It did not take long for Sarajevo to become one of my favorite cities in the Balkans. Despite being a smaller city, Sarajevo packs one hell of a punch. I can’t think of many other cities that I’ve been to that has as much character and personality as Sarajevo. Oozing with history, culture, and beauty, Sarajevo is a truly special place. Throw in some vibrant nightlife, hiking trails, and affordable prices, and you’ve got yourself as backpacker-friendly of a city as you can imagine. Make sure to include Sarajevo on your Balkan backpacking itinerary.
What To Know Before Going to Bosnia
Sarajevo is a great entry point to the country of Bosnia. I’m not just saying that because it is the cheapest place to fly into, either. As the capital and largest city of Bosnia, it’s a great place to get your feet set and slowly immerse yourself into Bosnia’s culture, language, and way of life. It’s easy to get by in Sarajevo with just English. Your hostel or hotel receptionist will definitely speak English, as will most restaurant and museum staff within the city center. From there, you can slowly begin to delve deeper into Bosnia.
The currency of Bosnia is the Bosnian Mark, which has a value of about half a euro. Bosnia and Herzegovina isn’t a member of the European Union yet, although it has applied for membership. The cost of living in Bosnia is very low, and makes it a great budget-friendly European destination. You can easily live off of less than $20 a day in Bosnia, including accommodation and food. The people in Bosnia are among the friendliest that I’ve encountered in my travels. They are very welcoming and hospitable to travelers.
As far as COVID entry requirements, Bosnia doesn’t seem to have any. I crossed over into Bosnia from Montenegro and they literally didn’t even check my passport. Leaving Bosnia into Croatia was a bit stricter, as can be expected since Croatia is part of the E.U. Visiting Sarajevo during COVID felt pretty normal, although nightlife was still relatively shut down. Masks were “required” in most indoor establishments like grocery stores and museums, although a lot of places were a lot more relaxed about it. Bosnia does have a large Muslim population, but Sarajevo overall is pretty liberal and relaxed. Unless you’re going to mosques, you won’t have to dress a certain way. Alcohol is still served pretty much everywhere in Sarajevo, along with the multitude of hookah bars.
How To Get To Sarajevo
As the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo is pretty easily accessible. Flights, trains, and buses all stop by this bustling Balkan city.
Getting to Sarajevo By Flight
Sarajevo has an airport and you’ll be able to find cheap flights to and from Sarajevo from most major European cities. The airport is just 12 kilometers away from downtown Sarajevo. The taxi will cost around 10 euros, or you can catch the local bus for 1 euro. The ride should take about 30 minutes either way, so I’d recommend saving a little money and just hopping on the airport bus.
Getting to Sarajevo By Bus
Buses are the cheapest and most common way to get to and from Sarajevo. Buses are pretty straightforward, so I won’t go into detail. Although accurate timetables can’t really be found online for the Balkan countries, you can use Rome2Rio or busticket4.me to get an idea of bus schedules and departures.
Getting to Sarajevo By Train
Bosnia hasn’t developed their rail system as well as other European countries. It is possible to get to Sarajevo by train, though. If you’re coming from Mostar, Sarajevo is only a couple of hours away. Zagreb also has trains to and from Sarajevo, and is much better connected to the rest of Europe. Zagreb is another cool capital city that is worth the visit, so if you’re stopping through there, you can get to Sarajevo directly from their train station.
How To Get Around Sarajevo
Sarajevo has a great public transportation system, consisting of buses and trams. If you don’t feel like walking, you don’t have to. For most travelers though, walking should do just fine. Sarajevo is not that big of a city. If you’re staying somewhere centrally located in downtown Sarajevo, you won’t have much need for public transportation. Maybe you’ll take the cable cars up to Trebenic Mountain, but aside from that, most of Sarajevo’s attractions are within walking distance. It’s a smaller city, so unless you’re staying in the suburbs, your feet should be able to take you everywhere you need to go.
Where To Stay in Sarajevo
Sarajevo has no shortage of hostels to choose from. Whether you want to be right in the heart of all the action, or tucked away in a quieter neighborhood, Sarajevo’s got something for you.
Hostel Kucha is where I stayed, and nice as it is, boy was it a walk to get up here. It’s part of the I Travel Balkans network of hostels, a network that I grew to trust throughout my time in the Balkans. Kucha is clean, modern, and beautifully-designed. The staff are super welcoming and dedicated to making sure that travelers have an excellent experience in Sarajevo. Like I mentioned, it is a short but steep hike up from the city center. Thankfully, if your legs are too tired from exploring Sarajevo, public transportation is also an option. A bus drops you off at the bakery across from Hostel Kucha. Ask reception for the details. Hostel Kucha is worth the walk.
Hostel Balkan Han
This hostel was recommended to me, but I opted for Hostel Kucha. At times, I wish I stayed here because its location is much more ideal. Hostel Balkan Han is right in the center of Sarajevo, putting you steps away from all of the action.
Sarajevo is a year-round destination, and doesn’t really experience the high seasons and inflated prices that the coastal destinations of the Balkans experience. Finding accommodation in Sarajevo is very easy and affordable, with hostel dorms starting as low as $7. Of course, feel free to splurge a little bit and book one of the nicer places that I mentioned above. Sarajevo is as backpacker-friendly as it gets.
