Driving Bosnia & Herzegovina: Sarejevo to Mostar Plus Dubrovnik

Leaving Zagreb's Old Town for Bosnia

It was hard to drive away from Zagreb, a colourful, dynamic city where much of the day is whiled away in sidewalk cafes. A city where I can envisage myself becoming a resident. But I had more pressing issues, a road trip through Bosnia and Herzegovina and a long awaited return to Mostar.

Road Tripping B&H

I’m still wondering if my GPS didn’t fail me on this trip. The TomTom isn’t particularly useful in the lesser visited parts of the Balkans where coverage is either limited to a few main streets, totally inaccurate or doesn’t exist at all. The Bosnian border should only be an hour or so from Zagreb but it took us more than two hours to arrive. Although the standard of the road dropped with each kilometre closer to the border, there were no real problems with the road to explain our delay.

The border crossing was quick once I realised we didn’t have to wait behind the unmoving queue of trucks. Passports, car registration and insurance documents were all requested and after fielding a number of inane questions from a grumpy customs officer we crossed without incident. It was then like we had entered into another world.

Republika Srpska

Driving through the autonomous region of Republika Srpska felt like driving through a ghost town. Abandoned and burnt out buildings appeared around every turn. The Serb region didn’t fare well during or after the war and the rural region is clearly one of the poorest parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Serb flag was flying strong in the now peaceful countryside but I couldn’t help wondering if it will remain that way.

Orthodox Church in Republika Srpska

Banja Luka

Noticeably more prosperous than the countryside, Banja Luka is the growing capital of Republika Srpska. It played an important role during the Bosnian War with Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia taking refuge in the city and Croats and Bosniaks being held in the nearby Manjaca concentration camp. A consequence of the war is that there are now 15 women for every man in Banja Luka.

There is a lot of history in Banja Luka but on the surface you have tree-lined boulevards, a medieval fortress in the city centre and popular thermal springs. Regrettably we only did a drive-by at Banja Luka but I will definitely return to see more.

Sarajevo

Stepping off the tram in the heart of Old Town it was hard to believe I was in a city formerly occupied by the Austro-Hungarian empire. This part of Sarajevo well and truly retains its Ottoman style with a number of mosques, Turkish baths and shopping bazaars.

Sarajevo Old Town

What makes Sarajevo unique is that you can spend hours exploring the Turkish influenced city and then head in another direction and find yourself surrounded by architecture more like what you’d find in Budapest. Keep going and you’ll be reminded of its communist past. Turn another corner and you’ll be face to face with a synagogue. No other city in Europe has such a harmonious mix of styles, cultures and religions.

Playing Chess in Sarajevo

History is inescapable in Sarajevo. The pretty hills which surround the city were home to 13,000 soldiers from the Army of Republika Srpska during the Siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1996. They managed to pick off more than 10,000 civilians during the siege, many of whom are buried in war cemeteries just up the hill from the city centre, most of them young men in their 20s.

War Cemetery in Sarajevo

The war history goes back much further than that with the assassination of Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian empire Franz Ferdinand at the Latin Bridge in 1914. This was one of the factors leading to the outbreak of World War I not long after.

Latin Bridge in Sarajevo Bosnia Herzegovina

Eating Out

Look hard enough and you’ll find almost every major cuisine in Sarajevo but why bother when you can find the cheap but very tasty local specialties cevapi and burek on every corner.

Eating Cevapi in Sarajevo

Where to Stay

We stayed at the very peaceful boutique Hotel Merona. It’s way out of the city centre but it’s such a wonderful, relaxing place I can’t recommend it highly enough. Huge rooms, comfy beds, a sauna and truly helpful staff. There is free parking at the door and if you don’t want to drive into the old town you can catch a tram that passes by every few minutes.

Mostar

Technically this was not my first time to Mostar. A couple of years ago I took a bus there only to discover on my arrival that the last bus back to Dubrovnik was leaving a half hour later. Peak season ended the day before and the bus schedule had changed. My options were limited. Spend the night in Mostar without any of my belongings and return to Dubrovnik past my hotel check-out time or take the bus straight back without even seeing the famous Old Bridge. I chose the latter and was bitterly disappointed.

This time was a different story. I had plenty of time to walk the historic stone laneways and to admire the bridge from every angle.

Mostar's Old Bridge in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Close Up of the Old Bridge in Mostar

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see one of the famous bridge jumps. I’m not sure if it’s something they do every day or just every now and then but I didn’t see any signs of anyone looking to dive off the bridge into the bright green waters below.

No One Jumping Off the Mostar Bridge

Mostar Bosnia & Herzegovina

What you can’t miss as you walk around the town is the destruction from the Bosnian War. Bullet holes everywhere. Burnt out homes. Buildings in disrepair. It’s a constant reminder of the violence and carnage that took place only 18 years ago with around 100,000 killed, the majority being Bosniaks.

Bullet Holes and Burnt Out Buildings in Mostar

This video shows fascinating footage from the war and the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar.

