7 Can’t-Miss Sarajevo Sights

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All photos by Mike Crisolago

From Eiffel’s bridge to the Butmir Tunnel to the very spot where an assassin’s bullet triggered the First World War, our list of 7 must-see sights in Sarajevo.

When I told people I was travelling with Insight Vacations to visit Bosnia, their first reaction was always the same – shock, confusion, then the inevitable, “Why?” For many who remember the Bosnian War in the mid-1990s, the name of the country remains synonymous with violence and conflict.

And it’s true, the drive from the airport to the heart of Sarajevo’s old city was jarring – rows of apartment buildings peppered with bullet holes, followed by a row of orphanages. Yes, Bosnia has a brutal and bloody past. And yes, the scars are still visible. But no matter how many bombs fell on its cities, no matter how many gunshots cut through the night, the people here always rebuilt.

Now, in a time of peace, the country depends on tourism as a means of getting back on its feet. In Sarajevo, history is currency and with lots to see and do  – from Eiffel’s bridge to the Butmir Tunnel to the very spot where an assassin’s bullet triggered the First World War – we’ve compiled our list of seven must-see sights in Sarajevo.

Walk Along The Miljacka River

Sarajevo’s Academy of Fine Arts.

The Miljacka River runs along the periphery of the Sarajevo’s old town and a stroll along the river brings you face to face with some of the best and the bloodiest of this city’s history. On one side of the street, you have the palatial Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo, while on the other crumbling apartment buildings scarred with a constellation of bullet holes. The historic Latin Bridge spans the river near the heart of the old town while the streetcars rattle and creak past, relics of a century long since left behind in most other parts of Europe. But here, in Sarajevo, for better or worse, it’s these contradictions that compel visitors to explore its streets and survey the famous, and infamous, landmarks. Many of those spots lie along the Milijacka, including perhaps Sarajevo’s most notorious street corner …

The Corner Where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria Was Shot

Of all the gunshots that have echoed through Sarajevo’s streets, the one that reverberated loudest came from the corner pictured above on June 28, 1914, from the gun of the Serbian nationalist who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, triggering events that led to the beginning of the First World War.

I stood on the assassin’s mark and stared across the street at the Latin Bridge, where the bullets met their mark. People crisscrossed the intersection going about their daily business. Two young women sat on a bench smoking while a mother waited at the streetlight with her baby carriage in tow. A man in a nearby van sold fresh onions to passersby. It’s a surreal feeling for a visitor, standing in the cradle of history as no locals pay it any attention. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much par for the course in many parts of Sarajevo.

Eiffel’s Bridge

Before he built his tower in Paris, Gustave Eiffel built a bridge in Sarajevo. The Ajfel Bridge on Skenderija is easy to miss in that it’s outside of the main hub of old city activity and is overshadowed in “landmark” status by the Latin Bridge a mere 15 minute walk down the street. Still, Eiffel’s bridge is a unique site to behold as you stroll along the Milijacka.

The Sarajevo Tunnel 

The Butmir, or Sarajevo, Tunnel was built between 1992-1995, providing the Bosnian army with a link to Sarajevo by tunneling beneath Serbian lines that had, until then, isolated the city. Through the tunnel Bosnian forces smuggled supplies and weapons, ultimately leading to Sarajevo’s salvation.

Today, remnants of the tunnel are situated in a rural area outside of Sarajevo’s city centre. Surrounded by non-descript homes and farmland, the tunnel originates beneath a bullet-riddled house and the route only runs a few feet long. But when you actually climb into the wood-lined tunnel, hunched over with no room to pass the person in front or behind you, it’s nearly impossible to imagine desperate Bosnian forces hurrying supplies along the hundreds of meters this claustrophobic shaft used to run.

Sarajevo Rose

Hundreds of Sarajevo Roses greet visitors in every corner of the city, but there’s nothing romantic about this bloody bloom. Sarajevo Roses are the imprints mortar shells made in the streets of the city as it was bombarded with more than 300 bombs daily and, on one horrific occasion, nearly 4000 bombs in one day. The concrete scars are painted red, like roses, as a reminder of the war and its lasting impact.

The Bashcharshiya Marketplace

Souvenirs made from bullets in Sarajevo’s old market.

This 16th century Ottoman marketplace is one of the most famous tourist hubs in Sarajevo. Situated in the heart of the old city and alongside the famed Gazi Husrev-beg mosque, the marketplace offers an old world cluster of shops, stalls, restaurants and cozy cafes tucked within its winding alleys. And while the spectre of war peeks through in items like souvenir key chains made from bullets that appear on many storefront shelves, this historic enclave offers a relaxing locale to spend a lazy afternoon.

The 4 Rooms of Mrs. Safija

For my money – or, should I say, for my Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark, this restaurant is Sarajevo’s culinary jewel. I don’t know how traditional my tuna steak in cuttlefish crust served with jasmine rice was, but the food is the best I had in Bosnia and I can guarantee you the atmosphere cannot be beat.

Less than a five-dollar cab ride from the city centre, 4 Rooms is founded in a legend that dates back 20 generations according to the restaurant’s website. The place has three floors and the four rooms include the elegantly rustic restaurant, the chic and modern wine and tapas bar, the picturesque summer garden and, my absolute favourite, the lounge (pictured above). Located on the third floor and outfitted with antique furniture, books and even a gramophone, this room is like stepping back a century in time and is perhaps the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine or a Bosnian coffee.

In Sarajevo everyone knows of The 4 Rooms of Mrs. Safija. Don’t leave the city without visiting it.

Insight Vacations offers unique Bosnian exclusives and authentic dining experiences. For more information, visit www.insightvacations.com/ca or call 1-866-747-8120.

Do you have any favourite sites in Sarajevo? Share them in the comment section below or tweet the author at @MikeCrisolago.