Decimated by war in the 1990s, Sarajevo now offers visitors high culture, vibrant nightlife, breathtaking views and mouthwatering food. The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina truly is a city reborn
The locals say that if you haven’t eaten ĉevapi during a visit to Sarajevo, you haven’t really been there at all.
These little sausage-shaped fingers of minced lamb and beef, spiced exactly right, are served in pita bread with onions and at their finest accompanied by a smooth glass of yogurt. You won’t find any pork in them as the population here is largely Muslim. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get pork anywhere. In this city east does not merely meet west - it embraces it and invites it in for coffee.
The Ottoman Empire established Sarajevo as a major trading point, making it the city it is today. The first stop on any visitor’s agenda, therefore, has to be Baŝĉarŝija, the Turkish quarter. Here you can watch traditional coppersmiths at work, dine on ĉevapi and shop for handmade goods and jewellery in the winding alleyways.
Take the time to explore the beautiful Gazi-Huzrev Beg Mosque and its accompanying madrasa and markets and drink water from the Sebilj Fountain to ensure your safe eventual return to the city.
After exploring the many delights of Baŝĉarŝija, it may be time to hike uphill to the Jajce Castle for stunning views of this city. Across the river from Baŝĉarŝija you will notice the chimneys of the Sarajevo Brewery, where the local brew, Sarajevsko, is made. Built on top of a natural spring, the brewery served as the main water source for thousands of the city’s inhabitants during the four-year siege of the city between 1992 and 1996, when water supplies were cut off. The beer is a pleasant pilsener-like lager and the adjoining restaurant offers some of the city’s finest dining.
Only a few hundred metres downstream you will find the Latin Bridge, site of the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which notoriously sparked the First World War. Head west from Baŝĉarŝija and you seem to travel through time as well as place. The architecture becomes decidedly Viennese, built after the Austro-Hungarian Empire took control of Bosnia in 1878.
At the end of a long day of exploring, treat yourself to a taxi ride up to Kod Bibana, a restaurant with stunning views and food to match. Relax here while you plan day trips to the Skakavac waterfall or the town of Mostar. Before hitting the hay in a comfortable room at Bascarsija Pansion, be sure to get to know the friendly staff and maybe share a drink. They really go out of their way to make your stay special.
Sarajevo’s modern-day tragedy is visible everywhere in the city. Instead of lavish monuments and sombre rituals, the resilient people commemorate the victims subtly and beautifully. The most poignant memorials are the Sarajevo Roses, scars in the pavement where artillery fired from the surrounding hillsides killed civilians - subsequently filled with bright red wax in tribute to the deceased.
The Markale Market massacre compelled the Clinton US administration to call for air strikes and within months the Dayton Peace Accords were signed. The market still runs today, with a memorial occupying the rear wall. It is both sobering and uplifting to see the citizens of Sarajevo still shopping in this market hall and I encourage you to do the same in tribute to those who perished there. The fruits, berries and nuts available here make excellent snacks to enjoy as you continue to explore the city.
In the suburb of Butmir you will find one of Sarajevo’s most recommended sites - the Tunnel Museum. During the siege a tunnel underneath the airport runway was the only lifeline in and out of the city, transporting supplies and people throughout the night. On the Sarajevo side, the tunnel surfaced in the backyard of the Kolar family, who now run a museum in their home. A fraction of the tunnel is now accessible but, along with the exhibits, it is more than enough to get a feel for how extraordinary and vital these operations were. The museum is accessible either by bus from Ilidža, by taxi, or on an organised walk with the tourist information office.
Two words truly sum up this city: resilient and thriving. The generation of children who attended classes in candlelit basements now fill the bars and nightclubs. To call Sarajevo’s nightlife vibrant is an understatement. Check out Sloga for three floors’ worth of music and socialising - the top floor is for Yugo-nostalgics.
City Pub is always busy, with groups heading to Boemi and The Club for late night tail-feather shaking. If you get lucky, you’ll run into a group of resourceful twenty-somethings on their way to a party in an office building where the cubicles have been moved aside to create a dance floor.
By the end of your stay, you’ll feel that what is true for ĉevapi rings true for the city itself: if you haven’t been to Sarajevo, you haven’t really been anywhere.