Despite the overwhelming popularity of neighbouring Croatia, Bosnia is a destination that has somehow remained relatively unexplored and off the beaten path, much to the delight of those who include a stop there on their Balkans itinerary.
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With the border located less than an hour’s drive from top spots like Dubrovnik or Kotor, Montenegro, travelling to Bosnia is a cinch and makes for an amazing road trip: think lush rolling hills, centuries old ruins, historic cities and towering waterfalls pooling into jade-green lakes. Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough to tempt you to explore Bosnia, you’ll be happy to know it’s also shockingly affordable by European standards.
From north to south, here are the best places to visit in Bosnia.
Una National Park
Kick off your Bosnia tour in Una National Park (also known as Nacionalni Park Una), which hugs the Croatian border less than 90 minutes from popular Plitvice Lakes National Park.
The park was established in 2008 as a way to protect the Krka, Unac and Upper Una rivers, flora and fauna, waterfalls and archaeological sites, and is one of the most biodiverse areas in the Balkans.
The highlight of a visit to Una National Park is undoubtedly Štrbački buk, a stunning 25-metre high terraced waterfall surrounded by viewing platforms where crystal clear water cascades into the swirling pools below. This gem is so spectacular it manages to put Plitvice to shame, making it the crown jewel of the entire park.
But that’s not all: there are plenty of other spots to explore in the area, including the similarly stunning Milancev Buk waterfall, a network of walking trails linking the picturesque Japod Islands, the Sultan Ahmed I Mosque in historic Kulen Vakuf, and the Serbian-Orthodox Rmanj Monastery dedicated to Saint Nicolas which has been declared a national monument.
Where to stay in Bihac: The town of Bihac is the closest major area to Una National Park, and guests of Hotel Kostelski Buk love the hearty Bosnian breakfast that’s included, and how most rooms overlook the water. Click here to book
Pulling into the centre of charming Banja Luka, it’s safe to say you’ll think you just arrived in Instagram heaven.
A rainbow-hued displays of umbrellas is suspended over the main shopping street Gospodska, a pretty river meanders by, and the intricate facade of the grand Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is sure to leave you speechless.
Banja Luka is the second largest city in Bosnia after Sarajevo, and the perfect place to settle in for a few nights as a base for day trips around Bosnia. Famous for its cafe culture (it’s estimated there are 1,000 cafes and bars, for just 200-thousand residents), Banja Luka is the kind of place you’d be content to simply sit back, relax and watch the world go by.
Of course, those keen to pound the pavement will still find themselves with plenty to do, including exploring the medieval Kastel Fortress which stands strong on the riverbank, heading inside the Orthodox cathedral to gaze at its massive, dazzling chandelier, and admiring the Ottoman architecture of the Ferhadija Mosque.
The Bosnia road trip continues in Jajce (pronounced yeit-za), and this picturesque, walled city is home to an unforgettable spectacle: the Pliva Waterfall, incredibly found right in the centre of town.
Soaring 17 metres high, the torrent of water created from the convergence of two rivers pummels down into a turquoise pool with such force it could rival Niagara Falls. The phenomenon is best experienced by standing on the official viewing platform near the bottom, but beware–the spray will absolutely soak you, so be sure to keep those pricey cameras covered up!
Jajce also has plenty to offer in the outdoor adventure department, thanks to the nearby Pliva Lakes. Surrounded by lush green hills, the serene, emerald-toned waters are perfect for boat rides, fishing and swimming, and there are plenty of campsites and family-friendly activities which makes this a popular spot for a summer getaway.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the whimsical old wooden watermills, which date back to the Middle Ages and were originally used by local farmers.
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Storied Sarajevo is your next Bosnia road trip stop, and its war-torn past makes it a fascinating place for history buffs. More than two decades after the brutal siege that broke up the former Yugoslavia, evidence of the battles remains, like bullet holes in buildings and a sea of white crosses marking gravesites.
To gain insight into what life was like during those dark days, head to the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide, or the 800-metre long Sarajevo War Tunnel where supplies like food and medicine were smuggled in to desperate civilians while the city was under fire.
Despite its sombre history, Sarajevo has since recovered and has plenty of lively areas worth exploring. Head to cosmopolitan Ferhadija Street for great shopping, then wander over to the old town, Sarajevo Bašcaršija. Here you’ll find towering mosques, bustling bazaars with traditional handicrafts like copper plates and gold-gilded tea sets, and plenty of outdoor cafes for sipping strong Bosnian coffee.
