Banja Luka (also written Banjaluka or Бања Лука) is a picturesque city in the western part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the administrative capital and the largest city of Republika Srpska, and the second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Banja Luka is in essence the hub of northwestern Bosnia, an area called Bosanska Krajina that is quite forested. It has important bus, air, and motorist connections and is also a notable financial sector with its own stock exchange, but aside from that it is distinguished for its sporting affairs like tennis, handball, rafting, and, of course, football. On the whole, the city has a pleasing aesthetic with leafy pedestrian streets, a location on the Vrbas River with verdant hills in the background, and a university, and a continental climate with four seasons.
Banja Luka has a long history going all the way back to ancient Rome, as in Illyria and Dalmatia and other polities of that old world power. And since then, it has transcended medieval, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian states and the trials of modern warfare. On a bad day in WWII, the Bishop of Banja Luka was killed and thrown into the Vrbas River, and Serbs and Jews during the whole period met their demise in camps nearby.
The city was battered by the Bosnian War in the 1990s, during which Bosniaks and Croats were expelled and mosques were demolished. Serbs moved in, established the Republika Srpska, and made Banja Luka the de facto capital. Thus, the city almost has two identities, yet today the municipality seems to make it work.
Banja Luka has a continental climate, with harsh winters and warm summers. The warmest month of the year is July, with an average temperature of 21.3°C (70°F). The coldest month of the year is January, when temperatures average near freezing at 0.8°C (33°F). Annual precipitation for Banja Luka is about 988mm. Banja Luka has an average of 143 rainy days a year. Due to the city's high latitude, it snows in Banja Luka almost every year as well. Strong winds come from the north and north-east.
In Banja Luka most locals call their language Serbian, although there are plenty of people who refer to the language as Bosnian, BHS, or as 'Naš' (our [language]). Anyway, those languages are virtually the same. Sometimes you'll find (road) signs written in Cyrillic.
The bus station is approximately 2 km to the north of the centre. There are taxis right at the exit of the bus which for ~10 marks (KM) can drive you to the centre. The city bus leaves from next to the train station, 200 m away, and a fare to the centre is less than 2 km. The Wi-Fi password of the café at the bus station is
- 1 Agencija Neobas, Jevrejska, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. You can buy your ticket at the bus station, or at the Neobas tourist agency in the centre of town, Jevrejska bb (Novi Zanatski Centar). Prices are the same.
There are direct bus connections from the main bus station to
- Bosnia: Sarajevo, Šipovo, Prijedor, Bosansko Gradiška, Bosansko Grahovo, Trebinje, Prijedor, Teslić, Banja Vrućica, Novi Grad, Gornji Graci, Višegrad, Bihać, ...
- Austria: Vienna, Linz and Salzburg http://www.boro-bus.com/
- Croatia: Zagreb, Makarska, Pula, Split, Zadar (http://www.cazmatrans.hr/zd-bih.html), Rijeka
- Denmark: Copenhagen
- France: Paris, Lyon, ... see Eurolines.
- Germany: Cologne, Dortmund, Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt am Main, Ingolstadt, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg, Pforzheim, Stuttgart and Ulm
- Montenegro: Igalo, Podgorica
- Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Maastricht: http://www.semi-tours.com
- Serbia: Belgrade, Novi Sad (http://www.smiljic.com/index.php?id=55), Kragujevac, Sombor, Zrenjanin, Niš, Subotica
- Sweden: Stockholm
- Switzerland: Zürich, Luzern
Normally you would get out of those buses at Derventa but if the weather is alright and its not in the middle of the night, you could ask the bus driver to let you already out at the Novska gas station (3 km after the Novska exit) on the Zagreb-Bosanski Brod highway, approx 3 hours before Derventa. From the Novska gas station its another 15 km hitchhike to Okučani, the highway exit to Banja Luka (the bus won't let you off there, it is off the highway, but it's easy for cars to drop you off there). From Okučani its 3 km (hitch)hike to the Bosnian border. You can then cross the border on foot (or hitching) and continue the last lap of your travel by taking a bus to BL in Bosanska Gradiska (approx 8 KM). This will almost always save you several hours, and totally widens the spectrum of buses available to travel to Banja Luka.
- 1 Banja Luka International Airport (BNX IATA) (23 km (14 mi) from the city). Regular flights to Belgrade with Air Serbia and seasonal to Tivat (Montenegro).
Smiljić bus company arranges a minibus/taxi to and from the airport to the old busstation (stara autbuska stanica) in the centre of town. Its recommended to make a reservation by email (email@example.com). The charge is 10 KM for a one-way ticket. So if your with three or more, it's probably just as cheap to go by cab.
