Capital of Herzegovina, home of a fierce city rivalry

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Mostar is the capital of Herzegovina, a rugged region south-west of Bosnia between the southern tip of Dalmatia and the Dinaric Alps. The green Neretva river that feeds it also divides it, bisecting Mostar, whose Old Bridge gave the city its name.

Destroyed in 1993, rebuilt a decade later, this Ottoman landmark brings tourists from Dalmatia but no longer bonds Mostar. Each side of town, the Croat west and the Bosniak east, now has its own bus station, its own school system – and its own football club.

Their origins dating back to the very beginnings of the game here, Zrinjski Mostar represent the Croatian community. Reformed in 1992, they joined the First League of Herzeg-Bosnia for local Croatian clubs, a forerunner of today’s Premijer liga, which they’ve since won a record eight times. Zrinjski play at the Stadion pod Bijelim Brijegom, built for city rivals Velež Mostar in the 1950s.

Staging ‘Rođeni’s’ great domestic cup runs and European triumphs of the 1970s and 1980s, the stadium found itself on the Croat side during the brutal Siege of Mostar between 1992 and 1994.

Staging ‘Rođeni’s’ great domestic cup runs and European triumphs of the 1970s and 1980s, the stadium found itself on the Croat side during the brutal Siege of Mostar between 1992 and 1994.

Banned by the Yugoslavia’s Communist authorities for half a century, revived Zrinjski duly moved into the revered stadium, a major bone of contention when the city had so much other division and bloodshed to deal with. The east side, in particular, was in ruins. Playing in Zenica, Velež took part in the First League of Bosnia and Herzegovina for clubs from Sarajevo, Tuzla and other main Bosnian cities.

The league was fused with its Croatian counterpart to create the all Bosnia-Herzegovina Premijer liga in 2000-01. This, in turn, revived the Mostar derby, a bitter affair riven with grievance. By then, Velež had set up in Vrapčići on the city’s far north-eastern outskirts, Now called the Stadion Rođeni after the club’s nickname (‘Our Own’), the site had been earmarked by Velež just before World War II.

After 1945, the decision was made to build a stadium in the western suburb of Bijeli Brijeg. Back then, populist Velež were the only team in town, the pride of Mostar, effectively a one-club city without Zrinjski.

But Zrinjski had the longer history. After Bosnia-Herzegovina came under Austro-Hungarian control in 1878, Central Europe exerted its control and influence, bringing in the army and administrators, urban planning and the railway. With the Adriatic an hour away, transport connections opened up this former Ottoman outpost.

In 1903, Oskar Lajhner, the son of a local banker, received a football as a present from Budapest. Hungarian soldiers based at the Sjerverni logor garrison, alongside the Neretva north-east of town, showed Lajhner and friends how the game was played. A student team was duly formed, the Đački športski klub.

In 1911, pupils of the Osman school from Sarajevo stopped off in Mostar on the way home from Split. Their two games with Đački were the first ever to take place in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A year later, the Mostar club was renamed Zrinjski after the noble Croatian/Hungarian dynasty. 

Dissolved during World War I, Zrinjski were revived in 1922, the same year that a prominent Communist activist founded workers’ club Velež, named after a nearby mountain. Their badge a five-pointed red star, Velež had clear political leanings. The Belgrade authorities in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia favoured the Jugoslovenski sport klub, co-founded by Oskar Lajhner in 1919.

All based at Sjerverni logor, JSK, Velež and Zrinjski were Mostar’s dominant teams between the wars, the Croatians also playing friendlies in Zagreb and Dubrovnik. After the Nazi-backed Croatia republic was created in 1941, it subsumed Bosnia-Herzegovina and set up its own football league, dominated by Zagreb. Zrinjski’s involvement led to their ban in 1945, the Communist regime happy to back Velež. 

Relegated in 2016, promoted in 2019, Velež remain interwoven with Mostar’s urban fabric while Zrinjski enjoy ministerial backing and fanatical support at Bijeli Brijeg.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Mostar Airport 7km (4.5 miles) south of town serves Croatia Airlines flights from Zagreb. Moj Taxi (+387 1503) should charge about 10KM/€5 into town.

