I really didn’t know what to expect from Sarajevo.

I was apprehensive about visiting, knowing very little about the city aside from the siege of the 90’s that I vaguely remember from my childhood.

I arrived exhausted and drained. The overnight train from Zagreb had no sleeper carriages, a broken window that blasted us with a constant stream of ice cold air and a couple of Bosnian women who spent the entire night gossiping loudly. As we pulled up the train station, all I wanted to do was find my hostel and sleep.

Navigating the tram system in a daze, we had no idea if we were even going in the right direction, let alone which stop to get off at. Somehow we managed to guess correctly, arriving right in the heart of the Old Town. The smell of coffee, cigarettes and smoked kebabs filled the air as the call to prayer rang out from a nearby mosque.

Despite my lack of sleep, I was in awe.

Sarajevo felt like another world and I instantly fell in love.

rooftops in sarajevo

Over the next three days, I came to learn just how important Sarajevo is; that it is arguably the place that defined and shaped human history in the twentieth century, more so than anywhere else.

So many of the terrible things that occurred over the last hundred years happened right here in Bosnia and Herzegovina and much of it in Sarajevo. From the collapse of empires to devastating wars, the rise of nationalism, communism, and their demise.

No event was more significant than the bullets fired on the streets of Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia triggered a series of events that culminated in the world’s first global war. In fact the origins of both World Wars, the Cold War and its conclusion can be traced back to the gunshots fired that day.

sarajevo assassination sign

These days, Sarajevo can offer so much more than just bullets and bombings and there are so many things to love about this city.

Sarajevo is rich in religious diversity.

A five minute walk through the Old Town will take you past mosques, synagogues, Orthodox and Catholic churches – a mixture that frequently leads to Sarajevo being described as the Jerusalem of Europe.

Below is Sarajevo Cathedral, often used as a symbol of the city.

religion in sarajevo

Sarajevo also has an amazing cafe culture. 

Wander down a narrow cobblestone alleyway in the Old Town and you’ll find dozens of tiny coffee shops serving thick Bosnian coffee and plenty of bars selling the local Sarajevsko and, to my delight, cider!

However, this was probably the first time in my life that I wished I was a coffee drinker.

For once, I didn’t want to drink the cider – I wanted to sit down with a brass pot full of coffee, a small ceramic cup, some sugar cubes and a Turkish delight, mix them all together and have a life-changing experience.

Having tried the coffee in Mostar when I visited last year, I knew that there was no way I’d be able to handle it – it’s one of the richest and strongest coffees I’ve ever come across and had me retching and scrubbing at my tongue for minutes afterward.

sarajevo old town

Aside from the coffee, you can’t visit Sarajevo and not try cevapi, considered a national dish in Bosnia – in fact, it’s loved so much in Sarajevo that you’ll see magnets of it in every gift shop!

 

Cevapi consists of rolls of spiced lamb or beef served in a flatbread with a huge pile of chopped raw onion. It’s much better than it sounds and I pretty much lived on this while in Sarajevo, even having it for breakfast.

cevapi in sarajevo

However, I didn’t come to Sarajevo just to eat the food.

While Sarajevo may now be at peace, reminders of its violent past are never too far away.

The siege of Sarajevo in the nineties lasted for nearly four years and killed an estimated 12,000 people.

Subsequently, bullet-ridden buildings are everywhere and holes in the pavement caused by shells and later filled with red resin are scattered throughout the city. These concrete scars are labelled Sarajevo Roses due to the floral-like pattern created in the ground by the explosions.

bullet holes in buildings sarajevo

Like the bullet holes, it’s impossible not to notice the number of cemeteries this city has.

The surrounding hillsides glimmer white in the distance, thousands of gravestones reflecting sunlight during the day and street lights at night. The tombstones carry dates noticeably clustered in the early nineties, many of the victims the same age as me.

There are far too many cemeteries for a city of this size.

Passing through one on our hike up to Yellow Fortress, Dave and I walked in silence among the white stones, stopping occasionally to read an inscription or take a photo. Like most cemeteries, it managed to be beautiful as well as somber; and like other cemeteries in Sarajevo its conspicuous position overlooking the city means that those who were killed will never be forgotten.

cemetery in sarajevo

Reaching Yellow Fortress, which overlooks the entire city, the amount of cemeteries was even more apparent. 

Dangling our feet over the edge, we spent most of the afternoon sunbathing, enjoying the gorgeous view and discussing how viable it would be to live here for a few months.

views over sarajevo   views over sarajevo

views over sarajevo

I loved my time in Sarajevo and I could have stayed for so much longer.

I think it’s safe to say that Sarajevo is now in my top five cities in Europe and will probably end up being the highlight of my entire Interrail trip.  

 

My trip through Central and Eastern Europe was made possible by the lovely people at Interrailnet.com.

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