The heart-shaped land of Bosnia and Herzegovina is often overlooked by travelers. The country has a lot to offer backpackers and “suitcasers” alike: beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, food, color, culture, and a tumultuous history that is confusing and intriguing. Whether you want nature, historical city centers, or modern city life, you’ll find it here! Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Bosnia:
1. Take a road or rail trip through the mountains
When we boarded our bus in Dubrovnik, Croatia to head north through Bosnia, we didn’t know what to expect from the country. One of the first things that struck us after crossing the border was the beauty of the landscape. Around every twist and turn was a beautiful lake, mountain-view, or rolling field. The countryside is enchanting. I would have loved to rent a car and stop at every little lakeside town. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time. It would have been a great way to get out of the tourist zones and really get to know the Bosnian people and culture.
2. Sip a Bosnian Coffee
Even if you aren’t a coffee fan, you must try a traditional Bosnian coffee. The tradition is not only the drink, but what it is served in. Loose coffee grounds are brewed with water in a little copper server on a copper tray (usually accompanied by a little cube of Turkish Delight). First, skim the film from the top and let the rest of the grounds settle for a few minutes. You can pour your coffee over lumps of sugar or dip your little cube into the coffee and alternate nibbling the sugar and sipping the coffee. I’ve also heard that the proper way is to alternate licking the sugar cube with sipping the coffee. I prefer to use two cubes of sugar in mine. It’s a very strong coffee, and I like it sweet!
3. Dive into the Kravice waterfalls
One of the largest waterfalls in Herzegovina is a great place to hang out, swim, and have a picnic. The falls are between 25-28 meters high and the the bright teal waters are picturesque, to say the least. Tons of hostels and hotels take day trips out to the falls for swimming and cliff diving. Just make sure you plan your trip in the right season! It can get pretty chilly in the winter!
4. Explore the war damage
One of the best pieces of advice we received from our hosts in Mostar was to visit the “Snipers Nest”. This building is a remnant of the Balkan wars and has pretty much been left alone for the past two decades. We climbed around at our own risk and snapped some photos of the rubble, left-behind books and papers, bullet casings, and took in the view from the roof. Obviously, you should be careful which buildings you choose to climb around in, but if your hostel is recommending it, it should be OK, right? It is also great to speak with the locals about the effect of the war on their lives, but only get into that type of conversation if they bring it up themselves. It can be a touchy subject, but some locals love to educate tourists and share a piece of their sad history.
5. Eat Cevapi!
Cevapi stands are to Bosnia what burger joints are to the U.S.A. These little minced beef links are grilled up and served with onion and a sour cream/cottage cheese-type spread on a chewy grilled flatbread. This national dish can be found on every block in fancy restaurants and hole-in-the-wall establishments alike. They are almost like mini Turkish Adana Kebaps. Do be careful in choosing your dining establishment as undercooked minced meat that has been sitting out all day can cause some violent food poisoning (as Clark and some very unfortunate cleaning ladies at our hotel found out…).
6. Snap an iconic photo of Mostar’s Stari Most
A trip to Bosnia would not be complete without stopping in and visiting the little town of Mostar. Their historic bridge (“Stari Most”) was destroyed during the war, but was one of the first things rebuilt. The town still has plenty of war damage, but the tourist scene is thriving. I’d stay a night or two so you can avoid the day-trippers and really get to know the city by hanging out after-hours.
7. Buy some cute house slippers
These little pointy-toed slippers are sold in almost every souvenir shop you pass on the little cobble stone streets of Sarajevo and Mostar. Sure, they’re touristy, but in most hostels and homes, you’ll be asked to remove your shoes at the door and it’s handy having something to slip on. You gotta love souvenirs that are useful!
8. Eat some Surf’n'Fries
This one is perhaps just me obsessing, but I love this place! You’ll find a few locations around Croatia and one in Sarajevo. The fries are cut into long flat strips that are curled lengthwise at the edges. This makes the fries perfect for dipping and allows the fries cook to a perfect crispiness. A really tasty seasoning is used and each batch is fried to order. They also have some really interesting dipping sauces. We frequented Surf’n'Fries far to often during our time in Sarajevo. You’ll usually stand in a line out the door as it’s also a favorite late-night snack for the locals.
9. Shop for hand-made copper coffee sets
Bosnian coffee is served in hand-made copper sets. Sarajevo is known for it’s traditional artisans. You can find them pounding out designs outside of their shops in the old town center. The sets can get to be quite expensive, but you don’t have to buy a complete one. I got a little sugar bowl for about $10. It’s also a lot easier to pack in a backpack than an entire set! Try to stick to the shops where you actually see the person working with the copper. Some shops just purchase their sets from cheap mass-producers and jack up the prices for tourists.
10. Hike to a high point in Sarajevo for a beautiful sunset view
There are quite a few spots around Sarajevo that offer a great view of the city. Hostel employees and locals will be willing to point you in the right direction and even lead you there personally! The photo below was taken on the East side of the city (obviously) and it took about 45 minutes to walk up to the viewing point. There are also some local buses that will take you pretty far up the hill as well. You can see that some of the buildings still show damage from the war. It’s quite a steep walk, but well worth the beautiful view!
About To Uncertainty and Beyond: Kim & Clark are the authors the travel blog, To Uncertainty and Beyond. These Chicagoans quit their jobs in 2010 to travel the world. and just finished a seven month trip backpacking Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia. Kim is now embarking on a solo journey to Guatemala to learn Spanish. Clark will be traveling in in Central and South America very soon as well! To Uncertainty and Beyond is full of tips for planning a RTW trip as well as stories, budget advice, city guides, and photos from their travels.