Sarajevo was never on my bucket list. It was a destination I chose because I needed a place to spend a layover in for a couple of days before I proceeded to my next destination. It was not a place that I thought I will be writing a post on ‘Things to Do in Sarajevo’ a few months later. But if there was one city that blew me away last year, then it has got to be Sarajevo. I know you clicked to find out about Billy. Don’t worry. I will get to him soon enough. Just a little patience and 3000+ words to go. So in this post, I write about my Sarajevo itinerary and what is there to do in Sarajevo in 2 days.
Table Of Contents
- 1 Things to Do in Sarajevo (A 2 day Sarajevo Itinerary)
- 1.1 Where is Sarajevo?
- 1.2 So how did I end up going to Sarajevo?
- 1.3 Do Indians need a separate visa for Bosnia and Herzegovina?
- 1.4 How to get to Sarajevo?
- 1.5 Bus Station Sarajevo
- 1.6 Where to stay in Sarajevo
- 1.7 Why my Sarajevo trip started off on a wrong foot?
- 1.8 History of Sarajevo
- 1.9 The currency of Bosnia and Herzegovina
- 1.10 Best things to do in Sarajevo Bosnia
- 1.10.1 Free walking tour Sarajevo
- 1.10.2 Sarajevo Roses
- 1.10.3 Museum of War Childhood – Sarajevo Sightseeing
- 1.10.4 Latin Bridge
- 1.10.5 Visit the Vijecnica during your holiday in Sarajevo
- 1.10.6 Gallery 11/07/95 – Sarajevo points of interest
- 1.10.7 Sarajevo tunnel
- 1.10.8 Getting hit with a wave of Nostalgia while getting lost in the streets of Sarajevo
- 1.10.9 Yellow Fortress and Kovači Memorial Cemetery
- 1.10.10 Roam the Old Town Sarajevo
- 1.10.11 Take a cable car up Mount Trebević and go visit the abandoned Bobsled track from 1984 Olympics
- 1.10.12 Go drink some Bosnian coffee or Rakija while you watch people walking by
- 1.10.13 Buy Souvenirs from one of the local shops
- 1.10.14 Take the elevator up to the top floor of Hotel Hecco Deluxe and catch the views from there or meet people like Billy
- 1.10.15 Take some day trips to nearby places near Sarajevo
- 1.11 Getting Out of Sarajevo
- 1.12 Conclusion
Things to Do in Sarajevo (A 2 day Sarajevo Itinerary)
Where is Sarajevo?
I always add this section since I used to be literally clueless when it came to Geography in School. Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Geographically, it is located almost near the geometric centre of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Closest famous cities are Dubrovnik (250 Kms), Split (235 kms) and Zagreb (400 kms) in Croatia, Belgrade (300 kms) in Serbia and Kotor (260 kms) in Montenegro.
So how did I end up going to Sarajevo?
So, I am sitting in my hotel room in Salzburg and I have been nursing myself back to good health after a round of fever and a bad bout of coughing. It is the last day before I can cancel my hotel reservations in Belgrade without losing money. My initial plan was to go to Belgrade after Ljubljana and then proceed to Kotor from there. However, I was finding it difficult to find direct buses from Ljubljana to Belgrade. Most of them included me changing buses at Zagreb in the middle of the night and as a solo female traveller, I was not comfortable doing that. I read multiple accounts of people being robbed in trains to Belgrade and I didn’t feel comfortable doing that either. Being sick doesn’t help either and I finally ditch my plans to go to Belgrade during this trip. While looking for alternate options, I come across Sarajevo. I haven’t done much research about the city but I still end up booking my bus tickets to Sarajevo. Anyway, I have lots of work to finish and I decided I will choose Sarajevo as a layover city while I finish my pending tasks.
Do Indians need a separate visa for Bosnia and Herzegovina?
I did not have a separate visa for Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, I had a multiple entry Schengen visa and hence this was more than enough even though Bosnia is not part of the Schengen zone. You are allowed to stay for 15 days in a 180 day period if you have a valid multiple-entry Schengen visa.
How to get to Sarajevo?
By Air: The easiest way to get to Sarajevo is to fly there. You have an option of taking one of the direct flights to Sarajevo from many cities in Europe. Since mine was a last-minute decision to go there, the tickets were too expensive and it was not a viable option for me.
By Train: To tell the truth, I have no clue if you can even take a train to Sarajevo from outside Bosnia. Apparently, even trains within Bosnia are sparse and I could find no option online to take a direct train from Ljubljana to Sarajevo.
Rent a car in Sarajevo: Since Sarajevo and Bosnia has such a violent history, many of the rental companies from outside Bosnia and Herzegovina will refuse to rent out a car to you to drive in Bosnia. Check with the rental company first before finalising your plans. I didn’t see a need to rent a car in Sarajevo once I got there.
