Thinking of visiting Sarajevo? You definitely should - it’s a beautiful city, and it’s perfect for travellers on a budget! With a very rich history, gorgeous architecture and friendly locals, it’s one of the best quaint cities in Southeastern Europe.
But, there are several things about Sarajevo that all those articles won’t tell you. Like the fact that you need a winter jacket handy October through May, because you never know when it might snow. Yes, it can happen in May!
So, here’s a local’s guide to all the things you need to know before visiting Sarajevo, in order to really enjoy your stay!
Guide to visiting Sarajevo
Smoking is allowed in the vast majority of Sarajevo pubs, restaurants and cafes, so be prepared to breathe in a lot of second hand smoke. The ban on smoking is still not something the government is trying to implement, mostly because there are so many smokers in the city that prohibiting it in establishments would seriously damage the local businesses.
Some locales do have smoking and non-smoking areas, but that’s mostly restaurants and cafes - Mrvica, Manolo, Metropolis etc. Be sure to check TripAdvisor and Google Maps reviews of a place you’d like to visit, if you want to be sure that they have a non-smoking area - this information is normally not advertised anywhere else.
Don’t Get An Apartment With A ‘Scenic View’
If you want to get a cute AirBnB, avoid anything that’s advertised as having a scenic or panoramic view of the city. It might sound like a good idea, but you will realize the extent of your mistake once you arrive in Sarajevo.
The city lies in a valley, and it is surrounded by hills and mountains. All those apartments with a scenic view are located in the surrounding hills, which have very little to none public transport. Meaning you’d either have to spring for a taxi whenever you want to go out, or walk uphill for some 20 minutes.
Local Cuisine Is Finger Licking Good
Sarajevans are mostly carnivores, so plant-based people feel free to skip to the next thing you need to know about Sarajevo!
The best known Sarajevan dish is ćevapi - small minced meat kebabs served with flatbread, chopped onion and kajmak. They are fatty, decadent and delicious. It’s the one dish you absolutely have to try, even if you’re not really in the mood to try out foreign cuisines.
Most of the other local dishes include minced meat in some form, so vegans and vegetarians will have a hard time finding a place to eat in the city. If you’re in the mood to try out Bosnian cuisine, definitely try out Sarma, Dolma, Burek and any other dish you can find. The Singing Nettle is one of the top local restaurants in the city, and it’s highly recommended by both tourists and locals.
On top of that, you have to have a proper dessert - baklava is considered the traditional must-eat dessert in Sarajevo. And the best baklavas are in a small patisseries in Ferhadija street - Sarajbosna. We recommend baklava with kajmak, for a mind-blowing symphony of flavors in your mouth.
You Can Walk Everywhere - Avoid The Trams
Sarajevo is a small city, and the best way to explore it is to walk everywhere. Especially the area around the city center and the old town - it will take you less than 15 minutes to get from BBI shopping center (popular meeting spot in city center) to the famous Sebilj in Baščaršija.
Trams are technically the fastest way to get around the city, since the tracks mostly run between the main roads, but you’ll be best off avoiding them entirely. They are dirty, unreliable, and if a controller catches you without a ticket, they will try to take all your money.
If this happens, you should know that the fine for not having a tram ticket is 15 Euros. Do not give them a penny more - feel free to call the police, or ask a friendly local to step in. The one thing Sarajevans have in common is the hatred towards tram ticket controllers and the willingness to argue with them any time of the day.
The most reliable form of public transport in Sarajevo are Centrotrans busses. You have to get a ticket as soon as you enter, which costs 1 Euro. They have WiFi and screens that indicate which stop you’re currently at - you can always cross reference this with Google Maps, and you will never get lost!
Taxi Drivers Will Try To Rip You Off
Taxi drivers in Sarajevo love ripping off foreigners. So, the first thing you should do when you get in a vehicle is ask them to turn on the meter. If they refuse, get out of that vehicle and find another one.
They will also likely take longer routes, just to squeeze more cash out of you - don’t let them do that. Especially if you’re trying to get somewhere that’s close to the main road - literally, most driving in Sarajevo is going straight, so don’t let them take you through all those narrow alleys just to get a few more Euros out of you.
Cash Is King
The currency in Sarajevo is Bosnian Convertible Mark (KM), and it’s the only currency accepted everywhere. Some shops will accept Euros, but those are very rare, and they usually locally owned businesses.
Cash is still king in Sarajevo, so make sure to have plenty of it on hand for taxi rides, public transport tickets, bills in cafes etc. Card acceptance is getting better in the city - the vast majority of upscale restaurants will accept cards, especially establishments that are located inside shopping centers. But, a lot of places still only take cash, particularly smaller pubs, cafes and bakeries that are located in neighbourhoods further away from the city center.
It’s best to ask if a locale accepts credit cards before you sit down for a drink. In case they don’t, the good news is that there’s an ATM on the street every 10 meters or so.
Restaurants Don’t Serve Pork
The majority of the population in Sarajevo are muslims, and as you probably know, muslims don’t eat pork. Which means that very little to none restaurants will have pork on the menu.
You can still buy it in supermarkets, but not in some of the larger shopping centers in the city - more on that later. Just don’t be surprised that you can’t get a burger with bacon anywhere in proper Sarajevo.
If you’re really craving it, head to restaurants in Istočno Sarajevo. It’s technically a different city from Sarajevo because it is located in the entity of Republika Srpska, but it’s geographically part of the Sarajevo area - the politics make the distinction confusing even for locals, so let’s not dwell on that. The main thing to know is that you’ll find plenty of restaurants there that do serve pork.
Beware Of Pickpockets
Sarajevo still has an issue with pickpockets - it’s not as big as the Lisbon one, but it is still an issue. Always carry your backpack kangaroo style, and don’t let your valuables out of your sight.
You should be particularly cautious in trams and trolleybuses. It’s possible to enter these vehicles without a ticket, so they’re kind of the workplace for most pickpockets. And when the afternoon crowds rush home from work, it’s virtually impossible to pay attention to your bag.
You will stumble upon several signs throughout the city center that warn you of this, so be extra careful in those areas. But, as long as you keep your purse close, don’t go around flashing wads of cash and expensive jewelry, you will be fine.
Some Hotels Don’t Serve Alcohol
Certain hotels and shopping centers in Sarajevo that were built in the past decade were financed by investors from the Middle East. Which means alcohol and pork are strictly forbidden there. You can’t buy them in shops and you can’t get them in restaurants on those premises.
This applies to BBI and SCC shopping centers, as well as Swissotel and Bristol Hotel. The worst part is that the hotels don’t advertise this anywhere on their websites, so a lot of people make the mistake of booking a room, only to realize too late that they are unable to get a proper drink in the hotel.
The Weather Is Extreme
Saying that the weather in Sarajevo is extreme is putting it mildly. Or to be even more precise, the weather changes in Sarajevo are extreme. You always need to have a jacket and an umbrella, even if you’re visiting in the middle of July and it’s 40 degrees Celsius outside - it’s very much possible that the temperature will drop by 20 degrees in the evening.
The same goes for weather in the winter - one day it’s snowing so much that there’s 20 centimeters of snow on the ground, and the next day the sun is out and all that snow is melting. You can walk around in a thin leather jacket at the beginning of December, and need a thick down coat a week later - the temperature changes are constant and pretty extreme.
Also, it’s smart to always have a small umbrella in your bag. You never know when you might need it - the possibility of showers exists even on the clearest and sunniest summer days.