This trip was truly something special. Actually, being very honest with you, when I was flying to Sarajevo I did not know what to expect. I travel to many different places. Some of them are totally new for me, some of them I visit on the regular basis, but they all have one thing in common – I feel more or less familiar with the local culture. Sarajevo was something really different. I have never visited a country like this, with so many contradictions and such a rich history living in every wall. This city makes you feel close and distant, safe and insecure, welcomed and disturbing… all at the same time. There is not many places like this in the world and Sarajevo is certainly amongst the most fascinating cities of the Balkans. And my advise to you would be visit it now, before the western culture will influence it more.
Culture and religion
First thing that hit me after arriving was the cultural mix. Sarajevo is still called the “Jerusalem of Europe” or “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. There are three main religions in Sarajevo that strongly influence local culture. You can call me an ignorant, but I was really not aware that Bosnians and Bosniaks are not synonyms. The complicated history makes a tiny difference in spelling of this two. A Bosnian is someone from Bosnia or their nationality. Bosniaks are generally associated with Islam religion. In Sarajevo you will meet also Bosnian Croats with the Roman Catholic Church, and Bosnian Serbs with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Currently Muslims are 46% of the population, Christians are 51%, and other remaining groups are around 3% (including nonreligious and Jews). We have met people from all the religions and learned how beautiful and unique this mixture is. But also, how they still struggle with living in such a cultural variety and there is lot of bitter history behind this.
Sarajevo, Sacred Heart Cathedral
Sarajevo is not a big city and most of our time we have been strolling around the old part of the town overwhelmed but its history. You can still see holes from bullets on the walls of buildings and abandoned houses. There are many war cemeteries located in the city and at some of the shops’ entrances you can still find a warning “entry with a weapon is forbidden”. This historical touch really made me realize how lucky we are to been born and rised without experiencing what a war is.
The old part of the city is mostly a pedestrian area and there is a very nice old market located there. We have found some traditional craftsmen still producing hand made pottery, huts and leather goods. I could watch for hours how they patiently make it. Of course, we would not be ourselves without buying something so now we own a beautiful coffee container and a traditional coffee mill. Both hand made. We have also tried at the market traditional Bosnian coffee and local food. The cuisine in Bosnia are mainly dishes made out of meat particularly beef, and lamb but they also make amazing vegetarian dishes like beans or different types of pastries. I do not even have to mention their famous sweets selection.
Speaking about the must see places in Sarajevo – you may be familiar with the Latin Bridge that played an important role in european history. From 1918 to 1993 the bridge was named Principov Most (bridge), after Gavrilo Princip, who was only a few meters from this bridge when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sofie. This incident is known as the Sarajevo Assassination and became an official beginning of the First World War.
Another place you cannot miss is Vijenica, the city hall that is beautiful from the outside and absolutely breathtaking from the inside. It was designed in 1891 by the Czech architect Karel Pařík, but criticisms by the minister, Baron Benjamin Kallay, caused him to stop working on the project. It was initially the largest and most representative building of the Austro-Hungarian period in Sarajevo and was reopened in 2014.
New Years Eve
As we did not have any particular New Years Eve plans we have decided spontaneously to see what the city will offer us. We are always super lucky when traveling and this time we have discover an amazing local vineyard called Hedonia. They have been organizing a private dinner for a group of guests and were so incredibly nice to let us join them. And what a beautiful dinner that was! We had a home made meal prepared by the owners and consisted of delicious 9 courses. All at Michelin star level and served with perfectly paired wine produced by the family. They made a cellar tour just for the two of us and a presentation of their newest sparking wine that was oh so delicious! We have been truly touched by this hospitality and impressed how they developed their wine passion into such a special place. If you will be in Sarajevo, it it absolutely a must to visit and I am sure you will more than welcomed there.
Our New Years Eve night was supposed to end at our hotel with midnight bubbles but well… I am still laughing when thinking about this story. We left the city center with a young and super nice taxi driver aiming to be at the hotel at midnight. He mentioned that he is very new to the taxi business with “only” two years of working experience as a taxi driver and unfortunately… he got lost in Sarajevo on the way to our hotel. He was really trying to find the right way and take us to the hotel before midnight but when it was already 11:55 it was very clear to all of us that we will not make it… So what could we do? We have celebrated midnight with our taxi driver and a bottle of sparkling wine lost somewhere in Sarajevo. Hahahahahaha And you know what? First – you can celebrate wherever you want if only you have a person you love by your side (I mean my husband, not a taxi driver ;)). Second – a bottle of sparkling wine is a new travel essential.
Our local discoveries
Hedonia Wine Club – the place where we have spent our New Years Eve. They have their own wine production and serve the most delicious home made food. The vineyard is open for appointments only so make sure to call them before visiting.
Dunja – great concept of having a restaurant in a former private villa. We fell in love with the atmosphere, cozy fireplace, great food and wines. Also, people working there are incredibly nice and shared with us so many interesting stories about Sarajevo.
Ministry of Cejf – best coffee in town made by such a talented young barista. If you are a fan of latte, like I am, try French latte that is served in a bowl. This small cafe is located just next to Pigeon Sqare.
Rahatlook – cozy cafe in the town center, close to the market. Good choice of local specialities like drinks and sweets. Really nice lady will help you to choose among daily specials or can make delicious pancakes for you. I have finally tried there buza drink that I have been reading about in Orahn Pamuk’s books.
What you should know before traveling to Sarajevo:
- Bosnia is not a part of the EU or Schengen. Most nationalities requires to get a tourist visa when on arrival. Make sure you are eligible to enter the country.
- Some countries in Europe, such as neighbouring Serbia, require foreigners to register with the police within 48 hours of arriving. As of writing this post in 2017, you do not need to do this in Bosnia.
- There are not many hotels is Sarajevo and you have to be aware that the standard they offer may vary from what you know from more developed countries. We have chosen Pino Natur Hotel, as it is located outside of the center and is surrounded by the beautiful forest. Although the view from our hotel room was spectacular, I do not recommend this place. It is really crowdy and lots of locals are coming there to have a tea. It is not a chill out place that I have imagined from the hotel pictures.
- You have to be aware that some of the hotels as hallal style, including our Pino Nature Hotel. The booking page did not say a word about this so I encourage you to surf hotel site to have the full info on what you are actually booking.
- The Bosnian Mark is the official currency but tourists can often pay also in USD or Euros (of course with an unfavourable exchange rate).
- Bosnia is a cash-based society what is probably a result of the economic crash after the Bosnian War. ATMs are available and you can expect to pay up to 7% in fees, conversions, and commissions. Not all places accept credit cards so it is always better to have casch with you.
- The city offers free Walking Tours and local guides take visitors around explaining the main sights in a historical and cultural context. You can find more info here.
- Sarajevo was nominated to be the European Capital of Culture in 2014 and will be hosting the European Youth Olympic Festival in 2019.