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Europe’s Secret Escape: Discover The Most Affordable Medieval City For 2024

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Europe is the go-to destination for every American traveler keen on sampling some ancient culture.

It is where (nearly) all of the world's most iconic historical landmarks are found, from Rome's majestic Colosseum to Barcelona's unfinished Sagrada Familia, to Paris' storied Notre Dame.

These may all be popular tourist attractions for the average culture buff, but if you're looking for something, let's say, a tad more unique, unexpected even, we doubt it's Italy, Spain, France and the like that are at the top of your bucket list.

Mostar During Sunset Hours, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Yes, they're incredible, and the historical value is truly inestimable, but they're often packed with visitors, particularly in the hotter months, not to mention the soaring prices: with the Olympics taking place this year, a one-week stay in the French capital could set you back by a shocking $1,995.

That's hotels only, no additional expenses are included.

How about experiencing that Old World charm of Europe elsewhere, preferably a smaller, gorgeous medieval city most tourists are yet to discover, and where you won't break the bank:

Welcome to Mostar: Europe's Best-Kept Secret

Aerial View Of Old Town Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Unless you're a pontist – can you believe there's a word for describing people who love bridges? – with a particular interest in European bridges, you're unlikely to have heard of Mostar, a lesser-known cultural spot best known, well, for its ancient bridge.

Arguably Europe's most iconic, mind you.

To be fair, you probably have seen pictures of Mostar in your average travel brochure, or even scrolled past a viral reel of jumpers diving headfirst from Stari Most into the Neretva River below, but what is it about this small city that's so incredibly special?

Yes, There Was Once A War (But Now It Is Perfectly Safe)

Old Bazaar Street In Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

For starters, it is claimed by Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the continent's unsung, most criminally underrated destinations.

Yes, Bosnia was indeed host to a terrible war in the nineties, due to long-documented ethnic tensions, but that's all water under the bridge (mostly).

Pun intended.

According to the U.S. State Department, Mostar (and all of Bosnia) is a Level 2 destination. In other words, Americans should not be overly concerned about safety when visiting, nor avoid the country as crime levels are largely under control, and pickpocketing is the biggest threat.

A Row Of Colorful Houses Lining A Cobbled Lane In Old Town Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

It has been a perfectly safe destination since the resolution of the nineties conflict, which established a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state where Muslims, which comprise roughly half of Bosnia's population, and Christians (mostly Catholic and Orthodox) could coexist.

Things are not always peaceful in all of Bosnia, as conflict fares up on occasion in select municipalities, but Mostar is a rare example of a city where you can find a mosque, and Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals all within walking distance of each other.

Cobbled Old Streets In Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Strolling the Old Town, expect to see veiled women, as well as young girls in short shorts, men in more sober attire, but also liberal youth in impossibly tight jeans; this permanent contrast is part of the reason why Mostar is so fascinating:

It's Bosnia and Herzegovina in a nutshell, with its permanent clash of liberal and conservative worldviews, and the perfect introduction to this multicultural Southeastern European state.

A Capital Of Culture In The Heart Of The Balkans

Cobbled Old Streets In Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

This ties directly into the cultural aspect: Mostar is one of the most historically-charged places in the Old Continent, yet it never gets enough credit for it.

As you can probably guess by now, it is home to a landmark bridge – Stari Most, translated as ‘Old Bridge' – a pedestrian crossing first built in the 1500s, that arches over a crystal-clear Neretva River.

Something you might not know about this bridge, however, is it was completely destroyed by bombing during the ethnic conflict, and only rebuilt in 2004.

Tourists Crossing Stari Most Bridge In Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sadly, it's not the original 16th-century historic monument, but at least they were considerate enough to rebuild it out of the rubble of the original, and in the exact same way.

Now, it's used by the famous bridge jumpers who dive from the highest point of the bridge, the 22 meters down before splashing into the crystalline stream below, and the most interesting aspect is, that it's apparently a rite of passage for local boys when they turn 16.

If they're too scared to do so, they risk not leading successful lives, not getting a job, and even not finding a girlfriend, and this tradition is taken very seriously.

A Bazaar Street In Old Town Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Let's just say, that when it comes to bridge-jumping traditions, we're glad we weren't born Bosnian.

