My family and I wanted to go on a trip to visit Croatia, but we were flying on miles and could not find flights into Dubrovnik or Zagreb. We expanded our search a bit to start in Sarajevo instead and end in Vienna where we could find flights. We enjoyed Croatia as much as we expected but the surprisingly great part of our trip was Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
1 – Jerusalem of the Balkans
I am not old enough to remember when Serbian assassin Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo to start WWI, but I am old enough to remember when the city was under siege for 1,425 days during the Bosnian War. These pictures of war are forever associated with my mental picture of Sarajevo. But I also remember in between when Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984 and the world turned its eyes to a city full of hope.
Sarajevo is again full of hope. It is a city literally still scarred by war but a city rebuilt and ready to receive visitors. It is a city that deserves visitors.
The heart of the city is the historic old town. In the old town, you can find the core of the city that was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. In the 17th century, with 80,000 people, it was the second-largest city in the Balkans after Istanbul. Sarajevo was known at times as the Jerusalem of the Balkans for the way different faiths co-existed in the city. In its small old town, you could find a mosque, an Orthodox church, a Roman Catholic church, and a synagogue.
2 – Sarajevo Roses
When Yugoslavia broke up in 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence. Serbia, which intended to create a Bosnia Serb state besieged Sarajevo. They expected the city to fall in days, but instead, the city held out from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996. 13,952 people were killed during the siege, including 5,434 civilians.
The scars from the siege of Sarajevo are there for everyone to see if you know what you are looking for. As the city rebuilt, it left these marks on the pavement called Sarajevo Roses where a shell fell from the Serbian army that encircled the town. When the “rose” is painted red like this it means that someone was killed when this shell fell. Look for one right outside the central farmers market.
3 – Sarajevo Tunnel
To supply the city of Sarajevo during the siege, Bosnians dug a tunnel from outside the city under the airport which was controlled by the UN. Through this tunnel weapons and food could be brought into the city. You can tour a re-creation of the tunnel in the Tunnel Museum or can tour it, as we did, as part of a tour of Sarajevo. We did a walking tour downtown and then a van trip out to the tunnel. Both were very interesting and both were organized by Amateur Traveler sponsor JayWaytravel.com.
4 – Shopping
In general, the old town is a great place for shopping. Yes, there is the usual collection of t-shirt and souvenir shops in Sarajevo, but there is also a wonderful street full of tinkerers and coppersmiths called Kazandžiluk which is worth a visit just to see their wares even if you are not shopping. The old city market is also worth a stop as are the shops around it.
5 – An Unlucky Archduke
Did you know that Archduke Franz Ferdinand actually survived an assassination attempt that day in Sarajevo… before he didn’t? One of the conspirators, Serbian nationalist Nedjelko Cabrinovic, threw a bomb in his car that morning but it rolled off the back of the car and injured an officer and some bystanders. Rather than get out of town, the Archduke went to visit the wounded officer. On the way there the driver took a wrong turn and drove up in front of co-conspirator 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip who shot the Archduke and his wife. His act led to WWI and the death of 17 million people.
A plaque marks the spot in Sarajevo where the assassination took place. Across the street is a pretty good bakery.
6 – Food
My daughter had a co-worker who was from Sarajevo who recommended some restaurants for us.
- Her favorite part of Sarajevo is the old downtown area called “Baš?aršija”, the historical and cultural center of the city. There are lots of little restaurants and cafes there. It’s fun to sit there and people watch and they have great coffee (Turkish or just regular).
- Bosnia’s most popular dishes is “?evap?i?i” and she recommended the restaurant Petica Cevabzinica in the Baš?aršija. The dish is bread meat and raw onions and honestly, I would have enjoyed it more if they had grilled those onions.
- We preferred a dish called “pita” (pictured above) which is a phyllo pie that is baked and can be made with either spinach, cheese, potatoes, or beef and onions (they’re all delicious). The best place to try these is Buregdzinica Bosna (also in Baš?aršija). Our family of 5 ate dinner there for $14 total.
- Where the Baš?aršija area connects to the more modern “downtown” area and there is an ice cream place that’s very popular called “Slasticarna Egipat”. You can pick up a cone for about $1 US.
7 – Cost
As the restaurant prices above may have informed you, Bosnia is one of the cheapest places in Europe. Bosnia-Herzegovina uses the Convertible Mark instead of the euro and the country is much cheaper than its neighbor Croatia. For the price of what one of us would pay for dinner in Dubrovnik, a family of five can eat in Sarajevo.
We stayed in the lovely old Hotel Michele Sarajevo on the hill above the old downtown, which I would highly recommend.
Both Sarajevo and Mostar which we visited on the drive to Dubrovnik were unexpected highlights of our trip. I want to get back to this wonderful country and explore more of Bosnia.