Exploring Mostar, Bosnia’s Most Divided City

Mostar has been on my travel bucket list ever since the picture-perfect arch bridge first popped up on my feed. Still, it wasn’t until I looked past the city’s Instagram fame and delved deeper into its history that I came to appreciate our trip so much more.

The Neretva River runs through the centre of Mostar, dividing the city along ethnic lines. The landmark bridge that connected both sides became one of the Balkan War casualties and wasn’t rebuilt until a decade later. It has since become a symbol of post-war reconciliation and peaceful co-existence of diverse cultural and ethnic groups. But, if you look closely, you’ll notice that Mostar’s status as Bosnia’s most divided city remains very fitting.

View of Mostar from the Old Bridge (Stari Most)
Traditional buildings made of stone in Mostar

By treating Mostar merely as a pit stop between Sarajevo and the Croatian coastline, you’d be doing the city a great disservice. This post will feature some of the best things to do in Mostar, as well as recommendations of places to eat and day trips to take.

How to get to Mostar from Sarajevo

The best way to cover the scenic route between Sarajevo and Mostar is by taking a Talgo train. There are two departures daily: one in the morning and one in the late afternoon.

We booked our tickets online in advance using the ZFBH website and had to collect them from the ticket office in Sarajevo. A second-class ticket cost 11.90 BAM, including reservation (around £5.20).

What we got at the train station was an old-school piece of paper from a receipt book, including a handwritten reservation confirmation. They don’t do it like this anymore, so I kept it as a souvenir. Don’t let the ticket fool you, though – the train itself was really modern and air-conditioned. It was a real pleasure to travel in!

The journey takes around 2 hours. A small tip from me that will make it even more pleasant – make sure to sit on the left-hand side of the train going to Mostar. This will allow you to take in the best scenery as the train runs along mountainsides, viaducts, and the turquoise waters of the Neretva River!

Panorama of Mostar

In case you missed the first part of our Bosnia trip, here’s my post about how to spend 48 hours in Sarajevo, including where to stay, the best things to do, and the best restaurants to visit in Sarajevo! Mac has also captured some amazing footage of the entire Bosnia trip and compiled it into a three-minute video. You can check it out here:

Where to stay in Mostar

Dream Apartments

As our Sarajevo flat was one of my favourites to date, I was initially a little upset about leaving it behind. But that sadness made room for excitement the moment we looked around our new place in Mostar.

A bed, a wardrobe, a chair, a table, and a mirror inside an apartment

I genuinely couldn’t recommend Dream Apartments enough, as the value for our money was unreal! We paid €88 for 3 nights, which was absolutely amazing considering we had the whole flat to ourselves, including a very spacious terrace. The owner was also the nicest lady who gave us some city recommendations upon arrival.

A table on an outdoor terrace with different kinds of food on it

And I didn’t even get to the best part yet. The street our flat was located on was rather unassuming and quiet (once you got used to the regular calls for prayer from a nearby mosque). But the second you turned a corner, you were right in the heart of the action. The main commercial street lined with shops, bars, and restaurants that also connected us to the Old Bridge area was practically on our doorstep. Overall, I believe it doesn’t get better than this for the price.

Best things to do in Mostar

Stari Most (Old Bridge)

Even though I don’t think it’s possible to visit Mostar without seeing its most famous landmark, I couldn’t not include Stari Most here.

Purple flowers with Mostar's Old Bridge (Stari Most) in the background
Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar
View of Mostar from the Old Bridge
A man and a woman standing on the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar and smiling at the camera
A small black and white kitten sitting on the ledge of the Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar
Stari Most (Old Bazaar) in Mostar seen from the beach below
A girl sitting on the beach with her back turned to the camera with Mostar's Old Bridge (Stari Most) in front of her
A girl in a maxi dress sitting on the beach with Mostar's Old Bridge (Stari Most) behind her

I won’t go on too much about it, but I need to mention something I was definitely not expecting. While Mostar’s Old Bridge is certainly easy on the eyes, it was far from it for my feet. The surface of the stones is uneven and extremely slippery even on dry days. I had to hold on to the rails to avoid slipping, but I put on a brave face for the ‘gram. So, you’re definitely better off ditching high heels if you want to make it home in one piece.

