As Croatia’s popularity among travellers has soared, so have its tourist costs – some are up by about 20 per cent, not helped by rising inflation. At the same time, its neighbour, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been quietly attracting overseas visitors with its natural beauty and budget-friendly holidays. While Bosnia and Herzegovina can’t compete with Croatia’s enviable coastline – the former only has a 12-mile slice of the Adriatic – it does possess landscapes of canyons, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, as well as beguiling cities such as Sarajevo and Mostar.
Indeed, as a new tourist favourite among the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina counts British holidaymakers among its growing fanbase, with a clutch of tour operators offering group trips in the country.
Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid Travel’s managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, says Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the company’s top-selling European destinations for UK travellers. Bookings for trips in the country have seen a 61 per cent increase this year compared with 2022.
”[It] is growing in popularity as people look for [alternatives] to well-known European destinations, and a quieter and cheaper alternative to Croatia,” adds Ms Bencheikh.
“Bosnia has so much to offer: good food, incredible scenery, and exciting outdoor adventures like hiking the Dinaric Alps, spotting wild horses at Mount Cincar or white-water rafting down the River Neretva.”
Skender Hatibović, founder of Sarajevo-based Funky Tours, says the return of direct flights between London and Sarajevo (Wizz Air launched a route in 2022; Tui is operating over the winter season) has helped.
He adds: “While Bosnia and Herzegovina has always held a certain allure for travellers from the UK, we were thrilled with the increase of over 25 per cent in [our customer] arrivals.”
Funky Tours has seen a shifting profile among arrivals from the UK, with a growing number of solo travellers, as well as couples and families.
Even though the luxury hotel scene has been evolving, with properties upgrading and improving, some to become three-or-four-star, accommodation is still significantly cheaper than in Croatia’s hotspots. Food and drink are also considerably less expensive. We have compared similar holiday spots and accommodation types between the two countries and showed where you can find savings.
The capital: Sarajevo
A two-night stay in a four-star hotel: £140 in Sarajevo versus £320 in Zagreb
There are few European capitals as compelling as Sarajevo. Walk along the pedestrianised Ferhadija thoroughfare past 19th-century Austrian buildings and you will soon enter the 16th-century world of the Ottoman Empire and the legacy of its 500-year rule in the region. There is an East-West marking on the pavement denoting this “Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures”, where the Islamic call to prayer mingles with the bells from the nearby Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals.
The country’s largest mosque, Gazi Husrev-beg, dominates the atmospheric Ottoman quarter of silversmiths, coppersmiths, cafés and restaurants squeezed into cobbled lanes. You’ll then emerge into the old Turkish bazaar, Baščaršija, and the 16th-century Baščaršija mosque.
Most of what visitors see had to be rebuilt after the 1991-95 Bosnian war. This included the grand 19th-century City Hall overlooking the River Miljacka, which was destroyed by Serbian forces in 1992. To get a better understanding of the city, visit the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide and its Siege of Sarajevo Museum, as well as the Sarajevo Museum 1878-1918 beside the Latin Bridge, where the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to the First World War.
The national park: Una National Park
A three-night stay and park admission: £170 in Una National Park versus £390 in Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park
Bosnia’s biggest national park runs along the border with Croatia and is just an hour from Plitvice Lakes National Park. While the latter is one of Croatia’s busiest tourist spots, Una National Park has a fraction of the visitors but nearly as much dramatic scenery.
As the park meanders along the River Una over 76 square miles, you pass thundering waterfalls including Štrbački Buk and Martin Brod, where white-water rafters cling on for dear life.
The other city: Mostar
A two-night stay in a four-star boutique hotel: £175 in Mostar versus £370 in Trogir
Day-trippers from Dubrovnik crowd around Mostar’s beautiful Stari Most (Old Bridge), watching locals dive into the River Neretva below. Post the summer rush, you may find the tourist crowds have thinned and you can enjoy the city at a more leisurely pace.
While the bridge, which had to be reconstructed after its destruction by Bosnian Croatians in 1993, is the star attraction, the 16th-century Old Town is the place for slow ambles through cobbled lanes of Ottoman bazaars, houses, restaurants and mosques.
Mostar is a handy base for nearby attractions, including Blagaj Tekija, a 16th-century Sufi lodge built into the River Buna’s gorge right by its source.
The natural wonder: Kravica waterfall
A two-night self-catering stay and park admission: £98 in Kravica versus £270 in Krka National Park
About halfway between Mostar and the Adriatic coast, deep in Herzegovina’s karst landscape, the Kravica waterfall plunges 80ft into the River Trebižat. It is a majestic sight, made even more glorious by the fact that you can swim in these clear waters.
In this natural amphitheater, you can picnic by the water’s edge or eat grilled fish in a simple waterside café. It is an easy day trip from Mostar, but it’s an appealing place to stay and explore some of the park’s hiking trails.
The wild swimming: Svitavsko Lake
A two-night stay: £56 near Hutovo Blato versus £180 in Imotski Lakes
It can get crowded along Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sole sliver of Adriatic coast at Neum, but just 25 miles to the north is the Hutovo Blato Nature Park and, among its bird reserves, rivers and marshes, the calm waters of Svitavsko Lake.
Take one of the lake tours, which usually include lunch, before swimming in the lakeside beaches.