Top 5 Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Last Updated on: 8th January 2023, 09:35 pm

Sarajevo, with its eclectic mix of classical architecture and scenic mountain surroundings, is easily the most interesting big city of the Balkans. But as heavy as the experiences can be, some of the most unique things to do in Sarajevo involve educating oneself about the Bosnian capital’s recent tragic past.

Go on a War Scars Walking Tour

Walking the streets of Sarajevo, reminders of the horrible events of the 1990s are everywhere. Even as the city continues to rebuild and recover, there’s no way to ignore the siege of Sarajevo which took place from 1992-95.

And by joining the War Scars of Sarajevo Walking Tour, you can learn directly about the events from a local who lived through them.

But what exactly led up to the Bosnian War? When Bosnia & Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, the Serbs in the country sought to establish their own state called Republika Srpska. And the two sides immediately began fighting for territory. 

War Scars Walking Tour Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
War Scars Walking Tour Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Bosnian Serbs had direct backing from Serbia who possessed most of Yugoslavia’s weapons. And shortly into the conflict, the entire city of Sarajevo was surrounded by a 60 km ring of tanks and soldiers.

No place in the city was perfectly safe. This was made clear by our first stop on the tour, the Markale Market. Here, in February 1994, a bomb exploded that killed 68 people. Hundreds more were injured, and it was considered the worst massacre of the entire siege.

The cracks in the concrete have since been filled with red paint. In fact, you’ll see such cracks all over town. Known as Sarajevo Roses, they serve as poignant reminders of what happened in the city just a few decades ago.

Most wars aren’t simply a series of battles between two militaries. The real victims are often ordinary civilians, including children.

And in the city center, the Sarajevo Children’s Memorial pays homage to the many young children that lost their lives between 1992 and 1995.

Our guide also explained how families had to leave their apartments and take refuge in their basements – not just temporarily, but for years. 

And during Sarajevo’s freezing winters, families would burn their furniture, books and even entire doors for heat. By the time the war was over, many homes were left with nothing.

War Scars Walking Tour Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
War Scars Walking Tour Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Our guide later took us to an unassuming corner at which the main Zmaja od Bosne Street intersects with Vrbanja Street. Now home to a modern shopping mall, one would never guess that this used to be one of the most dangerous parts of the city.

Dubbed ‘Sniper Alley,’ the Serb snipers based themselves in a white house halfway up the mountain that can still be seen from street level.

As this was (and still is) a busy intersection that civilians couldn’t simply avoid, they either had to run across the street or wait for UN vehicles to provide them cover.

War Scars Walking Tour Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Nevertheless, hundreds lost their lives here. And as one of Sarajevo’s most developed areas, it was also home to numerous high-rise hotels. 

According to our guide, international journalists covering the conflict had no choice but to stay around this area, and they would take precaution by sleeping under their beds each night.

The last stop on the tour was a bit of a peculiar one: a large replica of a can of beef. But it doesn’t represent just any canned beef, but the variety which the UN distributed to Sarajevans throughout the siege, delivered over the course of 12,000 flights.

While technically edible, it supposedly tasted so bad that even the local cats refused to eat it! Today, the monument is somewhat ironically signed by ‘the Grateful Citizens of Sarajevo.’

Even though the UN helped tremendously in getting food to Sarajevo residents, the besieged city may not have survived without another important lifeline, which is the next item on this list.

Traverse The Tunnel of Hope

As mentioned above, Sarajevo was completely surrounded by Republika Srpska’s military during the Bosnian war. But Bosnia still controlled a significant amount of territory. The problem was that it was cut off from the capital, with only the Sarajevo Airport separating them.

Naturally, Republika Srpska sought to gain control over the airport at soon as possible. But in June 1992, they let the UN take the airport so as not to provoke international outrage and foreign military involvement (as would eventually happen in 1995). 

One major condition, however, was that the UN had to forbid any Bosniaks from crossing to the other side.

Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
A view of the airport from the Tunnel of Hope

For the first year of the conflict, Bosniaks who wanted to get to the other side would have to run across the runway at night. Not only would they need to avoid UN personnel who were obliged to send them back, but the runway itself was a major target of sniper fire.

As many as 800 people are said to have died during these attempts.

Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

And so, in March 1993, the Bosnian army came up with a plan. Beneath a residential house located near the airport, they’d construct an underground tunnel.

The project took four months to complete and the tunnel ended up stretching out to 800 m, leading to the basement of a house on the other side.

The Serbs were well aware of everything, and they repeatedly tried to bomb the house and the tunnel. While they wouldn’t end up destroying it, those leaving the house would need to run for their lives every single trip.

The house was owned by the Kolar Family, whose selfless contribution will always be remembered by Sarajevo’s residents.

Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
A map of Bosnian territory during the siege

The backyard of the house is now home to numerous displays – not only pertaining to the tunnel, but also daily life in Sarajevo during the siege.