Much has changed since the war of course. It’s now a bustling city full of cafes, shops and tourists.

Road Trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar to Dubrovnik

Major roads around the country are lined with flags so can’t mistake which ethnic region you are in. You can see the Serb flag flying in Republika Srpska, in Sarajevo you mostly see the blue and yellow Bosnian flag and in the south the Croatian flag is everywhere. It’s in the southern region where you’ll come across some of the most striking scenery in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mountains in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dubrovnik is a three hour drive from Mostar but at the end of the long journey you’ll be rewarded with a view of one of the most photogenic towns on the Adriatic.

Driving to Dubrovnik from Mostar

Driving in Bosnia and Herzegovina

We didn’t get off the beaten path at all on this road trip, we stuck to visiting the most popular cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although the country itself is off the beaten path when it comes to European travel. Our road trip looked like this:

Zagreb (Croatia) – Republika Srpska – Banja Luka – Sarajevo – Mostar – Dubrovnik (Croatia)

The roads connecting the main cities are generally in good condition although they can be narrow at times. The biggest issues when driving in Bosnia and Herzegovina are crazy drivers who don’t hesitate to overtake on blind corners and the lack of GPS coverage. Don’t head off-road at all as there are millions of unexploded landmines around the country, especially in the rural border regions. This is a fascinating country and driving is the easiest way to get around to experience its culture, history and natural beauty.


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About Andrea

Andrea Anastasakis is the founder and author of road trip blog Rear View Mirror. She is currently driving her Fiat 500 around Europe. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram.


Comments

  1. Thanks for such a lovely post, Andrea and such gorgeous photos! I’m heading to Bosnia Herzegovina next month and can’t wait, the blue-green water looks unreal!

  2. Thanks for the post Andrea. I am going to visit Mostar and Sarajevo on my next trip in September. Your photos are making me wish it is already September.

  3. This makes me want to go back to Bosnia very badly! I’ve been to just about all these places and all your great photos have made me nostalgic. Love the post and will have to follow in your footsteps (or tyre tracks) and road trip it myself one day.

    • Happy to bring back some nice memories for you. I hope to go back again too as I only scratched the surface of what there is to see.

  4. I still have yet to get to this part of Europe, but your previous recommendations along with these photos ensure that I will get there someday 🙂

  5. We’ll have to schedule a trip to Zaghreb and Sarajevo sometime. You didn’t see the Ottoman house in Mostar? From what we saw in peak tourist season in July, the bridge jumpers wait until they have collected enough money to make it worth their while. We saw them collecting the money but didn’t actually see anyone jump.

    We, too, had GPS problems because not all the roads are on it. In the end I just read the map, but we did some extra Ks as well.

    • I didn’t see anyone collecting money even though I was looking out for them as I really wanted to see a bridge jump. Maybe they did it while I was at lunch! Which Ottoman house are you talking about?

    • Oh and maps? It’s more fun driving without them 😛

  6. I have been hearing about Bosnia lately. It looks very inviting. Are you driving to Turkey by any chance?

    • I don’t have plans to drive to Turkey. I have considered it but driving somewhere like Istanbul is not very appealing to me! Have you done it?

      • No I have not Andrea. My question was because we will be in Turkey in Sept/Oct. Originally it was going to be for longer and I was looking for the best way of getting from Turkey to Croatia, which was both time and cost effective. So I thought if you were going to drive it I could find out more about that way of doing it. But now we are going to be there for 6 weeks and I think Turkey will keep us busy for all that time. However, I do think it would be a good trip for you to do 🙂

        • I would love to drive to Turkey but I’d need quite a bit of time to do it properly which I don’t have at the moment. It’s definitely on the cards though. Six weeks in Turkey would be brilliant. I’ll be following along to see how you go. 🙂

  7. Great pictures! I was actually born in Mostar and lived there until 5. My family and I moved to Italy during the war. Now we live in the U.S. To answer your question about diving in Bosnia… Every day there is a jump made by at least one of the divers. What they do, they collect money in order to jump – Typically 40-50 marks for it. Also, every year June-July time frame there is a competition of divers from all of Europe that come and dive off. Most of these divers have been diving since they were young.

    • Ah ok, not sure why I didn’t see them as I visited in summer when there were plenty of tourists around. My timing must have been a little off. Thanks for the info!

  8. Very interesting post. I was in Croatia in last October and just drove through Bosnia-Herzegovina for about 10 minutes on my way to Dubrovnik. I had no time to go to Mostar as a day trip either. Maybe I’ll go and visit Bosnia-Herzegovina one day.

