Halal-friendly holidays in Sarajevo
Sarajevo is fast emerging as a top choice for halal holidays. It ticks two important boxes since it is a fantastic city break destination for Muslims, and is also within easy reach of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s beautiful countryside. Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The historic centre of this picturesque city is surrounded by rolling, green hills. It is an intriguing blend of East and West, drawing from its rich heritage at the heart of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Although many of its grand Imperial buildings were damaged during the Yugoslav wars, they have now largely been restored to their former glory. Reminders of that difficult time still remain, however, and those who are interested can visit places dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives.
Why is Sarajevo a great choice for a halal-friendly holiday?
Just over half of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina is Muslim, which means that the local people have an excellent understanding of the needs of their Muslim guests. Halal food is readily available and there are plenty of alcohol-free restaurants. Stay in the city of Sarajevo to explore its rich Islamic heritage or head into the surrounding countryside to discover verdant countryside, dramatic mountains, cascading waterfalls and enchanting castles. Wherever you visit in and around Sarajevo, you are sure of a very warm welcome from your hosts.
The history of Sarajevo
During its rich and chequered history, Sarajevo has been ruled by three Empires: the Western Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; before becoming part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and subsequently the capital of the independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was during the prosperous time of the Ottoman Empire that many of the local population converted to Islam, and it was in this period that many of its most impressive mosques and other monuments were built.
Sarajevo has a reputation for being at the centre of conflict. It was famously, in Sarajevo, close to the Latin Bridge, that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated by a Bosnian Serb nationalist in 1914, triggering the start of the First World War.
Sarajevo was also at the heart of the Yugoslav Wars, which broke out after the fall of Communism, due to conflict between the different ethnic groups: Serbs, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks. It has the dubious honour of having suffered the longest siege in modern warfare from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996.
Must-see places in Sarajevo:
Sarajevo is a city where east meets west and this is reflected in its diverse cultural identity. Sarajevo has been a cosmopolitan city throughout its history and is home not only to mosques but also a Catholic Cathedral, Orthodox churches and Jewish synagogues.
Here are some of the top places to visit and things to do on a Muslim friendly holiday in Sarajevo:
- Old Town of Bascarsija
- Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and Medresa
- The Emperor’s Mosque
- Vrelo Bosna
- Clock Tower
- Tunnel Museum
- Sarajevo City Hall / National Library
- Take the Cable Car to Mount Trebevic
- Grave of Alija Izetbegović in the Kovači War Memorial and Cemetery
Old Town of Bascarsija
A visit to the atmospheric Old Town of Bascarsija is a must. At its heart is the old bazaar area - its name derives from the Turkish for ‘main market’ – a great place to search out souvenirs. Pale stone alleys open on to grand squares with Ottoman mosques and the travellers’ inns known as Caravanserai, which have now mostly been turned into charming restaurants, serving halal food.
Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and Medresa
The Ottoman governor, Gazi Husrev Begova, was responsible for many of the finest buildings in the old town of Sarajevo. He was the grandson of Ottoman Sultan Bayazit II and was appointed by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. He set up a charitable foundation to maintain his buildings and provide for the poor, which still continues his work even today. The 16th century Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it is still the main congregational mosque for the local community. He also founded a Medresa in 1537, to provide for the education of the local people, which houses an interesting museum.
Opposite the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque is the 16th century clock tower, which displays what is believed to be the world’s only surviving public lunar clock. The clock face itself dates from 1876, when it replaced the original Ottoman clock face, which had become broken. It shows the lunar time and is set according to sunset to show the five daily Islamic prayer times, salat.
The Emperor’s Mosque
The Emperor’s Mosque, also known as Careva Dzamija was the first mosque to be built after the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia in 1457. It was originally built of wood, but was subsequently destroyed and rebuilt in 1565.
Ilidza is an attractive suburb of Sarajevo, which is also a good choice for a halal-friendly holiday. It is known for its beautiful natural environment so is perfect for those who want to get away from it all. Nearby is the public park, known as Vrelo Bosne, which is situated at the spring of the Bosna River. It’s a lovely place to escape from the city and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery – if you don’t feel like walking, you can tour the park by horse and carriage. More info at official B&H tourism website.
This museum is a poignant reminder of the period from 1992-1995, when Sarajevo was under siege by hostile Serb forces. During this time no one and nothing could get in or out of the city. In fact, this hand-dug tunnel was the only way to enter and exit the city.
Sarajevo City Hall
Make sure you visit Sarajevo City Hall known as Vijećnica, which was built in 1898. Its grand Austro-Hungarian façade follows the Moorish style. It became the National Library in 1949 and was completely destroyed in 1992 due to Serbian shelling during the Siege of Sarajevo. It has been beautifully restored and reopened in 2014 and has a stunning stained glass ceiling.
Take the Cable Car to Mount Trebevic
Take the cable car from the centre of Sarajevo up to the top of the beautiful green mountain. The cable car was originally constructed in 1959 to connect the old town with the Olympic mountain and has recently begun operating again. It’s a great place for a walk or from which to enjoy panoramic views over the city.
Grave of Alija Izetbegović in the Kovači War Memorial and Cemetery
Visit the grave of the first President of the Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina who requested to be buried amongst the martyrs in the Kovači War Memorial and Cemetery. In March 1992, his declaration of independence was followed by the horrific war in Bosnia. In November 1995, together with the then presidents of Croatia and Serbia, he signed the Dayton Peace Agreement, which formally marked the end of hostilities. Many Muslims choose to pay their respects to the “Wise King of Bosina Herzegovina” also widely referred as “father” and pray here at the Martyrs’ Memorial Cemetery for the victims who died in this senseless war.
