What struck me the most about Bosnia, a country that’s often overlooked and underestimated, was how green it was in every corner. If it had not been for all the pandemic restrictions in Europe, I probably would not have made it to Bosnia either but its proximity to Montenegro (my main destination for summer 2021), eased Covid restrictions and visa free access for US visa holders is what made me consider adding this offbeat destination to my itinerary.
How much time is enough to explore Bosnia? That's a tough question for any country, but I would recommend up to a week if you're really looking to cover some ground; visit the popular spots as well as some offbeat ones. I explored Bosnia in 5 days but I could have spend a few more. I have added to the itinerary some destinations recommended by the locals which I couldn't visit during my trip but if you have some more time, feel free to include them in your plan!
Rent a car in Bosnia – the best way to explore
First of all, I highly recommend driving in Bosnia as it’s the best and only way to cover good ground and not stay restricted to the big cities. Although Sarajevo & Mostar are definitely places I recommend you include in your itinerary if you plan to cover Bosnia in 5 days, I loved the craggy & rural hinterland a lot more. But that is me – I am a nature lover. While the Bosnian cities are a great place to learn about their recent, albeit violent, history, as well as immerse yourself in a unique East-meets-West culture, the interiors are replete with stunning waterfalls, raftable rivers & surprisingly good infrastructure for a country that was engulfed in a civil war less than 3 decades ago.
It's only when I started exploring Bosnia that I realized, I could have spent a lot more time than just 5 days. The driving time is longer than what you expect because you may chance upon unexpected traffic jams, roads under construction, or simple winding & narrow roads that aren’t the easiest to speed on. It’s not difficult to explore Bosnia in 5 days but if you have more time, there’s a lot you can do.
Click here to rent a car in Bosnia.
Bosnia has its own local currency, but Euro is widely accepted
Bosnia is cheap as compared to most European (and Balkan) countries. Their local currency is the Bosnian Mark, and 1 Euro translates into 2 KM (symbol for the Bosnian Mark). Most hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions accept Euro for payment, but the smaller shops may not, so it’s always sensible to carry some amount of the local currency. Converting Euro to KM is not difficult in the larger cities; just walk into a currency conversion shop.
Bosnia in 5 days
Day 1: Sarajevo
If you’re flying into Bosnia, you’re likely to arrive in Sarajevo. You don’t need a car to explore the city of Sarajevo. I was personally surprised to see how interestingly the city blended myriad cultures – from the Ottoman-style Mosque in the city centre, to the Neo-Gothic cathedral and the Old Jewish Temple, all located within a walk from each other. While walking on one street, you will come across several Turkish-style cafes serving authentic Bosnian coffee, souks selling lanterns, coffee & tea pots, souvenirs, and jewellery, making you feel like you’re in the Middle East rather than in Europe. Yet, the parallel street will transport you into a more modern version of the city with its contemporary architecture, balconied homes & branded high street shops.
Sarajevo has several reminders of its violent past – while walking around the city, you will come across blood-like stains on the pavements. These are known as Sarajevo Roses, laid out in the memory of those who lost their lives during the siege of Sarajevo, when the city’s streets were bombarded and destroyed of hundreds of shells.
Baščaršija: The historic centre is the best place to start exploring. Baščaršija is the ancient souk-style cobbled stone street where you will find the hand-made jewellery, traditional handicrafts, copper plated coffee & tea pots made by the local artisans. A free-walking tour of the city is available and starts at 10 am and is usually a good way to be introduced to a place through the stories of the locals.
Sebilj Fountain: Located right next to Baščaršija is this landmark Ottoman-style fountain. You will often find people feeding pigeons here, which has led to this place being referred to as Pigeon Square.
The Latin Bridge: This bridge is famous not for its architecture but for its significance in the world history. In 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the next in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife were assassinated as they passed by the Latin Bridge, triggering a chain of events which lead to World War I. A plaque located on the bridge commemorates their assassination & leaves a reminder to its visitors of the tragic events that took place here.
Vijećnica, Sarajevo City Hall: Although there’s a museum and exhibition inside the city hall, it’s the architecture of the building that is unique because of how it contrasts with anything else you will see in Sarajevo. Located right next to the river & not too far from the Latin Bridge, it’s easily explored while walking in the city.
