Formerly a part of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) got independence in 1992 only to get trapped in internal wars again. BiH was a part of Austro-Hungarian Emperor in early 1900. The WWI started in very heart of the capital city- Sarajevo. In WWII again the country fall prey of Nazi solders. Post war socialist Yugoslavian governance could run for next 45 or so years. BiH has recently came out of these series of wars after the last Sarajevo war in 1992-95. After this seemingly non-ending wars, in 21st Century, the ash and dirt of destruction are settling down slowly. Country is growing up and gaining a reputation among the other European countries.
In 2018, country saw about 44% increase in tourism and it has increased even more in 2019. According to World Tourism Organization, BiH will be third most growing tourism in 2020.
So what’s it all about? Let’s see!
Places to visit
The national capital is said to be unique mix of Eastern and Western European culture. Previous Ottoman Empire, then 2 World Wars and finally the Sarajevo war, means the tons of historic sites and the museums full of valuable displays.
Sarajevo is situated in the valley that is guarded by two mountain chains along side. One can easily fly to Sarajevo from most of the big cities in Europe. This is the easiest way to enter the country. From Sarajevo airport, one can take bus (frequent service to old town center of the city is available) or Taxi which is also reasonably cheap in all of the country. (P.S. Beware of fraud). If your hotel is providing a pick up service, I recommend opting it.
One can also drive from Croatia (Zagreb or Dubrovnik) or Montenegro (Bay of Kotor) or from Serbia (Belgrad). From either of the cities, its about 5-6 hours drive. Highways in BiH have a speed limit of 80 kmh. As compared to western European countries, there are not many facilities- like restaurants or rest rooms etc- along the road.
Sarajevo is also connected to neighboring countries by pretty frequent and cheap bus services. It is mostly popular among the back-packers. During high season, I suggest to book the tickets in advance.
The public transport in Sarajevo is surprisingly good. There are lots of tram and bus routes which will take you to all the popular tourist destinations. It is quite cheap as well. Just make sure to buy your tickets at small kiosks near the stops before getting on the bus/tram.
It is so compact and spread around smaller area that one can easily explore it on foot. The compact cobbled streets (rather lanes) are studded with numerous shops selling souvenirs, local delicacies, clothes and all. Half of the area is maintained like that of old Ottoman era and half looks modern like in western Europe. The ‘East meets West’ line between these two regions is where many city walking tours start from. Baščaršija area and the Sebilj fountain are some other popular places in this region.
On 28 June 1914 Archduke of the Austrian Hungarian empire Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at the corner of this bridge and that started the WWI. The Latin bridge is one of the many bridges across the teeny tiny river that flows along the valley and through the city.
Sarajevo is best admired from the top of the surrounding mountains and the residents knew this long before. They built a cable car in 1959 to reach the top of the mountain. Recently, after long time non-functioning due to wars, the cable car is all the way renewed and reopened for tourists. Traveling this 12km distance by cable car is a fun experience for children. The views from the top are worth visiting. One can locate the characteristic city hall building, Yellow fortress, and nearby Cemetery and the Olympic stadium at the distance. One can even see the war-time bunkers which are still intact along the mountain slopes.
Sarajevo has numerous worthy collections and are displayed in numerous museums like the History Museum, National Museum, Sarajevo war Tunnel museum etc. If you are interested and time permits, one can visit all of them. It’s also a good option to escape from the scorching sun’s heat in the afternoon. The museum of War Childhood is unique experience for the visitors.
This is yet another view point to look over the city. One can climb up the hill starting from Baščaršija at the old town. There is also a Cemetery for soldiers who served in the Bosnian war.
My favorite city in BiH is Mostar due to its pristine nature and friendly people. Mostar is just about 2 hours from Sarajevo and about two and a half hours from Dubrovnik. One can reach here by bus services from these two cities or by flights from nearby countries. The best way, for me, is by car due to the scenic drive along the mighty River Neretva. The river is crystal clean and the torques color of the water is something unimaginable.
