Sarajevo is a unique city – a melting pot of culture and religion, surrounded on all four sides by rolling green hills, with a fascinating (and, all too often, dark) history. The city is covered in physical reminders of the 1990s war, but Sarajevo is certainly making a new name for itself on the world stage as a vibrant, exciting place for both residents and travellers.
If you’re tight on time in the Bosnian capital, fear not – even 24 hours is enough to give you a flavour of Sarajevo. Here are our top sights and tours to help you make the most of your visit.
1: Start off with a Bosnian Coffee and Burek
If, like us, you’ve had a particularly early start to your time in Sarajevo, you’ll probably want a little something to kick start your day – what could be better than enjoying a traditional Bosnian coffee in one of the dozens of cafes which dot the streets of the capital?
Incredibly thick, and enticingly strong, Bosnian coffee is served in an oh-so-pretty copper pots called a džezva – there’s an art to the pour, and it can take a while to perfect!
If you’re after a breakdown of some of the best cafes for Bosnian coffee, there’s a great guide on My Travel Scrapbook which is well worth checking out.
Whilst you’re sipping on your coffee, you absolutely must try a slice or two of Burek – rolls of pastry filled with meat, apple, potato, spinach or cheese (and maybe more if you can find it!). These are an absolute staple snack across the Balkans and beyond – indeed, they pretty much fuelled us on our travels around the region. You won’t need to look far to find a bakery or cafe which serves it.
2: Wander along the banks of the Miljacka river
The Miljacka runs through the centre of Sarajevo, and is home to a couple of Sarajevo’s major sights. Firstly, head towards the Latin Bridge – the infamous site of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914, widely regarded as the catalyst for WWI.
Further down the river, to the East, you’ll find City Hall – one of Sarajevo’s most iconic buildings, painstakingly restored after the destruction of the 1990s war. Make sure you approach on the South Bank of the river to get the full view.
3: Stroll around the old streets of Baščaršija – Sarajevo’s Old Town
Baščaršija is the historical centre of Sarajevo, an enticing maze of cobbled alleyways, bazaars, coffee shops and mosques. The best thing to do here is simply to wander and take it all in, without a fixed itinerary or goal in mind. Every street will bring a different experience – whether that’s the smell of freshly baked Burek, or rows of copper goods spilling out of workshops.
Reconvene in ‘Pigeon Square’ to see the hub of the old town before topping up with another Bosnian coffee.
4: Take a free walking tour!
With so much to take in, much of it accessible on foot in a small radius, it would be well worth your while to consider joining a free walking tour. These are a great way to see a city if you’re short on time – and Sajarevo is absolutely the sort of place where it’s worth getting a true local’s perspective.
We booked onto a free walking tour with BHSpirit, which was certainly one of the best we’ve been on – we learnt a huge amount that we would never have known otherwise, and decided to book on to one of their paid tours afterwards.
5: Take in the views from the top of the Avaz Twist Tower
Comfortably the highest skyscraper in the city, the Avaz Twist Tower is the perfect option if you’re looking to get a bird’s eye view of the whole city. It’s a bit of a walk from the cobbled streets of the old town, but is perfectly located a stone’s throw away from the railway station – ideal placement for anyone arriving or departing by train.
For those with a bit more time on your hands, you might want to head to the 35th floor cafe and take in the views over (another!) coffee. If you’re on a tight schedule, however, head up to the 36th floor viewing platform where you can take it all in – a good weather day should let you see the Sarajevo in its entirety; from the old town over to the East to the sprawling housing estates nestled in to the hillsides.
6: Enjoy some Ćevapi for lunch
A classic Bosnian dish, Ćevapi is a delicious dish of kebab-style minced meat typically served with flatbread and onions. It makes for a simple, yet mouth-watering lunch and is an absolute must-have during any visit to Sarajevo. We probably ate it every single day whilst we were in Bosnia – with no regrets!
The old town probably has your highest concentration of the best restaurants in the city for sampling some classic Ćevapi – check out The Culture Trip’s post for some great ideas on where to eat.
7: Visit the Tunnel of Hope
This incredible museum may be over by the airport, but it is well worth a visit during your time in Sarajevo. Centred around a well-preserved section of an 800m tunnel, which acted as a lifeline for the city whilst under siege during the 1990s, the museum tells the harrowing story of this dark period in Sarajevo’s history, explaining the brutal realities of life whilst under bombardment.
It is often easier to reach the Tunnel museum with a tour guide, rather than try to navigate the public transport system or negotiate a taxi – you also have the added benefit of someone to talk you through the history, which is well worth exploring in detail. We opted again for BH Spirit, who provided another excellent tour – we chose to combine the tunnel visit with a trip to the abandoned Olympic bobsled track high up in the hills above Sarajevo, which we think is another ‘must-do’ if you have got the time.
Sarajevo is the sort of city where you could easily spend weeks – a fascinating combination of history, architecture, culture and nature – and there’s certainly much more to see and do than you could possibly manage in 24 hours. The activities in this list provide an great starting point for what should be a brilliant visit.