Best trips 2014: Sarajevo, by National Geographic Traveler

The Balkans’ Urban Phoenix

Franz Ferdinand’s counselors urged him not to go to Sarajevo. He didn’t listen. Like many before and after him, the Austro-Hungarian archduke misread the region and underestimated its people. The gunshots fired a century ago—on June 28, 1914—in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina took his life and lit the fuse for World War I.

The world irrevocably changed that day. But Sarajevo, which has endured three devastating wars and rebuilt under six national flags in the century since, still retains much of its character. Thick coffee cooked in copper pots perfumes the air in Bašcˇaršija, the Ottoman-era bazaar. Silversmiths and rug merchants haggle and banter on the cobbled streets. Secessionist buildings, erected during the archduke’s empire, sit alongside minarets punctuating the skyline. And obelisk Muslim headstones lean this way and that on patches of grass scattered between the oldestmahalas (neighborhoods).

Called “the world’s most dangerous city” during the war of the 1990s, Sarajevo is now among Europe’s safest capitals. Visitors—no longer just postwar gawkers—stroll busy avenues to historic sites wedged between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian places of worship. The renowned Sarajevo Film Festival is held every summer. Tourists and locals alike, led by in-the-know guides, are rediscovering pristine hiking trails in the surrounding Dinaric Alps.

Sarajevo’s reemergence is perhaps best symbolized by the National Library’s long-awaited reconstruction. Destroyed, along with some two million books, in 1992, the pseudo-Moorish landmark is scheduled to reopen as Sarajevo’s Town Hall (its original purpose in 1896) in time for the commemoration of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. “In 2014 the eyes of the entire world will be directed at Sarajevo,” says Mayor Ivo Komšić. “This time not as a tragedy but as something entirely new.”—Alex Crevar

Travel Tips

When to Go: Spring, summer, and fall (April-October) are generally clear and comfortable. In July, the hottest month, average temperatures are only about 70°F. Downhill skiing is available in winter at Mount Jahorina Ski Resort, which hosted 1984 Winter Olympic events.

How to Get Around: Public transportation (tram, trolleybus, and bus), taxis, and walking are the most convenient ways to navigate the city. Bus and train routes connect Sarajevo to other destinations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During ski season, buses connect Sarajevo to Mount Jahorina.

Where to Stay: The 186-room Hotel Bristol Sarajevo is a 12-story, luxury hotel located about five minutes from the Old City via taxi or the hotel’s shuttle. There’s an indoor swimming pool, underground parking, and a mini-fridge stocked daily with soda, juices, and water. Boutique Hotel Michele offers less luxury, yet more charm. The six apartments and two spacious guest rooms are appointed with antique furnishings. Room 43 has skylights, a wood-beam ceiling, and city views.

Where to Eat or Drink: Sarajevo’s ubiquitous street food is pita, in Bosnia a stuffed, coiled phyllo dough pie. The filling determines the name you’ll see on the menu, such as burek (ground meat and onions), krompirisu (potato), and zeljanica (spinach and cheese). Sample some at tiny Old City pita shops like Buregdžinica Bosna and Buregdžinica Sac.

What to Buy: Coppersmithing is one of Sarajevo’s oldest craft traditions, dating back to 1489. Shop for traditional copper, tin-plated, and metal items like coffee pots, coffee serving sets, plates, and cups in the tidy workshops linking narrow Kazandžiluk (Coppersmiths Street).

Cultural Tip: Drinking kafa (coffee) in Sarajevo isn’t done on the fly. Seek out a kafić (café) that serves traditional Bosnian coffee cooked in a copper pot called a džezva (pronounced jez-vah) and served with Turkish delight. Then relax and enjoy, but make sure to ask your waiter how to properly spoon the froth and when to dip the sugar cube.

What to Read or Watch Before You Go: Inspired by a true story, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks’s epic People of the Book traces the survival story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, the famed Hebrew illuminated manuscript.

Helpful Link: Tourism Association of Sarajevo Canton

Fun Fact: From Sarajevo, it’s only about a 20-minute public bus ride to the village of Nahorevo, starting point for hikes to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s biggest waterfall, 322-foot-high Skakavac. Green Visions’ local, English-speaking guides lead day hikes along a mountain road to the top of the waterfall and down to the base.

Insider Tip From Alex Crevar: Though mountaineering around Sarajevo, which hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, is more popular every year, land mines from the 1990s war are still a concern. Hiring a guide who knows where and where not to trek, like those from Green Visions, is a must.

Original article link: National Geographic Traveler: Best trips 2014