Before this summer, I had two distinct early memories of Sarajevo and Bosnia–Herzegovina. My first memories of watching the Winter Olympics were in 1984 as a child witnessing Katarina Witt and Scott Hamilton win figure skating gold medals in Sarajevo. Later during the 1990s, I remember watching CNN’s Christiane Amanpour reporting from the Hotel Holiday during the hellish siege of Sarajevo.
Fast forward to the summer of 2022. My brother and I were peering out from our room on the same top floor of the Hotel Holiday at the rapidly growing skyline of today’s Sarajevo. Instead of Czech hedgehog anti-tank barriers dotting streets of the Stari Grad (Old City), we watched the bustle of traffic and pedestrians along Zmaja od Bosne Street. It was a remarkable difference from the dark days of the Bosnian War of Independence when this same street saw people running for cover when it was known as Sniper Alley. What is striking today is the construction boom of new office buildings, malls and residences as Sarajevo grows and embraces a very bright future.
That’s not to say that if you look carefully, you cannot see the scars of the past. Sarajevo Roses — shrapnel indentations — still dot some of the streets. A visit to the Museum of Genocide Sarajevo will tell the stories of the darkest days of the Bosnian War and Siege of Sarajevo. You can see the Latin Bridge where the assassinations of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie instigated World War One. A view from the mountainside Martyrs’ Cemetery Kovači overlooks thousands of graves of Bosnian soldiers killed during the war.
However, there is a lot more to Sarajevo than the wars of the past. One of the best places to begin exploring is at the bustling Baščaršija Square, Sarajevo’s oldest bazaar. Starting at the Sebilj — an Ottoman-style wooden fountain in the center of Baščaršija from the mid-1700s — there are hundreds of shops including everything from crafts to home goods to kitchenware and souvenirs. The smells of street food from bakeries and cafes are intoxicating. From Bosnian favorites like ćevapi, burek and Bosanski lonac (the Bosnian pot), to Middle Eastern dishes such as falafel, shawarma, shish kebab and tabbouleh, your stomach will be amazed by the culinary goodness on every corner of the bazaar.
Sarajevo is a fascinating city where the spires or Orthodox churches, Catholic churches, mosques and synagogues all tower above ancient streets. One landmark not to miss is the Emperor’s Mosque (Careva džamija) dating back to 1457 and to the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia. It is the largest single-subdome mosque in the nation. Nearby is the Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, also known as the Old Orthodox Church, dating back to 1539. Both are awe inspiring inside and are just as beautiful to behold on the outside. The call to prayers at mosques across Sarajevo delivers a reverence that you will not encounter in many other European cities.
Around town you can still catch glimpses of life from the 1984 Olympics. The old Olympic bobsleigh and Luge Track runs down Trebević mountain overlooking the city. You can see also take the new cable car to the top of the mountain for great views of the city. If you visit during the winter, the best skiing around Sarajevo takes place at the Jahorina and Bjelašnica resorts, both which provide great value.
Many visitors from Croatia to Bosnia only head over to the historic and picturesque bridge town of Mostar. Sarajevo is the incredibly historic and multi-cultural capital that you shouldn’t miss visiting. There is no other city in Europe quite like it.