Surviving Sarajevo: Where To Stay And What To Do
11 June, 2016
Are there still snipers in Sarajevo? Genuine question our walking tour guide received via email. No, there haven’t been snipers in stunning Sarajevo for two decades. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) capital, Sarajevo, is a charming city in a valley which wears its heart on its sleeve and shows its scars on its buildings. This Balkan city is often cited as a place where east meets west. Sarajevo: where to stay and what to do.
Sarajevo: Where To Stay and What To Do
Walking Tours in Sarajevo
Sarajevo is a very historically significant city, its landmarks come with a story so I recommend taking a walking tour of Sarajevo on your arrival. There are a few which run every day, we walked and talked with Neno and Friends which met at Susan Sontag Square / National Theater at 10:30am (free / payment via tips). Sarajevo is a small city so these walking tours are a great way to get your bearings and local recommendations as well as the backstory and personal accounts of the events this city has suffered and celebrated such as the Sarajevo Siege, the longest siege on a capital city in modern history. You’ll see the Sarajevo Rose (below) highlighted around the city, on this spot, 3 – 20 people were killed by one shell during the ’92 – ’95 attack on Sarajevo. There are around 100 Sarajevo Roses. The most frustrating part (from talking with our guides) is that Sarajevo was known as ‘Little Jerusalem’ – Sarajevans wanted (and continue to want to) live in peace – Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats, Atheists (and now the increasingly popular group, Jedi) living together. These groups fought against those behind the snipers and the shells to continue living in this cohesive community.
*Note to those who attend walking tours – we love them, it’s our first port of call when we arrive in a new place but we want to listen to the guide, not your regurgitated information from YouTube videos we’ve already watched. Was your life in danger every time you were sent to collect water or packages from the United Nations? No, then we’re not interested. Take a private tour if you want to be teacher’s pet.
Let’s go back, way back to 28th June 1914, the day that saw an event which (apparently) kicked off World War I and changed the world forever. You can stand on the corner where Gavrilo Princip, one of (five, six, or) seven (depending on what you read) freedom fighters / terrorists who plotted to kill the Archduke of Austria-Este, Franz Ferdinand (every Brit aged 30+ now has this tune in their head). Princip successfully hit his target and the pregnant wife, Sophie, all because the driver of the open top car didn’t have GPS! One way streets are a blessing for liberators when the previous comrades miss. Interesting fact, Princip wasn’t given the death penalty like his counterparts as he was only 19 years old when he committed one of the most influential crimes in history.
- Location: Stari Grad Sarajevo, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Vijećnica / City Hall
The architecture of Sarajevo is just as interesting as the history. You’ll see a mix of grand and ghastly! Austro – Hungarian craft sits side by side with the ‘function over frills’ soviet style bland buildings! The most decadent of them all is City Hall which looks like a big layered sponge cake close to Latin Bridge. This hall is also the National and University Library of BiH but it does not hold many historical books because the original library was bombed in ’92 during the Sarajevo Siege – a tactical move by the Bosnian Serbs, with the support of the Yugoslav People’s Army, to remove any historical importance relating to the citizens of Sarajevo and BiH. 60% of the buildings in Sarajevo were damaged during the ’92-’95 siege. City Hall was reconstructed and is an important symbol today.
90% of the books were destroyed during the bombing
- Location: Obala Kulina bana, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Opening times: 10am – 5pm
House of Spite – Man v The System
City Hall did not always sit on that spot at the start (or end) of the Old Town. Previously a little man’s house was in the prime location but the Austrian – Hungarian monarchy wanted it. Like most men with power do, they tried to make this man move but he was stubborn! He finally caved into the negotiations with the result that he was paid handsomely and his modest house was moved, brick by brick, over the river Miljacka, directly facing the new City Hall. The House of Spite (Inat Kuća) is now a restaurant.
- Location: Veliki Alifakovac 1, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia & Herzegovina
The Old Town / Baščaršija
Stroll through the cobbled streets of Baščaršija, grab a coffee or shisha and people watch or buy some trinkets from the cute shops which line the small Old Town lanes. Nearly half of Sarajevans are unemployed so I encourage you to spend money in this city, BiH has the highest young unemployment rate in the world according to the World Bank (further education is practically free) so don’t be surprised to see so many drinking coffee (and smoking of course, meh) midweek.
