Zagreb, a city we used to call home
That shining red heart on our fridge is a daily reminder of the five years when Zagreb was our home, a symbol of Croatian traditions and of our wonderful friendships. If you wish to discover a relaxed and off-the-beaten track European capital, Zagreb is the perfect destination for an early fall or late spring weekend. It offers a unique combination of a Mediterranean laid-back atmosphere, an elegant Mitteleuropean architecture and a warm Slavish soul, all within walkable distance. Get some good snickers and sunglasses on and you will be ready to explore Zagreb.
What to do?
Here are two walking-itineraries to discover the city:
Starting from hotel Esplanade, walk along the elegant buildings on Mihanovićeva and pass the lovely botanical garden (I suggest you come back later for a walk along the shady alleys and a pause around the lake to admire the beautiful water lilies).
Turn right on Marulićeva and walk up to Marechal Tito’s square and the bright-yellow opera house, heritage of the Austro-Hungarian times.
Take a right towards Preradovićeva square and stroll around the bustling pedestrian streets, you will be impressed with the livelihood and style of this Saturday morning crowd gathering for coffee, this special time of the week is called “špica”. I suggest you select a terrace, order coffee and observe this fascinating ritual!
Later on, head towards the main square, Jelačić, it is always busy with trams and people gathering. Climb up the stairs that will lead you to the central market, Dolac. This large market is as local and traditional as can be. Take your time to check the stalls and meet the old ladies selling vegetables and fruits, don't forget to step into the fish hall and the underground market. All are fascinating and so representative of the country’s culinary traditions.
Kerempuh, right above the market, is a good option for lunch, especially if it is a sunny day and you can enjoy the terrace.
Stroll up Tlakticeva, this lovely pedestrian street is lined up with brightly colored doll houses and lively terraces where you will surely want to make another coffee-break and watch the crowd. If you have a sweet tooth and want to try the best cheesecake in town go up to Kaptol centar and search for the pastry shop Torta i to.
Walk down Kaptol street towards the cathedral, one of the city’s emblematic monument.
Walk to Zrinjevac, the shady square is lined up with elegant buildings, you might be lucky and catch a concert at the music kiosk or just want to find a bench, sit, contemplate, read… and enjoy!
End the day in the upper town with a traditional dinner at Didov San where you will taste excellent fish specialties.
Start your day walking along the main street Ilica towards Britanski Trg where you will find a local antic market. I suggest it for its atmosphere rather than for the treasures you might find. This is a square we loved visiting for a Sunday morning coffee.
Later on, head up towards Gornji Grad (you can either walk up or take the funicular). From the emblematic Lotrščak tower and the lovely Strossmayer promenade you will get a panoramic view of the city.
The upper town is quiet and there aren't many cars so you will enjoy strolling around, admiring the baroque façades and their fading colors. It is worth entering the church Sveti Katerine to contemplate it’s pink décor with stucco angels. You can’t miss Sv. Marka square and the church’s iconic tiled roof. Stop at the Mestrovic Museum to admire the sculptures of one of the most famous Croatian artist in his own atelier.
If you wish to get a deeper feeling of the old Zagreb atmosphere, there are several other buildings that are worth visiting such as Klovicevi dvori which hosts art exhibitions and the City Museum, both are former monasteries.
For a coffee on a quiet and shady square, I suggest Palainovka on Ilirski Trg.
As for lunch with a view, I recommend another traditional konoba, Pod gricčim topom where you will be able to try one of the local specialties, štrukli, which I would qualify as a delicious Croatian lasagna.
Walk downtown passing through Kamenita vrata, the stone door, the last one remaining from the medieval town. Notice the spiritual atmosphere in the dark and humid cavity where people stop to light a candle and pray the Virgin Mary.
For the rest of your day, I would suggest either:
Taking a tram to Maksimir park which will drive you through more residential areas and where you will be able to enjoy a peaceful green walk.
Or taking a tram to Novi Zagreb and visiting the Museum of contemporary art.
Where to stay?
I've always wanted to go back to Zagreb and stay at the Grand hotel Esplanade. This beautifully restored old palace is a city’s legend: it hosted celebrities during Tito’s era and used to be a stop on the Orient Express’ route. The terrace is fabulous and if you don't stay there, you may want to go on Sunday for their lavish and gastronomic brunch.
I’ve checked Airbnb and there are plenty of nice accommodations available, this is my random pick:
- Enjoy the scenic and quiet atmosphere of the upper town, ideal for a couple.
- Stay in a quiet area overlooking the cathedral, just a few steps away from the main square (for a couple).
- Settle down with your family in a spacious apartment in an historical building, close to the peaceful botanical garden.
Where to eat?
Kerempuh: nice terrace overlooking Dolac market for lunch
Didov San: traditional konoba in the Upper Town, fish specialties
Zinfandel's at Esplanade: gastronomic sunday brunch
Pod gricčim topom: traditional konoba with a terrace overlooking the city
Palainovka: coffee shop in the Upper Town
La Bodega: trendy wine bar downtown
Torta i to: excellent cheesecake and pastries (Kaptol centar & downtown)
What to buy?
Wooden toys and traditional Licitar hearts on Dolac market
Flavored teas, my favorite being the Geisha green tea, at Kuća zelenog čaja in the arcades at Ilica 14, Lovački rog.
Truffle products (oil, paste, etc) at Zigante store, Jurišiceva 19, Rotonda centar.