Bosnia and Herzegovina Holiday Planning Guide
With the legacy of war still fresh on the streets of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this Balkan gem is often overlooked as a holiday destination. Part of the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina endured a bloody and destructive war for independence in the 1990s, which ripped apart its capital and other important cities. Since then, Bosnians have moved on, and as the rest of the world does too, tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina is slowly growing. You’ll be welcomed by locals with open arms, eager to share their country and culture. Sarajevo and Mostar top many lists of Bosnia and Herzegovina places to visit with their rich history and charming streets. Indulge in local specialities like burek and take in the special blend of sophistication and tradition in this fascinating country.
Places to Visit in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Regions of Bosnia and HerzegovinaCentral Bosnia Canton
: Boasting an eclectic yet fascinating culture due to the ethnically mixed population of Muslims and Croats, Central Bosnia draws visitors with plenty of historical attractions, such as fortresses and old towns.Sarajevo Canton
: Consisting mainly of the capital city of Sarajevo and some surrounding mountains, this region is known for its historically rich streets and thriving traditional culture despite its modern development.
Zenica-Doboj Canton: Add Zenica-Doboj Canton to your Bosnia and Herzegovina itinerary to explore quaint downtown scenes, mosques, Catholic and Orthodox churches, and Jewish synagogues.
Bosnia Podrinje Canton: The most striking feature in Bosnian Podrinje Canton is its mountains, which provide a natural playground for hikers and campers on vacation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Herzegovina-Neretva Canton
: With a history stretching back 12,000 years, Herzegovina-Neretva Canton makes a fascinating destination on your Bosnia and Herzegovina holiday. You'll find a mixed Muslim and Croat population, timeless cities like Mostar, and a diverse landscape that includes waterfalls, mountains, the Neretva River--plus Bosnia's tiny stretch of Adriatic coastline.Republika Srpska
: Split into eastern and western parts, this ethnically Serbian region offers a wealth of charming villages and riverside towns holding old churches, artisan workshops, and scenic views.
Cities in Bosnia and HerzegovinaSarajevo
: Although civil war nearly leveled Sarajevo in the 1990s, travelers now include the capital in their Bosnia and Herzegovina itinerary for its rich cultural heritage, including artisanal shops and scores of cafes serving Turkish coffee.Mostar
: Listed as a World Heritage Site, this city is known for its small-town charm and 16th-century bridge (destroyed during the civil war but since restored). It also serves as a jumping-off point for visitors looking to explore the rugged countryside on their tour of Bosnia and Herzegovina.Banja Luka
: The largest city after the capital and the political center of the Republika Srpska entity, Banja Luka delights with tree-lined avenues, blooming gardens, and serene parks.Medjugorje
: Located close to the border of Croatia, this mysterious town between the mountains is the site of religious pilgrimages after apparitions of the Virgin Mary appeared to six local Catholic children in 1981.Bihac
: Located beside the river Una, Bihac shows traces of inhabitation as early as the 8th century BCE, and includes ruins from 2nd-century BCE Roman settlements.Trebinje
: Nestled in the Trebišnjica river valley, lush Trebinje draws tourists to its river mills and famous bridges, including the historical Ottoman Arslanagić bridge.Foca
: Once notorious for harboring war criminals, Foča has undergone a makeover and now enjoys a reputation as an international sports and recreation center. Check out Bosnia and Herzegovina tourist attractions like whitewater rafting and youth soccer tournaments here.Visegrad
: Višegrad packs a punch for history buffs and literature fans. Cross the gorgeous Ottoman bridge over the river Drina, immortalized by Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić, and visit a recreated historical town straight out of Andrić's novels.Jajce
: Built in the 14th century, this city once served as the capital of Bosnia; today, visitors are treated to a variety of old structures including gates and a walled castle.
