A logical stop when heading south from Serbia or Sarajevo or east from Croatia, beautiful and historic Mostar — one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most ethnically diverse (and segregated) cities — is also the city that saw the most devastation during the war in the early 1990’s. Today, Mostar has been more or less rebuilt, but the scars following years of bombings are still very much visible. While the city is steadily becoming more and more popular with tourists, especially as a day trip from nearby Dubrovnik, it can still be hard to figure out what to do in Mostar.
While Mostar day trips are becoming ever more in vogue and the Old Town is small and can be seen easily in one day, I would recommend spending at two full days in this little city. If you spend the time to look beyond the picturesque settings, you will find a city that is still healing from the wounds of its past. Spend the time to see the sites, but also meet some locals and learn about Mostar’s history — both recent and older.
There is one commercial train that runs from Bosnia & Herzegovina’s capital city of Sarajevo to Mostar and while, as of June 2017, it is up and running, it is not always prudent to rely on it. Meant to be on of the most scenic train rides in Europe, it is frequently closing for repairs and renovations. Therefore, like most Balkan countries, the bus is the easiest option if you are taking public transport.
The bus journey from Sarajevo is very frequent (one per hour) and takes about 2 – 2 1/2 hours, also most buses stop both at the main bus station and the smaller station on the Croat side of town. Taxis are cheap and easy to take as well, just make sure you agree upon a price before getting in.
Where To Stay In Mostar
If you’re wondering where to stay in Mostar, the city abounds with budget accommodation options. With a range from small hostels and guesthouses to small hotels that it can be difficult to make a decision. Michael and I stayed at Hostel Majdas and cannot recommend it more. It stands firmly as one of the best hostels we’ve ever stayed. Majdas, the hostess, is very friendly and helpful, makes delicious homemade breakfasts and even made an amazing vegetable soup for the guests one evening — third and fourth helpings were indisputable.
What To Do In Mostar
If you’re wondering what to do in Mostar, start in the old town — it isn’t big and can easily be seen in its entirety in one day. It’s strikingly beautiful — a stroll through its cobbled streets perusing the bazaar stalls is fascinating. But the most iconic sight in Mostar is the Stari Most (literally translated meaning the Old Bridge). Originally constructed by 16-century Ottoman Turks, the bridge stood until 9 November 1993, when, like so much of the city, it was destroyed, deliberately, in a bombing.
It was more than a decade until the bridge that stands there today was reconstructed and opened to the public, an almost exact replica at 21 metres high. In warmer months, you will see locals attempting to gain tourist attention (and money) before diving into the Neretva river below. It is possible, and popular, for a tourist to brave the jump as well, though I would recommend against it — the water in the river rarely reaches above 12℃.
If you’re looking for what to do in Mostar that’s a little more offbeat and not found in the guidebooks, it is worth going to the top of the old sniper tower. Once a Croat bank, this 8-storey building was turned into a sniper tower during the war. It is now completely abandoned and covered with graffiti, a walk to the top results in (obviously) an unobstructed and beautiful view of the city. In the spirit of full disclosure, you do have to “break in” here (meaning hop over a small brick wall).
While there aren’t a host of things to do in Mostar, many hostels and guesthouses will offer a Mostar tour of the city and the surrounding area. There are a number of fantastic day trips from Mostar and going on a locally run Mostar tour can make these hard-to-reach destinations more attainable.
Michael and I went on one of these tours, led by the hostel owner’s brother, Bata, and, I have to say, it’s some of the best 20 euro I’ve ever spent. The guide himself lived through the war, escaping as a refugee to Sweden, and hearing about the atrocities first-hand was a sobering experience.
Around Mostar, Bata gave an incredible insight as to how much of the city was destroyed, the lack of UN assistance, and how the city is still ethnically segregated today. There is a Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat (Catholic) side of town, and even the public schools separate children due to their ethnic backgrounds.
The tour also took us to the beautiful Kravice Waterfall, located near the border to Croatia, these waterfalls are quite secluded and really only accessible by private vehicle or tour. We also had the opportunity to climb up the most precarious fortress yet, Pocitelj — a walled medieval city overlooking the Neretva river. And perhaps a spiritual highlight, we visited the breathtakingly beautiful monastery at Blagaj. Although we didn’t end up doing it, it is worth noting that if you plan to tour the monastery, women must wear a headscarf.
Mostar is a small, beautiful, and fascinating city. While directly on the surface, it may seem as if it has rebuilt itself completely, but it is important to dig deeper to gain an understanding of the devastation seen in Mostar, and in Bosnia as a whole.
Are you wondering what to do in Mostar? Have you been? Let us know in the comments below!