Like Ljubljana in Slovenia, Sarajevo has lots of fountains sprinkled all over the city. This water is clean and drinkable so fill up! Sarajevo can get very hot from May, stay hydrated. The most visible fountain is Sebilj Fountain in the Old Town. Take a sip and legend says you’ll return in the future!
Like pigeons? You can buy some feed and act like the Bird Lady from Mary Poppins. No thanks!
- Location: Baščaršija, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia & Herzegovina
The Yellow Fort / Yellow Bastion
For nice views of the city (there is a better viewpoint to come), especially at sunset, head to Yellow Bastion (The Yellow Fort). Take some beers and join the locals watch the day disappear.
How to Get to The Yellow Fort
Walk past Sebilj Fountain, leaving the Old Town behind you. Take one of the roads in front of you to the right. You’ll walk past shops before reaching the Muslim graveyard (check the dates on the tombstones, so sad, such loss). After passing the graveyard you will see The Yellow Fort, there is a set of stairs which will take you to elevated point, be cautious of the signs advising you to leave your guns, knives, cannons, and alcohol at home during Ramadan (what?!) If you continue to walk a little further you’ll reach The White Fort, for an even higher viewpoint. Enjoy!
- Location: Jekovac, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia-Herzegovina / map
Srebrenica Gallery 11/07/95
Over 100, 000 (some reports state 200, 000) people died during the (nearly) four years of the Bosnian War. Over 8000 of them were Muslim men and boys, slaughtered by an army of Bosnian Serbs over three days in the United Nations ‘safe area’ – Srebrenica in the East of Bosnia. This is genocide, it is harrowing but it happened, and we did nothing at speed. It took 14 years to find General Ratko Mladić, The Butcher of Bosnia. Gallery 11/07/05 has two large televisions which play educational films on loop. One TV tells the story of Srebenica, one film shares the stories from distraught women who never saw their husbands and sons again, many of which never had the chance to even burry them because their loved ones bodies were not identified in the mass graves. The other TV focuses on the Sarajevo Siege, giving you an insight into how the citizens of the city (Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats, Atheists) survived by running fast and sharing dark humour! You can take a tour of the museum with a guide who will explain the images on the walls, most of which are stills used in the films. If you are on a budget, skip the tour and head straight to the films. Learn about the history, an interesting thing to do in Sarajevo.
- Website: Gallery 11/07/95
- Location: Trg Fra Grge Martića 2, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia-Herzegovina
- Opening times: 10am – 8pm (closed Tuesday)
- Cost: 12M (€6.13 / £4.80) + 3 for guide
- Time: films alone will take around 1.5 – 2 hours
The Tunnel of Hope
800 metres of man made underground tunnel connected the city of Sarajevo with the United Nations ‘safe place’ at the airport. This tunnel was dug by citizens from both sides of the city and took 4 months to complete. This tunnel allowed for the passage of medicine, food, and artillery which helped the locals survive and the army fight during the siege. I’d highly recommend taking a tour for two reasons. One, it’s pretty far out of the city so you will have to take a taxi but the tour gets you there by minibus and also takes you along Sniper Alley, the main street targeted by the army. Two, landmarks with such complex history require explanation from an educated and / or experienced local. We booked with Insider which I’d recommend. The tour took us to The Tunnel of Hope via mini bus with an extensive discussion around the causes, characteristics, and consequences of the Sarajevo Siege, included an entry fee and the opportunity to walk through part of the tunnel open to the public. The bus then dropped us off back at the office close to Latin Bridge.
