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- 24 Oct 2020, 3 nights
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Banja Luka has emerged from the past, now a modern homage to revival. The capital of Republika Srpska, Serb-governed Bosnia and Herzegovina, hums with life. Here, a thriving pedestrianised centre and student population brews a lively nightlife. However, it's also worth making time for the beautifully restored cathedral and exhilarating water sports on the rolling turquoise currents of the Vrbas River. Spend some time in Banja Luka and you'll find yourself wishing you could stay longer.
Hostels in Banja Luka are mostly within walking distance of its pedestrianised centre. You can stay in dorms painted with colourful murals, or book a private room if you're travelling alone. Some places have communal kitchens so you can cook your own and save your budget for the nightlife. Check out a Banja Luka hostel with an outdoor terrace and gather new friends for a barbecue. Use free Wi-Fi to look up your route around the bakeries and bars in town.
Gold-capped Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is at the heart of Banja Luka. Walking south from here you'll find the pedestrianised shopping street of Kralja Petra, with the popular cafés and shops favoured by locals. To the east, the unassuming neighbourhood of Borik is the student nightlife hub, although there are also plenty of bars around Gradski Most (also known as Most Patre) bridge. The banks of the Vrbas is lined with peaceful cafés and its namesake willow trees, while dajak (Bosnian punt boats) drift along in the river below.
For sights to see in Banja Luka, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour has been restored to its gold-capped glory, bringing its fresco wall paintings back to life. Across the square, Banski Dvor is a stately former palace, now a cultural centre hosting photography exhibitions and concerts. Head out later for cevapi sausages, beers and dancing on outdoor terraces. Adventurous travellers should head to the Vrbas Canyons (20 minutes' drive) south of the city for adrenaline-fuelled rafting and kayaking.
To get here, fly to Banja Luka International Airport from European cities such as Berlin and Belgrade. Shuttle buses run between the airport and town centre or the main bus station. Buses travel from Banja Luka to towns throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, or catch international coaches to Montenegro, Zagreb, Serbia and Germany. City buses are a good way to get to the outskirts and into the countryside, although taxis are also an affordable option here.