Halal Hotels in Sarajevo
If you love natural beauty and want somewhere to get away from it all then consider a stay at the Pino Nature Hotel. It is beautifully situated in the foothills of the Trebevic Mountain, only 15 minutes’ drive from the Old Town of Sarajevo. It is an alcohol-free hotel, which only serves halal food. Its spa centre is the perfect place to relax and has an indoor pool which is dedicated for the use of women only at certain times of the day.
Another popular Sarajevo halal hotel is the Malak Regency Hotel. It is another ‘dry’ hotel, which is completely alcohol-free, and it serves only halal food. Its popular spa centre boasts a hammam and fitness room as well as an indoor pool, which is open for women only at specified times of the day.
If you prefer to have the freedom of self-catering accommodation, you may decide to stay in a halal-friendly villa or apartment in Sarajevo. This is a particularly convenient choice for families with children. You can choose from contemporary architecture or a more traditional style. Some halal villas also have their own private swimming pool, which offers privacy for you and your family, and is not overlooked in any way. If you are looking for a villa in Sarajevo, Villa Glamour would be a good choice. This glamorous villa with private secluded indoor swimming pool, also offering luxurious interior, sauna, fitness room and an amazing view of Sarajevo from its terrace.
Alternatively, the alcohol-free Sarajevo Resort offers the best of both worlds. It is a collection of stylish apartments and villas set around a beautiful lake in the midst of rolling countryside, with stunning mountain views, which are ideal for families of all sizes. It offers a wealth of sporting and leisure amenities, including an indoor pool which is open for mixed use, women-only or men-only at set times. It is situated in the rural area of Osenik, which is convenient for the airport and just 35 minutes drive from central Sarajevo.
Halal Food in Sarajevo
The narrow streets of Sarajevo’s old town of Bascarsija are a good place to look for excellent halal food. You may even find yourself dining in the splendid setting of an Ottoman caravanserai, or travellers’ inn!
You will find that many restaurants, especially in this part of Sarajevo, are owned and run by Muslims. Many restaurants here are alcohol-free, most of the meat served is halal, and it would be very unusual to find anything else on the menu. Even if they are not Muslim themselves, locals are very used to catering for the requirements of Muslim visitors. Although it is not customary for restaurants here to have official halal certifications, there are more than 90 companies producing halal food in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so it is extremely easy to find. In fact, the tasty halal food is definitely one of the reasons that Muslim holidaymakers find themselves returning to Sarajevo!
Eating out is great value for money and halal food in Sarajevo is absolutely delicious, from succulent kebabs, to flaky filo pastry and hearty soups. Many of the mouth-watering local dishes have their origins in the rich cuisine of the Ottoman Empire. Sarajevo is known as the food capital of the Balkans and the halal food is sure to be a highlight of your stay in Sarajevo!
Top 5 Halal Dishes to Try in Sarajevo
These tasty kebabs, which are a variation on the Turkish köfte, are made from minced lamb, beef or veal, which is baked in a traditional charcoal oven. They are usually served in flat bread accompanied by sour cream and onions.
Introduced during the Ottoman Empire, this syrupy dessert is made from apple boiled in sugar and stuffed with walnuts, served with syrup and whipped cream.
This flaky filo pastry is served stuffed with cheese, spinach or meat. The traditional form in Sarajevo is a long, thin pastry ‘snake’, which is filled with meat and shaped into a spiral. It is cut and served in sections.
This hearty dish consists of Bosnian steamed dumplings, filled with lamb, beef or cheese and served with a sauce made from garlic or yoghurt.
These little balls of fried dough resemble doughnuts filled with savoury or sweet fillings. Each place has its own recipe using meat, cheese, jam or honey. A delicious snack at any time of day!
Sarajevo’s Café Culture
There’s no doubt, that in Sarajevo, coffee is the most important drink of the day. Served thick and strong in the Turkish style, it’s traditional to chew your sugar alongside your coffee, rather than dissolving it in the coffee itself. For a change, try the traditional Turkish drink, dating back to Ottoman times, of salep, made from hot milk flavoured with cinnamon and ground orchids.
In hot weather you will find the salty yoghurt drink known as ajran extremely refreshing.
Shopping in Sarajevo
The currency in Sarajevo is the Bosnian Mark and you will find that most places prefer to accept cash rather than cards. Shopping is good value for money and there are some great places to browse. If you’re in the Bascarsija area of the old town, then don’t forget that it is usual to haggle for goods. Make sure you look around before deciding what to buy, as there’s plenty of choice.
Those who prefer designer brands or international goods should explore the shopping malls in Sarajevo, including the BBI Shopping Center, Sarajevo City Center and Alta Shopping Center. Whatever your tastes, you are sure to find that shopping is a highlight of your halal-friendly holiday in Sarajevo.
What to buy in Sarajevo:
Copperware – on Kazandziluk or Coppersmiths’ street in Bascarsija, you can see copperware being made in front of you. Great souvenirs of your halal-friendly holiday include a Turkish coffee set or a beaten copper tray.
Slippers – whether you prefer the cosy, hand-knitted variety or the distinctive pointy-toed slippers, they make great souvenirs to take home as a reminder of Sarajevo.
Art – what better to remind you of your Sarajevo halal holiday than a local scene painted or drawn by a local Bosnian artist? Many street artists sell their wares on the roadsides in Bascarsija – find one which takes your fancy!
Clothes - the pedestrian street of Ferhadija leads off Bascarsija. It’s a great place to look for clothes – those by local designers are especially good value.
Carpets and kilims – the Ottomans brought their carpet-making skills to the Balkans, which have been adapted to local tastes over the centuries. The bazaars are full of beautiful local patterns and colours.