Mostar is arguably Bosnia & Herzegovina’s most scenic destination, and its rapidly increasing tourism numbers reflect that. The picturesque Old Town was largely developed in the Ottoman era before suffering heavy damage during the brutal civil war of the 1990s. Fortunately, much of Mostar has been rebuilt with international aid, but reminders of the conflict can still be spotted all over town. In the following Mostar guide, we’ll be going over the city’s top landmarks – both ancient and modern.
Mostar can easily be explored on foot. While the attractions in the Mostar guide below can be seen in a day or two, give yourself some extra time in town, as Mostar also makes for a good base for some fascinating day trips.
The Old Bridge (Stari Most)
Looking up pictures of Bosnia & Herzegovina, you’ll notice that most often, the scene chosen to represent the entire country is that of Mostar’s Old Bridge. And the history of this elegant Ottoman-era bridge, which stands over the Neretva River, is synonymous with that of Mostar as a whole.
The Ottomans came to the region in 1468, developing the area on both sides of the river, which, at the time, were connected by a rickety old bridge. Around the 1470s, during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror, the Ottomans upgraded the bridge, though it was still a wooden one. It was around this time that the city took the name of Mostar, or ‘bridge keeper.’
What we now call the Old Bridge was later built between 1557 and 1566 during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. It was based on plans by Mimar Sinan, the empire’s top architect at the time, and carried out by his disciple, Mimar Hayreddin.
Consisting of a single arch, the bridge spans 28 meters across the river. Built of limestone, the construction was strengthened by numerous iron beams.
Evliya Çelebi, a prominent Ottoman explorer and travel writer, likened it to the arch of a rainbow, claiming it to be the highest bridge he’d ever seen.
When looking at the bridge today, one would never guess that it’s not the original. Destroyed during the civil war of the 1990s, it was later reconstructed from scratch, utilizing the same 16th-century building techniques. The stone was even sourced from the same quarry!
The project was finally completed in 2004, allowing the city once ravaged by conflict to take a big step closer to normalcy.
The Old Bridge Museum
While exploring the area around the bridge, be sure to visit the Old Bridge Museum. While the artifacts inside aren’t particularly amazing, the museum contains a comprehensive overview of the bridge’s history and also that of Mostar as a whole.
Furthermore, upon reaching the top, you can enjoy a great view of the river and town below.
The towers on either side of the bridge were built in 1676. They functioned like a fortress, as it’s from here that guards could observe all of those entering and leaving the city via the bridge.
While the views remain excellent today, photographers will be disappointed to find mesh wiring over most of the windows. There are, at least, a few holes to fit your lens through.
The Riverside Viewpoint
In addition to seeing the bridge from above, also be sure to check it out from below. While a bit tricky to find at first, on the western side of the river, you should be able to spot a pathway taking you down to the riverside beach.
As mentioned, the current bridge is a recent reconstruction. And it’s around this beach that you can find pieces of the original that was blown up by Croatian forces in November of 1993. But what for?
During the conflict, the Muslim Bosniaks were based on the east side of Mostar and the Catholic Croats were on the west. But the Bosniaks also had a foothold on the western side of the river and thus controlled most of the city’s bridges.
As one would imagine, the town’s bridges became frequent targets. Before the Old Bridge was finally destroyed for good, Bosniaks would have to run across to avoid sniper fire, so blankets were hung on either side to obstruct the snipers’ view.
Looking up at the beautiful arched bridge today, together with the reconstructed historic buildings in the background, it’s hard to imagine that such horrible events took place here no more than a couple of decades ago.
The Cliff Diving Competition
I just happened to be in Mostar while the competition was taking place, and got to catch some of it from the next bridge over to the south. Getting to see the spectacular moves of some of the world’s top divers was quite a treat.
But even if you don’t manage to catch the main competition, local divers regularly jump into the river in exchange for tips. Apparently, the tradition has been ongoing for centuries.
Around Mostar's Old Town
Mostar’s Old Town consists of two narrow strips of land on either side of the Neretva River. While smaller than some of the other Old Towns you’ll find in the Balkans, we should be thankful it still exists at all.
Many of the buildings featured in this Mostar guide have had to undergo extensive renovations with international financial support. And as you wander around the city, you’ll encounter plenty of others which remain off-limits.
Mostar was once home to as many as 30 craft guilds, or esnafi. The most prominent guilds were those of the tanners, goldsmiths and silk traders – each of which had their own street.
