Emma Higgins gives us a guide to one of the urban jewels of the Balkans… The word Sarajevo always conjured up in my mind visions of wide streets and chic residents strolling through them. And when I arrived in the Bosnia and Herzegovian capital, I was not disappointed. Some travellers going around Europe might believe that Sarajevo would be less developed than the Western cities that they visit, but the metropolitan atmosphere you feel walking around the centre would quickly change your mind. As it is not a coastal city, it has much more of a modern feeling than other hotspots in this part of Eastern Europe. With no beaches to speak of, the resort feeling you find on the coast disappears and is replaced with trendy cafes and restaurants.
In the new part of Sarajevo’s city centre you will find tall buildings comparable to those in Paris or Barcelona, with an endless number of stylish apartments inside. Take a walk down the main street, Ferhadija, and stop off at one of the many cafes to watch the world go by. People-watching in this part of the city is an activity that could take up hours of your time, as the city is full of interesting characters. Women are dressed head-to-toe in designer, with a man on one arm and a fluffy dog on a leash in the other. The bakeries in this part of town are also well worth checking out. In the morning, buy a range of pastries for breakfast, and watch old men play chess in the park.
One of the best sights in Sarajevo new town is the Sarajevo Brewery. The beer, Sarajevsko, can be found all over the Balkans, so it’s an experience to see where it is made. There is a bar attached to the brewery where you can consume huge tankards of beer in spacious and classy surroundings.
The Old Town of the city, also known as Stari Grad, brings in the Muslim and ethnic side of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The minarets rising from the streets will indicate where the mosques are, the most famous of which is Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, which has a courtyard in front that is interesting to peer into and see the locals go about their business. The cobbled lanes of the Old Town are lined with shops selling lanterns, rugs, Turkish coffee pots and much more, all with a heavily Eastern influence. You will also find endless teashops with low ornate tables and plumply-cushioned stools outside to go and sit at for a spot of lunch.
By night, the Old Town takes on a different look. Many of the streets are completely empty, which will remind you that the area is heavily Muslim and many of the bars do not serve alcohol. This is perfect if you’re looking for a peaceful night with a soft drink, but if you’d like to find somewhere more lively, keep walking and follow the music. There are a couple of streets you will get to that are lined with bars and have locals and tourists alike crammed inside. A place I would highly recommend for dinner is the To Be or Not to Be restaurant, one you will find constantly on not-to-be-missed in Sarajevo lists. There is a very good reason for this, as the owner does his absolute utmost to make sure your every need is met, as his chef works herself to the bone cooking up delicious meals. The menu contains plenty of exotic food like squid ink risotto and gorgonzola veal – each up to impeccable standards.
If you’re tired of strolling around the big city, there is a national park just outside of the centre, called Vrelo Bosne, which serves as a great and relaxing day out. A simple journey on tram number 3 and a short walk afterwards and you’ll get to the outskirts of the park. From there you can take the 3.5km walk into the main part, or alternatively take a horse-drawn cart through the rows of trees for 15 euros each way. Once you arrive at the other side, there are streams with dazzlingly clear waters, and plenty of greenery around to lie on in the sunshine. There are a few restaurants scattered around, but I would bring your own picnic, as many of the locals do.
Sarajevo is an incredible stop-off during a trip around Europe, and one that will relax you to the core. The city is bustling and busy, but as a tourist you can take your time soaking up the lively atmosphere. Walk through the streets and you’ll find yourself reflecting the laid-back and chic feeling you’ll see in the faces of the locals. Emma Higgins, www.gottakeepmovin.com