Bosnia and Herzegovina is a captivating blend of East and West where the legacies of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires create a unique cultural backdrop. This Balkan gem embraces a lively outdoor café culture in well preserved old towns with charming cobblestone streets, 15th century mosques, idyllic locations that look straight out of fairytales, and vibrant summer concerts. With emerald rivers, lush mountains, and awe-inspiring waterfalls, nature reveals itself as a breathtaking spectacle. Scars of the 1990s Balkan wars remain visible, but the easygoingness of genuinely kind locals appears to transcend past horrors, at least on the surface. During my seven days of solo exploration in B&H, cosmopolitan Sarajevo, scenic Mostar, religious Medjugorje, and ancient countryside villages left me with an indelible positive impression. My Bosnia and Herzegovina travel guide lists only places and experiences I had the privilege to live. Feel inspired and pack your bags!
- Quick facts about Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Top places and experiences in Sarajevo
- Stroll the ancient streets of Old Town (Baščaršija)
- Sebilj Fountain
- Tower Clock, the World’s Only Lunar Clock
- Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and Museum Complex
- Gazi Husref-bey Madrasah
- Gazi Husrev-beg Bezistan (Indoor Marketplace)
- Meeting of Cultures Point
- Latin Bridge, The Assassination Spot that Triggered WWI
- City Hall (Vijećnica)
- Sacred Heart Cathedral
- Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos
- Yellow Fortress
- War, war tourism, and resilience
- On the lighter side…
- Drink Bosnian Coffee
- Lounge at a Hookah Bar
- Eat Ćevapi, Sausages and Bosnian Burek
- Where to Stay in Sarajevo
- Take Day Trips
- Frequently Asked Questions
Quick facts about Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Formerly part of Yugoslavia, B&H gained its independence in 1992. Home to 3.2 million people*, it’s almost entirely landlocked and surrounded by Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro. The lively capital, Sarajevo, has approximately 346,000 people.
- The country has three main ethnic groups: Bosniaks (Muslim, largest group), Serbs (Orthodox Christian), and Croats (Roman Catholic). The official languages are Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian, with Bosnian being spoken by more than 70% of the population. As a solo traveler relying on English, I never encountered any communication issues, as most people speak English fluently.
- The currency is the mark (MK), and tourists exchanging dollars and euros will find that their money can go a long away when compared to Western European countries.
- Adorned with splendid mountains, B&H hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina are in fact two regions. In the North, Bosnia experiences alpine temperatures with (insanely) hot summers and snow-covered winters. In the South, Herzegovina enjoys a Mediterranean climate, gracing the region with valleys filled with olive trees and vineyards. During my trip, I learned the importance of acknowledging the country’s full name, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to honor the distinctive geographical and cultural nuances found within each region. Though it may be tempting to simplify and refer to it as just “Bosnia,” embracing the country’s full name demonstrates respect and encapsulates its rich diversity.
*Source: World Bank 2021
Top places and experiences in Sarajevo
Sarajevo has that “thing,” a confluence of East and West that feels altogether old, modern, beat up, alive, and uplifting, a mashup of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, socialist Yugoslavia, and the post-Cold-War period condensed in a valley of lush green mountains. A cosmopolitan place where you hear the Muslim call to prayer, Little Wayne’s rap, Yugoslav rock, and Latin tunes in the same playlist.
Stroll the medieval streets of Old Town (Baščaršija) with a free walking tour
When I stepped into Baščaršija I felt transported to a tale of One Thousand and One Nights: gorgeous minarets reaching the skies, an open-air market that looks like an ancient bazaar beaming with richly ornamented copperware, embroidered carpets, and silk pashminas.
Built in the 15th century, Baščaršija, or Old Town, is Sarajevo’s main tourist attraction. The energy feels cheerful, a colorful and multicultural maze of streets dotted with charming outdoor cafés and restaurants where fully covered Muslims enjoy refreshments alongside the minimally dressed. The area hosts many historical landmarks from the 15th and 16th centuries, such as the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, Tower Clock, and Old Jewish Temple, as well as memorials and museums associated with the 1990s Bosnian war.
Conducted by local guides, the free 2-hour walking tour offered by Meet Bosnia is the perfect way to start your Sarajevo trip, getting you acquainted with the local history and sites you may want to revist later.
Built in 1753, the Sebilj is an Ottoman-style wooden fountain in the center of Baščaršija, a lively place where people and pigeons coexist harmoniously. In the above picture, it’s next to the minaret.
