For anyone in their late-twenties and older, thinking about Bosnia may still evoke memories of conflict. The country’s unstable history appears locked in time. Abandoned bunkers, bullet-ridden facades, elaborate graffiti, and landmine contamination all serve as reminders. There are also, however, reminders of hope; reminders to “never forget” and to never repeat. And so, Bosnia’s reputation appears to be changing, and for good reason.
This is, in part, due to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s location on the Balkan Peninsula, which is exploding in the tourism industry. Many flock to its coastline-rich neighbors, like Greece (already a popular tourist destination), Croatia, and Albania. Maybe the emotional stirrings of a war that ended just a couple decades ago deter the average traveler, but this country has too much to offer to skip it.
I, for one, cannot wait to go back to Bosnia, and here’s why:
The culture is diverse and unique.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is home to a very rich and diverse history. Its vulnerable location, en route from the east to the west, translates to numerous cultural influences due to its many foreign occupations. You can still find beautiful remnants of medieval villages, Ottoman infrastructure, and grandiose Austro-Hungarian architecture. Serbian Orthodox churches and numerous minarets, soaring into the air from their respective mosques, simultaneously dot the skyline. Even as the capital city of Sarajevo starts to gain some trendy hipster vibes, Bosnia still holds tight to its unique and traditional arts and culture.
The experiences are one-of-a-kind.
Did you know that in Sarajevo, you can stand in the very spot that sparked WWI? It’s just across the Latin Bridge, where the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, next in line for ruling Austro-Hungarian throne, occurred. You can also check out the derelict ruins of the 1984 Winter Olympics, which the country hosted while still part of Yugoslavia. It’s quite the spectral scene. Or, if you’re particularly adventurous, you can explore the famous Vjetrenica Cave, which houses drawings that are thought to date back over 10,000 years.
The food is some of the best in all of Europe.
The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina sure know how to cook and how to eat. In fact, my Bosnian meals remain some of my favorites in all of Europe. How could they not be with heaping plates of perfectly grilled vegetables and ćevapi (small sausages to which I guarantee you’ll quickly become addicted), tender meats, crispy potatoes, sweet pearl onions, tart dolmas, soft pita bread, and a spicy red sauce (ajvar) ready smother every bite? Now wash it all down with a crisp Bosnian beer or refreshing white wine, and you’re set.
The coffee culture is a national identity.
Coffee culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a perfect and delicate balance between old and new, east and west. You’ll find plenty of delicious, third-wave specialty coffee bars in the capital city, but Bosnians still drink their traditional java. Taking into consideration the nearly four decades under Ottoman Rule, it’s no surprise that it’s often compared to Turkish coffee. But be warned: it’s not the same and you may offend if you suggest that. Bosnian coffee is served in a traditional džezva, to help manage the coffee sludge at the bottom, and it’s meant to be sipped leisurely. Pair it with a single sugar cube and friendly conversation with a local for the most authentic experience.
The outdoor adventures are endless.
You can do just about anything here: visit the Alps (yes, Bosnia and Herzegovina has its own pocket of the Alps — the Dinaric Alps) for hiking and skiing; discover waterfalls and lakes that rival those found in neighboring Croatia; explore deep ravines or raft down twisting rivers; or enjoy the country’s sliver of coastline, perfect for swimming and sailing the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea. Bonus: much of this land is unspoiled and you could very well have it all to yourself.
The famous bridge is worth a visit.
You know which one I’m talking about: the well-photographed, 16th-century Ottoman bridge in Mostar. Although this little city (which played an important role during the war) was heavily besieged, Mostar received supportive funding to rebuild the historical center, particularly the Old Bridge. By 2004, it was restored to its original charm, complete with adorable cobblestone-laden, pedestrian-only streets, where shops and restaurants entice every passerby. (Also, there’s this crazy bridge jumping competition in the summer that’ll make your heart skip a beat.)