The post-card bridge of Mostar was badly damaged during 1992 war. In 2004 it was re-built and opened for visitors. Actually there is nothing much to see in Mostar other than the arch bridges from Ottoman time and the narrow winding cobbled lanes studded with shops and restaurants. But the charm of the city is all that attracts flocks of tourists every day.
Day trips from Mostar
Vrelo Bune (Blagaj) – The Buna river starts from the base of a mountain at Blagaj near Mostar. One can easily reach here by car or tourist buses. I suggest to come here as early as possible to get a parking. There is plenty of parking in the surrounding area but as the day rises, one needs to park far away from the entrance.
Vrelo Bune is cave like opening in the mountain and the river flows out calmly with her young water as clear as unforeseen. There are 2-3 restaurants where one can enjoy river side (or actually dipping feet in water 🙂 ) breakfast or lunch.
Kravice waterfalls– Have you been to Plitvice in Croatia? Well, if you have already seen it or not yet, doesn’t mater. Kravice is mini-replica of Plitvice waterfalls and you will definitely love it. There is plenty of parking available and in about 20-30 min downhill walk from parking one can reach the waterfalls. The River banks are shallow and thus safe for swimming. This place is popular among locals and croats. There are 2 restaurants which serve drinks and few food options.
This is the second largest city in BiH after Sarajevo. The city is well connected to other major cities of the surrounding countries by bus services. There aren’t direct international flights. Governor’s palace, monastery, cathedrals are some of the popular destinations in the city. One can plan adventurous outdoor trip to Banja Luka. There are some good climbing routes and rafting and canyoning facilities.
Bihac is popular for its Una river and various adventurous, cultural and other events.
Jajce’s small waterfall is iconic of the town.
Neum is the only town on Adriatic Sea and is known for Scuba-diving, parasailing, boating and jet skiing.
- BiH is mostly mountainous and about 50% land is covered with forest. That means one can breath pure, fresh air.
- The large portion of non-forest land is agricultural land. BiH is exports fresh and ‘Bio’ vegetables, fruits, nuts and meats.
- There are lots of water bodies in the country. Word ‘Bosnia’ comes from ‘water’ from ancient language.
- There isn’t extended industrialization like in western European countries. Therefore water bodies are clean without pollutants. The rivers are crystal-clean and reflect various shades of torques color.
- Europe’s first tram was in BiH and was built in 1885.
Tips for visiting
- Travel- For solo travelers bus will be the best way to enter the country and to travel around. For groups or families, car will be the best option. The roads are not that smooth and the speed limit is 80kmh. The highways are in better condition than smaller roads.
- In the touristic cities like Sarajevo, Mostar, keep your car at the hotel (or at apartment). The old town areas are densely crowded and the public transport or taxi are advisable to move around.
- As BiH is mostly mountainous region, there are lots of tunnels and bridges along the journey. The green covered highlands and uncontaminated water bodies make up a scenic journey.
- Food – Most of the fresh produce is locally grown and mostly without using heavy chemicals. Vegetables, fruits and meat are rich in nutrients and taste excellent. My best tip will be, while in BiH, try to relish on fresh foods.
- Safety – Like in any other city, take care of your belongings. Secure your valuables and do not carry lot of cash with you. Even though card payment is not always possible, try to calculate your expenses beforehand and carry only estimated amount. If you are driving in with your own car, I would suggest to book a covered parking to avoid any damage to the ‘foreign’ car. BiH was strangled in wars for quite a long time. To dates also, many un-exploded bombs are found. Remain on well marked routes. Do not go anywhere off road.
- Visit Jablanica. Yes that’s a tip! It is situated between Sarajevo and Mostar. When dam was built on Neretva River, this huge lake was developed. Today, it is one serene, picturesque destination. It is a best place to relax in the intrinsic nature. There aren’t many foreign tourists but still the place is full of domestic tourists.
- BiH is quickly gaining popularity among international tourists. Till now, tourism is cheap in here and places are not over crowded. Sarajevo and Mostar are the most visited destinations. Apart from these, there are lots of scenic destinations. If you are ready to give up little of your comfortable western lifestyle and wish to embrace nature, BiH is your destination.