The Old Town and all its stone-built houses and centuries-old minarets, with the sound of Neretva's fast-flowing course for background, is perfect for exploring by foot, and don't be surprised to find bullet holes on walls, or even disabled tanks rusting away in overgrown backyards.

They're surviving examples of the war's devastating effects in Mostar, which tourists can still see today, and make the town an eye-catching open-air museum.

Cobbled Street In Old Town Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

At the same time, it is full of Turkish-inspired bazaars – a clear manifestation of Bosnia's Muslim inclinations – cobbled streets lined by traditional shops, and it's inhabited by a thriving community that wears their battle scars proudly.

They don't call it the heart of the Balkans for no reason.

Americans, Come On In! Locals Don't Want You Gone

There's no way we'd write an article on Mostar and not mention Bosnian hospitality.

Traditional Bosnian Coffee And Tea Table, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Hell, Balkan hospitality as a whole is unrivaled, but there's truly nothing quite like the friendliness of Bosniaks and their genuine kindness in approaching foreigners.

Now, don't be a total numpty and go on blindly trusting strangers, but definitely don't be taken aback if you suddenly find yourself invited to the home of a local Muslim family for a shot of rakija, and for sharing a plate of homecooked, fresh-out-the-oven burek.

Orthodox and Catholics can be more reserved, as being overly hospitable is not an inherent part of their culture, unlike Islam, which promotes hospitality and argues visitors are a ‘gift from God', but there's no denying Bosnia as a nation can be exceptionally friendly to foreigners, irrespective of religion.

Bosnian Women Shopping In A Bazaar In Old Town Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Unlike in Western Europe, where there's a growing tourist fatigue – ever been to France or Italy and felt locals weren't at times inexplicably rude? – Bosnians don't want Americans out:

They actually feel not enough foreigners are visiting, and when they come across one, rest assured they'll go out of their way to make you feel welcome.

Can We Talk About The Amazing Cuisine?

Bosnian cuisine is yet another element of the culture that does not get nearly as much praise as it deserves.

Cevapi, A Kebab Style Balkan Dish Typically Served In Balkan Countries, South Eastern Europe

A blend of Mediterranean, Ottoman (Turkish), and Austro-Hungarian cooking practices, it is every bit as diverse as the country's own populace, and there's no better place to sample Bosnian delicacies than its leading destination.

Unlike other traditional European cuisines, Bosnia definitely has an oriental flair, being distinguished for its moderate use of spices, natural sauces, typically made from vegetable juices, and lamb-based dishes, influenced by Islamic diet.

Popara, A Traditional Dish Typically Served In Balkan Countries, South Eastern Europe, Balkan Cuisine

No trip to Mostar is complete until you've tried ćevapi, a variation of kebab found around the Balkan peninsula made of lamb and beef, often served with onions, fries, and pita bread, burek, a flaky-dough pastry filled either with spinach, cheese, potatoes or beef, and our personal favorite, popara.

Popara consists of crusted, old bread that would typically be discarded, soaked in hot milk tea, and enriched with honey, butter and cheese. It tastes delicious once ready to be served, and it's best washed down with a shot of plum rakija.

Go easy on that one, though, or you risk an epic hangover.

The Most Beautiful Nature (Truly)

Kravice Waterfalls In Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Eastern Europe

You've probably noticed by now this is a small city nestled between towering peaks, sitting in the center of a valley cut across by a scenic river, and the surrounding nature is just as magnificent as you'd expect.

The Neretva River itself is perfect for bathing in the balmy late spring and summer months, when temperatures in Mostar easily rise above 90 degrees, and there are a number of swim-friendly banks (or beaches, as the locals call it) as you make your way down to the riverfront from the Old Town.

Water baby much? Then it's Kravice Waterfalls, a short one-hour from Mostar, near the border with Croatia, where you should be headed.

Plitvice Waterfalls In Bosnia and Herzegovina

This series of waterfalls nestled in a protected preserve, emptying into a translucent pool are every Bosnian's go-to spot for beating the heat, and one of the most beautiful natural landmarks in the country – if not Europe.

Picture Croatia's world-famous Plitvice, but on a smaller scale without the crowds.

