Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city instantly wooed me with its trendy cafes and quaint markets. With so much to do in Sarajevo, it’s a place worth sticking around in. But what would it be like to live in Sarajevo? Allow me to break it down and find out.
Some people call Sarajevo the Jerusalem of Europe, and it certainly lives up to the reputation. The Old Town area that encompasses the bazaar and some of the most important religious monuments in the city is bustling with life. Unlike similar areas around the world, it doesn’t feel overwhelming. West of the eastern Ottoman and Islamic areas of town is the modern Austro-Hungarian side of Sarajevo. Full of interesting restaurants and bars, both sides provide an excellent pedestrian experience. The sprawling city is certainly more than just its lively center. Sarajevo sits in a valley and is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, which means that aside from being in a busy and interesting city, living in Sarajevo would put you close to beautiful mountain hikes. The residential parts of the city crawl up the sides of the nearby mountains, so you could live as close or as far to the nearby nature.
Sarajevo’s cuisine is fairly international. It’s easy to find incredible Bosnian cuisine, but also to enjoy fare from around the world at a good value. Trendy cafes are everywhere serving up the usual modern coffee drinks, and if you’re in the mood for something more traditional, you can have your coffee made in the old Bosnian style with a side of baklava anywhere in Old Town. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of the food we came across, so if I lived in Sarajevo, I don’t think I would easily get tired of the local options. It’s hard not to love a place where you can order a killer plate of pasta carbonara after five or six drinks.
Unless you’re living in the heart of city center, it would probably be advantageous to have a car to live in Sarajevo. The main parts of the city are accessible by a tram line that mostly runs along the river. A bus network also provides transportation to and from out-of-the-way spots like the airport. Though it’s easy to get around on foot in the parts of town you visit as a tourist, as a local, it might not be so pedestrian friendly, especially if your flat is somewhere halfway up a mountain.
Sarajevo is generally fairly affordable, though not quite as so as its southern neighbor, Mostar. Still, a very nice renovated apartment with central heating and air conditioning (a rarity in Europe) could be as little as €400 or €500 a month in certain parts of the city. That’s not a bad deal to live in such a beautiful city with easy access to the Adriatic Sea. Food and drink ranges in price like in any big city. So it’s possible to spend $60 on dinner and drinks, but it’s not your only option. It’s affordable on many different budgets.
You can definitely feel the difference between the people of small town, Mostar, and big city, Sarajevo. Life seems just slightly busier, so people in Sarajevo are a little colder. There’s no rudeness or disrespect; they’re just busy like the residents of any big city. Everyone was still perfectly nice, and I can tell it’s a place where strangers don’t approach you much, which is a big plus in my book.
Health and Safety
For being a big city, Sarajevo feels completely safe and relatively calm. There is an inexplicable number of random dudes hanging around Pigeon Square, but they’re not dangerous. As a resident, that’s probably the kind of place I would avoid anyway, since that’s where tourists go to buy souvenirs. However, one massive hazard to my health is the smoking. As with all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, you can’t go have a meal or a drink without being assaulted by the second-hand smoke of about 13 people. After a day or so, you smell like an ashtray whether you smoke or not. That’s a tough thing to get past for me.
Total Livability Score 5/10
If they changed the laws with regards to smoking, I think it would be amazing to live in Sarajevo. But as it stands, I prefer to enjoy it only as a short-term visitor.