Some cities wow you at first, but underwhelm when you return. Others are hard to love on a quick visit, but get under your skin over time. Sarajevo is that rare city that does both: Whether your first visit or your tenth, it’s equally satisfying…and each time it’s a totally different experience. Over the last few years, Sarajevo has stealthily become one of my favorite cities. Here are a few reasons why.
My vote for Europe’s most stunningly set capital, Sarajevo fills a narrow, forested valley. Its endearing little Monopoly houses blanket its hillsides. And the banks of its gurgling river are lined with minarets, grassy bluffs, and Eastern-looking bridges.
“The place where East meets West” is a cliché that’s overused by travel writers (including me, I’ll admit). But Sarajevo really is that place. It’s predominantly Muslim, yet fully European. And its cityscape was shaped by two successive, different-as-day-and-night dynasties: the Ottomans (from today’s Turkey) and the Habsburgs (from today’s Austria). From the extremely Turkish-feeling old town (with the tongue-twisting name Baščaršija), you can take just a few steps to find yourself in the almost Viennese-feeling modern city. Would you rather go to Turkey or to Austria? In Sarajevo, it’s your choice.
As Sarajevo continues to rebuild from its brutal wartime experience, progress occurs in fits and starts. While entire city blocks still feel bombed-out, glitzy and glassy new skyscrapers are popping up like dandelions. This one, the Avaz Twist Tower, seems out of place as it rockets up from an otherwise humdrum residential neighborhood of single-family homes. You can ride an elevator to the 35th floor. At the turnstile, drop in one Bosnian Convertible Mark (that’s about 50 cents) to enjoy stunning views over the city.
Despite its modern flair, Sarajevo retains its traditional soul. On Coppersmiths’ Street, you’ll hear the tap-tap-tap-tap of tiny hammers against sheets of copper. While today’s customers are tourists rather than Turkish traders, it feels like a time warp.