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Is Sarajevo Worth Visiting?

Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is situated inland and lies in the valley of the Miljacka River in the Dinaric Alps. We visited this lively and cosmopolitan city as part of a road trip though Bosnia and Croatia.It takes a couple of hours to reach there from Mostar and an hour or so from Travnik and Konjic. So is Sarajevo worth visiting? The answer is an emphatic yes! It’s a lovely city with a fascinating history as well as plenty of things to see and do.

Driving in Bosnia is generally a pleasure, but is quite slow in the countryside. The closer you get to Sarajevo the wider and faster the roads become. Driving in the city itself isn’t too difficult either, the traffic was busy but not overwhelming, but make sure you have practiced your hill starts if you’re driving a manual transmission car – the suburbs are very hilly and some of roads are quite narrow.

Welcome to Sarajevo

A walking tour is a really good way to discover a new city, it’s a great means of finding your bearings and discovering places to explore in more depth. Local guides are also a useful resource for getting recommendations for places to eat and drink. We spent our first morning on a walking tour with a small group of international visitors who were also keen to discover what Sarajevo had to offer.

Sarajevo river

When we first met the guide he asked us, “can you tell me anything about Sarajevo?” Sadly, the only things we could think of were negative – the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War in the 1990s and the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which led to the commencement of the First World War. Our guide acknowledged that Sarajevo has had more than its fair share of world history, but also that it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984, which was a positive thing. And he also pointed out that Sarajevo is a hugely multicultural city with a rich history.

Our walking tour started in the old town. On the pavement of Ferhadija there is a plate bearing an inscription:

Is Sarajevo Worth Visiting

This represents the boundary between the old (Ottoman) and new (Austro-Hungarian) parts of the city. The walk conveniently followed the history of Sarajevo.

Sarajevo’s Ottoman Old Town

Although there had been settlements in the area, Sarajevo as we know it was founded during the Ottoman empire in 1461 by Isa-Beg Ishaković, who constructed a number of buildings including mosques, a market and bath houses.

It was Gazi Husrev-beg, governor of the Sanjak of Bosnia in the mid 16th century, who developed the city and enabled it to thrive. Importantly, he recognised Sarajevo’s strategic importance along trade routes and set up free accommodation for traders passing through the city. It reflected the hospitality of the time but also ensured that the area flourished. The old city has a large covered marketplace and several mosques.

The city’s clock tower was an important building. It tells the time in an unconventional way – when the hands are at midnight this denotes the time of sunset. This would have been an important way for Muslims observing Ramadan to know when they could start eating.

Is sarajevo worth visiting
Things to Do in Sarajevo

Of course, sunset occurs at a slightly different time every day, so the clock would have had to be changed manually. In addition, Sarajevo is a located in a steep valley, surrounded by mountains and the city has outgrown the clock. These days, a cannon is fired from the Yellow Fortress to mark an audible sunset alert for all Muslims.

Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque is dedicated to the city’s benefactor and was built in 1530. It is an impressive structure, highly decorated.

Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque
Sarajevo Mosque

It is located next to the covered market, which still operates as a market, albeit with more touristy goods on offer these days.

Things to Do in Sarajevo

The complexity of the water system that was developed during Ottoman times can be seen in the ornate fountains.

Is Sarajevo worth visiting

With a clock tower, library, religious schools, bathhouses and a sophisticated water system, Sarajevo was one of the most important and enlightened cities of the Ottoman empire, second only to Istanbul.

It is a delight wandering through the old town. There are lots of streets with all sorts of goods to buy and craftspeople making and selling their wares. Lots of foodie shops and restaurants too! If you want to buy a coffee set or indeed some delicious coffee there are plenty of emporia in the area to choose from.

Like many places it can get crowded, so we were advised to beware of pickpockets, be alert and keep valuables safe.

In the 16th century Christians and Sephardic Jews, who were fleeing persecution, moved to the city and established places of worship. Sarajevo remains a places where people of multiple religions live together.

Austro-Hungarian Sarajevo

After walking through the old town we reached the river Miljacka which has carved its way through the mountains over the millennia. By 1878 Bosnia Herzegovina had been annexed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A series of modern buildings were constructed along the river’s banks. One of these was the town hall. Designed in 1891 it bears Moorish influences.

This impressive building had many functions over the years, including as a parliament building and national library.


It was hit by incendiary bombs in 1992 during the Bosnian War and the library, along with most of the books, was lost in a fire which destroyed the building. However, it was rebuilt and opened again in 2014.