Mostar Bridge jump

Another thing that’s interesting about Stari Most are the famous bridge jumps that are making the rounds on the Internet. You can see tourists clamouring to take photos and videos as brave (or crazy, take your pick) men plummet into the cold waters of the Neretva River. It’s not a new Internet trend, though, as this tradition dates back to the 17th century.

An aerial shot of Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar

At 20+ meters, the Old Bridge is frighteningly high – just watching from afar was enough to make me shudder! Apparently, back in the day, local boys used to do it to impress the girls. The reality now, though, is that divers won’t jump until they’ve collected enough money from the crowd.

It took a while when we were there, so we’d momentarily lost all hope we would get to see a jump at all. We eventually did – we were far away from the bridge at that point, but apparently it’s a full on-spectacle if you’re up close!

And if you’re thinking of doing the jump yourself, I have good news for you. You can undergo some training and join the Bridge Divers’ Club for a symbolic fee of €25, the majority of which will be spent on maintenance of the bridge. But, as several people died in the past doing the jump (including professional divers), only the fittest, best-trained people should tackle this challenge. I think I’ll stick to taking photos, thank you very much…

Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar in the evening

Kriva Cuprija (Crooked Bridge)

Speaking of bridges, Mostar’s Old Bridge has a miniature version that we discovered by complete accident. Kriva Cuprija is Mostar’s oldest single stone arch bridge, designed and built in 1558, 8 years before the Old Bridge.

Kriva Cuprija (Crooked Bridge) in Mostar

The resemblance to its larger, more famous counterpart is no accident either. Apparently, the Crooked Bridge was built as a test model for the more complex construction of the Old Bridge. Back in the day, it was the only traffic crossing that connected the Old Town area with the rest of the town, as well as other regions. Nowadays, it’s more of a curiosity and a pretty photo backdrop away from Mostar’s main attraction.

The Old Bazaar

On the left bank of the Neretva River, you can find one of the oldest parts of Mostar, dating back to the Ottoman era. The Kujundžiluk, or the Old Bazaar, is not a market in a traditional sense, though. Instead, you can stroll along a winding cobblestone road lined with souvenir stalls and artisan shops.

There, you can find anything from touristy T-shirts and magnets to scarves, handbags, mosaic plates, handmade carpets, chandeliers, and a wide range of copperware. I’m definitely more of a looker than a shopper, but if there’s one thing I briefly considered buying, it’s a traditional Bosnian coffee set.

A black and white cat sitting on top of a stone wall looking at the camera

If you’re curious to find out why I won’t be ditching my Moka pot anytime soon, I wrote down my first impression of Bosnian coffee in my post on 10 things you should know before visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Signs on top of a building pointing to different places around the Old Bazaar area in Mostar

Spanish Square

The Spanish Square (known as Spanski trg or Španjolski trg in Bosnian) was built by the Bosnian government to honour the Spanish soldiers who lost their lives during the Bosnian War.

Spanish Square (Spanski trg) in Mostar

The stunning yellow and orange building that dominates the square houses the Old Gymnasium, one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in former Yugoslavia. You can only admire it from the outside, but the newly renovated area makes for a great spot for a bit of relaxation after a day of sightseeing.

A woman in a maxi dress walking towards the Old Gymnasium in Mostar

Mostar Sniper Tower

When you walk across the Spanish Square, you may also notice an imposing, abandoned construction across the street. As we later found out, it holds a lot of dark history. Formerly a bank, the building was seized by Croat forces during the siege of Mostar due to its strategic location. It provided a clear view of the city, which is why it was then repurposed as a sniper tower. No wonder why it’s been left untouched since the war and stands as a stark reminder of Mostar’s painful past.

Mostar Sniper Tower

Mostar Sniper Tower is technically closed to the public. Still, it doesn’t stop people from trespassing to see the street art that covers its walls or admire the view from the upper floors.

If you’d like to see the city from above, but want to stay within the law, there’s also a brand new tourist attraction that we sadly didn’t get to explore. Skywalk at Fortica allows you to watch Mostar from a 35-metre long glass suspension bridge. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can even zipline! Oh well, there’s always next time…

Day trip to Blagaj

During our time in Mostar, we also did two day trips to the nearby towns of Medjugorje and Blagaj. We decided to explore Medjugorje out of sheer curiosity and it didn’t win us over, so I’ll focus on the other trip here.

