Cobblestone streets, medieval buildings, stone towers, the stunning arch of the city’s iconic bridge — this is Mostar, rebuilt. The city suffered the most damage during the Bosnian War of the 90’s, with many of its centuries-old structures and buildings completely destroyed. It took years to bring it back to the way it used to be — and though much of the old town has been attentively restored to its former Ottoman-influenced beauty, scars of the conflict can still be seen on its dented walls and rubble hills.
My siblings and I visited the gorgeous reincarnated city in the summer. Though the sun was scorching — it brought out the vividness and colors of the old town. The striking emerald Neretva River flowing through a white-stone town covered by lush greenery makes a perfect picture-postcard view. Come night, bright lights illuminate the town and its many restaurants, shops and the glistening streams. Mostar is absolutely charming.
We spent a whole day visiting most of the sights and attractions in the old town; and allocated the next day to explore more of Herzegovina (Read about it here: Pearls of Herzegovina). We tried to avoid the day-trippers who usually swamp the old town during the late morning as much as possible — and managed to get our own little piece of Mostar to ourselves. So here’s my top 10 list of things to do when you’re in the city, and in the region of Herzegovina.
1. It’s All About the Iconic Stari Mos Bridge
When it comes to Mostar’s Stari Mos Bridge — admire it, cross it, photograph it, learn about it, and witness its traditional spectacle. This UNESCO World Heritage site means ‘old bridge’ in the Bosnian language, and was built in the 16th century during the country’s Ottoman era. It stood for more than 400 years before it was bombarded and destroyed in the 1993 Bosnian War, but was later rebuilt to its former glory. Historical timelines, construction and reconstruction details, as well as an underground passageway of the bridge can be found at the Old Bridge Museum on the left bank of the Neretva River.
The most exciting activity that happens on the bridge is ‘Bridge Diving’, a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Divers jump 20-25 meters into the freezing waters of the river from atop the bridge — there’s even a competition for it! During summer, a diver dives at certain times of the day, and I got to witness this daring demonstration a couple of times — once while crossing the slippery bridge, and a few more times from afar.
2. Admiring the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque
Built in the 17th century, the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque sits along the Neretva River with its tall minaret dominating the skies of old town Mostar. It is another historical landmark that was significantly damaged during the 1993 war, but has been fully restored and its original ornaments and colorful wall decorations carefully preserved. The public are allowed to enter the mosque for a fee, which includes an option to climb the minaret. I took a moment to admire the simplistic interior of the mosque before making my way up the minaret, which is a daunting 89-steps climb up an enclosed narrow spiral staircase. The view at the top however, makes it all worth while — 360-degree views of the old city, the river, the old bridge and beyond. It definitely makes beautiful pictures of Mostar.
3. Soaking Your Feet in the Neretva River
The Neretva River looks beautiful from the Stari Mos Bridge or the riverside restaurants; but for a different perspective of the river, head down to the river banks. The 230km river flows through Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia until it reaches the Adriatic Sea, and is one of the coldest in the world. The emerald green river is crystal clear; and there were many people chilling out, fishing and swimming in the freezing waters during my summer visit. I wanted to take a dip too, but the cold was too much for me so all I could manage was soaking my feet in the water for just a little while. The view from the banks are also spectacular — the Stari Mos Bridge and the old town buildings loom above the river.
4. Visiting Mostar’s Oldest Turkish House
There are three carefully preserved Ottoman-period traditional Turkish houses in Mostar open to the public:- Kajtaz House, Muslibegovic House and Biscevic House. Muslibegovic House is the most popular of the three due to it being a luxury hotel and museum. However, we decided to visit Kajtaz House instead, tucked away in a quiet corner in Mostar’s Muslim Quarter. It once belonged to Mostar’s Turkish governor and his family still owns and runs it — they gave us an interesting insight into their 16th-century ancestral home during our visit. It was fun exploring the many areas of the house — the whitewashed wooden-beamed exterior, the multi-patterned carpets and sofas in the living rooms, and the ancient kitchen with its copper pots and cooking stoves. Kajtaz House is believed to be the oldest Turkish house in the city.
