When you think about traveling in Europe, there is certainly no shortage of amazing countries to choose from, with most offering cities, small towns, and beaches, with history and culture at every turn. While there are certain destinations that are more popular than others, there are also some countries that fly under the radar amongst travelers and therefore remain hidden gems.
One of these hidden gems is Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nestled in the heart of the Balkan region, this country is filled with beauty, warmth, and seemingly countless other reasons to visit. While the Balkans have seen a vast increase in tourism in the past couple of years, some countries have emerged more popular than others.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of those places that has remained a bit of a secret amongst travelers, and the country is hoping to change that with a reinvested interest in bringing travelers in.
Here is why Bosnia and Herzegovina should be on your travel radar this year:
Culture & History
To get to know Bosnia and Herzegovina, start in the vibrant capital of Sarajevo. A favorite amongst those who visit, this city is jam-packed with history and wears the scars of its horrific past for the world to see. Just look for the ‘Sarajevo roses’ all over the pavement, with the markings of past shells that have been painted red to commemorate those who lost their lives in the world’s longest siege that gripped the city in the 90s.
With a history so complex, getting into it here would not do it justice. A visit to Sarajevo will educate travelers on the major plot lines of what they need to know. Just be aware that the country is home to three main ethnic groups, Bosniaks, Serbians, and Croats. And the Bosnian war (to sum it up) was fought amongst these groups, although now they live alongside each other more or less peacefully.
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Walk along the bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, resulting in World War I, and explore the Tunnel Of Hope, a passageway under the airport runway that the residents used to stay alive while under attack from the nearby mountains.
Aside from the heartbreaking lessons that you can learn about the country’s past, visitors will find Sarajevo a hip city that’s full of life. Many street-side cafes and bars line the cobblestone alleys, and the surrounding mountains offer an opportunity to explore the 1984 Olympic facilities and take in the city from another vantage point.
As with most of its Balkan neighbors, one big plus with visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina is the fact that it remains an incredibly budget-friendly destination, and your money will go much farther here than in other European countries.
In fact, this is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, with food and drink coming in way less than even nearby Croatia or Montenegro. Accommodation and transportation are also much cheaper here, and one bonus is that there really isn’t ‘high season’ here yet, meaning there are no price increases depending on the month you visit.
Nature For All Seasons
While there isn’t technically a high and low season, there are, of course, times of the year when more and fewer people visit. Similar to many countries in the surrounding area, the tourism season here is centered around April, June, July, August, and September. While these warmer months offer the chance to experience the country during its long and sunny days, sometimes the heat can get a bit much. Mostar, for example, can get a bit crowded, with its narrow and windy lanes filled with tourists, some of whom come on day trips from cruises that have docked at nearby Croatia.
Those who are looking for a beach holiday will often not consider Bosnia and Herzegovina, although the small 20km stretch of coast along the Adriatic makes it the second smallest coastline in the world and does offer some beaches.
Popular places to visit in the warmer months include Una National Park, Jajce, and of course, Mostar. Watch the divers on Start Most collect money from onlookers before they make the trying plunge into the shallow waters below and enjoy the picturesque restaurants with terraces that hang over the Neretva River.
Winter activities are popular here in February and March when the winter sun shines, and the days are starting to grow longer than in December and January. The mountain towns are especially picturesque when covered in snow, and skiing and other winter sports are popular here (after all, it did host the Winter Olympics). Not only is hitting the slopes here much cheaper than in other European countries, but the number of dreamy winter lodges makes it an ideal place to cozy up from the cold.
Food & Drink
First things first, drinking Bosnian coffee might be worth the trip on its own. Although some say it’s nearly identical to Turkish coffee, it still should be experienced to be understood. The daily ritual of taking a small cup of strong coffee from the copper-plated pot, topping it off with a bit of sugar, and finishing it off with a small Turkish delight candy, is a must-do while visiting. Just remember not to tip the whole cup back and drink the thick grounds from the bottom, as I may or may not have done my first time.
Coffee aside, Bosnian cuisine is similar to its Balkan neighbors and is meat and bread heavy, with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables and stewed pots of deliciousness. Cevapi is a popular choice amongst people from all walks of life, and the grilled sausages are served with raw onions and grilled bread.
Another famous grab-and-go dish is Burek, which is a stuffed pasty well known among many Balkan countries. Desserts are worth the calories here as well, and the fruit-based Tufahija or biscuity Hurmašica are both popular options.
Writing an article about Bosnia and Herzegovina and not mentioning the country’s growing wine scene would be a shame, as the over 2 million cases that they produce are winning over more visitors each year. Most of the grapes come from the area surrounding Mostar, and the most well-known variety is Žilavka. Much more budget-friendly than other options, a bottle of Bosnian wine pairs perfectly with your grilled meats and stewed vegetables.
Having been recognized as a “candidate country” by the EU, Bosnia and Herzegovina is working to become more connected to other European cities. While buses, roads, and rail within the country are developing (very slowly, as some locals might say), access from nearby neighboring countries is pretty straightforward. Many come from Croatia, starting from the cities of Split or Dubrovnik. Busses from Serbia and Montenegro are options as well.
There are a few other airports in the country, but Sarajevo is by far the biggest and most popular option for travelers coming from further afield than the Balkan states. Although it was previously serviced by budget airline Wizz Air, the company has left this route and now Sarajevo International Airport is in talks with Ryanair to establish a hub here.
So, for now, budget airlines are not an option to fly into Sarajevo, but Turkish air and other main carriers are good options for connection routes. For example, when trying to return to New York in 2021, I found a much cheaper ticket from Sarajevo (with a short connection in Istanbul) than I could find in nearby Split, Croatia.
So while it might not be the easiest place to find cheap flights to, it’s definitely possible to fly here for a lower cost than some other nearby cities, and of course, a bit of flexibility with the dates helps as well.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com