Banja Luka or Banjaluka, spelt Бања Лука when the Cyrillic alphabet is in play, is the capital of the Republika Srpska entity and the second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has traditionally been the centre of the Bosanska Krajina, a region located in the northwest of the country on the Vrbas river. Below is all the basic information one needs to get by in BL, although we can’t promise that the ‘all’ part of that is accurate. There’s a lot of info, let’s just put it that way.
By the Numbers
Population — 199,191
Area — 1,238.91 square kilometres
Official Language — Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian
Local Time — Central European (GMT +1)
We’ll start with alcohol, because why not? People in this part of the world aren’t slow to let their hair down, but there is more to alcohol in Banja Luka than simple partying. Rakija is ubiquitous, a fruit brandy that comes in a vast array of flavours with a general alcohol content of 40%, although some of the home-brewed stuff might take your eyebrows off. Šljivovica (plum), Dunja (quince) and jabukovača (apple) are the most common, although do keep an eye out for some of the more unusual flavours (wild garlic, for example). Beer is becoming more common, with the Banja Luka-brewed Nektar found in almost every bar. Craft beers have also made their way here, so keep an eye out for those.
The Convertible Mark (KM) is the local currency, originally pegged to the deutschmark and now aligned with the Euro. Conversion is simple — €1 is 2KM.
Don’t. If local folk want to talk about politics, just listen.
We can’t be 100% sure, but we think smoking might be the national sport. All cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants allow smoking inside, and cigarettes are absurdly cheap.
Tipping isn’t compulsory in Banja Luka, although a little bit can go a long way here. If the service is decent, tip as you feel.
Banja Luka’s climate follows that of the Balkan area, which is to say it is European weather on steroids. The winters get mighty cold, with temperatures known to fall to minus double figures in December and January. Summer goes the other way, with August being particularly sweltering. Spring and autumn are delightful however, with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine.
Crime & Safety
Bosnia & Herzegovina is an immensely safe country, despite the wide belief that it is not. Banja Luka is much the same, a very safe place no matter the time of day, as displayed by the amount of families out wandering around at night. General regional common sense applies — don’t blurt out uneducated opinions about the war, in short.
Banja Luka’s main hospital is one of the best in the country, not to mention one of its most aesthetically impressive. The University Clinical Centre of Republika Srpska stands atop a hill overlooking the city, a stunning location for a place of rest and recuperation. This is the place to go if you find yourself in a medical quandary in Banja Luka.
There are a couple of public toilets in the centre of town, but it’ll be no surprise to see these removed in a decade or two. It is just as convenient to nip into a cafe and enjoy a coffee while taking the time to relieve yourself — there are plenty of acceptable establishments around after all.
The days of internet cafes are trundling to an end, as the ubiquity of smart technology and WiFi puts the final nail in the coffin of overpriced internet use in stuffy cafes. There are still a couple of internet cafes in the centre of Banja Luka, primarily used for printing and little else. The last of a dying breed, so to speak.
The tap water in Banja Luka is absolutely fine to drink. In fact, Bosnia and Herzegovina is known for having the second best tap water in Europe, with only the Swiss ahead of BiH. Tap water is also readily available in bars and cafes.