Things to Do in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Popular Bosnia and Herzegovina Tourist AttractionsOld Bridge (Stari Most)
: Although the original was destroyed in the Yugoslav Wars, the current structure recreates the 16th-century Ottoman bridge over the Neretva River and is considered one of the best examples of Islamic-style architecture in the region.Sarajevo War Tunnel
: Walk through this hand-dug underground passage once used by Bosniak forces during the Yugoslav Wars to travel between Sarajevo and the area controlled by the United Nations, secretly bringing in food, weapons, and humanitarian aid to the besieged city.Bascarsija
: Shop for the perfect souvenir of your Bosnia and Herzegovina vacation at this oriental bazaar, where craftspeople sell handmade items ranging from ceramics and brass coffee grinders to linens and colorful clothing.Gallery 11/07/95
: This memorial commemorates the victims from Srebrenica, where Muslim Bosniak civilians were massacred in July 1995 in what is widely considered the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. A museum displays images, maps, and interactive learning materials.Medjugorje
: Famed for the 1981 appearance of the Virgin Mary to six children, this popular religious destination has also reported other mysterious events, like remissions of illnesses, roses that change colors, and strange shapes that appear in the sky.Kravice Falls
: The impressive Kravice Falls are reachable through a dense forest where visitors can hike, spot local wildlife, and picnic. It also makes a great stop for those wishing to camp on their Bosnia and Herzegovina holiday.Vrelo Bosne
: Travelers looking for active Bosnia and Herzegovina things to do will enjoy a hike through one of the country's main natural attractions, a forested park housing the spring of Bosna River, small waterfalls, and wildlife.Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina
: View the country's entire history at this museum displaying 300,000 items like books, photographs, objects, art pieces, and individual written accounts from survivors of the Yugoslav Wars and the siege of Sarajevo.Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque
: Reconstructed after the Yugoslav Wars, this mosque was the world's first to receive electricity in 1898 and features stalactite ornaments below its wide dome, a large fountain in the yard, and old pieces of Islamic art.Neretva River
: Best experienced through rafting and hiking excursions, the emerald-green Neretva has served as an invaluable source for Bosnia and Herzegovina inhabitants throughout history, and citizens still use the river today for drinking water, fishing, and generating hydroelectric power.
Planning a Bosnia and Herzegovina Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Bosnia and Herzegovina with Kids
Do not be scared off by the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the country has blossomed in recent years to become a beautiful and exciting tourist destination. Adults and kids alike will enjoy a warm welcome here, and many visitors claim the nation is the friendliest they've ever visited. Start your family's Bosnia and Herzegovina trip in Sarajevo
where the numerous kid-friendly attractions include observation towers, cinemas, shopping malls, parks, and lots of dining options to choose from. Explore the Ottoman and Roman ruins in Bihac
, and then get into the wild, lush natural scenery in Bosnia Podrinje Canton or Herzegovina
, where you can walk the paths of old forests and spot local wildlife.
Things to Do in Bosnia and Herzegovina with Kids
Start the vacation off with a little history and tour the underground Sarajevo War Tunnel
, where the whole family can learn about Bosnian struggles and resistance during the Yugoslav Wars. Other memorials and museums may be too shocking for children, so consider focusing your Bosnia and Herzegovina itinerary on the beauty of the country's nature instead. A half-hour outside the center of Sarajevo
, Eco Futura
allows visitors to stay the night in straw-bale houses and includes sports facilities and an amusement park on site. Venture outside the capital and camp next to Kravice Falls
or hike through Vrelo Bosne
, a huge forested park.
Back in Sarajevo
, head to the top of Avaz Twist Tower
, a spiraling skyscraper that allows visitors to ascend to an observation deck in a glass elevator. From here, kids can use a telescope to visually explore the surrounding city. At the end of your Bosnia and Herzegovina holiday, take the kids to Bascarsija
and let them pick out a special, handcrafted souvenir to take home.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Avoid taking children hiking in little-traveled areas, as some land mines from the civil war still exist. If you are unsure of the area's safety, ask a native and they will be glad to help you. If traveling through risky areas is a must, stick to paved areas and instruct your children never to stray from the path.
Consider taking or renting a stroller to explore the cities and villages, as there are many hills and children are likely to tire quickly. Don't forget to ask about special discounts and free entry for children at all Bosnia and Herzegovina tourist attractions. Many transportation services like buses and trains will allow kids to ride at a reduced price.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Cuisine of Bosnia and Herzegovina
With the heavy influence of Turkish and Eastern European cuisines, grilled meat and cabbage-based dishes are very popular in this country. Expect to include meat in every meal during your Bosnia and Herzegovina trip, although you may also find pastries and cheese and spinach pies without meat. Be sure to try the apple cake or the baklava, a pastry seasoned with nuts and honey served at dessert.
If you collect wines and spirits during your travels, look for "rakija", a homemade brandy. However, be aware that drinking is prohibited in some areas of the nation due to the Muslim culture, so check the local laws before partaking.
Shopping in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Large shopping centers and supermarkets are found in most cities, so it is never difficult to find necessities or brand-name items on your holiday in Bosnia and Herzegovina. If looking for something more unique to the culture, however, Central Bosnia Canton
is well-known for the fine leatherwork on items like shoes and bags. Pirated DVDs, video games, and CDs are available in bulk in Sarajevo
at cheap prices, but for a more traditional shopping experience, head to Bascarsija
. This extensive market features rows upon rows of artisan stalls selling handcrafted items like clothing, furniture, accessories, and much more.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina
History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The first recorded history began in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina when Romans conquered it in 167 BCE. After the Roman Empire split, control over the area passed hands several times until Bosnian king Steven Tvrtko united Bosnia in the 1300s.