Gondola to Mount Trebević: Even the cable car has a tragic history. Destroyed during the war in 1990s, the operation restarted after 26 years, in 2018, making it much easier for people to head up to the mountain rather than climbing the steep slopes. The access to the pine forests up the mountain now take as less as 10 minutes from the urban city centre, making this a popular spot to enjoy sunset views of the city from a vantage point.
1984 Winter Olympics abandoned bobsleigh track: Built only a few years before the war, during the 1984 Winter Olympics, this bob sleigh track is now abandoned and covered with graffiti. In fact, this place was taken over by the Serbs during the war and used as a base to bombard the city below. You could either hike to this place from the Old Town or if you’re already taking the gondola to Mount Trebevic, you could go up and walk down from there, a much easier path for those who do not enjoy uphill hikes. You’ll also see several other ruined buildings from the Olympics, a rude reminder of the brutalities of the war.
Bonus: Dinner at Park Prinčeva: While we were in the Old Town, we saw this restaurant on the hill which looked nice, so we decided to walk up to it. Getting to this place by foot means you will be climbing up some steep slopes so make sure to wear comfortable shoes. The views from the terrace of the restaurant is well worth the trip.
While it may be too much for 1 day, if you happen to have more time in Sarajevo, these are some places the locals recommended visiting:
- Sarajevo War Tunnel
- Sarajevo cemetery
- Žuta Tabija, The Yellow Fortress
Recommended budget city centre hotel stay in Sarajevo: Pansion River
Day 2: Jajce
If you’re covering Bosnia in 5 days, Jajce’s lake and waterfall deserve at least a day in your itinerary. A 3-hour drive from Sarajevo, Jajce is home to one of the most iconic waterfalls and prettiest lakes in the country.
Located right in the city center, this waterfall is not difficult to get to at all, does not require a tough hike and thus, can get really crowded during the summer months. Set against the backdrop of the Old Town and the Jajce Fortress, a platform allows you to get close and drenched in the mist of the cascading waterfall.
While the platform provides gorgeous views and allows you to get very close, the best shots can be captured from across the valley. Cross the green chain bridge and take to the steep trail head on left, which goes towards a little hut/ gazebo. Alternatively, you could zipline above the waterfall, which will automatically take you to the other side of the valley before it brings you back, hurtling through the mist and crossing over this 17m piece of wonder.
Jajce Fortress and Old Town
A 15th century royal castle stands tall above the Old Town, and you can see the walls run right through the city center. While visiting the fortress will take you to some excellent viewpoints of the mountains and Jajce city, you can choose to skip it altogether and enjoy the vibe in the cobbled stone streets of the old town instead. If you do choose to visit the fortress, don’t miss out on the Jajce Catacombs right behind.
Pliva Lake & Watermills
Although the waterfall was quite stunning, I preferred the area around Pliva Lake, which is about 15 min drive from the old town. You could enjoy a nice walk around the lake, find a restaurant/ bar next to it, walk on the wooden platform across the blue waters, or simply find a spot to cool off and swim in the azure waters. You could even rent a boat/ kayak or a stand-up paddle board to immerse yourself in the beauty of the surroundings – the green mountains, the calm and scenic waters, and the chilled-out vibe.
Pliva Watermills are a set of old hydro-power mills used to grind flour and make for a picturesque & instagrammable backdrop. You could grab a bite at the café next to the watermills or enjoy a little picnic; you will find barbecue areas and grassy greens right next to it.
Recommended budget hotel on the shores of Pliva Lake: Motel Plaza
While on your way from Sarajevo to Jajce, if you have time, you may choose to take a short detour towards a mysterious & offbeat place in Bosnia called Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun. Located at about 45 min from Sarajevo, this place is not a touristy one but locals love to talk about it as it was their claim to fame when an amateur archeologist deemed it to be one of the oldest pyramids in the world, pre-dating even the ones in Egypt. The pyramids are allegedly made by a highly advanced civilization some 12,000 years ago and while there is no proof to these outrageous claims, the place has managed to garner a fair share of interest from the people looking for off-beat & interesting places to visit in the vicinity of the capital of Bosnia.
