The Magic of Mostar
Trust us when we say that this place needs to be put on your bucket list, the top 20 places to see before you die, and every single Pinterest board even if it isn’t travel related! Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a MUST VISIT on your next tour of Eastern Europe. We sadly only got one whole day here and had some mishaps along the way trying to navigate our journey to this magical land, however it would have been worth it even if we had only gotten an hour in Mostar. Seriously, this place is that amazing guys.
Bosnia has a pretty sad and heartbreaking history, with a war that happened not too long ago and political unrest that has continued far past the war. Following the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Bosnian War broke out from 1992 to 1995 killing an approximate 100,000 and leaving more than 2 million people displaced. Mostar used to be a place of unity, where the Muslim Bosniaks, the Catholic Croats, and the Orthodox Serbs lived in harmony. In 1993, the religious tension between the Bosniaks and the Croats ran high and overflowed into a war of its own. Many people died from this siege and much of Mostar has never been reconstructed. The two sides of the town are still very much divided and the roots of the division running very deep. We, like many tourists, only got to experience the beauty of the city within the Old Town but there is so much more to experience and learn of this hidden gem in the Balkans, especially its somber and complicated history.
One thing we do need to address is that while in Mostar, it was the most uncomfortable we felt being tattooed and American. We didn’t totally realize the religious landscape when we decided to travel to Mostar, so we didn’t think too much about our tattoos initially. And we didn’t realized just how big of a deal it was to be walking around with them exposed until we saw how conservative many of the Muslim community was and how modestly the women dressed. Many of the local women wore a niqab – the hijab that covers the full face besides the eyes and a full length, long sleeved dress. So you could probably understand just how much we both stuck out and how the long, unfriendly stares made us feel. All that to say, we should have done a little more research on the culture but managed all right and tried to not let it get us down!
We learned the hard way that Mostar is most accessible by car. You can get there by bus but honestly it is long and the timetables are so weird and very hard to find online. There is no option for train and even at the bus station there are not any good options on public transportation to get into town. You will either have to call a taxi or book accommodations that include a shuttle service. The wonky bus schedule made us miss out on precious time in Mostar because we had very few options to choose from to get to Mostar from Split and back. The bus rides can take anywhere from 3.5 to 5 hours with a half hour to hour break halfway and about a half hour passport stop when crossing the border into B+H. The closest international airports are Dubrovnik, Croatia or the capital of Sarajevo, both ones that you will have to rent a car to get to Mostar conveniently.
where to stay
Mostar has so many cheap, nice accommodation options and many of them are bed and breakfasts so you can save a little bit of coin on meals. We found Hostel Aurora for $27 that included breakfast, free shuttle service and the amazing host, Alisa! We would stay here again just for her – she was so amazing, sweet, and made us feel so at home. Alisa picked us up from the bus station even when we were almost 30 minutes late and had no way to contact her, and called us a taxi the next morning to head back to the bus station. Unfortunately we didn’t get to eat breakfast with Alisa since we had to catch the earliest bus we could back to Split, but she did make us an amazing cup of Turkish coffee to get us going. A lot of the accommodations in Mostar are within the main town area, making it very helpful if you don’t have a car and need to walk on foot. If you’d like to stay where we did, you can use this coupon for $20 off your first stay using our favorite hotel website, Booking.com!
things to do
Even though Mostar is a small place, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to see! We found that everything was walkable if you stuck within the Old Town, but if you want to venture out more you will need a car or a tour company to get you around. We stuck to just using our feet given our limited time in Mostar and since we were basically there from a Pinterest picture whim we didn’t have a lot on our list besides exploring what we could on a day. Make sure you have room on your camera, you will take about 1,000 pictures in Mostar because every single angle of this place is picturesque.
This is the most iconic landmark of Mostar, the Ottoman influenced Old Bridge known as Stari Most. It stood for almost 430 years before being destroyed in the Bosnian War. It is a beloved bridge that for many years stood as a symbol of peace between all the different religions and groups of people who lived in Mostar. It was rebuilt after the war and now stands as a reminder of the devastation that bestowed Mostar in the wake of the war. On a warm day, you will probably find a man standing in the middle of the bridge in a speedo and waiting for enough money to jump off the bridge. This is a well known happening in Mostar and can actually be tried on your own. These seasoned professional jumpers make a little extra living on showing off their diving skills and teaching you how to do it too! The Stari Most bridge has been featured in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series since 2015 and if you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of these adrenaline junkies making the leap on your visit!
You can swim in the water below the bridge for a different view, but it is pretty cold so make sure you have some warm clothes waiting when you get out.
Trav Tav’s Tip:
It is imperative to bring good walking shoes in Mostar, ESPECIALLY when you plan on crossing Stari Most. The bridge is extremely slippery and even has built up “steps” to help you cross to the other side but you will still need good balance and good shoes!
Explore Old Town
Known as the Turkish Quarter of Mostar, it is hard to miss the Ottoman influence in the place. Whether you are shopping through the bazaar shops or visiting the mosques, you’ll see for yourself the areas that have been most significantly impacted by the Turkish culture. This part of town has been named a Unesco Heritage site and we think for good reason. There is something about Mostar that begs to be loved and preserved. It might be its devastating history or because it feels so untouched still but visiting the Old Town takes you back in time a little bit, and in the best way.
We didn’t do this, but if you would like to visit one of the many Mosques within the Old Town, you should head to Koski Mehmed Pasha’s Mosque. For a small fee, you can go inside the mosque and into the turret where you can get a bird’s eye view of Mostar. You might even catch worshippers at the prayer hour that happens periodically through the day!
