Visegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been on my bucket list for years. The town located on the Drina river, next to the border with Serbia, has been well known for its iconic bridge but that’s not the only reason to visit Visegrad.
The downside – getting to Visegrad by public transport is not always easy therefore it took me years to finally get there. Fortunately, it was worth waiting as Visegrad definitely lived up to my high expectations.
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Why visit Visegrad
The main reason why people visit Visegrad and the highlight of the town is a beautiful, UNESCO-listed bridge over the Drina, honored in Ivo Andric’s Nobel-winning novel “The Bridge over the Drina”. This outstanding piece of architecture is well worth a trip to Visegrad and even if you come here only for the bridge, you won’t be disappointed.
Fans of Ivo Andric will also appreciate the artificial town dedicated to the writer, Andricgrad, a weird and quirky place but still worth visiting.
Visegrad itself has a beautiful location, on the shore of the Drina river and surrounded by lush mountains, and is a starting point of the panoramic railway line Sargan Eight (that goes to Serbia).
How to get to Visegrad
Visegrad, the town of a bit over 5.000 inhabitants, is located in the eastern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Republika Srpska, some 10 km away from the border with Serbia.
The best way to get to Visegrad is by car, there is a fine and very scenic road connecting the town with Uzice in Serbia and numerous places in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
If you use public transport it’s a bit more tricky to visit Visegrad. There are a few buses per day serving the city, from Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka, Foca, or Belgrade. You can find the details here.
Visegrad is also a final station of the famous Sargan Eight train but the connections on this route don’t operate all year long so it’s better to check the current timetable in advance. You can do it here.
You might also visit Visegrad as a day trip from Sarajevo, together with the Sargan Eight train and Drvengrad. Click here for details.
A brief history of Visegrad
Visegrad dates back to the Middle Ages as part of the Grand Principality of Serbia until the place was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1454 (and remained under its rule until the end of the 19th century). For years Visegrad has been an important stop on the trading routes (hence the construction of the famous bridge in the 16th century).
The 20th-century history of Visegrad is a tragic and bloody one. During World War 2 thousands of civilians were killed in the town and its surrounding, the area was also where the Yugoslav Partisans were operating.
Another tragic moment came during the Bosnian War in the 1990s when ethnic cleansing reached the town. Before the war, around 60% of inhabitants were Bosniaks and 33% Serbs (today in Visegrad 90% of the population is Serbian). During the Visegrad massacres in 1992, some 3.000 people lost their lives in various events.
Some reports say that the Drina changed its color to red from the blood of the victims whose bodies were thrown into the river (at some point the nearby hydroelectric dam was blocked by them). One of the hotels near Visegrad, that today welcomes tourists again, was transformed into a rape camp.
While a lot is said about what was happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1990s war, the reports focus on places like Sarajevo, Srebrenica, or Mostar and not on smaller towns like Visegrad that also had their fair share of the tragic events.
Today Visegrad is a sleepy town where life goes by slowly and you can’t really trace the difficult events from not so many years ago.
What to see in Visegrad
The absolute star of Visegrad (or Bosnia and Herzegovina in general) is the famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge (known also as the “Bridge on the Drina”). It’s an absolute masterpiece of 16th-century engineering and one of the finest construction of that time.
The bridge was commissioned by Grand Vizier Mehmed Pasha Sokolović and built by Mimar Sinan, one of the greatest architects of that period. It took him six years, from 1571 to 1577 to finish this art of work.
The bridge is 179.5-meter-long and has 11 arches with spans of 11 to 15 meters plus four smaller arches on the ramp. At the time of the opening in 1577, this was an extraordinary, unique, and one-of-a-kind piece of architecture. Still today, it impresses all the visitors.
The bridge is fairly wide, over 6 meters, and over the centuries it’s been the center of social life. In the middle, you can find a stone sofa where passers-by could rest and where people met to drink tea and discuss everyday events.
On the opposite side of it, there is a stone portal with two marble plates where verses of the poet Nihadi are written in Arabic, telling the story of the constructor and the year of construction.
