Despite its name, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a single country, which became independent from Yugoslavia after a referendum in 1992, leading to a four-year war.

Physically, it’s a stunningly beautiful country with green mountains lapped by turquoise rivers, clusters of white houses topped with orange tile roofs, vineyards, and waterfalls. It has a fascinating mix of eastern and western cultures and religions that is unique in Europe.

But is it safe to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina now? And is it safe to travel as a solo woman in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

The short answers are YES and YES!

My experience as a solo woman in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Rather than give you dry statistics of why Bosnia and Herzegovina is safe, let me describe what happened to me during my 6-day visit to this country last May.

Arriving in Mostar

Arriving at the Mostar bus station in the early afternoon, I had a humongous beef salad at a nearby restaurant, which happened to have a gorgeous view from its patio. My waiter was polite and friendly, and didn’t blink an eye at the sight of a solo female traveller. My energy replenished, I walked the two kilometres to my B&B. (I always prefer walking instead of taking taxis.) This walk was quite pleasant, on flat ground, with sidewalks most of the way. Being mid-afternoon, the streets were quiet, with locals hanging out in coffee shops and running errands. I could have been anywhere in Europe.

View from the restaurant where I ate lunch, a few minutes from Mostar's bus station (solo woman in Bosnia)

View from the restaurant where I ate lunch, a few minutes from Mostar’s bus station

As I learned later, the side of the Boulevard I was on is now the Croat side, which explains the church with the tall bell tower I passed on the way. (Croats are Catholic.)

I found my B&B, a brightly painted orange building, without any problems. The owner welcomed me like a long lost friend. Before letting me go up to my room, he asked if I wanted to drink something (water, tea, coffee) and then spent 15 minutes showing me what to visit on a town map.

Every time I went out or came down for breakfast, he asked me if everything was well or if I needed anything. Very sweet man. His wife didn’t speak much English, but she was also very gracious.

Visiting Mostar on my own

About 10 minutes walk from my accommodation was the Old Town of Mostar with its centrepiece, Stari Most (Old Bridge). This whole area was a lot busier and more commercial than I had expected. Lots of tour groups come through here for a couple of hours before moving on.

Cobblestones and shops in the Old Town of Mostar (solo woman in Bosnia)

Cobblestones and shops in the Old Town of Mostar

In the early evening, the Old Town feels a lot more peaceful, but there are still enough people milling around that you feel safe on your own, even after dark. One night I didn’t get back “home” until about 11 PM and didn’t experience any harassment or shady behaviour.

Highlights of Mostar

It’s a picture of the Old Bridge that originally made me want to visit Mostar, so of course this was top of my list. The original bridge was built by the Ottomans in 1566, but it was destroyed during the war. What you see now is an exact replica constructed in 2004. When I first stumbled upon it, at close range, I was a bit underwhelmed. To fully appreciate it, you need to look at it from a distance, juxtaposed against the buildings, river, and mountains. Read this to learn exactly where to go for the best views and photos of Stari Most.

View of the Old Bridge (Mo star) from another bridge (solo woman in Bosnia)

View of Mostar’s Old Bridge from another bridge

One of these spots is actually the top of the minaret of the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque in the Old Town, a small 17th century mosque which is open to non-Muslims visitors. The privilege will cost you 6 Euros though. If you’ve been inside a mosque before, you probably won’t be blown away, but the views from the top of the minaret are worthwhile (if you don’t suffer from vertigo).

Besides this, there isn’t much in the Old Town other than souvenir shops, tourist restaurants (good value as the servings are huge), and a couple of small bland museums.

Make sure to spend some time in the newer part of town, especially on the Bosniak side (north of the Boulevard). Here you will see several ruined buildings scrawled with graffitis, that haven’t yet been rebuilt. Near Španski Trg (Spanish Square) is the husk of an 8-storey former bank building nicknamed “Sniper Tower” for obvious reasons.

Ruins along the boulevard in Mostar (solo woman in Bosnia)

Ruins along the boulevard in Mostar

Along the street just north of the Old Town, I also came across a cemetery located next to a mosque, filled with white tombstones. I got a little chill as I noticed that the year of death on most of those was 1993 (the year Mostar was under siege).

