For many, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, evokes images of war. After all, the Sarajevo siege of the 1990s and the raging war that engulfed Bosnia and Herzegovina brought on the worst atrocities Europe has seen since the World War II.
Some might know Sarajevo by another big historical event – the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.
That’s a lot of conflict for a very small country!
Today, Sarajevo is intriguing and vibrant. Albeit small for a capital, Sarajevo packs history, culture, nature, and an interesting mix of the East and the West. Moreover, it’s very affordable for a European destination!
Sarajevo is not a major clubbing destination, as locals prefer long chats over coffees or going out to smaller pubs, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do at night!
1. Stroll along Ferhadija and the Old Town
Ferhadija, the main pedestrian lane, and the Old Town (Baščaršija) are well worth visiting both during daytime and nighttime. Start your stroll at Vječna Vatra where Ferhadija starts and stroll all the way to the Old Town. Ferhadija runs west to east. Toward Ferhadija Street’s eastern end, near the northern entrance to Gazi Husrev Bey’s Bezistan, there is a marker on the street that symbolizes the spot where East and West meet in Sarajevo. As you walk, you’ll be able to see the history of Bosnia through architecture. Buildings go from Ottoman to Austro-Hungarian to Yugoslav to modern.
There is a lot to see in the Old Town. At its heart is Sebilj, one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. Pay a visit to the Brusa Bezistan Museum, Husrev-Bey’s Mosque and the Old Synagogue (now a Jewish Museum). Time permitting, Svrzo’s House and Despić’s House are must-sees, as is Vijećnica – the newly rebuilt city hall.
Most of all, slow down and enjoy the walk. Sarajevans will casually stroll these streets, sometimes going up and down several times, no matter the weather. During the summer, it can get quite crowded, but this leisurely activity gives you a real glimpse into the Sarajevan way of life.
2. Enjoy the view from Žuta Tabija
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Žuta Tabija or the Yellow Fortress is an almost magical Sarajevo viewpoint. It gets its name from the golden-yellow hue of its stonework. It’s a popular place for picnickers, groups of friends, and canoodling lovers.
Plan for watching a sunset, especially if you’re visiting during the summer months. Bring your dinner, or buy snacks and drinks, before settling in on the hill. Žuta Tabija is only a short walk from the Old Town.
During Ramadan, an old cannon is fired here to signal it’s time to break the fast in the evening. From this viewpoint, you can see a lot of white gravestones – this is the Martyrs Cemetery, a park before the siege in the ‘90s.
If you continue to walk a little further up, you’ll reach The White Fortress, for an even higher viewpoint.
3. Go up the Avaz Twist Tower
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The Avaz Twist Tower is a 176 m tall skyscraper. It is the headquarters for Dnevni Avaz, a Bosnian newspaper company. It is located in Marijin Dvor, one of the most central neighborhoods in Sarajevo. It’s pretty hard to miss since there aren’t that many skyscrapers in Sarajevo.
It is worth the three-minute walk from the Marijin Dvor tram station to enjoy remarkable city panoramas from the 35th-floor cafe. Just enter the building and head to the elevator. If you climb the stairs one floor higher and pop 1KM (0.50 EUR) in the turnstile, you can see the same views in the open air.
We suggest heading to the Avaz Twist Tower at night after visiting the Historical Museum and the National Museum. The tower is only a 5-10 minute walk from the museums.
4. Have a drink at Zlatna Ribica
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Zlatna Ribica (Goldfish) is probably the most interesting bar you’ll find in the city.
Located off Maršala Tita, just across the street from Vječna Vatra where you would have started your Ferhadija stroll, the bar has a peculiar vibe. Dark, hipster but intellectual, kitsch and eclectic, filled to the brim with interesting vintage and antique items. Stop by for a rakija (a national alcoholic drink) or beer and wine. Drink menus are hidden in old books that dangle by phone cords!
The toilets are also worth checking out, even if you don’t have to go!
Note that Zlatna Ribica is very popular amongst locals and tourists, so consider making a reservation before going.
5. Sarajevo Film Festival
Many locals would recommend visiting Sarajevo in August, during the Sarajevo Film Festival.
As with many other things in Sarajevo, Sarajevo Film Festival (SFF) has a unique story. It began in the midst of Bosnian war when a group of Sarajevans decided to revive culture in their isolated and besieged city. The first festival was attended by thousands, and all the movie projections were full despite the bombing.
Today, SFF is a unique cultural event, increasingly more known across Europe and the world. It’s a great place to meet and mingle with actors, producers, and stars. Unlike Venice and Cannes, Sarajevo’s film festival is more laid-back. It’s also an opportunity to check out great regional films, short films, and documentaries.
Furthermore, the nightlife in Sarajevo during the festival is a story for itself. Many clubs and concert venues have a special programme, and a lot of outside spaces are open and bustling. You can enjoy live jazz sessions, rock & punk concerts, techno parties or traditional Bosnian sevdah music nights.
6. Sip coffee and people watch
In Sarajevo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in general, coffee is a big part of the culture.
Traditional Bosnian coffee is similar to its Turkish counterpart (but never call it Turkish in front of a Bosnian!).
The coffee is enjoyed slowly and deliberately, on your own or with friends and family (with ćejf – an untranslatable word roughly meaning hedonism). The tradition still persists, although most young people prefer espresso-based drinks. Nevertheless, Sarajevo has a coffee shop on every corner. Sipping coffee is the cornerstone of socializing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. You ‘go for a coffee’ even if you don’t drink coffee, and ‘grabbing a coffee’ can refer to a business meeting, a date, or simply hanging out with friends.
Italians would probably lose their mind looking at Bosnians sipping one espresso for three hours, but Bosnians consume coffee in a relaxed manner.
Locals will jokingly blame this ‘lazy’ approach to life for the high unemployment rate, but this brings something special to the city – a relaxed demeanor and a life of simple joys – lost in many other European capitals.
Furthermore, locals enjoy people watching, especially when sitting outside in the warmer months.
Coffee shops to visit:
Miris Dunja (if in the Old Town)
Čajdžinica Džirlo (if tea is more your thing)
Cafe Tito (for a Yugloslav feel)
Wiener Cafe (for an Austro-Hungarian feel)
Espresso Lab (for a more modern feel)
Metropolis (selection of cakes and modern)
Torte i To (for a selection of cakes, good coffee, and a view)
Kamarija Point of View (for the view)
Ministry of Ćejf (modern, but Old Town location)
7. Go to a local pub or bar
Sarajevo’s pub and bar scene are very see-and-be-seen, busy, and the locals dress accordingly. You will rarely spot Sarajevans sitting in pubs in sweatpants. They dress up even for an evening stroll.
For a drink or two, visit:
Dibek – a chill lounge where locals enjoy shisha
Freaky’s Pub – excellent to watch football matches
City Pub – one of the most popular local spots
Pivnica Sarajevo – favorite for special occasions
Que Pasa – a cocktail bar
Celtic Pub – more on the comfortable and cozy side
The following clubs are the best spots for jazz lovers: Monument, Jazzbina, Mash and Mr Kan. We recommend Pro ROCK Club Johnny, The Brew Pub, Charlie Chaplin and Pivnica HS for pop and rock music fans.
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