On the other side of the river is a building known as the spite house, which was located on the site where the main building was to be constructed. Despite many financial incentives, the owner refused to sell his house and so the authorities eventually relocated it on the other side of the river. Known as Inat Kuca, it is now a restaurant.

It’s a pleasant walk along the river banks, although the muddy river was very much a contrast to the crystal clear waters of Mostar and other rivers in the region.

Sarajevo river

Crossing back over the river via the Latinska Ćuprija bridge we reached another location that placed Sarajevo in the history books.

Is Sarajevo worth visiting

It was on the corner of the street leading onto this bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, who was heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, were shot at close range on 28 June 1914 by nationalist Bosnian Serb student Gavrilo Princip. This event led to the start of World War One.

Following the end of the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and Bosnia and Herzegovina was absorbed into Yugoslavia. During World War Two the city was invaded by the Nazis. Of the 12,000 Jewish people living in Bosnia and Herzegovina 10,000 lived in a thriving community in Sarajevo. It is estimated that 8,000 lost their lives in the Holocaust.

Learning About The Siege of Sarajevo

1992 saw the break up of Yugoslavia and, tragically, the commencement of the Bosnian War. Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia but following a referendum, which Bosnian Serbs refused to participate in, the Serbs encircled Sarajevo and blocked all routes to and from the city. Sarajevo remained besieged for 1425 days, the longest siege in modern history.

During our Sarajevo walking tour we learned about how the local people coped during this horrific time. The city was constantly shelled by forces located in the surrounding hills. Our guide told us that when the water and electricity supplies were halted, people would have to risk their lives crossing the river carrying containers so that they could get access to water from the Sarajevo brewery. It is estimated that nearly 14,000 people were killed, over a third of them civilians.

The film Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) by Michael Winterbottom tells a powerful story, which includes real footage of the war. It makes for difficult viewing but offers a compelling insight into a horrible war.

The siege ended on the 29th February 1996. In the years following the war a number of perpetrators and their superiors were convicted for Crimes Against Humanity.

Further Exploration of Sarajevo

We thoroughly enjoyed the small Sarajevo brewery museum. The delightful guide showed us around and told us about the history of the brewery.

However, when we went to the adjoining bar to enjoy some of their beers, we were turned away because apparently we didn’t comply with their dress code. We were wearing t-shirts, long trousers and walking shoes, not tracksuits, trainers and baseball caps. We checked the requirements and confirmed that we were not in contravention. The manager, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, eventually accepted that we were dressed correctly. To be honest, though, we didn’t want to drink where we weren’t welcome. Their loss.

We also visited some of the churches. Sacred Heart Cathedral is a catholic church and the largest cathedral in the country. It was completed in 1887. It was damaged during the siege of Sarajevo but has since been restored.

Things to do in Sarajevo

In the pavement in front of the church there is a square which has a mortar shell crater filled with red concrete, creating a pattern. It’s there to remind people of the war.

Constructed in 1863, the Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos is Sarajevo’s largest Orthodox church.

Sarajevo orthodox cathedral

Beside the Europa Hotel it is possible to see the remains of a caravanserai, known as Taslihan, which was originally constructed in the mid-16th century. It was only discovered when the hotel was being renovated but now the former walls are a part of the garden. In its day it was a large market which also offered accommodation for merchants.

Is Sarajevo worth visiting

A Bosnian Cookery Course

Aside from city walking tours we also love taking cookery lessons whenever we visit a new country. We were delighted to join Mersiha and Mustapha from Bosnian Cooking Lessons at their home to learn how to cook traditional Bosnian cuisine. There were five dishes on the menu:

Sogan dolma – Onions filled with minced meat, rice and spices

Japrak mangel/spinach leaves rolled and filled with minced meat, rice and spices

Dolma paprika filled with minced meat, rice and spices

Bosnian pita – Phyllo dough rolled with cheese and phyllo rolled with peppery potatoes

We arrived at Mersiha and Mustafa’s home located high in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. It had a lovely view of the city. Mersiha and Mustafa grow a lot of vegetables in their garden and we enjoyed chatting with them about growing food. We were offered some traditional Bosnian snacks and a nice cool beer.

Then it was into the kitchen. Firstly we made the stuffing preparing the minced meat with rice and spices.

We learned how to stuff onions, layer by layer, as well as paprika. We also learned a technique for preparing and filling the mangel leaves. The folding technique was brilliant and we have used it since. These would all be cooked together in a lovely, lightly spiced, tomato sauce. We were impressed that Mersiha made sure that nothing went to waste. Any leftover bits of vegetable went into the sauce to add to its richness.