The Best Things to do in Sarajevo
Sarajevo has a ton of stuff to do. The insane amount of history that happened here is mind-blowing and often heartbreaking. One can’t visit Sarajevo without doing their best to immerse themselves in its history and culture. Boasting centuries and centuries of history, Sarajevo might be one of the most intriguing cities in Europe.
Take A Free Walking Tour of Sarajevo
I love free walking tours, especially in cities with an intense history. One can walk around Sarajevo and see the sights, but without knowing the stories and significance behind its locations, it doesn’t mean anything. There are a few walking tours you can do, but I’d recommend taking a walking tour centered around the war. My hostel recommended the company Sarajevo Walking Tours. They run free walking tours, which by now you know means you just tip them whatever you feel they were worth at the end. The two tours recommended by my hostel were East Meets West and War Scars. The first one focuses more on Sarajevo and its history, and the second one focuses more on the war and its impact.
The Abandoned Bobsled and Luge Track
Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, and the mountains surrounding Sarajevo became home to skiers, snowboarders, and bobsledders. Ten years later, those same mountains would be used by the Serbs as they sieged Sarajevo for four years. These days, the mountain is used mainly by hikers, but remnants of the past still remain. One of Sarajevo’s most popular attractions is the abandoned bobsled track at the top of Trebenic Mountain. I don’t know why this was so cool, but it was. If you take the cable car or hike up Trebenic Mountain, you’ll find the abandoned Olympic bobsled and luge track. You can spend an hour or so walking along this track and taking some artsy photos. It’s pretty cool to see, and definitely one of the more unique hikes I’ve ever done.
Hike Around Trebenic Mountain
Aside from the abandoned bobsled track, Trebenic Mountain has plenty of great hiking trails. You can hike up there from the city, but I’d recommend taking the scenic cable car ride. You can go for a round trip ride or take a one-way and hike back down. Once you get up here, you’ll find maps showing all the hiking trails in the area. It’s a great way to get out of the city and into nature.
Roam Through the Neighborhood of Bascarsija
You’re naturally going to end up here, as it is Sarajevo’s most central and picturesque neighborhood. It has a very cool vibe to it, and has often been compared to like Istanbul-lite. Well, Istanbul-lite-lite-lite, because Sarajevo is much tinier than Istanbul. This is the area you’ll want to spend time in if you like to wander, eat, learn about history, and shop. Basically, this is simply where you’ll want to be.
Go Museum Hopping
Even if you’re not the type of traveler who likes museums, Sarajevo has a few that can’t be missed. Here are some of my favorites.
This small museum gives you an in-depth look at the Siege of Sarajevo. It takes an alternative angle, so along with the memorials to those lost in the siege and genocide, it also gives a look at how the Sarajevans adapted to life during those long years.
Museum of Crimes Against Humanity
This was one of the most gruesome museums I have ever been to in my life. Be warned, it is not for the faint of heart. The pictures are raw and unfiltered, and are often NSFL. The stories you’ll read about the war and genocide here are devastating.
The other museums you can visit in Sarajevo are the Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918, which covers Austro-Hungarian rule of Bosnia up until World War I. The National Gallery, National Museum, The Olympic Museum, and The War Childhood Museum are a few others that you can check out while you’re in Sarajevo.
I mean, you can’t really do much at a bridge besides cross it, but Latin Bridge has quite a bit of significance. Right after crossing this bridge, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. If you took your history classes, you know what that led to. World War I shortly followed. You might just stumble upon this bridge while roaming around, but it’s a can’t-miss, both for the views and the history.
Cemeteries of Sarajevo
While dark and depressing, visiting some of the cemeteries in Sarajevo can be a very eye-opening experience. There are a few of them throughout the city, and you really can’t miss them. Amidst the red roofs and beautiful neighborhoods, you’ll find vast plots of green dotted with white gravestones. It really hits home just how devastating the genocide, Bosnian war, and siege of Sarajevo were.
Food and Nightlife in Sarajevo
I loved the food in Sarajevo. Bosnia is one of the most budget-friendly countries in Europe. I did not hesitate to treat myself to nice meals for the price of cheap takeaways in Western Europe. The historic neighborhood of Bascarsija will be your best bet for finding traditional Bosnian food. Byreks are the main fare in Bosnia. Each Balkan country will claim that they have the best byrek, but I think Bosnia probably has the strongest claim. Make sure to ask for the sour cream that comes with the byrek because it will transform your experience. Cevapi is another must-have dish in Sarajevo.
I didn’t get to experience Sarajevo’s nightlife much, as things were still relatively restricted due to COVID. There is definitely an underground nightlife scene, though. Sarajevo is just one of those cities where I know they have some crazy raves in a bunker or abandoned castle or something. I see myself going back to Sarajevo time and time again, so I’ll update this when I do finally get to go wild. For now, here’s a nightlife guide to Sarajevo.
Sarajevo is not to be missed. I was underwhelmed by other Balkan capitals such as Tirana and Podgorica, but dang, was Sarajevo cool.
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