In this Banja Luka travel guide, I will answer a few of your burning questions such as: is Banja Luka even worth visiting, what is there to do in Banja Luka and where to stay?
Banja Luka was the first stop on my Bosnia and Herzegovina backpacking trip. I actually spent 4 days there as I had to catch up on work so I had plenty of time to explore.
Not many travellers make it to Banja Luka. Most visitors to Bosnia and Herzegovina stick to Sarajevo and Mostar and then move on to other Balkan countries. But I think this country deserves so much more! So I decided to make a few additional and perhaps less popular stops.
That’s why I decide to travel to Banja Luka.
I heard mixed opinions about Banja Luka. Some say there’s not much to see or do in Banja Luka and it’s best to skip it. Others loved it and even extended their stay. I decided to check it out for myself.
Banja Luka is the second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the capital of the entity Republika Srpska.
It lies on the banks of the river Vrbas and is an amazingly green city for its size. The parks and paths along the river are a true delight!
The area around Banja Luka has been inhabited since ancient times, with traces of human presence dating back to prehistoric times. And although the city has some remarkable sights and attractions to offer, it doesn’t feel touristy. Not at all.
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So is Banja Luka worth visiting?
If, like me, you’re travelling from Zagreb towards Sarajevo or Mostar, I highly recommend a stopover in Banja Luka. It’s a nice introduction to the country and an interesting way to see how people live away from the tourist centres.
If you’re looking for a great place to experience the everyday life of multicultural and multi-religious Bosnia and Herzegovina and learn about the history of the region in a city surrounded by the green, lush hills of Krajina region, Banja Luka is definitely worth visiting
If you have already visited Sarajevo, Mostar, Jajce or Pocitelj and are thinking of making a detour just to see Banja Luka, would probably skip it. Apart from Kassel Fortress and a few other landmarks, there isn’t that much to do in Banja Luka. From a touristy attractions point of view.
Banja Luka is a good city to visit if you want to catch up on work or just relax and do some sightseeing and walking in your free time without getting too distracted. There is plenty of day-to-day things to do in Banja Luka, such as visiting the excellent farmers’ market, many great cafés and restaurants, very good shopping and beautiful river walks.
So If you’re looking for an authentic town in Bosnia and Herzegovina where you can live like a local, have some digital nomad action or just stay away from tourist-infested towns, Banja Luka is for you.
But as a destination worth diverting to in its own right, I’m not sure.
It really depends on what you want from your travel experience.
I, personally, was very satisfied with my visit. I enjoyed my city walks and explorations, learning about the city and its heritage. I enjoyed the buzzing city centre and couldn’t stop admiring the surrounding hills and greenery of the countryside surrounding Banja Luka.
So as I mentioned earlier, if you are passing through the region, you should definitely stop by Banja Luka and maybe even stay for a night.
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How Many Days is Best for Visiting Banja Luka
You can definitely visit Banja Luka for a day, especially if you are travelling by car. If you’re driving from Zagreb to Sarajevo, you can stop for a couple of hours to see Banja Luka’s most important landmarks.
However, I recommend staying for a night. There are a few important landmarks that you’d want to see, as well as really good restaurants and lovely river walks that you should leave plenty of time for. Two days in Banja Luka gives you enough time to see everything and enjoy the city without rushing.
Banja Luka is also very well connected when it comes to public transport, so you can easily make a stop here if you’re travelling by bus. Most buses from Zagreb, Sarajevo and Mostar stop here, so there is no excuse to skip the city if you’re travelling on these routes.
Where to Stay in Banja Luka
The most popular type of accommodation in Banja Luka is short-term flats and studios, which you can rent through Booking.com or Airbnb. There are only a couple of hostels in Banja Luka but you can actually get a really nice private room or studio for an excellent price.
There are a couple of great hotels in Banja Luka like Courtyard by Marriott or Hotel Integra. Though as you scroll through the booking side you will notice mostly apartments and for a really good price.
I did just that and stayed at an Apartment Mirjana which had everything I needed including a washing machine as I was desperate at this point.
How to get to Banja Luka
Banja Luka is very well connected by public transport not only to other towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina but also to cities like Zagreb.
The best way to get to Banja Luka is by bus from either Sarajevo, Mostar or Zagreb if you are travelling from Croatia. Flixbus operates all of those routes making it super easy to book ahead.
Wondering if Bosnia and Herzegovina is safe to travel? Read my complete guide to Bosnia Travel Safety! And if are wondering how to budget for your Bosnia trip, read my guide to Budget Travel in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina is not complete without visiting beautiful Mostar! Read where why you should stay in Mostar for a few days!
Things to do in Banja Luka / Banja Luka Travel Guide
Banja Luka features a few attractions and landmarks really worth visiting. But the town is also pretty cool just to walk around and explore so here are a few noteworthy landmarks and things to do in Banja Luka.
Marvel at Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
First things first, just take a walk around the buzzing town of Banja Luka. As you approach the central square of the city, you will notice a beautiful Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It’s absolutely stunning from the outside, but will definitely take your breath away as you walk inside.
While the exterior stands out with its gold and brown walls and impressive golden domes, the interior is particularly beautifully decorated with golden details, intricately painted decorations and a dazzling giant central chandelier.