Walking around, you’ll find information about the landmines placed throughout the country during the war, as well as the food people ate to survive. Also on display is an actual truck that delivered construction equipment to the Kolar house.

Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Additionally, visitors can watch a 17-minute documentary about the role which the Tunnel of Hope played in the war.

Before your visit, be sure to bring your earphones, as the museum features an audio guide in the form of an app that you can download on your phone.

Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
A commemorative exhibition for those who helped with the tunnel's construction

An additional indoor exhibition contains info on the tunnel’s construction methods along with a scale model of the treacherous airport runway. 

You’ll also learn about the mandatory military checkpoints that all those entering the tunnel would have to go through.

Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
A model of the airport runway with the tunnel location
Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

But the main highlight, of course, is getting to walk through a section of the actual tunnel. At just 25 meters, it’s only a tiny fraction of the full tunnel length. But thanks to the documentary mentioned above, visitors can imagine what the experience might’ve been like.

The tunnel, often cramped and crowded and flooded with rain, also featured rail tracks for those transporting carts filled with goods. Even livestock was transported back and forth here.

All in all, visiting the Tunnel of Hope is a unique educational experience that’s well worth going out of your way for. It’s easily one of the essential things to do in Sarajevo.

Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Tunnel of Hope Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

GETTING THERE: There’s no direct public transport to the Tunnel of Hope from central Sarajevo. With that in mind, you might want to take a tour, such as this highly-rated tour that costs less than $30 USD.

But those who would rather go on their own can still do so. You can hop on a tram and head all the way to the suburb of Ilidža. And from there, you can either take a taxi or simply walk. The journey on foot to the Tunnel of Hope from Ilidža takes around 40 minutes one-way.

At the time of my visit, the tram wasn’t going all the way to Ilidža due to construction work. We stopped several stations earlier and then transferred to a free shuttle bus taking us to Ilidža.

Coming back, I simply hired a taxi waiting outside the Tunnel of Hope to drive me to the nearest working tram station.

Walk Along The Abandoned Bobsled Track

Before the tragic events described above, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats got along just fine for decades. And this former spirit of unity is symbolized by the 1984 Winter Olympics hosted in Sarajevo, then part of Yugoslavia.

Considered a tremendous success at the time, the Olympic games represent the last flicker of hope in the country before the terrible wars of the 1990s.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

Though infrastructure for the Olympics was built all over the region, the most iconic remnant of the games is the bobsled track – now abandoned. Situated atop Mount Trebević, visiting the track used to require making a difficult and somewhat sketchy trek.

Now, however, the ropeway (20 KM roundtrip) has been restored, and the track sees a regular stream of visitors.

The bobsled track was used by Serb forces as an artillery position during the Bosnian War. They looted generators and various other objects, but the concrete track remains in surprisingly good condition.

So much so that with a bit of restoration completed in 2016, international teams now come here to practice, provided they bring bobsleighs on wheels.

People are now free to walk along the whole track, which has been entirely covered in graffiti. In addition to the track itself, you can also walk to an Austro-Hungarian military fortress and former astronomical observatory – both damaged during the war.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

We’ve already covered visiting the abandoned bobsled track in its own dedicated guide. Be sure to check it out for additional details.

If you’re interested in visiting the bobsled track and the Olympic Museum while hearing about the 1984 Olympics from the perspective of a local, consider this highly-rated Winter Olympics Tour.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

Explore Vratnik

While everyone visiting Sarajevo goes to Baščaršija, few tourists venture further east to see yet another historic district called Vratnik. It was here that the Ottomans built a new citadel following an attack by the Austrians in the 17th century.

Many of the original city gates and portions of the wall remain standing, while Vratnik is also home to two former fortresses. What’s more, is that many of the houses from this era remain intact as well.

Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

But before heading to the fortresses, take note of the massive Muslim cemetery in the middle of the neighborhood. Known as Kovači, or the Martyrs Memorial Cemetery, it serves as the final resting place for those who died in the Bosnian War. 

Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

It’s said that more than 11,000 people were killed in Sarajevo alone. And while it’s unclear how many are buried here, it seems to contain the majority of them.

While the War Scars Walking Tour and the Tunnel of Hope provide plenty of details about life during the siege, the sheer number of lives lost is really put into perspective by visiting this cemetery.

Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

And one of the best places to view it – and the rest of the city – is from the historic Yellow Fortress. Built in the 18th century, it was constructed to defend the city from Austro-Hungarian troops. 

Visiting the small but free fortress today, you can even see one of the original cannons.

Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Heading in the direction of the Yellow Fortress, you’ll pass by a couple of interesting landmarks, including the Jajce Barracks, a military complex built by the Austro-Hungarians upon their takeover of the city. Now in ruins, it can only be viewed from the outside.

Also nearby is another Ottoman city gate that remains in excellent condition.

Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Next, head to the White Fortress, which costs 5 KM to visit. Compared to the Yellow Fortress, this one is massive. The hill was originally the spot of a 14th-century fortress before the Ottomans built a new one in the 1600s.

Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Later, once the Austro-Hungarians took over, they also refurbished it. Overall, the fortress is not in good condition, but a lot of it has recently been rebuilt. 

You’ll find some old surviving walls near the entrance, while further in you’ll encounter some of the reconstructed bastions.

From the top, you can enjoy clear views of the surrounding mountains as well as the Old Town below. During my visit on a warm, sunny day, I only encountered two other visitors. 

Without a doubt, a trip to the Yellow Fortress and the Vratnik district as a whole is one of the top things to do in Sarajevo.

Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Other attractions in the Vratnik neighborhood include Saburina Kuća, a historical house museum, and the Alija Izetbegović Museum, dedicated to the first president of an independent Bosnia & Herzegovina. Unfortunately, both were closed at the time of my visit.

Vratnik Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

Walk to the Goat's Bridge

Yet another unique thing to do in Sarajevo is walking to the Goat’s Bridge. While perhaps the least essential item on this list, the excursion is ideal for those who want to escape the bustle of the city for a couple of hours.

To get there, head east along the Miljacka River past the City Hall. The river will curve sharply to the right, after which you should find the entrance to the Dariva scenic walkway on the river’s north side.

Goat's Bridge Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Goat's Bridge Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Goat's Bridge Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

This is a pedestrian-only walkway that offers pleasant views of the Miljacka Canyon, and you might even see people rappelling from the rocky cliffs. Furthermore, you’ll get a great view of the Yellow Fortress along the way.

After about thirty minutes of walking, you’ll reach the Goat’s Bridge, built as early as the 16th century.

Goat's Bridge Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Goat's Bridge Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo
Goat's Bridge Unique Things to Do in Sarajevo

While relatively small at 42 m long, it’s considered to be the only fully intact bridge in Sarajevo from the Ottoman era. Furthermore, it was built along the old road connecting Sarajevo with Istanbul

As such, Ottoman viziers making the journey from the capital would be greeted right here by local officials.

Today, in contrast, you’re unlikely to see anyone else around – not even goats. The bridge’s name, by the way, comes from a local legend about a farmer’s goat discovering a sack of gold coins at this very spot.

Additional Info

As Bosnia & Herzegovina’s capital and largest city, Sarajevo can be reached by a number of different methods. But given the complex political situation in the country and the Balkans as a whole, transport isn’t as straightforward as one would think.

Coming from afar, the Sarajevo Airport has connections with numerous cities in Europe as well as Istanbul and the Middle East.

Sarajevo also has direct rail connections with Zagreb, Croatia.

The train station is right next to the main bus terminal. But confusingly, there are two large bus stations in the city.

The Main Bus Station is right next to the Railway Station and not far from the US Embassy and National Museum. This is the station most tourists will be using during both arrival and departure.

Domestically, you can find direct connections with Mostar, Trebinje, Visoko, Travnik, Jajce, Banja Luka and more. Internationally, there are direct connections to cities like Budapest, Ljubljana, Vienna, Dubrovnik and others. There are also direct connections to Belgrade, Serbia, but only at 6:00 am and late at night.

If you want to visit Belgrade at a more convenient time, you’ll have to go to the East Bus Station, which is actually located  to the west, nearby the airport. It’s technically part of East Sarajevo which lies within the Republika Srpska part of the country.

Bosnia & Herzegovina’s political situation is far too complex to get into here, but there are numerous towns within Republika Srpska that can only be accessed from the East Bus Station. The problem is that it’s not easy to reach from the city center, requiring a combination of tram and taxi.

Hoping to visit the historic town of Višegrad at some point during my trip, I gave up on the plan simply because the East Bus Station was such a pain to reach!

Sarajevo has both a public bus and a tram system. While I didn’t ride the bus, I found the tram system to be quite convenient and affordable. It’s a great way for those staying in the western part of the city to travel to Baščaršija. 

Just be sure to activate your ticket, which can be purchased either at a stall outside or directly from the driver, by sliding it through the green card machine immediately upon boarding.

But if you’re already staying nearby Baščaršija, Sarajevo is largely walkable overall. The top Sarajevo architecture in addition to some of the unique things to do in Sarajevo mentioned above can easily be reached on foot.

In terms of convenience, the closer you are to Baščaršija the better. However, if you’re basing yourself in Sarajevo longer term and want to take numerous day trips, you may want to stay somewhere closer to the Main Bus Station.

Needing a break after extensive travels throughout the Balkans, I decided to make Sarajevo my base for an entire month. I stayed in my own studio apartment called Pink Apartment which was an incredible value for a month-long stay in a capital city.

It was within 15-minutes on foot from the bus station, and about 40 minutes on foot from Baščaršija, though I could also take the tram. While it suited my needs perfectly, I’d recommend somewhere more central for those only staying in town for several days.

If Sarajevo is your first destination in the country and you also plan on leaving Bosnia & Herzegovina by bus, be sure to ask your host for a copy of the police registration form. You may be asked to show it when crossing the border, and without it you risk being fined.

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