who were charged with protecting what was then the town of Vratnik. The remains are not in great condition but you can still walk amongst the thick defensive walls with cannon openings and imagine it in its heyday as one of the last checks against the advancing Austro-Hungarian armies.

Tip: It’s quite a hike to get here, so consider going by taxi or bus #51.

Go graffiti-hunting at the Sarajevo Bobsled Track

On Mount Trebević, you can find the ruins of the Sarajevo bobsled track from the Winter 1984 Olympics, which have been overrun with graffiti and tags in its abandonment.

During the siege, it was used by the Bosnian Serb army to house their artillery; now, it’s an informal open-air museum beloved by graffiti enthusiasts.

A graffiti lovers dream!

I went here on a tour, but my friend Gemma over at Two Scots Abroad made the trek on foot (read her excellent guide here). You can also go by the newly opened cable cars which have roared to life after a 26-year hiatus, which cost 20 marks / 10 euro.

Walk the “Tunnel of Hope”

Sarajevans survived the longest siege in modern history thanks to its secret weapon: its one link to the outside world, a tunnel underneath the airport runway that measured 800 meters in length, a meter in width, and 1.6 meters in height.

The tunnel was built rapidly and secretly in about 3 months, and rails were added so that carts could be used to transport food and weapons (and cigarettes, because #Balkans) from safe zones into Sarajevo. Without this tunnel, Sarajevo surely would have had to surrender, being cut off entirely from the outside world.

Now, the northern entrance of the tunnel is a museum, featuring a video about the tunnel, war photographs, military gear and uniforms, and various items that were smuggled in during its nearly 4 years under siege.

The lifeline of Sarajevo during the Siege

You can’t access the whole tunnel, but you can walk about 30 meters into it, and it’s a powerful experience imagining all the brave people who manned the tunnel and funneled necessary goods (and things that made life worth living) into Sarajevo, at great risk to their lives.

Where to Stay in Sarajevo

We’ve written a more comprehensive guide to where to stay in Sarajevo here, but if you just want our top pick per budget category, here’s a quick cheat sheet:

$ – BUDGET – HOSTEL FOR ME

An affordable Sarajevo hostel, Hostel For Me is also located in the vibrant Baščaršija quarter in the heart of downtown, near traditional restaurants and all the main sights of the city. The dorm rooms are well appointed and each has its own assigned locker. There are four bathrooms available, each with their own shower and hairdryer and free toiletries – music to a frequent hostel-stayer’s ears. There’s also common kitchen that is fully equipped.

Previous guests particularly love the staff’s friendliness and approachability and the free walking tour only for hostel guests that goes every day at 5 PM. The rooms are bright and colorful with a homey vibe, with a common lounge area, and a working area with power outlets and desks – great for digital nomads passing through.

Check prices and availability here

$$ – MID-RANGE – ISA BEGOV HAMAM HOTEL

If you want to feel like Ottoman royalty while in Sarajevo, head to Isa Begov Hamam Hotel, a beautiful and unique boutique hotel in Sarajevo. This hotel is converted from an actual hammam that is a cultural heritage site. Its current structure dates back to 1890 but its original structure dates back to the early days of Sarajevo, when it was built as part of a complex with the next-door Careva (Sultan’s) Mosque. It’s located in the heart of Baščaršija and you’ll feel like you’ve transported back in time staying in this unique hotel in Sarajevo.  

With free use of the hammam, two steam rooms, and small indoor pool, this is a fantastic hotel for those looking to relax while in Sarajevo. Free coffee and tea in the lobby as well as a free Turkish breakfast is included… and Turkish breakfast is one of the best meals in the world, loaded with delicious jams, cheeses, meats, and other treats. The hotel features vintage furniture, hand-carved with Ottoman details, handmade carpets, and wooden floors – a must for any design enthusiast.

Check prices and availability here

$$$ – LUXURY – HOTEL STORY

A beautiful 4 star hotel recently redesigned with a modern twist, Hotel Story is one of the finer luxury hotels in Sarajevo. The location is right in the heart of the Old Town, with most of Sarajevo’s best sights easily accessible on foot. The whole hotel has been recently renovated and has a lot of cute design elements that really personalize it and make it unique. The rooms are bright, spacious, and designed with aesthetics in mind. Little touches like towel warmers in the bathroom and shelves and seating areas in many of the rooms add a luxe touch.

Most of the rooms are on the huge side – perfect if you want to spread out and take up your space when you travel without feeling cramped in your room. The rooms have a few different kinds of bed configurations suiting a variety of travelers. Many of the rooms feature interesting draping curtains, offering privacy while still allowing in plenty of light. It offers free parking and a free shuttle as well.

Check prices and availability here

More Bosnia Travel Resources

If you’re planning a trip to Bosnia, we have a ton of resources for you! First of all, check out our guide to the most beautiful places in Bosnia so you can start planning your itinerary.

If you know you want to visit Mostar, we have a guide on where to stay in Mostar and the best Instagram spots there.

Since you’re planning to visit Sarajevo, we have even more for you. We also have a guide on the best Sarajevo tours, a guide on where to stay in Sarajevo, and finally a Sarajevo Instagram guide.

We’re creating new content on our site almost daily, so bookmark our Bosnia & Herzegovina page or our Balkans page to see what’s new!

Planning a Trip to Sarajevo? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

No matter where you travel in the Balkans, it’s always a good idea to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to both highly touristed sites and ones that are barely maintained, such as the bobsled track. You need to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance will help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

What have I missed? What are your favorite things to do in Sarajevo?