Tourism in Bosnia Herzegovina is booming, with arrivals up year-on-year thankfully the country hasn’t yet reached its peak potential in terms of tourist numbers. According to the World Bank, BiH attracted a grand total of 529,000 tourists in 2014, however most of these only usually arrive on a day trip from Croatia who in comparison welcomed more than 12 million tourists in the same period.
For me though this was perfect, not many tourists = prime discovering opportunities!
A quick history lesson
Many of you will only know Bosnia and Sarajevo for one reason…the wars. I cannot write an article about the country without mentioning it’s incredibly sad history.
If you wish to discover how the Siege of Sarajevo unfolded check out this YouTube video.
Well that’s enough about the tragic history, Bosnia is looking forward and is trying to rebuild not only the capital but the country too. It still bares war scars which are still clearly visible in some parts of Sarajevo even today, 20 years after the war ended.
A destroyed hotel on Mt Trebević mountain
A destroyed hotel on Mt Trebević mountain
The fantastic view from one of the destroyed hotels I found up on Mt Trebević mountain
My Bosnian Diary – Sarajevo
Arriving in Sarajevo is a real culture shock, there are people practicing every religion all mixed in together. I found the city to have a vibe more similar to Turkey in some parts, however it’s very unique in the fact one minute you are staring at a mosque, if you turn around you’ll see a church and potentially even a synagogue.
After leaving the E.U country of Croatia and arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina I felt like I could be on a different continent, but I’m not, I’m still in Europe.
Baščaršija – the fantastic old bazaar gives Sarajevo that eastern feel
Bosnia Herzegovina is one of Europe’s poorest countries, unfortunately you’ll still see many sites like this.
Within the Old Town you’ll feel more like you are in Turkey than Bosnia
In 1984 Bosnia & Herzegovina (then Yugoslavia) fought off competition from Japan and Sweden to host the Winter Olympics, the first time ever to be held in a communist state. Purpose-built stadiums and venues were created including the Bobsleigh and Luge track on Mt Trebevic.
Sadly during the Siege of Sarajevo, the Trebevic mountain range was an ideal location for the Serbian forces and the Bobsleigh and Luge track was used as protection whilst shooting through purpose-built holes, however it now appears that these have now been filled in and you can no longer see them. Although it’s a place of incredible sadness, I highly recommend visiting this place as it’s one of my top travel experiences.
According to various sources the Government are planning to renovate and reuse the bobsleigh and luge track for the European Youth Olympic festival due to be held in 2017. However when I visited in May 2015 it still very much looks abandoned, the forest is starting to reclaim the land and it is now a really peaceful place to see and possibly enjoy a picnic. Throughout the mountains you’ll find various abandoned/bombed out hotels, restaurants and residential homes to explore, with respect naturally.
I had a fantastic trip visiting the bobsleigh track, highly recommended!
Although the experience was a bit surreal, you get a sense of what life must have been like during the war.
One of my favourite photos from the trip, the bobsleigh track in its true glory with all its twists and turns.
The finishing line…sadly never to be used again. Or is it?
Between 1992-1995 Sarajevo was a city cut-off from the outside world and from itself, the Serbian forces had surrounded the city which was now split in two with only the airport as a buffering ground which nobody could cross.
Thankfully in secret a Bosnian Civil Engineer had created plans to build a tunnel between the two parts of Sarajevo known as the “Tunnel of Hope“.
This proved to be a lifeline for many people as various items could be brought across via the tunnel, cigarettes were especially used as a bargaining tool. These days you can see only a very small section of the tunnel as the rest was filled in with concrete by the Government. This decision was taken mostly due to the tunnel being directly underneath Sarajevo International Airport runway, they feared that it might collapse from the weight of landing aircraft.
The Sarajevo Tunnel Museum is definitely worth a visit, it’s next to the airport so it could be a good option to see when you first arrive in the country. Currently it costs 10 KM (Bosnian Convertible Marka) which isn’t a huge amount and is definitely worth the experience seeing what these poor people went through just to survive.
