Given that I listed it as one of my favourite countries I visited in 2015 here, I thought I would expand on why I enjoyed Bosnia Herzegovina so much and share my favourite sights and moments from my visit. Bosnia and Herzegovina had never really piqued my interest before, but it’s proximity to Montenegro and Dubrovnik ultimately led to its inclusion in my plans last year. Little did I know how much I would come to enjoy this country seemingly neglected by tourists.
Interestingly, I had some European family friends asking me whether it was safe to visit, both before and after my trip. Honestly, these questions perplexed me as the country’s years of turmoil are long past, even commemorating 20 years in December since the war ended. I found it odd that it still seemed to holds some sort of stigma. But let me assure you, Bosnia Herzegovina is perfectly safe to visit and most definitely worth it.
With that, here were my top 5 things to do in Bosnia Herzegovina from my time there. I hope in time I can return and make it a top 10.
5. View from Hercegovačka Gračanica in Trebinje
When it comes to travelling blind in Bosnia, the small city of Trebinje in the southernmost corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina was my biggest unknown. I had no idea what to expect, what there was there or to do. But as I arrived into the city over the crest of one of the mountains that overlook the city, one thing became apparent. Just near the centre of town I spied a hill, covered in forest and a church at the top. My inner mountain goat kicked in and I knew I had to be king of the hill; I had to see what the view from up there was like.
Leaving the bustling old town in favour of the quieter suburbs below the hill, I wandered about until I came upon the clear route to the top. From there it was a walk in solitude, winding my way up, away from houses and into woods. Once at the top, I could admire the ornate Orthodox church of Hercegovačka Gračanica that sits almost alone up there. Unfortunately for the church, it had to compete with the view and it lost. From the hilltop you can see the entire city and how it sits dwarfed by the surrounding landscape, plus its many masterful and historic bridges that cross the river. It was from up here that I also spotted a ruined tower that I would spend several hours attempting to find on the city’s fringes.
4. Watching the Stari Most Jump in Mostar
Mostar is the darling of Bosnia Herzegovina tourism and with good reason. It’s home to a stunningly gorgeous old town set along the Neretva river, with picturesque spots and intimate streets. Of course, Mostar is also home to the famous Stari Most bridge, an elegant, reconstructed bridge that spans the two halves of the city’s old town. The bridge is generally the reason that tourists come to Mostar, quite often on day trips from elsewhere in Bosnia Herzegovina and nearby Croatia.
Now while the bridge is beautiful in its own right, the real highlight is watching the local’s take a nerve-wracking plunge into the river below. You may have to wait a while, standing on the banks of the river and looking up as the men tiptoe along the bridge’s precipice. You will watch the crowd swell around you and atop the bridge, every few minutes thinking that they’re about to leap. It may be a pain to wait in anticipation, but eventually, one by one off they’ll go into midair before hitting the water. Truly quite the sight and not something I’m particularly keen on experiencing firsthand.
3. Sunset from the Yellow Bastion in Sarajevo
Sarejevo wears its history on its sleeve. I distinctly remember coming in from the airport and spotting building after building riddled with bullet holes. This is matched up with what I had been told from a friend who had been there; the city doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality of its past. It’s not just markers of the city’s recent history that you’ll come across though. The Eternal Flame memorial to the victims of World War II; the corner where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914; the extensive old town reflecting the city’s Ottoman lineage. When you walk through Sarajevo you walk through its history.
None of these spots though, had the impact that the Sehidsko Kovaci Cemetery had on me. This hillside cemetery is home to those fallen Bosnia soldiers from the conflict in the 90s. Walking through the cemetery and looking at all the alabaster headstones really got to me. It’s not often where you walk through a cemetery where the year of death is the same grave after grave, and the dead you’re age or younger.
This sombre, late afternoon walk through the cemetery eventually took me up to the Yellow Bastion, a ruin of the old city walls. Atop the bastion, teens sat around chatting on the benches or sitting on the walls and looking out over the city. After the gravity of the cemetery below, the atmosphere here was a bit more uplifting and the views truly spectacular. I remained up on the hill to watch a dazzling, fiery sunset.
2. Visiting the Blagaj Tekija
Were it not for a small Dervish monastery, I would have never heard of the small village of Blagaj, just south of Mostar. To be honest, the town of Blagaj itself is nothing fascinating, just some simple houses by the Buna river. However, it happens that the Buna river flows out of a cave in a sheer rocky mountainside and at the entrance to this cave is a small tekija. A tekija is a monastery for those of Muslim faith that believe in a simple way of life and rejecting wealth. So while those that lived in the Blagaj Tekija may have lived a poor and frugal life, they were certainly rich in scenery.
What makes this monastery worth seeing for tourists is its flawlessly preserved Ottoman architecture and its position, tucked squarely between the huge rocky cliff and the gentle rapids of the river. You can also sit riverside and eat one of the many restaurants that line the banks of the Buna river. The Blagaj Tekija makes for a perfect photo opportunity with some breathtaking scenery. I know I spent a good while taking photos of the monastery from all different angles, taking in the charming elegance of the building and its raw, earthy backdrop.
1. Exploring the Plivska Lakes from Jajce
My favourite spot and moment in Bosnia Herzegovina was a quiet one, a simple one. I had come to the town of Jajce to see its unbelievably gorgeous waterfalls rushing just outside of its town walls. I wrote about my love for this town here as one of 5 towns in Central Europe I’ve come across that look like they’ve been pulled from a fairytale. But my favourite spot wasn’t in Jajce itself.
After seeing many of the sights in Jajce and looking at a map, I saw that several lakes lay a few kilometres upstream from the town. On a whim, I decided to grab some some supplies from the supermarket and to have a picnic lunch up by the lakes. I followed the river north, passing several small falls until I reached the first of the Plivska lakes.
At the edge of the first lake I came across a friendly old fisherman who was keen to chat despite the language barrier. We eventually settled on a mix of German, Italian and English and we talked for a little while. Seeing my camera in hand, he indicated that there were better spots further along the lakes and I’m so glad he did. I had already walked a while, had no idea how much further I should go and may have missed out on seeing some blissfully quiet and stunning natural scenery if not for my chance encounter.
Other than the occasional cyclist and fisherman down by the lake, I had the roads along the Plivska Lakes to myself. After a while I found a bench and stopped for lunch, basking in the wonderful surrounds that I found myself in. I eventually made it to the falls that led from the upper lake to the lower lake, where school kids were playing sports and families having picnics. A little further I came across the charming historic water mills that once benefited from the trickling streams that fed from one lake to the next. All in all, I’d say the whim to wander paid off that day in Jajce and let me see some of the astounding natural beauty on offer in Bosnia Herzegovina.
So those were my top 5 things to do in Bosnia Herzegovina. Have you been to Bosnia Herzegovina? If so, what were your favourites sights and places? Share in the comments below.
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