As a thriving commercial center, Armenians and Greeks settled here to trade, and the trading economy was linked with Istanbul, Venice and nearby Dubrovnik.
Today, however, these narrow streets are almost entirely catered toward Mostar’s burgeoning tourism industry. As such, you’ll find no shortage of souvenir shops and cafes.
In addition to the bazaar, the Old Town was full of mosques, hammams, educational institutions and caravansaries. While numerous buildings were permanently destroyed in the 90s, there are still a fair amount of historical landmarks for visitors to seek out.
Among them is yet another Ottoman bridge, known locally as the Crooked Bridge. It was mentioned for the first time in 1558, meaning that it predates the larger and more famous Old Bridge. In Ottoman times, it was part of a vital trading road.
The arched bridge, which was based on older bridges from the Roman era, is 4.21 m high and spans 8.43 m wide. It was constructed with limestone and held together with mortar.
Amazingly, the bridge survived the war of the 90s, though it did suffer heavy damage. This caused it to eventually collapse in a 1999 flood. It was then reconstructed a few years later in 2002.
While exploring the Old Town, coffee lovers should be sure to stop at Café de Alma for a traditional Bosnian coffee. For a few KM, a cup of coffee includes an explanation of how coffee has been traditionally made and drunk in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
While coffee culture came to the region during Ottoman times, the process differs slightly from that of Turkey, giving Bosnian coffee a unique taste and drinking experience.
During my visit to Mostar, I was a bit disappointed to find a number of the local attractions closed – even during peak season. This included the Hammam Museum, the Kajtaz House, the Muslibegović House, the Museum of War and Genocide Victims and the War Photo Exhibition.
What follows is a summary of the notable attractions that I was able to access.
The central mosque of the city, it was built by Mehmed Karadjozbey in 1557. But prior to that, this spot was once home to a Catholic church.
While unconfirmed, the mosque is believed by some to be the design of Mimar Sinan, the Ottoman architect responsible for many of the empire’s most significant mosques.
The mosque was largely damaged during the conflict of the 90s and had to be rebuilt. It remains an active mosque today, and tourists are allowed to step inside – as long as it’s outside of prayer times.
Another popular mosque in Mostar is the 17th-century Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, situated right by the river. But in contrast to the Karadjozbey Mosque, which is free to enter, that mosque costs a whopping 12 KM (6 euro) to enter.
The entrance fee includes access to the minaret, which is said to offer tremendous views. But having already visited the tower of the Old Bridge Museum, I decided to give it a pass.
The Ottoman-era Biscevic House, tucked away within Mostar’s backstreets, is well worth seeking out. Built in 1665, you’ll find an open courtyard with a fountain, while the upper rooms contain much of its original furniture.
Furthermore, you can also find local crafts and traditional costumes, while the cluttered kitchen appears much like it would’ve centuries ago.
If you’ve visited other Ottoman-style houses in the Balkans, you pretty much know what to expect. But if you’re a fan of such places, you won’t be disappointed.
Mostar is also home to two other house museums: the Kajtaz House, the Muslibegović House. Sadly, neither was open during my stay.
The Herzegovina Museum
Frankly speaking, the Herzegovina Museum isn’t the most exciting attraction in this Mostar guide. But it’s not a bad way to spend half an hour (and 5 KM) on a rainy day.
Interestingly, the museum is situated in the boyhood home of former Yugoslav prime minister Džemal Bijedić. (The head of state at the time was President Josip Broz Tito.)
Bijedić served from 1971 until his death in a plane crash in 1977. And appropriately, large portions of the museum are dedicated to his life and political work. Along the walls, you’ll find photographs of Bijedić together with the likes of North Korea’s Kim Il-sung, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Elsewhere, meanwhile, is a small collection of ethnographic artifacts from the Ottoman period, and an even smaller display of pieces from ancient Roman times.
Entry to the museum includes a movie screening of a short documentary which contains fascinating yet horrifying footage of the Old Bridge’s destruction.
Most short-term visitors to Mostar stick to the Old City. But those with some extra time should consider exploring western Mostar, which offers a whole different perspective.
Following the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians controlled the region in the 19th century, placing their focus on the area to the north of the Old City.
One prominent remnant from this era is the Mostar Gymnasium complex, a beautiful building built in the Neo-Moorish style. If you’ve been to Sarajevo, you’ll notice the similarities between this building and the capital’s City Hall.
Further exploring the area, you’ll notice how in contrast to the mosques of the Old Town, this area has an abundance of Catholic Churches, as it’s long been home to Mostar’s Croat population.
