Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country located in the Balkans in southeastern Europe. It is a mid-sized nation by European standards but is often overlooked by tourists.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is known for the Bosnian War which occurred in the 1990s, its ethnic and religious diversity, and its famous capital, Sarajevo. It was also the site for some of the world’s most famous historical events.
There is however much to do in this hidden gem – read on to see what Bosnia and Herzegovina has to offer!
1. Two Regions: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Many people may refer to the country simply as ‘Bosnia’, but did you know that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the actual name of the country, and are the names of the regions that make up one of two entities in the country?
Herzegovina (often also spelled as ‘Hercegovina’) has no defined borders but spans the southern and southwestern parts of the nation. The larger region of Bosnia covers the northern and central parts.
There are some differences between the two, with Bosnia being home to a more Bosniak and Serb population, and Herzegovina hosting Bosniaks and Croats. This is a generalization, but roughly true by ethnic lines.
2. Republika Srpska
Rather confusingly, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the name of the country, and together make up one entity.
The other entity is named Republika Srpska and covers the northern and eastern sections of the country. This region was established at the beginning of the Bosnian War by Serbs looking to safeguard their interests in the country, and even today the majority of Bosnian Serbs reside in Republika Srpska.
It’s important to note that both entities (remember that Bosnia and Herzegovina are two regions of one entity!) are both part of the same nation and no rigidly-defined borders or passport checks exist. Be sure to visit all parts of the country!
Sarajevo is Bosnia & Herzegovina’s capital and largest city. It is one of the Balkans’ most important and prominent urban areas and is famous for its religious and cultural diversity. Due to this, it is sometimes called the ‘Jerusalem of Europe’.
Like most other world capitals, it is the political, financial, and cultural center of the country.
Sarajevo has been the site of many defining historical moments and has had its fair share of turbulent periods. These days, it has been voted one of the world’s 50 best cities and boasts the distinction of being one of eighteen ‘Cities of Film’ worldwide.
Be sure to fully explore using the city’s iconic trams – that’s how the locals still get around!
4. Sarajevo Bobsleigh and Luge Track
Sarajevo is known for its bobsleigh and luge track, which is probably the most famous relic from the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.
Located on a mountainside just outside of the city, the track was used in the Winter Games and then for World Cup events in the years afterward until the outbreak of war in the early 90s.
The track was damaged from the fighting and abandoned for years and became a point of interest for both locals and intrigued tourists alike, who decorated the remnants with graffiti and used it as a photo opportunity.
In 2014, restoration efforts began with the hope of one day making the track fully functional for winter events once again.
Mostar is a gorgeous city in southern Bosnia & Herzegovina. It is the fifth-largest city in the country, but the largest in Herzegovina. It has great historical and cultural significance for the entire nation.
The city was the scene of large parts of the Bosnian War, and the scars of warfare are still extremely visible to any visitors. Bullet holes and partially-demolished buildings are common sights across the city, especially around the old bridge area.
Mostar is generally ethno-territorially divided, with Bosniaks residing on the east bank, and Croats to the West. Despite the previous warfare and ethnic tensions, the city is generally safe and well worth a visit.
It’s a great base point to explore Herzegovina’s stunning natural beauty in addition to learning about the city’s incredible history.
6. Stari Most
Bosnia & Herzegovina is well-known for the Stari Most, or ‘Old Bridge’ when translated into English. This fascinating piece of architecture is in Mostar, where it acts both as an icon of the city, and the physical separation between the residencies of Bosniaks and Croats.
The Stari Most was constructed in 1566 by the Ottomans and is regarded as one of the most exemplary examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. It was destroyed in late 1993 by Croat forces during the Bosnian War, and then eventually rebuilt in 2004.
Today, the bridge is a proud symbol for the city’s inhabitants, and many of them enter an annual competition to dive off the bridge and into the freezing Neretva River below!
7. Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Bosnia is famous for being the scene of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination.
The heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne was murdered in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip. This started a series of events that directly led to the outbreak of World War I, with the allies of Austria-Hungary and Serbia declaring war on one another.
Josip Broz, commonly known as Tito was a Yugoslav strongman and longtime leader of the Republic of Yugoslavia. A divisive figure in history, he remains popular within Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is often heralded as a unifying figure, something which many Bosnian people yearned for after the war.
The politics and dynamics of socialist states such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are scrutinized across the world, but the view of them in large parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe can be very different from how they are generally perceived in the west.
Commemorations and cafes in honor of Tito are commonplace in Sarajevo and across the country. Don’t be surprised if a local starts telling you how much they still admire him.
9. Nuclear Bunker
One of the more unique tourist attractions that Bosnia is famous for is Tito’s Nuclear Bunker.
The authoritarian built the underground bunker inside a hill in Konjic, and it cost a whopping $4.6 billion! Tito never had the need to use it, however, and he died in 1980, just a year after its construction.
The structure was initially scheduled for destruction, but the military refused to carry out the order and instead handed it over to the Bosnian government. Today it acts as an exhibition, showing relics of Yugoslavia.
10. Religious Tolerance
Religious tolerance has been a big theme in Bosnia & Herzegovina throughout its history.
The country is both ethnically and religiously diverse, with the majority of Bosniaks being Muslim (after the influence of the Ottomans in the 15th century), and the Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats being Eastern Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians respectively.
Sarajevo is one of the few cities in Europe to have a mosque, synagogue, Catholic church, and Orthodox Christian church all within one neighborhood.
