We have officially been in Zagreb for eleven months - WHAT?
Time has flown by. Although there are still many things I need to do in and around Zagreb I wanted to share a few of my favorites so far.
Before we start, here is some general info for you:
- Public transportation (buses and trams), cabs and Uber (for now) are decent in Zagreb, so a car is not necessary to get around in town. If you want to explore cities around Zagreb, renting a car for a day is not a bad idea.
- Zagreb is super safe, but always be aware of your surroundings when you travel.
- Croatia uses the kuna (koo-nuh) for money. Although there are many places that take credit cards, it is a good idea to get a little bit of kuna if you visit the country for more than a day. Roughly speaking, about seven kuna equals one US Dollar.
Free Zagreb Walking Tour - Offered Daily
I did not even know that this tour existed until my friend and bridesmaid Melanie came to visit for a few days! She asked about tours, and it did not take long to find this free one. Every day twice a day Wayoudo offers a free two-hour tour around the city center and Upper Town (Gornji Grad). Not only are the sights explained, but you also get a large amount of history and trivia tidbits along the way.
Be sure to take a bottle of water with you, and it seems standard to tip the tour guide at the conclusion of the walk. Croatian tipping is much different than US tipping, so use your best judgement.
I also recommend doing this tour because it puts you near many of the sights and places downtown that I later mention in this article. Once you finish the tour, you can move on to some of the other nearby attractions.
Ban Jelačić, the Main Square
If you take the free tour, you will begin at the horse statue in the main square. But if you do not go on the tour, the main square is still a must-see place in Zagreb. You have the horse statute of Josip Jelačić, the metal scale model of Zagreb, many cafes and restaurants and souvenir shops. Like the parks in Zagreb, there always seems to be SOMETHING going on in the main square - a bazaar, a concert, a fair.
Just north of the main square is our famous red-umbrella-ed, open-air market called Dolac. Every day until 2 pm (1 pm on Sunday) is a huge market to buy fresh produce, meat and fish. I do not get down there as much as I would like, but I always find great food there for very little money.
Open to the public is the main cathedral of Zagreb. You learn about it on the free tour, but afterwards I recommend actually going inside to see its beauty in person.
The Zagreb Cathedral has an interesting history. Although originally built in the early 13th Century, the 1880 earthquake required a rebuild. Of course there were crazy events regarding power struggles in that time, but one thing I find fascinating is the fact that the cathedral is still being renovated to this day.
When they began rebuilding after the earthquake, they used a locally sourced stone on the outside. However, rain water eroded the stone they chose, causing parts of the church to crumble and disintegrate. If I remember correctly, replacing the stones has already gone on for 28 years - a lengthy process indeed. That is why most photos of the Cathedral have scaffolding somewhere along the front facade. If you peek around to the sides of the church you can actually see the old stones that still need to be replaced.
Explore the Croatian National Theater and Zrinjevac Park (plus Eat amazing gelato)
Even if I do not attend an opera or ballet at the National Theater, I still enjoy walking people past it because it is just beautiful. You can see the Austrian influence on the architecture in that neighborhood. Plus one of my favorite gelato* places is on the way. It is called Chocolat 041 (B041 on the sign, I think); their selection is fantastic and the prices are cheap.
*Side note: they call it ice cream (sladoled), but it is more like gelato than American ice cream and it is amazing.
After enjoying gelato at the theater, keep walking toward Zrinjevac Park.
"Why?" you ask.
Because it seems like there is always something going on at Zrinjevac. During Advent, there are booths and vendors set up every day. In June they have a Sweets Festival full of any kind of dessert you can think of. In between are all kinds of events with music, food and shopping.
And if you happen to go when there is no big festival? The flowers, benches and gazebo make it a peaceful place to be.
Walk through Cvjetni trg (flower square)
While downtown, I suggest walking to Cvjetni Trg. It is only a few blocks west of the main square (Ban Jelačić) and a few blocks north of the National Theater. Many great restaurants and shops are in that area, as well as little flower stands (hence the name).
As you are walking downtown, you will likely see or walk on Tkalčićeva. It is probably my favorite street in the city because of the many cafes, restaurants and shops all along it. During the morning, you will see people enjoying coffee; in the middle of the day, you find people socializing and eating lunch; then at night, people dine and drink all night long.
Parallel to Tkalčićeva is Radićeva, a cobblestone street that leads you from the main square to Gornji Grad and the Stone Gate.* Mel and I found a few really great art galleries on this street with pieces from local creators.
*Side note: there are three ways to walk to Gornji Grad - walk along Radiceva, take stairs from Tkaciceva or Ilica, or ride the Fenicular off of Ilica.
Good lookout points in the city
Want to get a bit of walking in and see a great view of Zagreb? Here are a few lookout points I have explored!
Strossmayer and Lotrščak Tower
There are a few ways to get up to the tower: walk through Gornji Grad, walk up the steps from Ilica via Tomićeva and the Fenicular, taking the stairs from Ilica or driving to Saint Mark's Church (parking is limited).
At noon every day you will hear the tower's cannon go off. Even though I knew it was coming, it still scared me half to death! In the summer, Zagreb hosts Summer on Stross with tons of food, drinks and music!
Walk down the street opposite from the Stross and you have another lookout towards the Cathedral!
Near the main square you will see a tall building with "360 Cafe" at the top. Beginning at 10 am you can take the elevator up and take in the city from up above. Although "360" is actually more like "345," seeing the entire city from that height is worth the five-ish dollars it costs to go up. You can also enjoy a coffee or cocktail while up there, day or night.
