8 Reasons to Visit Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Of all the places I travelled in 2014, Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina absolutely stole my heart.
It started when I saw photos of Stari Most, the “Old Bridge,” on Pinterest. From that moment on, I knew I just had to go there the next time I was in Europe. So when I planned for my last summer vacation in Berlin, I made sure to add Bosnia to my travel agenda.
The moment when I saw the bridge and the surrounding landscape for the very first time, it brought tears of joy to my eyes. I stopped breathing for a moment as I took it all in, as it was far more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
I admit that Mostar took me by surprise. There is so much more to Mostar than the Old Bridge. From hiking through the nearby forested mountains, to taking in holy sites, posing with weird and offbeat statues, walking through medieval towns, swimming under waterfalls, exploring abandoned ruins and hunting down street art, I couldn’t help but wonder time and time again, why Mostar is not on more peoples’ travel radars.
This special place deserves much more attention than it gets!
Reasons to Visit Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Here are my top reasons why you should plan to visit Mostar for your next vacation.
1) Stari Most
Let’s start with the most obvious reason you should visit Mostar and what brought me there in the first place.
Stari Most proudly stood there for 427 years, until it was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War. Thanks to post-war restoration efforts, a new bridge was built in 2004.
These days, tourists flock to the bridge to pose for sexy photos and watch brave yet talented local men dive off the bridge, plunging 20 metres into the cold river below.
The practice of diving off the bridge started back in 1664 and became a tradition for the young men of Mostar. In 1968 the city held a formal diving competition, which still continues today.
Watch this YouTube video to see how serious they are about diving in Mostar.
- The bridge is pretty steep and the surface slippery. Even with the addition of small pieces of raised concrete to help, you’ll need sturdy footwear to make your way across the bridge without looking like a fool. It was a lesson I learned the hard way as my flip flops simply didn’t cut it. Wear sneakers to avoid looking silly like I did.
- Throughout the day, you’re likely to spot rather fit looking men (perhaps wearing tight black Speedos) walking around collecting money. After a certain amount has been collected, you’ll get the extreme pleasure of watching one of them dive off the bridge.
- Do not attempt to jump off the bridge yourself. It’s dangerous and people have been injured and even died doing it. For you brave (crazy?) souls out there, for about 20 €, you can receive “training” from locals who will teach all you need to know about Stari Most bridge diving. You’ll even get a certificate for your successful dive, jump or belly flop off the bridge.
- You can also go for a dip in the river. You’ll notice that just below the bridge, there’s a place where several people are gathered, tanning and occasionally jumping into the river. No one seems to swim as the current is fast and water chilly.2) Koski Mehmed Paša MosqueBuilt in 1618, Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque is a simple but pretty mosque.
For a small fee, you can enter the mosque and even climb the very narrow winding staircase in the minaret for one heck of a view of Mostar and Stari Most.
To be honest, I don’t remember the name of the café (I’m a bad travel blogger!), but it’s worth the visit. Especially if you need to cool off after the exhausting climb to the top of the minaret in hot weather.
- The climb up to the top of the minaret can be tough for those like me, who are very claustrophobic (ever since a cave diving stint in Budapest). I was at the top and started taking photos when suddenly there were tons of other people trying to edge their way outside to enjoy the views. Take your photos quickly and get out of dodge!
- The stairs are super narrow. As I started my way down the stairs, there were even more people coming up. I had to call down to them and ask them to return to the bottom and wait, also informing them there was not enough room for people to pass one another. Thankfully, they obliged and allowed me to come down quickly.
- There is a fee to enter the mosque (2 €) and another fee to climb the minaret (5 €).
- You’ll be asked to cover up: they supply shawls near the entrance. You can keep your shoes on.
- Photos are permitted inside the mosque.
3) Street Art
If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you’ll know that I’m totally obsessed with street art. Whether it be street art in Krakow, Amsterdam or Cologne, I can walk around cities for hours on end taking it all in.
I also think that street art offers visitors a unique and fascinating way to get to know a city’s culture and beliefs.
Although it’s heartbreaking, local young artists have done something quite extraordinary to turn this around. They use these buildings as a canvas to express themselves creatively and offer up messages of peace, criticism of wealth, and protest of past and even current oppression.
As I mentioned in a previous post on the subject, the street art in Mostar is quite touching and especially poignant.
- There’s an annual street art festival held each spring, where artists from all around the world come to Mostar to create new murals and other works of art.
4) Abandoned Buildings
Some of the buildings that you can see are the Sniper Tower, Neretva Hotel and an old airport hangar.
The Sniper Tower
The Sniper Tower in Mostar used to be a bank. Positioned along the frontline during the Bosnian War, the building was a base for snipers who would hide in the tower to take aim at their targets below.
Today, the tower is decorated with street art and is a site for those looking to take part in less mainstream urban exploration activities. Although it’s not encouraged or exactly permitted, the building is fairly easy to enter – simply jump over the back wall (near the Nelson Mandela quote).
You can explore its various floors, check out the street art and take in another lovely view of Mostar from the top floor. Locals advise that the best time to enter is around sunset.
What used to be a grand and opulent hotel, nicknamed “Tito’s palace” as it was a favourite of Josip Broz Tito (the former leader of Yugoslavia), is now a building that sits in ruin.
