The waterfall and turquoise water flowing past Dervish house

The Ultimate Guide to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2024

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small country that really packs a punch. It’s full of beautiful landscapes with stunning waterfalls and breath-taking bridges, but also sadly has a dark history of war, where the spark that initiated World War I occurred, along with a civil war that took place in the 1990’s.

Beautiful rivers and castles in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is found in the western Balkan Peninsula of Europe. It is home to the second smallest coastline in the world (among coastal nations), its capital city of Sarajevo is referred to as ‘the Jerusalem of Europe’ due to the amount of mosques, cathedrals and synagogues all in the same neighbourhood. It is the only country in Europe whose national anthem has no lyrics, which makes it one of only four in the world. 

We visited Bosnia and Herzegovina during our van trip in spring 2023 which took us through France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We thought we’d start by sharing a blog with our highlights from Bosnia and Herzegovina. We hope you enjoy learning more about this stunning, history-filled country. 

Mostar

Mostar is home of the beautiful, iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge). It’s also where you will find the coldest river in the world, the Neretva River. While many visitors capture the beauty of the bridge through photographs or enjoy a riverside meal taking in the breathtaking view, some seek a more adventurous experience by leaping from the 24 metre high bridge into the cold clear waters below. What a rush!

The coldest river in the world in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The town of Mostar has a very special charm, we loved wandering through the cobblestone streets in Stari Grad (Old Town) which are lined with local artisan shops, restaurants and cafes. We recommend wearing sturdy shoes around the city, preferably not flip flops (oops)! We really enjoyed learning about the traditional Ottoman-style architecture, historical buildings and picturesque squares. The city has a complex history, unfortunately it was greatly impacted by the Bosnian War in the 1990s and a lot of damage occurred, including the destruction of the Stari Most. The bridge was rebuilt and opened in July 2004. 

Mostar is a melting pot of cultures and religions with a mix of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. You can feel the diversity of the city reflected in the architecture, traditions, and cuisine. We really enjoyed sampling the Bosnian dishes. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant, recommended by a Bosnian friend we made, called the Food House. They have a wide selection of yummy vegetarian dishes - one we can definitely recommend is the imam bayildi (stuffed aubergine). If you’re looking to sample a local Bosnian desert then you have to try tufahija, which is made of poached apples stuffed with walnuts/almonds and whipped cream. And, as almost always at the end of your meal in the Balkans, be ready for the offer of a free shot of Rakia (local flavoured brandy). Just a little warning, the alcohol level of most rakias is usually between 40 and 50 percent. 

The people of Mostar were friendly and very welcoming. We spoke with a local who offers boat rides up and down the river under the Stari Most. He openly shared his story and taught us a lot of the history of Mostar. It was interesting hearing his perspective on the city, as depending who you’re speaking to it can be very different. 

For accommodation, we parked up our van at a lovely little campsite called Camping Neretva. The campsite runs right along the Neretva River, which gave us the opportunity to experience what the coldest river in the world feels like! We can confirm, it was cold. 

Swimming in the Neretva River on our Bosnia and Herzegovina Road Trip

Fun Fact, taught by a local: Contemporary Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin are nearly identical to each other in vocabulary and grammar, though they use different alphabets. So if you pick up some local words and phrases in Bosnian, you can use them in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro too!

Blagaj 

Just down the road from Mostar, about 12 kilometres, is the little village of Blagaj. The highlight is the Buna River Spring, one of the largest and most beautiful karst springs in Europe.

At the source of the Buna River, perched in the cliffs, you’ll find a Dervish monastery, Blagaj Tekke.

The waterfall and turquoise water flowing past Dervish house

If you follow a small trail behind the riverside restaurants opposite the Blagaj Tekke, you’ll find the most picturesque location (one of my favourites of the trip). We couldn’t look away from the turquoise water rushing from the caves, flowing past the Dervish house into a waterfall and down the river. There are lots of spots to stop for lunch or a drink where you can enjoy the views along the river, watching tourists taking photographs from bridges as the trout swim through the clear water beside you.

We discovered our favourite campsite to date, Autocamp Blagaj. The team was so welcoming and we felt at home the second we arrived - we didn’t want to leave! There is a reason why they have the most and the best reviews in the area. The campsite was full of travellers from all over the world. They had a restaurant and chill-out area alongside the river where you could relax with a book or a cold drink, watching the ducks float by. It was only a 15 minute walk to Blagaj centre and 30 minutes to the Dervish House. 

We didn’t have time to visit the Kravice Falls but we’ve been told it’s definitely worth stopping by. 