    • I’ve done that short drive through Bosnia too, it’s always a pain to have to go through the 2 border crossings on the way to Dubrovnik! I would definitely recommend spending some time in Bosnia if you go back to the region.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Hi Andrea, what an amazing trip you are doing! Great pictures….. I will be travelling by car from Serbia to Sarajevo and Dubrovnik in about a month. Do you remember how long it took you from Sarajevo to Mostar? I think google maps is a little optimistic about the time schedule 😉

    • Google Maps says around 2 hours and I don’t remember it being much longer than that. It might have taken 2 1/2 hours considering I usually drive fairly slowly in foreign countries! The roads in Bosnia are very good so Google Maps should be accurate. 🙂

  10. Gorgeous photos – this looks like a fascinating journey. Cannot believe people jump off those bridges!!

  11. My wife is from Sarajevo, with cousins in Mostar, and I have driven between Sarajevo and the Adriatic coast many times in the last 10 years, usually through Mostar. I have to ask if you remember the name of the cevabdzinica where you ate.

    The number of mines remaining in the country is perhaps closer to a quarter million than “millions.” Wikipedia says (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_mine_contamination_in_Bosnia_and_Herzegovina) that at the end of 2008 (five years ago) there were 220,000, though its sources are not clear.

    I found your site through a search on “roads in bosnia” — prompted by seeing an article on Facebook’s 10th anniversary, coupled with the memory of the comment in the film The Social Network implying (11 years after the end of the war!) a lack of roads in Bosnia.

    This piece captures the place very well (at least between Travnik and Dubrovnik, which is the only part I know firsthand), both its sights and its spirit. Just a quick glance at the photographs brings back the relaxing feeling of many summer vacations. Thank you.

    • Happy to bring back some positive memories for you. How strange they would imply a lack of roads in Bosnia. I found the roads to generally be very good, much better than in other parts of South Eastern Europe.

      I don’t remember where we ate unfortunately but I will definitely go back to Bosnia to see and eat more. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  12. This part of Europe has been on my travel wishlist for a long time. Your photos are beautiful, and I love that you provide route information.

  13. Thanks Jenna. Let me know if you have any specific questions about visiting.

  14. Hi there!
    May you please tell me when did you spend Your fantastic trip? I mean, what month? And How did you fine the weather? It’s because i am going too 🙂
    thanks a lot!

    • I was there at the end of July and it was hot and sunny. May, June and September are a little cooler with fewer tourists so that might be a better time to visit.

  15. Hi Andrea,

    You have such an interesting blog and i loved the pictures!
    I am from Bosnia ,but i live now in Holland, so it looks all so familiar to me. The pictures and the text i am very happy you have experienced Bosnia in that way.

    My husband and i build a few years ago a couple of lodges at the Boracko Lake. It is near to Konjic, a city between Sarajevo and Mostar. You have been there? It’s a lake surrounded by mountains and the place is very authentic. We wan’t our guests to experience it like local people with traditional ecological food and self made bread, pita and offcourse cevapcici.

    We wan’t people to experience Bosnia in a new way and see all the nice things Bosnia has to offer. Because Bosnia is much more than the war and i think you made that very clear with your blog.

    Maybe you can have a look on my website and perhaps you will come back to Bosnia one day 🙂

    Keep up with the good work (love your blog!)

    Kind regards,

    Goranka Prevljak

    • I haven’t been to Konjic but I might have driven by Boracko Lake on the way to Mostar. Is that the lake in the photo above? I would definitely love to return to Bosnia one day and will be sure to visit the areas you mentioned. It sounds like to kind of place I would like. Thanks for the kind words!

  16. Hi,

    Yes that’s the lake in the photo above. We hope to visit you one day in our Lodges and let you experience the authentic Bosnia. You can have a look on our Facebookpage https://www.facebook.com/herzegovinalodges?fref=ts and see all the different programs we offer, like sculpting, cooking, fishing and mountainhiking and more. If you have further any questions about travelling in Bosnia don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Enjoy your next trip!

  17. Hey, thanks for the post. I’m living in Serbia and traveling around the Balkans. I’m riding a motorcycle from Belgrade to Sarajevo, then to Mostar and Dubrovnik. Do you remember any large hazards along E-73? Besides the crazy drivers you mentioned? The road is paved the entire way?

    Thanks, and I look forward to reading the rest of your blogs as I travel around the Balkans.

    Mike

    • It was a while ago now but from memory the road is in very good condition. It’s definitely paved the entire way so nothing to worry about. Enjoy your trip, the Balkans is one of my favourite regions in the world.

  18. Did you have the TomTom GPS or offline TomTom App on mobile phone? We are driving to Mostar from Dubrovnik and is still on the fence about buying an actual unit or an app. But you said it wasn’t that reliable. You also mention Google map, did you buy a SIM card in Bosnia?

    • I have the TomTom GPS. At the time the maps in Bosnia were limited but it covered all the major roads. It was mostly only a problem within Sarajevo. The drive from Dubrovnik to Mostar is easy. You could probably do it without a map and just follow the signs. I didn’t buy a SIM card in Bosnia. Enjoy your trip!

  19. Hi, Is it safe to drive from Plitvice Lakes to Sarajevo with regards to Land mines. Also, what is border insurance as I do have travel insurance covered through my Bank.

    Regards

    • Yes it’s completely safe. The remaining land mines are mostly only in remote areas. You’ll need to show the insurance documents for your car which is usually a green document. Are you hiring a car? Ask the hire company to show you the documents if you’re not sure.