But if I had to choose a single favourite, I’d choose Bosnia. From the moment I stepped foot in Mostar, I knew it was a special place. Yes, the country is absurdly beautiful and ridiculously cheap, but there’s something else about Bosnia, something I can’t quite articulate.
I’m aware there are a shocking number of superlatives in this post, but I couldn’t help myself – Bosnia really is that fantastic. Here are a few of the (many) reasons I fell head over heels for Bosnia & Herzegovina.
1. The natural beauty
Bosnia’s natural beauty floored me. Driving through the countryside left me speechless (and it wasn’t because I was in a car with a Montenegrin man who drove 150 kilometres per hour along some seriously sketchy roads).
Everywhere you look, dramatic mountain peaks give way to lush valleys and emerald-toned rivers course alongside picturesque villages. It’s easily one of the most scenic countries I’ve ever been to.
2. The history
Delving into Bosnia’s tumultuous history was a sobering experience. Scars of the country’s past are still apparent – shrapnel holes mark Sarajevo’s streets and dilapidated, bombed-out buildings lie scattered around Mostar.
I listened to several firsthand accounts from locals who lived through a horrific war that took place only twenty-odd years ago. I came face-to-face with buildings destroyed during the siege of Sarajevo. I learned about the tragic genocide at Srebrenica.
It was heartbreaking and infuriating and left me feeling dumbfounded again and again. But the sentiment that stuck with me most after I left Bosnia wasn’t pity or despair. Instead, I felt incredibly humbled and awed by the resiliency and spirit of Bosnia and its people.
3. The food
Bosnian food is delicious. We’re talking smoky meat cooked to perfection, flaky pastries brimming with tangy cheese, organic vegetables bursting with flavour – I’m drooling all over my keyboard just thinking about it.
ate my body weight in filled up on two of the most popular dishes: burek (phyllo pastry filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables) and cevapi (minced meat sausages served with grilled flatbread and raw onions).
Bosnia also has a ridiculous condiment game – every dish tastes even better slathered in ajvar (a roasted pepper and eggplant spread) and kaymak (a rich, creamy cheese similar to clotted cream).
4. The affordability
The prices in Bosnia are so cheap, I regularly forgot I was still in Europe. I stayed in a fantastic hostel for €9 per night, paid €3 for a heaping portion of cevapi, and spent less than €1 for a cup of coffee.
It’s a place where you can indulge and treat yo’ self without weeping at the sight of your credit card bill later.
I didn’t expect Sarajevo to be so, um, cool. The city is home to a thriving café culture and a burgeoning craft beer scene. By day, I found myself lost among the serpentine alleys of a traditional Ottoman bazaar; by night, I was sipping cocktails in quirky and contemporary bars.
Simply walking down the street is an experience in this city: Sarajevo has a fascinating mix of Ottoman and Austo-Hungarian architecture, communist-era buildings and modern skyscrapers. It’s entirely possible to find a mosque, a church, a cathedral, and a synagogue all within a few hundred metres of each other.
Sarajevo is also home to my favourite museum in the world: The War Childhood Museum. The concept of this museum is simple, but its impact is incredibly profound.
The exhibition features one personal item and an accompanying story from 50 children who lived in Bosnia during the war. Told from the perspective of the children, the narratives offer insight into their lives, their losses, their hopes and tragedies. Some stories were sweet and moving, others were utterly devastating. It was the most unique, immersive, and emotional museum experience of my life.
6. It’s still largely off-the-beaten-path
Apart from groups of Dubrovnik day-trippers who descended on Mostar’s Old Town from time to time, Bosnia felt delightfully un-touristy. Dubrovnik and Kotor are regularly inundated with hordes of cruise ship passengers, but Bosnia remains a hidden gem, a place where you can get an authentic taste of Balkan culture without the unbearable crowds and inflated prices.
I travelled to Croatia after Bosnia, and let me tell you: the transition was a shock to the system. Dubrovnik felt like Disneyland (AKA my definition of hell) compared to the comfortable streets of Sarajevo.
7. The tour guide from Hostel Majdas
Bosnian people are incredibly friendly and warm, but Bata deserves a special shoutout because he’s one of the most charismatic and hilarious human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
A little context: if you stay at Hostel Majdas and take a day trip to Kravice Waterfalls and Počitelj (and I HIGHLY recommend you do both if you’re visiting Mostar), Bata will be your guide.
Bata is not your average, run-of-the-mill tour guide. He is absolutely crazy – in the best possible way, though. He regularly utters phrases like “move your ass,” “you digging my vibe?,” and “up yours, European Union!” I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard on a tour.
He’s also incredibly engaging and passionate, a natural-born storyteller. From shocking personal stories and anecdotes to heartbreaking facts about the war, he managed to convey the country’s turbulent history in such an informative and captivating manner.
I read guidebooks, visited museums, and went on multiple walking tours, but it wasn’t until Bata’s tour that I truly felt I had a genuine understanding of the war – and of present-day Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Bosnia is hauntingly beautiful. It’s a destination that left a lasting impression on me, a place that captured my heart – and I haven’t been able to shut up about it since I left.
Have you been to Bosnia? What destination can you not shut up about?
Just in case you had any doubts, Bosnia is safe to visit. Some people may still associate Bosnia & Herzegovina with devastation and tragedy, but present-day Bosnia is a complete departure from the war-torn image you might hold in your mind. The country has endured unimaginable tragedy, but it’s constantly transforming and continues to establish itself as one of the most unique and underrated destinations in Europe.
Where to stay in Sarajevo and Mostar
Mostar – I stayed a Hostel Majdas in Mostar and it was one of the best hostel experiences of all my travels. From the delicious home cooked food to the unmatched hospitality, this hostel feels like a home.
Sarajevo – If you want to justify eating your body weight in burek and cevapi, stay at The Doctor’s House in Sarajevo. It’s a short walk from the city centre, located at the top of a steep hill (extra calories burned = a good reason to eat more Bosnian food). Plus, it has a fantastic balcony with amazing views of the city.
Buses in Bosnia are cheap and frequent, with various connections around the country and throughout the Balkans. I used Balkan Viator to search for routes and prices, and then confirmed the information at my hostel before heading to the bus station. (One tip: always leave yourself more time than you think you need when travelling by bus in the Balkans.