Bosnia and Herzegovina may have suffered from ethnic tensions before, but it is one of the most religiously tolerant countries in Europe.
11. Muslim Population
Bosnia is known for its large Muslim population. In a continent with few national Muslim majorities, followers of Islam currently make up around 51% of the country’s total population – the third-highest percentage in Europe.
There are almost 1000 mosques around the country too, again one of the highest in Europe.
12. Bosnian War
Bosnia and Herzegovina is well known internationally for the Bosnian War that occurred between 1992 and 1995.
The war has a complex and deep history and was fought for a variety of reasons. It was a part of the larger breakup of Yugoslavia and was fought between multiple different belligerents including differing Bosnian factions, as well as Serb and Croat forces.
The war was extremely destructive to the nation; tensions between ethnic groups, a large number of unexploded landmines, and destroyed infrastructure severely limit the progress of the country even today.
It’s a complex topic to read about, but well worthwhile to learn about this dark period. A trip to Bosnia can offer fascinating tours and exhibitions by locals, many of whom even participated in the war
13. 1984 Winter Olympics
Sarajevo was the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics. A respectable accolade for any city to boast, the 1984 event was particularly notable as it was the first Winter Olympics to be held in a socialist state, and also a Slavic-speaking one.
The Dinaric Alps on the outskirts of the city hosted any events that Sarajevo city couldn’t, and the Games were considered a great success and ushered in a period of great modernization and prosperity for both Sarajevo and the wider country.
The international airport benefitted from an extension, as well as improvements to roads and the construction of restaurants and hotels.
Sadly, the outbreak of the Bosnian War a few years later destroyed much of the legacy of the Olympics, although some relics from the event remain.
14. Land Mines
Bosnia and Herzegovina has a large problem with unexploded landmines leftover from wartime. There are an estimated 80,000 landmines still uncovered within the country, covering 2.2% of the nation’s land area.
Injuries and fatalities from landmines are on the decline year on year, but still occur and the government, NGOs, and NATO teams are working to demine the entire country.
The government’s target of clearing them by 2019 was missed, but hopefully soon Bosnia & Herzegovina will be landmine-free.
Cevapi is Bosnia’s national dish and is eaten all over the country. It is composed of grilled minced meat and is usually served with flatbread, onion, salt, and sour cream.
The meal is popular across much of the Balkan region but is especially popular in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is very easy to find in any town or city.
Each region has a slightly different variation, so make sure to try all the different takes on this delicious main course.
16. Bosnian Pot
Aside from Cevapi, Bosnian Pot is another popular dish among locals.
Essentially just a stew, it is heavy on meat and vegetables. Beef and lamb are very common ingredients, though as with Cevapi the recipe can vary greatly from region to region.
It is traditionally cooked in pots over the fireplace, and could take around four hours to cook – so prepare well in advance!
17. Coffee Consumption
Bosnians are well-known for being prolific coffee drinkers. In fact, the country is tenth on the list for coffee consumption!
Drinking coffee is an important social activity and a way of life for most local people. Don’t be surprised if a Bosnian friend suggests going to sit and drink coffee as it’s a national pastime, and a way for people to pause and enjoy the finer things in life.
Just make sure you don’t mistakenly call it Turkish coffee – the Bosnian variety is very different!
18. Sarajevo Film Festival
Sarajevo has the impressive distinction of being one of only eighteen ‘Cities of Film’ across the world.
The city is a thriving cultural center within the Balkans, and the annual Sarajevo Film Festival is an important event in the calendar of not only locals, but also international celebrities.
Rather incredibly, the festival was founded during the siege of Sarajevo in 1993. Due to the ongoing war, attendance was low but in subsequent years it has grown at a rapid pace, and the likes of Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, and Orlando Bloom have all been in attendance.
Both feature films and smaller-budget short movies are showcased, and the event is one of Sarajevo’s proudest.
19. Bosnian pyramids
There is a theory that Bosnia is in fact home to some pyramids.
A local archaeologist has argued that the suspiciously pyramid-shaped hills in the Visoko area of the country are genuine man-made pyramids! The claims have been widely refuted by other leading archaeologists, who claim they are natural formations.
They certainly look convincing, so have a look for yourself and decide…
20. Perucica Rainforest
Bosnia and Herzegovina has a rainforest!
Not many people would pick out Bosnia and Herzegovina when looking for rainforests, but if you were to venture to Perucica in the southeastern part of the country, you will find yourself in one of Europe’s last remaining rainforests.
The area is part of a wider national park, but is especially notable for being home to 300-year-old trees. It’s a great spot for tourism, but be sure to hire a local ranger as some stretches are too thick and dense to navigate alone.
21. Currency (Marka and Pfennig)
Bosnia is known for its currency – and how notoriously difficult it is to exchange it outside of the country!
The nation still uses the marka and pfennigs. There were named after Germany’s own Deutschmarks, and until the Germans adopted the Euro, the exchange rate of the marka was pegged to the Deutschmark.
The currency is only used in Bosnia – so make sure to exchange any leftovers before you leave as it can be difficult to find any foreign exchange that will take it, let alone give a fair rate.
So there you have it. Hopefully, you now have some ideas of what to do in this fantastic country, so prepare your itinerary and get ready to chow down on some Cevapi whilst finding the truth about the Bosnian pyramids!
If there’s anything else that Bosnia and Herzegovina is known for, share it in the comment box below!