Next step was preparing phyllo. Mersiha expertly prepared a dough to exactly the right consistency and let it rest. When it was ready it was rolled onto the tablecloth and had another rest while we prepared two fillings: one of soft cheese and egg, and another of grated potato with lots of black pepper. Then we pulled the dough, by hand, so that it covered the entire table! It was so very thin – paper thin – but yet elastic and strong enough to take a filling. Mersiha was an excellent teacher and guided us really well.

After adding the filling in a long line, the phyllo was rolled up to create a sausage shape, then cut into pieces and rolled into swirls before baking.

Bosnian pita

Both dishes came together at the same time. It was a really fun afternoon which culminated in us all enjoying a delicious dinner together.

Mustapha and Mersiha were delightful hosts and excellent teachers. We thoroughly enjoyed not only cooking and dining with them, but also chatting with them about life in Sarajevo.

Sarajevo for Foodies

We stayed at the Hotel Aziza, which was close to the Yellow Fortress and a short downhill walk from the old town. You quickly find that you get a good workout walking anywhere in the city, especially in the suburbs, and it was a robust walk back up the steep hill every time we wandered into the old town. The Aziza offered a buffet breakfast with all sorts of interesting goodies, while not necessarily typical Bosnian, definitely the best brekkie we enjoyed in Bosnia.

There are loads of restaurants in Sarajevo offering typical Bosnian fare. Bosanski sahan is a dish comprising meat with mixed vegetables in a sauce and sitni cevap is veal meat in sauce. These were served with delicious fluffy Bosnian bread and salad.

It’s essential to try cevapi – little meat sausages inside soft pillowy bread, accompanied with finely sliced onion. Make sure you order a large portion, they are so delicious.

Desserts are luscious and sweet. We particularly enjoyed hurmasica, a gooey, syrupy cake. Coffee culture is also very important and the sweetness of the desserts is beautifully offset by the bitterness of the strong coffee.

hurmasica dessert
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If you enjoy a tipple, it’s impossible to visit Bosnia without tying domace rakija – homemade brandy. It is made from fermented fruits which are distilled. The more common fruits that form the base of the rakija are grapes and plums but other fruits such as pears, cherries and raspberries are used as well. Some of the more unusual flavours are honey, quince and walnut.

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  1. Sarajevo is very much on our radar once international trains are back. It looks fantastic, especially the brewery and food. The stuffed onions sound interesting we had stuffed paprika last night.

    • We’d definitely recommend a visit. Yes, stuffed onions and paprika are delicious – we learned a good technique at the cookery school

  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina is still on our bucketlist and so is the capital Sarajevo. The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian history looks amazing. And so does the food. I have never done a cooking class in Europe but your blogpost really makes me want to try it!

    • I’m glad you’re inspired to take a cookery class. We’ve taken them many times on our travels and really enjoy them. This one was really splendid – we had such a great time and learned loads!

  3. Such an interesting city! I must admit that my knowledge of Sarajevo was limited to the start of WW1 and the siege of Sarajevo too. I am so pleased to see that it has been restored from that dreadful time. Like you I enjoy walking tours in cities as a way to really get into the nooks and crannies, but have never done a cooking class – yet! I wonder why they did not want you in the bar? Name and shame, I say. I would certainly avoid with that kind of attitude.

    • Thank you! Sarajevo really is a fantastic city to visit. We really enjoyed both the walking tour and the cookery class – it was so much fun as well as being delicious! We have no idea why the bar was so unwelcoming, they weren’t full and we definitely weren’t in contravention of their dress code. Still, plenty of other places to enjoy a tipple or two.

  4. Your cooking session was lovely to follow and see what sort of dishes you were able to make. The filo pastry and process is similar to making Viennese apple strudel. Have you tried recreating these dishes at home? Weird that the beer bar was so uptight about you guys and fully support you here. No need to settle somewhere where one feels unwelcome. I have a similar story from my first Italy trip many years ago so I understand when you are abroad and the locals feel strongly about dress code.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • Thank you! We so enjoyed the cookery course, making the phyllo was so much fun. We have had a go since but need more practice. Interesting that the same technique is used for the apple strudel. Yeah, we don’t know why the bar was so uptight. They did eventually accept that we weren’t in contravention of their dress code (we definitely weren’t wearing the banned sports-gear) but their initial reaction was very off-putting and, quite frankly, rude.

