Much had been said and seen of Croatia by the time I visited it, in the fall of 2015. Game of Thrones was already a sensation and thus Dubrovnik featured on most traveller’s map. The parties of the coastal towns and the islands near Split had reached mythical stature and the pictures of the hues of Plitvice lakes gave me goosebumps. But not many spoke of Zagreb, the quiet, classical capital city, which mostly is used as a base to get in and out of the country. But it was during my time there, I realised it’s a whole lot more than a stopover.
My memories of Zagreb range from my new kicks, two beautiful picturesque apartments that I lived in, the majestic opera house, the line of bars at Tkalčićeva street and having one too many beers at my favourite bar there. The Museum of broken relationships made me cry, and the funicular that took me from the lower town to the upper town made me squeal with delight. The city stayed with me and it was a beautiful place to spend some time in Autumn.
Here are a few of my favourite things in Zagreb.
Upper town or Gornji Grad, Zagreb:
Nestled between Kaptol and Gradac hills, the upper town or Gornji Grad is where the rich of Zagreb stayed in the older days. It comprises of beautiful pastel coloured houses and narrow windy alleyways that lead you to beautiful squares and spectacular viewing points of the town below. Gornji Grad houses all the architectural delights like St. Mark’s church with its spectacular rooftop colours, the expansive St. Mark’s square, the Croatian Parliament Building, the quaint Stone Gate, the Zagreb City Museum, the Cathedral of Zagreb well known for its twin towers and the Dolac Market. It will take you a good 2 hours to walk around this beautiful upper town and if you are around during sundown hours, then watch out for the liveried lamplighters on horseback, who come to light up the 200 gas lamps that light up this hilltop location. And this happens twice a day even today. If you want to cool off post your walk, head to the oldest bar in Zagreb called Pod Starim Krovovima, nestled in the cosy alleyways and soak in its vintage charm with its dark booths.
Something so romantic about a tram car that takes you up to the higher parts of town. Zagreb also has its own Funicular like other cities in Europe but this tram car ride is known to be the shortest funicular ride in Europe. It is known for taking the locals between the Upper and Lower Towns. Buy a ticket at the counter at it costs Rs 30/ 4 Kunas or .5Euros.
Museum of Broken relationships:
Once a travelling museum showcasing artefacts and souvenirs left behind by old lovers, each of them with a story. Some of them will make you laugh, some will make you cry , so brace yourself for some feels during your time there. It started when Croatian artists Olinka Vistina and Drazen Grubisic separated, they didn’t want to part with the sentimental reminders of their relationship. So they started the Museum of Broken Relationships. It soon became a travelling museum where patrons would donate articles related to their broken relationships. Wedding dresses, pickles, jewellery, love letters, songs you will find them all here. The Museum finally found home in Zagreb.
If you are heading out for a night in town, then this the street you head to, during your time in Zagreb. Lined with beautiful cafés and bars, the best of nightlife is seen here. Once a river flowed in its place here separating Kapitol and Gradec districts but due to pollution, the river was filled up to create this street. It was once infamous for housing the pleasure district of the city, but now the trendiest of bars have come up here, making it a go-to spot for those looking for a good evening. Be forewarned that most establishments are bars and the concentration of restaurants is scarce. Most places don’t serve food, so you better plan ahead before the munchies hit you.
The largest market in Zagreb located near the cathedral is a hub for farmers near the city, mostly women, who come to sell their produce, mostly cheese, honey, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and flowers. It is a great way to spend a Sunday morning.
Mirogoj is Zagreb’s Pere Lachaise and is one of the largest cemeteries in Europe. Known more as an architectural and landscape delight, it is the final resting place of some of the best-known families in the cities. But a walk down the cemetery, you will be enchanted by the many arcades, pavilions and tombs that comprise of this beautifully landscaped compound. Chestnut, maple, lime trees line up the cemetery and make for peaceful companions during your time there, as you walk past to admire the tombstones and sculptures that adorn the graves. If you are in Zagreb around All Saint’s Day on 1st of November, it’s a good time to visit the cemetery, as the families of those who are resting there come to pay their respects. The graves are adorned with flowers and flags to commemorate the dead.
Zagreb recently was proclaimed to be the 6th most bike-friendly city in Europe. While 10% of the population uses bikes for their daily transportation, it is beaten only by Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Ljubljana and Berlin. One can cycle around the beautiful Jarun Lake, which is also called Zagreb Sea. Cycle tracks made around the lake makes for a great outing for those who favour their two wheels. It’s also a delight to go around the upper town on two wheels. If you are not too fond of heading out for self-exploration, you can join one of the many cycles tours on offer in the city.
Zagreb is a great city for the culturally inclined traveller. Chic cafes, a great food scene in the city, makes it a top choice for a food explorer.
Zagreb has its own film festival hosted every autumn, and I was lucky to catch the only English movie playing there that year. It was the melancholic, Joaquin Phoenix starrer The Lobster. It was screening in the gorgeous Kino Europa which has been showcasing movies since the 1920’s
Zagreb is home to one of the top Christmas markets in Europe. So during the yuletide season, you can expect to see an ice rink and skaters, a live nativity scene near the beautiful Cathedral, advent decorations set up in squares of Jelacic square and a Christmas fair in Bogovićeva street. The Market is set up from the beginning of December to the first week of January.
Zagreb hosts the InMusic Festival every year with acts like PJ Harvey, Kings of Leon, Michael Kiwanuka, Franz Ferdinand and the likes have graced the stage. It is held in June every year and is regarded as one of the top summer festivals.
The coffee culture of the city is something that has contributed to the thriving café culture that has recently sprung up. Coffee is the favoured beverage that locals use to bond over, to catch up on gossip, or even make important discussions. Tourists visiting the city now benefit from the various bistros and cafes that serve their favourite kind of coffee.
Street art in the city is a burgeoning scene that converts the city’s urbanscapes into art galleries. The Pimp my Pump movement really caught my attention, where the crew convert the city’s water pumps into works of art. There are guided walking tours around the city to witness their street art culture and be a part of it.
Hike to Medvenica:
For the nature lovers, you can hike up the Medvinika. Many routes are marked out and they say Route 12 is the most scenic. You can climb the peak Sliema and it’s quite a fun time in the outdoors, despite being just 30 km away from the main city. For those looking for greenery and don’t want to step out, Zagreb has many options in the form of beautiful expansive parks. One can cycle, walk around or just plan a picnic in the greens. For a classical experience try some time away in Maksimir, which boasts of its own zoo, 5 artificial lakes, creeks and meadows.Try Zelengaj, Cmrok, Jelenovac, Orlovac, Prekrizje, all of the forest parks, make for great getaways from the hustle of the city and at the same time very close to the centre
These are a few of my favourite things in Zagreb, tell me if I missed out on any, I would love to hear!