The train (and bus) station is located about 2 km southeast of the centre. Connections to: Doboj and Sarajevo (5 hr), Zagreb (5 hr) and Ploče (Croatia) and to Belgrade (Serbia). There are only a few trains passing the station each day, but tickets are a bit cheaper than the bus, and the train is generally more comfortable.
Ride-sharing too and from Banja Luka is in 2012 often done through the Trazim- nudim prevoz (Searching- offering transport) Facebook group.
You can have your bike fixed á la minute at the Bike Servis Shop  [dead link], in the Ul. Gundulićeva 104 - next to the football stadion. Tel. 051/301-470. Another bike shop is 5 doors down in the row of buildings.
The tourist office owns 15 rental bicycles, which are maintained by the above bike shop. Rental: 1 KM/hour, or 15 KM/day.
- Rentacar Omega: Ul. 1 Krajiškog Korpusa 58, tel. 065/610-040 or 065/777-888, firstname.lastname@example.org. 60 KM per day, 55 KM/day if longer than 3 days.
There are many historic things to see in the city of Banja Luka.
- Kastel fortress on the bank of the Vrbas river with history up to Roman ages.
- Ferhat-Pasha Mosque (Ferhat-pašina džamija), (also called Ferhadija mosque) This example of Islamic 16th century architecture was built during the time of the Ottoman rule. Built in 1579 it has a central fountain called Shaderwan, stone and iron fence. It is built in the classical Ottoman style. Ferhadija was listed as a cultural heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1950. Later it was protected by UNESCO until destroyed in 1993. The site and the remains of the mosque today are a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the mosque is under reconstruction.
- Cathedral of Saint Bonaventure Built in 1887, the 1969 earthquake levelled the church. The current cathedral was built in 1974.
- Banski Dvor (Governor's Palace) in the centre of the city. Built in the 1930s. A concert hall and gallery. This is the main cultural centre placed in the city centre.
- Monastery of Gomionica from 16th century near Banja Luka. Monastery has the collection of ancient icons from 18th century.
- The Trapist monastery, close to Pivara Banjaluka. The monastery is the only trapist monastery in the Western Balkans and it was reopened in 2008. It is known for its home-made wines and cheese. Address: Slatinska 1 (on the road to Slatina)
- 1 Monument to the Fallen Krajina Fighters (Spomenik na Šehitlucima) (On Banja Brdo (Banj Hill) (aka: Šehitluci Hill)). A very large WWII monument sitting on top of a hill south of town.
And contemporary things:
- Gospodska street, actually Veselin Masleša street, is the main street of city with shops, offices and cafes (on bottom) alongside. Recommended time to visit, because of its liveliness, is during day on Saturdays whole day, and between 12:00 and 14:00 on workdays. During evenings visit on Fridays and Sundays or each day in the case of nice weather.
- Dom Omladine , Đure Danićića 1. The "youth centre" run by the local youth council, with regular concerts, performances, expos, workshops, etc. (it is closed due to local politics).
- Christ the Saviour Church, located in the downtown.. This church is in the city's centre, and it is one of the most expensive and most beautiful churches in the region.
Banja Luka is a city with the rich night life.
- Boom Boom Room, Veselina Maslese 15-17 (Gospodska ulica), ☏ . In a town where folk music is a general trend, Boom Boom Room is the first club in Banja Luka offering unique, world-like atmosphere,playing exclusively DJ electronic music. Located in the very heart of the city, open W-Sa.
- Demofest klub (DFK), Patre 5 (entrance across the street from Kastel). Offers a colourful programme with diverse music, live gigs from various bands, all genres of music except folk, decent after-parties and average drink prices.
- 1 Market, Knjasa Milosa (Right next to the busstation). 08:00-14:00. The market, close to the bus- and train station is worth your while. Seems to be coming straight from the countryside, each day of the week in the morning you can buy everything you need there, from vegetables to hardware to second hand freezers. On Sunday cars are on sale - and an occasional French-plated Mercedes, on Tuesdays livestock.
- Take a Dajak tour over the Vrbas from ("Zeleni most" - Prvi mlin - Kastel - "Zeleni most"), 20 KM/one person; 25 KM/two persons, 30 KM/three persons, (maximum: three persons for one boat) Contact numbers: 065/517-261 or 065/566-139.
- See for current events the English archive of the email list "foreigners in Banja luka": http://groups.google.com/group/stranci-u-banjaluci and https://www.facebook.com/groups/211524665639643/
- 2 Multipleks Palas (Cinema), Trg Krajina (underneath Boska), ☏ . Cinema Palas with your fair amount of blockbusters and some local movies.
- Restoran Slap (Swim), Novoselija (go to the east shore of the Vrbas, and continue the road all the way south until you come to Novoselija). Restaurant Slap (Waterfall) lies next to a small barrage in the Vrbas and it is excellent swimming there on hot summer days when the water is not too high.
