A pre-sunset shot of Mostar's iconic, single arch stone bridge (Stari Most) spanning the emerald blue Neretva River. The antiquitous Old Town encroaches on both banks.

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina: A City of Contrasts

Mostar is one of the gems of Eastern Europe. The historical capital of Herzegovina (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) has long been a place of cultural integration, but has also seen its share of regime changes, and civil wars. After the conflicts of the early 1990s and subsequent, UNESCO-led restorations, Mostar is simultaneously battered and enchanting. I first encountered this city of contrasts in the summer of 2015. Towards the tail end of a classic, mid-20s European backpacking trip, I veered into the Balkans on a whim. Unbeknownst to me, that weekend was the first time that Red Bull brought its Cliff Diving World Series tour to Mostar. I therefore found myself amongst thousands of spectators who had lined the banks of the Neretva River to watch elite athletes hurl themselves from the iconic Old Bridge (Stari Most). Since my introduction to the city was an elevated experience, I figured I should return during the off-season in order to see what the "real" Mostar is like. 

For the last month, I holed up in a studio apartment above the bazaar's cobbled alleys – slowly unpacking the nooks, crannies, scenery, and history of Mostar. With many of the restaurants shuttered and only modest waves of visitors rolling through on sunny weekends, I felt I was successful in rounding out my impression of this eclectic place – and my heart has grown all the fonder for it. Allow me to take you on a small tour of magical Mostar. 

Geography of Mostar

An I Love Mostar tourist sign perched high on a mountain overlooking the valley below.
The view from Fortica, an adventure center above Mostar. The tabletop formation is where the zipline connects to. Hum Hill can also be seen on the other side of the valley. Photo: Irina Lipan

Mostar sits in the southern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the administrative center of the canton of Herzegovina-Neretva – one of ten sectors of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which along with Republika Srpska, comprise the nation's two federal entities. The city is built around either side of the cold and capricious Neretva River, with the east side being the oldest part, and the west being the more substantially developed. Though only 200 feet above sea level, Mostar is flanked by the Dinaric Alps, with the dramatic mass of Velež Mountain dominating the skyline to the east, and the short but sheer Hum Hill, topped with a white, 100-foot-high cross, capturing one's gaze to the west. 

Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is roughly 125 kilometers (78 miles) northeast of Mostar. The Sarajevo International Airport, therefore, is the common point of arrival for overseas tourists. Regular buses and trains to Mostar can be procured from downtown Sarajevo. Many visitors also choose to make day or weekend trips to/from popular cities on Croatia's Adriatic Coast, namely: Split (166 kilometers/103 miles to the northwest) and Dubrovnik (148 kilometers/92 miles to the south). 

Climate of Mostar: When to Visit

A couple poses for a picture at a riverside restaurant overlooking the iconic Old Bridge of Mostar.
February is supposed to be cool and wet in Mostar, but Irina and I had plenty of warm, sunny days during our month-long stay. Photo: Our cool waiter at Urban. 

According to the Köppen climate classification, Mostar falls into either the humid subtropical category (Cfa) or the oceanic/marine category (Cfb). This means that the city experiences cold, humid winters, and hot, dry summers. Across the entire year, the average daily temperature comes in at about 59.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.2 Celsius), ranging from a mean low of 50.9 F (10.5 C) to a mean high of 69 F (20.6 C). July is both the hottest and driest month, while January is the coldest. November/December receive the most precipitation (note: snow is rare at the street level but will accumulate in the surrounding mountains). 

According to Weather-Atlas, the optimal time to visit Mostar is between May to September, when temperatures, average sunlight hours, and average humidity/precipitation are ideal for sightseeing. With that said, I felt that February was a pleasant month to be in Mostar. In 2024, there was about a 50/50 split between sunny and overcast/rainy days, and the temperature warranted a light jacket or, when seated on a sunny patio, simply a t-shirt and long pants. Given the ever-present trade-offs of off-season vs peak-season variables, I suspect that early spring might strike the best balance between a comfortable climate and modest crowds. Many of the restaurants, cafes, and shops have March 1st reopening dates, and so this may be another deciding factor when planning a trip to Mostar. 


Mountains backdrop the Old Town of Mostar. The smaller of the two bridges shares the frame with mosque spires and other antiquitous structures.
Mosque and church spires share Mostar's skyline. Also featured: the older "Crooked Bridge."

