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.
I loved Sarajevo and felt very safe there. Plus, the people were some of the friendliest I’ve encountered. However I did write a post about some dodgy tram “officials” trying to extort money out of us for not validating our tickets. Needless to say we argued and argued and finally were let off the hook, but we knew full well that had we been locals the situation would never have escalated like it did.
It’s good you were armed with the right knowledge, I’m guessing they were hoping you’d comply without knowing to put up a fight. (And glad you did!)
I was in Sarajevo in August and I had a great time. I even felt more safe in Sarajevo than in Madrid or Prague. The people are nice and warm too.
So my answer is….yes, it is safe to visit Sarajevo 🙂
There’s an ambiance about Sarajevo that very few large cities have and agree the people are an important part of that recipe 🙂
I stopped in Sarajevo as part of a Globus tour in September this year. It had a great vibe, and I loved how gritty it was. My only regret was not being able to spend more te there. It was one of my favourite places in the seven weeks I spent in Europe.
Hope you get to make a return trip in the near future!
Sarajevo is one of those places very high on my bucket list that I somehow never end up visiting. When it comes to safety, I don’t think anyone should be worried, it is safe to go around the Balkans these days, it’s just the propaganda that created the bad image about the former Yugoslavia. Luckily, this is changing, as more and more tourists visit each year and it is their positive experiences that matter the most.
Conflict can deter travelers long after the fighting has ended, I think that effect can still be seen in the case of Sarajevo. Judging by how many times I was asked about how safe it is actually, I think it’s definitely the case but changing, for the better 🙂
Great article. Good advice. I can’t wait to go to Sarajevo. It’s been on my list for a few years and it’s time to get on with it.
Thanks Corinne, it’s one of my favorite cities and highly recommend a visit, especially in the fall months before it’s too cold. You’ll feel like you have the whole city to yourself 🙂
I have never been to Sarajevo but I have two beautiful girls in my college class who are from there, so I guess I am going to visit this place in the near future.
It is funny that you say Sarajevo is safer than Belgium. I never thought that Belgium could be somehow dangerous.
Sounds like a reason as good as any 🙂 Actually what I was implying is that Belgium is generally regarded (and is relatively) safe. Statistics showing Sarajevo is even safer should only make those who might be nervous more confident to visit.
Interesting article. Sarajevo is definitely next on my list of must travel to destinations. Thank you Anil.
You’re welcome and glad to hear Sarajevo is on your travel list.
Thanks for the article. I’ll probably put Sarajevo in my next trip around the world. I’ve always been amazed by its history!
Sarajevo has quite an interested history in a very small geographical area. I highly recommend the HYH City Tour for a good introduction when you’re there.
Great post and much needed – the idea of somewhere being “dangerous” seems to spread like wildfire online. I’m currently in Nepal even though Wikitravel says it’s “dangerous” to be here this month because of last month’s elections. There have been absolutely no problems and anyone I ask about the “danger” – local or traveler – laughs out loud. Similar to Sarajevo – watch your pockets.
I think it’s a natural reaction – we tend to remember negative things more than positive. A useful survival skill that often has many remembering old wars, rare crimes, and other past events preventing them from traveling to places that are perfectly safe. It’s funny though, it’s those places that always seemed to be safest for me – maybe it’s because we get a bit more aware and then realize we overreacted!
I was actually totally surprised to see this article! I was in Sarajevo back in ’07 or ’08, and I never worried about my safety while there (beside the usual travel precautions). Have things changed since then?
Sarajevo is a place I absolutely adored – cheap food, friendly people, a wonderful mix of east meets west – and it’s on my “must return to” list. I just visited Istanbul for the first time and found a lot of similarities between the two.
Sarajevo is still safe but I think in many people’s minds the memories of war haven’t quite been erased. And the similarities to Istanbul are very vivid, Sarajevo is almost like a mini version of it.
I went to Sarajevo and all surrounding countries — al very very safe!! Our licence plate was stolen by Bosnian-Croatians because the plates where from Serbia (rental car). You probably know how much they hate each other so that was something we could expect.
….I often find safety (or the lack of) a variable that is overestimated when travelling. It shouldn’t be taken into consideration that much. Being continuously cautious can ruin your holiday more than that one petty theft of someone that really needs it (it’s mostly just a few dollars, who cares), just don’t carry anything valuable, nowhere. And, remember that the US crime statistics show that most cities (specific areas, i know) are quite unsafe. (What is familiar mostly seems/ feels safer i would say, so get out there and explore the world)
Foreign license plate theft is pretty common as far as crimes in the city go but sorry to hear it happened to you. Though it definitely sounds like it didn’t ruin the trip and as you say, best to roll with the occasional mishap that can occur anywhere.