Day 3: Una National Park & Bihac
Una National Park is about 2 hours from Jajce and a haven for nature lovers & adventure seekers. Replete with extraordinary flora and fauna, Una is home to my favourite waterfall in Bosnia - Štrbački Buk.
A note of caution: If you follow the GPS to this waterfall, it is likely to take you to the Croatian side which involves border crossing and inadvertently increases your travel time. We lost about 1.5 hours in this exercise only to be redirected by the locals to a newer road that was built to reach this waterfall without having to cross to the border to Croatia. Simply follow the road signs instead of the GPS to get to the two iconic waterfalls in Una National Park - Štrbački Buk & Milančev Buk.
One could spend an entire day (or even a few days) in this nature reserve. Since we only had a day, we picked our top favourites and made the most of our visit.
Una National Park
#1 Štrbački Buk Waterfall
This was, by far, my favourite waterfall in Bosnia. A platform allows you to walk to different viewpoints along the river and you will also find some hiking paths for the more adventurous people that will take you through the forested areas around the river. You could go all the way down to take a dip in the river itself or watch the adventurous people rafting on the rapids. Some may even argue that this waterfall takes the prize for being even more awe-inspiring and stunning than Plitvice Lakes in Croatia (their neighbour), although the jury is still out on that one!
#2 Milančev Buk Waterfall
Located in Martin Brod, a green village in a rural setting, this waterfall is surrounded by several pools and smaller travertine waterfalls all along the way. It’s location in a dense forest is what adds to its rugged, untouched beauty.
#3 White water rafting
During the summer months, the river is known to be a lot calmer than the spring and it’s the perfect time to raft for those who are either first timers or wish to have a calm, not-too-adventurous experience. One could raft near Bosanska Krupa on the lower part of the river, where its beautiful and quiet with small rapids. For a more adrenaline-pumping experience, the higher part of the river, near the Štrbački Buk Waterfall, is a better idea.
#4 Ostrovica Castle
The remains of this medieval castle stand on top of the Ostrovica Hill and requires a short detour from the path to the waterfalls. More than the history or the architecture of the castle itself, most people visit it for the views of the town of Kulen Vakuf below.
#5 Japod Islands, Račić
Located just outside Una National Park, these peaceful and serene islands are small and promise a ‘stress free’ zone for tourists. Walking trails, wooden bridges, and restaurants overlooking the river form a relaxed, chilled out place for a meal or simply, some quiet time amidst nature.
There’s a unique place to stay here: Japodski Otoci. While we chose to spend the night in the town of Bihac, if we had an extra night to spare, we would have chosen this stunning place right in the heart of nature. Waterside bungalows, breakfast on a terrace overlooking the river, and gorgeous green gardens are bound to make nature lovers fall in love with this place.
It’s unlikely that you will have much time in Bihac, should you plan to stay over in this town instead of Una National Park itself. However, I found the city quite laid back, unique & intriguing. Lying on the banks of the river Una, that flows through the city, you will find a lot of restaurants and terraces overlooking the gorgeous river and the nightlife here is surprisingly good. Walking through the city will bring you to broken down mosques, churches, and museums but also streets lined with cafes & ice cream shops.
- Enjoy a drink at Gig Bar, located in the far corner of the river and a little away from the loud, crowded bars of Bihac
- Try the gelato at Caffe RB, arguably the best ice cream in Bosnia
- Beer lovers: try the locally brewed Preminger Beer at Restoran River Una, with a terrace offering superb views
- For a fine dining experience with a view, dine at the terrace restaurant of Hotel Opal Exclusive
Bihac is culturally quite different from the other cities we had been in, in Bosnia, and due to the Islamic influence, we found many restaurants that did not serve alcohol and offered halal food. If enjoying a glass of wine along with your lunch is something you like to do, then be cautious of the place you pick to dine at.
Recommended budget hotel on the shores of Una River: Holiday in Bihac
Day 4: Mostar & Blagaj
Today is going to be a long day because of the driving distance and time from Bihac to Mostar. If you’re covering Bosnia in 5 days, Mostar is one city you should not miss. Not too far from Sarajevo, those who prefer not to go offbeat might stick around close to these cities only, with a lot to do and see in the area. While Jajce & Bihac are for the nature and countryside lovers, Mostar offers its visitors an amazing vibe, nightlife, an old town with cobbled stone streets, an iconic landscape dominated by a reconstructed medieval arch bridge over the Neretva River, and a grief-stricken local population that talks about how the war nearly destroyed their beloved home less than a few decades ago.
