Bosnia and Herzegovina was a wonderful surprise. It’s beautiful, rugged, challenging, and charming.
In short, I absolutely loved it.
But since it’s pretty off the beaten tourist path, and most people have only seen worn-torn images from 20+ years ago, I wanted to do a little “introduction” post.
It’s GORGEOUS (obvs), with mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, and even a small stretch of coastline along the Adriatic Sea.
It’s also a crossroads between East and West, which lends itself to a fascinating intersection of cultures.
Now, without further ado…
Here are 10 more interesting tidbits. (Aka, thanks for signing up for Bosnia and Herzegovina Facts!)
1) Historically, the area has been under both Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule.
2) There are three primary ethnic groups, which also roughly equate to a person’s religious affiliation – the Serbs (Orthodox Christian), the Bosniaks (Muslim), and the Croats (Catholic).
There are over 50 active political parties (can you even imagine their Facebook feeds 😳) and the country is simultaneously ruled by three popularly elected presidents – a Serb, a Bosniak, and a Croat.
There are also three official languages: Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian.
While the names of these *totally separate* and ~distinct~ languages are super important to each of the groups, they are essentially just different dialects of the same language. Serbian is often written with the Cyrillic alphabet, but that is likely the only difference you’ll notice.
3) There is a word (mezetluk) that means “enjoying the company of friends while eating snacks.”
Ummm HELLO this should be a word in every language!! Mezetluk is my fav.
Other important words include pekara (bakery), slastičarna (sweet shop), and sladoled (ice-cream).
4) Up until the 20th century, Sarajevo was the only European city that had a Jewish synagogue, an Orthodox church, a Catholic church, and a mosque, all in the same square.
5) Coffee and cigarettes are both a huge part of the culture.
Bosnians smoke A LOT. There’s supposedly a national law that prohibits smoking in public, but lemme tell ya… it is completely ignored. You will see mothers smoking while holding infants, ridiculously young children smoking on the streets, and people walking around indoor shopping malls, puffing away.
(As an American, this is completely bizarre.)
In addition to the smoking, bosanska kafa is a national pastime. This beverage is very similar to Turkish coffee – it’s thick, strong, and there’s free floating coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup (you sip from the top).
6) Sevdalinka is a type of popular folk music, and is still very much alive today.
It traces its origins to Turkish times, and most songs are about love and/or tragedy.
Here’s a contemporary example of this type of music (from 2016) by singer Damir Imamović:
Featured in this music video: emo street scenes of Sarajevo, smoking (obvs), and extreme close-ups of Damir’s facial hair.
7) Burek, a meat pie wrapped in phyllo dough, has been a traditional dish since Ottoman times, and is sold throughout the region.
One portion is less than $2 and it is fantastic 🙌
While ordering, you may also be asked if you’d like pavlaka (a yogurty cream cheese) on top.
8) Bosnia and Herzegovina has a flourishing art scene.
The Sarajevo Film Festival is the premier and largest film festival in Southeast Europe, and is one of the largest film festivals in all of Europe.
Additionally, there are tons of sculptures, paintings, and graffiti. This is the younger generation’s way of healing and moving forward from the country’s recent war.
Which brings me to my next point…
9) The Bosnian War was an inter-ethnic conflict that took place from 1992-1995 as a part of the breakup of Yugoslavia.
And y’all, this definitely tore the country apart.
Estimates suggest that around 100,000 people were killed and over 2.2 million people were displaced. (Numbers I can’t even fully comprehend.)
So you will see lots of war memorials, cemeteries, and gravestones all over the country.
But, while there’s a strong desire to forgive… there’s an equally strong desire to remember the past – and to learn from it.
Which brings me to my next point…
10) Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the safest places in Europe. Violent crime is virtually non-existent.
Yes, scars of the war are still evident. You will see bullet holes, mortar shell damage, destroyed and abandoned buildings, and many disabled veterans. But walking down the streets of any town/city at any time of day or night is totally fine.
(Rural areas are a bit more dicey due to unexploded land mines, so do your research there.)
I was often with Michael, but there were times that I wandered around by myself (both day and night), and never felt even remotely threatened.
Use common sense, have basic street smarts, and you will be fine.
Yes. This, my dear readers, is Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It’s a country that many might be tempted to skip.
It doesn’t cater to tourists nearly as much as neighboring Croatia, it’s a complex mix of West and East, and it has very vivid reminders of the recent war.
There’s definitely less lounging at beach resorts, and more culture shock than you’ll experience in other parts of Europe.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is raw, it’s real, and it packs a cultural punch.
(In short, I absolutely loved it.)
It’s easily one of my favorite travel destinations, and highly recommended for adventure seekers, nature lovers, and culture/history buffs.
And perhaps for those who wouldn’t describe themselves as any of the above, but are willing to take a tiny step outside of their comfort zone. To experience this country in all of it’s beauty, complexity, and charm.