The entrance to the Sarajevo Tunnel, the opposite side cannot be accessed as the Government have filled the majority with cement due to its location being under the runway of an international airport
Inside the Sarajevo Tunnel you can imagine how tough it would have been to crouch or be bent over slightly just to walk for 40 minutes to reach the other side
Sarajevo – the surrounded city
As you can see the building still bares bullet holes
Throughout Sarajevo, despite having undergone major restoration projects, you’ll still find shelled buildings with gun shot holes still visible. However a lot of the places which were almost destroyed including the Holiday Inn Hotel and the Bosnian parliament building have now been completely modernised and renovated.
Just one of the many tower blocks that still bares the war scars in the city
The Holiday Inn hotel was almost completely destroyed, however it has been fully restored and is still a hotel. You’ll also notice the 1984 Winter Olympic logo on the side of the building.
Something that I thought was a very sweet touch whilst walking through the city was seeing the Sarajevo roses, these were explosion marks on the ground from the impact of the shells that have now been painted red to look like a rose. Such a beautiful thing to see from something so tragic.
Just one of the many Sarajevo Roses
The main boulevard from the Airport to the City centre was an ideal position for sniper shooters to target residents as it was a large/wide street with many high-rise buildings which is what lead it to be dubbed “Sniper Alley“. This location saw some of the war’s most horrific war crimes and even today you can still see some of these scars on numerous residential buildings.
Once a place that people feared to go in case they were shot by a sniper is thankfully back to being the busy and functional main avenue in Sarajevo.
Many people just presume Sarajevo is still a war zone or that there isn’t much there to see. Well they’d be wrong, brand new buildings are popping up all over the city including the Awaz Twist Tower which was built in 2008 and has 36 floors.
A very modern building more appropriate in somewhere like Dubai now towers over the Sarajevo skyline.
If you don’t like heights then the lift might be a scary experience, it goes from zero to floor 35 in 30 seconds, check out my video coming back down from the top.
Why visit the country?
Look one way and you’ll see a church, look the other and you’ll see a mosque or hear the call to prayer, it’s a fascinating experience.
Natural beauty doesn’t even begin to describe Bosnia and Herzegovina, yes it still has war scars with many buildings abandoned, falling down or being reclaimed by nature. However, this is all part of the charm and there’s so many places that are totally off the grid as far as tourism is concerned.
Sadly some parts of the countryside are still off-limits due to unexploded land mines scattered around, however thankfully you can hire guides who know the safe routes.
I never imagined Sarajevo would look this beautiful…a must on any travellers list of place to visit.
How to visit Bosnia & Herzegovina
From the U.K sadly there’s currently no direct flights, however there are several good choices for a stopover including Zagreb, Istanbul or Belgrade.
I opted to fly from Zagreb which was only about 40 minutes but was comfortable and quick.
Many people choose to do a day trip from various places in Croatia such as Dubrovnik or Split, however I wouldn’t advise this as all you’ll see is Mostar and there is so much more to this country.
Visit Bosnia & Herzegovina for yourself
I highly recommend a visit, to book your stay go to Booking.com and search for Sarajevo.
Click here using this link!
On arrival in Sarajevo
Sarajevo International Airport is as you can imagine rather small, but that’s not a problem as it means you’ll get through twice as fast as a normal airport. Once you’ve passed through passport control, baggage and customs you’ll be greeted by lots of excited locals waiting for their loved ones to walk through the arrivals door.
Sadly it was just me, so once you brush past all of them walk straight outside you’ll see a few taxis waiting around. The first ones have a monopoly on the airport and will try to charge you what they like, however be aware of what the actual price should be.
From the airport to the city it should cost no more than €10 approximately 20 KM (Bosnian Convertible Marka), they tried to charge me twice that rate so don’t get fleeced.
Sarajevo has the second oldest tram network in Europe making it a must-try when visiting the city. WARNING: Some are very old and battered!
Visiting neighbouring countries
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a great place to add to your list of countries to visit on a Balkan tour.
After missing my train to Mostar at 7.15am I opted to take the bus all the way from Sarajevo to Split in Croatia. Although it’s a long journey (8 hours) its relatively affordable at a cost of €28 but make sure you save some change for the driver because for him to take your luggage he’ll also want an extra 2 KM.
If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.