Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a 24 hours in Sarajevo itinerary. Are you the sort of adventurous traveler who loves to get off the beaten track? Would you like to visit a place your friends have never dreamed of traveling to? Then Sarajevo, Bosnia is for you!
For Americans of my age, when we hear Bosnia, we think of war and genocide. And while you will certainly learn of Sarajevo’s tragic past when you visit, you will also appreciate its gorgeous architecture and open-air markets, its friendly and warm people, and its delicious food. Give me 24 hours in Sarajevo, and I guarantee you won’t regret it.
24 Hours in Sarajevo Itinerary
Where to Stay?
The best area for enjoying your 24 hours in Sarajevo itinerary is somewhere close to the famous open air market. It’s so much fun to walk around here at night, and you won’t want to miss it. That’s why I recommend the Garni Hotel Konak. The rooms are smallish but clean and comfortable. But the location can’t be beat, the staff is amazing (and so is the price), and there’s a free breakfast spread every morning!
24 Hours in Sarajevo Itinerary
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our 24 hours in Sarajevo itinerary. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Bosnia is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Sarajevo Itinerary
Morning: Scars and Smiles Tour
There’s so much rich history in Sarajevo that it’s hard for a tourist to know where to start exploring. That’s why I suggest picking up a local guide with the Urban Adventures Scars and Smiles Tour. On this tour you’ll get to find the hidden gems in the city with a person who is really from there and find interesting attractions and yummy food you would never get to see on your own. Plus we get to start the morning right–with beer! I don’t want to spoil all the secrets of the tour, but I will give you a preview with…
Approximately Top 5: 24 Hours in Sarajevo Itinerary
1) Kovaci Cemetery
Are you ready to start your morning right with a little exercise? My guide took me for a walk up the hill right by the city center. He said according to some locals if you don’t live in this neighborhood, you’re not really from Sarajevo. The walk started with a visit to Kovaci Cemetery, a Muslim cemetery.
There are those in this cemetery who died in the Bosnian War of the 1990s, but the most prominent tomb is the one with the dome. It belongs to the former president of Bosnia, but he didn’t die during the war. (Also, the official name of the country is Bosnia and Herzegovina, but I’m going to call it Bosnia for short for most of the post. Please excuse me, Herzegovina! I mean no disrespect.)
His son Bakir Izetbegović was elected President as well, though he is not the current president. Technically I should say that he is not one of the current presidents because Bosnia has three presidents: one Bosniak, one Croat, and one Serb. Do you think Bosnian politics are starting to sound complicated? My friend, we haven’t even gotten started.
2) Sarajevo Brewery
One of the things that makes Bosnian politics complicated is that the country was once part of the Ottoman Empire. As the Ottoman Empire was Muslim, and Muslims usually don’t drink, you weren’t very likely to find a brewery in Sarajevo. Well, when Sarajevo was transferred from the Ottomans to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the first thing the Austrians did was build a brewery. AHAHAHA! Well played, Austrians, living up to national stereotypes.
If you’re up for a morning beer, you’ll enjoy the stop at Sarajevo Brewery. It will feel like the old tymes when people drank beer all day because the water was too polluted. But even if you don’t want a drink, you’ll love the glamorous feel of the antique wood. This was one of my favorite buildings in Sarajevo.
Fear not! We won’t spend the morning of our 24 hours in Sarajevo itinerary with an empty stomach. We got two yummy bites to eat on this tour. The first was the curved pretzel you see above. My guide told me that they were crazy popular in Bosnia and people eat them all the time. They reminded me a bit of Romanian covrigi, which makes sense because both Bosnia and Romania were once part of the Ottoman Empire.
And because we’re going for the carb trifecta (beer, savory, and sweet) we get to try some sweet treats. My guide got one and I got the other so we could share. The dessert on the left is tufahija, a psychotically sweet apple stuffed with walnuts. On the right is a lovely phyllo apple tart, kind of like an apple baklava. And we snacked on them in this adorable hidden garden in Old Town. I know Bosnian history is often tragic, but Sarajevo itself is a lovely city with lots of places to have fun. It’s important to find a balance when you visit.
4) Susan Sontag Square
Maybe you Internet Strangers are not familiar with Susan Sontag, but I am familiar because she was a native New Yorker like me. So I was surprised to see that there was a square named after her in Sarajevo. But apparently she’s really popular in Sarajevo because she spoke on behalf of the Bosniaks during the Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo. She went there many times and even directed a production of Waiting for Godot in Bosnia during the siege.
As you can see from the sign above, there’s still a lot of resentment in Sarajevo about how the international community didn’t help them enough during the Siege of Sarajevo. (Though Americans and President Bill Clinton are generally more popular here, at least from the conversations I had with locals because people feel America was more helpful than Europe. Although I am American, so it’s possible they were just telling me lies to keep me happy. I’m going to trust they were being honest.)
5) Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures
It’s a little hard to see because of the construction but this sign marks the boundary between the “Eastern” side of Sarajevo, which has more of the Ottoman influence, with the “Western” side of Sarajevo, which is more Austrian. You can definitely see the different in the architecture styles if you visit both sides, but I think I found the Ottoman side more interesting…
Partially because of places like Coppersmith Street, where you hear the constant clang of craftspeople working on pots. My guide told me that the pots are associated with matchmaking because during the Ottoman days young women had their faces concealed so it was hard for the young men to tell what they looked like. But sometimes they would go spy on the young women when they went to wash their pots. Then they could recognize them later by the pot.