In 2007 UNESCO recognized the famous Visegrad bridge and awarded it with the title of World Heritage Site for “the unique elegance of proportion and monumental nobility of the property as a whole bear witness to the greatness of this style of architecture.”
The Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge was the inspiration to the Yugoslav writer Ivo Andric who focused his book “The Bridge on the Drina” on this very place. It tells the story of the bridge and the people living around it that spans over four centuries when Visegrad was under the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rules.
This book is the best-known work by Andric and it granted him a literature Nobel prize in 1961. If you haven’t read it yet I definitely recommend it, the book will give you a better perspective on the importance and the background of the famous landmark.
It’s a pure pleasure to walk across the bridge and think about its long and dramatic history. To get an even better view of the greatness of this construction it’s worth climbing the hill across the main road. It’s easy to go up and the panorama over Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, the Drina river, Visegrad, and surrounding mountains and simply spectacular. This is the best view you can find in Visegrad.
Once you are done with admiring the bridge from every possible angle it’s time to see another attraction of Visegrad – Andricgrad (known also as “Kamengrad” – “Stonetown”). The place can be found on the peninsula at the confluence of the Drina and the Rzav rivers. The location is still controversial for many as during the 1990s war the concentration camp for Bosniaks was placed here.
Just like nearby Drvengrad, this artificial town was built by the famous Serbian movie director Emir Kusturica who was planning to use it as a movie set for his future film about Ivo Andric. The place was opened in 2014 and during my visit seven years later it still looked like it wasn’t fully finished.
Andricgrad is one of the craziest and quirkiest places I’ve been to. The peculiar mix of architecture, from Ottoman to Renaissance and Classicism styles, might seem like too much at first but somehow everything works together here.
Of all the crazy things you can find in Andricgrad, my absolute favorite was a mosaic on the cinema’s wall. It’s hard to describe it really, there are so many tiny details you will spend a few solid minutes admiring it and noticing yet another quirk.
In the idyllic scene, among other things, you will see Novak Djoković is eating nuts, and the president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik plays tug of war (by the way, both Djoković and Dodik are honorary citizens of Andricgrad).
There is one more mosaic, showing Gavrilo Princip (the one who assassinated the archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914), but this one is pretty bleak in comparison to the other one.
Andricgrad is supposed to be a cultural center, with Ivo Andric’s institute, Fine arts Academy, Townhall, the Church of Saint Lazar, renaissance theatre, multiplex cinema, and more. When I visited the place it felt a bit empty and abandoned, but that could be because of the gloomy weather and late afternoon time.
But even if there were only a few people around it didn’t stop me from appreciating the madness of this place. I must admit I really enjoyed it!
Because of the weather I’ve also decided to skip one of the best things to do in Visegrad – a boat ride of the Drina river. I can only imagine what a scenic activity it is, with the Drina river canyon and surrounding mountains around. That’s definitely something I’m ready to come back to Visegrad for!
And that’s more or less all that you can see and do in Visegrad. The town itself is pretty random, with blocks of flats typical for the region and stunning surroundings (those mountains and rivers really set a beautiful scenery!).
If you get hungry I can definitely recommend Anika restaurant, across the river from Andricgrad, on the main road. The food is affordable and really good and they serve rakija in a few different flavors. The restaurant is a short walk away from the center but it’s definitely worth the walk.
If you decided to stay overnight in Visegrad there are a few places to choose from. We’ve decided to stay in Hotel Višegrad and it was really fine, with large rooms and great value for money. What was the best, however, was the location, right next to the bridge that you can admire from your room. Definitely recommended!
Where to go next
Once you are done with visiting Visegrad you might want to go to the nearby Dobrun Monastery from the 14th century (with 15th-century frescoes) or go along the Drina river to admire the beautiful canyon. Even the drive along the river is spectacular.
You might also hop across the border and visit Serbia, with beautiful Tara National Park, Sargan Eight train, Drvengrad, Uzice and more!
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