- Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Bethany Currie
Bosnia is not yet a country that has been overrun with crowds of tourists, and consequently much of its countryside is untouched and unexplored. It is full of surprising and beautiful small towns and villages full of a wealth of architectural spectacles and surrounded by stunning natural landscapes, from luscious green mountains to vibrant turquoise rivers. Check out our top picks of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most beautiful towns, villages and cities.
One of Bosnia’s most well known towns is Mostar, the home of the world-famous UNESCO site the Stari Most bridge. Mostar is located in the south-west of the country, close to the Croatian border, and takes its name from the bridge-keepers, or ‘mostari’, who used to watch over the Stari Most. The town straddles the Neretva River and is nestled in a lush green valley, with the town’s terracotta roofs dotted around the valley walls. The bridge was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and is exemplary of typical Islamic architecture; thousands visit Mostar each year just to see it, and a common site is bungee-jumpers launching themselves from the top. It has a quaint Old Town quarter to explore, along with many old churches and mosques.
Brčko is found right on the edge of northern Bosnia, on the border with Croatia – in fact, Croatia can be seen just across the river. It is one of Bosnia’s larger cities, but is mostly undiscovered by tourists. It features some stunning Ottoman architecture, as well as some more recent Austrio-Hungarian remnants dating back to the 19th century occupation. The city is home to a number of large parks and plazas that give it a relaxed feel, as well as some beautiful mosques and Orthodox churches. It is also one of a few towns in Bosnia that has managed to effectively integrate the three ethnicities of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats after the civil war, which makes it a more peaceful and tension-free place to visit.
Sarajevo is Bosnia’s capital and also its largest city. It is surrounded by mountains on all sides (which when climbed give outstanding views of the city), and has been a tactical stronghold since before the Ottoman conquest of the 1400s. It is rich with culture, from its medieval Old Town quarter to its modern and up-and-coming financial district, and is likely to become even more of a destination as the post-civil war restoration continues. It is also the religious center of the country, with plenty of mosques and churches to visit that exemplify the city’s architectural mix of Ottoman and Austrio-Hungarian design. It is one of the best places to discover Bosnia’s history, given that it was here that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated sparking the First World War, and it is also full of reminders of former Yugoslavia.
Most famous for its iconic bridge as featured in Ivo Andrič’s Nobel Prize-winning novel The Bridge on the Drina, Višgrad is a small town in eastern Bosnia full of pretty streets and intricate churches. Running through the town is the Drina River, which is a vibrant turquoise color that really glitters during the summer. The bridge that crosses it, the Mehmed Paša Sokolović bridge, was built by the Ottomans and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its representation of fine engineering and the symbolic exchange between civilizations. The town of Višegrad is mostly ethnically Serb, which along with its proximity to the Serbian border means it is predominantly Orthodox Christian – no mosques to be found here, but plenty of beautiful eastern-style churches.
Travnik is a fine example of Ottoman architecture, since it was left mostly unscathed during the civil war and so has been able to maintain its historic features. It is located pretty much at the center of Bosnia, and within an easy distance of Sarajevo. There is evidence of a settlement in the area dating back to Roman times, but the town really became important during the growth of the first Bosnian kingdom and then during the Ottoman occupation, when most of its mosques were built. Most of these mosques still exist today and showcase the finest Islamic designs and patterns. Travnik is also the birthplace of Ivo Andrić, and there is a good museum in his honor. For the best ćevapi in Bosnia (a traditional dish, similar to lamb kofte), many would say that Travnik is the place to go, as it claims to have the best recipe of herbs and spices.
Found just a short way from Mostar, Blagaj is fast becoming a popular place to stay in order to avoid the crowds of tourists staying within Mostar itself. Its most famous site is probably the monastery situated by the spring of the River Buna, which is famous for its clear waters and trickling waterfalls. Having been built around 1520, the monastery is now a protected national monument, and is a fine example of Ottoman architecture. Before the Ottomans, however, Blagaj was an important town with the Bosnian kingdom, and the old but well preserved fort can still be visited today. Blagaj is currently a potential candidate to be added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
Another UNESCO candidate is Počitelj, an old fortified town thought to have been first built in the late 14th century. There is an interesting contrast between the original medieval stone walls and the later Ottoman additions, with their typical eastern patterns and designs. In and around the town are the castle, various mosques, Turkish baths, and a clock tower. Just a relaxed stroll around the town will give visitors a good feel for the place, spotting the contrast between more European architecture (terracotta roofs, white walls) and Ottoman architecture (wooden roofs, doksat windows).
Banja Luka may be less historic than other entries on this list, but it is nonetheless a beautiful place to visit. It has benefited greatly from investment and rebuilding since the civil war, and is a modern and stylish city. It is Bosnia’s second largest city, and is the capital of the ethnically Serb part of the country. Consequently, it has plenty of Orthodox churches with exquisite roofs and gold details inside. It has a considerably European feel to it, more so than other towns in Bosnia, even more so than Sarajevo, has several good museums and is also home to the National Theater. Banja Luka is a great example of Bosnia’s future potential as a modern and cultural European hub.
Bosnia’s third largest city is Tuzla, located in the east of the country. It is one of Bosnia’s most multicultural cities, and has a less divisive population of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats than most other towns, plus a small Jewish community. Tuzla is considered to be one of the oldest settlements in the whole of Europe, with evidence of a neolithic settlement dating back 6,000 years. It has been an important industrial center throughout its history, and so has plenty of different architectural styles, especially Ottoman and Austrio-Hungarian. Its mix of ethnicity gives the city a range of Catholic churches, Orthodox churches, and mosques, as well as a Jewish cemetery.
Jajce is most well known for its unusual feature of a waterfall right in the heart of the town center. Much of the town was destroyed during the civil war, but recently UNESCO has been investing in renovating the historical parts of the city, notably around the waterfall, which makes Jajce an increasingly attractive place to visit. Near Jajce are lakes, which are popular for swimming, as well as some stunning surrounding scenery, perfect for walks.