Cemetery in Mostar (solo woman in Bosnia)

Cemetery in Mostar

You must also visit the Kajtaz House, a 16th century Turkish residence with typical architecture and period furnishings which still belong to the original family. I was lucky to arrive just as a group was coming out, and I got a private tour (included in my 2-Euro admission). The man who showed me around said that his grandmother was the last resident of the house. He offered me a rose-infused cold tea, and spent a good 45 minutes touring me around and explaining everything in perfect English.

A 500-year old book in a 16th century Turkish house (Kajtaz House) (solo woman in Bosnia)

A 500-year old book in Kajtaz House

The highlight of the visit? I got to touch (and even flip the pages of) a 500-year old Turkish book!

My day trip around Herzegovina

The area around Mostar has several attractions which are difficult to visit on your own unless you have a car. For a solo traveller, a good option is joining a day tour of Herzegovina which will stop at Kravice Waterfalls, Blagaj, and the scenic village of Pocitelj. (Međugorje is also sometimes included, but unless you’re a fan of Christian miracles and churches, you can give it a miss).

For 30 Euros, I joined a tour led by Žika of Hostel Nina, which was very good value. On that day, I was alone on the tour with Alex, a young woman from Australia, so we went in Žika’s car. It was a full day trip (from about 10 AM to 6 PM) and besides seeing the sights mentioned above, our guide told us about his war experiences, as a 17-year old. He was very open about it and willing to answer our questions.

Kravice waterfalls near Mostar (solo woman in Bosnia)

Kravice waterfalls near Mostar

Alex told me that she was travelling around Europe for several weeks and hadn’t told her mom she was coming to Bosnia! I heard that from several other young solo women as well. Despite the fact that the Balkans War has been over for more than 22 years, most people of a certain age still associate the name “Bosnia” with violence and danger. Although being there now, admiring the beautiful architecture and countryside, and talking to the friendly locals, this fear seemed strangely incongruous.

After the tour, Žika invited us to go to his Backpacker’s bar that night. I showed up around 9:30 PM. It was a quiet night, and he introduced me to two Canadian women in their 30s with whom I chatted for a while. No, they hadn’t told their mothers that they were here either. We laughed. When I left, Žika told me that my cherry liquor (a specialty of the region) was on the house!

Hiccup arriving in Sarajevo

The bus ride from Mostar to Sarajevo takes about two and a half hours and crosses some beautiful landscapes of green mountains and turquoise rivers.

However, upon arriving in Sarajevo, I learned that the apartment I had booked online had suddenly developed “water issues” and that my booking was cancelled. I was not happy about it, but within an hour I had found Guesthouse Kandilj on, 10 minutes walk away from the original place, and even closer to the Old Town. I was welcomed with a typical Bosnian coffee served under a vibrant red rose bush. And so began my visit of Sarajevo.

Having Bosnian coffee under a rose bush in Sarajevo (solo woman in Bosnia)

Having Bosnian coffee under a rose bush at my guesthouse in Sarajevo

My introduction to Sarajevo on a free walking tour

On the following morning, I joined 15 other people on a free walking tour around Sarajevo. There I met another solo traveller, a British woman in her mid-30s called Dayna. Yes, you guessed it, she hadn’t told her mother that she was here either!

Our guide on this tour was Neno, a young man who was only a kid during the war. He told us about the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, the longest in modern history, which he spent hiding in a basement with other families. I learned even more about the conflict, as well as other interesting bits in Sarajevo’s history, such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 which ignited World War 1. (There is now a museum dedicated to this event on the very spot.)

Highlights of Sarajevo

First of course, go on the free walking tour to get an introduction to the city.

Spend some time within the pedestrian Old Town, which feels like a mini Istanbul with its many mosques, shops, and restaurants where you can try Bosnian specialties like ćevapi and burek. (The food is very meat-oriented in Bosnia.) And unlike Istanbul, it’s not hard to find alcohol here. The country produces its own wine and beer. If you like history museums, check out the Brusa Bezistan Museum as well.

Inside the Old Town of Sarajevo (Baščaršija) (solo woman in Bosnia)

Eating and drinking inside the Old Town of Sarajevo (Baščaršija)

The New Town has a totally different feel, having been built during the short Austro-Hungarian era from 1878 to 1918. Here you find Art Nouveau buildings, wide streets, trams, modern coffee shops, and a mixture of Catholic and Orthodox churches. If you’re not too sensitive, don’t miss the Galerija Srebrenica (in English: Gallery 11/07/95) a memorial museum about one of the worst massacres of the war.

