Visiting Sarajevo’s Abandoned Bobsled Track

Last Updated on: 4th January 2023, 12:53 am

In 1984, Sarajevo, then part of Yugoslavia, hosted the Winter Olympic Games – widely considered to be a resounding success. Plenty of new infrastructure was built for the event, and Sarajevo seemed to be heading in a positive direction. But things took a very dark turn less than a decade later. Currently, visiting Sarajevo’s abandoned bobsled track, located atop Mount Trebević, is one of the most unique experiences you can have in the city.

Visiting Sarajevo's abandoned Bobsled Track

Getting up to Mount Trebević used to require a moderately difficult hike through Sarajevo’s outskirts. As such, visitors could expect to find themselves completely alone at the top. But all that changed in 2018 when the old cable car was finally reopened.

Amazingly, a cable car up to Mount Trebević was installed as early as 1959 – well before the Olympics. But it certainly came in handy in 1984, when thousands of spectators visited the mountain to watch the races.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track
A vintage cable car on display outside the new station

Sadly, the entire ropeway was destroyed during the Bosnian War of the ’90s. But more on that shortly.

The cable car ride costs 20 KM (10 euro) roundtrip, and you can find the station about a 10-minute walk south of the Sarajevo City Hall building in the Bistrik neighborhood.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track
Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

The ride itself is a major highlight of visiting Sarajevo’s abandoned bobsled track. For around 15 minutes, the scenic journey takes you above the city’s tranquil suburbs, from which you can enjoy a clear panoramic view of the capital’s skyline.

Arriving at the top, you’ll find a cafe selling coffee and snacks, while small food trucks are set up just outside. You’ll also find plenty of signs and trail markers pointing you in the direction of the track.

I visited on a Saturday morning, and while there were a fair amount of people around the upper station, it wasn’t long before I found myself alone.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track
Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

Completed in 1992, the bobsled track is 1300 m-long in total with no less than thirteen turns. But looking at it now, it’s clearly seen better days.

Hosting the Olympic games commonly turns out to be a bad economic choice for host cities, with the new constructions often going to waste after the event. But that wasn’t the case with Sarajevo and its bobsled track. 

Before the Olympics, this track hosted the 1983 European Bobsleigh Championships. And a few years after the main event, Sarajevo also hosted the Bobsled World Cup.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

But everything would take a horrible turn for the worse less than a decade later, as Bosnia would be embroiled in a brutal civil war from 1992-95. And during this time, the entire city of Sarajevo was under siege – the longest siege of a capital in modern times.

The complex political situation that led up to the war is difficult to explain in a few paragraphs. But in summary, following the breakup of Yugoslavia, most of its member states declared their independence, including Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track
Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

Out of all the Yugoslav member states, Bosnia & Herzegovina was the most ethnically mixed, containing a large number of Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats (who, in reality, are all South Slavic peoples that speak the same language).

While the Bosniaks wanted to separate from Yugoslavia and form their own country, the Serbs in the region were strongly opposed to the move. In response to Bosnia & Herzegovina’s declaration of independence, they sought to establish their own territory called Republika Srpska and began fighting against the Bosnian government.

As Yugoslavia had been centrally controlled from Belgrade, Bosnian Serbs had the full support of Serbia, which also possessed the majority of Yugoslavia’s weapons.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

The Serb forces took control over the mountains surrounding Sarajevo, shelling the city daily and shooting at civilians with snipers. And during the war, the bobsled track was occupied by Serb forces who used it as an artillery position.

The siege persisted for around three and a half years before the peace agreement known as the Dayton Accords was finalized in 1995. But despite peace being finally restored, places like this bobsled track have been left abandoned ever since.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track
Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

As you’ll notice, it’s now entirely covered in graffiti – mostly of pretty poor quality – though there are a few gems here and there.

You’ll also come across holes from shelling, though not as much as one would’ve several years ago. The track was largely cleaned up and partially restored in 2016, to the point that bobsled teams can once again use it for practice.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

Visiting Sarajevo’s abandoned bobsled track is quite the experience, as the whole thing was a lot larger than I’d anticipated. And I often wasn’t quite sure where the track would lead me. Even on this bright sunny day, the atmosphere was rather spooky.