By Bus: This is the option I finally took. Flixbuses operates a bus daily from Ljubljana to Sarajevo at 1 AM and it takes approximately 11 hours to get there. It is cheap as well as a direct option. But one of the biggest disadvantages of taking a bus is the number of border crossings. To reach Sarajevo from Ljubljana, you have to pass through Croatia which means that there will be at least 4 border crossings. Since you are going by bus, you will have to get down every time, pass through immigration, wait for everyone on the bus to pass immigration and then only you will be allowed back on the bus. Trust me it is not fun to do this at 4-5 AM in the morning.
Take a tour from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo: If you do not have time for spending 2 days in Sarajevo, then one of the most popular things is to take a tour from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo. I wouldn’t recommend this since I sincerely believe that you need at least a few days to visit Sarajevo.
Bus Station Sarajevo
I tend not to be swayed by my first impressions of a place. And my initial impression of Sarajevo was not good. The Autobuska stanica (main bus station) is not that well maintained and it was disheartening to see such a sad state of affairs. Besides, I was tired after a long 11-hour journey and my mobile network had stopped working the minute we entered Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thankfully, the wifi was working and I found out that it was around 3-4Kms to my hotel. There were many cabs available and they were willing to come for a reasonable price.
Want to know more about places like Sarajevo to visit in Europe? Then check out my ebook below.
Where to stay in Sarajevo
I always love staying in the city center and even in Sarajevo, I decided to stay in the old town since it was readily accessible. I chose a hotel right in the centre of the Stari Grad municipality near the Baščaršija, the cultural and historical centre of the city. I loved the place since it was conveniently located and was walking distance from most of the Sarajevo attractions. Additionally, the front office staff were extremely friendly and gave me many tips on how to navigate the city better. The room size was not that small as compared to most rooms in Europe. Check out more details on Old town hotel, Sarajevo below.
You can find many such hotels in Sarajevo without any difficulty.
Why my Sarajevo trip started off on a wrong foot?
The journey from Ljubljana to Sarajevo was really exhausting and tiring. The bus journey had too many immigration points and I was famished by the time I got to Sarajevo. So the first thing I did after dumping my luggage in the hotel room was to go looking for vegetarian food in Sarajevo. It was a little difficult to find and I finally had to settle for a crappy pasta dish from a nearby restaurant. As I was waiting for my food to come and was browsing the internet using their WiFi, I got to know that Anthony Bourdain had died. He was a pioneer from the travel industry and his sudden death was a shocking reminder of how volatile life is. I ended up being in a bad mood for the rest of the day.
History of Sarajevo
I think before I write about the places to see in Sarajevo, we need to discuss a bit about Sarajevo’s history. As a city that has been troubled in the past, there are many reasons that Sarajevo has been avoided till now. The assassination in Sarajevo of the Heir of the Austria-Hungarian throne, Ferdinand and his wife is considered to be one of the catalysts that eventually led to the beginning of World War 1. But the siege of Sarajevo by the Yugoslav’s army between 1992 and 1996 is one of the reasons for which Sarajevo is notoriously known for. Growing up as a kid in the 90s, Sarajevo was mostly known as the place where the war was happening and that is all you knew about it. The war got over more than 20 years ago but there are many stark reminders of a brutal war that took too many years ago. Many people asked me if it was safe to go to Sarajevo alone. I went solo and it was one of the most eye-opening cities I have been to in recent times. All I ask is for you to go with an open mind and slowly understand the nuances of the soul of the city.
Sarajevo is not like most other cities in Europe and for a second I wondered if I was still in Europe.
The currency of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The convertible mark (KM or BAM) is the currency used in Bosnia. Some shops and some taxi drivers do accept Euros. One Euro is equivalent to 2 KM. But however, it is advised to withdraw cash from the ATM’s or exchange it at one of the many places around the city. Some of the smaller souvenir shops and food shops did not accept Euros and that was one of the reasons I exchanged around 20 Euros for my 2 days in Sarajevo. The bigger shops do accept credit cards. I will definitely come to this point soon enough.
Best things to do in Sarajevo Bosnia
There are many things to see in Sarajevo and I am listing them here as part of my Sarajevo visit in no particular order.
Free walking tour Sarajevo
One of the best ways to see Sarajevo is through a free walking tour in Sarajevo. Most walking tours start in Old town Sarajevo and take you through the history of Sarajevo through the eyes of the locals. One of the most popular walking tours in Sarajevo is that of Neno and friends walking tour. Neno was a kid during the Sarajevo siege and he along with his friends take us through their beloved city, Sarajevo. It is a free tour on the lines of a voluntary tip system.