The newfound independence was short-lived, however, as the Ottoman Empire attacked in 1383 and conquered the area. Consequently, Turkish culture and religion blended into the country, and many of the citizens converted to Islam. As the Ottoman Empire weakened in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Turks tried desperately to maintain their hold on Bosnia because of its borders with Christian nations. However, Bosnia joined Serbia and Croatia in the mid-19th century to rise up against the Turks. The revolt had perhaps unforeseen consequences, however: Austria-Hungary took advantage of the Ottomans' faltering power, invading and annexing Bosnia in 1908.
Bitter Bosnian nationalists wanted freedom from this new occupier, and in 1914 a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand during the latter's trip to Sarajevo
. The event set off a swift chain reaction, and soon all of Europe found itself in the midst of World War I. After war and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bosnia was annexed to the Kingdom of the Serbs--later renamed Yugoslavia. The country was then thrust into World War II, and German occupation laid waste to Bosnia. Two resistance movements, the Chetniks and the Partisans, formed in separate attempts to unite Yugoslavian ethnicities against the invaders, but also fought against each other. The Partisans finally managed to expel the Germans with support from Allied forces in 1943.
After the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted the status of a republic. A Communist regime led Yugoslavia, maintaining peace but suppressing opposition. After the death of Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito in 1980, Bosnian citizens' desire for more autonomy and democratization gradually came to the surface--particularly with the election of Slobodan Milošević, whose vision of a "Greater Serbia" did not appeal to Bosnian Muslims.
The first free elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were held in 1990, when a Muslim party won. The country's independence was declared in 1992. Despite Bosnia's freedom being internationally recognized, Bosnian Serbs did not agree, and a civil war broke out that lasted three years and saw atrocities on all sides: Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats. In 1994, thousands of United Nations troops were deployed into the country as peacekeepers and aid providers, but the move proved ineffective. World leaders decided to take more forceful action and held a peace conference in 1995. The Dayton Peace Accords were created, which stated Bosnia and Herzegovina would be divided into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, run jointly by Muslims and Croats, and the Serbian enclave of Republika Srpska.
NATO troops still inhabit Bosnia to maintain the fragile peace, which remains fraught with tensions between Muslims and Serbs--though many are trying to move on and looking toward a brighter future. For a better understanding of this tragic recent history and insight into the present-day nation, include attractions like Gallery 11/07/95
and Sarajevo War Tunnel
on your Bosnia and Herzegovina itinerary.
Customs of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosniaks are famously friendly, humorous, and welcoming to outsiders--don't be surprised if you receive spontaneous invitations to a meal or refreshments on your tour of Bosnia and Herzegovina. If visiting a Muslim home, remember to remove your shoes and wear a pair of provided slippers, and bring a small gift like flowers or sweets for the host. Natives may very well greet you with kisses, as it is customary for both men and women to kiss three times on alternating cheeks.
Holidays & Festivals in Bosnia and Herzegovina
If you're interested in getting a dose of celebration Bosnian-style, try to time your trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina with either the Winter Festival or the Sarajevo Film Festival. The Winter Festival in February and March is marked with large meals, live music, and theatrical performances, while the film festival in August features free or paid entry to movie showings around Sarajevo
. Other nationally important holidays include Independence Day on March 1 and Victory Day on May 4.
Bosnia and Herzegovina Travel Tips
Climate of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Weather tends to be severe in this country among the mountains. Generally, you can expect hot summers and freezing winters, but if your Bosnia and Herzegovina itinerary takes you to higher elevations, be prepared with heavier clothing in both seasons. Along the coast it rains quite often, so remember to bring rain gear.
Transportation in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The easiest way to travel around while sightseeing in Bosnia and Herzegovina is by bus. The country's bus routes travel to most corners of the regions, including the smaller villages. Train services are also available, but they are unreliable and slow because of damage to train lines during past wars. If you prefer a scenic ride, however, trains may be the way to go.
Alternatively, hitchhiking in this nation is generally safe and a fun way to meet locals. If walking or biking in little traveled areas, remember to stay on paved roads in case of land mines.
Language of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Speech varies greatly in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to its blend of cultures and borders, and three official languages have been established: Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian. If you know one of these, traveling will be a cinch. If not, you can still get around fairly easily as many natives also speak excellent English. Look to the younger generation if you need help with language barriers, as most of them have studied English--and probably German and/or French--in school. That said, bringing a phrasebook or small dictionary on your Bosnia and Herzegovina holiday isn't a bad idea, and learning a few key words will endear you to locals.
Tipping in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Tipping is very common in Bosnia and Herzegovina and part of the culture. While tipping rates are lower than in North America, you can still expect to add about 10-percent gratuity to a restaurant bill if it is not already included. Other tipping situations include rounding up the fare in taxis, small tips for housekeeping and bellhop hotel services, and 10 percent for bartenders.