Sarajevo, Mostar, Split and Zagreb in April and May 2022

Back in April and May 2022 I did my first solo trip to the Balkans during which I visited Sarajevo, Mostar, Split and Zagreb. It was an amazing introduction to the Balkans and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. In this report I’ll try to summarize the most important stops of my trip.

## Sarajevo

### Getting There

I took the night bus from Vienna to Sarajevo. I bought a ticket on the for €51 which was quite cheap. I was super nervous before the trip started because I had no real experience about crossing borders between Balkan countries. Especially. the Croatian-Bosnian border filled me with anxiety. Also, I was nervous because hardly anybody on the bus spoke any English. What if there was an issue with my ticket printout and I couldn’t communicate with anybody? Long story short, it all turned out fine and I’m glad I got over my fear because the experience was quite rewarding.

Well it was not all perfect; the bus ride took from 8pm to 8am and I was hardly able to get any sleep. Also, be sure to have enough Euro coins with you, because the bus company charges €2 or BAM 4 for every piece of luggage.

Having arrived, I first went to an ATM to withdraw some money. Cash is king in Bosnia and so many places do not accept debit cards or credit cards. Unfortunately, you always have to pay attention to exchange the BAM 100 and BAM 50 bills into smaller bills as many places can’t give you change. After that I bought a tram ticket and checked into the . The hostel was clean, very social, and rather centrally located. Make sure to book through Hostelworld or Booking.com, though. I reserved via their website and they almost messed up my reservation.

### Sightseeing in Sarajevo

As I arrived in the morning, I did a free walking tour organized by . The tour was super interesting and I learned a lot of stuff. It was a unique experience to walk in a city like Sarajevo. The Austro-Hungarian part perfectly transitions into the Ottoman part of the city like nowhere else in the world. I immediately fell in love with pretty Sarajevo.

After the walking tour, I bought some fridge magnets in Baščaršija and then fell asleep in my hostel bed for a few hours. In the evening I grabbed some burek and chilled at the hostel bar.

The next day, I visited the . It was a super interesting exhibition and a great introduction to Sarajevo as a meeting place of religions and cultures. I’d definitely recommend going there.

After that I saw the outstandingly beautiful and the exhibition inside it. I can recommend buying the audio guide for €2, as you’ll learn a lot of interesting facts about the city’s and the building’s history. The exhibition on the The Hague trials is also really interesting.

I also walked around for a long time and just enjoyed the breathtaking city. One highlight to see was the , which interestingly was founded during the Ottoman period, and the nearby church. After that day, I ordered a at the hostel bar.

The next day, I visited the super neat which was small, but very informative. Also, and the provide a great insight into the lives of wealthy families and all its changes during Sarajevo’s evolution.

The has won several museum awards and I can definitely understand why. It’s a fascinating exhibition going right into the heart. The stories are not only heartbreaking, but also make one think what can be done to stop living in yesterday’s world of conflicts and move towards a more peaceful and understanding future.

The tells the story of the Srebrenica genocide. As I hadn’t learned anything about the Balkan war in history classes, the museum was both interesting and really moving. It’s unimaginable that such terrible things are happening in Ukraine right now. : . It is a fascinating walk and one can really feel the divide of Bosnia when looking at the graffiti. One guide explained that Bosnia still hasn’t overcome the war traumas and lives in the world of yesterday. So close between the border of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republic Srpska, one can really feel the divide of worlds which nowadays are more separated than they had ever been in history. It’s unimaginable given how mixed the country was before the war.

I finished my museum tour with a visit to the . It is a super fascinating museum located in a gorgeous building built during the Austro-Hungarian period. The , which survived an exodus and all major wars, by itself is worth a visit, but there are so many other fascinating exhibits and a beautiful garden.

Finally, I did the tour which takes you to many spectacular places around Sarajevo including the . It was well worth the €25 especially since you can help out the local economy and you learn so much by just listening to the local people.

