When you move from the wide metropolictic streets of central Sarajevo, lined with tall buildings, to the cobbled, pedestrianised lanes of the Old Town (or Stari Grad as it is known there), you feel like you’ve moved into an entirely different area. With a traditional feel of local trade, mixed with the Eastern vibes from the mosques, and a dash of unorthadox cuisine thrown in, it creates this new side of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city.
By day, typical tourist trade is found here, with stalls selling exactly the same kind of things, all with a similar Turkish influence – lanterns, rugs and Turkish coffee pots. It’s an easy place to just stroll around and browse through the different trinkets on offer.
As well as this style of shopping experience, there are a few places which look like little tea houses, with low, metal ornate tables surrounded by plump cushioned stools sitting outside a cafe. You can order grand and ornate pots of tea whilst you watch people walk by. Likewise, I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to find a shisha bar round here to stay in one afternoon. It is a highly Muslim area, and you will most likely walk past a couple of mosques if you keep exploring, so shishas are popular in these places as they can’t drink alcohol. However, it is perfectly acceptable to order a beer regardless of many of the locals not drinking it.
Speaking of mosques, the most famous is Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, which has a courtyard in front that is interesting to peer into and see the locals go about their business (obviously don’t stand there gawping forever, but you wouldn’t be the first person to stop and have a quick peek). It is one of the most important buildings in Sarajevo so worth a look if you like seeing impressive structures.
For lunch there are a few bakeries and Arabic restaurants about in the Old Town. For a real experience, I would head to a place that looks interesting and where you can’t read the menu. Ask the waiter (if he/she speaks your language) to bring the main dishes he thinks best, or just point to something on the menu, many of which have food pictured. This method can be hit or miss, but I certainly found a hit when I was bought a nice selection of dishes, none of which I had tried before but something I’d look for again (not that I know what on earth it was called – good luck, Emma).
At night the Old Town is a different story. There are certain parts which seem completely empty, and I started to wonder whether anything went on there at all at night. Then I started to hear loud music, and turned a corner onto a tiny street which was entirely packed full of people on both sides, grappling for seats and standing space. It was impossible for me to squeeze in anywhere so I carried on walking and found a bar nextdoor which was much quieter. It was five minutes later that I realised this place was more chilled as it was a Muslim bar so didn’t serve alcohol. Not to sound too much like I have a drinking problem, I really did want a beer, so quietly slinked off. This is one thing to look out for when you want a night out, and the sad truth is that if you see a packed bar, that’s the one serving the booze.
A place I would definitely recommend in the Old Town to eat is To Be or Not to Be restaurant. This place is constantly found on ‘not-to-be-missed’ lists in Sarajevo, and for a very good reason. A tiny 10(ish) table restaurant with an even smaller kitchen, one woman cooking and one waiter doing his utmost to make sure your every need is met. I was put upstairs as it was busy, but the waiter told me he would come and take me downstairs once a table was ready. Minutes later he did just that, and I sat on a table outside, basking in the atmosphere, next to the little green dorrs and red and white checkered table cloths. The menu contains plenty of exotic food like squid ink risotto and gorgonzola veal – each up to impeccable standards. These guys create a perfect atmosphere of good, honest business with scrumptious results.
Just walking through the streets at night and seeing these buildings light up alone is an attraction to one of the best old towns I’ve seen. By day it still has it’s charms, of course, and isn’t too crammed to become irritated with tourists, but by night the lanes become (mostly) quiet and magical, where you can hear your own footsteps and take your time to breathe in the architecture.