8 Things to Do in Mostar That Make it More Than Just a Day Trip

Surrounded by massive mountains with the aqua-blue Neretva River running through it and a remarkable stone bridge, the old town in Mostar looks very much like a fairytale. It’s a city that doesn’t get as much attention as some of its Balkan neighbors; yet, its diverse ethnic makeup, complicated past, and lingering Ottoman influence make it a rich travel experience worth more than just a few hours. Though still recovering from the devastations of a war only as old as I am, restoration efforts have come a long way, and the city offers picturesque views, alluring activities, and unique learning opportunities for the curious traveler.

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What I loved about Mostar is that when I arrived from Split in Croatia, I felt like I had traveled much further than three hours. Reminders of its Ottoman past are still prevalent in the city because Bosnia & Herzegovina is one of the few Balkan countries where many people converted to Islam and remained in the country after independence. Travelers can observe elegant mosques, Turkish-style houses, a market that feels similar to a Turkish bazaar, and hear the call to prayer five times a day.

If you’re thinking about visiting Mostar, I urge you to stay overnight. When the evening comes and the tour bus crowds go home, the city lights up and begins to feel magical. With less people around, wandering through the pebbled streets of the enchanting old town past colorful houses with roofs made of stone makes you feel as is you’ve traveled back in time.

Read on to learn about all of the exciting sights and activities Mostar has to offer and discover why you should keep this intriguing city on your travel radar.

1. Walk Across the Historic Stari Most Bridge

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The Stari Most Bridge is probably Mostar’s most recognized landmark. It was built in 1556 by the Ottomans and had the widest freestanding arch in the world at that time. It survived for centuries before it was tragically destroyed in the Croat-Bosniak War in 1993. Fortunately, it has been rebuilt using the same materials and original methodology, allowing tourists to be able to admire the impressive architectural feat once again.

You can also watch adventurous men diving from the bridge, a tradition that began in the 17th century as a way of impressing the ladies in the town! Nowadays, they’ll wait until they’ve collected about 30 kuna from an eager crowd and then jump 78 feet down into the water. If you are brave enough to jump yourself, they offer a full-day training course you’ll have to take before you can attempt it on your own.

2. Visit the War Photo Exhibition

Traveling is about getting to know another culture, and understanding the country’s history plays an important role in appreciating how the country came to be what it is today. If you’re planning a trip to the Balkans and are a history nerd (like me), having the opportunity to learn about the fall of Yugoslavia from the different viewpoints of the countries involved can’t be missed.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has long been a multi-ethnic region composed of Catholic Croats, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Orthodox Serbs. With the break up of Yugoslavia and the succession of Croatia, tensions between ethnic groups began to rise within the region, and the Bosnian War of 1992-1995 was the result of these ethnic divisions. The War Photo Exhibition is a powerful series of photographs that illustrates the tragedies of the war, in which the Stari Most Bridge was bombed, and gives you insight into the lives of civilians living in Mostar at the time. It’s an excellent way to understand the complex past of a city still healing and how it came to be the beautiful place tourists enjoy today.

3. Sit Riverside and Enjoy Mouthwatering Traditional Food

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Mostar has many restaurants with inviting terraces that overlook the Neretva River. Because Mostar is still a bit undiscovered, with the most crowded times being midday when tour buses arrive, it was easy for us to get a table at night right next to the river (another reason to stay overnight!).

Most of the restaurants offer traditional Bosnian and Herzegovinian food served in big portions at an extremely affordable price. Dewey and I split a platter of traditional food and a bottle of wine and our bill only came to $36.

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View from our table

The cuisine is similar to the rest of the Balkans with dishes like dolma and ćevapi, but some items are unique to the country’s diverse history. A specialty of the Mostar region specifically is Sogan Dolma which is onion stuffed with rice, minced meat, and seasoning. You must also try a traditionally Ottoman dish, Begova Corba (Bey’s Soup in English), a soup made of vegetables and chicken cooked until the broth is creamy and rich. It tastes like a chicken pot pie made into a soup! To finish, sip on a delicious coffee paired perfectly with a sweet treat like baklava.

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Begova Corba

4. Visit a Mosque & Enjoy Panoramic Views of the City from the Minaret

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View from the top of the minaret

There are many beautiful mosques in Mostar that, despite being damaged in the recent Bosnian War, have been restored and can be observed by visitors today. Though I had seen a few mosques throughout my travels in the Balkans, Mostar had by far the most, and the countless minarets piercing the sky throughout the city make for a striking view. One particularly well-preserved mosque built by the Ottomans in the 17th century is the Koski Mehmed Pasha mosque, which you can visit for a small fee. Take in the peaceful interior and climb to the top of the minaret for glorious views of the river, the city, and the surrounding mountains.

