Purgerska Nostalgija, Travel | No comments yet.
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia.
The Croatian capital is well worth a stay of at least a couple of days. Croatia is a country celebrated mostly for its beautiful beaches. Many Canadian friends, who were in Zagreb last summer for my daughter’s wedding, can confirm this.
Zagreb is easily accessed by plane, is close enough to reach via bus from Vienna or Venice, has a booming night life and offers a great shopping experience. Zagreb also makes an excellent day trip and is a viable destination from the holiday resorts of Croatian Istria, the coastal towns and other places in Slovenia, Venice and Trieste in northern Italy.
It’s not to be recommended as a day trip for people staying further south in Croatia as distances take longer to cover in this part of Europe. The train to Split (as far south as you can travel by train in Croatia) is an overnight one and you may have a few hours to kill before it departs; fortunately the station is central so you can easily take in a few sights before you leave.
Trg bana Jelacica
Zagreb revolves around the city’s main square, the Trg bana Jelacica. The square is always full of people, old, young and the very young. This is the heart of the city. In the background you can see the twin spirals of the spectacular St. Stephan’s Church. Right behind the main square is the colorful Dolac Market. Set up on an open roof terrace, it is a symphony of fresh farm produce, fresh fish, local arts and crafts all surrounded by haggling locals and sun burnt peasants. Dolac is a great place to stock up on Croatian cheese, olive oils and handicrafts.
The main square is easily accessed from all parts of the city by the excellent tram network and is a popular meeting spot for people young and old. To get a feel for the place I recommend the fantastic pekara or bakery in the square do what the locals do and buy a pastry wrapped sausage and wander along the nearby streets and the main stretch of shops. If you do need to go further afield you’ll probably want to take advantage of the comprehensive tram system. The two main hubs are the area in front of the train station and the main square. At the main square in particular, pedestrians should be aware that the trams can move quickly.
Zagreb’s fresh produce market is called Dolac and is situated just behind the main square, you’ll easily spot where the market starts with a flower market. Just beyond the flower market is the market hall where mainly meats and dairy produce are sold; look out for the huge hanging joints of ham from the Dalmatia area of the country.
In the dairy section there were tables where local ladies were selling homemade cheese; it’s common here for people to bring to market whatever surplus they have and sell alongside more commercial traders. On the roof of this building is the main market place which sells mainly fruit and vegetables. Each stall has a matching sun shade which makes the market look even more colorful – not that it needs to look more colorful; the deep red tomatoes, glossy almost-black aubergines, golden apricots and mottled pink bean pods paint the market with a rainbow of gorgeous colors. At the far corner is the fish market building and while this isn’t particularly big, it is worth a look inside, and nestled at the end of this level behind a bar are a handful of stall selling traditional embroidered linens. Up one more half level is the final part of the market, this time the stalls are half closed in, so that traders close the windows at the end of the day to lock the whole unit. This section sells mainly handbags, shoes, clothing (including the very practical multi-pocketed “reporters gilet” that you see most old men wearing in the countries of the former Yugoslavia) and household items.
My personal tip for Zagreb is to head to Ilica. This main stretch starts at Trg Ban Jelacic (Ban Jelacic Square) and heads west. The city center, known as Ilica, spreads out from the Main Square, and is full of boutiques and cafes. The great thing about starting here is the place has such a positive energy about it, you’ll be able to hear the street buskers treat you to traditional music while you are soaking up the atmosphere. Walk to the west end of the square and you can view the well that gave the city its name. From there you can head up to view St Mary’s Cathedral and continue on up to Strossmayer’s Walk, which looks out across the city, visit the houses of parliament and see the elaborate roof of St Marko’s Church.
I have spent many afternoons combing these lanes, finding bargains in the most unexpected corners. At the other end of Ilica is Britain Square. On Sundays the square hosts a charming antique market.
Coffee is a very important part of the Croatian social make-up. The city is dotted with coffee shops and the Croats can be found sipping on a cup at all times. Take part in this local tradition at the Flower Square (situated very close to the Main Square): Croatia’s most fashionable drop by here to catch up and be seen over coffee and beer.
After a coffee pick-me-up you are free to explore some more or go back to your room to prepare for a great night out. There is plenty to be seen and experienced in this booming Eastern European town and who knows it might be the start of a whole new series of traveling adventures!
Heading down from there you will be able to go back to the main street via a quaint little market square (I brought some wonderful hand crafted children’s toys for my nephews here). Then you are back on the main street Ilica ready to do some serious shopping. Here you will find all the major brands that you are familiar with, as well as locally produced clothing and some great bargains in this popular stretch.
Worn out after the sightseeing and shopping? Then why not head one block south. Set back from the main street are some pedestrian malls, and it’s here that you’ll find a stretch of cafes in what’s locally known as Flower Square (Trg Cvjetni). This is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by over a coffee and is a popular place for local celebrities to be spotted.