For centuries, Mostar was a beacon of diversity and a commendable example of how different cultures and religions can coexist in the same space. This was evident (and, to an extent, still is) in the eclectic structures throughout the historic center. This is what UNESCO had to say about Mostar:

Architecture here presented a symbol of tolerance: a shared life of Muslims, Christians and Jews. Mosques, churches, and synagogues existed side-by-side indicating that in this region, the Roman Catholic Croats with their Western European culture, the Eastern Orthodox Serbs with their elements of Byzantine culture, and the Sephardic Jews continued to live together with the Bosniaks-Muslims for more than four centuries. 

In the wake of the Bosnian War of the early 1990s, Mostar's cultural spectrum condensed somewhat, though disparate groups have once again established stable and amicable footing. From the window of my Old Town apartment, I could see the many minarets of the local mosques intertwined with the cross-topped spires of Catholic churches, and I could hear the tolling bells and blaring prayers harmoniously resonate throughout the valley on a daily basis. The fashion on the street also clearly demonstrated a mixture of cultures and ideologies. Hijabs, niqabs, cashmere scarves, Adidas tracksuits, jeans, skirts, speedos, and everyday Western wear all commingle on the cobblestone streets of the bazaar and Old Bridge. 

As of the 2013 census, the population of Mostar was 105,797. The estimated figure as of the summer of 2022 was approximately 103,948. The gender breakdown is around 51.6% males and 48.4% females. The ages of the residents are as such: 0 - 14 years = 14.8%; 15 - 64 years = 69.8%, and 65+ = 15.3%. In terms of ethnicity, the two dominant groups are the Croats (49.1%) and the Bosniaks (44.8%). Before the war, there was a substantial population of Serbs, but now they represent only about 4.1% of the population. The group identifying as Yugoslavs also constituted a sizable portion of the pre-war population but has now disappeared from Mostar entirely. The religious breakdown closely mirrors the ethnic categories: 48.2% are Catholic, 44.3% are Muslim, and 4.1% are Orthodox. 

A Brief History of Mostar

Evening descends on Mostar. Mosques and restaurants can be seen lining the Neretva River beneath a purple sky.
The Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque and quaint patio restaurants line the Neretva River (as seen from Stari Most. Photo: Irina Lipan.

Mostar was founded as an Ottoman Empire frontier town in 1452. Evidence of human occupation in this part of the Neretva valley dates back to prehistory. Roman remains have also been unearthed beneath the town. With that said, Mostar, as we know it, began to take shape during the Ottoman era of the 15th and 16th centuries. The name Mostar stems from the term mostari, meaning "bridge keepers," which was mentioned for the first time in 1474. The wooden structure that connected the town's hemispheres evolved into Stari Most (The Old Bridge) – a spectacular single-arched stone structure designed by the Ottoman architect, Mimar Hajruddin (based on the plans of famous architect, Mimar Sinan), and commissioned by the sultan, Suleiman I, aka, "Suleiman the Magnificent." Construction took nine years and finished in 1566. Kriva Ćuprija, aka the "Crooked Bridge," was a smaller version of the Stari Most template that was erected immediately prior (probably about 1558) over the Rabobolja creek.

From 1878 to 1918, Mostar fell under Austro-Hungarian rule. Post World War I, the city became part of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, before transitioning into Yugoslavia in 1929. Such was the state of things until Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992. This led to Mostar being attacked by the Yugoslav People's Army. During the Bosnian War, the Croat-Bosniak War (aka the "war within a war") also escalated. On November 9th, 1993, which one local referred to as "the saddest day in Mostar's history," the Croatian Defence Council destroyed Stari Most in an effort to disrupt the supply line of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Public graffiti still spreads the message "1993, Don't Forget." The Croat-Bosniak dispute was resolved in 1994 with the signing of the Washington Agreement, and the Bosnian War concluded the following year with the Dayton Agreement. In the end, some 2,000 people were killed in Mostar alone, most Serbs either fled or were driven out of the city, and many other valuable monuments were severely damaged or leveled entirely. The full solemn story is on display at the Museum of War and Genocide Victims in Mostar's Old Town. 

After peace was declared, reconstruction began on Stari Most (as well as much of the Old Town and surrounding city). With the help of UNESCO's international scientific committee, the Old Bridge was replicated in an authentic manner, utilizing as much of the original design and materials as possible. The bridge reopened in July 2004, and was declared a World Heritage Site (along with the Old Town) a year later. Its single stone arch once again triumphantly spans the Neretva River, from the Kulu Tara tower (east) to the Halebija tower (west), at a height of 21 meters (69 feet), a length of 28.7 meters (94 feet), and a width of 4.49 meters (15 feet). May it outlast its previous record of 427 years! 

