Bosnia & Herzegovina together with its capital are still off-road destinations for most of the travelers to Europe. It’s a country of around 3.8 million people while during the last war over 1 million of people had to find their home in other countries and the same number of people were internally displaced. In this post, Emina – a local travel guru will guide you through the country while busting the myths of this undiscovered must-see in the Balkans region.
Is there still war?
If you ask this to some of the locals, if they don’t punch you in the face, probably you are good friends with them. The most common myth existing about this country in the South East of the Old Continent is that there is still an armed conflict going on or that it’s hard or expensive to reach. War ended over 20 years ago and although people were back to their everyday lives, this very event marked the modern history of the country, leaving it in a difficult economic state, corruption in public institutions and high unemployment rate. However, if you meet anyone who has ever been to Bosnia and Herzegovina, they will most likely tell you about the exquisite food, cheerful people ready to share a good laugh at any time and an interesting influences in architecture.
Bosnia and Herzegovina also isn’t 2 countries
Bosnia is an inland part of the country, with often snowy mountains and the region where the capital is located. Predominantly mountain areas and great climate made it an ideal place for 1984 Winter Olympic Games. Herzegovina, on the other hand, is an area more on the south with Mediterranean climate. There, you might come across palm trees, lemons and take a dip in the sea. It’s not unusual for barometer to hit +40 in summer months. However, people use only “Bosnia” because it’s shorter and therefore more convenient. Most of the tourists are left wondering how different places of worship such as churches, mosques and synagogues and people praying in them, were living side by side for centuries, sharing the same culture and language.
Getting around by bus
If you got used to having extremely cheap bus or train tickets in the rest of Europe, in Bosnia it’s not exactly that way, at least according to the local standard. Ticket fees are fixed but luckily for most of the bus lines, you can check and buy tickets online and they are more convenient to travel by than trains. Centrotrans is supposed to bring you to pretty much any destination within the country. If you decide to travel to neighbouring Croatia, Serbia or Montenegro, there are also options available. To Montenegro you can, so far, travel only by bus whereas to Serbia and Croatia you can choose among bus, train, taxi van or plane from Sarajevo International Airport. From the same airport you can fly also to Slovenia, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Sweden, Norway, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, and seasonally to some other destinations.
The historical significance and beauty of Mostar
Have you ever seen a picture of that tall stone bridge over an emerald green river that left you breathless? It was probably one in Mostar, a city 2 hours away from capital where you can find cheerful people, great food and wines and a lot of sun. The Old Bridge (originally called Stari Most) is under UNESCO protection and it definitely is in top 3 things to see in South Eastern Europe. Although it resisted to many external factors since it was built in 16th century, this bridge was entirely destroyed in war in 1993. It was re-built and solemnly opened in 2004.
Not so far away from Mostar, on the way to Neum, a coastal city, you should visit Blagaj. Apart from its old town, located on the high cliff, the most important landmark is so-called “tekija” which is essentially a Dervish house/monastery. If you go to house’s balcony, you’ll be able to see the well of Buna river hidden in the deep and dark but beautiful cave. Do enter the house itself and visit its rooms and hallways. They will bring you back to some other era and wake up some mystical feelings in you.
Food culture in Sarajevo
Just about anyone in this country will tell you they like food and good drinks. As someone who really likes to eat, I have to say Sarajevo is one of those cities with strong food culture. You’ll notice there are no popular fast-food or beverage chains here, such as Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. Surprisingly, I’d say this city doesn’t really need them. You can find a wide array of homemade food in the very center of the city, ranging from meaty dishes to iconic cheese/spinach pastries and delicious vegetable soups.
If you’re a passionate meat-eater, you’ll appreciate a visit to Željo – a traditional fast-food restaurant where you can find ćevapi, probably the most famous food in this country. In case you like vegetarian food, unfortunately, choices are a bit more limited but I’ve heard it’s getting a bit better. Place I would recommend are Klopa and Superfood. They both have a diverse menu, Klopa is a non-smoking restaurant (many aren’t) and they’re both very affordable. Ćevapi (photo above) is probably the most popular dish from Bosnia & Herzegovina. They’re essentially grilled minced meat rolls stuffed in pita bread and served with milk cream (also known as kajmak). If you’re not vegetarian, enjoy this every single day.
You’ll want to grab a nice coffee and dessert too. There are some places you have to visit! Although you’ll have to go a bit out of the city center, Mrvica cafe bakery will make you literally drool when you see their desserts. And, a place where you MUST go for a coffee or a tea is called Zlatna Ribica. I promise you, you still haven’t seen a place like that. Why? You will have to go and see.
Other must-see but less touristy places
Going up from the capital area, following the flow of Bosna river (no, it’s not misspelled) you’ll come across many interesting places. Definitely one of them is Travnik. This is a mid-sized city (according to Bosnian standards) and its center point is the Old Town located on the hills. Besides offering a medieval feel and a taste of some old times, it will also give you an excellent view of the whole city.
