An enticing mixture of Ottoman, Yugoslav, and Austro-Hungarian buildings line the streets of Sarajevo. Their unique composition seems to tell the tale of the city’s history. Sarajevo has expanded over time, each section a different patch of architectural style and era. It will seem like you have one foot in the west and another in the east as you make your way through the winding lanes.
The antique shops lining the narrow stone alleys of the Old Town have a distinctly Turkish feel; indeed, it was founded by the Ottomans in the 15th century. Stroll through the car-free streets, taking in the scent of spices and hear the sound of hammer hitting copper plates. Local men stop to chat under the leafy trees in the courtyard outside the Ottoman bazaar’s 16th-century Gazi Husrey-beg Mosque. Minarets reach for the sky alongside Byzantine domed churches. The call to prayer and the clang of church bells mingle in this city, sometimes referred to as “little Jerusalem.”
Hookah bars burst with energy and swarm with the young people of Sarajevo in the evening hours. A quick pick-me-up can easily be found in one of the many stylish coffee houses pouring out incredibly strong doses of dark Bosnian brew along the Miljacka River. Drinking this liquid power punch is an important daily ritual for residents of Sarajevo. The white cup might look small, and the copper pot embossed with pretty swirly designs might appear dainty, but the dark fuel carries its weight. The Balkan rakija, a fruity flavored brandy, packs a punch of a different sort. This brew is often drank alongside plates of meats and cheeses to kick off a very late night out on the town. Dare to eat just one Turkish delight (we think it’s impossible).
Sarajevo is the perfect blend of city and country. Head to the hills to explore the thick forest-covered mountains and deep, green valleys that embrace the city. Hike through the expansive network of trails, and visit the Bjelasnica and Jahorina resorts to ski the same slopes that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.
The Trebevic gondola rises up to the plateau at the foot of Sarajevo and gives you an opportunity to see the Olympic bobsled tracks and to try (and fail) to count how many red roofs are packed into the small city. This cable car was destroyed during the war, but has been ceremoniously rebuilt as a testament to Sarajevo’s growth.
Reminders of the city’s grim past are hard to miss. Communist-era apartment blocks littered with bullet holes are the scars that speak to the devastation that Sarajevo endured in the early 1990s, when the former Yugoslavia was dissolving. Descend to the underground tunnel that carried food and medical supplies into Sarajevo when it was cut off by Serbian troops. The dark history is also somberly remembered in the Srebrenica-Galerija exhibition of photographs of the effects of genocide. World War I was also sparked here in 1914; its history is recounted at the Museum of Sarajevo.
Despite these wounds of the past, the people of Sarajevo are resilient, open, and warm. New boutiques, hotels, galleries, and restaurants are popping up among the pastel Austro-Hungarian facades, ushering in a new and hopeful future.