  5. From what I have read and heard from those who have been to Sarajevo, the city is really worth visiting.
    With a fabulous cultural mix, it is certainly a city with a lot to explore and discover.
    Undoubtedly, a “gastronomic journey” is a must, as food reflects much of the culture of a place, region or country.

    • Thank you. We really loved Sarajevo, we learned so much about its history and really enjoyed our stay there. The food was absolutely great and we loved the cookery course.

  6. It looks like it was a fantastic visit. Walking tours are such a great way to see the city and learn its history…. my knowledge of Sarajevo is also limited.

    The cookery class looks amazing. Every dish looks amazing. It is such a skill to make a pliable phyllo pastry. I hope you have enjoyed some of the recipes at home.

    Lyn | https://www.ramblynjazz.com

    • Thank you! It really was fantastic. Walking tours are such a great way of discovering a new city. The cookery class was so much fun. We learned some great techniques that we have used at home.

  7. Sarajevo always stays in my mind for the historical event of the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. For that reason I’ve always wanted to visit it and see the actual spot where it happened and thus the eventual start of WW1.
    Its so refreshing to see that the city has recovered so well and the buildings have been rebuilt and restored to their former glory. These buildings, with the mix of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian styles, would be a highlight for me.
    I tasted only a limited amount of food from this country when I visited the south eastern area but I would confirm it is filling and delicious.

    • We, too, only really knew about the negative elements of Sarajevo’s history so it was brilliant to discover more about this wonderful city. It’s a fantastic place to wander through and you’re right, the architecture is amazing. The food was so delish and the cookery course so much fun.

  8. I love learning about the history of places I visit, and I love it when cities display their history instead of hiding it. This sounds like the perfect city for a walking tour. I like the idea of having an auditory clue for sunset, I think it’s a nice way to mark the day. As always, the food looks delicious 🙂

    • Thank you! You’re so right about a city displaying its history and the walking tour really was the perfect way to explore and to understand this amazing city. The food was just fab as well!

  9. Sarajevo is one of those intirguing cities that can hold anyone captive in its spell – historically and culturally. This former Ottoman frontier that brims with Austro-Hungarian churches and Yugoslavian style architecture can make any traveler eagerly place one’s fingers to the city’s beating pulse. Looks like this was a great trip for you guys! I can’t wait to visit myself.

    Jan – https://flyingbaguette.com/

    • Thank you – Sarajevo really is a captivating city. The architecture is amazing, we particularly enjoyed exploring the Ottoman old town. Hope you get to visit – we are sure you will enjoy it!

  10. It sounds like it’s definitely worth visiting! Such a fascinating history that I’m not that familiar with. It would be important for me to learn more before visiting. The Yugoslavian architecture is really beautiful. I would love to do a walking tour and learn more about it.

    • Thank you! Sarajevo is definitely worth visiting. We loved the walking tour and learned so much. We highly recommend a visit.

  11. Walking tours are always a good call when in a new city. I didn’t realise Sarajevo was Ottoman before so that’s really interesting! You can see how the architecture and style have shaped the cityscape. I would love to explore the brewery too. This part of the world is becoming more interesting the more I read about it! really great post!

    • Thank you! Yes, we were fascinated to learn about Sarajevo’s history. The Ottoman architecture really is amazing and we loved exploring the old town. We’d definitely recommend a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s a wonderful country and we really enjoyed our trip there.

  12. While the river looks less than appealing there are many other things here that look particularly interesting about Sarajevo. A cooking class is always a great way to learn about a place, and some of the buildings look so pretty. It’s sad that most of us only know of the dark parts of Bosnian history, so thanks for highlighting some really great reasons to visit

    • You’re right that the river is less appealing – it was certainly the muddiest river we saw in Bosnia and Herzegovina, compared to many of the crystal blue waters of, say, Mostar. But the city itself is wonderful. We, too, felt sad that we only knew about the negative parts of the city’s history, so it was brilliant to discover such a lively and cosmopolitan place – definitely worth a visit!

  13. I wanted to visit Sarajevo since I was a little girl, but with Yugoslavia behind the Iron Curtain, and then the Bosnian War, I forgot about it. I loved hearing about the history and seeing the architecture in your pictures! Sarajevo is back on my list, and hopefully I can visit soon!

    • Oh, we do hope you get to visit, we are sure you will love Sarajevo. It’s a wonderful city with so many things to see and a rich history. The rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina is also delightful as well.

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