Hi Anil, such a great post because I wondered the exact same thing before I went to Sarajevo in September. I fly in from Istanbul and just wasn’t sure what to expect when we landed. Well, we were in Istanbul after the Gezi Park riots/protests so we thought that would be a “dangerous” time to be in Turkey, but it was a-ok.
In Sarajevo I felt extremely safe. Beyond safe. I walked back to my hostel at night which was near the hill with the many cemeteries leading towards the fort you hiked to. The people were very kind and respectful. Even crossing the street I felt safe, where as in Turkey I wasn’t sure if anyone would ever stop to let me cross the street, we were a little baffled when a car yielded and waited for us to cross the street in Sarajevo.
I spent 3 days in Sarajevo, 3 nights in Mostar. Walked at night, no problem. Didn’t feel or sense any hostility towards anyone. Young people were out and about at bars near the old town enjoying themselves. When you’re there you can sense that the Bosniaks want to live passed the memories of war, rebuild and live together in tolerance or harmony. That’s the feeling I got from speaking to different people. In Mostar, there is still a divide and it’s evident from the unequal redevelopment of the city, but as a tourist I felt safe there as well. There is just a lot of sadness in the air, especially when walking by homes that still have sniper bullet holes from the war.
Thank you Susan and interesting you went right after Istanbul, Sarajevo reminds me of a miniature version of it. I appreciate you sharing your experiences of Sarajevo and unfortunately I didn’t make it to Mostar but you’ve got me interested.
I skipped past Bosnia and Herzegovina on my way through Europe which seems a shame. I tend to not worry too much about places that “were” dangerous. I think a lot depends on how you conduct yourself, and your common sense. Good to hear that you report it is safe!
Hopefully you’ll make it next time!
Wow, amazing post. It is true many places appear more “dangerous” than they actual are, many are misunderstood, I believe people want to make you afraid of real travel so you will stick to “safe travel” as many do in their all inclusive resorts. It is to dumb you down and deny you access to mind expanding culture. I was told not to go to Russia, but it was the most amazing trip.
Thank you. I don’t think a travel destination’s reputation is usually that orchestrated however. I suspect that negative thoughts tend to stick longer (and louder) in people’s minds so places that actually were dangerous seem so longer and those that aren’t based on exaggeration of rare events.
I am now hoping to go to Sarajevo early next year, I can’t wait and also hope to visit the abandoned winter Olympic park. We will also be visiting Lviv in Ukraine this year too.
It’s even a bit overreacting about the safety. I was born in Sarajevo and have spent 35 years of my life here and guess what? I honestly don’t know a single person who was pickpocketed.
Property crime does exist in the poorer parts of the city, but as a tourist I don’t think that you will walk through a neighbourhood over 6km from the center (closest suspicios neighbourhood).
And one more thing, unemployment in Sarajevo is significantly lower than in the entire country, it’s around 17%
Thanks so much for this. I am travelling to Serbia and Bosnia in a few weeks, and this has reassured me greatly. Good to be aware of personal property and pickpockets in Sarajevo.
Happy to hear it, have a great trip!
best way to travel from Zadar to Sarajevo Medjugorje Mostar ?????? . myself and my wife are travelling in October flying from Dublin Ireland to Zadar through Bosnia Herzegovina ,Serbia to romania
I’ve not made that trip, though perhaps someone reading this thread can be of help.
Sarajevo is very very safe and immensely beautiful with the most lovely friendly people you can wish for. I have been there many times and look forward to go back
I was in Sarajevo in September 2017 and I had a wonderful time. I was in the entire city (old town, downtown, …) and surroundings such as Ilidža and mountain Bjelašnica. I even felt more safe in Sarajevo than in London, Amsterdam or Munich. People in Sarajevo are cool, kind and warm too. Sarajevo is very safe.
Hi Anil thanks for your post and everyone elses feedback, I was in Bosnia in 94/95 during the troubles and thought then what a beautiful county it was. I had an interpreter whilst I was there and we became good friends but unfortunately lost touch but recently found each other again and I am planning a visit this year and really excited to see the changes oh an not be shot at haha. I will be travelling to Vitez what is that area like now. Thanks again regards
Sounds like a very fascinating chance to see how far Sarajevo has come with your own eyes. Thank you for sharing!