With a population of around 1 million including the suburbs, it’s totally manageable and compact and much of the city can be enjoyed in just a short break holiday.
It may have been that the airline frequency from London increased (now three airlines flying from London Heathrow or London Stansted) with a short flight time of usually just two hours. It may have been that Zagreb was voted “best Advent Christmas Fair in Europe” for three years running (European Destinations online poll) or it may have been that the bar and restaurant scene took off with national and international cuisines, (including Ethiopian and Korean) and a couple of Michelin star places, or it may have been that Zagreb was used as filming locations in the successful TV series “McMafia” among others. Who knows?
Zagreb has always had a wonderful cultural scene with world class museums, art galleries, national theatre and on the eclectic side, the Museum of Broken Relationships and the Museum of Illusions (neither for the faint-hearted!).
Café society is serious business in this capital as locals are out sipping coffee and chatting on the many outdoor terraces for as long as it is possible. In winter, many traditional cafes have a distinct cosy feel of Vienna (legacy of the Austrian empire era) .
The city centre has two main areas, the hilltop Upper Town (Gornji Grad) and the Lower Town (Donji Grad) and a fun way to travel between the two is on the small funicular, said to be the shortest one in the world at 45 seconds. These two parts meet at the huge main square (the impressively named Trg Ban Jelacic). The medieval Upper Town is home to the cathedral modelled on the one in Cologne There are various other ways to walk up and down. St Mark’s Church with its amazing coloured tiled roof, the Croatian Parliament building, Lotrscak Tower (a cannon blasts from here every day at noon, Croatia City Museum, that museum of broken relationships (allow one hour minimum) are all here.
Descending through the Stone Gate, lively Tkalciceva Street is right there.This is the place where Zagreb locals go to see and be seen. Traditionally all outside tables never had inward facing seating as that didn’t permit seeing who was passing by, how they were dressed and who they were with. Back in the Lower Town, you are on top of famous Dolac market with its distinctive red and white shade parasols. There is an outdoor and indoor section. Zagreb’s restaurants of course order food in bulk but ever day, local chefs can be spotted here looking for an exclusive bunch of herbs or whatever. It’s a charming spot which has become a meeting place. Continuing south, there’s Zrinjevac Park with tree-lined paths, gazebo (often with musicians playing) and fountain. And so to the Botanical Gardens near the famous five star Hotel Esplanade. Founded in 1889, these lovely gardens are said to have been inspired by Kew with pavilions, pools and shady spots. The tram system is efficient, cheap and easy to use. Zagreb is full of surprises.
Visitors are rarely disappointed. Hotels in December sell out early because of the Christmas Advent Fair.
Did you know?
- The five star Esplanade Zagreb Hotel is an architectural gem and opened in 1925 to provide accommodation for passengers on the Orient Express train from Istanbul to Paris via Zagreb and Milan
- Miragoj Cemetery is more like a park. Designed by Herman Bolle in 1876 (an Austrian architect who fell in love with Zagreb and a lady from Zagreb), Mirajog is a pearl, it has neo-Renaisssance arcades, copper domes, small chapels and beautiful gardens. The tombs clearly show that this is a resting place for all: Muslims, Orthodox, Jewish, Catholics and those who chose only socialism – their graves have the five-point red star. Just north of the city, bus from by the cathedral in the Upper Town
- Zagreb’s local dish is “struckli”, delicately prepared parcels of filo pastry usually filled with cottage cheese and covered with cream, sometimes various versions involving spinach or other vegetable
- Zagreb is closer to Vienna (372 kilometres) than to Dubrovnik (607 kilometres), that’s why the capital looks as it does!
- You can enjoy Zagreb with the Dalmatian island of Brac. A direct flight on Tuesday and Saturday takes 50 minutes and puts you directly on this stunning island at Bol airport. Perfect after a few days of Zagreb sightseeing