5. Shopping at the Carsija
The čaršija, or the markets and bazaars in Mostar lie on both sides of the Neretva River in the heart of the city’s old town. Both sides of the market are connected by the Stari Mos Bridge, and has a distinct ancient and Turkish feel, influenced by the country’s Ottoman era. I had a lovely time walking along the covered cobblestone streets filled with shops selling traditional Bosnian items like rugs, copper items, leather bags, glass lamps, painted plates and embroidered tablecloths; as well as souvenirs like keychains, magnets and handmade jewellery… and ice cream! The market offers a small glimpse into the traditional Bosnian life — but only in the evening and night when it is not too crowded.
6. Getting a Bird’s Eye View of Mostar from Hum Hill
Not many people bother to visit Hum Hill and its gigantic cross, so it is a relatively secluded spot — it was empty when we visited. The 33-meter tall cross stands dominantly at the tip of the hill and can be seen from almost all over Mostar. It has been a constant disagreement between the Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims on the two sides of Mostar since it was built in 2000. However, the attention should really be focused on the scenery on the way up the mountain, and the beautiful panaromic view of Mostar from the top — just feasting the eyes on craggy mountains, lush greenery, the fast flowing Neretva River, orange-roofed buildings, and the bright blue sky.
7. Discovering the Old Ruins Around Mostar
The recent Bosnian War left much of Mostar and many other places around Bosnia and Herzegovina in ruins. The country has slowly risen from the ashes over the years, but the struggles and pain of its past is still visible — demolished buildings with bullet holes, abandoned graffiti-filled towers and the “Don’t Forget” stone tablets telling the people to never forget. We passed by some known buildings like the Mostar sniper tower (that used to be an old bank) and the crumbling Hotel Neretva. The ruins are really nothing to look at or to visit (it is deserted, somber and dangerous), but it serves as a reminder of the atrocities of war, and a symbol of strength for a country trying to rebuild itself.
8. Savoring the Fantastic Bosnian Food
I absolutely love Bosnia’s unique cuisine, combining influences from the Ottoman period and the country’s traditional culture. The food is mainly meaty, chunky and creamy — absolutely heaven for meat-lovers like me. On our trip to Mostar, we had some of the most scrumptious meals of stuffed vegetables, cevapis (grilled minced sausages), grilled meats… and of course, Bosnian coffee! Sadvran is one of the most popular restaurants in the old town (reservation is recommended) and serves meat and seafood, the Urban Grill offers delicious grills and overlooks the Neretva River; and if you’re looking for unobstructed views of the Stari Mos Bridge, drop by the Terasa Bar for snacks and a glass of Mostar wine or a bottle of Mostarsko Pivo, Mostar’s own beer.
9. Exploring the Herzegovina Region
Herzegovina is filled with so much rustic beauty — from natural wonders like waterfalls and steep cliffs to ancient ruins and hilltop fortresses. A trip to the region is not complete without dropping by some of these stunning and popular sites outside of Mostar. I engaged a private tour guide to bring my group around, and we had a wonderful day out with Herzeg Day Tours. Our 8-hour tour included stops at the tranquil cave-springs town of Blagaj, the stone fortress village of Pocitelj, the ancient Roman ruins of Mogorjelo, the mighty Kravice Waterfalls and a quick drive up Hum Hill. Read more about my Herzegovina adventure here:- Pearls of Herzegovina.
10. Taking the Mostar to/from Sarajevo Train
During my visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sarajevo to/from Capljina (with a stop at Mostar) train system had just been given an overhaul. The train is new and much more comfortable, and seat numbers are written on the tickets (though no one actually follows it and we just sat wherever we wanted). There are 2 trains that leave the cities daily — we sat on the early morning train from Sarajevo to Mostar at 7.01am, and it only took 2 hours. All throughout the journey, we were accompanied by the most beautiful views of the countryside — it was like watching a moving picture of rolling hills, lush valleys, calm flowing rivers and pretty villages. I don’t take many train journeys, but this was one to remember.