There aren’t many places in Europe with such hint of mystery and sorrow than Sarajevo. Most people still associate its name with the brutal news coverage of the 1990s, when Sarajevo was anything but a pleasant place to visit. Although a lot of time has passed, the scars of that dark era are still visible, not as much on the exterior as on its unique soul. Sarajevo City Break is a great opportunity to get to know a welcoming and vibrant European capital sitting on the border between West and East with a strong spirit and intriguing history.
Want to travel to Bosnia? Let us help you with the trip! We are a local agency specialised in tailor-made trips to the Balkan area, including Sarajevo and the whole Bosnia & Herzegovina. Contact us to get a quote of your custom-made Sarajevo City Break.
We can help you with your flights, airport transfers, hotels, local guides and daily excursions from Sarajevo, either private ones or in groups with other visitors. We are locals and we know all the secrets!
HISTORY OF SARAJEVO
Although most of you probably still link the capital ob Bosnia & Herzegovina to the brutal Balkan War of the 1990s, these events were just some of the many that shaped the long and exciting history of Sarajevo. To understand the recent conflicts, you need to comprehend the complex timeline of the last 500 years and beyond.
It all started back in the neolithic era, when this region was home to the Butmir Culture, famous for its ceramics. They were crushed by the Illyrians around 2400 BC who two-and-a-half millenniums later were crushed by the Romans. The valley of Miljacka River which flows through Sarajevo was an important passage between Dalmatia and Pannonia – the two provinces of the Roman Empire. In the 7th century the Slaves moved to this region and remained in control more or less until the 15th century when the Ottomans started raiding it from the south. The early Slavic settlement of Vrhbosna in the valley among high hills where Sarajevo lies today was taken in 1462 and named “palace (saraya) among the hills (ova)”.
The long Ottoman period that followed was a time of growth as numerous mosques and other important infrastructure was built. Although the Ottoman rulers practised religious freedom, a large portion of the local population turned to Islam to gain some civic privileges only reserved for the Muslims. Those who remained faithful to Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity were not persecuted and were joined by a large population of Jews escaping the Spanish inquisition. Sarajevo and Bosnia as a whole became a huge melting pot for many ethnic and religions groups. This fragile co-existence exploded in the pan-Balkan wars at the end of the 19th century and Austro-Hungarian Empire seized the opportunity to gain permanent control over Bosnia which it had been trying to take for a long time. The Habsburgs brought more progress to Sarajevo with new architecture and innovations such as railway and public electric lighting, but neglected the dreams of a large pan-Slavic state. We all know how that turned out, when Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife when they were visiting Sarajevo in 1914.
Learn all about its complex history on your tailor made Sarajevo City Break
After WWI which symbolically started in Sarajevo, Bosnians got a place in the new kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. WWII brought new conflicts as Nazis took control and the whole Bosnia & Herzegovina was incorporated into Germany’s puppet-state of Croatia. Things got really complicated when pro-royalist Serbian četniks and communist partisans led by later Yugoslav Marshal Josip Broz Tito started pulling their own strings. After the war – however – all these nations and ethnic groups somehow found a way to live together in a fairly prosperous socialist state of Yugoslavia and Sarajevo even got the opportunity to host the 1984 Winter Olympics. But after Tito’s death the old wounds of WWII were reopened by the nationalists and Bosnia and Herzegovina found itself in the centre of a new conflict. The hills surrounding Sarajevo were used by artillery and snipers to control entering and leaving the city during the great siege that lasted for almost 4 years between 1992 and 1995 and killed more than 10 thousand inhabitants. Dayton Agreement sponsored by US president Clinton brought fragile peace and a complicated government system to the newly independent country which is still in healing, but optimistically looks forward to the brighter future within the European Union.
SARAJEVO CITY TOUR
Are you intrigued to learn all about Sarajevo’s unbelievable history on sight? Let us fly you over for an unforgettable Sarajevo City Break. After arriving to the local airport, your personal driver will take you to a hotel in the city centre. Later your private tour guide will show you around Baščaršija, the old and still lively Turkish bazaar full of souvenir shops, cafes and traditional restaurants. They will point out the very spot were Gavrilo Princip stood that significant day 18 of June 1914 when he shot the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne and forever changed the world. Furthermore you will take a stroll through the beautiful courtyard of the 16th-century Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque – Bosnia’s greatest; and pay a visit to Vijećnica – a gorgeous Autro-Hungarian-style Town Hall heavily damaged during the siege, but reopened in 2014. While wandering the streets you will surely noticed the pink spots in the ground – they are called the Roses of Sarajevo and mark the places where bombshells were dropped, carving holes in the ground which were later filled with coloured resin.
At lunchtime we recommend traditional čevapčiči or burek in one of the many restaurants in Baščaršija, followed by a cup of traditional Bosnian coffee. What a better way to take in the vibe of this city?
In the afternoon the guided tour of Sarajevo can be expanded to other important sights outside the city centre. A must-see is the so called Tunnel of Hope, next to the airport, which proved a vital element during the siege as it was used to supply food and other necessities from the outside world to the occupied city. For lighter stories of Sarajevo, you can visit the nearby park Vrelo Bosne stretching around the mouth of Bosna River or take a cable car to the top of Mt. Trebević. There you can check out the infamous Olympic bobsled track or what is left of it. If you are interested in that particularly bright point of Sarajevo’s history, your guide can also take you to the old Olympic Stadium and the adjusting museum which proudly presents the story of Sarajevo being only the second socialist city to host the Olympic Games after Moscow in 1980.