- Charitable organization Duga, Kralja Petra I Karađorđevića 88 (between the Government building and the Tobacco Factory, sharing the yard with a kindergarten), ☏ . If you are interested in the traditional arts and crafts of the region, Duga can offer fantastic learning opportunities to you. Contact Duga and arrange a visit where you can watch and learn from local craftspeople as they conduct live demonstrations of a wide range of handicrafts including weaving, crocheting, embroidery and knitting. You will be able to have a “hands on” experience and a chance to learn new skills in the process.
- Demofest. Festival of alternative music, usually lasting three days, consisting of two different parts: each evening there is a contest of demo bands, with two semifinal nights and the finals, which are held on the third day of the festival, and concerts of bands with more reputation following each part of the contest.
- Banjalukanima. Animaton films, October
- Kratkofil. Festival of short films in summer
- Neofest. Pop music, organised by Dom Omladine.
Go rafting on the parcours of the 2009 World Championships of rafting in the Canyon of the Vrbas with Buk,, email@example.com, Jesenjinova 1, 50 km per person, or with the much more posh Kanjon Rafting Club in Karanovac.
Many establishments (especially hotels) accept euros (notes only). ATMs are all over the place with MasterCard, Visa and other offshoots being accepted. Credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club are readily accepted by larger establishments all over the country. When changing money, it is best to ask for small bills as shops often are hard-pressed for change. Travelers cheques can be readily changed at Raiffeisen and Zagrebačka Banks.
It is not compulsory to tip in Banja Luka, though a reward of about 10% for good service in restaurant or bar is always appreciated.
You can get local, handicraft souvenirs for example at the shop of association "Duga". All items there are made of natural materials by traditional technologies, and are decorated with ornaments from original traditional clothing from the area of Dinara. Their collection contains: ethno souvenirs, decorative products and clothing. Address: Etnoradionica "Duga", Kralja Petra I Karađorđevića 88 (the same street as the city hall) All of the handicrafts are produced in an ethical manner and by purchasing them you will help Duga to continue providing aid to all of its beneficiaries and support to other local humanitarian projects.
Next to Kastel is also a souvenir shop, look for the big "Suvenir"-sign.
If you like meat, you'll love Banja Luka. Meat is a standard for any meal. However, there is still lots of interesting meals you can make do if you are a vegetarian.
Here is a list of the most popular traditional dishes:
- Ćevapi - small meat sausages of pork, lamb and beef mix. They are usually served with fresh onions and pita bread (lepinja) on the side. Ćevapi usually come in pointer finger size sausages and are offered by five or ten pieces, although the variety commonly found in Banja Luka (banjalučki ćevap) usually consists of quadrangular pieces of meat.
- Pita - traditional pies, e.g., burek (with meat, which is different than in Serbia!), krompirusa (potato), sirnica (cheese) zeljanica (spinach), tikve (courgette) or with gljive (mushrooms). Normally, krompirusa and tikve are vegan (no animal products). You'd eat your pita with yoghurt (not vegan)
- Bamija - a dish of meat cooked with okra, a traditional vegetable.
- Sarma - meat and rice rolled in cabbage or grape leaves.
- Prasetina - pork grilled over an open fire.
- Teletina - is veal, usually served in cutlets. Veal in B&H is not produced by locking calves in a cage to ensure softer meat.
- Janjetina - lamb grilled over an open fire.
- Musaka - a meat pie made of minced beef, very similar to shepherds pie.
- Filovane paprike - fried peppers stuffed with minced meat and spices.
- Pršut - air dried ham, similar to Italian proscuitto.
- Suho Meso - dried meat, either beef or pork.
- "Ispod Sača" - similar to Dutch oven. A metal dish is placed on hot coals, the food is placed in the dish and covered by a lid which is then completely covered in hot coals and left to bake.
- Vlašićki Sir - similar to Travnički cheese. It is a highland cheese from the mountain villages on Vlašić Mountain in central Bosnia.
- Mladi Sir - Cottage cheese. It has a soft texture and is unsalted. Oftentimes it is served with a cream sauce on top. It is very healthy.
- Kajmak - is analogous to clotted cream in the UK. The top layer of fat skimmed from milk, it is creamy and extremely tasty. Kajmak and Uštipak (doughnut type roll) is a wonderful appetizer.
- Iz mjeha - sheep milk poured into a specially sewn sheep skin 'bag'. After a time the dry cheese is taken out of the skin container and the result is a strong, dry cheese that resembles real Parmesan.
- 1 Pite pod Sača 'Sač', Patrijarha Makarija Sokolovica 4 (next to Ferhadija, behind mediamarket), ☏ . 08:00-20:00. Where the Albanian cooks prepare pita in the traditional way, under the Sač, a steel lid covered with burning cinders. ~4KM/kg.
