That question, whether or not Sarajevo is safe enough to visit, is one I’m surprised to be writing; nearly as surprising as it was to hear from many curious travelers. Although safety and security are valid concerns worth brushing up on before you visit anywhere, it seems in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, extraordinary worries of war remain but the real concerns are more mundane.
Your Self Is Safe
Sarajevo was the center of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War and endured the longest siege of a capital city since World War II. An important part of their history you should learn about during your visit; I highly recommend a day HYH City Tour which will give you an excellent overview. However, the violence of the Bosnian War is long gone, so much so that according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) violent crime in Sarajevo is not something to be concerned about. The Canadian embassy in Bosnia says the same, which makes sense since both countries have about the same violent crime rate. [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report; Excel]
Less Dangerous Than Belgium But Watch Your Pockets
On the whole, although Bosnia and Herzegovina is safer than Belgium and 73% of all other countries in the world, theft and property crime rates in Sarajevo are high. There are no foreign troops (NATO left in 2005) or snipers in the hills but the effects of a lost generation with 40% unemployment fuels the main threat to travelers in Sarajevo – petty crime such as pickpocketing and purse-snatching.
Those of you driving into Sarajevo should be especially careful as the roads are most likely to get you killed while being mindful not to leave anything in your car. Vehicles with foreign plates are especially tempting targets as are the compartments of day packs tourists like to walk around with. The less interaction you have with the police – advice that goes for anywhere in the world – the better. Corruption among government institutions is rampant as any Bosnian will frustratingly tell you.
The UNODC says if you’re paying a bribe in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s probably to either a cop or doctor. Keep in mind that 40% of Bosnians refuse to pay up to crooked authorities and you should too – but the key is realizing it’s happening first.
Remnants Of War Underfoot
There are an estimated 200,000 landmines scattered across 2.5% Bosnia and Herzegovina, sadly killing 600 locals since the end of the Bosnian War. However, as a tourist the chance of you encountering one is non-existent within the city of Sarajevo and negligent in the surrounding countryside – provided you stick to established trails and heed warning signs.
I hiked up to Sarajevo’s Zuta Tabija (Yellow Fortress) to unexpectedly discover the filming of a Bosnian comedy movie, sticking to the well marked trails. I also visited the site of the discarded 1984 Olympic bobsled tube, again, not wandering off the main paths. As I explored the hills by foot, many locals reminded me to follow that basic advice. If you do too, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
To Answer Your Question: Yes
Crime statistics rarely sound comforting, even if somewhere is 95% crime-free, our minds tend to remember that 5% is not. But like most safe cities in the world, you don’t need more than the usual dose of common sense before visiting Sarajevo. Anecdotally, this city of 297,000 felt much safer than its larger European counterparts, just one more good reason Sarajevo was voted the best to visit in 2012.
Safety, and comfort in it, often comes in numbers. For those of you who’ve been to Sarajevo, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the city, misconceptions you had before going, and what you’d tell someone who might be a little afraid to visit; in the comments below.