Mostar was the highlight of my Balkans trip. Of all the places I visited along the way, the very close top three is Sibenik, Sarajevo, and Mostar. Sibenik, Croatia was a lovely break from the hoards of tourists, but Sarajevo and Mostar had that one major factor that really endears me to a place.... and that is that there was so much for me to learn. If I'm being totally honest, Mostar and Sarajevo are basically neck and neck. Mostar had this really calm pace and was entirely walkable, which means I was able to really comb through most of the city. And while not as action-packed as a larger city, there are certainly plenty of things to do in Mostar.
I original learned about Mostar from an Instagram post of the iconic bridge that acts as a centerpiece of the old town. At the time, I knew I wanted to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina (from here on out, I'll be shortening to just Bosnia or BiH), but didn't have much knowledge of the country outside of knowing Sarajevo is the capital and there was a big war there in the 1990s. Because of the limited amount of time I had on my trip (and the fact that I was visiting just after shoulder season in November), I prioritized Sarajevo and Mostar since I knew they wouldn't slow down quite the same way as other places in the Balkans when tourist season was over.
If you've got a little flexibility in your budget, Mostar has some really reasonably priced hotel options. I chose a hostel, as a I usually do when I travelling solo, but I had also spent a little bit more money in Croatia than I had intended. I've found that overspending is something that usually happens when I make friends during a trip.
Hostel Nina is just outside the city canter and was absolutely perfect. It was far enough away that there was no noise, but close enough that it took only about 5 minutes to get to the busy Old Town. Hostel Nina is run by a family and it was nice to stay in a place that felt a little bit more like a home than a big hostel. Breakfast was included and was waiting for me when I woke up. They also run tours, but I didn't have the opportunity to take one because of my limited timeline. They're a little over a mile from the bus station, but it's a straight shot, so very easy to walk.
Regardless of where you choose to stay, consult the owners or staff on their suggestions about things to do in Mostar. If you need some ideas on just how to ask, I wrote this article on the one question I always ask locals.
Things to do in Mostar
Ok, let's jump in! I'll share what I did and then offer some other ideas and link out to where you can get more info!
Take a free walking tour
I found that there were several options for free walking tours, but I went with Mostar Free Walking Tour because their timeline just happened to match up with mine. The tour was great! It covered a lot of ground both in the newer portion of the city and then went down into the old city. Definitely bring money for a tip.
Check out the bank
And by "bank" I mean "bank turned sniper tower." Because of its size and location, it was seized during the siege of Mostar and used by snipers. I knew there was a lot of graffiti art in and on the building, so getting over to see it was a priority for me.
Prior to my visit, I couldn't find any information on whether or not it was legal to enter the building. I still can't find any definitive info, but I think it's not illegal, but is discouraged by the city. But I want to be clear: I'm not certain either way. If you plan to go near the building, definitely wear good sneakers because there is glass everywhere.
One thing I learned on the walking tour was that after the war, there were lots of shards of glass where the windows once were, and strong winds would knock little pieces down and they would hit pedestrians. There is no more glass on the building.
Take a picture with Bruce Lee
As it turns out, in the 70s and 80s, Kung Fu was huge in the region. After the war the city was still divided along ethnic lines. Very briefly: there are a few different ethnic groups in the region, many of which were at odds, to varying degrees, during and since the war. One uniting force is a shared love of Bruce Lee. So, instead of having to fight over which local "hero" (because that would be different for each group), they instead wen't with a the universally non-offensive choice.
I'm also reasonably certain that it's the world's first Bruce Lee statue!
Visit Stari Most (and read all the info plaques)
Fun fact: "stari most" means "old bridge." If you're going to Mostar, its a given that you'll be checking out the bridge, and there's more to do than just walk across and take a few pictures. The history of the bridge is fascinating. It was destroyed during the war, and learning about the restoration was surprisingly interested. Also, it was really kinda heartwarming to read about all the contributions made by other nations to support the rebuilding of the historic bridge.
I don't want to give away too much, but between the walking tour and the plaques, you'll learn just how intense the regulations are regarding the materials and methods used to reconstruct the bridge. Maybe I'm an architecture nerd, but its cool.