I’m not sure dating is a lot easier nowadays with the Internet when it’s the guys who try to conceal their appearance by saying they are 6’0 when they are really 5’6. (Yes, that’s an actual thing I experienced.)
24 Hours in Sarajevo Itinerary
Afternoon: Museums of Sarajevo History
Some people find museums very boring and don’t want to spend their afternoons staring at portraits of dead ladies with enigmatic smiles. I happen to LOVE museums, but even if you hate them, you’ll want to see two of the most prominent history museums about the Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo.
The first is the War Childhood Museum and the second is the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. If you want to learn more about the Siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian War, and how these horrific events continue to affect Bosnia today, you’ll need to visit both these places. To give you a bit of a sense of what to expect, I would like to share with you
Three Facts: Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo
1) What was the Siege of Sarajevo?
The Siege of Sarajevo lasted from April 5, 1992 to February 26, 1996. It started because Bosnia decided to declare independence from the country of Yugoslavia and form its own country. Most Bosniaks and Croats supported this decision, but most Bosnian Serbs did not. Their goal was to create a Bosnian Serb state, and to achieve this goal, they attacked Sarajevo in April 1992.
It’s truly shocking to me that during my lifetime, one group of people was able to keep another group of people under siege like this for almost four years. Hasn’t humanity learned anything from the horrific wars of the first half of the 20th century? Many Bosniaks were killed by attacks during the Siege and you can see markings called Sarajevo roses all over the city in memory of them.
2) What is the War Childhood Museum?
The War Childhood Museum is dedicated to telling the stories of the children who were trapped in Sarajevo during the Siege of Sarajevo. It’s a small museum with about 44 different objects that rotate in and out. So there won’t necessarily be the same objects in the museum the next time you visit. Each object is something that was precious to a child who lived in Sarajevo during the siege and each object is presented with a card that tells its story. (The card is written in both Bosnian and English.)
As I looked at the little objects like the bunny and teddy or the childhood lunch pail, I realized that I had been a little girl halfway around the world at the same time with my own stuffed cat and my own Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox. How could I not have known what people were doing to children here? Why couldn’t the world have kept these children safe?
3) What is the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide?
The title of this museum is fairly self-explanatory, and as you can probably guess it’s a very difficult museum to visit emotionally. I wouldn’t plan anything immediately after you visit, as you’ll probably need some time and space to process what you saw. This museum is dedicated to all the victims of war crimes and genocide during the Bosnian War, not only the Siege of Sarajevo.
I found objects like the cigarettes above to be the most moving. These cigarettes were donated to the museum by the family of a man who was killed during the war–they were the last cigarettes he ever smoked. But there are also objects that belong to babies who were killed or women who were raped during the war. There are also some objects that belonged to the men who carried out these war crimes. The worst thing I saw was a letter from a Bosnian Serb officer involved in the genocide who signed his letters “Adolf Hitler” because Hitler was his role model.
24 Hours in Sarajevo Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at LibertAs
It feels very strange to be recommending a restaurant after spending the afternoon with such tragic history. But I want to do everything I can to help Bosnia have a brighter future, and I suppose spending my tourism dollars there is something that could be helpful. So let’s dine out in style at the elegant restaurant LibertAs. It specializes in fresh local seafood, so start with a lovely, light lobster bisque. Sometimes bisques can be too creamy and gloopy, but this had just the right amount of dairy so the flavors of the lobster could shine through.
Since LibertAs specializes in the fruits of the sea, go all out with this amazing seafood platter! The presentation is probably the most fun show in Sarajevo because the waiter comes out and bones the whole fish in front of you. Then he covers the plate with a generous drizzle of gorgeous olive oil. My favorite were the succulent squid because I’m always so excited to find squid or octopus that isn’t rubbery. The crustaceans were also excellent, especially because you get to eat them with your fingers. They bring out a little dish of water in which to dip your hands–super civilized.
I recommend pairing this with a glass of Bosnian white wine from the Mostar region. The waiters will be happy to suggest one! And how often do you get to drink Bosnian wine? My one regret is that I was unable to finish this whole thing. At the end of the meal, the waiter asked if the plate had “beaten me”. Yes, sir! I surrender to the seafood!
24 Hour Treat: Marshall’s Gelato
I’m sure the desserts at LibertAs are yummy, but the lavish seafood plate will make your tummy beg for mercy and you probably won’t have room for dessert. I suggest working up an appetite for dessert by walking from LibertAs, in the Eastern part of Sarajevo, to Marshall’s Gelato, in the Western part of Sarajevo. (Is it Marshall after Marshal Tito, the former leader of Yugoslavia? I can’t get a straight answer to this question.)
I recommend the kinder flavor, which is part Nutella and part pure creamy goodness. (Pretty sure kinder is German for “delicious baby”.) Take your cup out for a stroll around the markets of Sarajevo and enjoy the fine end to your 24 hours in Sarajevo itinerary. You won’t regret it!
That’s a 24 Hours in Sarajevo Itinerary!
What would you do with a 24 hours in Sarajevo itinerary? Is it appropriate to name a gelato place after a dictator, even a benevolent one? And do you think that seafood platter could beat you in a fight to the death? Please leave your thoughts below!
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