Bosnia and Herzegovina is a truly exceptional Balkan country, whose natural beauty is matched by its diverse cultural heritage, delicious food, and complex history. While the word “Bosnia” used to evoke images of war from the 1990s, I found that while I was living in the region in 2014-2016, most people mentioned Bosnia when describing up-and-coming European tourist destinations. I visited Sarajevo in the summer of 2003, and in 2015 I went to Mostar and Medugorje. It was impressive to see how much had changed in Bosnia over the course of 12 years!
A note on landmines: while the main tourist sites are completely safe, there are still some landmines and unexploded ordinance buried in remote areas of Bosnia. (After all, even parts of France still have munitions coming up from WWI!) If you’re going off the beaten track, just do some advance research and look out for landmine signs. In 2003, I was taking a night bus from Bosnia to Serbia and I had to use the restroom. As there wasn’t one on the bus, our driver pulled the entire bus off the side of the road and pointed to an overgrown field. I ran a few steps into the field and then remembered the mine risk. I quickly used the “restroom’ and then carefully retraced my footsteps back to the bus. Yikes!
From what I understand, Sarajevo has changed dramatically since I visited with my dad in 2003. At that time, many buildings were still pockmarked from small arms fire and NATO troops were still out on the streets. But even at that time, a sense of normalcy had returned to the city and it had a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere.
Starting at the ornate City Hall building downtown, we wandered up to the Baščaršija, an old marketplace that dates back hundreds of years. It had a few coffee shops tucked here and there, serving Turkish coffee and sweets. There were plenty of souvenir stalls selling (among other things) hammered-copper plates and bowls, coffee pots, jewelry, as well as ink pens fashioned from spent 50-caliber shell casings.
Walking along towards the Miljacka river near the Latin Bridge is the Archduke Ferdinand Museum, located at the spot where he was assassinated (sparking WWI). I understand there’s a monument there– we made several passes around the area (and asked a few people) but couldn’t find it!
Centered around the landmark clock tower are several museums and monuments that focus on the Bosnian War, including the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity, a photo exhibit on the Srebrenica Massacre, and (further up the road) the Vječna Vatra war memorial.
For a more uplifting experience, there are several famous places of worship scattered throughout the downtown area, including the Church of the Nativity and the Ottoman-era Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque. I also enjoyed visiting the Pijaca Markale, the Sarajevo produce market, which had one of the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten!
Something for Next Time: As Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, they have a museum marking the occasion. If you’re willing to venture further outside of town, there’s an abandoned bobsled track, as well as the remains of an old hotel.
Driving to Mostar from Montenegro in 2015, we passed through the scenic town of Trebinje and got coffee in a small roadside cafe in the eastern Republika Srpska region. The drive was very scenic and I’ve marked Trebinje as a city to return to, as it looked quite inviting!
Mostar is a picturesque town made of stone, with Ottoman-era architecture, straddling the Neretva River. While it was the scene of intense fighting during the Bosnian War, it has transformed into a tourist hot spot in recent years. Perhaps the city’s most famous feature — the Stari Most bridge — was a 16th century Ottoman bridge that was destroyed in fighting in 1993 and rebuilt in 2004. It straddles a deep river gorge with turquoise mountain water running underneath — it really ties the city together! There were several guys wearing Speedos who would dive off the bridge into the river below — but not before drumming up a large crowd of tourists and seeking payouts from people to watch it happen. Just over the bridge, on the east bank of the river is an informative small museum with a short video on the bridge’s history — containing some footage of its destruction and reconstruction.
We stayed at B&B Marshall, which is by a 16th-century Ottoman hammam bathhouse on the west side of the river. From there, it was only a few minutes’ walk to the Stari Most, passing several souvenir stands and restaurants along the way. The food is classic Balkan fare — grilled meat platters, chicken with sauce, casseroles, etc. — heavy and delicious! I enjoyed exploring the neighborhood surrounding that area, with its small bridges, stone buildings, and restaurants tucked away alongside small streams.
Heading north along the river on the east bank, there were plenty of souvenir shops and cafes. Beyond that, I encountered several people selling produce, honey, jam and other home-made products. They had large (one-liter) jars of honey for appx 2-3 dollars, and jars of berry-infused moonshine for about the same price– a great value! Walking down to the other end of town, I saw a group of men and women posing for a wedding (?) ceremony in front of the bridge — it makes a nice backdrop!
We then drove to southern town of Medugorje and hiked up the Apparition Hill, just outside of town, where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to several people over the years. The path up isn’t too far but it is very rocky, so wear good shoes! There is a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top, and it offers a nice view over the valley below. The city of Medugorje itself has a few gift shops and restaurants, but is otherwise pretty sleepy. I stopped in the Parish Center church, which has a few nice exhibits, as well.
Something for Next Time: Next time I’ll try to get out of the cities and do some hiking! There are plenty of waterfalls scattered throughout the mountainous country such as the one at Bliha. I’d also like to get to Visko and see the Pyramid of the Sun. (Who knew Bosnia had pyramids??)