One good place for cevapi is Cevabdzinica Beg. The owners are super friendly, and for €4.5 you can get an outstandingly good, large meal. You can get great burek at basically any buregdzinica. It’s all good and super cheap, lol.

## Mostar

### Getting There

I decided to take the and the ride was super, super spectacular. I had booked the tickets online and picked the tickets up at Sarajevo station. Despite having been super nervous about it, everything just worked out without any issues and most people at the train station speak decent English. As the bus station was nearby, I also picked up the bus tickets for getting from Mostar to Split.

The train ride was spectacular and the scenery was unbelievable. I absolutely recommend going this route by train. Furthermore, the train attendant was playing classic rock over the intercom, which was kind of awesome.

### Hercegovina Day Tour

I stayed at the excellent and I was able to join their Herzegovina day tour. Having arrived there, I just dropped my luggage and joined the tour.

The guide, who also is a member of the family running the hostel, was super friendly and knowledgeable. The first stop of the tour was Hum Hill which offered a spectacular view. The guide also explained the division of Mostar along the main road. Eastern Mostar is predominantly inhabited by people with Muslim faith, whereas western Mostar is inhabited by people with Catholic faith. There hardly is any exchange between these two groups and for instance, people from western Mostar never visit the iconic Stari Most despite it being just a few kilometres away. Again, this shows how deep the scars from the Balkan War still are.

Next, the tour stopped at a former hidden aircraft hangar near Mostar airport. This place was built into a rock and designated as a shelter for fighter jets in the case of a war. To this day many facts about the site including the costs of construction are unknown. Definitely, a place with a special vibe and a cool destination for urban exploration.

The next stop was Blagaj Tekke, a Derwish monastery located at the spring of the Buna river. The building is fascinating, as it’s built right next to a big rock with a river flowing out of it. Also, the place is still used for religious rituals and the visit was super interesting.

Following, the tour stopped at Pocitelj, which is a town with 15th century Ottoman architecture and climbable city walls. Needless to say, the views are breathtaking.

The final stop were the gorgeous Kravice Waterfalls. Despite the water being super cold, it was refreshing to dip your feet into it and to enjoy the rumbling of the mighty waterfalls. Don’t go in, though, as you’ll likely catch a cold or worse.

All in all, the tour was definitely worth the €30, as it’s impossible to visit all these places by bus in such a short time.

### Sightseeing in Mostar

I spent my second day in Mostar seeing the city. The starting point of course was Stari Most, the iconic old bridge, which had been destroyed in the war and rebuilt in the early 2000s. The bridge is super picturesque and it’s a unique feeling to walk across it. The was also really interesting. Unfortunately, the war photo exhibition inside the Halebija tower was closed.

Next, I picked up some souvenirs in the mini basar in the old town and then I visited the Koski Mehmed Pascha mosque. The interior of the mosque is really pretty and the minaret offers the best views all over town and of the Stari Most. Also, the Karadoz Beg mosque can be visited and offers some good spot for pictures.

The is a house of a wealthy Muslim family and the clerk gave me a really interesting, quick tour through the house.

After that, I walked around town for a bit to find out that the , the Katjaz kuća, and the were all closed. The signs in front of the museums indicated that they should be open, but they were not.

However, I found the which offers a super, super interesting exhibition about the victims of the Balkan war. I spent a few hours in there and I can absolutely recommend the fascinating, but really sad exhibition. Especially learning about the concentration camps and the horrors in them made one feel really moved.

Following, I picked up some pomegranate liquor from the market. The lady had me taste different kind of wines and liquors in a quick order and I was a bit tipsy after that, lol.

To enjoy the nice evening, I walked around town and took pictures of Kriva cuprija, which is the prototype of Stari Most, the restored city baths , and the high school built during the Austro-Hungarian period in the neo Mauric style. Also, the war ruins among the former Lenin boulevard dividing the city into an eastern and a western part are interesting to see.

After my day I was impressed by how pretty Mostar is. It’s a really lovely town and visiting is absolutely worth it.