Tower Clock, the World’s Only Lunar Clock
Based on the movements of the sun and the moon, this 16th-century clock informs Muslim prayer times, so it never syncs with your wristwatch.
Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and Museum Complex
Gazi Husref Bey was an Ottoman Bosnian governor in the 1500s. He left a vast cultural, educational and religious legacy in Sarajevo, developing many important buildings that still function today. The mosque is beautiful and has been transformed into a museum. The fountain across from it offers refreshing drinking water that cooled off my skin during the hot summer.
Gazi Husref-bey Madrasah
This religious secondary school has been functioning nonstop for more than 470 years, operating both a separate male and female departments. Thousands of imams, philosophers, artists and scientists have graduated in Gazi Husref-bey’s Madrasah.
Gazi Husrev-beg Bezistan (Indoor Marketplace)
Though today it sells fake luxury handbags, back in the 1500s it’s where merchants from places like Venice and Dubrovnik came to conduct business.
Meeting of Cultures Point
Sarajevo honors its rich Eastern and Western identity at the Meeting of Cultures point on Ferhadija Street. While the Eastern side looks like a Middle Eastern bazaar, Austro-Hungarian neoclassical architecture dominates the Western side.
Latin Bridge, The Assassination Spot that Triggered WWI
This seemingly unassuming bridge over the Miljacka river was the backdrop of events that triggered the largest global conflict of its time. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a Serbian sniper while crossing the Latin bridge, causing the Austro-Hungarian Empire to declare war on Serbia, which then evolved into World War I.
City Hall (Vijećnica)
Built in the 1890s, this building was destroyed 100 years later during the siege of Sarajevo. Serbian forces deliberately burned more than 2 million books it once housed, and a plaque on the wall reminds visitors not to forget this tragedy. Vijećnica was fully restored in 2014 and now hosts the city council, a museum and libraries. The pseudo-moorish exterior and interior are stunning. I enjoyed the exhibit explaining the 1990s war, including a reproduction of the courtrooms where war criminals were convicted of crimes against humanity at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia.
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Catholics are a religious minority in B&H. Pope John II visited the region after the war and was respected as a peacemaker across religious groups. A statue in his honor was inaugurated in 2014. The cathedral’s construction started in 1875 and was completed in 1923.
Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos
Constructed in the 1860s, the cathedral is the largest Serbian Orthodox church in Sarajevo.
Built in the 1700s, this landmark offers an excellent panoramic view of Sarajevo. In the late 1800s, it served as a defense place against the Austro-Hungarian troops.
War, war tourism, and resilience
During the 1990s, as a consequence of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Balkans endured a series of armed conflicts. The Bosnian War, which occurred between 1992 and 1995, was marred by brutal episodes of ethnic cleansing and genocide, claiming over 100,000 lives and causing the displacement of more than two million people.
When peace was restored, the country underwent a major reconstruction. However, war-related tourism still brings significant business to B&H. Many tourists continue to head to Sarajevo to glimpse the sinister years when the city endured the longest capital siege in modern warfare (1,425 days).
Mortar scars and bullet holes imprinted in building façades are chilling reminders of the past. Some locals attribute the lack of restoration to poor administration and government corruption. I couldn’t help but contemplate if the decision not to conceal these marks was intentional, like a way to move forward without forgetting.
Almost every person I encountered had been deeply impacted by the war, as civilians forced into hiding, refugees who made the difficult decision to stay or flee the country, or as soldiers. Resilience is the obvious word that comes to mind, and resilience indeed permeates their spirit. “The show must go on,” my tour guide said after revealing to our group the violence he had to endure during his early childhood.
At age 16 I watched the war atrocities unfolding on TV, such as snipers shooting civilians from rooftops, and prayed for peace. “They’re shelling one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” my dad said, not hiding his sadness. Dad never made it to B&H, but I vowed to visit it. Thirty years later, I set foot on those ancient streets and scenic mountains. Something about the nonsense of war and the genuine kindness of the people I met made me feel deeply alive, energized, and connected with humanity.
These memorials covered in red resin represent a site where someone was killed. I experienced waves of goosebumps as I walked near them.
This 1946 memorial was built for the civilian and military victims of World World II, but decades later it also became a place to pay respects to the victims of the siege of Sarajevo.