The church has a fascinating history. It was originally built in 1939 as Holy Trinity Church, but a German bombing raid in 1941 severely damaged its altar area. Shockingly, not only was it not allowed to be repaired, but the Ustashas even ordered its complete demolition, declaring it a “mound of the city”
Even under the Yugoslav government, the destroyed cathedral wasn’t given permission to rebuild, while many other buildings were reconstructed. It was only after the Bosnian War that the Eparchy of Banja Luka finally got the green light to rebuild the church naming it the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour as another church called Holy Trinity had been serving as a memorial to the previously demolished one – a remarkable accomplishment that the Orthodox Serbs thought was unattainable.
Visit Museum of Contemporary Art of the Republic of Srpska
Not far from the Cathedral, you will find a fascinating Museum of Contemporary Art of the Republic of Srpska which is definitely worth visiting. There are 2 noteworthy museums in Banja Luka but if you only have time for one it should be this one. Admission to this museum is free, and it is a must-visit attraction in Banja Luka.
The museum, initially called the “Art Gallery of Banja Luka,” originated as a gesture of solidarity after the city was struck by a devastating earthquake in October 1969. Yugoslavian and international artists collaborated to collect around 750 artworks, which formed the core collection of the gallery.
Today, the Museum of Contemporary Art showcases local and regional artists, offering visitors a glimpse into the vibrant art scene of Banja Luka.
And Museum of the Republika Srpska
If you have enough time for one more museum pop into the Museum of the Republika Srpska.
If you’re eager to delve into the region’s history, this museum is a must-visit. It features fascinating exhibitions on archaeology, nature, and culture, with plenty of English information available. Just keep in mind that the museum doesn’t touch on the collapse of Yugoslavia or the Bosnian War. Nonetheless, it offers a captivating experience for history enthusiasts.
Admire Ferhat Pasha Mosque / Best things to do in Banja Luka
One of the best things to do in Banka Luka is to visit the Ferhadija Mosque(also called Ferhat Pasha Mosque) – one of the most beautiful mosques in the Balkans.
The mosque was destroyed in 1993 at the order of the authorities of Republika Srpska as a part of the ethnic cleansing campaign. But was later rebuilt and inaugurated on May 7, 2016, and now stands as a remarkable testament to the Ottoman Islamic architecture of late 16th-century Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It is a truly beautiful mosque; if you visit, make sure you do so outside of prayer hours and dress appropriately.
Wander around the grounds of The Kastel Fortress
Don’t miss visiting Kastel Fortress, as it’s not a landmark that you will immediately notice. The mediaeval fortress is located on the left bank of the river Vrbas and is surrounded by lush greenery.
Although it’s a mediaeval fortress, it stands on the site of earlier fortifications that date back to Roman and even pre-Roman times. The fortress is beautifully situated, so be sure to take a walk along the river paths, and if you’re hungry, stop at the Kazamat restaurant, one of the best restaurants in Banja Luka.
Walk by the river and explore river parks in Banja Luka
A daily walk along the Vrbas River in Kej Starčevica Park was one of my favourite things to do in Banja Luka. On your walk, you’ll discover small restaurants and local bars perched on the riverbank and plenty of space to just relax and take in the greenery.
Walk all the way to the KAB bridge that leads to the city centre. You can also walk towards Patra Bridge, where you’ll find a couple of river restaurants on boats.
Enjoy shopping and people watching on Gentelmen Street
Dont miss Gospodska Street (gentleman’s street) which is the oldest and busiest pedestrian street in Banja Luka.
Its official name is Veselin Maslesa Street, but locals call it Gentelmen Street and there is an interesting legend behind it. Allegedly, Tomo Radulovic, a trader from Banja Luka, humorously displayed a sign on his shop referring to the street as “Gentleman’s Street.” Surprisingly, the Austro-Hungarian authorities found the joke amusing and accepted the name for the street.
It is a vibrant, colourful street lined up with shops, ice cream parlours and restaurants often colourfully decorated and always busy.
And shop for some fresh produce or tottaly random stuff at the Gradska Trznica Market
There’s no better way to immerse yourself in city life than to shop at a local farmers market. Be sure to visit Gradska Trznica Market, if only to walk around and soak up the local atmosphere.
It is not often visited by tourists, and I could clearly feel that. You can buy fresh veggies and wonderful fruits here, but also t-shirts, belts and other random bits, you might need!
I hope you enjoyed this Banja Luka travel guide and decided to stop there during your Bosnia and Hercegovina and Balkans travels. Maybe like me, you want to make your own up on whether Banja Luka is worth visiting.
I think you should. And if you do, let me know what your thoughts are!
Until then, happy travels!
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Your Balkans Cheatsheet
If you are travelling around the Balkans by bus, Flixbus covers a lot of the routes but they often cooperate with local operators. It is convenient to book on the Flixbus website if you want to pay for your journey upfront.
If you prefer to pay directly with the local operator, be prepared to pay in cash. To check the timetable BusTicket4.me is the most reliable. But I still recommend only using it for checking the times and purchasing the ticket at the bus station.
In the majority of Balkan countries, you will pay a 1€ (or equivalent in local currency) fee for luggage.
The bus is the best way to travel between Balkan countries but there are a couple of stunning train routes you cannot miss like Sarajevo to Mostar or Belgrade to Bar!
If you are considering renting a car you can browse all rental companies via Expedia!
Always, always triple-check the information you were given, especially when it comes to inter-city travel. Only because one person, in one place says there are no busses, it doesn’t mean it’s true. Triple check.
Only Slovenia is within the Schengen Area so individual visa rules will apply.
Only Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Croatia use Euros. All other countries use their own currency. In some touristy spots, you will be able to use Euros but dont take it for granted. You will pay for a coffee pot from a souvenir stand in Mostar in Euros, but the supermarket will ask for Bosnian Marks.
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