Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, is not a destination that is on a travellers “must see” list. Most people head to Croatia to spend time at the coast. I can understand why, as the coastal cities are really beautiful. I read that the train journey from Split to Zagreb was spectacular, so naturally I had to see for myself and I wasn’t disappointed. It is totally underrated in my opinion and it seems like Lonely Planet agrees with me. Zagreb has the #1 spot on the Best places to visit in Europe in 2017 list.
The town is easy to get around and you can see it in just 24 hours. The trams are fast and efficient, but if you are close to the centre of town you can walk almost everywhere. The main tourist attractions are well signposted and you really can’t get lost. It is a great city to walk around. It is divided into two distinct sections, the medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and the lower town.
The Main Square
A good place to start exploring is at the main square (Trg Bana Jelacica) in the lower town. The square has been around since the 17th century. The pretty pastel coloured buildings are mostly from the late 19th century. The oldest building, dates from the 18th century and is at 1 Ban Jelačić Square.
The Mandušsevac Fountain on the square provided drinking water for the city until the end of the 19th century. Local legend has it that if you throw a coin it the fountain it will bring you good luck.
The Observation Deck is just off the square. If you want a bird’s eye view of the city then you will certainly find it here. The entrance fee is 60 kuna or about 8 euros. The deck opens at 10.00 am and closes just before midnight. It is also a perfect place to watch the sunset, so you might like to save the visit until later.
The Dolac Market
A short distance from the square is the Dolac, the open-air fruit and vegetable market. It is easy to find if you look for the red umbrellas. It is no secret that I love markets. I wandered around, buying a bit of this and that to snack on. What a choice! There were also some handmade wooden items for sale as well as a couple of stalls selling local handcrafts. If you were looking for a unique gift then this is a good place to buy it.
Behind the market, on the hill, is the cathedral. It has a neo – gothic façade and twin steeples designed by a Viennese architect. The steeples were being repaired when I was there, but it still was an impressive sight. On the northern wall the 10 commandments are inscribed in a local script that was developed in medieval times. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1880 after an earthquake destroyed it.
The Stone Gate
As you leave the cathedral across Skalinska Street and Krvavi Most look for the signs directing you towards the Stone Gate. This is one of the oldest entrances into the city. Locals frequently light candles and pray for lost loved ones at the gate’s small chapel. The tradition started after a fire swept through the gate and burnt most of it to the ground, leaving only a painting of the Madonna and Baby Jesus
This street in only for pedestrians and I loved it! It was buzzing with cafes, microbreweries, restaurants and the odd upmarket shop. You will be spoilt for choice trying to decide what to eat. I wanted to try so many places, but I had to be realistic. This is also the heart of the city’s nightlife.
I stopped at a Caffe Destino. They had a wide selection of light snacks, which was exactly what I wanted.
As you stroll along the street keep a look out for a statue of a woman with an umbrella. It commemorates Marija Juric Zagorka, Croatia’s first female journalist and author. She is quite a contrast to the trendy people that surround her.
St Marks Church
This 13thcentury church is one of Zagreb’s most iconic buildings. The beautiful coloured tiled roof dates from 1880. It has the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia on the left side, and the emblem of Zagreb on the right.
Just around the corner from the church is the Lotrščak Tower. It was built in the 13th century for protection from the Turks. You can climb the stairs for a panoramic view over the city. If you are there at midday, be warned that there is a cannon fired. This has been the case since 1877 and the locals set their watches by it.
Strossmayer Promenade & Funicular
The Promenade was built in the 19th century. It is a great place to walk and take in the views of the city below from the tree-lined avenue. Zagreb is filled with interesting statues scattered around. It is one of the things that I really like about city. Don’t miss the silver statue of a man sitting on a bench. It is the poet and author Antun Gustav Matos. According to legend if you rub his nose you will meet the person of your dreams. I will leave it up you to test the theory!
There is a funicular that has been in operation from 1893 if you prefer not to walk back down the hill, but it a very short ride of about a minute back to the lower city.
If you need a bit of retail therapy then this is the place to go. It is quite a long street so unless you are on a mission for something specific a short walk is probably all you will want to do.
This was a difficult decision. There is so much to choose from. After a bit of research I opted to go to the Heritage Croatian Food venue for dinner. I love this concept. The aim is to promote small local producers and offers the best the country has available. It is a deli style venue serving a selection of tapas for want of a better description. One of the owners is Sime Susic is the winner of the Croatian version of Masterchef. This is evident in the style of food. It is creative and every bite offers a new taste treat. There is also a stunning range of produce that you can take home as a gift. I was not able to resist the truffle chocolate. If you are a foodie then look no further. This is the place to go!
I was on a mission to find something a bit different in the city. Although I don’t normally stay in hostels I tried the uber cool Hostel 63. It was a few minutes walk from the main town. There were also private rooms with modern en suite bathrooms. I found it the perfect place for a short stay.
Zagreb is a charming city. It is a wonderful place to enjoy the sights at a leisurely pace. It has everything you could want and more yet it doesn’t feel frenetic. I think that it is on the brink of soon becoming one of the “hot spots” in Europe to visit. My advice is go visit now, before it changes too much.
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