Fun Fact: "Dobar dan" = Hello!, "Hvala" = Thank you. We always try to learn a few words in the local language! 

Sarajevo 

The drive to Sarajevo from Mostar was stunning, the first half of the drive was alongside the Neretva river lined with dramatic cliffs and little villages built in the hills. 

The first thing we did when we arrived in Sarajevo was join a walking tour with Meet Bosnia. We were taught about the deep history of this capital city, the country’s complicated government, were told personal experiences by our local guide, and were introduced to local business owners who shared their own stories.

The Sarajevo walking tour was an awesome experience

It was a shock to learn that World War I was triggered in Sarajevo when the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand took place on June 28, 1914. Austria then declared war on Serbia, and then other European countries took sides which all led to World War I. Unfortunately, Sarajevo also holds a place in modern history - being the city that has the longest siege on a capital, which lasted 1,423 days in 1992 to 1996, known as The Siege of Sarajevo, where sadly more than 13,000 people lost their lives. 

It felt surreal walking the streets looking at the beautiful houses all so different from neighbour to neighbour, but also seeing bullet holes in some of the building’s walls. The city holds so much conflicting history, we saw a lot of beauty but also felt a lot of sadness as we roamed the streets.

Sarajevo was a great stop at our Bosnia and Herzegovina road trip

During our time in Sarajevo, we were introduced to the famous Salep drink, watched a local copper craftsman create beautiful art, and tasted the famous Sarajevo baklava from Baklava Ducan, which is a family owned business of 4 generations. For lunch we shared a must-try Bosnian burek at Sač Buregdžinica and had dinner at The Stinging Nettle, a highly recommended vegetarian restaurant in Sarajevo. 

We were unable to enter museums with our fluffy friend Dougal but the city has so many different ones to explore, from the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum to entertaining museums such as the Museum of Optical Illusions, Sarajevo.

We wish we could have stayed longer to explore the city further, as we really wanted to check out the bobsleigh and luge track which were built for the 1984 Winter Olympics, then sadly used as an artillery site by Bosnian Serb forces during the civil war, and now is a restoration project initiated by local volunteers. We will be back to explore Mount Trebevic, check out the Avaz Twist Tower, and go on more tours. 

The gondola on Mount Trebevic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Taught by a Local: 40% of Bosnians smoke. Before May 2023, it was still legal to smoke inside. The government has recently introduced a law which includes hefty fines and deterrents for smoking. A lot of Bosnians are not happy with the new law (probably 40% of them!). 

Bosnian Pyramids

While in Sarajevo we were told about the Bosninan pyramids by our lovely local tour guide. Have you heard of them before? We hadn’t! We were intrigued to learn more, so decided to take a little detour on our way to Ljubljana after leaving Sarajevo.

Have you heard of the Bosnian Pyramids?

The Bosnian pyramids are a controversial archaeological site located near the town of Visoko in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s an area where you’ll find hills that have been suggested by some researchers and enthusiasts to be man-made pyramids, potentially older than the Egyptian pyramids. Some claim they possess unique energetic properties that can have positive effects on people and the surrounding environment.

On the other side, a lot of archaeologists and geologists consider the "Bosnian pyramids" to be natural geological formations rather than constructed pyramids. They argue that the alleged pyramid-like features are the result of natural processes, such as erosion and tectonic activity. 

Regardless of the controversy around the pyramids we were happy with our visit there. They’ve done a great job with making the site interesting with beautiful hiking trails around the grounds and lots of lovely space where you can spend time in the peaceful surroundings, practice meditation, or simply relax and soak in the ambiance of the site. There were lots of information boards that told stories and encouraged you to take part in activities as you wandered around the grounds. It was a great way to spend the day, learning and being amongst nature! 

Interesting Fact: The pyramids have gained a lot of publicity through Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis star and multiple Grand Slam champion. He has visited the Bosnian pyramids on multiple occasions and believes in the energy fields and the healing properties they claim to have. As you can imagine, this of course resulted in more tourism for the local community. He even inaugurated tennis courts there last year! 

 

The beauty of Bosnia and Herzegovina

CONCLUSION 

There you have it, some of the top highlights from our van trip in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I hope you’re feeling inspired to go explore the beautiful landscapes, learn more about the history, and fill up on delicious Bosnian dishes from the wide range of vegetarian options and classic meat dishes. Oh, and of course, don’t forget to try their coffee! 

We can’t wait to hear about your past and future Bosnia and Herzegovina adventures. 

Do you have a Bosnia and Herzegovina Step on your El Camino?

 

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