Busier Sarajevo Airport is 124km (77 miles) away. Buses (5KM/€2.50, pay the driver) to Basčaršija in Sarajevo city centre run every 1-2hrs. A Žuti taxi (+387 33 663 555) into town should cost around 15-20KM/€7.50-€10, credit cards accepted.

Sarajevo’s main bus and train stations are close to each other west of the city centre. Tram 1 should link Basčaršija in town to the train station but part of the line is currently under renovation – trams 1 and 3 should still take you to Muzej a short walk from the stations or a taxi would be a couple of euros.

From Sarajevo bus station, services to Mostar leave every hour or so, take 2hrs 45mins and cost around 25KM/€12.50. There are also two trains a day from Sarajevo to Mostar, journey time 2hrs, single 14KM/€7.

Note that if you’re flying into Split or Dubrovnik in Croatia, there’s usually a morning bus service to Mostar from each city centre, journey times between 4hrs and 4hrs 30mins, single tickets 35KM/€17.50 and 45KM/€22.50 respectively.

Mostar’s main bus and train stations are on the eastern side of town, north of the centre a short walk away on main street Maršala Tita. There’s also a smaller bus station on the west side of town, closer as the crow flies to Zrinjski’s Stadion pod Bijelim Brijegom, though it’s probably easier via the main roads from the eastern terminus.

Local yellow Mostar Bus services (1.50KM/€0.75 on board) cover the city. Taxi journeys across town shouldn’t cost more than a couple of euros.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Pubs and bars dot the main streets on the west side while tourists flock to the food-focused spots near the river. First port of call should be the wonderful Shankly’s Pub on Ante Starčevića, Liverpool-themed down to the bar food, screening matches and full of lively football buzz amid framed shirts. DJs spin at weekends. Nearby, on Kneza Višeslava, the Pub Beer ti&ja also shows games in a cosy bar space as befits its name, ‘you&I’. Quality beer selection, too, with decent bar food.

Staying on the west side but nearer the Old Bridge, two modern bars have a younger buzz about them. At Gojka Vukovića 4, the Craft Beer Garden imalmoze serves many brews, as its name suggests, hosting board-game and quiz nights, as well as events dedicated to Factory Records. There’s food, too, falafel sandwiches and the like, but not much TV football going on.

Close by at Jusovina 5, the OLD CREW Gastro Pub is better known for its regular live music but most are happy to pull up a seat outside and gaze out over the Old Bridge.

Even closer to Mostar’s main landmark, Marshall on Onešćukova amps up the tunes and revs up for parties, attracting loyal regulars.

Over on the east side, the top spot for football fans is the Italianate Forza on Braće Fejića (look out for Stella umbrellas), matches screened in smarter surroundings more suitable to sipping Aperol spritz. Old Velež photos are a nice touch.

Overlooking the Old Bridge on that side, Terasa offers a winning view with its regular beers and early-evening cocktails.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadiums and city centre

Turizam Mostar has a perfunctory hotel database.

Of the many hotels on the west bank, none are alongside Bijeli Brijeg. A 10min walk along Stjepana Radića, the modern four-star Mostar has a spa, restaurant and hairdresser’s. Nearby, overlooking Musala (aka Tito’s) Bridge, the mid-range Bristol feels old-school though was rebuilt after the Siege. It’s attached by ownership to the Labirint restaurant, whose lovely terrace overlooks the Old Bridge from the other side of the river.

Further down towards the Old Bridge, by its replica Kriva Ćuprija, the classy four-star of the same name offers swish rooms and a top restaurant. Nearby on Kapetanova, the Villa Deny comprises seven simple but comfortable rooms while on Jusovina, the smart Pension Čardak has free parking and superior rooms close to a number of decent bars and restaurants. 

The mid-range Villa Milas on Franjevačka also provides its guests with free parking, with the Old Bridge a short stroll away.

Over on the east side, by the bus station and Carinski Bridge, Aldi ( is a great find, its balconies and pool overlooking the Neretva. Book early in high season, it’s popular.

Closer to the historic centre and bar action, the Pellegrino (Braće Fejića, +387 62 969 000) combines convenience and comfort while the nearby Lombrelle (Trg 1. maj, +387 36 552 125) is similar in price and offer.