Most of the tourists that come to Croatia overlook Zagreb for other most popular destinations, like Dubrovnik, Split or the Istria region. Nevertheless, Zagreb has its own charm. From a rich history to stunning architecture, there are many reasons to come to Zagreb. Besides all of that, it is budget friendly. We decided to make a stop of 3 days on our way to the Czech Republic.
We took a bus from Sarajevo to Zagreb. The landscape through Bosnian territory and Croatia was marvelous, with mountains and rivers. Something important to add about buses in this area (I am not sure if in the whole Balkans is like that, or if it was the line we used which was Centrotrans ) is that they charge 1 euro for each suitcase in the luggage compartment. It works like an insurance. They accept coins only, and better in the local currency. I knew in advance of this, doing my research online so I had enough change. But I was a witness of a Chinese guy who didn’t know and had to go running to the shops to get the change to pay this fee.
The travel time was 8 hours and a half, and we arrived in Zagreb at about 8 in the night. The host gave us directions to walk until the apartment, which took us about 20 minutes. We did with the help of the google maps (technology is a blessing sometimes). After the host gave us an extensive introduction to the area and to the attractions that we can find in Zagreb, we went to a pekarna (bakery) to buy something to have for dinner. We didn’t have the local currency so the man in the bakery was kind to change our euros.
The local currency is the Croatian kuna, or Hrvatska kuna (HRK), one kuna is something like €0,13 euros, or €1 euro is 7,5 HRK. Each kuna is divided into 100 lipas. Ok, having said that, Zagreb is very affordable, we paid for our (small) apartment €114,00 euros for 3 nights.
Upper and lower town
Zagreb is divided in a low part, which is the new side of the city (or more modern) and the upper part which is the old town or oldest part of the city. On our first whole day, we decided we would explore walking until the old town. We reached first the Ban Jelačić Square, which is a busy square full of white stalls selling all type of local goods, and surrounded by XIX century buildings.
Then we walked up to the cathedral, the admission was free so we entered to have a look. The cathedral has a gothic style and its construction was finished in 1217. Although through the time it has suffered serious damage, including the earthquake of 1880, and therefore had to be rebuilt. To its side is located part of the fortification wall that protected the city.
Stone Gate and St Mark’s Church
The Stone Gate or Kamenita Vrata is a passage or arc which originally was built as part of the defense wall of the upper city. Its fame is because, in the many fires that the city suffered, this gate, and a painting inside of the Virgin Mary with Jesus, survived untouched by the fire. Since then, the people made the interior of this gate a sacred place of worship where they come to pray and light candles. Croatians seem to be very religious.
What I was eager to see, was the famous church that appears in all the articles related to Croatia or Zagreb. That one with the roof nicely decorated in many colors. And we found it, actually a few blocks away from the Stone Gate. The most attractive of St. Mark’s church is the tiled roof, which depicts the symbol of the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, and the City of Zagreb coat of arms.
You can find an extensive explanation of this building and many others in this site
if you want to eat something or have a drink in a charming place, then you should go to Ulica Ivana Tkalčića, or Tkalčićeva Street. I don’t think you will miss it as it begins in the Ban Jelačić Square. The restaurants and bars look medieval and rustic, just to walk in this street will transport you to another age.
And talking about charming streets, take a walk in the Strossmayer promenade (Strossmayerovo šetalište in Croatian) from where you can have a panoramic view of the lower town. Near there, is located the Strossmartre, where in summer they celebrate different events like concerts, shows and, arts and craft market. In the same area is located the Lotrščak Tower. From this tower, they shoot a cannon every day at noon.
if you are looking for something more modern, as well as do some shopping you can visit Ilica street. Here you can find famous clothing shops chains and other fashion articles. There are also some cafeterias, restaurants, and bars for a quick snack if you like.
Another “must” is the Dolac Market. This is an open farmer’s market which attracts the attention because of the red umbrellas that cover the stalls. Here you can find local vegetables and fruits at very good prices. We bought a big basket of strawberries for about 11 HRK (about €1.5 euro). They sell also cheese, honey, dried fruits and even handmade things that you can buy as a souvenir. There is also a section where you can find flowers, and for this Easter season, they offer olive tree branches too. If you want to stay on your budget come to this market to buy groceries.
Around this area, there are some souvenirs shops. Among the most typical are the lavender little sacks, embroidery kitchen towels and red hearts in everything: biscuits, chocolates, handcrafts, etc. For the season they had also beautifully decorated eggs with Croatian motifs.
You can also buy a tie or cravat, as they were invented in Croatia. In the XVII century cravats were worn by Croatian soldiers and this fact attracted the attention of French people. Actually, the word cravat comes from the French cravate, a corrupted pronunciation of croate. Source: wikipedia.org
On our last day, we went to the Maksimir park, which was recommended by our host. We walked until there and it took us about 30 mins to reach it from our apartment. Our apartment was not so far from the center. It is an ideal place to relax and get some fresh air. It’s also a good place to visit if you have kids because there is also a zoo. Admission to park is free but if you want to enter the zoo tickets are 30 HRK (€4) for adults and 20 HRK (€2.66) for children until 14 years old.
This time we didn’t visit any museum. Nevertheless, our host recommended some famous and curious museums. For example, the Museum of broken relationships where every item exposed tells a real story of a broken heart.The museum of illusions which is a museum where, as its name says, you will experience optical and sensory illusions that will defy your sanity. It definitely seems funny. And the Museum of naive art dedicated to this form of modern art which comes from amateurs without technical knowledge or formal education in art.
As you can see Zagreb besides of being a budget city, it has many attractions to offer for different tastes: shopping, sightseeing, eating, entertainment. If you come to Croatia, don’t stop only by Dubrovnik, visit Zagreb as well, you’ll not regret.
What do you think about Zagreb? do you think it’s a dull city? or in the contrary, you are willing to give it a chance? Have you been here? Leave your comments below!