For me, Sarajevo was an emotional city. It is difficult not to feel upset when you are reminded about the brutalities of the war. All around Sarajevo, you will find something called Sarajevo roses. Sarajevo was repeatedly bombed during the siege which in turn left many streets and buildings damaged. As a tribute to the people who died during the war, these empty craters were filled with red resin and are famously called the Sarajevo roses. The number of Sarajevo red roses are reducing day by day since the streets are getting restored and people are moving on. But you can still find a few around the city.
Museum of War Childhood – Sarajevo Sightseeing
I couldn’t visit this museum when I was in Sarajevo. But I have heard the War Childhood Museum was recently awarded the Best Museum in Europe in 2018. It features many of the objects and memories associated with people who were children when the war was going on.
Latin Bridge was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It is built on the river Miljacka. By looking at the bridge, it looks like an ordinary bridge. Who would have thought such a simple place like this would be one of the reasons that led to World War 1 in 1914. It is funny how to see the river is dirty but apparently the sewer system leaks faecal matter into the river at different points. The Latin bridge will usually be a part of any walking tour you take. You can find plaques commemorating the assassination at this location.
Visit the Vijecnica during your holiday in Sarajevo
This light orangish/pink building stands out quite distinctively near Old town Sarajevo. It’s Neo-Moorish architecture really stands out. But before visiting this city hall, I didn’t know that the building had such a tragic history. Build in the late 1800s, this building was used as a National library and had some rare collections of books. However, during the war, the building was completely destroyed and most of the books were lost in the flames. One of the most vivid images of the war in Sarajevo has been that of Vedran Smailović or popularly known as the ‘Cellist of Pianist’ playing in the ruins of this building. This building was eventually restored and opened in 2014 and now acts as a city hall. You can visit the building and view one of the exhibitions with photos of Sarajevo from 1914 – 2014 for around 10 KM. It is definitely recommended as one of the things to do in answer to the question of what to do in Sarajevo.
Gallery 11/07/95 – Sarajevo points of interest
Don’t forget to head to the Srebenica gallery which is an art memorial set up in memory of the genocide in Srebenica. During the massacre, more than 8000 Bosnians lost their lives and this gallery is another stark reminder of the war. This genocide is considered to be one of the worst crimes committed on European soil post world war 2.
It is difficult to go to this landmark and not cry. It is easier to take a tour here. Learn of how this 800 m tunnel was the connecting point to link the city of Sarajevo with the Bosnian territory on the other side of Sarajevo airport. It is also called Tunnel Spasa and Tunnel of hope. During the war, it was a way for the Bosnian army to transport several items including food and weapons from outside Sarajevo. Many civilians also used the tunnel as a means to escape the war. Today, part of the tunnel is accessible (around 20meters) and the house whose cellar served as the entrance of the Sarajevo tunnel was converted into a private museum. During your drive to the tunnel, pass by and learn more about the infamous Sniper Alley.
Getting hit with a wave of Nostalgia while getting lost in the streets of Sarajevo
While visiting Sarajevo, it is difficult not to see the white burial stones up in the mountain. I was curious on how to get there and I went and enquired at my hotel’s reception (advantage of having a centrally located hotel). I was told to keep walking past the fountain at Baščaršija square and then take one of the roads on the right up the hill. But as usual, your directionally challenged friend (aka me) got confused and ended up taking the wrong road. It was a steep climb and it was not until 15-20 mins later that I realised that I was on the wrong route. I was in between many houses of Sarajevo and there was no cemetery in sight. I still continued up and that is when an old Merc passed me by. It reminded me of the old car that my dad owned in the late 90s. I kept walking and soon a car equivalent to the Renault Duster (don’t know what it is called in Europe though) drove by. It was such a coincidence since that is the car I drive these days. But the funny thing is that it didn’t end there. As I kept huffing and puffing up the hill, I saw an old Peugeot passing by. The Peugeot 305 was the first car my dad owned and that is when nostalgia hit me. It was like my entire life was flashing in front of my eyes and felt like the universe was sending me a message (I still haven’t understood what the message was though). I wish I was making this up. But I am not. I was struck by the coincidence too But I think my visit to Sarajevo was kind of a reminder of how a city was forced to remain two decades behind as well as another reminder on how they are moving on from the past. Roaming the Sarajevo streets is definitely one of the unusual things to do in Sarajevo.
