Most people have heard of Sarajevo but don’t quite remember it the first time you mention it. Some know it as the host of the 1984 winter Olympics when Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean broke records with their Bolero performance.
The more studious person will remember Sarajevo from history books as the place where all hell broke loose when Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand – marking the beginning of World War I.
But the city has changed a lot since those events, and its more recent history. It has changed dramatically in the last ten years, and today it attracts about half a million tourists annually – a number that only keeps increasing. Here’s why you should add it to your bucket list and visit Sarajevo in 2019.
1. The Old Town
Sarajevo Old Town is known to locals as Čaršija (short for Baščaršija). It is the heart of the city, and one of the busiest parts of Sarajevo.
From coffee shops to patisseries to shops that sell designer clothes – you can find everything here. A day in the Old Town would generally include a meal at a Ćevabdžinica (more on that in a later section), hookah in one of the many hookah bars, and a walk through the cobblestone alleys to burn off all those calories from the delicious Bosnian food.
If you want to buy some souvenirs, the Old Town is perfect for that. You can find dozens of souvenir shops. The most iconic Sarajevo souvenirs feature an imprint of Sebilj – a wooden fountain in the heart of Baščarija.
One thing that is very specific to Sarajevo is that you can find water fountains/faucets throughout the city. You can safely drink the water from all of them, and they are a great way to freshen up on a hot summer’s day. Sebilj is obviously the most famous one in the city, with the one near the Ghazi Husrev-beg Mosque being a close second. The ornate mosque is also a very popular tourist destination, mostly because of the iconic Ottoman architecture style of the building.
2. The Museums
There are lots of museums in Sarajevo, and a large portion of them have exhibitions dedicated to the war, which is a crucial part of Sarajevo’s history. One of the most prominent ones is the War Childhood Museum, which received the 2018 Council of Europe Museum Prize – one of the most prestigious awards in the museum world. It showcases letters, personal belongings, photographs, and even audio and video testimonials that attempt to illustrate what growing up during the war in Sarajevo was like.
The Gallery 11/07/95 is another museum dedicated to the war. The exhibition features photographs and names of 8,372 people who were killed in the Srebrenica tragedy. If you decide to visit this museum, it will be an emotional and haunting experience.
For those seeking something a little more light-hearted, a trip to the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina is recommended. The exhibitions there feature fossils from Sarajevo and its surroundings, a beautiful botanical garden best experienced in spring, several exhibitions showcasing the ethnology of the country and plenty more. This museum is also home of the Sarajevo Haggadah – one of the oldest Sephardic Jewish Haggadahs (a sacred text used for Passover blessings) in the world, believed to have originated in Barcelona in 1350.
Just a few metres away from this museum is the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has an amazing permanent exhibition – 15 Years by Jim Marshall. This exhibition features side-by-side photographs of the city one year after the war and fifteen years after. Definitely check this out as it really puts this into perspective and shows you what the city has been through.
Other interesting museums in the city include the Jewish Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Olympic Museum, and the Ars Aevi museum – one of the few museums that showcase contemporary art.
3. Sarajevo Film Festival
Every year in July or August, the Sarajevo Film Festival is held in the city. It is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the region and it brings some of the most famous actors in the world to the city. Some of the celebrities that were guests at the festival in more recent years have included Morgan Freeman, Nick Nolte, Orlando Bloom, Robert De Niro, Benicio Del Toro, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
The festival attracts thousands of tourists each year, making it the busiest time of the year in the city. The bars and restaurants are open late and the party doesn’t stop for the entire week!
Considered the largest film festival in southeast Europe, the festival showcases feature films, documentaries, and short films from all over the world in several different locations throughout the city. That includes open-air film screenings which are a favourite with locals during the summer evenings.
The main festival area is in the city centre, with the Sarajevo National Theatre being at the centre of the event. All the films from the competition programme that are being premiered are shown there. There is also a red carpet event – so head down for celebrity sightings!
4. So Much Food: Part 1 (Traditional Cuisine)
If you ask any Sarajevan what’s the first food you should try when you arrive there, 99% will tell you ćevapi.
Ćevapi (kebabs) are a traditional Bosnian dish which you can find in any part of the city. But for the best ones, head to ćevabdžinica in the Old Town (Baščarsija). These are minced meat kebabs served in somun (flatbread), usually with onions, kaymak and sometimes chilli peppers. By far one of the tastiest dishes you can eat in Sarajevo!