Blagaj’s main attraction is the Dervish House, a 16th-century monastery built at the cliff base. You can easily reach the town by taking a bus from the Spanish Square (I’ll talk more about how to navigate public transportation in Mostar in a moment). On our way back, however, it turned out we were waiting at the wrong bus stop. We were standing literally opposite to where we got off that morning, but apparently that wasn’t the place. Thankfully, a lovely driver stopped in his car and dropped us off at the right stop. Definitely something to double-check to avoid frustration.

A girl in a black and white high-low dress standing on a bridge in front of the Blagaj Tekija monastery
Blagaj Tekija monastery seen from above

Another thing to watch out for in Blagaj is the short boat trips to the adjacent cave. We didn’t go, but we’ve heard they’re a bit of a sham. Essentially, to outsiders, they make it seem like you’re going really deep inside the cave, when in reality they stop the boat right around the corner. These boat rides are really cheap (like €1-2), but don’t expect too much or you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Where to eat in Mostar

Grill Centar Mostar

The first restaurant on this list came as a recommendation from our hostess. As she admitted it belonged to her parents, we thought that was the only reason she recommended it and didn’t really have high expectations. The moment we walked in and saw how many locals dined there, though, we knew it was a good sign.

Two plates containing pljeskavica with sides next to pita bread and two glasses of beer on a table

Sure enough, after our first meal, we decided to come back a couple more times. This restaurant serves a variety of traditional Bosnian dishes, and you get hearty portions at very reasonable prices. It definitely has that laid-back, family vibe, and seeing a kitty sleeping soundly under one of the tables cemented that feeling for us. If you’re looking for authentic Bosnian dishes on a budget, definitely pop in here.

Tima – Irma

One afternoon, we decided to switch things up a little and finally try a new place for lunch. That’s how we ended up at Tima-Irma, a traditional Bosnian restaurant run by a lovely lady and her daughter.

We were a little apprehensive considering it’s like a minute away from the Old Bridge, but this place was no tourist trap. It was slightly more expensive compared to Grill Centar, but food-wise, we hit the jackpot again. The portions were absolutely massive, and everything was really flavoursome, even for someone like me who hates grilled veggies. You could also tell all meals were as fresh as it gets, and the service was top-notch.

I believe I paid 19 BAM (around £8) for this huge plate of grilled meats and veggies and a bottle of local beer, which was still perfectly reasonable given the restaurant’s location and the quality of food.

Šećerlook

Now, it wouldn’t be a complete Into the Bloom travel guide without some café recommendations, would it?

If you’re looking to have coffee with a view, it doesn’t get better than Šećerlook. Tucked away from the main street, it provides the perfect backdrop for your coffee break in the form of the Old Bridge.

Old Bridge seen from Šećerlook

Considering it’s one of Mostar’s most Instagrammable locations, we were expecting to pay through the nose for the views alone. We were pleasantly surprised, as two iced coffees, two mocktails, and a Bosnian syrup biscuit (hurmašice) only set us back 10.5 BAM (around £4.50).

Two iced coffees, two mocktails, and a Bosnian syrup biscuit (hurmašice) on a blue table

The traditional biscuit was yet another surprise, as I didn’t honestly expect to like it, but I wanted to try it anyway. Hurmašice are like a cross between a biscuit and a cake. They are drenched in sugar syrup, so they’re sickly sweet and have an extremely moist consistency that isn’t to everyone’s liking. Although they wouldn’t become my usual treat, they were surprisingly tasty. If you’d like to give these a try too, I would definitely recommend visiting this spot.

Café de Alma

For a more traditional experience, you absolutely must visit Café de Alma. This place has the most fascinating origin story that the girl who worked there happily shared with us.

It all started a couple of decades ago with a small family-owned coffee roastery. When the war broke out, the owners hid all the equipment in their basement. Sadly, that’s where it remained until a few years ago, when their son graduated from university and started looking for a career idea. Soon, Café de Alma was born, named in honour of the owner’s mother.