Cautionary note: the bridge is made of stone and is super slippery... so wear good shoes and exercise caution. There are footholds, but they're spaced in such a way that they didn't track naturally with my stride and were quite a bit too wide.
Watch the bridge divers
Occasionally you'll see divers standing on the bridge gathering tips, and when they have enough money they'll jump. Bridge dives have been happening for hundreds of years, so its not just a bored local looking to make a little money.
Over the two days I was there, I think I saw two or three divers. I would imagine that if you went during the high season for tourism, the jumps may be more frequent.
Have a coffee by Stari Most
I think that this is one of the more delightful things to do in Mostar. There is a little cafe type place on one end of the bridge. They have a few tables outside the shop. I was lucky enough to snag a free seat I was able to look over the side of the bridge.
Though the view is really pretty, I was extremely confused by how to drink the coffee. And then to pile on, I was too embarrassed to ask because I wanted to seem cool. I think I did ok considering I wasn't able to consult Google. The grounds sit in the bottom of the copper pot, so I just poured reallly slowly so they didn't fall into my cup. While I know I wasn't doing it right, I think I was able to conceal just how perplexed I was.
Shopping in the Old Bazaar
There is a big pedestrian-only segment of the old town that is lined with shops that range from trinkety souvenirs to handicrafts. The older part of the city remains predominantly Muslim and the architecture is leftover from Ottoman rule. If you read my post about Sarajevo and how there is a distinct line that divides the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian influences.... Mostar has a similar divide.
Get 360 degrees of interesting views at Spanish Square
Spanish Square is a very visually stimulating area in Mostar. Onepart of the square has a nice park and a trellised walkwalk with the sniper tower in the background.
The most striking building that denotes the location of Spanish Square is Mostar Gymnasim. t was built between 1898 and 1902 as a school while the region was under the Austro-Hungarian occupation. In an attempt to create a Bosnian national identity and not lean too heavily into the strong Ottoman Empire links to the past, nor the contemporary pan-Slavic movement, they went with an “Islamic architecture of European fantasy.”
Read more in thins Instagram caption!:
View this post on Instagram
Eat burek, but also get some groceries (no, I'm not kidding)
I love burek. While I was in the Balkans i basically existed off different varieties of the delicious, fatty pastry... I would go like 3 or 4 days without even seeing a fruit or vegetable. There is a Konzum market not too far from the Old Bridge, so for lunch one day I grabbed some burek and then went over to the grocery store to get a few pieces of fruit and some vegetables. If you'll be in the Balkans for a while and want to stay budget-conscious, food/produce in Mostar was extremely inexpensive (by my east coast USA standards). This is your chance to avoid scurvy.
Search for street art
Murals, graffiti, and other street art is everywhere in Mostar. The area around the bank and Spanish Square has a ton of murals, but you really can't walk too far without encountering a mural. The only real exception to that being the old town area. Some of the pieces I spotted were created to integrate the bullet holes in the concrete which was very impactful.
Other things to do in Mostar (aka: things I didn't do, but wish I had):
Take the quick trip to Blagaj. I was told by Nina (from the hostel) that I could take a city bus to visit Blagaj. However based off the bus schedule and my limited time in Mostar, I had to skip it - and I regret not stealing time to make it happen. Blagaj is a small village about 20mi/12.5km south of Mostar and is home to a famous monastery nestled into a cliff with a beautiful river running past. It is currently on a tentative list to be considered for UNESCO World Heritage status. You can see some image here!
Visit Kravice Falls. As I understand, they're like Plitvice Falls in Croatia, but a bit smaller and with fewer crowds. I had already visited Plitvice the week prior, so I wasn't super compelled to visit Kravice. That said, I intend to visit BiH again, so I'll definitely make it a priority on the next trip. You can learn more about Kravice Falls here.
Climb the minaret of the Koski Mehmed Pasha’s Mosque. This is another thing that fell off the itinerary duet to time, though images from the top of the minaret made it very tempting. At the time of my visit, it was a €6 combined entry fee to the mosque and minaret.
- Is Bosnia and Herzegovina on your travel list?
- Have you ever visited a place with a recent history of conflict?
- Which of the things to do in Mostar is the most appealing to your travel style? Coffee by the bridge? Exploring the art and bullet holes by the bank? Shopping in the old bazaar?