A walking distance from Old Town, this museum/gallery is dedicated to the memory of Srebrenica, the site of a horrendous genocide. Videos and photos offer heartbreaking stories of the horrors people endured. Visit the official Gallery 11/07/95 website. If you want to dig deeper, travel agencies organize day tours to Srebrenica.
Fall of Yuguslavia | Sarajevo Siege Tour
Meet Bosnia offers a half day small group tour that revisits some of the most violent places of the siege of Sarajevo. Highlights include the Tunnel of Hope, the maternity hospital, the abandoned bobsleigh track of the 1984 Olympics, and Snipper Alley. The presence of our tour guides added an extra layer of authenticity to the experience: one of them had personally lived through the war as a child, while our van driver had served as a soldier when he was just 17 years old, openly sharing some of the tough moments they endured.
Tunnel of Hope
This secret tunnel was built during the siege as the only way to connect the city to the outside world. The place is now a museum where you can enter parts of the tunnel, watch videos and see artifacts used at the time.
Ruins of the maternity hospital
This pediatric hospital was intentionally shelled during the war, killing babies. During the tour, my guide read a moving poem written by a child who amazingly survived both cancer and the attacks. I wasn’t the only tourist who couldn’t hold back my tears.
Serbian snipers took over this main boulevard that became synonymous with danger as civilians lost their lives trying to cross it. It felt chilling to be in front of the now-restored Holiday Hotel I remember seeing daily on TV. During the war, reporters used it as their base to report the siege, and the building was frequently shelled.
The abandoned bobsleigh track of the 1984 Olympics
This site became infested with snipers only eight years after being used in the Olympic games. Bullet holes are still visible. Now painted in colorful graffiti, the place has morphed into a tourist spot, but I could only sense the unsettling aura emanating from the dark days of unspeakable atrocities.
On the lighter side…
The country has learned to co-exist with the marks of challenging days, and signs of liveliness are everywhere.
Drink Bosnian Coffee
Unfiltered, strong, paired with a sugar cube and a lokum (similar to a Turkish Delight), and commonly served in gorgeous copperware, Bosnian coffee will lift your spirits. To my surprise, one of the most popular coffee brands is Café Brazil. I felt right at home!
To me, drinking coffee in the midst of medieval Old Town Sarajevo with its Ottoman flair felt enchanting. I fondly remember a coffee hour at the almost 500-year-old terrace with my two newly met solo traveler friends. In this location, the cherished Gazi Husrev Bey housed a hotel for merchants, where they could stay for free for three days. Centuries later, it housed our wanderlust and my happy heart.
Lounge at a Hookah Bar
While I don’t endorse smoking, Old Town Sarajevo is lined with charming hookah bars. A former smoker who now detests the smell of cigarettes, I found myself making a rare exception as I embarked on a one-of-a-kind smoking moment near a luminous medieval mosque. Sweet grape-scented hookah smoke wafted through the air, accompanied by the nostalgic tunes of old Yugoslav rock playing in the background.
Then, unexpectedly, I heard the call to prayer emanating from the nearby mosque. Amidst the lively conversations of locals and tourists in the hot summer evening, the bar ceased the rock ‘n roll as a sign of respect. The call to prayer was captivating, evoking a sense of beauty and spirituality. In that moment, I was floating in the enchantment of the East, my spirit aligned, my body brimmed with vitality. It was an experience I will forever cherish, where the blending of cultures and traditions created a magical atmosphere in the heart of Sarajevo.
Eat Ćevapi, Sausages and Bosnian Burek
Ćevapi is the national dish of Bosnia and Herzegovina and consists of grilled minced meat, like beef and/or lamb. Served with raw chopped onions and flatbread, it’s delicious, cheap, and found everywhere. Freshly baked in wood-fired ovens, those flatbreads’ texture and earthy taste still make my mouth water! Grilled sausages are also very popular.
Burek, a legacy of the Ottoman Empire eaten throughout the Balkans, is another highly popular dish in B&H. It’s a flaky pastry of thin phyllo dough filled with cheese, meat, or spinach. Served fresh out of the oven, it’s a pure delight to the palate. I ate one of these monster piles of yumminess almost every day!
Where to Stay in Sarajevo
I stayed in two hotels and strongly recommend them: Hotel Sana and Hotel VIP, both within a 3-minute walk from Old Town, excellent breakfast buffet, modern facilities, and friendly staff. They’re comparable in style and price, but I preferred Hotel VIP, which felt more upscale.
