The Top Things to See and Do in Sarajevo

The Old Town of Sarajevo reveals a layered, diverse history
The Old Town of Sarajevo reveals a layered, diverse history | © Boris Stroujko / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Bethany Currie
25 March 2021

The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been at the centre of major historical events, namely the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 and the horrors of a four-year civil war that played out until 1995. Today, however, Sarajevo is the political, social and cultural centre of the country, known for its celebration of peaceful religious coexistence. Here’s our list of the top things to see and do.

Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque

Mosque
Map View
The largest mosque in the country is the centre of Sarajevo’s Islamic community. Built in 1532, it’s a striking example of the Ottoman architecture that characterises the city. Outside is a beautiful courtyard with a fountain for ritual ablutions, and the main entrance is decorated with intricate Islamic designs and patterns. It has a number of domes, a characteristic feature of Ottoman, rather than Middle-Eastern, mosque architecture. Much of it was damaged during the civil war, and reconstruction began in 1996 as a matter of high priority, given its cultural significance.

Latin Bridge

Bridge
Map View
Skyline of the old town at the sunrise in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
© Mehmeto / Alamy Stock Photo
Rising to a peak like steepled fingers, spanning the river Miljacka in three arches, the Latin Bridge is a relatively unobtrusive little structure, thought to have been built sometime in the mid-16th century. Made infamous as the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, this pivotal event is marked by a rather understated plaque; in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1946–1992) the Bosnian-Serb assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was revered as a national hero.

Kovači Memorial Cemetery

Cemetery, Memorial
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The Kovači Memorial Cemetery is also known as the Martyrs’ Cemetery, in reference to the Bosniaks, buried here, who died defending themselves and their city from Serb aggressors during the tragic civil war that raged between 1991 and 1995. Also interred is the first president of independent Bosnia, Alija Izetbegović. You can contemplate the cemetery from a nearby hill, known as the yellow fortress – a beautiful, haunting place from which to watch a sunset over the city.

Sarajevo Tunnel Museum

Museum
Map View
The tunnel in the Tunnel Museum also known as Tunel spasa constructed in 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War. Image shot 05/2009. Exact date unknown.
© Eddie Gerald / Alamy Stock Photo
Crucial to the survival of the Bosniak residents during the civil war was the Sarajevo Tunnel – a lifeline for food, aid, resources, weapons and often people coming into and out of the besieged city. The entrance is now a museum, and you can enter a section of the tunnel for a sense of the sheer claustrophobia and anxiety people using it would have endured. This is an understated historic sight with a grittiness that helps visitors appreciate the structure for what it really was.

Jewish Museum

Museum
Map View

Among the numerous museums devoted to aspects of Sarajevo’s rich history, one of the best is the Jewish Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, housed in the 16th-century Old Synagogue, next door to the current, contemporary place of worship. Escaping persecution in other parts of Europe, Sarajevo was happy to welcome Jewish arrivals in the late 1400s. The museum exhibits diverse items that belonged to the community, and is a great introduction to this fascinating aspect of Sarajevo’s story.

Eat ćevapi

Architectural Landmark
Map View

When hunger pangs strike, there’s only one thing for it: a plate of ćevapi, the national dish of Bosnia. Grilled minced beef is fashioned into elongated meatballs, like small sausages, and a portion consists of several, served in a pitta or flatbread with onions and sauce. A cheap dish, which was simple to make for rebels and outlaws, ćevapi evolved into a local staple during the centuries of Ottoman occupation. You’ll find it widely served in restaurants, and it’s also a popular street food, if you fancy lunch on the hoof.

Sarajevo City Hall

Building, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Sarajevo skyline at night with city lights
© Sulejman Omerbasic / Alamy Stock Photo

One of the most stunning architectural examples from Austria-Hungary’s era of imperial rule (1878–1918) is the town hall, or Vjećnica, as it is known locally. Built in 1898, it suffered sustained damage from Serbs during the civil war in the 1990s, hence the extensive recent refurbishment. Original specifications were observed and copied for each replacement detail, and the result is impressive. Interiors are resplendent with intricate carvings, painted patterns and beautiful stained glass, as well as archways, windows and staircases featuring exquisite geometric elements.

Baščaršija

Architectural Landmark, Market
Map View

Sarajevo’s Old Town is its historic core, lined with architecture dating back to the 15th century. Just as it was at that time, the area is a market and bazaar as well as the cultural heart of the contemporary city. Woven with narrow cobbled streets, it is a district of small shops full of character, blending Eastern European and Turkish influences. Key among its focal points is the main square with its postcard-famous fountain in the middle – it’s a must-see sight, if you can find it amid the hundreds of pigeons flapping about. With a great selection of traditional restaurants, cafes and coffee houses, this is an inviting area to stroll around and explore.

Reminders of the war

Architectural Landmark
Map View

Walking around Sarajevo, you can’t fail to notice the scars of the civil war, the bullet holes and the shell-blast damage. The tragedy that played out is still relatively recent, and the nation continues to rebuild. Walls display grim evidence of gunfire and explosions. As its unofficial name, Sniper Alley, suggests, the area around the garish-yellow Holiday Inn was one of the most dangerous in the city, bristling with snipers and offering very little opportunity for shelter. The main thoroughfare, Zmaja od Bosne, is now a commercial street, but it feels eerie once you learn the details of its bloody recent past.

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Cathedral
Map View
The Jesus' Sacred Heart Cathedral interior in Sarajevo,Bosnia and Herzegovina.The Nave and the Altar, at the central aisle.
© Sergii Figurnyi / Alamy Stock Photo
The square twin towers and rose window of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s biggest Catholic cathedral have loomed over a central square in Sarajevo’s cobbled Stari Grad since the late 19th century. Austro-Hungarian architect Josip Vancaš, responsible for more than 200 Sarajevan buildings, copied older European cathedrals in his neogothic design, creating an edifice that complements the colourful historic houses nearby without pastiche. Don’t miss the decorations inside, including striped arches, gilded wood carvings, fabulous frescoes, statues of saints and an elegant vaulted ceiling.

Saint Joseph's Church

Church
Map View
If you find yourself in the Marijin Dvor area, seek out Saint Joseph’s, with its gemlike, restored stained-glass and elaborate marble altars. Sandwiched between the thundering traffic of the Maršala Tita and the gleaming concrete and plate glass of the Alta Shopping Center, the church feels like a relic of a distant century, with its mullioned windows, neo-romanesque arches and white stone walls. In fact the church was finished in 1940, and was architect Karel Pařik’s last major work; the square outside the church is called Trg Karla Paržika in his honour.

Sebilj

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Sebilj Fountain, Bascarsija district, Sarajevo Old Town, Bosnia and Herzegovina
© Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo
Water-dispensing kiosks, or sebilj, used to stand at many of Sarajevo’s crossroads. This iconic landmark, a small domed pavilion of wood and stone built in 1753, is the city’s last surviving sebilj. It was replaced more than 100 years ago after being damaged by fire. Four centuries of Ottoman rule have left their distinctive mark on the city’s architecture, so architect Alexander Wittek’s revival is perfect for this well-known meeting point in Sarajevo’s 15th-century Baščaršija market. Food stalls and cafes surround this pigeon- and tourist-thronged pedestrian square.

Phoebe Taplin contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on March 25, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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