ZAGREB, CROATIA: Zagreb may not attract as many tourists as Dubrovnik in Croatia, but as the capital and the biggest city of Republic of Croatia, it has very well-preserved medieval old city architecture and cobbled streets, which are not only charming, but also gives you tastes of both old and new world. Zagreb is situated on many slopes. It is someway a walkable city, if you are ready to climb up and down the small hills. The surrounding villages and countryside of Zagreb are beautiful and historical as well, which we couldn’t explore this time. But we sure did enjoy the drive before entering the main city of Zagreb.
Old Zagreb consisted of 2 cities: The Upper Town (Gornji grad) and the Lower Town (Donji grad). Most of the restaurants and tourists sites are located in these 2 towns.
TIME OF TRAVELLING: We took a long road trip during the Easter break of 2012, around first week of April. Zagreb was our 5TH stop amongst 6 other cities. It took us about 3 hours (~ 215 miles) by car to reach here from Budapest, Hungary. Weather was not in our favor here. We got rain the night we reached there. Next morning it started with little drizzle, which turned to heavy rain by the afternoon and it continued for rest of the day.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in International Hotel in Zagreb. It is situated about 10-15 of walk to King Tomislav Square. Breakfast wasn’t free here but free Wi-Fi allowed us to update our status on Facebook every now and then 🙂
WHAT TO BUY AND EAT IN ZAGREB: There are a few open markets in the old city center near Kaptol and Dolac. You sure will find unique goodies here to take back home. Many souvenir shops sell these same items but be careful of their high prices. It was kind of hard to find souvenir shops other parts of the town other than the old city center. Kaptol and Dolac are the best places for souvenir hunting.
We didn’t try any Croatian dish this time. We had dinner in our hotel lounge, we asked the waitress about trying out some traditional Croatian food, and she couldn’t give us any specific dish. Next day, kids wanted to eat pizza and pasta for lunch… so that’s what we had. But the restaurant we sat in was a nice one on the middle of a street along with other restaurants right beside Dolac Market.
PLACES WE VISITED: Most of the tourist attractions of Zagreb are within walking distance and you can cover all of them in about few hours. We took a “City Center Sightseeing Route on Foot” from our hotel, which not only showed us what to see after what, but also gave us a brief history of each of the spot, which I thought was incredible.
1) KING TOMISLAV SQUARE:A monument dedicated to Tomislav, Croatia’s first king, dominates the square carrying his name. He was crowned as king in the year 925. Despite dying mysteriously 3 years later, his status as founder of the Croatian state has never been in doubt. The statue of Tomislav on horseback was completed in 1938 but the outbreak of WWII prevented the statue from being installed in its current location until 1947. This big square is located right opposite of the main train station.
At the northern end of King Tomislav’s square The Art Pavilion is located (the big yellow building). The ceremonial opening took place in 1898 accompanied by a grand exhibition of contemporary artists. This is Zagreb’s first dedicated space for art shows, and has been an important venue for high-profile exhibitions ever since.
2) ZRINJEVAC: This is one of the green squares of the city and the best loved of them all. in the late 19th century this was a meadow where cattle market took place. Now it is an elegant promenade with imported trees, wrought iron handstand, fountains, and busts of notable figures. It was a bit quiet when we went there, but the large green space with nicely decorated flowers and statues make this square a well worth to visit it.
3) THE EX-MOSQUE: This circular building is the headquarter of the Croatian’s Artist’s Association, located in “Victims of Fascism Square” (Trg zrtava fasizma). It was originally used as an exhibition pavilion before being turned into a mosque during WWII – complete with the additional minarets. After the war the minarets were dismantled and the building returned to its original function, although it is still referred to fondly as “The Mosque” by the locals.
4) COUNT JOSIP JELACIC SQUARE: Central focus of modern Zagreb is Ban Jelacic Square (Trg bana Jelacica). Situated just below the hillside settlements of Kaptol and Gradec, it has served as the city’s commercial heart ever since 1641. Most of the buildings around the square date from the 19th century. This was Zagreb’s main marketplace. Now it is the center of Zagreb’s social life and the most popular meeting points for the locals. There is a big open market at one side of the statue of Josip Jelacic where you can find hand-crafted local trinkets at a modest price.