There are laundromats in town, and the one closest to me was just down down the street from my hotels. It was a small, family-owned laundromat located in a dilapidated strip center filled with bullet holes from the war. The establishment appeared worn and beaten, but to me, it exuded a certain charm that is synonymous with world explorations (I get it, perhaps not everybody’s cup of tea). Despite its humble appearance, the laundromat offered an incredibly reasonable price for their services, washing even my undergarments (few things make me feel embarrassed, that one did!).
Take Day Trips
Travel agency Meet Bosnia organizes plenty of day trips, and I chose the Mostar tour | Full day guided tour to amazing Herzegovina. I strongly recommend this trip because it combines stunning scenic drives with rich historical landmarks. Our small group of about six tourists was the perfect size, and our spirited tour guide Senad gave us great insights into B&H’s history and culture. Main stops included Konjic Old Bridge, Ottoman Počitelj Village, Blagaj Tekke/Dervish Monastery, Kravice waterfalls, and Mostar. I didn’t return to my hotel in Sarajevo that night: instead, I said goodbye to my group and spent the next three days in the captivating town of Mostar.
One of the most memorable moments of the tour was our 15-minute bathroom stop in Jablanica. Nestled amidst lush mountains and an emerald hued river, Jablanica exuded breathtaking beauty.
My senses were immediately captivated by the tantalizing aroma of roasted lamb wafting through the air in the restaurant nearby, so I decided to forgo the bathroom and indulged in a full takeout meal at the early hour of 10 am. Back in the van, feasting on the succulent flavors of the freshly roasted meat, my belly was full and my amusement was nurtured.
Konjic Old Bridge
Serene mountain views and charming architecture embrace the surroundings of the Konjic Bridge, built in 1682 over the Neretva River, a location where many consider the point where Bosnia joins Herzegovina.
Ottoman Počitelj Village
We spent a few moments touring this fortress that in 1471 fell to Ottoman advance. I gathered my strength and climbed the hill to visit the gorgeous Šišman Ibrahim Pasha Mosque, built in the 16th century. On my way there, I purchased a homemade iced pomegranate juice from a street vendor, the perfect refreshment to cool off the sweat beads running through my face.
Blagaj Tekke and Dervish Monastery
The Dervish House is a 600 year old site built during the Ottoman Empire. The Dervish (Sufi) believed in getting rid of the illusion of the ego to reach God. A cutout in the wall in the shape of a coffin is a constant reminder of the impermanence of life. Surrounded by magnificent cliffs and the pure, cold, and clear jade colored waters of the Buna river, it’s easy to understand why this location was the perfect place to find spiritual enlightenment. Today, the Dervish House is a museum, and the area surrounding it a tourist site beaming with outdoor cafes and souvenir shops.
I originally intended to bathe in those waters, but by the time we arrived the tour was already running late, so I just admired the stunning view. Also, I was still healing from a major sunburn from my previous days swimming in dreamy Montenegro, a story for another time. The tourist infrastructure at Kravice Waterfalls is top, with plenty of lockers, parking and outdoor cafes. The place was jammed with families and friends finding beauty and refuge from the scolding 104 °F (40 °C) summer heat. For more info, visit the official Kravice Waterfalls website.
Mostar is one of the top attractions in B&H and the Balkans. Most tourists go there for a day trip from Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, and Split in Croatia to see the famous UNESCO-designated Old Bridge (Stari Most). I’m glad I stayed in town for three nights: it was the perfect place to slow down and recharge my travel batteries after weeks of European explorations.
Mostar’s Old Town is gorgeous, filled with shops, restaurants and cafés. Live music fills the air, and the vibe is friendly and fun. In fact, many live bands were playing rock ‘n roll on the small stage set up for summer concerts. To my amusement, in between the sets, old Cuban music came through the speakers. Later in the evening, the deep spiritual sounds of the call to prayer took turns with American rap, and I didn’t know what world I was inhabiting anymore (only that it felt exquisitely fun!).
The Old Mostar Bridge (Stari Most)
The bridge was commissioned by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557, and became one of the most iconic sights in the country. Stari Most was destroyed during the 1990s Bosniak-Croatian war, but it reopened in 2004 after being restored to its full glory, becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. It’s truly a stunning place at any time of day or night. Every day the Mostari Diving Club divers delight tourists by jumping from 27 meters (88 ft) into the gelid, fast-flowing waters below, as you can watch on the video.
Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque
Built in 1618, this mosque is another extraordinary example of Ottoman architecture. Knowing that I would stay in town longer than most tourists do, Senad, the funny and witty tour guide from my Herzegovina road trip introduced me to his local friends who worked at the mosque. When the blazing summer heat gave us a break late in the afternoon, I would meet them for coffee at the sacred grounds. We had the most meaningful conversations about what constitutes a good life, the nonsense of war, and living in alignment. Despite having lived such different lives from mine, I felt so at ease in this site and in their company, respect and curiosity building bridges to our shared humanity.
Discover a taxi service that can give you a ride to the summit of the tallest peak in Mostar at sunset for breathtaking panoramic views.
Up there you’ll also find a remarkable glass bridge where, by chance, I had the fortune of witnessing a newly married couple capturing precious moments. As I’m not particularly fond of heights, I observed their love from a safe distance.
Where to Stay in Mostar
I spent 3 nights at Villa Park, a modest hotel that perfectly catered to my needs. It offered a balcony with splendid vistas of the Neretva river (I tried to swim, but the currents were too fast and extremely cold!). They offered a delicious and hearty hot breakfast made by a lovely Bosnian lady named Diana. Also essential air-conditioning, reliable Wi-Fi, and a great location in a residential neighborhood. Only a 10-15 minute stroll from Old Town and the iconic Old Bridge.
When I say “modest,” I truly mean it: the hotel exuded an aged and antiquated ambiance, complete with cheap plastic trash cans, a broken shower door, and a bathroom that flooded. The handyman had to be summoned for repairs and he completed his work while I blow-dried my hair listening to bachata, a music style I picked up at a bar in Sarajavo, of all places. The smell of cigarettes permeated the downstairs bar, evoking a sense of nostalgia, as if I had been transported back to the days of old Yugoslavia. It was precisely this unpolished charm that endeared me to the place.
From Mostar I embarked on a solitary day excursion to Medjugorje, the renowned site where it is believed that the Virgin Mary has been making appearances since 1981. Having been educated in a Catholic school, visiting Medjugorje held a prominent place on my religious wishlist. Boarding a commuter bus at the early hour of 6:45 am, I reached Medjugorje just an hour and a half later. From my window, rugged mountains gracefully unfolded before my spleepy eyes.
Masses are held in several languages, and I intentionally attended 30 minutes of German mass, which I don’t speak. From the church, I visited Apparition Hill, the revered location of the Virgin’s alleged appearances. Lacking sufficient sleep, enduring the scorching heat, not understanding a word of German, and being followed by an utterly annoying man, I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual that day, but had profound realizations about setting boundaries, a recurrent theme of my career break. An article for another day.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many days should I stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
You can experience Sarajevo highlights in 2-3 days, but consider staying in the country for at least 5 full days. Spend at least one night in Mostar, which is insanely underrated, and take a day trip to Herzegovina. I was in B&H for a total of seven nights.
2. Is Bosnia and Herzegovina safe for solo female travelers?
Yes, and during my time in B&H I met many solo women travelers of all ages. Of course, you should always exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings anywhere you travel. In my experience, B&H men were pretty assertive, but they’ll leave you alone once you refuse their advances.
3. What about the war, should I be concerned with potential conflicts?
The country has experienced peace for a prolonged period, but old wounds still haven’t healed completely. Don’t feel discouraged, but always check your country’s travel advisory for more information. Land mines still kill and wound many people yearly, so stay on hard-surfaced roads and don’t enter abandoned buildings.
4. What should I wear?
Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes. In the summer I wore summer dresses, linen pants, jeans, and T-shirts. Just like the rest of Europe, in B&H people value dressing nicely. Most of the country is Muslim, but women are not required to cover their heads except when visiting religious sites. Scarves are available for free at mosques.
5. Is alcohol served in Bosnia & Herzegovina?
Yes. Alcohol is widely available, and the bar scene is lively. Živjeli (that’s “cheers” in Bosnian)!
6. How do I arrive in Sarajevo?
The Sarajevo International Airport has nonstop flights from/to major European and Middle Eastern hubs, and I flew in from Belgrade (Serbia). Once in B&H territory, I rode an intercity bus from Mostar to Sarajevo (the trip lasted only a few hours).
Last, But Not Least
I had the ultimate pleasure of spending time with old friends in B&H, Adnan and Amer, the twins from Sarajevo who I met decades earlier during my college years at the University of Kansas. It’s a small world after all!
Disclaimer: I used ChatGPT to fine-tune some of the above paragraphs. I admit: ChatGPT is a much better writer than me!