Another popular traditional dish is pita (pie). But Bosnians do pie a bit differently than everyone else – the dough is spread paper thin and then filled with either meat (burek), cheese (sirnica), potato (krompiruša) or greens (usually spinach or beta – zeljanica). The dough is then rolled inwards and transferred to the pan for baking. Because the dough is very thin, it is always crispy on the outside. To find these tasty treats, head to any place that has the sign buregdčinica above the door – that’s where you’ll find this tasty traditional dish.
I haven’t forgotten about my fellow sweet tooths – traditional Bosnian cuisine includes lots of desserts as well. Tulumbe are a very tasty dessert – they are made by frying dough, and they are similar to churros in shape. The fried dough is covered with agda (water boiled with sugar), and left to rest to absorb the sweet water. This makes them soft rather than crunchy, very sweet and extra delicious.
Now, that’s just one of the many tasty desserts you can have here. Others include tufahije (apples filled with ground walnuts), baklava (pastry filled with chopped nuts), rahat lokum (dessert rolls made with butter, flour and sugar) and many more. Head to one of the patisseries in the Old Town, to try any one of these desserts.
5. So Much Food: Part 2 (International Cuisine)
Although the city is famous for its traditional dishes, there are several places that truly feel like you’ve teleported to a different country. From American-style burgers to sushi – the food in Sarajevo will rarely disappoint your taste buds.
Perhaps the best example of this is the Da Vincenzo restaurant – a tiny tavern in the city centre, with delicious Sicilian cuisine. This is actually a remarkable story – Giancarlo Di Vincenzo, the chef in the
restaurant, was visiting friends who worked in Sarajevo. He fell in love with the city (and a Sarajevan woman), so he actually sold his restaurant in Sicily and decided to open one there.
Bon Appetit is also a restaurant worth mentioning since it is one of the best-rated places in the city. The menu is diverse, ranging from burgers and pasta to octopus, with vegetarian options.
The food is of world-class quality and every dish is as delicious as it sounds.
The restaurant is a bit hard to find – it is tucked away near the Holiday hotel and the UNITIC buildings.
For the best macarons in the city, head to Mrvica. It’s a cafe/bakery/restaurant, where you can pop in for a quick coffee or go for lunch with dessert. The savoury menu mostly features salads and sandwiches, and the dessert section will appeal to everyone with a taste for chocolate. The hot brownie with ice cream and the triple chocolate cake are something you must try if you love very chocolaty desserts.
6. Proximity To The Mountains
Sarajevo lies in a valley, and it is surrounded by mountains. Which means that, wherever you are in the city, you can be on a mountain in less than 40 minutes – if you drive. This is perfect for people who love skiing or snowboarding since they have options. Instead of booking an expensive apartment and committing to the trails of a single mountain, you can book a place in the city and explore a new one daily.
In the summer, the mountains are a perfect place where you can escape the city heat and cool down for a bit. You can go for a picnic, go hiking, or just have a fun outing with friends. On the Igman mountain there are actually designated areas where you can light a fire and have a barbecue with your friends – all you need is a cooking grid. This is also the mountain that is the best option for hikers since it has the most diverse trails in the forest. And due to vast meadows and grasslands, it’s also a great place to play some football or rugby with friends.
Jahorina and Bjelašnica are the best spots for skiing and snowboarding, with the best and longest trails. In fact, this year all of the mountains are home of the European Youth Olympic Festival, which will
revive some of the city’s old glory.
And if you don’t have a car, you should head to the Trebević mountain. You can get there from city centre in about 10 minutes, thanks to the cable car – an iconic piece of Sarajevo history. It was originally built and opened for public in 1959, but it was destroyed during the war. Thanks to foreign donations the cable car was renovated in 2018, and it opened to the public less than a year ago.
You can get tickets on the Bistrik hill, which is a short walk away from the Old Town. You also get in the cable car there, and it takes you to Trebević in just a few minutes. On this mountain, you can explore the abandoned bobsleigh track, which was built for the 1984 Olympics. The track is now covered in graffiti, and it makes an awesome background for photos.
Article contributed by Anna from Expert World Travel:
Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has travelled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on her travel blog with her husband.