Expand your Sarajevo City Break with daily trips or a longer Balkan Tour
DAILY EXCURSIONS FROM SARAJEVO
There are many other sights that can keep you busy in Sarajevo, including the numerous museums dedicated to different viewpoint on the 1990s war. On the other hand you can visit numerous mosques, synagogues, catholic and orthodox churches which still testify to ethnic and religious diversity of the city.
In the meantime you can take a day or two to explore the rest of Bosnia & Herzegovina. There are tons of options and our agents will be happy to recommend you the ones most suitable to your budget and interests. Here are just some of the daily excursions from Sarajevo we can organise for you either with a private driver guide or in a group with other travellers if available.
Nature lovers should definitely do a daily excursion to the Bijambare Nature Park, less than an hour drive from Sarajevo. The area is known for its cave complex and other karstic elements such as lost rivers, intriguing funnel-shaped depressions and rocky massifs. There is also a pretty ethno village where you can learn a thing or two about the past times.
Other nature escapes from Sarajevo are the slopes or Jahorina and Bjelašnica, which hosted the Olympic ski events in 1984 and if you are vising in winter you can opt for a modest, but wallet-friendly ski retreat. In summertime they offer some great hiking options; especially pleasant is a visit of the picturesque shepherd villages on Bjelašnica – Lukomir and Umoljani.
VISIT MOSTAR AND BEYOND
Most obvious and by far the most popular daily excursion from Sarajevo is the historic town of Mostar with a beautifully restored Ottoman quarter. Its name means “keeper of the bridge” and of course refers to its star attraction – the Old bridge spanning over the Neretva River – originally built in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent. Sadly the symbol of Mostar has been destroyed by Croatian artillery in 1993 and later rebuild by using stone from the same quarry as the original bridge and the same building techniques as the Ottomans used centuries earlier.
Mostar, the capital of Herzegovina and the largest town in the area, is by itself a great base for exploring the surrounding villages and other important cultural sights, so consider staying longer. Interesting nearby places include the picturesque stepped medieval fortress village of Počitelj; the pretty dervish monastery at the mouth of turquoise Buna River; and the catholic pilgrimage centre of Medjugorje considered by many to be the most recent place of Virgin Mary‘s apparition. If you are a religious person, you might consider our special pilgrimage tour to Medjugorje.
Natural sights of this region include the refreshing Kravice Waterfalls (specially welcoming in hot summer months) and the wide delta of Neretva River (already in Croatia) forming a unique landscape of a fertile area renown for citrus fruit plantations.
The area of Mostar and its surroundings is well represented in our week-long itinerary Balkan triangle which also features Croatian coastal towns of Split and Dubrovnik as well as the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. Get in touch with our agents if you wish to expand your Sarajevo City Break with a tailor-made itinerary to all these countries.
Among other very interesting daily excursions from Sarajevo is a trip to the infamous, not to say bizarre Bosnian pyramid at Visoko. Some claim that 220-meters-high Visočica is not just a pyramid-shaped hill, but indeed is a long-forgotten structure built by an equally-forgotten super-culture more than 10.000 years ago. This same civilisation arguably also dug out dozen or so kilometres of tunnels through the nearby hill which according to the guides form some kind of a labyrinth. Even if you are a sceptic, you can still enjoy this innovative tour.
If you prefer a more evidence-supported history tour, we recommend a trip to Konjic (halfway between Sarajevo and Mostar) where you can peek into a huge bunker built in cold war era as an evacuation shelter for Yugoslav leader Tito and his cabinet in case of nuclear attack. It was built in secret and it took more than 20 years and more than 3,5 billion euros to finish. Other – more modest – tourist sight of Konjic is a 2009 replica of a 17th century six span stone bridge over river Neretva destroyed by the Nazis. This area also provides some excellent rafting options.
Bosnia & Herzegovina is one of the wealthiest countries in terms of fresh water supplies and rafting along with other water sports is a big deal here. Not just Neretva, there are other rivers where we can organise rafting or kayaking tours: for example Vrbas and Una in the northern part of the country. If you are headed in that directions, our guides can also make pit stops at the historic towns of Travnik (once the headquarters of local Ottoman government) and Jace with a picturesque fortress and waterfall.
Driving west from Sarajevo towards the Serbian border, your guide can stop at Potočari so you can pay a visit to the Srebrenica Memorial Centre dedicated to the victims of the horrific 1995 genocide that took place in this area.
Another interesting town along the Serbian border is Višegrad with its famous UNESCO-recognised bridge. On the other side of the border lies the beautiful Tara Natural Park which you can admire aboard the retro train named Šargan 8. Once there you should also pay a visit to Drvengrad or “Wood Town” built by the famous film director Emir Kusturica. The tour can easily be further expanded to the beautiful Zlatibor mountain area where Serbian royalty enjoyed their summer holidays; or all the way to Belgrade. Contact our agents at ➨ firstname.lastname@example.org to get a special tailor-made trip between Sarajevo and Belgrade just for you.
If you have even more time at your disposal, there is also a popular two-week long Grand Balkan Tour which covers five countries of ex-Yugoslavia and gives you a comprehensive insight into their complex history and relations between its nations.
As you can see the options are limitless and since the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina lies in the heart of the Balkan peninsula, you can expand your Sarajevo City Break to virtually and direction, including towards the Adriatic Sea and enjoy a small ship cruise from either Split or Dubrovnik. We offer flexible personalised tours of the whole Balkan area, so get in touch and let’s start planing together!