Continuing on the same road, you will arrive to Jajce. This city has one of the world’s biggest waterfalls in its city center. Even more interestingly one river makes a waterfall but water falls into the other river, flowing just beneath and continues further as that river. Quite unique, right?
Bihać, a city you also probably heard of if you’ve ever shown interest in traveling to this country, has one of world’s cleanest rivers Una. You can have a lunch or coffee break somewhere on the river bank and enjoy the nature to the fullest in this small city, just next to the border with Croatia.
Pro-tips from a local expert
I will tell you something that rarely any tourist site will. Reserve 2 extra days in Bosnia and visit Prokoško lake. It’s a lake in central Bosnia, located on the Vranica mountain. Not only will it be unbelievable for you that this place actually exists but you’ll also enjoy peace, fresh air and homemade food. Your experience will be unbeatable once you spend a night in an old Bosnian house, or in a tent under a starry sky- as you wish.
The source of inspiration
The whole Bosnia and Herzegovina is definitely worth visiting, especially in the summer when everything is more lively and you can even take a day-long hike to some of the thousand hills. Once you come and visit, you will understand why so many poets, musicians and artists in general, found an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Although torn apart, wounded and destroyed for so many times in the past, this country still has a seductive charm of a grown man and heart and energy of a girl. And once you visit, you’ll always be coming back.
This month is the most exciting time to plan your annual travel bucket list again. While most nomads are keen to backpack in Asia or go on a get-away trip in South America, I would stay in Germany for many reasons. After years of traveling in Europe and many months spent in Germany, I can say this country never get me bored with its rich history, diverse culture, splendid landscapes and fun people to hang out with. Thus I have created this concrete list of the top 10 things for all sorts of travellers must try here.
10. Adore the most visited cathedral in Germany
Cologne Cathedral, also known as the Kölner Dom, is probably the most famous and oldest building of Cologne. There are about 6 million visits to the Dom annually, making it the most visited cathedral in Germany. Cologne is also popular for its annual carnival taking place every February.
9. Walk through the Red Light District in Frankfurt
Known for its versatile cultures and lifestyles, Frankfurt is undoubtedly one of the most interesting city in Germany I ever visited. Right at the Station Quarter near the main station, there are many legal brothels, strip bars, sex shops, adult clubs, and pornographic cinemas. You will be surprised to find here not only prostitutes and drug dealers but bankers, students and rich people in the same neighbourhood. Photos are usually not allowed in this area.
8. Go on a shopping spree at the longest pedestrian street of Europe
The small city Heidelberg is not only famous for its gorgeous castle but also its longest shopping street in Europe. This traffic-free street offers an excellent location for the real pleasure of shopping at countless boutiques, speciality shops and chilling at various coffee shops and restaurants.
7. Party in Berlin
Berlin is one the most well-known cities in Germany for its intense and alternative clubbing culture. The city never seems to sleep. You can find here all sorts of places for a great night out: from the most erotic clubs like the Kitkat, gay bar like the Schwuz to indie places like the Comet Club. Berlin is also famous for the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall and the Checkpoint Charlie – a symbol of the Cold War dividing the East Berlin and West Berlin in the past.
6. Take a boat tour in Hamburg
If you love port cities and waterways, come to this town of the so-called Hamburgers! With its harbour being the heart of the city, Hamburg offers great views on Binnenalster and Speicherstadt, especially on sunny days as you can view the old small houses lying along the rivers. Remember to take a boat tour here to adore the sunset view, watching the small boats as they pass by.
5. Drink beer
As one of the best specialties in Germany is beer, dont miss out the weekly beer tasting night at your hostel. Check out Five Elements Hostel in Frankfurt – they usually organize beer tasting night, pasta night, pub-crawls, free walking tours and other events for guests. After few beers, you will be ready to explore the German nightlife and fall in love with it!
4. Try the second best kebap in Europe
The Turkish have originally brought their kebap to the multicultural Germany and created another version to suits the German taste. Hence nowadays you can find one of the best kebaps in Europe in Berlin. This is an awesome snack for after-parties, along with fries.
3. Experience Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is so famous that every year this world’s largest beer festival draws over 6 million people around the world to come together to Munich. During these 16 days of celebration people put on their best Bavarian outfits, drink beer by litre since noon, eat traditional Bavarian food and listen to live bands performing at various tents while singing and dancing all day.
2. Go to a Christmas Market
The famous Christmas market is a worldwide tradition and a great excitement for both children and adults throughout Germany. The magic of German Christmas Markets attracts such a huge number of visitors that every December millions of travelers come to Germany to taste a cup of Gluhwein, enjoy Germany’s traditional food and experience the Christmas atmosphere that you can find nowhere else.
1. Visit a castle in the real-life fairy tale
Germany and especially Bavaria region is well-known for castles which are like in your dream fairy-tales. Some of the most famous ones is the Neuschwanstein Castle built by King Ludwig II in Schwangau and the Heidelberg Castle in Heidelberg city close to Frankfurt (about 1 hour by bus).