Last week I visited Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the second time in my life and for the second time I couldn’t help but feel blessed. My little weekend trip reminded me yet again how lucky I am to live in the Balkans. If you overlook the economic instability, the patriarchal oppression and the fact that the Serbian Dinar doesn’t go a long way in almost any country in the world, there is much to be appreciated. Living in Belgrade means that I am only a few hours away from amazing cities, rich history and breathtaking landscapes. My weekend trip proved that there is much to be seen close to home. As part of my Balkan Travel Guide series (which I just made up), I give you a little taste, an amuse-bouche if you will, of the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital. These are the top 9 things to do in Sarajevo.
1. Start the day at Sarajevo’s favourite meeting spot
Belgrade has the horse, Zagreb the clock, and Sarajevo has the Sebilj fountain.
As every city seems to have its favourite meeting place, I believe these landmarks shouldn’t be missed. Though often crowded with tourists and pigeons, these just add to its charm. You will enjoy the wooden, Ottoman-style fountain for its carvings and design, but also be grateful to know its location in case you ever get lost and ask for directions. This is one place everyone will know!
2. Walk the Baščaršija
The word čaršija, a remnant of the Osman Empire, was adopted into the region’s languages centuries ago. Čaršija is traditionally the economic and cultural center of a city. It was the location of businesses, local shops, almost always featuring a fountain and a religious temple. Many of these remain throughout the Balkans, but there is only one Baščaršija! The Sarajevo Baščaršija bears the prefix -baš, meaning first, primary or main, and the moment you step on its cobble streets, you will know why.
Small shops and handmade goods stretching as far as the eye can see, and the smell of strong Bosnian coffee and Sarajevo burek filling the nostrils. I am quite sure you will not find a place like this anywhere in the world.
3. Find a favourite buregdžinica
Maybe you’ve been to Belgrade and had a burek. Maybe you had it in one of the neighboring countries. However, you haven’t had it, not truly, until you’ve had it in Sarajevo.
Essentially, burek is a pastry made of flaky dough filled with meat. In many places, you can have it filled with cheese, spinach, potato, etc, but in Sarajevo they say, there’s only one burek (with meat), all the others are pita (pie or pastry). My favourite buregdžinica is Bosna, on Bravadžiluk Street, No 11, for purely sentimental reasons. It was the first place I had Sarajevo burek, and no matter where I’m staying, it’s always close. Top tip – make sure to order the homemade yoghurt with your breakfast.
4. Explore the Copper-smith’s shops
Walking around the Old town, you won’t be able to miss the beautiful, handcrafted items. The most famous are the coffee sets, with the ornate details, which make for a great gift for folks back home (or yourself). You will see all sorts of utensils that you never knew you needed until you saw them displayed in front of the shops.
5. See the 4 pillars of religion
I have often heard friends from Sarajevo call it the small Jerusalem, or the Jerusalem of Europe. What made Sarajevo the center of historic events, and unfortunately often turmoil, is its unique combination of people, cultures and religion.
The country was always on the borders of empires, changing hands, changing rules. The differences and conflict inspired writers, created the music epicenter of Yugoslavia and made the best ćevapi in the world. To this day, religion remains one of the most important of its characteristics and you will rarely find a city in the world that in such a small space holds a cathedral, an orthodox church, a Jewish temple and a mosque. Despite the past troubles, the city has always existed in symbiosis. If nothing else, you will appreciate the diversity of their architecture and the fact that despite everything that passed, they all still stand.
6. Shop on the Ferhadija Street
Whether you are looking for fashion or ice cream, this is the street in Sarajevo! It is always full of people, always crowded and happening. More than just a street, it’s another historic part of the city. At the point where it meets Titova Street (Tito’s street), you can see the eternal flame, a commemorative monument to the civilian victims of WWII. Furthermore, the street itself is a metaphor, a bridge that connects the west and east (old and new parts of the city), much like the whole of Balkan Peninsula.
7. Walk across the Latin Bridge
Records suggest that the first bridge existed in the mid 16th century. From the wooden structure of that time, to the stone river crossing of today, the bridge has seen many changes, mostly due to floods and other disasters. The architectural characteristic of the Latin bridge are the two ‘eyes’ – holes above the pillars – that are even used on the Sarajevo seal. The bridge bore the name Princip’s bridge during the time of Yugoslavia, after Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb who assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914. The northern end of the bridge is the exact location of the event, once exhibiting the stone footprints of Princip, moved into the Sarajevo museum few decades ago.
8. Take in the view from above
Sarajevo is famously situated on mountain slopes which means that the moment the sun sets, be it winter or summer, you will need a jacket. However, these hills also mean that there are opportunities for amazing views. Just head uphill on the Northern side of the city and you will find the Yellow Fortress. The Yellow or Jekovac Fortress is actually one of five bastions of the defensive wall of old town Vratnik. It is called after the yellow stones from which it is made. It is probably the favourite vantage point of the city. I recommend getting to it on foot as the steep and narrow streets are close to impossible to navigate by car, and there is no proper parking space near it.
9. Eat all the food
I already mentioned burek as the hallmark of Bosnian cuisine, and it deserves the first mention as it’s the most typical breakfast (or lunch, dinner and snack for the enthusiasts). As for the other delicacies, I will be dedicating an entire text to their greatness, and recommending my favourite spots to eat. Until then, don’t be afraid to ask the locals for recommendation. Good luck!
Have you ever been to Sarajevo, or maybe you want to visit? Share your thoughts and experiences with me down below! 😉