Zagreb is one of the most overlooked cities in central-eastern Europe. Tourists with their eyes on the coast speed right by, not even giving this city a second glance. BIG mistake! As the political, economic and cultural capital, there is more than enough to spoil your senses with here… and the coast is only 3 hours away.
Zagreb not only makes a great holiday spot, it’s a perfect weekend getaway destination as well. Take a few extra days off and delve into the Croatian way of life in the capital and the surrounding wilderness. With plenty of parks, lakes and forests to explore, the nature-lovers won’t get bored. If history is your speciality then the castles, fortresses and grand Austro-Hungarian buildings might be more your thing. When it comes to exploring the city though, do it like a local would. Eat, drink and shop where the locals do and you might soon be confusing Zagreb with “home”. There are cheap flights from London to Zagreb for as little as £39.
What to do?
- Ride the funicular (Tomiceva bb) – Built in 1890 the funicular is just as much an essential part of a locals life as it is a tourist sight. It connects Lower town with Upper town and is a mere 66m in length… is only take 64 seconds to ride making it the shortest funicular track in the world. It costs Kn 4.00 to ride (£0.40).
- Zrinjevac – Located between Tomislav square and Ban Jelačić, Zrinjevac is a city part that should be walked through rather than just walked past. With several fountains and pavilions, it’s a great place to spend a warm afternoon, it’s where you’ll find a lot of locals as well enjoying the green spaces of the city.
- Coffee and Markets – Saturdays are prime market days and people-watching days. The cafés near Jelacic square fill up with the trendiest of Zagreb. Grab a wicker chair and order a kava (coffee) and enjoy the bustle. Then head to Dolac to shop for local cheeses, fruits, nuts, and more.
Where to eat?
Even though the country is prized for its seafood dishes, when in Zagreb you should eat like a local “Zagrebian” which means roasted meats and baked cheese dumplings. For dessert, thin rolled pancakes are very popular filled with cheese, jam, chocolate and walnut are easy to come by. There is a definite influence from Hungary on the cuisine, and paprika is a staple in Croatian cooking.
- Vinodol Restaurant (Teslina, 10) – Croatian cuisine is the main stay at this restaurant. Not only Croatian classics, but home-cooked Croatian classics. Ask what’s on the grill and if it’s a nice day, sit out on the terrace. Vegetarians will not go hungry at this place either. Main dishes start at Kn 45.00 (£5).
- Prasac (Vranicanijeva, 6) – The name of this place literally means “pig” and the menu definitely allows for some serious “pigging out”. Mediterranean cuisine with a local twist is the chef’s speciality. The menu changes almost daily depending on what’s available. Reservations are recommended, as is the 3-course meal for Kn 220 (£25).
- Nokturno (Skalinska, 4) – Small and cosy, this is one pizzeria/restaurant/hostel/hang out you don’t want to miss. Just 100m from Zagreb cathedral, Nokturno is a surprisingly cheap eat for the city centre. There are both Italian and Croatian dishes on the menu. You can order a pizza here for as little as Kn 30.00 (£3).
If you have more time
You’ve got time on your side but you’re not ready to head to the coast yet? Maybe you want to stay inland, soaking up the history, castles and Austro-Hungarian architecture and food. From Zagreb as half-day trip to Samobor is an excellent idea. You can rent a car and explore the castles spread out through the countryside in the Medvednice hills. Veliki Tabor is especially beautiful as is the fortress built to protect Croatia against the Turkish in Varazdin. Plitveice Lakes National Park is easily reached as well if you fancy long walks in some of central Europe’s finest forests.
Have you been to Zagreb before? What were you favourite spots to hangout and explore?
Img: croacia_ / flickr cc