5. Observe the Cultural Mix of Architecture

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Mostar’s first high school built in the Moorish Revival style

Mostar has a diverse mix of architecture representative of its Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and former Yugoslavian past. Turkish houses and mosques sit next to apartments built in the geometric Brutalist style of the Socialist Era. Close by, administrative buildings constructed in the Neo-Renaissance style of the Austro-Hungarian Empire tower over the streets. In an attempt to celebrate cultural differences in the country while maintaining influence, the Austro-Hungarian Empire supported the construction of new buildings in a way that combined European designs with that of Mostar’s Ottoman past. The result was the unique Moorish Revival architecture. Mostar’s first high school is an extraordinary example of this.

6. Take an Informative Free Walking Tour

Free walking tours are one of my favorite ways to orient myself with a new city. Luckily, Mostar offers a free walking tour everyday that you can join (for more information on the tour times, click this link). Having a local share about his/her own country and traditions is always a valuable experience.

What I particularly enjoyed about the tour, though, was that the guide provided insight into life during the recent war, which gave us a better understanding of a complicated time. The tour takes you beyond the old town and shows you how much of the city is still in ruins. The guide even showed us photos of buildings that used to exist in the very spot we were standing but were bombed during the war. Taking a tour like this one was beneficial because it gave us a different perspective we might not have received had we just kept to the restored old town.

7. Browse the Markets

There are two markets held on the streets that lead to the Stari Most Bridge that you can wander. Similar to a Turkish bazaar, the market sells mostly Turkish crafts such as intricately decorated tea sets, jewelry, carpets, scarves, and gorgeous mosaic lamps. Some of it can be tourist junk, but amongst the corny souvenirs you can find some real gems. Grab an ice cream cone from one of the nearby cafes and take a stroll!

8. Explore the Surrounding Area

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Blagaj Tekija, the Dervish monastery

Mostar makes for a great home base to explore various destinations in the surrounding area. One of these destinations is the Blagaj Tekija, a Dervish monastery located beneath a massive cliff next to the sparkling blue Buna River. This was probably one of my favorite excursions so far. The water from the river is so pure you can drink from it directly. Just 30 minutes by bus or car, it makes for a perfect half-day trip. Dewey and I had fun exploring the monastery and then sat down at one of the many cafes that align the river for a peaceful outdoor lunch with an absolutely unreal view.

Another day trip you can take from Mostar is to see the Kravice Falls. As I was only in Mostar for two days (and wished I had more time), I didn’t have a chance to explore the park. The waterfalls are only about 50 minutes by car from the city, and our guide told us they’re stunning especially because they aren’t as widely known as other national parks like the Krka Waterfalls in Croatia. So, you can take in the nature without tons of tourists around.

My only regret after visiting Mostar is that I didn’t allow myself more time to explore Bosnia & Herzegovina. I have heard great things about Sarajevo, the country’s thriving capital , and I am definitely planning to include it in my future travels!

 


 

Day Trip to Peles Castle

Day Trip from Bucharest or Brasov, Romania

Peles Castle’s stunning Neo-Renaissance architecture and location in the scenic Carpathian Mountains in Sinaia, Romania makes this castle a must-see if you are staying in Bucharest or Brasov. Its beauty is considered to rival that of Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria (I personally preferred Peles, but that’s just me). Built in the late 19th century by King Carol I, under whose rule Romania gained independence, the castle was the summer palace for the Romanian royalty.

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What I loved about this castle is the combination of European styles in the castle’s interior. Designed by German architect Johannes Schultz, the castle combines classic Italian, German, French, Turkish, and Austrian styles, transporting you to a different country each time you enter a new room. In addition, the entrance hall is an extraordinary example of intricate woodwork and contains a magnificent wooden spiral staircase. The castle’s beauty truly is the epitome of fairytale romance and needs to be seen in person!

 

To visit the interior, you must join a guided tour. I enjoyed having a guide because we learned so much more about the castle, and she even showed us secret doors and passageways that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.

On your way to Peles, you can also stop and wander the peaceful Sinaia Monastery, located conveniently along the route to the castle. It’s a beautiful Orthodox monastery that dates back to the 17th century.

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After you have finished exploring the castle and monastery, you can relax with a meal at one of the many restaurants located in the town of Sinaia while you wait for your train. Dewey and I enjoyed some Romanian beer and Mamaliga, a traditional Romanian dish similar to polenta served with cheese and sour cream. Yum!

The combination of the striking Carpathian Mountains, the enchanting castle, and the charming monastery made this day trip a highlight of my time in Romania that I highly recommend if you are visiting Brasov or Bucharest.

How to Get There

The castle is just a short train ride from either Brasov or Bucharest.

Traveling from Brasov
Train time: 1hr 10min
Cost: 1-3€ one way

Traveling from Bucharest
Train time: 1hr 40min
Cost: 4-7€ one way

Finding the castle is simple once you arrive in Sinaia. From the train station, simply follow the signs that take you to a forest path that leads to the castle. The Sinaia Monastery is located along the path to the castle and is impossible to miss.