### Relaxing in Stolac

Mostar and Herzegovina can easily be done in two days. Unfortunately, I had booked the hostel for three nights and so I had a day to spare. I decided to take the bus to Stolac. Luckily, the local bus company, Autoprevoz Bus, allows . Having booked the ticket, I was a bit scared if I would make it there and back. As I’m typing this post, I made it just fine. xD

Stolac itself is a very, very sleepy town with a castle. I decided to walk up the castle, spend two hours there reading and I called up a friend, as I had bought a local SIM card in Sarajevo. It felt really relaxing, as I hadn’t dedicated time for reading a book for quite a while.

After having relaxed at the castle, I went to see the waterfalls which feel like a small version of the Kravice Waterfalls. All in all, Stolac can be seen in an hour at most, but I had fun reading and chatting inside the castle ruin all by myself.

I was super glad to be at the bus station early, as the bus left 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Local buses in the Balkan are not that easy to master.

In the evening, I met two travellers from the UK and Germany who I spent a nice evening with.

## Split

### Getting There

I took a bus operated by from Mostar to Split. As I mentioned, I had picked up the tickets at their offices in Sarajevo, although there also was the possibility to buy them at the station. The bus was 30 minutes late which, but the ride was super scenic as the bus follows the road next to the coast.

The border crossing from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia took more than an hour. Also, the border guards were kind of racist, as they had every Bosnian citizen, including the driver and the attendent, take their luggage out of the bus and the border guards asked them many questions. I, who was super intimidated by the procedure, was not asked a single question and I was done in 30 seconds.

### Sightseeing in Split

I checked into the and immediately met a bunch of people who I went out with. I grabbed some pizza as I had hardly eaten during that day and then we had a fun night in Split. The city has a Mediterranean vibe which is super different from Sarajevo and Split. We enjoyed some live music at a cafe inside Diocletian’s Palace, which is used synonymous for the old town, and then went to the Irish pub, as every city nowadays has an Irish pub. It was a super fun and memorable night.

The next morning somebody I had met at the hostel and I did a . Again, you learn a lot of history about the place and we scouted out the best spots for taking pictures.

After the tour we walked through Diocletian’s Palace and captured all the charming streets and the pretty buildings. The city has a super Italian vibe given the fact that it had been under Venetian influence for centuries. The weather in early May was perfect and one could feel the Mediterranean way of life.

The architecture within Diocletian’s palace has been wonderfully preserved and the buildings range from the ancient Roman period up to the 19th century. A little challenge is to spot all the sphinx and tombs placed within the old town.

Within the old town we visited the bell tower of the Katedrala sv. Duje. This cathedral was converted from the mausoleum of emperor Diocletian, who was infamous for his suppression of the young Christian community. You have to pay extra for visiting the inside of the cathedral, but we managed to sneak in after we had visited the bell tower.

The bell tower, which is relatively easy to climb, offers some magnificient views over the harbour and the old town. We definitely took some cool photos of the old town with its gorgeous terracotta roofs. The inside of the cathedral is quite small, given its former use. Nevertheless, it is a richly decorated cathedral that is worth seeing.

Also, be sure to walk along the beautiful promenade right next to Diocletian’s palace. Moreover, the pazar is a good spot for buying souvenirs and fresh produce.

On the next day, I did some street photography in the morning and then went for an extended walk in the Park-suma Marjan. This vast green area is easily reachable from the old town and makes a great hike. The platform at the Telegrin offers a good opportunity for taking panoramic pictures, but the whole walk is super nice. I really enjoyed walking under the pine trees and listening to the cicadas.

As it started to rain in the afternoon, I went back to the hostel and started writing this trip report.

## Zagreb

### Getting There

For getting from Split to Zagreb, I took the train which offers a scenic ride and I was able to get a discount ticket for about €13.50. The ride was super scenic, as the train passes mountainous regions, runs next to the see, and even past forests which still haven’t been cleared of all mines. However, there was a school class full of misbehaved teenagers onboard the train for most of the ride and the noise was unbearable.