New Town of Sarajevo with a Catholic church in background (solo woman in Bosnia)

New Town of Sarajevo with a Catholic church in background

Unlike Mostar, there is very little war damage left in Sarajevo. One place that hasn’t been restored is the house that used to hide the start of an 800-metre long tunnel under the airport runway. For over four months, 200 men dug a tunnel linking the safe area where the United Nations delivered food and supplies, to the occupied city. This house is now the Tunnel Museum, and a 25-metre section of the tunnel remains for visitors to experience. (It’s only about 1.5 metres high so you have to bend down.)

Are there any dangers in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

While Mostar and Sarajevo (the two main cities) have been mostly rebuilt and are safe to wander around, there are still unexploded landmines in the mountains. Only walk on marked paths, or even better, go with a guide. Venturing inside ruined buildings is probably not a great idea either.

View of Mostar from the mountains (solo woman in Bosnia)

View of Mostar from the mountains, which used to be Serbian positions!

As I hope I’ve illustrated with my stories, Bosnians go about their daily lives and are very welcoming to visitors. Nobody takes special notice of solo female travellers. Despite the fact that a majority of people identify as Muslims, the form of Islam found here is a lot less strict than in the Middle East, and many Bosnian Muslims don’t practice their religion. They consider themselves Europeans first and Muslims second, and this is exactly what it feels like.

I also heard and read that unemployment among youth is over 55% in Bosnia, one of the highest in the world. Young people are now leaving in droves and emigrating to Western Europe, North America, and Australia in search of work. But despite this high level of unemployment, I didn’t hear any stories of pick-pocketing or muggings, and the streets always felt safe. I wonder if this is due to people supporting and helping each other out, like they had to do during the war.

What to know about Bosnia and Herzegovina

Here is a little bit of practical information about the country.

Culture and religion in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The country is home to three main ethnic groups. Bosniaks (Muslim) are the largest group of the three, with Serbs (Orthodox) second and Croats (Catholic) third. A native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of ethnicity, is called a Bosnian.

The main religion is Islam, followed by Christian Orthodox, and Catholic. There are about 1000 Jews as well. Islam came from the Ottoman occupation, which lasted around 400 years. Some parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as the Old Town of Sarajevo, have a very Turkish appearance and atmosphere.

Inside the Old Town of Sarajevo (Baščaršija) (solo woman in Bosnia)

The Old Town of Sarajevo (Baščaršija)

Some Muslim women wear a headscarf in public, and some don’t. Some mosques are open to visitors, but I managed to arrive during Ramadan when non-Muslims can’t visit the mosques, so I’m not sure how strict they are about dress. Women should bring a head scarf if they intend to visit mosques, just in case.

Language in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The official language of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Bosnian, which is a variant of Serbo-Croatian (just like Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian). People in the tourism industry also speak good English, especially in the cities. Restaurant menus come with an English translation as well. Both Roman and Cyrillic alphabets are used on maps, street signs,and so on.

Currency in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina uses the Bosnian Mark (BAM) also called Convertible Mark (KM). Two Marks are equivalent to one Euro. You can easily withdraw local currency from ATMs in the cities.

Latin Bridge leading into the Old Town of Sarajevo (solo woman in Bosnia)

Latin Bridge leading into the Old Town of Sarajevo

Where to go in Bosnia and Herzegovina – a one week itinerary

I was in Bosnia and Herzegovina for only 6 days, but one week would be a good length of time for a first visit. A one-week Bosnia itinerary could include two full days in Mostar, one day touring the sights around Mostar (such as Kravice waterfalls, Blagaj, and the village of Pocitelj), three days in Sarajevo (including the Tunnel Museum day trip), and one day hiking in the hills around Sarajevo.

Recommended guidebook: the Bosnia and Hercegovina chapter of Lonely Planet Eastern Europe.

Still not sure if you should go?

Now is a great time to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, while it’s peaceful, affordable, and still off-the-beaten-path from mainstream tourism.

Tourism also helps provide jobs and keep young people in the country. And the youngest generation is the best hope for lasting peace.

As a solo woman in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I didn’t have any unpleasant experiences that were related to my gender. I would even say that the country felt safer than lots of places in Europe. In fact, other than the cancelled booking in Sarajevo, I didn’t have any bad experiences at all!

However, if you feel a little unsure about going by yourself, you can find a variety of tours to Bosnia and Herzegovina here.

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