While you can’t enter, you can see it from different vantage points. The newly constructed building adjacent to the hotel provides a dark contrast of progress and … lack thereof in Mostar.
While in Mostar, I had a rare but delightful opportunity to visit a massive, formerly top-secret underground airport hangar disguised in the mountains near the Mostar airport. Here Tito stationed fighter planes that were hidden away from the eyes of the Soviets. The planes were always on the ready, should Yugoslavia ever come to be under attack.
You can now walk through the eerie space from one end to the other and there are even various rooms you can explore.
While I took an unofficial and independent tour with a local and a couple of new friends from my hostel, you can see this place by booking a Death of Yugoslavia tour through a local tour operator.
- Wear sneakers if you visit the Sniper Tower as there’s a lot of debris and broken glass scattered throughout the building.
- Avoid visiting the Sniper Tower at night as there are homeless people who sleep there sometimes. Be nice, allow them a good night’s sleep and leave them undisturbed.
- If you manage to find your way to the airport hangar, bring a flashlight and a friend or two. It’s pitch black and not a place you want to enter alone.
- There are creatures that thrive in the dark – beware of giant mutant spiders if you start exploring some of the smaller rooms in the hangar.
- As with the Sniper Tower, there is a lot of debris and broken glass found throughout the hangar. So again, wear sneakers.
5) The Bruce Lee Statue
You’ll find this weird and offbeat statue of Bruce Lee in Zrinjevac Park. Standing at 1.68 metres high, this near life sized tribute of the martial arts star is a curious site to find in Mostar.
Created by Croatian sculptor Ivan Fijolic in 2005, the statue was originally placed in the Spanish Square back in 2005. Intended to be a fun and lighthearted symbol of peace (it was thought that everyone liked Bruce Lee regardless of their ethnic background), some locals took a dislike to the statue and vandalized it shortly thereafter.
The statue was only put back in 2013 and has remained there ever since. Now tourists can go and take cheesy photos of themselves with Bruce Lee and pretend they’re engaging him in an epic martial arts fight sequence.
6) Kravice Waterfalls
This little piece of paradise is not well known to tourists and is frequented mostly by locals.
Swim in the lake and even under the waterfalls. You can even pass the time on a tire swing! There’s also a cafe where you can drink beer and take in some of the local specialties like cevapi.
After seeing Stari Most, Kravice Falls was the highlight of my trip to Bosnia. If you’re visiting Mostar, this is a must visit.
- Even in the ultrahot weather (it was around 35 degrees Celsius when I visited), the water was fairly cold. Dive right in and give yourself a few moments while your body adjusts to the change in temperature.
- While you can walk under the waterfalls and jump off some of the ledges into the water below, be extremely careful. A lot of people get injured this way. So just watch what others are doing or ask locals for advice.
7) Blagag Tekke
Blagag Tekke is considered to be one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most holy and ancient sites. Also known as the Dervish Monastery, the tekija was built to host gatherings of the Sufi Brotherhood.
Erected around 1520, the tekija reflects Ottoman and Mediterranean style of architecture. The upper part of the building also houses two 15th century Tajik dervishes.
Miraculously, this mystical place remained untouched during the Bosnian war, despite so much death and destruction happening so close by.
Only 12 kms outside of Mostar, Blagaj Tekke continues to be popular with pilgrims and tourists alike.
- Visit Blagaj Tekke at night when it’s much less crowded. Your experience will be all the more special and you’ll appreciate the solitude and opportunity for reflection.
- I came here first at night and then again during the day. For sure, it was worthwhile making the trip twice as there’s such a different atmosphere.
- For a small fee, you can take a boat into the cave.
- The best view of the tekija is from across the river. Follow the footpath behind Vrelo Restaurant.
Established in 1383 by King Stjepan Tvrtko I, the walled town evolved through the 16th-18th centuries and showcases both Ottoman and medieval influences in its architecture.
Unlike Blagaj Tekke, Pocitelj was heavily damaged during the 1992-1996 Bosnian War by Croatian forces. Sadly, many great Islamic works of art and architecture were completely destroyed. Even more unfortunate was that most of the townsfolk were completely displaced.
Thankfully, in 1996 the World Monuments Watch named Pocitelj as one of the 100 most endangered cultural sites. Then in 2000, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina finally placed the site under permanent protection. The protection is ongoing and focuses on the restoration of the town, continued preservation and encouragement to the former population to return.
To this day, only a handful of people live in Pocitelj, and I feel fortunate to have met one of the locals. Through a tour I did with Hostel Majdas, our group was invited into her home to sample some Bosnian food and drink.
- Walk around and hike through the site for beautiful views of the town and surrounding areas. Climb the citadel for a truly incredible panorama.
- As it’s quite hot and there are no stores to buy drinks from, be sure to come equipped with water to keep yourself refreshed during your explorations.
Have I convinced you to visit Mostar? I hope that you’re already booking your flight and packing your bags!
If these 8 reasons are just not enough, consider walking through Mostar’s Old Town, checking out the Partisan’s Cemetery and sipping strong Bosnian coffee in a riverside cafe. Or read this great article from the Washington Post.
If you’re thinking about traveling to other parts of the Balkans, give my other posts a read including Why You Need to Visit Podgorica When You’re in Montenegro and 5 Reasons to Visit Nis Serbia.