Bosnia’s capital city, Sarajevo, is truly where East meets West. Here, humble wooden Ottoman shops juxtapose the luxurious Austro-Hungarian residences in the old town. Further down into the new city, are Sarajevo’s gritty communist blocs, alive with bars, the art scene, and the U.N.’s permanent mission to Bosnia.
The Latin Bridge & Austro-Hungarian Old Town
Sarajevo is commonly known as the ‘place where WWI started’, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It happened right here, on the street under the sign that says “Muzej”. It’s a crazy story, and I won’t ruin it for you. But let’s just say it’s not as straightforward as what you learned in school.
The area near the Latin bridge is the Austro-Hungarian old town. The main pedestrian street Ferhadija and the riverfront are both great for a casual stroll. This is some of the most expensive real-estate in the country, and you’ll understand why!
The Old Ottoman Town
Sarajevo was founded by the Ottomans in the year 1460, as a trading post and caravanserai, or inn, from where it got its name. This early Ottoman style is rare today, as the primary material was wood. The ‘pigeon fountain’ pictured below is a popular meeting place and symbol of the city.
The old Ottoman town is crawling with vendors, selling handmade metal goods, woven clothing, domestic coffee, and Turkish delight.
The National Library/City Hall
Upstream from the Latin Bridge, Sarajevo’s National Library and City Hall is a unique mix of Moorish and Austro-Hungarian styles. Its immaculate detail and eclectic style blend together East and Western motifs, symbolizing Sarajevo as a whole. (I’m not making this up, I swear.)
Inside is a beautiful geometric mosaic, which illuminates the entire building during the day. It is less than $1 to enter, so it’s worth popping in. There’s also a museum inside, with rotating photography exhibits.
The abandoned Olympic bobsled track
Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984 as part of former Yugoslavia. A few years later in 1991, however, the track served as an outpost for Bosnian Serb and Yugoslav forces. The track’s position above the city makes it a strategic place for artillery units.
Today is an alternative hangout and covered in graffiti. Luge teams still practice here during the week, so be careful when you’re walking, and stay on the path!
View of Sarajevo from the Bastions
There are two ancient defensive bastions which overlook the city. The Yellow and White bastions are free to enter, after braving the hike to the top. The views from the bastions and surrounding restaurants are spectacular.
The bastions are an excellent picnic or sunset spot. The national library can be seen on the lower-right side. Follow the river up and you’ll see the Latin bridge’s iconic arches.
Museums worth visiting:
These museums are dedicated to the Bosnian war and genocide and will be difficult to swallow. However, visiting at least one of these sites is crucial to understanding the country’s dark history and struggle for independence.
- Museum of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide 1992-1995
- Explains all atrocities of the Bosnian war and the trials of war criminals.
- Tunnel of Hope museum
- Secret tunnel used to smuggle in supplies during the Siege of Sarajevo
- Galerija 11/07/95
- permanent exhibition of black-and-white photography, as well as belongings of Bosnians who experienced the Srebrenica genocide
- Guided war tour
- 2-3 hour city tour, including several memorials, the U.N. building, and the top of the mountain from where Yugoslav and Bosnian Serb forces sieged the city of Sarajevo.
For a history of the city in general, visit the Museum of Sarajevo, next to the Latin Bridge.
Only in Sarajevo, can you enjoy Turkish coffee, Austrian luxury, and Bosnian hospitality, all at once. The affordability and intriguing history of Sarajevo make for a unique and inexpensive vacation. There’s much more to see in Bosnia, but Sarajevo is surely the place to begin!