5) KAPTOL: Today’s Zagreb was created of 2 medieval villages (Kaptol and Gradec) which were developed during centuries in two adjacent hills/neighbors. At the present, they make Zagreb’s Upper Town and the City Center. Kaptol is the hill where the Zagreb Cathedral of Assumption stands.
Kaptol is only few steps away from Dolac Market and also very close to Count Josip Jelacic Square. There are a very few cafes and souvenir shops here. It was nicely decorated with Easter eggs featuring traditional Naïve art in front of the cathedral.
6) CATHEDRAL of THE ASSUMPTION of the BLESSED MARY or ZAGREB CATHEDRAL: This cathedral is one of Zagreb’s defining symbols that brings glamour and elegance to the city. It is the most famous building in Zagreb, and the tallest building in Croatia. Although it is largely Neo-Gothic structure, the cathedral was founded in 1093 A.D. This is a must-see in Zagreb. The present church organ is from 1987 and the Baroque pulpit is from 1698.
7) DOLAC MARKET: This has to be Zagreb’s one of the most attractive features. It’s only a few steps from the cathedral. This bustling place is affectionately known as “the belly of Zagreb”, due to the mouth-watering array of irresistible food stuffs brought here from all part of Croatia. The market dates from the early 20th century, when the city authorities decided to tear down all the houses on Dolac to make room for a modern marketplace. It is the most visited and the best known farmer’s market in Zagreb. You will find traditional open market with stalls selling trinkets, fresh produce, and souvenirs at much lower price than any other places in the city. And if you are hungry, don’t go too far to look for food, you will find tons surrounding this area.
8) GRADEC – UPPER TOWN: Gradec is the hillside across Kaptol. The popular Zagreb blue funicular will take you straight there. A single funicular ride costs 6 kuna per person and 6 or below rides free. Although Upper Town may not be the center point of all hustling and bustling and may look like a ghost town when walking around some streets, it has some historical spots and some of the important governmental buildings of the city. Behind St. Catherine’s church there is a beautiful view from Gradec towards Kaptol, the cathedral, Dolac market, and the main square. It was wonderful walking down the hill back to the lower part of the city, instead of taking funicular again.
9) THE STONE GATE: Built in the Middle Ages, it is the only old town gate that has remained intact. Under the arch of the gateway is a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It holds a painting of the Virgin that was miraculously saved from a devastating fire in the year 1731, and the chapel has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. Please be silent and respect the worshippers if you are just passing through the Gate.
10) ST. MARK’S SQUARE: It is the heart of Upper Town, having formerly served as the main market square of the settlement of Gradec. Dominating the square is the 13thcentury Church of St. Mark, a Romanesque church which still retains much of its original shape. The Croatian Sabor or Parliament is also located in this square, right of the church (if you are facing the entrance of the church). The Parliament has held its sessions at this location ever since 1737. It was here the members voted to severe political ties from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 and from Yugoslavia in 1991.
11) MUSEUM of BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS (MUZEJ PREKINUTIH VEZA): One thing that I really regret for not doing in Zagreb is going to this museum. This is located in the Upper Town Gradec. It’s permanent display is an opportunity to experience a unique emotional journey through dozens of love leftovers collected from all around the world. It won Kenneth Hudson Award 2011 for the most innovative museum in Europe. It would have been interesting going through people’s personal items which reflect their emotions and feelings towards love and relationships.
12) NIKOLA TESLA: Statue is by the intersection of Masarykova and Teslina that was placed there on the 150th anniversary of the birth of this exceptional scientist and innovator. Nikola Tesla was born and raised in Croatia and after finishing his education in Europe Tesla sought his fortune in the USA, where he was instrumental in the development and introduction of alternating current, x-rays, remote control devices, and radio waves. Thanks to Tesla’s vision we can use the internet and mobile phones today.