Most Hills in the City
Driving up Sljeme is not the only way to see the city from the Hills. Examples of great views include Pizz'Up on Remete and the Šestine neighborhood.
Read more about that drive up the mountain below!
Saint Mark's Church in Gornji Grad
One of the most popular sights in Zagreb is the beautiful Saint Mark's Church. You will learn more about this if you take the free walking tour mentioned above, but you can also venture to it on your own.
The tile mosaic roof is unique and makes for a wonderful photo op, but also housed in this square are the Parliament building and Banski Dvori. In front of Banski Dvori, you may see changing of the guards or military marches.
Dance at a Night Club
Bret and I are not much for partying anymore, and Zagreb does not have too many places to dance the night away anyhow. But there are a couple of places that have good music and drinks.
Johann Frank - During the day, Johann Franck has my favorite coffee. At night, they play many of my favorite dance songs. When we were there we did not see dancing on the ground floor, but I hear that people dance in the basement. There is a cover and drink prices are high, but there are many youth hanging out there if you want to get out and meet people. This bar is on the main square.
Pepper - It is a tale of two floors. The ground floor has okay classics, but the basement has a DJ who plays great contemporary dance mixes. Sadly, though, the music is so good that we have only been able to get in once. The room is small so you just have to see if they are at capacity or not. This bar is near Cvetni Trg on Ilica.
Opera - Truly a dance club. I hear the way to go is to get a VIP table and order bottles of liquor with soda to your table to mix drinks at your own pace. As with many European cities, the party really doesn't start until after midnight (or after a normal Province party lol), but I hear the music is amazing and the dancing fun. This club is near Cvetni Trg as well.
Visiting Mirogoj cemetery is normal
When we first arrived, many people asked if we had been to Mirogoj yet. I was surprised because I do not usually visit local cemeteries when I visit new cities.
Then All Saints Day came around last November, and roads closed to accommodate the thousands of people who went to the cemetery that day. Here, it is normal to appreciate and commemorate those who have died by quietly touring the enormous national cemetery.
What is incredible to me about Mirogoj is that there are headstones there for people of all kinds of religions and backgrounds (although the country is 90% Catholic now).
Try Traditional Foods and Drinks
Okay, this is not a specific place, but at many places you can try traditional Croatian food and drink. I wanted to list them here so you can try and eat local cuisine while visiting Zagreb!
Burek - Flakey dough baked with meat, spinach or cheese. This is my favorite, and it is actually Turkish in origin. But so yummy for breakfast!
Ćevapčići or ćevap - Small mixed meat links grilled and served with white onion slices and ajvar. These are the hub's favorite dish. Ajvar is a sauce made from eggplant, red peppers and onions and it very good with grilled meat or prosciutto platters.
Espresso - Coffee here is not the same as coffee back home. Basically, you order a drink depending on how much milk you want with your espresso. I love the bijela kava (white coffee that is half milk) and the hubs orders kava s mlijekom (coffee with a little milk), but you can also get straight espresso or a cappuccino (between mine and the hubs favorites).
Štrukle - This cheese pie is a very traditional dish for the area. You can get it with sweet or salty, but not matter which you choose enjoying a fresh and warm Štrukle is a good treat. I prefer the salty, by the way.
Hike or Drive Up Sljeme Mountain
It is difficult to find a map of the hiking trails online - maps of the trails are found at the base of the mountain. But I did find this website. This page tells you if the trail is easy, moderate or difficult. The good news is that there are a few restaurants and cafes near the top of the mountain to reward your exercising efforts!
If you are like me, you enjoy seeing the city as a drive. We went up to Tomislav Dom then back down. The roads are one-way and there are many places to pull off to take photos, making it easy to go at your own pace.
No car? There is a way to use public transportation, too. Did you know you can use Google Maps to see how public transit will get you to your destination? I love doing that, and Google Maps told me that Bus 140 goes up to Tomislav Dom/Sljeme. It only runs every 2-3 hours, so that gives you time to walk around, enjoy a beverage and relax. Just look up your times beforehand to plan accordingly.
Okay, we have not been to the castle yet because it is currently closed for renovations. But I hope that Medvedgrad opens before we leave because I have heard it is incredible to see! Well, I did see it while driving back down from Sljeme. The castle was built in the 13th Century and all that now remains are ruins.
If it reopens, I recommend adding this to your Sljeme trip.
Visit Jarun Lake and/or Bundek Park
Jarun is a lake that is off of River Sava in Zagreb that has a great walking trail, sports fields, water sports, a beach, a skate park and playgrounds. Walking around will take you about two hours, but it is good exercise and there is plenty to see. There are even a few cafes to treat yourself when you finish. At night, many of the cafes become bars with music.
We have yet to try the water sports at Jarun, but I look forward to cooling off by kayaking with the hubs there this summer!
Bundek, like Zrinjevac, is a park that constantly hosts festivals and fairs. No matter which event is there, Bundek is a fun park to visit.
First of all, it is huge. There are plenty of walking paths, playground equipment and cafes to keep you busy for a couple of hours. Secondly, there is a lake there to cool off if you visit during the summer months. Thirdly, there are tons of playgrounds sprinkled throughout the park to make it easy to keep kids entertained.
Even if we are no longer here to visit, Zagreb is a great place to visit for a few days while traveling through Europe!
Love to all,