I hear Croatia is simply overrun with tourists during the summer. But on a 4-month travel stint last year in spring, the capital Zagreb was the perfect starting point.
Besides happening to unearth a reasonably priced plane ticket from there to Johannesburg (with a stopover in Vienna), my travel buddy and I were both attracted to the city’s historic beauty and opportunities for relaxed – but also stimulating – walking and exploring.
We spent the string of balmy late March days in a hostel within walking distance of the train station, and with lovely staff. We were welcomed by a long wall covered with street art on the way to the hostel, which heralded what was to come.
A lot of our time during the trip went into hunting for street art, which is really freaking impressive there.
Our first night in Zagreb, we shared a huge meat platter at one of the restaurants in the Old Town. I’d imagine Zagreb is a hard place for vegetarians, although options seem to be growing there.
We were generally pleased with the food we encountered, but really the highlight to me were the Museum of Broken Relationships and the Free Spirit Walking Tour. The guide told us they had to call it “free spirit” because the government doesn’t officially allow “free walking tours” (meaning totally based on tips). She charged a symbolic one Croatian kuna before we set off to see and hear about the city’s touristic highlights.
What our young, friendly, knowledgeable guide told us about Zagreb was memorable. The highlights are worth sharing here, mixed in with a bit of what we learned from personal observation.
- Zagreb’s main square was named after a man while he was still alive.
- A cannon has been shot from a tower everyday for 140 years – even during wars.
- Bakeries are open until very late.
- The roof of St. Mark’s Church has the coat of arms in the “wrong” color order.
- The chandeliers of the cathedral were donated by a Vegas casino.
- The cathedral has to be frequently renovated because it’s made of limestone.
- Zagreb was formed only in the 19th century; before, it was two separate towns.
- Zagreb is one of two European capitals that is neither on the coast nor has a river in the city center, the other one being Madrid.
- Zagreb was almost (structurally) intact during the 1990s’ Croatian War of Independence.
- You can go skiing in Zagreb in the winter and to a beach in the summer on a lake.
- The collection of the city’s largest museum was donated by one single person from his private collection – Mimara.
- There’s a cool shortcut uptown via park stairs and tunnels cutting through the city’s hills.