- Kod Muje, grill near Kozara cinema, is by many, the place with best ćevapčići in city.
- Restoran Obala, ☏ . Jesenjinova 26 on the River Vrbas, good local food, very nice location.
- Restoran Master, Bulevar vojvode Stepe Stepanovića 44, ☏ . Mexican food.
- Restoran Sirano
- Restoran Lovački Bar. Slatinska 37.
- Kazamat (Казамат), Teodora Kolokotronisa, ☏ . In one of the cellars of the old Tvrdjava Kastel, with English menu's, decent wine, several vegetarian alternatives (only part of the Tropic Club-chain!) tel.: 051/224-466, 051/224-460. approx. 50 KM for three course meal with drinks. Open daily 11:00-23:00.
- Integra Restaurant. On the 14th floor of the RTRS building (RTV dom, РТВ дом), build by the Integra company for the Integra company, right next to the building of the Vlada (the government) of the RS. You might be sitting next to President Dodik signing oil deals with the Russians. tel. 051/337 430, Trg Republike Srpske 8.
- Citadela, Kralja Alfonsa XIII 2, ☏ . the main shopping street. On the ground floor a cake and coffee shop, in the basement a traditional restaurant, and on the first floor another. Good quality.
- Mala Stanica, ☏ . The old train station, now right at the foot of the Vlada (government building). European style, amazing souffles. Kralja Petra I
Rakia or Rakija is considered to be a national drink. Its alcohol content is normally 40%, but home-produced rakia can be a tongue burner, typically 50 to 60%! Frequently used as a common drink at all celebrations, birthdays, holy holidays, slava (Orthodox Christian custom of honoring a patron saint) and even funerals. Common flavors are slivovitz, traditionally made from plums and lozova, which is made from grapes. But, you can also distill from pears, peaches, apricots, apples, figs and cherries. Plum and grape rakia are sometimes mixed with other ingredients, such as herbs, honey, sour cherries and walnuts after distillation.
Nektar pivo is the local beer, brewed in Banja Luka.
- Hotel Cezar Banja Luka, ☏ . Mladena Stojanovića 123.
- Hotel Palace, Kralja Petra, Karadjordjevića 60, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hotel Bosna, ☏ . Karađorđevića 97.
- Hotel Atina.
- Hotel Grand, ☏ . Subotička bb.
- Hotel Talija, 9 Srpska Street, ☏ .
- Hotel Vidovic, Ul. Jevrejska, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. There are two restaurants within the hotel, one showcasing the local cuisine and the other à la carte.
- Elit Motel Dragana.
- 1 Hostel Banja Luka, Srpskih ustanika 26 (1.5 km from city centre, part of a town called Starcevica, very close to Merkator centre and almost across Integral gas station), ☏ . Check-out: 14:00. Comfortable ambiance and friendly staff. Restaurant and free Internet. 10.
- 2 Hostel Herz, Milana Rakića 22 (in the centre of Banja Luka (Borik), next to the Vrbas river), ☏ . Check-out: 14:00. Free internet access, free coffee in the café Hertz, quiet place to rest. €11 (dorm), €15 (private room).
- Possibility to pitch a tent in their huge back garden
Banja Luka is the capital of Republika Srpska, one of the two constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is an ongoing dispute between Bosnian unionists and Serb separatists, and in general the underlying conflicts are far from resolved. For these reasons it is best to abstain from discussing politics, unless your conversation partner brings up the topic him/herself and asks for your opinion.
- Climbing: 24 km south of Banja Luka and 5 km north of Krupa na Vrbasu is a nice climbing site; the 'stone bridge' (Kameni Most, Камени мост). More information you can for example get at "Extreme Banja Luka " climbing club.
- Rafting: At Karanovac, 15 km south on the main road from Banja Luka is rafting club "Kanjon" from where you can go rafting in the Vrbas canyon . On the Vrbas, together with the Tara near Foča, the world championships of rafting were held in 2009.
- Doboj renovated medieval fortress, about 1.5 hours by train.
- . Not far from Karanovac is the canyon of the Svrakava river, a small canyon where it is nice to try to climb through. Its a wild spot, it is not being commercially exploited. You can reach the canyon by going on the road towards Kneževo. After you pass the bridge over the Vrbas to Karanovac, there is a small road going on your left with an indication of Svrakava. That is just before the main road goes uphill into the forest. After that indication there are no others, so you'll have to find it from there on yourself. Its about 3 km (2 mi) further that road.
- If you really want to go canonying, ask a local person to take you to Cvrcka canyon (Цврцка). Around 40 km south-east of town, between Kotor Varoš and Kneževo. On hot summer days you can track up to 18 km through the canyon wading through the fresh water of the Cvrcka river. Not very difficult.