If you read my review of Intrepid Travel you know that I did zero research before jetting off to the Balkans. Though this isn’t my usual, I really loved it because I had no expectations. If you’re headed to Paris, odds are good you are picturing yourself gazing out across the city atop the Eiffel Tower, and imagining how wonderful of the crepes will taste. The risk you run with this is disappointment, so really I was setting myself up perfectly for this trip (the lazy man’s excuse). No expectations = no disappointment!
Like many people, when I think of Bosnia the first thing that comes to mind is the Bosnian war. Though it happened when I was a child, it was still fairly recently, and in the scheme of history it really just ended. To be honest I didn’t really know what it was about, not really. And when I told people I was traveling to Bosnia most people just said why. It’s sad how little I actually know about the country.
Our first stop in Bosnia was Sarajevo, and from the moment our group arrived we were in love with the city. I’m going to break down my top reasons that everyone should be adding Sarajevo to their travel list.
MEETING OF CULTURES
There is a street in Sarajevo called Ferjadija with a line drawn on it. This is the spot where the two dominant cultures that shaped Sarajevo meet. The East considered Ottoman and Islamic and the West seen as Austro-Hungarian and Christian. Below are the two photos which really demonstrate the differences. I stood in the exact same spot, for each photo.
As you can see, the views on the street view changes drastically looking from left to right, it also means that there is an amazing combination of shops, cafes, and things to do.
During the day you can learn about Sarajevo with a walking tour through the city with the world’s most amazing tour guide Muhammed. Not only can he fill you in on many years of complicated and jaw dropping history, but you can hear about the most recent struggles from someone who lived through it. I think everyone in my group would agree he made the trip!
Outside of the city center there are recent historically significant sites to visit, like the tunnel museum.
It’s a bit of a grim afternoon visiting the site of the tunnel, which was constructed between March and June of 1993 during the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. The Sarajevo army had been cut off from supplies and aid by the Serbian army. The tunnel ran underneath the airport which was controlled by the UN, and connected the outlying Bosnian neighborhoods with the city center. The tunnel was the only was to access food, water, and weapons during the Siege. A small portion of the tunnel is open, and you can see first hand how treacherous and exhausting the journey was.
It’s really hard to imagine such a beautiful place being the scene of such a terrible conflict.
Venturing a little further back in time, you can also visit the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, sparking the first World War. It’s really hard to believe how much has happened here.
The thing that surprised me most about Sarajevo was how beautiful it was. If you head up to the overlook you can get a panoramic view of the city. We checked it out right before sunset, and I can imagine that if you hang out a little longer and watch the sunset it definitely wouldn’t disappoint. There’s also a cafe here, so definitely a good place to stop.
THERE’S STUFF GOING ON
Sarajevo has a buzzing vibe. I visited during the Euro cup and we headed outside to check out the screens and beer tents during the final between Portugal and France. It was a really fun atmosphere, and special events aside there is no shortage of things to do at night.
GET OFF THE TOURIST TRAIL
Sarajevo isn’t exactly a secret, but it’s also not a place anyone else I know has visited. Ultimately it’s a far cry from the overrun, crowded streets of Dubrovnik and Venice. It was nice to feel like I was venturing a little further than the top 10 travel spots in the world, and it was also nice to visit a city that felt like a normal working city, and not a giant tourist post cards that I was walking around inside.
They aren’t quite giving things away, but if you’re craving a European feel without the prices of the Italian coast, then Sarajevo is your stop. It’s nice to be able to buy a round of drinks without having to worry about rent and making a blood sacrifice.
PEOPLE ARE FRIENDLY
If there are unfriendly Bosnians they were all kept quiet in a basement during my stay in the country. The people we were lucky enough to interact with were all unbelievably welcoming, a sentiment shared between my tour mates.
DID I MENTION IT’S PRETTY
The scenery just doesn’t get enough credit.
I didn’t think I was visiting Bosnia because it was beautiful, but it was a delightful surprise. Our group had our favorite days in Sarajevo, and all of the elements added up to an amazing stop off. I hope this wasn’t my last stop in the city!