### Sightseeing in Zagreb

When arriving in Zagreb, one is greeted by the magnificently beautiful Glavni kolodvor, the main train station. The walk to the gave me a first impression of the well-preserved beauty of Zagreb. The hostel itself is pretty nice too and one can easily socialize.

In the afternoon I picked up a , which pays off if you stay two days or longer.

While walking through the old town, it can be noticed that Zagreb is completely different from Split. The old town has a very Central European style with impressive buildings from the 19th and early 20th century. It is magnificient to stroll through the streets and enjoy all the beautiful architecture, which of course is very picturesque.

The old town is divided into Gornji Grad, the upper town, and Donji Grad, the lower town. The upper town contains some of the most important churches in Zagreb, which, unfortunately, were hit hard by the earthquake in March 2020. This means you can’t visit most of them, although taking pictures from the outside is a good way to visit them. St. Mark’s Church seemed to be open, but there was a political event going on, meaning the entire St. Mark’s Square was locked down.

A highlight of the upper town is the which has a fascinating exhibition of stories about, well, broken relationships, including romantic ones, friendships, and affiliation to everyday objects. The exhibition changes and is well worth seeing. Plus, with the Zagreb card you can get in for free.

I spent a couple of hours in the which is housed in a former covenant and displays the city history in many details. You get to trace Zagreb’s origins, to its growth in the 19th century, through the Yugoslavian period, to modern day Zagreb.

After the museum, I climbed the Lotrščak Tower to get some really cool aerial views of the city. Furthermore, you can see the gun which was fired to signal the time.

In the afternoon, I deceded to the lower town and took some really nice pictures of the Trg Nikole Šubića Zrinskog, which is the main square of the lower town. Unfortunately, the , the and the were closed due to earthquake damage. Nevertheless, the was well worth a visit and did a good job of explaining every day life of a country sandwiched between the Western Countries and the Soviet dictatorship.

The next day I went to Novi Zagreb to see the . Again, the train ride and the museum entrance are included in the Zagreb card. The museum is really neat and has interesting exhibitions on contemporary Croatian artists. The building itself is a highlight of Communist architecture. Also, being in Novi Zagreb gives you a totally different vibe. The streets are immensely wide, full of traffic, pollution, and noise from the cars, while the old town has a bustling vibe and you can feel the Austro-Hungarian influence. Nevertheless, the tram ride to Novi Zagreb is a cool experience.

After the Modern Gallery, I visited the , which is a large museum with exhibitions typical for a technical museum. They have a super interesting guided tour through a model mine which is quite a fun experience. Also, they have cool sections on sustainable technologies, and a super cool Tesla coil.

After the museum, I was kind of worn out from the trip and just spent the afternoon strolling through the old town and taking lots of pictures of the beautiful buildings and gardens. I was so impressed by how pretty Zagreb is. As it has, luckily, hardly been hit by the many wars in the 20th century, a lot of the old town is still in good condition. Overall, Zagreb is definitely underrated.

## Verdict

I feel in love with Bosnia during this trip. Sarajevo has so much history to see and a very unique feeling. Mostar is the charming city in the heart of the upcoming Herzegovina region which has so much to offer.

Pricewise, both Sarajevo and Mostar are super affordable. A dorm bed in a hostel is between €10 to €12 per night and a good meal costs about €6.

Next time, I’ll probably see Sarajevo in winter and spend a day skiing and another day going on a snow shoe hike. For seeing all of Hercegovina, it’s best to rent a car, but the locals go by their own traffic rules. I just wish I would have had more time to travel further down the Balkans, because so many people I met had so many positive things to tell about Montenegro, Albania, and North Macedonia.

Of course, I really enjoyed my time in Croatia. Split has such a lovely Mediterranean feeling and visiting it in early May is a great time. Furthermore, Zagreb is a totally underestimated city which deserves another visit once most of the earthquake damage has been repaired. I wish I would have spent more time in Croatia, as the country is gorgeous, and I would have loved to spend a day on a beach in Split or visit one of the islands close to Split.

Sarajevo, Mostar, Split and Zagreb in April and May 2022