I’ll start this post by first saying that I was completely blown away by this city. I have never done my research on Sarajevo, or Bosnia in general, and for some reason I always held some sort of negative connotation with Bosnia. In some corner of my mind, Bosnia had a war-torn and depressing feeling about it. No doubt, my mindset had much to do about the war that took place there in the 1990’s and furthermore, I had never done any personal research into the matter of traveling and tourism in Bosnia. So when it came to Bosnia, I allowed popular media to influence my thoughts – how unoriginal of me. Whenever I mentioned to friends and family that I would be visiting Bosnia, I would be faced with the question: “Why?” In order to fend off such a question, I would shrug it off with my typical response: “Why not?” Surely there must be more to the place than it’s rich history of violence. And sure enough, there is.
When I stepped off the train and into Sarajevo I was surprised to notice, first and foremost, how friendly the people were. When I asked someone to take a picture for me, they did so with a smile and said “Welcome to Sarajevo, enjoy your stay!” This made me feel so warm and welcome that I immediately knew that this was going to be a fantastic city. Sarajevo is not a common destination for young North American travelers, such as myself, to stopover during a typical “Eurotrip.” The city doesn’t have the same allure as, say, Paris or Barcelona, and it’s definitely not the quintessential metropolis we all envision when we think of traveling to Europe. But personally, this is what made it more appealing. It’s like unearthing a whole new Europe. I think this is especially why the citizens of Sarajevo are so extremely helpful, because they want tourists such as myself to experience their culture and then go home and spread the word about how amazing this city really is. Hence, what I am doing right now.
Aside from the lovely people, the architecture is also incredibly beautiful. Sarajevo has that sort of Turkish-influenced design and the city boasts an area rightfully named: “The Turkish Quarter.” In this particular area, the streets are cobble-stoned, there are tiny store fronts and little winding alleyways. I would liken this area of the city to the streets of Old Jerusalem: historically quaint and a mix between East meets West. Eighty percent of the Sarajevo population is also Muslim, so there are several mosques throughout the downtown core. We didn’t enter the area surrounding the mosques, out of respect, because it seemed as though every time we walked by one of them it was one of the five daily prayer times. But, we were able to admire the buildings from afar.
Like many other cities, you can spend a whole day or two just wandering the streets and “getting lost.” You’ll walk by bars, clothing stores like Mango, antique shops and many, many museums. But my favourite part of the trip was when we were driven around on a tour of the city by the owners from our hostel. The hostel is family-owned and they were happy to tell their personal accounts of the war that they amazingly survived while living where the hostel stands now. The owners drove us past buildings riddled with bullet holes, which is a common site to see in Sarajevo, and past the infamous Holiday Inn where all international journalists stayed during the war. We were also brought out to one of the more popular sites in area: The Tunnel of Life. This landmark is located right by the Sarajevo airport and was where the UN was able to provide food and supplies to the people of Sarajevo during the war. Visiting such a place with people who were actually there in the 1990’s was a special experience. I felt so lucky to have stayed in a hostel and to be taken care of by these people, it really made me appreciate what the Bosnian people went through during that hard time. The hostel’s name is Residence Rooms and I would strongly recommend this space to anyone who is looking for an authentic and affordable place to stay while in Sarajevo.
Sarajevo ended up being a total surprise and I am so happy I chose to visit there. I only stayed in the city for three days and two nights but would have stayed longer if I had known how lovely it truly is. For a place to be so rich with history, so affordable and have such incredible food and culture, I am surprised there are so little tourists. I’m sure with more exposure, Sarajevo will become one of the top tourist destinations in Eastern Europe. So, visit it while it’s still an uncharted gem!