- Location: Tuneli 1, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia & Herzegovina (tours offer transport)
- Time: 9am – 5pm high season I Tour times differ
- Price: Tours around €15 – 20 / £11.75 – £15.67
Avaz Twist Tower
Another excellent viewpoint of the city is the 35th floor of the Avaz Twist Tower. This shiny building has a cafe / bar which sells hot and cold drinks, such a nice venue let down by the smoking. Sarajevans are big smokers and the ban of smoking in public places hasn’t filtered through here, it’s the only thing that lets the city down. For a small fee, you can reach the observation deck on the next floor which gives you 180 degrees views of the city from behind a cage. There is even an unusual annual event called the Avaz Tower Running where athletes attempt to blitz the 780 steps to the viewing point!
I’ve saved the best for last, my third and final viewing point of Sarajevo is Mount Trebevic. This hike is not for the faint hearted (as in 30 degrees angled vertical hills) but worth it for the views of the city…
… and the hidden discovery at the very top of the mountain…
Sarajevo’s Abandoned Bobsleigh Track
Did you know that Sarajevo played host to the ’84 Winter Olympics? The bobsleigh and luge track still stands (in most parts) at the top of Mount Trebević, a visit is a pretty unusual thing to do in Sarajevo! The abandoned bobsleigh track was used by the Bosnian Serbs during the siege as a base for their attack on the city, you can see that some on the concrete track has fallen from impact. Now, the track has been attacked by the street artists of Sarajevo and makes for interesting photos to spruce up your Instagram with! Craig says take your skates…
- Location: Top of Mount Trebević
- Hike time: 1.5 hours
- More information: How To Get To Sarajevo Bobsled Track
Food and Drink in Sarajevo
It is relatively inexpensive to eat out in Sarajevo. Cevapi is one of Bosnia’s main dishes – a naan type bread filled with small sausages (also popular in Slovenia), sour cream and fried onions. There are lots of restaurants which serve this dish in Baščaršija with the option to sit in or outside. One plate will cost around £3. Cheap as chips, or sausages.
Another popular dish is Burek – meat or vegetable filled pastry snakes served on a metal plate (like Cevapi is). This quick meal will set you back £2.
Bosnians love coffee! If you are partial to the back stuff then you might not actually enjoy it here…. Bosnian coffee is similar to Turkish coffee, bitter!
Sarajevo’s freshest beer is stocked at the brewery. We weren’t impressed with the food here though, most of it was cold and not what we actually agreed with the waiter! The national beer is Sarajevska Pivara.
Cevapi – the national dish (with some onions!)
Sarajevo: Where to Stay
Many of the hotels in Sarajevo are condensed in the Old Town. Sarajevo hotels start around £40 to £200 per night. For those on a lesser budget, check dorms start from £4. Here’s my friend Evan’s review of one of the coolest hostels in Sarajevo.
We opted for an Airbnb in Sarajevo which had a ‘kitchen’ (two hobs and a fridge) which was in the perfect spot for walking to the Old Town (10 mins), hiking Mount Trebević (10 mins to starting point) and accessing the bus station (10 mins) to visit Stari Most, Mostar (a must!) and leaving Sarajevo for Belgrade, Serbia (6am bus, yikes!) The Old Town (end) to the bus station would take approximately 35 mins to walk.
Public Transport in Sarajevo
The bus station in Sarajevo is close to the Avaz Twist Tower. There is a ATM, booking office, toilets, and cafe. Currently, there are no trains at the station in Sarajevo. We were casually told “maybe next month”. Trams as well as buses and taxis run within the city.
Thinking of going to Sarajevo?
Why not hover over images & pin to your Bosnia board…
Overall: Surviving Sarajevo
The conflict in Bosnia is complicated. I would encourage anyone interested in history, politics, human survival, to do a bit of research before you head to Sarajevo if you intend to do any of the above related activities. It’s surreal being in a country which was at war when you were old enough to ‘kind of’ comprehend what was going on. The girls in the videos look like me, I was 7 – 10 year old, I wore sports tops and tracksuit bottoms like the girls in the video (and Sporty Spice) then progressed to wearing white jeans and dark lipstick like the teenagers in the videos. Visiting Sarajevo has moved this war from ‘textbook’ to reality, and for that I urge everyone to do the same. As one video in the museum reminds us ‘It happened, therefore it can happen again’ – Primo Levi, Holocaust Survivor.
Over to you – have been to Sarajevo, have I missed anything? Would you like to go?