Life After War: Sarajevo Today

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How do you go on after living through hell?

This was the question I asked myself again and again as we toured Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital and a city synonymous with destruction during the 1990s.  Constant bombings; lack of food, water and electricity; and being surrounded by Serbian forces led to a violent isolation.

Before arriving, I had read a quote somewhere that Sarajevo today “bears few scars of its war-torn past.”  Well, that couldn’t have been less true.  There are scars everywhere you look — half-destroyed buildings, bullet holes, a devastated landscape.

As we drove around the city, past bullet-strewn buildings and piles of garbage heaps, I kept thinking of how different Sarajevo was from Croatia — in fact, it reminded me more of Cambodia than anywhere else.

But not all of Sarajevo is like that.  There are modern parts, beautiful parts — like the cool Bascarsija area, with lots of cafes and restaurants and high-end shops.

But first and foremost, we were in Sarajevo for the history.

Our hostel, Residence Rooms, had a sign-up sheet for a driving tour of Sarajevo given by our hostel owner Saed, taking in the tunnel museum, Olympic sites, and views over the city, for 15 euros per person.  (The local currency, Bosnian marks, is exchanged at the rate of two marks to one euro.)  Dave and I signed up right away; later that night, Saed offered to take us for free as his guests.

And the next morning, four of us piled into Saed’s car for a drive through the city.

Into the Tunnels

The single most important place you can visit in Sarajevo?  Make it the Sarajevo Tunnel, now home to the Tunnel Museum.  During the siege from 1993-1995, Sarajevo was surrounded by Serbian forces, with the exception of the airport, which was controlled by the UN.

This tunnel, which led to the airport, was Sarajevans’ only connection to the outside world and much-needed supplies like food and water.  Today, you can walk into a small part of it and see videos of life during the siege.

Culture and Garbage

Saed took us to see a Roman bridge (Rimski Most), built in the 16th century and miraculously intact.  As lovely as the bridge was, garbage was strewn everywhere.  You see this throughout Bosnia.

“This is a beautiful place,” Saed said, tearing the cellophane off his cigarettes and dropping it on the ground.  Dave and I exchanged glances with the Dutch couple on the tour, the irony lost on none of us.

Up in the Hills

Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.  The city is surrounded by tall mountains, making it perfect for the ski events — but when Serbian forces invaded, it made it all the easier to target the city.

Driving up into these hills over broken pavements was hair-raising — but the views were amazing.

The Olympic Bobsled Track

The single place that affected me the most in Sarajevo was the Olympic Bobsled Track.  Today, it’s covered in graffiti and surrounded by plants, poised to reclaim the track to their Earth.

Why did this make me so upset?  I’m not sure.  Possibly because the Olympics are such a symbol of hope and peace.  Sarajevans were so proud to host the Olympics, the first games in Yugoslavia.  And less than a decade later, this bobsled track was destroyed.

More Sarajevo Sites

Saed really goes above and beyond on this tour — there are SO many sites you can cover in Sarajevo.  Here are a few more of them:

The park by the Vrelo Bosne is a really nice escape from the city.  This part of the river is very clean, and the waterfalls are pleasantly cool on a hot day.

Sarajevo is home to the second largest Jewish cemetery in Europe.  Only Prague’s is larger.

World War I began with the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.  This is exactly where it happened: here on the Latin Bridge.

Saed’s tour was the best activity that we did in Sarajevo.  It’s only open to Residence Rooms guests and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to get an understanding of Sarajevo’s history and how the past affects life today.

Where to Stay in Sarajevo: Residence Rooms

Our HostelWorld partnership brought us to Residence Rooms, one of the most comfortable stays in the Balkans.  This is a hostel that I recommend highly — I couldn’t imagine a better place to stay in Sarajevo.

Our private room was small but had everything we needed, with an ensuite bathroom, a very comfortable bed, and a courtyard-facing window.  We also had a mini refrigerator — a VERY nice amenity, considering that we had temperatures in the high 90s (around 35 C).

Breakfast was a step above the usual continental breakfast — a few kinds of cereal, lots of bread, a variety of cheeses and spreads.

Above all, the best thing about staying at Residence Rooms was the location — right in the middle of Sarajevo’s nicest neighborhood.

Residence Rooms Breakdown:

Location: Absolutely perfect, in the heart of the city’s best neighborhood.  There are lots of bars on the street, and it stays loud until around midnight if you have a street-facing room.

Staff: Saed, Kareem, and Saed’s wife welcomed us warmly and were there for us whenever we needed them.

Social Atmosphere: There’s a nice, big common room on the main floor, and we met a few travelers hanging out and chatting.

Internet: Excellent wifi in the common room on the first floor..  No internet on the top floor.

Cost: $25.79 per person for two people in a double room with ensuite bathroom.  There are also dorms.

Drawbacks: We had laundry done and they lost our laundry bags — and Dave’s laundry bag was his backpack cover, which he had to replace.  A reminder to only bring laundry in plastic bags.

It was a special stay, and a perfect place to get away from the craziness of Sarajevo.

