The capital and cultural centre of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo lies in a valley and is cradled by wooded mountains: Bjelašnica at 2,067 m (6781 ft), Jahorina at 1,913 m (6276 ft), Trebević at 1,627 m (5337 ft) and Igman at 1,502 m (4928 ft). The contemporary city, which is home to around 275,000 people, is notably marked by its period under Ottoman rule; mosques, wooden houses and the Turkish marketplace (the Baščaršija) are all traces of this period (1461-1878). Known as the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 – the event often credited with triggering the outbreak of World War I – and of the infamous siege from 1992-1995, Sarajevo is undoubtedly among the most fascinating European capitals when it comes to history (both ancient and recent). A day in Sarajevo takes in Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Yugoslav architecture; panoramic views over breakfast; and a Winter Olympic bobsled track.
Ride one of Europe’s oldest trams and make a pitstop in Paris
Sarajevo is one of Europe’s tram pioneers, with the city’s tram system dating back to 1895. Hopping on a tram to get to the first destination on the itinerary will make for an authentic start to your Sarajevo adventure.
Buy a ticket from one of the kiosks close to the tram stops or from the driver for 1.60 BAM (£0.70). Almost all tramlines (1, 2, 3, 5 or 6) will take you to Skenderija. Two bridges cross the River Miljacka towards this central neighbourhood, both called Skenderija. While there’s no proof to back up the claim, legend has it that the older pedestrian bridge was designed by the famous Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the architect responsible for the Eiffel Tower. For this reason, expect to hear local residents refer to it as the “Eiffel Bridge”.
Start your day on a high note
On the southern side of the Eiffel Bridge stands the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, famed for its award-winning Rooftop Lounge. Head up to the top floor to eat breakfast with a backdrop of mesmerising 360-degree views – the smoked beef and cheese omelette comes highly recommended.
Grand Austrian architecture with ornate windows, Yugoslav-era buildings (many of which still bear bullet holes), and modern high-rises adorn the horizon as you sip on a very fine cappuccino. After getting familiar with the city from above, it’s time to get to know Sarajevo at ground level.
Finish the morning with an iconic sweet treat
Following the river Miljacka eastwards and crossing the Čobanija or Drvenija bridge will bring you to Ferhadija Street – one of the city’s main shopping streets, notable for its well-preserved Austro-Hungarian architecture. Ferhadija Street is home to café-restaurant Revolucija 1764, which is located right next to the neoclassical City Market (Gradska Tržnica). In addition to culinary prowess, Revolucija 1764 also has a cinematic claim to fame: all the dessert recipes were authored by actor-turned-chef Moreno Debartoli. Among older generations, Debartoli is known as “Malik”, a boy from the legendary 1985 film When Father Was Away on Business by renowned director Emir Kusturica and written by Abdulah Sidran.
Today, Debartoli is among Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most acclaimed chefs. After finishing his education and working in London, Israel, Croatia and Belgium, he has devoted his career to teaching other chefs in Sarajevo. Many famous people, including Hollywood stars such as Richard Gere and international leaders such as Bill Clinton, have sampled Debartoli’s specialities. His trademark “Revolucija cake” (flakey pastry crust, layers of decadent chocolate, pistachio crème and an almond top) is best enjoyed with a freshly squeezed juice.
Time travel to the Ottoman Era
Sarajevo is full of history: it was under Ottoman rule for 400 years, spent half a century under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, witnessed the outbreak of the World War I, birthed a resistance movement during World War II, and during the 1990s endured the longest siege in modern history.
Ferhadija Street is within walking distance of the majority of Sarajevo’s most historic sites, which are notable for their diversity – a direct consequence of Sarajevo’s history of conquest. The city’s now centuries-old multiculturalism has even earned Sarajevo the moniker of the “European Jerusalem”. When walking the 15th-century cobblestone streets, be sure to seek out the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, the country’s largest historical mosque dating to the 1530s; the Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos, one of the biggest Serbian Orthodox churches in the Balkans with construction taking place between 1863 and 1868; the Sacred Heart Cathedral, a Catholic church and the largest cathedral in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and the Museum of Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina, set within the country’s largest synagogue, which dates to 1581. If in need of a caffeine break during your journey into Sarajevo history, stop in at Miris Dunja (meaning ‘Smell of Quinces’) besides the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque for a traditional coffee.
Feel like a Winter Olympian
Assuming you have your comfortable shoes on, we’re taking off into the wild. First, take a short walk south of the river to hop on board the Sarajevo Cable Car (Sarajevska žičara) to ascend Mount Trebević. Open throughout the year (but check the official website for opening times), the cable car offers a breathtaking seven-minute ride up to the abandoned 1261m-long (4137 ft) bobsled track, which was last used during the Winter Olympics of 1984. Now the track serves instead as an unusual addition to a forest hike, and is adorned in vibrant graffiti.
From the track, follow the trail leading around to the southern side of the Mountain (i.e. do not take the trail going further uphill) for 1km (0.6 mi) to reach the Pino Nature Hotel, whose charming café will greet you with a warm cup of tea.
Awarded the Golden A’ Design Award in Architecture, Building and Structure Design Category by the International Design Academy, the hotel boasts stunning views and a peaceful alpine setting.
Should you have worked up an appetite, Pino is king of home-cooked meals. Anything you order will give you a taste of Bosnian cooking: home cooked meat, cheese or spinach pies, lamb dishes, creamy soups (especially Bey’s soup with chicken and okra), and stuffed cabbage leaves.
Take the same route back to the city. Ideally you’ll return before nightfall, and catch the sunset from the cable car.
See the symbols of Sarajevo up close
Once on the ground, head back to the river and across the Šeherćehaja bridge to the Austro-Hungarian-era Sarajevo City Hall. After it was fully restored and reopened in 2014, this national monument – known for its Moorish style – sometimes hosts concerts, exhibitions, conferences and even fairytale weddings.
The pigeon square, or Sebilj as locals call it, is only one minute away from the City Hall. It is the last standing Ottoman-style wooden fountain, hundreds of which used to be found throughout the city. According to legend, if you drink the water from Sebilj, you will most definitely return to Sarajevo.
Before hitting the clubs or pubs, make sure you grab a portion of ćevapi (grilled meat patties) from any of the 20 plus ćevabdžinica restaurants situated around Sebilj, topped with a generous helping of sour cream.
Sample Sarajevo nightlife, and some shots of rakia
Now, all our partying styles are different; some like to enjoy a glass of wine while listening to jazz, while others prefer loud music, live bands, hookah bars or pubs. Good news is that Sarajevo has a lively and varied nightlife scene.
If you’re struggling to choose, a crowd favourite is the Vučko gastro-pub, named after the wolf-like mascot of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. Located next to the BBI shopping centre at the western end of Maršala Tita Street, Vučko is a gentle 20-minute walk from Sebilj (or just two tram stops away). The bar is known for its homely feel, atmospheric music, and extensive menu of 120 beers and 50 wines. Whatever you’re drinking, make sure you order a pivska plata (roughly translated as “beer plate”) to soak up your drinks with finger foods like grilled cheese, onion rings, sausages, fries and dips.
If you’re unsure of what to drink, Sarajevsko beer or any type of rakia (fruit brandy) are a firm choice. Cherry, walnut, plum and honey are usually favourites among visitors trying rakia for the first time, so get a shot of each!