Where the locals go in Sarajevo

They say that Europe has enjoyed more than 70 years of peace for the first time in its history. It might be true in certain respects, but only if one disregards the conflicts that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the ‘90s. Sarajevo, capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, became one of the most notorious theaters of the armed conflict and although the wounds have healed, many still associate this beautiful city with the tragedies of a quarter of a century ago.

But the city is more than its battle scars. Sarajevo is unique among European capitals, and it’s a place where people know how to enjoy life. It’s safe, rich in gorgeous nature and cultural heritage–a true meeting point of east and west–and an ideal size to explore. These tips from Sarajevo locals will point you to the best spots to enjoy the Bosnian capital to its relaxing yet vibrant fullest.

A hill with fantastic views (and a cherry on top)

Sarajevo’s geography makes it especially satisfying to enjoy from up high. At the same time, all those hills sometimes make it difficult to explore, so it’s understandable if you need some extra incentive to reach the top. Even though it’s just 4km from the centre, Caffe 105 on Grdonj hill has some of the best views of the city; it’s surrounded by evergreen trees, it’s free of the city noise and has tasty Bosnian lunch (for less than 4€!) and hookah (but no alcohol). Another incentive to climb up the steep, narrow path! Alternatively, you can “cheat” and catch a taxi.

Caffe 105, Grdonj hill | Local tips Sarajevo
Photo by Caffe 105

A white ‘treehouse’ hidden in the shade

A two-minute walk from Sarajevo’s historical Yellow Bastion (part of the old 18th century walls of the city), Caffe Kamarija is a paradise in the shade. Though a bit more central, it’s not without its own fair share of fantastic views. The music goes from rock to gypsy to Latin, and while the list of drinks doesn’t include alcohol here either, their fresh, refreshing juice mixes and their house specialty, wheat and cream, more than compensate. Most surprising of all is its location. From the outside, it looks just like a little white treehouse!

Caffe Kamarija | Local tips Sarajevo
Photo by Aida Omanović

Graffiti-sprayed memories in the forest

Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984. There are quite some stories from that time, like how there was literally no snow up to the last minute, and exactly when people were getting seriously worried mere hours before the start of the games, a huge blizzard hit the city. Everyone helped clean up after a huge operation was put into action. Apart from dear memories, one of the most interesting remnants of the games three decades later is the bobsleigh track on the mountain closest by, Trebević. Locals love hiking up the mountain and visiting this place in the middle of nature where graffiti and urban abandon reign, surrounded by only flowers and trees. If you’re not up to the hike, there’s a cable car.

Bobsleigh track, Trebević | Local tips Sarajevo
Photo by Dado Ruvić

The true oriental spirit of Sarajevo

We already mentioned the fact that Sarajevo is a meeting point for east and west. In few places can this be better observed than in Baščaršija, the old town. Here, locals enjoy hookah, oriental music and decoration that is less European and much more Middle Eastern, to say the least. Male Daire is one of the most popular such hangouts, replete with the Sarajevo spirit everyone who visit the city falls in love with. You won’t find alcohol here either, but remember: if the hookah is strong enough, you won’t even miss it!

Male Daire, Baščaršija | Local tips Sarajevo
Photo by @irena_mcg

Bites of Bosnian nostalgia

Baščaršija is not only home to many oriental cafes; here you can find some of the best traditional restaurants in Sarajevo. It goes without saying though that the old town will have its fair share of tourist traps and less authentic spots, so local guidance is a must. Enter Dzenita – even though it’s surrounded by competitors, it still manages to stay unique thanks to its friendly staff and homemade delicacies. It’s a great for lunch, and a rich soup, main and dessert will set you back less than 10€ – and that’s with quite generous portions. The selection of dishes (e.g. their barley-veal soup specialty) will make any Bosnian feel nostalgia for their childhood and their mother’s and grandmother’s cooking. It doesn’t get more authentic than this.
Dzenita, Baščaršija | Local tips Sarajevo
Photo by @losgwennos

A nod to the good old days

Lest we give off the wrong impression, not every place in Sarajevo is alcohol-free – not by a long shot. Bar Balkan Express is an homage to old Yugoslavia, so expect old-fashioned furniture and decoration, wooden chairs, posters of old Yugoslav movies, a ‘70s radio, old vinyls and–of course–lots of pictures of Tito. It has a laid-back atmosphere and its big orange couch is especially welcoming. Its gig nights come highly recommended. Grab a beer and enjoy.

Balkan Express bar | Local tips Sarajevo
Photo by Balkan Express

Direct international trains from Zagreb (Croatia) to Sarajevo are currently suspended, but you can travel from Zagreb to a Croatian border town named Hrvatska Kostajnica by train, then take a 14km taxi ride over the border into Bosnia to a village called Dobrljin, where you can take the train to Sarajevo via Banja Luka. Both countries are included in the Eurail Global Pass, so get ready for an adventure along the road less traveled.

For more local favourites across Europe, check out Spotted by Locals.

Header image by True Anomaly.

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