Drink Bosnian Coffee
We LOVE coffee and we surely drink a lot of it at home and when we’re traveling. Bosnian coffee was nothing like what we drink at home, besides the fact that you drink it without cream – just how we like it! We actually had to look up how to drink the Bosnian coffee, which is important to note that it is slightly different than Turkish coffee – and make sure you don’t mix up the two. Bosnian’s are proud of their own variation, even if the roots of their coffee does come from the Ottoman influence. You will be served the Bosnian coffee on a little plate with a long necked pot, an empty cup, a couple sugar cubes, and a Turkish delight candy. Here are the steps to drinking Bosnian coffee correctly:
- Even if you don’t put sweetener in your coffee, you want to start by putting a sugar cube in the empty cup, which is recommended to make the coffee a bit less bitter.
- Pour in just enough coffee to cover the sugar cube and let it dissolve. Then pour the rest of the coffee into the cup, but make sure not to pour too much coffee because the grounds are at the bottom of the pot!
- You can swirl the coffee grounds around a bit in the pot to make the coffee stronger and continue to pour the rest into your cup and enjoy the new coffee drinking experience!
Explore the History
Mostar has some of the most intense history and it can be seen all throughout the small area, literally. Much of Mostar hasn’t recovered from its recent civil war and there are many parts of town where the buildings are still blown up, shot through, or completely crumbled. We found a cemetery on the right bank of the river where we had a very sobering walk around the gravestones. Many of the victims of the war were our age or even younger and it was a very sad reminder of the destruction that was left in the wake of the fighting. A couple other sites that we missed were the Sniper Tower that was used as a sniper location during the war and the Airport Hanger used to hide planes from the Soviet Union when Yugoslavia was still together. There are many tour groups that you can take should you want to learn from a local about the most current Bosnian war or any historic facts and attractions about Yugoslavia or Bosnian life.
Watch the Sun Set
Either bank of the Neretva river is the perfect place to watch the sun go down over the mountains. Find yourself a patio seat, grab a drink, and watch the colors change over the valley – it cannot be missed while in Mostar! We grabbed a great seat at Ali Baba on the terrace, but don’t hold your breath on the best service – they overcharged us on our drinks which inevitably resulted in some irritation BUT still couldn’t take away from the experience of the watching the sunset.
p.s. If you want to experience the nightlife in Mostar, you can head to Ali Baba’s cave nightclub and hang with all the locals!
Mostar basically shuts down after sunset. Most of the locals are back in their homes and you will probably find that you have the Old Town to yourself. It is a little eery though, because the Mosques blast out a prayer during the night and if you are unprepared like we were and don’t speak the language, it can catch you off guard. However, the Stari Most is absolutely beautiful under the night sky, so make sure to catch a few pics of it down by the water.
There are a lot of beautiful places to see that are within a day’s trip from Mostar. We sadly didn’t get to visit any of them but exploring more of Bosnia and Herzegovina is definitely on our list! Here are a couple of options that are cheap, not far away from Mostar and most can be accessible from public transportation or tours.
◊ Pocitelj, the tiny medieval town that is still stuck in the bounds of time and incredibly preserved, and of course a UNESCO site.
◊ Kravice Falls, a beautiful collection of waterfalls with a large lake and a free entrance!
We really, really, really wanted to visit Sarajevo but as travel sometimes goes there just wasn’t enough time. The best way to do the capital justice would be spending a couple of days, especially since it can be a fairly long travel day to get to Sarajevo from Mostar. There are loads of historic buildings and attractions to visit, not to mention it is a really inexpensive capital city so you get more bang for your buck! We would love to hear about your experience if you’ve been, make sure to tell us about your favorites in Sarajevo for our next trip to Bosnia!
where to eat + drink
Everywhere in Mostar is basically the best setting to eat and drink because the Neretva river runs right through the town and almost every restaurant has a view of the river, the valley, or the cute cobblestone streets and stone buildings. Since we were only here for one day, these were our stops for lunch, dinner, and drinks.
◊ Behar 2 – One of the Balkan’s specialty foods is called čevapi or čevapčići, a minced meat dish that is favored by locals and tourists alike. You must try it while in Mostar and one of the best settings to try it at is here at Behar. This is where we also tried the Bosnian coffee that we mentioned above, We opted to sit on a little patio that looked out over the river, but Behar 2 also has a restaurant on the main Old Town street.
◊ Hindin Han – This quaint restaurant – also next to the river – is one of the cutest places to eat dinner in Mostar. The food is authentic, the setting romantic, and the price is just right for a great dining experience! Gotta try the chicken cordon bleu with a glass of wine and top it off with dessert, on the patio of course!
◊ Black Dog Pub – This is such a cool place in Mostar and pretty sweet that it even exists here given the conservative nature of the community. You should definitely sit on the patio, listen to the river running by, mingle with new friends, and try any of their in house IPA’s or the brown ale! The ambiance is amazing and the views couldn’t be any more beautiful, especially when the sun is going down and the streets empty out.
Can you tell that we REALLY loved Mostar?? Not only is the landscape amazing but the Bosnian people are a resilient and hopeful community, ready to see their city unified once again. We hope one day to be back and hope that in due time, peace will prevail in Mostar and all of Bosnia once again.
Have you been to any places in the Balkans? We’d love to hear about your experiences in Mostar and the surrounding areas! Let us know in the comments below!