Old Town of Zagreb
On the subject of walking, it’s also important to know that the city is essentially on two levels (Gornji grad – the upper town and Donji grad – the lower town) connected either by a moderately steep hill, a short funicular ride or stone steps, depending on where you go up or down. Due to the narrow streets, the one way system and some traffic-free streets, Zagreb is not the kind of city that lends itself to open-topped bus tours ( one company offers a segway tour of Zagreb though) so you do need to walk a fair bit if you want to see a lot. Fortunately, caf culture is an intrinsic part of Zagreb life so you should do as the locals do and take regular breaks at pavement cafes.
The Zagreb Funicular (Croatian: Zagrebačka uspinjača) is the funicular in Zagreb operated by ZET, situated in Tomić Street, connecting the Ilica Street (Donji Grad) with Strossmayerovo šetalište (Strossmayer promenade) to the north (Gornji Grad). Its 66-metre track makes it one of the shortest public-transport funiculars in the world. The funicular was built in 1890 and has been in operation since April 23, 1893. Initially it had steam engines, which were substituted with electrical engines in 1934.
If you’re one for history head to the Upper (or Old) Town of Zagreb. Here within the winding lanes and old fashioned gas lamps, you’ll find many of the city’s prominent landmarks: the Croatian Parliament building; the St.Mark’s Church, with its unique tiled roof; and the medieval Lotrscak Tower – even today a canon is fired from the tower every afternoon. The neo-Gothic cathedral of St Stephens (built 1899) with its twin spires is worth at least a quick visit to see a remarkable tryptich by Albrecht Durer, but it is somewhat overshadowed by the striking tiled roof of St. Marks. Also worth a look on this level are the Banski Dvori – the presidential palace, and the Sabor – the parliament building.
From here make your way up to the shrine at Stone Gate where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared. The Old Town is peppered with art galleries, museums and old churches, as well as wonderful photo opportunities.
Past Stone Gate and downhill is Zagreb’s most popular watering hole/street – Tkalciceva Ulica. These streets are marked with old world Baroque buildings. A mix-n-match row of pubs, caf-bars, restaurants, gift boutiques and even tiny art galleries are etched along the sides. Come Friday night, these tiny lanes host quite a party.
Zagreb is not just a nineteenth century city, there are some older parts such as Tkalciceva which is quite pretty and quaint, but much of it has been rebuilt.
Still this is a nice area for strolling and shopping (there is some interesting little galleries and shops here) and it’s also a good area to eat as there are lots of restaurants including one or two konobas (a konoba is a traditional restaurant serving typical Croatian fare). However, while the food is simple and traditional the prices can be quite high in this part of town – (over Euro80 for a lunch for four adults) without starters or desserts and with only beers to drink. There are cheaper places to eat, of course, and one of the best places is on the first level above the indoor section of the food market; here you can buy delicious burek – a highly calorific flaky pastry filled with cheese or meat, and simple Balkan grill dishes.
Of course, this being a capital city there are opportunities for more upscale shopping and some top international names such as Gucci and Dior are represented in Zagreb. If this is your thing, you can find such boutiques around the main square. You should also know that the cafes in this area are also the most expensive too and, in spite of how many times the media reminds us that Croatia represents good value because it is outside the Eurozone, even a cup of coffee sitting at one of these pavements cafes, comes with a fairly moderate price tag. One of the best looking cafes is K&K – the initials stand for Kniza & Kava – “Books and Coffee” which has a really interesting interior with the walls covered with old prints and photographs of Zagreb over the centuries. To find K&K keep walking along Jurisiceva past the tourist information office and it’s on the left.
This is also a city of museums and art. Like most capital cities, Zagreb has a good number of museums covering the arts, natural history, national and ancient history. Museum Mimara is a brilliant museum in the centre and it comprises the eclectic private collection of Ante Topic Mimara which includes paintings by Spanish, Italian and Dutch artists as well as large amounts of glassware, sculpture and Oriental art. A short bus ride from the centre is the fascinating Mirogoj cemetery with its grand mausolea and exceptionally attractive landscaped grounds. Alternatively you could take a tram to Maksimir Park which boasts the first public promenade in south east Europe, dating from the end of the eighteenth century; the park has artificial lakes, several pretty pavilions and is a great place for a picnic.
There are plenty of hotels, with the ones closer to the centre being more expensive – some are in very grand buildings, and the cheaper ones being closer to the train station. If you are looking for cheap hostel accommodation you can find several advertising at the train station, and there is always the possibility of private rooms though these tend to be further out of town.
Zagreb is situated between the Medvednica mountain range and the Sava River, which makes for great side trips. You can take a stroll up the Mountain or take a cable car ride up the slopes and enjoy the view of the city below. During the winters, the mountain offers skiing facilities and attracts a great crowd to the peaks. Another popular haunt is the Maksimir Park; this is one of the largest parks in the region, with a beautiful oak forest, five little lakes and even a zoo, which the children will enjoy.
Sightseeing by the day and partying by night with lots of coffee breaks in between that’s a perfect day in Zagreb.
Serbus i najte kaj zameriti.
Follow Zdenko’s Corner on Facebook !