10 things to do in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country on the Balkan Peninsula. Following WW1, Bosnia was incorporated into what later became Yugoslavia. Like much of Europe, it has a long history of conquests, genocide, territorial struggles and much bloodshed.
The Yugoslav wars were a series of conflicts and battles that spanned ten years, leading to the breakup of the Yugoslav state. It is hard to imagine that this devastating and ethnically rooted war in Europe ended only 19 years ago, but the cold reminder comes from the bullet holes that are still visible on the sides of buildings. The Siege of Mostar took place between 1992 - 1994, first between Bosnia and Serbia, then with Bosnia and Croatia. The pain and suffering that lingers in the air and the hearts of locals is still very much present to this day.
Travel has this powerful way of teaching you about kindness and empathy. When I visited Mostar, I had no knowledge at all of the history, in fact, travelling has taught me about many things about life that a simple holiday couldn't. The people of Bosnia are rebuilding and healing everyday, which is something that every tourist will find themselves incredibly moved by.
The street that runs alongside the prison in Mostar town was one of the main roads that the Croatian and Bosnian armies fought over. The rows of buildings are covered in bullet holes, and in some of the top floor apartments, people still live, being reminded every day of the bloodshed and loss that their home endured.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a cultural and historic wonder with the added bonus of having some truly incredible scenery. In this article, I am going to share with you the top ten things to do in Mostar!
# 1 - Stari Most
Stari Most, meaning ‘Old Bridge’ is a rebuilt 16th-century Ottoman bridge in the town of Mostar and quite frankly, looks like something from a fairytale! Running below its incredible arch is the Neretva river. Protecting the UNESCO World Heritage Site are two fortified towers. On the northeast side is the Halebija tower and on the southwest side is Tara tower. Together they are known as “the bridge keepers".
As you walk across the busy bridge, you may even find yourself stepping over some lazy dogs who have absolutely no intention of moving for any human! There are plenty of lovely bars and restaurants that overlook this magnificent bridge, I highly recommend spending a sunny afternoon watching the professional bridge jumpers!
# 2 - Mostar Čaršija
Whilst checking out the Stari Most, you should also take a wander through the Mostar čaršija (market). There are stalls and shops selling various crafts and foods, lined up along the cobbled streets leading up to the old bridge from either side. The market carries a heavy Ottoman influence that you will fall in love with! Nestled in amongst the busy traders you will also find coffee shops, ice cream stalls and restaurants, so when you feel like you need a rest, you can slip off easily and sample the local cuisine or a simple coffee!
# 3 - Bridge Jumping
Keeping in theme with the Stari Most, your trip cannot be complete without watching the self-proclaimed ‘professional’ jumpers pleasing the masses with their dare-devilish antics! Jumping from the Old Bridge is a major attraction. The guys who do the jumping hang around the bridge in their speedos and wait for donations. Only when they have donations of I believe around 25 euros will they do their spectacular leap of faith into the fierce Neretva river below as the crowds cheer and clap. Health and safety, anyone?
# 4 - Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque
One of the best views of Stari Most and the whole town of Mostar is from the 89 step climb up the minaret of Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque. These steps are definitely not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic. Steep blocks of stone that spiral up towards the sky, with nothing to hold onto, it was enough to send me (the girl who does not like climbing ladders or heights), into a panic! Although, when you reach the top, it is without a doubt, breathtaking!
# 5 - Vrelo Bune
Situated on the Buna river in the town of Blagaj, Vrelo Bune is an impressive natural and architectural ensemble that you must visit. The spring produces exceptionally clean and cold water and legend has it that if you drink straight from the river then throw the remainder of the water over your shoulder, you will get a boyfriend. I did try this and I don't want to say that this is a load of rubbish and did not work, but I mean, I am still waiting... However, the water is delicious to drink!
The Tekke (khanqah, dervish house), set at the source of the crystal clear river Buna was and still is a venue for dervish Zikr praise-chanting. The Blagaj Tekija (monastery) was built around 1520 under Ottoman rule and is probably one of the most spectacular locations of any religious building in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
# 6 - Kravice Falls
Kravica waterfalls are situated on the Trebižat river, deep within jungle-like terrain. They are a series of waterfalls that plunge from heights of up to 83 feet into a cove of clear water. The water’s year-round chilly temperature doesn’t stop locals and tourists from taking a swim to cool off from the Bosnian summer heat. There are a couple of restaurants that sit beside the falls and public toilets on site, so you can spend the day absorbing the natural beauty that is on offer.
# 7 - Počitelj
Počitelj is an historic, walled village and an open-air museum located in the municipality of Čapljina. It is around a 30 minute drive from Mostar, not far from the Croatian border. I would recommend starting at the top of the hill and making your way down because Bosnia and Herzegovina can get very hot in summer! The views from the top provide you with incredible views of the Neretva river and you can climb up into the old fortress and try to get a feel for what 15th century Ottoman life may have been like! There is an open market here too, with locals selling a mixture of authentic crafts and foods!
# 8 - Street Art and Graffiti
Mostar has its own street art festival that has been taking place since 2012. Its mission is to “bring new talent and art to the streets of the post-war city, redefine public space and network (with) artists from all over the world.” When you learn about what has happened here over the last 30 years, you can’t help but find some hope and joy in the brightly coloured expressions that fill many of the walls and sides of buildings. Although you can find street art and graffiti all over Mostar, the largest concentration can be found in and around the Sniper Tower. Get inspired as you walk through the town and see how many works of art you can find!
# 9 - Sniper Tower
Sniper Tower is an abandoned building on the North-West side of Mostar which is filled with compelling and emotive street art. This empty shell which was formerly a bank, now serves as an important reminder for the war and the pain that many endured over the years. Sniper Tower is where the snipers used to take aim at those who passed below. Unfortunately many locals had to bravely enter into a danger zone and risk their lives at the hands of the snipers in order to simply survive.
# 10 - War Tour
I would recommend that you join a tour or find a local guide to take you around and tell you all about what happened. I joined a tour led by a guy named Miran, he was a young man during the war and so through his own stories and first hand knowledge, he was able to completely capture our hearts and lead us to feel the raw emotion that his traumatic memories bore. It is one thing to read about history, but another to hear it, see and feel it from someone who lived through those events.