“Zagreb? Why? Croatia is all about the Dalmatian Cost!”
Yes, the coast is stunning. I won’t argue with that.
And Dubrovnik, although brimming with tourists (and the accompanying army of umbrella holding tour guides), is a must-see location.But while everyone crams themselves in to Dubrovnik’s tiny old town (think Venice, in summer, on steroids – at least Venice is a bit bigger, has a bit more of a local population and can be quiet if you get yourself lost enough), Zagreb is often overlooked completely. That, in my opinion, is a massive injustice.
I spent a few days in Zagreb back in April 2015 and I thought it was a brilliant place to visit. While it started out as nothing more than a convenient stop on our way from Budapest to Ljubljana, it turned out to be one of the highlights of this European venture. Hopefully this blog will show you why Zagreb is worth a couple of days of your time.
Things to do in Zagreb:
1. St. Mark’s Church
I have a love-hate relationship with churches. I love admiring the architecture of the truly unique and impressive religious houses, but I cannot force enthusiasm about every ordinary church that is recommended in guidebooks or on blogs. St. Mark’s Church falls slap bang in the middle. The inside of the church is nothing special, as far as European churches go. But the roof is awesome and that’s why I’d recommend the visit.
2. Museum of Broken Relationships
It’s rare that a museum features in one of my best of blogs, but the Museum of Broken Relationships is one of the most unique museums I’ve ever visited. Every exhibit is accompanied by a story of a broken relationship; some hilarious, others truly tragic. The descriptions of the items are written by the individuals themselves – you can feel their pain.
Whether it’s a stiletto shoe, a crumbling heart shaped cookie or a dog’s hamburger chew toy (“the dog left more marks than he did”), these tales of failed relationships are strangely captivating.
3. Trg bana Jelačića (Governor Jelačić Square)
This is the heart of Zagreb’s lower town and a nice place to start exploring the city. It seems that there is always something going on in the square and when we arrived that was no exception – tents selling local food and produce.
4. Dolac Market
Speaking of local produce – this is the pace to go. The market sells fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, flowers and souvenirs. Even if you’re not going to buy anything, it’s worth walking through the rows of stalls. But I would recommend buying something – it was delicious.
5. Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary
Not only the tallest building in Zagreb, but the tallest in Croatia. Architecturally gothic, It’s free to visit and pretty cool on the inside. To the left of the Cathedral it’s got some interesting examples of pre and post restoration work. In my opinion, the Cathedral is at its most impressive when it’s viewed from afar.
6. Take in the view
There are a few decent viewpoints in Zagreb, with one of the best being from the top of Lotrscak Tower. My favourite is the one which takes in the Cathedral.
7. Walk through Gornji Grad (the Upper Town)
This is worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time. Walk, sit, eat, drink. Rinse and repeat. The streets of the upper town are my favourite part of the city. Full of small bars, cafes and restaurants, you can sit and watch the world go by. You can see the remains of the walls and towers which use to surround the city, as well as historical landmarks, secret passages and loads more.
8. Plitvice Lakes National Park
It’s a two hour drive away, but it’s one of Croatia’s most visited attractions for a reason – it’s fucking beautiful. It’s got beautifully clear lakes and towering waterfalls. You can spend hours following the numerous walkways and although thousands of people visit each year, it didn’t seem all that crowded when we went.
It’s a bitch to get to if you don’t have access to a car – but you can book onto some tours from Zagreb. Normally I avoid tours wherever possible because I like running by my own schedule – but this wasn’t too bad at all. You get picked up from your hotel, dropped off at the lakes for pretty much the whole day and then driven back to your hotel. No faffing around waiting for other people; you’re basically just paying for the bus fare.
Eventually, I’ll get around to writing a whole blog on Plitvice, but for now, hopefully this picture will do the place justice.
Overall, the best thing to do in Zagreb is relax. Life doesn’t always need to move fast and sometimes it’s okay to sit in a cafe or bar and watch the world pass by. As Zagreb is grossly underrated, it’s the perfect place to do that. It’s not busy, it’s not expensive and you don’t have to fight your way through crowds when walking through the city.