Eventually, I walked away from the tracks and down a short dirt path which took me to a unique landmark built well before the Olympics.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

Mount Trebević is also home to a former Austro-Hungarian military fortress. During their rule over Bosnia from 1878-1918, Austro-Hungarian soldiers made use of this strategic spot to observe the entire city.

And later, from 1972, the spot was home to the Čolina Kapa Astronomical Observatory. Unsurprisingly, however, it too would be destroyed during the war of the ’90s.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track
Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

Both structures remain standing. And if you’re brave enough, you’re free to take a peek inside. Just nearby, meanwhile, is a bench from which to appreciate an excellent view of modern Sarajevo.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

After the trip to the observatory, it was time to gradually make my way back to the cable car station. 

While I’d mostly been walking on the bobsled track itself, I decided to explore the proper walking trails for the return trip, from which I could see more dilapidated ruins of the not-so-distant past.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track
Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

Getting closer to the entrance, the crowds started to increase, and I was feeling glad I’d gotten an early start.

Back at the station, I decided to keep walking past it for a few minutes to enjoy yet another scenic vantage point. Even from this high up, many of Sarajevo’s historical landmarks can clearly be made out.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

I then hopped in a descending cable car, making the exciting journey back to the city center. Getting out at the lower station, I was surprised to see a long line of people, whereas there’d been no more than several visitors just a couple hours earlier.

Visiting Sarajevo's Abandoned Bobsled Track

The Olympic Museum

For a deeper understanding of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics and what the games meant for the city, you may want to check out the Olympic Museum close to the city center.

Just be forewarned that the museum costs a whopping 12 KM, while your visit shouldn’t take more than half an hour. 

The exterior architecture, at least, is gorgeous. The Austro-Hungarian-era building was completely destroyed during the war in the ’90s but has since been entirely rebuilt.

Sarajevo Olympic Museum
Sarajevo Olympic Museum

On display, you’ll find one of the original bobsleds used in the Olympics, as well as plenty of other paraphernalia. The museum also provides a historical overview of the games and how they were organized.

Sarajevo Olympic Museum

In 1978, Sarajevo beat out Sapporo, Japan and Gothenburg, Sweden, to be selected as host of the games. And over the next six years, massive construction projects took place all over the city in preparation.

In addition to the bobsled track, numerous Olympic stadiums were built for the event. Additionally, new hotels, roads and other infrastructure were built as well.

Sarajevo Olympic Museum
Sarajevo Olympic Museum
Sarajevo Olympic Museum
Sarajevo Olympic Museum
An original gold medal salvaged from the wreckage

At the museum, you can also view footage of the games’ opening ceremony, a jovial event which seemed to embody a spirit of cooperation and hope. But watching it today only makes the events of the ’90s all the more puzzling.

All around Sarajevo, you’ll find signs and billboards left over from 1984. It’s easy to see why, as it was the last bright spot in the city’s recent history. 

But Sarajevo, and Bosnia as a whole, is making a major comeback, with many of its damaged buildings and monuments getting makeovers. Only time will tell, however, what happens to the bobsled track itself.

Additional Info

Before my visit, I came across numerous blog posts and comments on Tripadvisor about people getting mugged while visiting Sarajvo’s abandoned bobsled track. Occupied by Serb forces during the siege, the track now lies right along the border between the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina and East Sarajevo, Republika Sprska.

Thieves long took advantage of the situation, as they could rob someone in Sarajevo and immediately run to East Sarajevo – a separate political entity with its own police force. So even if tourists went to the police station in the city center, there was little that could be done.

But as far as I can tell, accounts of these muggings all date to several years ago, before the ropeway was reconstructed. The area around the tracks is now a lot more developed and the mountain receives many more visitors in general. As such, the criminal operations seem to have ceased.

With that being said, you may want to visit at a busier time if you’re concerned about wandering around completely alone.

As with everywhere in Bosnia & Herzegovina, you also want to be sure not to venture deep into the forest, as leftover land mines from the war are a major concern. By sticking to the walking path and the bobsled track itself, though, you should be fine.

If you’re interested in visiting the locations above and also want to hear about the 1984 Olympics from the perspective of a local, consider this highly-rated Winter Olympics Tour.

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 a 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 Republika Srpska, and getting there requires 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!

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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