There aren’t many cities in the world that I would visit again. Why go somewhere twice when there are thousands of cities that I’ve yet to discover? However, Sarajevo is one city that I would probably consider re-visiting, even before I have a chance to visit Dhaka and Dakar, Leon and Puncheon? If you are exploring the Balkans make sure your itinerary includes Sarajevo- you won’t regret it!
A lot of the coolest things to do in Sarajevo are not accessible by public transit, unfortunately. This means that you should sign up for a city tour, which usually takes about six or seven hours and includes a stop for lunch. I did my tour through Haris Youth Hostel, which has tours departing daily from their office at Pigeon Square, Bascarsija (sign up one day in advance). Our tour started with the Tunnel Museum, where you can go underground through the tiny tunnel that was the only source of food, medical supplies and travel during the siege. Then we headed up into the mountains to visit the Olympic bobsleigh track, which was used as cover by Serbian snipers. Next we headed back to the city for the Olympic Museum, then on to a traditional Ottoman House museum (I feel like I should do an entire post about my feelings towards traditional Ottoman house museums), Sniper Alley, the Latin Bridge and then the Ottoman old town.
While you’re exploring Sarajevo’s Old Town, you’ll instantly notice the amazing cultural diversity. I happened to visit during Ramadan, and Muslims from around Europe had come to the city. There are a number of mosques in Sarajevo, including historically significant buildings in the historic center and works of modern architecture in the new town, and these buildings co-exist side-by-side with Jewish synagogues, and Roman Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals. It’s fascinating to speak to locals about how they perceive diversity in Sarajevo, how they have come to terms with the past and how they envision the city’s future.
However, there is more to Sarajevo than just the Old Town. Sarajevo expands primarily westwards through communities such as Novo Sarajevo and Novi Grad, which feature monolithic Eastern European-style apartment blocks, sad-looking playgrounds and graffiti that is sure to get your stomach grumbling. Some locals suggest staying away from this part of town as it is more “dangerous”, but I didn’t feel unsafe here at all. I will say, however, that I felt quite isolated. I often walked for many blocks without seeing another pedestrian (or even a moving vehicle), and I managed to completely lose my sense of direction. When I stopped to ask for directions back to the main tram line the woman I asked seemed completely shocked to be interacting with a foreigner in her neighborhood. For an authentic look at Sarajevo life, go west!
Speaking of burek and pita, you are sure to enjoy dining in Sarajevo. When many international aid groups descended upon the city during and after the siege, the city responded by accommodating their culinary preferences. In addition to the rich east-west culinary history blending European and Ottoman food influences, you’ll find everything from sushi to tacos to quinoa in Sarajevo’s restaurants. While my personal favorite meal was at Karuzo, I feel like I have to give mad props to the surly old guy selling Turkish-style pastries at Pigeon Square. This is his shop, and this is his “not burek”. While Wikipedia says that “Börek (also burek and other variants) is a family of baked or fried filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo (or yufka). It can be filled with cheese, often feta, sirene or kaşar; minced meat, or vegetables”, the man operating this little shop is absolutely adamant that his cheese (or spinach and cheese, or potato) pastries are “NOT BUREK!” While the first time I visited I was a little taken aback by him yelling at me about his burek, over the next few days we developed a mutual understanding allowing me to get my “NOT BUREK!” and him to get the satisfaction of thinking he was right. (If you don’t like getting yelled at you can order the pastries by their official names: cottage cheese is “sirnica”, spinach and cheese is “zeljanica”, and potatoes are “krompiruša”.)
Finally, while you’re in the area you would have to be crazy to miss a side trip to Mostar. It’s a bit much to do in a day (three hours on the bus in each direction), so I recommend taking the beautiful Sarajevo-Mostar “Express” train and turning it into an overnight visit. The train is slow and steady, passing through absolutely beautiful scenery (especially for the morning trip) and dropping you off at the station which is walking distance from Mostar’s Old Town and famous Stari Most (Old Bridge).