A Walking Sarajevo Tour
Situated right at the heart of the Balkans, Sarajevo is Bosnia & Herzegovina’s capital city. During the 1990’s, Sarajevo suffered heavily during the Balkan wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia (the federation of states of which Bosnia was a member) and was brutally besieged for 5 long and painful years.
Today though, Sarajevo is once again open for business and establishing itself as a very popular backpacking destination and an unmissable stop of any Balkan trip. Here in Sarajevo, East meets West. With its unique mix of Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and communist influences as well as stark reminders of the war at every turn, it is easy to see why Sarajevo continues to charm, fascinate & educate travellers.
Despite being a capital city Sarajevo is rather compact and ideal for walking around. Most of the main attractions are within a few kilometers of each other with a few exceptions which can be reached by the cities quaint, old world tram network. There are quite a few walking tours available in Sarajevo taking in different themes and of varying quality. However, the rise of Travel Apps means that there are now some awesome apps you can download which will essentially act as a tour guide inside your smartphone allowing you to go at your own pace and in your own time!
I explored Sarajevo whilst backpacking the Balkans this summer and it was a true highlight.
We’re going to begin our tour of Sarajevo on a high by being heading up to the high ground for an epic view of the city! The Trebevic mountain overlooks Sarajevo and rises up from its South-East just behind the old town. In April 2018, the Trebevic cable car finally re-opened after it closed in 1990 during the war. During the siege, the mountain was occupied by Serb Militia’s who used its strategic position to bombard the city.
Because of the depth of the entrenchment as well as the proliferation of mind lines in the area, clearing the mountain took a long time. Nevertheless, the mountain has now been reclaimed for the people of Sarajevo and you can join families, day trippers and couples riding the cable car over the hillside to the top.
Bob Sleigh Track
From the summit, head down along the footpaths to one of the viewpoints to get your fill of cityscape shots. If you are so inclined, you can seek out the foundations of an iron age fort which once stood here although it may only be interesting to history and archaeology buffs. Then, seek out the abandoned Bobsleigh track which was used for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. The track is hidden in the woods and snakes and winds down the mountain as foliage creeps around it. It is now covered in years of graffiti and looks immensely cool.
You can take the cable car back down but I recommend walking. Its all downhill, the roads are nice & quiet and you get to walk passed a bombed out house on the way. As you reach the edge of town you will hit an Islamic cemetery – do note the plethora of graves dating between 1990 – 1995. The route down should take you no more than an hour.
War Hostel & Museum
As you return to the cable car steps and walk down them, you will pass the War Hostel. This is a unique, themed hostel where you may wish to stay to experience life during the siege. Even if you don’t stay there, the owner has a private collection of war memorabilia housed in a museum below the hostel which you can view.
I stayed in War Hostel during my stay and found it to be a unique and unforgettable experience which truly brought to reality a taste of everyday life during the Bosnian War.
Just over the river, you will see an impressive, Austro-Hungarian official looking building. This is the Presidential Palace of Bosnia. Bosnia & Herzegovina actually has no fewer than 4 different Presidents representing each of the major ethnic groups in the nation. This rather strange and complicated political system is a result of the uneasy peace agreement brokered in 1995 at the end of the Bosnian War.
The building was targeted by Serb forces during the Siege of Sarajevo but has long since been restored.
House of Spite
Before you head toward the next stop, think about stopping at Inat Kuca for some lunch. It boasts a lovely riverside setting and serves traditional Bosnian Food at very reasonable prices. The building itself has quite a history as the original owner had the Ottoman’s move it brick by brick from one side of the river to the other an as condition of him letting them use his old site for developments.
Inat Kuca does a decent vegetarian selection and offers the fine Sarajevska black beer which is delicious.
We then hit the river and return to the heart of Sarajevo. There are numerous bridges at which you can cross but I recommend using Latin Bridge as it was here that Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria was shot in 1914; the assassination which marked the beginning of World War 1! A small plaque commemorates this pivotal event in world history.
From here you will pretty much land at Sarajevo’s old town which is now the tourist hub. The old town consists of mostly Ottoman-era buildings and you can see this is in the Turkish architectural stylings with their domed roofs and curved windows. There are a few old Mosques, some closed down bathhouses and a tourist information centre in case you get lost.
This is the ideal place to barter for Souvenirs and sample some delicious Bosnian cuisine. The local Sarajevska black beer is a refreshing accompaniment for any meal.
Shisha and coffee culture are both thriving in Sarajevo and you will find an abundance of cool little joints to while away a few afternoon hours situated in the old town. By this point during the tour, you may be feeling a bit tired so be sure to recharge yourself with strong Bosnian coffee and maybe a bit of Baclava.
Adjacent to the old town is the new town, the upmarket, shiny part of Sarajevo where all the modern swanky shops are. The most interesting things around here are some striking Orthodox Churches and of course the Srebrenica Museum; a permanent exhibition which tells the harrowing tale of one of the Bosnian wars most terrible massacres.
Mall & United Nations Building/Sniper Alley
To reach the next point of interest we’re going to have to walk a few KM along the river bank but don’t worry, the route is pleasant and the buildings along the way are an interesting mish-mash of Hungarian styles & communist blocks. Take a look for bullet and mortar holes still impressed into the facades of the buildings.
Eventually, we come to Mesma Salemovic Boulevard, now identified by a huge shopping mall, which during the war was the infamous “Sniper Alley”. If you look towards the Jewish cemetery on the hillside, this is where Serb snipers would hide and indiscriminately pick of Sarajevo’s going about their business. The mall that now sits on the site is pretty impressive as far as shopping mall’s go, but for me, the best thing about it is the free bathrooms. Then head towards the American embassy and set your GPS for Markale Market.
Throughout Sarajevo, you will notice red paint splattered across the pavement. Whilst you may initially simply presume that a city maintenance worker has spilled a can, this is not the case. If you look closer you will see that the paint splats are actually dribbled over dents in the pavement. These dents are mortar shell holes and these spots are where somebody was killed by an explosion.
The most famous Mortar hole though is undoubtedly the one in the centre of Markale Market. It was here, in February 1994, that a mortar landed killing 68 people. The footage was broadcast around the world and finally forced the UN’s hand in entering the conflict and pushing for an end to the war that had gone on for too long. This is the last stop on our Sarajevo Tour unless yoiu fancy taking a tram out of town…
Siege Tunnels Museum
The siege tunnels museum tells the story of how Sarajevo managed to avoid starvation during the siege. The network of tunnels runs right under the airport runway to avoid hostile fire and bombardment. Today, you can tour some of the tunnels and see for yourself the supply line that saved a city.
The tunnels museum is near the airport so you will need to take either the bus to the entrance or the tram part of the way and then walk the distance. It’s a great add on for my Sarajevo Tour.
By the time you are done, your legs should be nicely tired and you will have worked up quite the appetite.