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Where to stay in Sarajevo:
- Isa Begov Hamam Hotel– Like something straight out of Arabian Nights, this exquisite property across from the old town has decor that makes guests feel like sultans, and features a restored hammam complete with a sauna and massage treatments. Click here to book
- War Hostel Sarajevo– Immersive, disturbing, haunting, eye-opening…whatever you call it, a night spent inside this hostel is sure to leave an impression. Started by a family that survived the war, the space has been transformed into a place that accurately depicts the dire conditions they experienced during the siege, including bomb shelter beds, military blankets, and candles as a light source. There is also a nightly talk where they share stories about the impacts the war, as well as documentaries that play inside the bunker.
If there’s one place that’s not to be missed on a Bosnia itinerary, it’s enchanting Mostar.
Hands down the prettiest of all Bosnian cities, it’s beloved for its picturesque bridge Stari Most which arches across the Neretva river right in the centre of the old town. Originally built in the 1500s, it was destroyed in the war and had to be painstakingly rebuilt to its former glory. The hard work paid off, and it’s now one of the country’s most iconic monuments and a highlight of travelling in Bosnia.
The view of Stari Most is particularly impressive during the golden hour, when the sun casts a soft glow on the colourful facades from the surrounding cafes and restaurants, dotted by the minaret of the Koski Mehmed-Pasha mosque.
Most visitors spend their time in Mostar exploring the old town, which houses sites like a traditional hammam, an excellent war museum, mosques and the bazaar. There, a kaleidoscope of original paintings, ornate jewellery and handmade wares drawing from Turkish and Ottoman influences are on display, making it the perfect place to pick up some beautiful souvenirs.
Finish the day by grabbing a table at one of the waterfront restaurants, and fill up on a Bosnian dish like cevapi, where sizzling meat like lamb or beef is topped with onions and served in pita bread.
Where to stay in Mostar:
- Apartments Solis- This family-run property is absolutely phenomenal, particularly given its budget-friendly pricing. The huge, modern, private apartments are spotlessly clean, fully stocked with kitchen supplies which makes it perfect for families or long-term stays, and include wi-fi and private, secure parking. The hosts are very helpful and gracious, and Apartments Solis has a great location just a quick walk from the old town. Click here to book
- Villa Anri Mostar- This Mostar hotel features patios and terraces overlooking the old town, Mediterranean gardens, and beautiful decor that seamlessly blends old with new and uses eco-friendly materials. The staff are wonderful, and parking and breakfast are included. Click here to book
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Just 15 minutes down the road from Mostar you’ll find the tiny village of Blagaj, Bosnia, which is home to one of the country’s most photographed sites: The Velagić House and a monastery, both dramatically built into the side of a cliff.
Blagaj Tekija (also known as Blagaj Tekke) dates back nearly six centuries, and was built right on the banks of the green Buna river which makes for a stunning contrast against the building’s whitewashed walls.
The best viewpoints are found from across the river or the nearby stone bridge, and boat rides that go back into the cave can also be booked on site. If time allows, head to the medieval Blagaj Fort (Stjepan Grad) afterwards, which is perched high on a karst hill.
Do you believe in miracles? Then you’ll fit right in with the thousands of Catholic pilgrims who travel to Medjugorje each year.
In the 1980s, six children playing in the nearby hills returned home to report they’d seen the Virgin Mary and she spoke to them; a claim met with much skepticism at first, until others continued coming forward with stories of their own apparitions. To date, more than 15 million people have made the pilgrimage to Medjugorje’s Apparition Hill in hopes of experiencing their own vision, which makes this otherwise unassuming spot one of the most popular places to visit in Bosnia.
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If you didn’t get your waterfall fill in Jajce, then be sure to make a beeline for Kravice. It’s here you’ll find the Kravica Waterfalls (also known as Kravice Falls), which are considered to be one of the best things to see in Bosnia.
It’s worth spending an entire, sun-soaked day at this stunning spot along the Trebižat river, where a row of nearly two dozen falls dramatically plummet 25 metres off a limestone deposit down into deep emerald pools. The scene is absolutely spellbinding, as a thick canopy of moss, figs and poplars frame the spectacle which is best seen from one of the surrounding walking trails, taking a boat ride or even swimming right up to them.
The Kravice Falls are open from May to October, and there are washroom facilities and restaurants on site.
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The last stop on your Bosnia tour is a gooder: the tiny village of Pocitelj which dates back to at least the Middle Ages and is under consideration to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Built precipitously into the hillside overlooking the tranquil Neretva river, the town is fortified with thick rock walls, and the small wooden homes and stalls selling traditional handicrafts are linked with winding stone staircases.
Historic Pocitelj is beloved for its gorgeous Turkish-influenced architecture which includes minarets marking the mosque below, an impressive fortress and clock tower, making it feel like the kind of place where time has simply stood still.
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