Yellow Fortress and Kovači Memorial Cemetery
I finally realised my folly and decided to climb down the hill. I took the next right and continued walking up for another 15 minutes before I got to the cemetery. The Kovaci Memorial cemetery is where thousands of Bosnians who lost their lives in the war are buried. It is such a sad spot and I couldn’t stand being there for more than a few minutes. I continued my way up the Yellow Bastion and came to a spot to see a gorgeous view of the city. Since it was Ramadhan, I got there just as the canyon burst to signal the end of the fasting time. That sunset is something that I will never forget. You can even walk higher to the White fortress to get a better view.
Roam the Old Town Sarajevo
I love exploring the old town in every city centre I visit and that is one of the reasons I love staying in the centre. The first thing that struck me when I started roaming around was how similar the centre was to Jerusalem, one of my favourite cities. No wonder Sarajevo is called as the European Jerusalem or the point where East meets West. I am not sure if it is just the streets or the smells that come from all around. Or is it because it is as religiously diverse as Jerusalem? While I roamed the Baščaršija (translates to the main Bazaar in Turkish) area, I came across multiple mosques including the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, the Jewish museum as well as the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Also, don’t forget to take a sip from the Sebilj fountain. It is similar to the Trevi fountain in Rome and legend says that you will return if you drink from the fountain.
Take a cable car up Mount Trebević and go visit the abandoned Bobsled track from 1984 Olympics
You have an option to either hike up Trebevic mountain or take a cable car that operates during the summer months to get some awesome views of the Sarajevo city. While you are there, go look at the abandoned Bobsled track which was once used by the Serbs during the war as a vantage point.
Go drink some Bosnian coffee or Rakija while you watch people walking by
Depending on your mood, decide if you want to have a cup of Bosnian coffee or Rakija (fruit brandy). Order one of these and then spend the entire evening observing the people of Sarajevo. It was interesting to see how many of the Bosnian men looked like my husband (then boyfriend). Tall and heavily built (clearly I have a type. 🙂 ). Coincidentally, I also got stared at a lot since they hadn’t seen many solo Indian women in Sarajevo.
There is nothing much to write about the vegetarian food scene in Sarajevo. All I got there were some pizzas or plates of pasta. However, I enjoyed the thick and bitter Bosnian coffee along with some sweet treats like Tulumbe/Ćetenija/Uštipci.
Buy Souvenirs from one of the local shops
The economy here is still recovering and you can see many dust-laden shops all around the old town. I always pick up magnets and postcards on my travels. But this time I ended up buying a miniature of a Bosnian home (not sure what they are called).
Take the elevator up to the top floor of Hotel Hecco Deluxe and catch the views from there or meet people like Billy
One of the best tips I got from the locals was to go to the eternal flame. Find the silver door opposite to it and then go all the way up to the cafe. Many people may argue that the Avaz twist tower has the best views of the city. But for me, this view was the highlight of my trip to Sarajevo. There is a small cafe up there. Even though it is not mandatory to buy anything, I spent one evening here catching another glorious sunset of the city of Sarajevo with another cup of Bosnian coffee. As I was clicking away, two young adults approached me. Only one of them spoke broken English. His friend Billy wanted a photo and asked if I would click a photo of his friend with my DSLR. I obliged but I was confused about how I will send the photos to him. Billy immediately gave me his Instagram id and I promised that I will send him the photos as soon as I had a network.
It wasn’t days later when I was backing up the photos in my hotel room in Kotor that I came across his photo. I immediately opened up my Instagram to send him the photos. From his Instagram account, I came to know that his name was short for Bilal. There is nothing remarkable about the photo but his eyes show a glimmer of hope and that is why I love the photo. His eyes seem to be looking for answers and hopefully, he finds his answers soon.
I contemplated sharing his photo to the world but in the end, decided not to. Billy deserves his anonymity. He did share the photo on his Instagram account a few days later.
Take some day trips to nearby places near Sarajevo
I ended up spending a few more days in Mostar. But if you decide to spend more days in Sarajevo, you can look at doing one of the below day trips from Sarajevo.
Getting Out of Sarajevo
I was scheduled to leave Sarajevo on a 7 AM morning bus from Sarajevo to Kotor. I did look for tickets online but could not find any online. I took a taxi to the bus station around 6 AM. I went to the counter to buy tickets but could not buy them since the bus station only accepted cash in the convertible mark. I did not have enough cash with me and only had Euros. The nearby ATM was not working and I spent the next 45 minutes looking for an ATM. Thankfully, a cab driver who had come to drop other passengers agreed to take me and my luggage to the nearest ATM. He didn’t want to charge me but I was so grateful for his help that I ended up paying him an additional tip. Perils of solo travel and how people around rise up to help you. I made it to the bus station with 5 minutes to spare.
As you can see from the post, there are multiple things to do in Sarajevo during your Sarajevo itinerary. I enjoyed my time in Sarajevo and would love to go back one day.
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