If you choose to have coffee there, you’ll learn that there’s a whole ritual attached to drinking coffee in Bosnia. The lovely girl talked us through it step by step, so we could then recreate it on our own. As Café de Alma remains the only coffee roastery in Mostar, you can also purchase some beans to take back home. We loved how traditional and sustainable this place was. When a coffee roastery in Sarajevo went out of business, they even purchased their spare coffee bags and used them to pack our beans while we watched.

How to drink coffee the Bosnian way

Learning how to drink Bosnian coffee (or Bosanska kafa) genuinely feels like a rite of passage. While it seems similar to Turkish coffee, there are some differences in the way it’s brewed.

To prepare coffee the Bosnian way, you need to add hot water and ground coffee to a džezva (a traditional long-handled copper coffee pot) and bring it to a boil. Once you see the foam start to rise, you need to remove your džezva from the burner.

Two trays containing Bosnian coffee and a džezva each on a wooden table

When we ordered our coffee at Café de Alma, the girl returned carrying two round iron trays – each holding a džezva, a small cup, a water glass, and some rahat lokum (more commonly known as Turkish delight).

Before you begin to pour the coffee, you should add a few spoonfuls of water to the džezva to make the grounds go to the bottom and mix. Then, you should scoop some foam from the top and place it on the bottom of the cup to give your coffee that extra flavour and kick. After this, you’re free to enjoy your drink with a side of rahat lokum.

There are some minor differences in the way people take their Bosnian coffee. But, one thing everyone agrees on is that you should never put the sludge from the bottom of the džezva in your cup. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a mouthful of gritty, bitter coffee grounds!

Things to look out for in Mostar

Separate bus stations

We were planning a day trip to Medjugorje from Mostar, so I searched for a bus timetable online. That in itself was a struggle, but I eventually managed to find one. We were absolutely certain that the bus was going to make stops at both stations. So, not thinking much about it, we decided to head to the Mostar West bus station as it was slightly closer to our flat.

But, Mostar didn’t get its title of Bosnia’s most divided city for nothing! Turns out, even though all departure times are printed on one timetable, the city’s bus stations are two separate entities. Just our luck, the bus we wanted to catch only stopped at the Mostar East station, so we had to wait an hour and a half for the next one. I double-checked the timetable I had for any fine print that I’d missed, but there was none.

Not sure how we were supposed to know what station to go to – I’m just glad we weren’t time-bound!

Generic timetables

When we wanted to catch a bus from Mostar to Blagaj, it wasn’t hassle-free either. As we walked from one bus stop to another, trying to locate the correct one, I noticed something strange. Every single stop had an identical timetable, from the routes down to the departure times.

It wasn’t until we wasted an hour of our time that we found out why. Turns out, you can see routes for the whole city, not just the buses calling at that exact stop. Also, the times you see are when a bus leaves the first station on the line, not when it departs from your stop! Not confusing at all…

Communication issues

As we were leaving Mostar to go to Split, we found ourselves in a rather stressful situation. We were waiting at the bus station with a group of other travellers, but the only bus there was operated by a local company (ours was meant to be Flixbus) and going in a different direction. We double-checked the destination blind while others asked the driver, but he confirmed it wasn’t the one.

Then, like 15 minutes after the bus departed, an employee approached us and offered to help. When we showed her our tickets, she said the bus that had just been there was indeed our bus.

We started explaining our situation and asked her to rebook our tickets, but she told us there were no more buses leaving for Split that day and that we would have to wait until the next morning. It was nearing 7 am, so we weren’t pleased about it, especially after the lady called the driver and he blatantly denied having spoken to anyone!

We didn’t feel like paying for an extra night in Mostar considering none of this was actually our fault. So, we kept asking if there were any alternative routes and insisted that the bus operator remedies this situation.

Finally, after a good half an hour of back-and-forth conversation, she rebooked us… on a 9 am bus. Yes, turns out there was another bus to Split after all. This one was supposed to be operated by a local company, but a green Flixbus turned up instead. The whole situation was as confusing as it gets, but at least it all ended well.

Moral of the story – be wary and never take no for an answer!


If you had a day in Mostar, how would you spend it?


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