Mostar's Main Attractions 

Thousands of riverside spectators watching the Red Bull diving series. A large platform has been set up atop the Old Bridge, and a brave diver is ready to make the leap into the river.
The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in full swing. As if Stari Most wasn't already high enough, they built an additional platform above the bridge. 

It goes without saying that Stari Most is the single most iconic structure in Mostar, and perhaps all of Bosnia & Herzegovina. One could also argue that it ranks as one of the standout examples of ancient Islamic architecture. It is an impressive sight and an important symbol of peace and resilience. The Old Bridge is exceptionally photogenic at all hours, but during the summer, it packs an extra surprise. Formal diving competitions have taken place from the bridge since 1968, but locals have been leaping from the dizzying apex since the bridge's original construction. The story goes that young men would take the daring plunge into the Neretva (which, by the way, is the coldest river in the world), in order to demonstrate their virility (boys will be boys). The scenic location and local lore inspired Red Bull to bring their Cliff Diving World Series to Mostar in 2015 (which is when I luckily happened upon Mostar for the first time). It has remained an annual stop ever since. If you have a chance to check out the nail-biting competition, I highly recommend doing so. But if crowds aren't your thing, you can check in with the Diving Club (and have a traditional Bosnian coffee) in the Halebija tower on the west side of the bridge (sometimes people even leap from the cafe window). 

A man jumps off a high platform into a river while crowds from the recent Red Bull event begin to disperse into Mostar's Old Town
Me, circa 2015. I was too scared to jump off of the Old Bridge, but I was inspired by the Red Bull divers to leap off the practice platform into the frigid Neretva River. 

Mostar's Old Town is one continous cobblestone stretch with a side street or two thrown into the mix. So a walk to or from Stari Most will inevitably bring you through the Bazaar Kujundžiluk – where copper works (art, jewelry, coffee sets, etc.), cashmere scarves, baklava/turkish delights, and other fun treats/souvenirs are sold in a plethora of small shops, while tour agencies, riverside restaurants, museums, and cafes fill in the gaps. A bit of shopping and a couple nice meals will easily pass an afternoon. Note: Wear good footwear! The rocks are quite uneven.

An early evening stroll through the cobbled street of Mostar's bazaar. Vendors and cafes line both sides.
One part of the cobbled bazaar. Photo: Andrew Douglas. 

If you have time to expand your explorations into the natural surroundings, then a trek, cycle, or scenic drive up Hum Hill or Velež Mountain will not disappoint. The 100-foot-high Millenium Cross will greet you at the top of the former, while the Fortica Nature Park (with its glass walkway, zipline, hiking trails, and panoramic restaurant) awaits atop the latter. Both afford breathtaking views of the valley. To the south of Fortica, the 15 turbines of the Podveležje wind farm tease the road deeper into the Dinaric Alps, an almost lunar-like landscape (albeit, with more grass) that is dotted with villages. Adventurers will also appreciate the bolted climbing routes and Via Ferrata on the tabletop formation that fortica's zipline connects to. 

In terms of religious structures, the Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque (built in 1617), is open to the public, has a small market/public fountain in the courtyard, and delivers one of the best views of the Stari Most from atop its minaret. Additionally, the city's oldest surviving mosque, Ćejvan-Ćehaja's Mosque, which was built in the mid-16th century, sits just a few hundred feet to the south. And representing the Catholic side of the equation is the Franciscan Monastery of St. Peter and Paul on the west side of the river. Its spire is the highest point in Old Mostar's artificial skyline. 

A low angle, riverside shot of the single-arch Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar.
One last look up at Stari Most and the Tara Tower. Photo: Andrew Douglas

More to Come for Mostar

When I think of Mostar, the word contrast keeps coming to mind. The difference between the summer tourism peak and subsequent winter lull is stark. The gap between the polished Old Town and the bullet/bomb-battered buildings on the adjacent main road is arresting. And the reconciliation that has taken place between the Bosniak Muslims and Catholic Croats, such a short period of time after the brutalities ceased, is admirable.

Coming to Mostar can be a rewarding and Instagram-padding day-trip, but it can also offer an informative and enriching long-term stay. I'm glad that I've been able to experience so many aspects of Mostar's personality over the last decade. I look forward to returning (again and again), but until then, peace be upon all the faithful and welcoming residents, the stalwart mountains, and the beautifully-restored historic center.

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