From all around the area, one can’t help but notice the monumental 107-m clock tower of the Church of St. Peter and Paul. Like many structures around Mostar, the church had to be rebuilt following the war, and it now boasts the tallest clock tower in this part of Europe.
While I was unaware at the time of my visit, the clock tower is said to be accessible, and it would surely offer one of the best views of the city.
The Sniper Tower
Originally fighting side by side against the Serbs upon the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Croats and Bosniaks of Mostar turned against each other in 1993. This was despite having coexisted peacefully for centuries.
With military help from Croatia, Mostar’s Croats occupied hilltops and tall buildings from which snipers would take aim at Bosniak soldiers and civilians alike. And one of these buildings, appropriately dubbed the Sniper Tower, remains just how it did at the end of the war.
While one would never guess it today, the building once functioned as a large bank. Nowadays, it’s entirely covered in murals, some of them of great quality.
At the time of my visit, the entrances were blocked off, and there was no clear way to get in. There may still be a way to enter if you look hard enough, though you’ll want to be very careful for a number of obvious reasons.
Throughout both western and eastern Mostar, you’ll find plenty of destroyed buildings that have yet to be touched since the war’s end. But all in all, the western half of the city has mostly been rebuilt, and the area is full of trendy cafes and restaurants.
Just next to the Sniper Tower itself is a large, green park where local families regularly come to hang out. And within the park is a famous bronze statue of Bruce Lee, of all people, that was placed here in 2005.
Before the war, Bruce Lee was a popular figure among Mostar’s youth, regardless of background. As such, the late film star is something that the two sides can still reminisce about together.
Partisan Memorial Cemetery
Also in western Mostar is one of the city’s most unique yet overlooked landmarks. Designed by Yugoslav architect Bogdan Bogdanović in 1965, the Partisan Memorial Cemetery was dedicated to the soldiers from Mostar who fought in World War II.
Even if you’re not normally a fan of concrete socialist-era monuments, this unique cemetery is well worth going out of your way to find.
Visitors must walk up a windy, serpentine path to reach the main section. It clearly hasn’t been repaired in a long time, as the city has more pressing renovation projects to worry about. But its dilapidated state partly adds to its charm.
The multi-tiered monument features interesting geometrical designs, while the cemetery portion is home to over 800 soldiers. Standing at the top, you can also enjoy the views of western Mostar down below.
In contrast to the crowded Old Town, this is one of the few attractions in Mostar where you can expect to find yourself alone.
The most common way to reach Mostar is by bus. Frequent buses depart from Sarajevo daily. There are also a few buses every day from Trebinje.
There are also direct connections between Mostar and Dubrovnik, Croatia and various cities in Montenegro. As there’s no centralized source of information and schedules are often changing, it’s best to confirm at the bus station of wherever it is you’ll be coming from.
Mostar also has a small international airport with flights from various cities in Italy.
Note that Mostar actually has two bus stations. Most tourists will arrive and depart from the main one to the east, which is an easy walk from the Old Town area and most of the sites in the Mostar guide above.
The west bus station is located rather far away in the northwest part of the city, but most tourists won’t need to use it. For certain day trips outside of Mostar, however, such as the pilgrimage site of Međugorje, that’s the station you’ll need.
Tourism in Mostar is currently booming and the city has accommodation options for all budgets. To visit all the locations in the Mostar Guide above, the closer you are to the Old Town area, the better.
As a budget traveler who dislikes dorm rooms, I was able to find a private room for just €10 a night (including VAT) that was right by the Old Town. For whatever reason, it’s called Two Babies, and it’s situated in the top floor of a family’s home.
While the bathroom was shared, there are only a few rooms, so the bathroom/shower was usually available when I needed it. Communication goes through one of the family’s daughters, who speaks impeccable English.
During my stay, the parents of the family even arranged a one-day tour of Stolac and surrounding sites such as Daorson for €50. This was great because no tour companies in town can take you there at the time of writing.
While the house could be a bit loud at times, I enjoyed my stay overall and would recommend Two Babies to other budget travelers.
Don’t have time for a longer stay in Mostar? Fortunately, numerous guided tours are available that remove the hassle of figuring out public transport.
At the time of my visit in the midst of the pandemic, international border crossings could be a pain. But now that things are largely back to normal, Mostar can smoothly be visited as a day trip from Dubrovnik, Croatia. This highly-rated tour takes you to Mostar and nearby attractions.