Many thanks to HostelWorld and Residence Rooms for the complimentary stay and tour.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

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23 thoughts on “Life After War: Sarajevo Today”

  1. Fascinating read Kate, the tunnel museum looks like it would be so interesting to visit. The tour you took seems like a great experience and very good value.

  2. Great write-up, Kate – I’m considering visiting Bosnia next year (oh yes, I’m adding eastern Europe into my RTW) and obviously Sarajevo would be a place that I’d go to. I’ve never heard of the Tunnel Museum before – it sounds fascinating, in a morbid kind of way. A shame about all the garbage though. Litterbugs annoy me to no end!

    1. Definitely worth visiting, Tom. But I have to warn you — don’t plan too much! Most people only spend around 3 months or so in Southeast Asia, but I thought six was just perfect.

  3. Sounds like Albania with all the garbage and the recent history of unimaginable things (in Albania, it was the crazy communist rule that didn’t end until 1997). Sounds like a great tour, though!

  4. luiz alberto alves cordeiro

    Parabéns Kate, gostei muito do seu Blog, principalmente agora que publicou Sarajevo, pois me fez lembra a viagem que fiz por aqueles cantos, incluindo Croácia, Eslovênia, a própria Bósnia e Herzegovina, República Tcheca, Alemanha, Aústria e demais lugares que já tive o prazer de ter conhecido e conhecer mais lugares ainda. Parabéns e obrigado!

  5. I’m from Bosnia & Herzegovina and I absolutely admire any traveler that has been to this beautiful country. If more people realized the beauty, culture, and history it has to offer, it’d be on top of their bucket lists! Contrary to common misconceptions, B&H is safe to visit – I visit almost every summer without any problems. The war is long over and the country is truly picking up in tourism. I think it’s important for travelers to take advantage while prices are still affordable there!

    I write quite a bit on Bosnia & Herzegovina on my “Road Trip Through Bosnia” series, where I take my readers to a new city every week. It’s a new series, but I’ve written about Mostar and Sarajevo so far. I’d love for you and anyone reading this to check it out on my blog: !

    -Raza 🙂

  6. Hi Kate,

    Is there any way I could communicate with you via email? I love your article on Life After War: Sarajevo Today. I would like to invite you whether you are interested to publish this article in my travel blog? I have this section of Guest Writer. Basically, I will only share with my followers in my social media on the different types of experiences in travel post by travelblog writers.

    You can check it out here first.

    In addition to that, I am offering you banner spaces at no cost in my blog to promote your travelblog.
    Purpose of this is to share with my viewers on other writers’ experiences and places which are different and adventurous.

    What is your view on this?

    1. Thank you, but I don’t allow my work to be published elsewhere. Feel free to link to it and quote up to a paragraph, but please don’t print more text than that or any photos.

  7. Kate, You sound like quite an interesting person very attuned to everything that’s going on, politically, culturally, and the realities of life, good and bad. But for me life comes down to two things, the people you encounter and getting something decent to eat every day, which I guess in postwar Sarajevo can be problematic despite the intervening years. I was in West Germany 15 years after the end of the Second World War as part of U.S. military forces (some 500 hundred thousand of us in uniform, not to mention British and French contingents). You could still see war inflicted damage in West Berlin,such as the façade of a seven or eight story building with a gutted interior. East Berlin was an ongoing disaster, with clean up efforts characterized by occasional horse-drawn wagons and not much else. What was politically interesting was the headquarters building of the regime’s secret police, the Stasi, standing right on the boundary line between East and West with no attempt to remove the huge engraved swastika of the previous owner on the concrete walls

  8. A beautiful city which suffered a lot during the Balkan Wars and is now a living museum full of scars and shattered dreams. However, Sarajevo is slowly emerging from its long troubles and is now a wonderful destination full of cultural heritages.

  9. You would’ve made a great spokesman for the Clinton campaign. Dont worry, Kate. Serbs wont bite. They just don’t like, believe it or not, losing 30% of their population, man, woman, child, during WWII. Just curious, how many Serbs did you run into in Sarajevo? Mmm. I suppose it was magic and poof, there go the Serbs again. But hey, losing 30% of your population, man, woman, and child and losing half a mil during WWII, yeah, I guess that’s not worth mentioning….?

  10. Hey Kate! Just so you know, I first created my travel blog after finding yours 😀 Since then I’ve been traveling solo, and all thanks to your posts that made me think “I could totally do that too. Why won’t I go alone!”

    I’m currently in Mostar, Bosnia, one of the most special places I’ve ever been to, and I’m off to Sarajevo on the 27th! Thank you so much for writing this post to inspire my future stay in the Bosnia capital 😀

  11. Hi Kate,

    My girlfriend and I are staying near Kotor in Monty for a week and are planning a day trip to Dubrovnik. We also want to do a second day trip out of the country. I’m torn between Sarajevo, Mostar or Tirana. What would you recommend?

    P.s love your posts,- thanks and keep it up!


    1. Hi Josh — Tirana is too far for a day trip, and Sarajevo is pretty far, too. I would lean toward Mostar as it’s closest (assuming you drive a rental car on your own or book a direct trip to Mostar, not the public bus that takes much, much longer).

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