You know when you see an image on Pinterest and just the travel lust is real so you pin it to your Travel Inspo board and then move on, sometimes not even knowing where exactly the destination is? That’s what happened with me on the new Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
When in Croatia, I asked friends for any recommendations of places to see and do. Someone responded that I should cross the border and see Mostar. That it would be worth it and was one of her favorites day trips. After a bit of research, I instantly saw the bridge and remembered it had been on my list to see. Digging deeper I realized that the history of the city made it a must for me to do.
Picking Your Tour
When I was in Croatia I used Get Your Guide to pick my tour. A few days later, I found myself one early Saturday morning with Split Excursions. Giddy with excitement and notes on what to see and eat, I was ready! I could not recommend our Tour company enough. They truly care about the customer and the experience. Case in point. Two others who were meant to join us on our tour but couldn’t at last minute because of Visa issues. Instead of refunding us or re-booking us to another day, we ended up still going. Getting all the benefits of a private tour at no extra cost.
Our guide, Andre was incredible. He was passionate about being a guide and knew the answer to ALL the many questions I had. Including a lot of historical and political questions about not only Bosnia but Croatia. He was honest with some very tough topics of the war and perceptions. Making our experience an unforgettable one.
Arriving In Mostar
After about two and half hour drive and going through passport control we found ourselves walking just on the outskirts of the old town. It is there where we met our local guide. The next 45 minutes we were walked around town. We were told not only the history of the city but personal stories of how the war had impacted her and her family.
She has been 10 when the war began and they had to live in a basement because “the shrapnel couldn’t get them there.” Her family went to Norway as refugees but returned when she was 15. She remarked that it was a very different city than the one they had left. It was a very surreal hearing her point of view, listening to the history and learning about the culture when one second you’d look at a wall riddled with bullet holes and the next be learning about how in the old days, if you were served salt in your second cup of coffee that was the host politely asking you to please leave.
To learn more about the Bosnian conflict you can read this BBC article here. It makes a difference to understand the history before visiting Mostar.
When arriving in Mostar be aware they do take euros and the Croatian Kuna but it is at the seller’s conversion rate. I would recommend just taking money out of an ATM. We took out 100 and found it enough to tip, get a great meal (including beer and wine), pay entrance fees and of course for a cup of Bosnian Coffee.
What To See and Do
When you only have a few hours in Mostar I recommend stopping by these places to get a good feel of what the city has to offer. Not only that but they all have a little something different that captures the beauty and history of Mostar.
Stari Most – The Old Bridge
Probably one of the most photographed bridges in the world, the Stari Most is truly a breathtaking sight. It is one of those even better in person moments! The original bridge was built during the Ottoman Empire as a way to make trade easier and was designed by the renowned architect Sinan. During the 1990’s conflict, like most of the historic, old town the Old Bridge was completely destroyed. Our guide, Andre says he believe it was destroyed not as a strategic one ploy. But, that the Old Bridge was very much symbolic to the Muslims in the city. So by destroying it, they were sending a more personal message.
UNESCO, along with other international organizations and countries helped raise the funds to reconstruct the Old Bridge in the late 90s. The bridge was built using the same materials as close as possible and even included a few of the original stones! When on the bridge, you’ll be able to see and feel the original stones. Be careful when crossing, as they stones are smooth and it does go steep making it slippery (in fact a lot of the sidewalks or slippery so I would recommend wearing shoes with a bit of friction on them… aka NO FLIP FLOPS).
In 2004, the new bridge was completed. When the bride was reconstructed it was very much done as a symbol reconciliation and of the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities as stated by UNESCO.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the bridge is not just the color of the water or the bridge jumpers but that when the sun hits it just right, an infinity circle is made… Do you see it below?
To see the bridge there are multiple viewpoints but the best one involves a trip to the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque which I talk about below.
Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque
No trip to Mostar is complete without a visit to the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque. It is about 5-minute walk from the Bridge and though the courtyard is free, I recommend paying the fee to not only view the inside of the Mosque but also climb the tower for the most incredible birds-eye view of Mostar.
BEWARE! The climb up the Mosque Tower is VERY NARROW, steep and at times a little dark. If you are claustrophobic, I would do a few breathing exercises because honestly, the view from the top is worth the slight panic attack. I took it slow and was lucky that no one was trying to come down as I was going up. When you do reach the top, try not to look down (but why would you with a view like this in front of you!). Also, if you are wearing a backpack, I’d carry it in your hands because wearing it does mean you’ll scrap it against the wall.
Insiders Tip: For a great picture uninterrupted with the Old Bridge in the background make sure to go to your immediate left when leaving the Mosque through a gate. There you will see the bridge and be able to have a mini photoshoot like the one I did (thanks, Sean!). This area is only available for those who paid to go into the Mosque but it seems like most didn’t know about this area and we had it to ourselves.
To visit this beautiful city and not learn about its traditional customs is a no, no. I recommend getting a guide (though if you travel with the tour company I talked about earlier, one will be provided). Here, you will see how houses used to be in the old days including traditional clothing, furniture and the layout of houses. It won’t take you very long to do but, it will help you understand the cultural side of the country.
What To Eat and Drink
For a great view of the jumpers off the old bridge PLUS a great cup of coffee, read the next part very carefully. When you are on the Old Bridge coming from the new town to cross, you will see stairs immediatly to your left. GO UP THEM. Go past the door of the diving club and up a flight to a little coffee shop. There are only 4-6 tables in there. Try to get the one in the far left corner for the best view. It overlooks the Bridge plus the man who runs the place is a character, full of funny stories and will tell you exactly how to drink the coffee. Trust me, you don’t want to drink it straight. FOLLOW THE STEPS HE TELLS YOU.
There are only 4-6 tables in there. Try to get the one in the far left corner for the best view. It overlooks the Bridge plus the man who runs the place is a character! He is full of funny stories and will tell you exactly how to drink the coffee. Trust me, you don’t want to drink it straight. FOLLOW THE STEPS HE TELLS YOU.
Food, Glorious Food.
There are pletny of places to eat in Mostar from places right on the water, to the little hole in the walls thoughout the city. We ate at Hindin Han and were very happy with the food and the price. It’s about 5-minute walk from the Bridge and they have a wonderful outdoor eating place. No matter where you end up eating in Mostar, I recommend ordering cevapi. It is a must! Make sure to ask for lots of chili sauce.
The origin of Cevapi is a little bit iffy. The very diverse and many states in the Balkan region from Serbia, to Bosnia, and Croatia, to name a few—each lay claim. Cevapi is a grilled dish of minced meat, a type of skinless sausage, served with bread and chili sauce. If you are not driving, I recommend ordering a glass of Bosnian white wine. It really does have a unique taste. That and I’m not sure you can get it anywhere else in the world.
Last but not least, no day trip to Mostar is complete without a visit to the Kravice Waterfalls. It’s a bit of a trek down (but the path has benches to catch your breath). For the more adventurous, you can swim. Sadly, we did not as the water was a little too freezing for us (traveling in off-season problmes). To really understand why this a the perfect way to end your day trip to Mostar, I’m going to show you why. Not tell you. Just look at them!!!
Overall, Mostar is a gorgeous city in an unbelievably beautiful country but it still very much a city divided. It’s a drastic contrast walking by a new building to then be followed by one riddled with bullets. To look up and see holes in walls that had been created by grenades. If you are ever able to visit this city you must. It’s full of history, delicious food, and kind people. More importantly, a reminder about war and its impact long after the bullets and bombs have stopped. I look forward to returning and learning more in the future.