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Bosnia and Herzegovina Travel Guide

Updated on February 4, 2013
Wilsonovo, Sarajevo
Wilsonovo, Sarajevo

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a heart shaped territory located in the middle of south-east Europe. This is the place where the western and eastern civilizations merged and sometimes engaged in conflicts, but in most cases the enriched and supported themselves during a long and fascinating history. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a long name for a country that covers a surface a little bigger than 50.000 square kilometers. Bosnia covers the country’s north and center, its name probably originating from the word “bosana” which comes from the Indo-European language and it means “water”. The southern territory of the former Hum was renamed Herzegovina after being conquered by the Ottoman invaders.

It’s difficult to talk about Bosnia and Herzegovina and not recall the wars in Yugoslavia that have devastated the Balkan territories for the most part of the 1990s. The losses consisted of thousand of human lives, cities and villages with buildings in ruin. Despite this, the country has remained beautiful and its rivers didn’t lose their brightness. Its rich culture and history can be seen in the beautiful mosques, amphitheatres and catholic shrines. The landscape ranges from forests and mountains to soft hills. Probably the most attractive one is the restored bridge in Mostar which symbolizes a new beginning. As the old saying preaches: “A place is hallowed by a man” so Bosnia and Herzegovina takes pride on the hospitality that locals show to the visitors, making them feel like they are part of the family.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Tourist Attractions

  • The city of Mostar was once one of the main tourist destinations, but now it’s undergoing a restorations process, after most of the monuments have been destroyed by the war (including the mosques from the 16th and 17th century and the famous Turkish bridge). The bridge has been reconstructed recently, and together with the few medieval buildings and cobblestone streets, it represents a good reason to visit the city of Mostar.

  • Visit the majority of the Muslim settlements in Europe, located in the north-west of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Fethija Mosque in Bihac is one of the few old mosques that haven’t been destroyed by the war.
  • In order to see the sea you should head for the country’s small coastal area. On the coastline fishing isn’t forbidden. But on the rivers and the lakes you need a special permit, the regulations change from one region to another.
  • Explore the castle Ostrozac, partially ruined, which offers beautiful gardens and a gorgeous view towards the valley of the river Una.
  • Gaze upon one of the most important shrines in Christianity – Medjugorje, in the south-east side of the country, the place where many claim to have seen the Virgin Mary.
  • Look upon the remnants of the 500 years of Turkish rule in the country’s capital city, Sarajevo. The Turkish district and the historical center have been largely restored and the city is starting to recover to life. The colourful bazaars are a witness to the Ottoman heritage and to the energy of the present.
  • Visit the multicoloured mosque near Hundek, that claims to hold Mohammed’s whiskers.
  • Visit Banja Luka, the capital city of the Republic Srpska and admire the 16th century fortress and amphitheater.
  • Listen to the sad and beautiful tunes of the traditional Bosnian songs, sevdah.
  • Indulge yourselves in mountain spa resorts like Bjelasnica, Igman and Jahorina. Dubica, Laktasi, Srebrenica, Telic and Visegrad have mineral springs and medical facilities.
  • Witness the Winter Festival in Sarajevo (that usually takes place in February or March) an artistic festival that has been around since the 1990s. The festival symbolizes the celebration of creativity and liberty through cultural diversity.
  • Take a trip through the spectacular alpine landscape in Bosnia, enriched with rivers, waterfalls and gorges.
  • In some regions around Bihac you can go rafting and canoeing; the river Una is especially renowned for the clear blue waters.
  • The Film Festival in Sarajevo is the most popular festival in the capital city and takes place in August. It screens movies from most of the surrounding countries and the artistic standards are high.

Old bridge in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina
Old bridge in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina

Bosnian Cuisine

The Bosnian cuisine has been influenced by the Turkish one, but also by the Eastern European cuisine. The roasted meat is preferred and the dishes based on cabbage. “Bosanki Ionac” is a stew made out of meat and cabbage. “Cevapcici” are lamb sausages, often eaten along with a type of bread called “somun”. The regular pastries are sweet and salty. “Burek” and “pida” (layers of cheese or meat pie), “zeljanica” (spinach pie) and “sirnica” (cheese pie) are the main dishes. The popular deserts are “baklava” and an apple pie called “tufahije”.

The popular drinks are “kefir”, a light yoghurt, the Turkish coffee and a kind of tea called “salep”. Homemade gin is sometimes consumed, but the alcohol consumption has diminished and has been even forbidden, due to the Islamic influences.

In the Muslim families the end of the Ramadan is celebrated with a large family meal that also contains the Turkish sweets. Both Catholic and Orthodox Christians celebrate the Easter with painted eggs and cake.

Bosnia and Herzegovina History

The present territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a part of the Iliricum and Dalmatia provinces. In the 4th and 5th centuries the Goths occupied the area, until the 6th century when the territory was claimed by the Byzantines. In the 7th century this region was occupied by Slavs. Around the year 1200 Bosnia had gained its independence against Hungary and remained an independent Christian nation for 260 years. In 1463 the Turks succeeded in conquering the Bosnian territories and in the 450 years of Ottoman rule many Christian Slavs became Muslims. After being expelled from Spain, many Jews have found a shelter in Bosnia, therefore in the 19th century the term “Bosnian” included inhabitants of all kinds of religion.

With Russia’s help, Serbia and Montenegro fought against the Ottoman Empire in 1876 and at the congress in Berlin that followed the Russian-Turkish war Austria-Hungary gained the right to rule over Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a result, hostilities appeared the empire and Serbia, who also claimed the two countries. Eventually, these events led to the assassination of the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo and the outbreak of the First World War. In 1918 Bosnia and Herzegovina were annexed to Serbia as a part of the new kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, later named Yugoslavia. At the end of the Second World War Bosnia and Herzegovina became a single nation and one of the six republics of communist Yugoslavia, under the leadership of Marshall Tito. After his death Yugoslavia was divided and Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence in 1991.

Unlike the other nations in the former Yugoslavia that consisted in a dominant ethnic group, Bosnia was a mixture of Muslims, Serbian and Croatians. The presidents of Serbia and Croatia were planning to divide Bosnia between them and they succeeded in starting an ethnical purging war, by expelling and butchering the Muslims. Between 1992 and 1995 250.000 people were killed. With help from the NATO troops, in 1996 free elections took place and the presidency was won by a Muslim Bosnian, Alija Izetbegovic. The International Penal Court for the former Yugoslavia was established in 1994, in Haga, that declared the Serbian general Radislav Drstic guilty of genocide, the former Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, remaining without a verdict until his death in 2006. The Serbian government recognized that it’s responsible for killing 8000 Bosnian Muslims in 1995 at Srebenica, but the International Court for Justice didn’t accuse Serbia directly so it didn’t have to pay war compensations to Bosnia.

Useful Info

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country characterized by ethnic and religious diversity and it’s recommended that visitors should respect the customs and traditions of various ethnic and religious groups. The main ethnic groups are Bosnians (48%), Serbians (37%) and Croatians (14.3%). These three groups are characterized by the religions that the majority of the members follow, namely Islamic, Orthodox and Roman-Catholic. Drinking alcoholic drinks in public can be considered and offense for the Muslims. The tourists should avoid expressing their opinions about the war and other sensitive topics.

The Bosnians are a friendly and hospitable nation. In the Muslim houses there is the custom of visitors getting off their shoes and using a pair of slippers instead. A usual form of greeting is kissing the cheeks, normally three times.


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