You can start your day with a meal at Restoran Sunce, located on the shores of River Una, only 15 min outside Bihac. From here, the drive to Mostar will take about 4 or 4.5 hours. A lot of the road is narrow and winding, and you’ll find patches on the way that are under construction, so be prepared to be slowed down even more.
You’re likely to arrive in Mostar late afternoon or evening. Spend 2-3 hours exploring the cobbled stone colourful alleys of the Old Town, lined with shops and cafes, amidst Turkish houses. Walk across the famous bridge or dine at one of the restaurants overlooking the iconic scenery (you will find several), buy some souvenirs at the colourful souks, take a boat ride on the river, or stand right under the bridge to watch a daring person take the plunge from the 20-meter-high bridge into the freezing waters below. Note that these men are trained and professional divers, and no matter how brave you are, you cannot dive from the bridge because it is dangerous and can be potentially fatal. For a bird’s eye view of the city, climb up the staircase to the minaret of Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque.
Only about 20 minutes away from Mostar is one of Bosnia’s most holy and ancient sites – Blagaj. Also known as Dervish Monastery, the architecture of the tekija set against the stunning backdrop of the limestone cliffs, over the green Buna River, is what makes it worth a visit. You can enter the monastery itself (you will be asked to wrap your knees, shoulders & head in a stole/ scarf provided at the entrance) and learn more about the lifestyle of the dervishes. If you’re looking for Instagrammable spots, cross the bridge over the river, towards Vrelo Restaurant, and follow the footpath behind to the best views. For a small fee, you can even take a boat into the cave.
Recommended budget guest house in Stari Most (Old Town): Pansion Bubamara Mostar
Day 5: Počitelj & Kravice Waterfall
Located about 30 min from Mostar is this historic fortified town called Pocitelj. Its part medieval and part Ottoman architecture is a reminder of its strategic importance through the centuries as an administrative center & a military headquarter.
In the 19th century, the town lost its strategic importance and began to deteriorate rapidly. Till date, it is maintained in its original form. During the war, several of its buildings suffered from extensive damage and in 1996, Počitelj was named as one of the world's most endangered cultural heritage sites.
When we visited, the town was surprisingly quiet & deserted. It’s possible that the summer heat was a deterrent for people to visit this open medieval museum. A handful of hawkers selling fresh fruit juice were the only people we could see. Walking around the fortified town on a peaceful day like this was truly a pleasure.
One of the few waterfalls that allow people to swim, Kravica reminded me of Krka National Park in Croatia. Only 30 min ahead of Pocitelj, this is the perfect place to cool off on a hot day. Swimming in the paradisical nature pools below the waterfalls, or simple standing right under the dramatic flow of the water itself is truly mesmerising. A couple of restaurants and cafes located next to the pools are a great place to simple sit and enjoy the views, for those who aren’t a fan of jumping into the freezing but spectacular green waters of the pools.
There is an entry fee to the waterfalls & its pools (and it’s a staggering 20 Euros per person, high as compared to most other tourist places in Bosnia), but it provides you access to one of the most incredible places in the country. I would keep aside 3-4 hours easily to enjoy this wonderful experience. You will find changing rooms on site, as well as kayaks for rental.
Optional places to visit around Mostar, if time allows:
If you're covering Bosnia in 5 days, you're unlike to be able to visit everything but if you have more time, here are a few suggestions of places you could include in your itinerary:
- Jablanica or Jablaničko lake: Located hardly an hour away from Mostar, towards Sarajevo, is this artificial yet incredible lake on the Neretva river, where one can swim, boat or fish
- Trebinje: A pretty little walled village located on The Trebišnjica River, which is a scenic, laidback place to relax & walk around
- Carska Vina Grgo Vasilj: The area around Mostar is popular as a wine region, with many local vineyards and wineries. One of the wineries highly recommended by the locals, the family-owned Carska Vina Grgo Vasilj is a great place to buy some exquisite Bosnian wines
- Neum: The only coastal town in Bosnia, Neum rudely breaks through Croatian borders, diving the country into two. For local Bosnians, this tiny resort town is a popular beach getaway