Castle Information

Opening Times

Summer: open daily from 9:15-4:15pm, Wednesdays 11:00-4:15, closed Mondays
Winter: open Thursday-Sunday 9:15-4:15pm, Wednesdays 11:00-4:15pm, closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Cost

The castle has two guided tours you can take. The main tour takes about 45 minutes and includes most of the castle except the upper floor, while the optional tour takes 1hr 15min and includes some rooms on the upper floor. I recommend taking the full tour while you’re there; it isn’t much more expensive and the rooms are spectacular!

Main tour:
Adults- 30 lei (6.50€)
Students- 7.5 lei (1.50€)

Optional tour:
Adults- 60 lei (13.00€)
Students- 15 lei (3.00€)

A Day Trip to Howth

4E77DAD6-B0AF-45A5-A560-7F5AB81B56B4The sky is overcast with strips of sunlight piercing through the clouds. The air is crisp, with a faint, salty smell from the fishermen’s most recent catch in the harbor below. It’s a cool 45 degree day, and I am comfortable in my white down jacket and beanie hat that covers my ears. I’m walking along a narrow, dusty path that traces the side of the mountain. In front of me are strikingly green hills sprinkled with yellow ferns and vibrant purple heathers. The hills transform into moss-covered rock as they approach the sea, and the water calmly laps against the edges. It’s my first time venturing out of the city, and I now understand why Ireland is so famously called the Emerald Isle. The sight is spectacular and I am happy to have left the busy city for a day spent exploring the coastal town of Howth.


If you are visiting Dublin, a trip to Howth (pronounced Hoth) is a must. It is a small coastal town with gorgeous views, plenty to do, and provides a calming escape from the city. It’s only about a 35 minute train ride on the DART (the Irish rail system) from the city center and costs about 3.50 euro each way. Keep reading for ways to make the most of your day.

1. Meander through the Howth Market

Conveniently located directly across the street from the rail station is the Howth Market. An array of Irish crafts, such as handmade jewelry, are sold here and are great for gift shopping. However, there are some touristy-type items as well, such as overly-priced souvenirs, so be weary of that.

There’s also plenty of food vendors offering everything from steamy empanadas and sausages to freshly baked goods. If you’re like me and enjoy some hot soup when it’s a bit chilly out, I recommend getting the chowder. It’s creamy, filled with vegetables and chunks of fresh salmon and cod, and it’s the perfect snack to give you some fuel for the hike ahead.

2. Pick a trail and get hiking!

There are four hiking trails (blue, red, green, and purple) that provide scenic views of Howth, Dublin Bay, Baily’s Lighthouse, and Ireland’s Eye, an island just north of the harbor. Fortunately, there are signs for each trail immediately when you exit the rail station. Each trail has a varying level of difficulty with red and purple being the longest/most difficult.

I chose the green trail, which was relatively easier than I had anticipated. It was more of an upwards stroll rather than a hike, but it was relaxing and a great option if you are traveling with kids or want to bring your dog along (I met a cute Labrador named Trixie). The views were fantastic and the trail offered many photo-ops!

If you are looking to see the views but in need of something a little gentler than a hike, there is an option to drive or take a bus to the summit and then walk your way down until you reach the town of Howth.

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3. Have a beer at the Summit Inn

Once you’ve made your way to the top, you’ve earned yourself a nice cold brew. The Summit Inn serves a variety of hearty food and has relatively cheap beers on draft. It was originally built as a cottage in the 19th century and has an authentic Irish pub feel. It’s the perfect place to rest your feet before you begin the walk down to the town.

4. End the day with dinner at one of Howth’s many restaurants

Being a coastal town, most of the restaurants here are known for their freshly caught seafood. Having had chowder earlier in the day, I opted for something a bit more hearty, yet still an Irish classic: Shepard’s Pie. I ate at Dog House Blue’s Tea Room, a funky restaurant that features a dining area set up like a cozy outdoor living room with soft cushion chairs and couches. They have a wide selection of tea and coffee perfect for sipping in front of their fireplace.  It’s BYOB, so if you’d like to drink you’ll need to stop by a convenience store first.  They have heat lamps, so no need to worry about being cold!

If you are interested in sampling Irish fish and chips, many have recommended getting take away from Beshoff’s, a popular place with Dubliners. It’s a great option if you are looking to nibble on a classic as you stroll down the pier.

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At the end of the day, all you have to do is hop on the train and it will take you directly back to Dublin’s center.

If you are only in Dublin for a few days but would like a chance to see all of the green that Ireland is so famous for, or if you would just like a calming escape from the bustling city center, Howth is great option.

Though it’s not necessary to plan much (half the fun is just discovering things to do as you go!),  Here is a link that provides more detail on things to do and places to eat in Howth.