This week, Iain Haywood of Ooh Blog takes us to Sarajevo for a cheap city break in the unspoiled Bosnian capital…
Sarajevo is the city that constantly surprises. From the shocking tales of the 1990s conflict and the city’s 3-year siege, many expect to see a city still licking its wounds. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, although there are plenty of scars. Sarajevo is a sublimely beautiful and cultured capital; a jewel in the Balkans that is yet to be affected by mass tourism.
Bašcaršija: The first place to head to (as many do) is Bašcaršija (pr: Barsh-CHAR -shee-ya) – the Old Town. This is the area that looks most prominently to the East and its Ottoman past, with minarets, fountains and traditional architecture. Complete with bustling bazaar, one can meander around the quaint alleys, shop for traditional eastern goods and visit a few interesting sights. According to legend, he who drinks from the Bašcaršija Fountain will return to the city…. So if you’re not so keen, I’d recommend a traditional Turkish coffee from one of the local cafes instead!
Sarajevo’s main mosque is the Ghazi Husrev-beg’s Mosque, usually known as the Beg’s (Bey’s) Mosque. The inscription also notes the date of its construction – 938, which in universal terms translates to 1530/31 CE. Husrev-beg is widely considered Sarajevo’s greatest patron, having financed the construction of much of the old city.
Traditional Lunch: Step back in time in one of the atrium restaurants and enjoy some “mantı” – a sort of Bosnian ravioli.
Vjeèna Vatra, the Eternal flame: This monument on the main street is dedicated to the liberators of Sarajevo in the Second World War, and burns constantly – although this example of Serb and Bosnian co-operation to liberate the capital may feel bitterly ironic to those remembering the events only a decade ago.
Watch a Movie: It might sound like a strange thing to suggest I know, but Bosnia has an extremely active film industry, and holds a huge international film festival annually that’s one of the biggest in Europe (it even started during the siege). If you’re in the city between 12th and 20th August, you could run into the likes of Kevin Spacey…
Go Clubbing: Sarajevo has a reputation as a great destination for nightlife. While away the early evening smoking Shisha in the local cafes, and then hit one of the local clubs.
Stay Central: For a great place to crash on a budget, HCC Sarajevo has an excellent downtown location, great reviews and beds from €11 a night.
Take a Tour: If you’re feeling at least semi-respectable after last night, you must take a proper guided tour of the city! Often conducted by guys who were kids or teens during the siege, they’re typically peppered with amazing insight and bittersweet humour about their experiences.
Visit the Tunnel Museum: This tunnel was built secretly under the airport runway by the besieged Bosnians to bring food, supplies and reinforcements into the surrounded city. As UN troops had blocked off the airport, and the only way to get there in the first place was via the infamous “sniper alley”, the Bosnians would have fared much worse had it not been for this miracle piece of engineering. You’ll need a car or taxi to visit, but it’s well worth it.
Snack on Your Feet: A wide variety of local meat dishes are avaialble at street stalls. Recommended are Burek (meat pie) or Cepavi (rolled meat in pita). Whilst there are vegetarian dishes available, it seems the Balkan countries do love their meat…
See Where Archduke Ferdinand was Assassinated: Perhaps the most historically significant spot in the city, there’s a memorial and museum marking where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, were shot dead on 28 June 1914 by Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip – a momentous event which sparked WWI.
Sarajevska Pivara: Finish your two days with a touch of class with dinner and a few drinks in the Sarajevo Brewery. Opened in 1864, it operated through the period of Ottoman Empire, the period of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and even the war. It’s a fantastic place to dine out and try some of the finest beers in the region.
Iain Haywood is a member of the team over at www.ooh.com, launching September 1st. They currently run a blog on the most interesting and unique things to do around the world at Ooh blog.