Mostar is a small city located in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s full of old-world character, with its Ottoman style buildings, cobblestoned streets and of course the impressive old bridge. It’s a war-scarred city, having been subject to an 18 month siege between 1992-1993, with both Croat and Serb forces trying to take the city. It’s a really special place and must-visit for the Balkans. Here are some things to do in Mostar that we enjoyed.
The Old Bridge (Stari Most)
The beautiful icon of this city was originally built by the Ottomans in the 16th century (rebuilt after being destroyed during the war.) It’s a steep and slippery stroll across, so be careful! Try to go earlier in the morning or in the evening to avoid the crowds of day-trippers coming from Dubrovnik.
Koski Mehmet-Pasha Mosque
This Ottoman mosque was built in 1617 on the eastern banks of the Neretva river. It has since been renovated many times and had to be completely reconstructed in 2001 after sustaining damage in the war. It’s a small, simple, cosy mosque with a pretty interior.
As a tourist, the most exciting thing about the mosque was being allowed to visit the minaret. I’ve visited a lot of mosques in my time and this was the first time I’ve been on a minaret. The minaret offers 360 degree views of Mostar and really great view of the old bridge.
This isn’t exactly the most authentic mosque. The entry fee is hefty and I wasn’t even required to cover my legs or hair, and there were no restrictions on visiting during prayer times. Maybe Bosnia and Herzegovina is more tolerant and relaxed when it comes to religion, and so they aren’t as strict as the mosques I’ve visited in other countries.
War photos exhibition
In the Western tower of the bridge there was an exhibition of photos taken during the war. You can see the suffering on people’s faces, as well as the community spirit that prevailed. You can see the destruction that you may find difficult to imagine now the streets of the old town are restored and full of tourists.
Tour the surrounding region
Most hostels organise day tours around the region visiting places like Blagaj and Kravice waterfalls. (Post coming soon)
Wander the old town
I was struck by how Turkish the town felt, with the same souvenirs that you can find in the Grand Bazar of Istanbul. Just walking through the pretty streets, chatting with the shop owners, seeing the people, smelling the food, is a perfect way to spend your time. Also the old town is small so it won’t take you long at all.
There’s only one place and one dish to eat in Mostar. It’s cevapi (meatballs in pita bread) from Tima Irma. This mother-daughter duo have mastered the national dish and you will always experience very friendly service here.
The Bosnians drink their coffee Turkish style, just as they do in Montenegro. But somehow it seems slightly different every place you go, so definitely don’t miss a strong cup of kava.
This hotel-museum is a classic example of an Ottoman home. It was very similar to those I saw in Safranbolu, Turkey. The hotel hostess gave us a tour of the house for a few marks. It gave an idea of how a wealthy family would have lived here during Ottoman times. It was interesting learning about the different signs of social status, and how the house was built to have different areas for men and women in traditional culture. It’s also reasonably priced to stay here to experience this place a more intimate level (If I remember correctly it was 90 euros for a double room). Would definitely recommend this if you’re not on a student budget.
Beers by the bridge
You may notice the youth congregating in the evening on the banks of the Neretva, just below the bridge. Grab a couple of beers from a market (and some cigarettes if you really want to fit in) and enjoy the view of the bridge lit up at night, and maybe make some new friends.
Watch the jumpers
Some crazy people like to jump off the bridge. 10/10 would not recommend – It’s very dangerous and you need training and experience before you try it (Local divers are happy to teach you for a fee). However it is really fun watching them stand there working up the guts to do it, and the crowd cheering them on, and feeling relieved when they resurface unharmed.
See the war damage
I know that other European cities like Budapest, Berlin, even London have seen war before and are scarred by it. However, the war in Bosnia happened only 25 years ago, and it is startlingly obvious, particularly along the Eastern side of the bridge. You’ll find it difficult to find a building without bullet marks. And you’ll spot many that are nothing but ruins now. It’s not all depressing. You’ll be inspired by the buildings that have patched up the scars and are now quirky shops, or homes for families. The spirit of the town has not been crushed, they’re rebuilding and moving on.
Street art hunt
Mostar is full of interesting street art. The highlight of which you will find at the Sniper Tower. But there’s plenty to find in other locations of the new town and on ruined buildings. I happened to be there during the Street Art Festival, which meant there were performances and new artworks all over town.
I’ve saved the most fascinating place until last. Over in the new part of town you’ll see what appears to be an extremely ugly, run down building towering over everything nearby. It was once a bank, and probably quite flash and state of the art. However, during war times, its height and location made it the perfect place for the Serbs and Croat forces to shoot at people. This building provides an emotional insight into life during the war.
It hasn’t been cleaned up at all, you can still see the holes in the wall that they used to fire from, as well as relics from its use as a bank, like broken telephones and calculators. If you climb up the precarious staircase and ladder, you can go right up to the top, which will give you a great view of the town.
The building has become the centre of alternative culture in Mostar, as it’s full of street art, and was used for a (pretty fucking weird) performance we saw as part of the annual Street Art Festival.
It’s probably technically illegal trespassing to visit the tower, but there’s no authority monitoring the building. The authorities are certainly aware of its use as a cultural centre, and they’re not doing anything about it so they evidently don’t mind too much. Your hostel receptionist will gladly tell you the location and explain how to enter the building, which is a little tricky.
You have to climb over the wall around the side of the building. You can pile up some rocks and climb up that way. It was getting out that was more difficult. My extremely kind boyfriend had to let me climb onto his shoulders to get me out. So be ready to put your teamwork skills to use here.
I would recommend that you avoid visiting after dark, apparently junkies and alcoholics like to visit at that time. I’d also suggest that you bring a friend, rather than go alone, just incase.
There’s a lot of broken glass and there are no barriers to stop you from falling off the edge of the building, so it isn’t exactly safe. Be super careful.
Where I stayed: Hostel Nina – This place was super cute and homely. The hosts were so nice and happy to give any help or recommendations you might need.
What I’m reading: The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway – An entertaining novel full of action and emotion as well as giving an insight into what life was like during the war.