If you're a lover of mountains, there's no shortage of hiking trails to explore, the most popular and tourist-friendly being Hum Hill, topped by a giant cross – you'll definitely spot it from Stari Most bridge, casting its ethereal aura over Mostar Old Town.

Panoramic View Of Mostar And The Mountains Surrounding The Old Town, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The view from the top is breathtaking, and it's only one of several you can attempt to conquer during your stay.

Mostar Is Dirt Cheap, Even For Eastern European Standards

You're probably wondering how affordable Mostar is to visit, considering it ticks all the boxes of an epic European getaway, and that doesn't always come cheap.

Believe it or not, it is one of the least expensive destinations across the pond, helped not only by Bosnia's lower consumer prices, in general but the great exchange rate Americans can find when turning in their dollars for the local Bosnian convertible marka (KM).

People Swimming In Neretva River Underneath Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia is neither part of the European Union, nor the Eurozone, automatically making Mostar more budget-friendly, as 50 cents of a U.S. dollar buys 1 BAM. Considering travelers spend on average 48 marka on meals per vacation day, that's only $182 on food on average for the entire week.

Absolute bargain, and don't get us started on hotels: you can get a very decent hotel – we're talking Stari Most Views, in the heart of the Old Town – for only $37 a night, and overall, you're unlikely to spend more than $495 during a 7-night stay, all expenses included minus flights.

There's no catch here.

Tourists Withdrawing Money From An ATM, Bankomat In Dubrovnik, Croatia

Bosnia is less developed than your average European country, and with its lower cost of living, weaker currency and lower wages, tourist dollars will just naturally stretch a lot further.

How Difficult Is It To Travel To Mostar In 2024?

You may be wondering how easy it is to travel to Mostar if you've never heard of it prior to this article.

Here's the truth: it's no smooth ride, particularly if you're coming from the U.S. of A. Needless to say, Transatlantic flights are non-existent, and if Mostar's on your radar, you'll likely have between one, to three stopovers in intermediate destinations before reaching your final destination.

Historically, the easiest way to get to Mostar has been flying into Dubrovnik, in neighboring Croatia, a city that does host nonstop flights from Newark in summer.

Town of Dubrovnik heritage harbor view from above, Dalmatia region of Croatia

There are regular buses that depart from Dubrovnik daily, particularly in the summer period, and complete the journey to Mostar in just over two hours, excluding border formalities and traffic, which can increase the duration to 4 or even 5 hours in peak travel dates.

Alternatively, you could fly from somewhere else in Europe to Sarajevo, the national capital of Bosnia, and board a scenic train – one of the most beautiful and affordable rail routes in Europe – to the gem of the Balkans.

Those two options sound like a lot of fun, particularly if Dubrovnik's on your list, too, or you wouldn't mind adding a stopover in Sarajevo to see yet another famous bridge – the one where Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in 1914, effectively triggering World War I.

aerial view of sarajevo

On the other hand, we do get it if you want none of this hassle – the complicated itineraries and long layovers – and in that case, we're thrilled to inform a civilian airport has resumed operations in Mostar after years of inactivity.

You Can Now Fly From Other European Countries To Mostar

Starting this spring, a number of intra-Europe flight routes are opening to Mostar.

full airplane, travelers sitting on a busy plane

Starting from April 15, you can fly from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and yet another hub that hosts nonstop U.S. flights, to Mostar International (OMO), located near the village of Ortiješ, a 10-minute drive to Mostar Old Town.

Croatia Airlines also offers nonstop service from Zagreb, the Croatian capital, and soon enough, low-cost carrier Sky Alps is adding as many as four Mostar links to their network, from the following European hubs:

  • Munich, Germany (starting April 30, 2024)
  • Verona, Italy (starting April 30, 2024)
  • Bari, Italy (starting May 2, 2024)
  • Rome-Fiumicino, Italy (starting May 2, 2024)
Happy Woman in Airport

One-way tickets start from an affordable €79, or $84, and flight duration between the above departure points and Mostar is between one and two hours (Bari offering the shortest distance, and Munich the longest).

The introduction of nonstop flights and the city's growing popularity are proof it has the potential to become one of Europe's next tourism hotspots, much like Albania has, and if you want to experience Mostar without the Western crowds, and while prices are still this attractive, now's the time.

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.