While everybody heads to the Croatian coast, Zagreb remains a hidden gem. More and more travelers visit the capital of Croatia, more and more of them fall in love with this captivating city, but even though it’s gained a lot of recognition in the past few years, it’s still not a major tourist destination. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful place, with stunning architecture, a variety of events, lovely residents and unique atmosphere. If you still don’t know where to go for your next weekend getaway, or a student exchange, or a longer “fun in the city” vacation, Zagreb’s the answer. Here’s a list of 8 reasons why you should visit it.
The enchanting historic center of Zagreb
The center of Zagreb is made of two parts – the Lower Town (Donji Grad) and the Upper Town (Gornji Grad). The Upper Town is Zagreb’s greatest gem. Stretching between the hills of Kaptol and Gradec, it’s a beautiful, medieval neighborhood. Because of the low, colorful houses, Gornji Grad feels very cozy. There are lots of historically significant buildings, including the Old Town Gate, Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the beautiful St Marks Church.
There’s also one quirky, modern museum – the Museum of Broken Relationships that tells stories of the heart-broken individuals. In Dolac, a large market, you can buy fresh veggies, fruit, and fish. The Tkalciceva, full of bohemian cafés, is one of Zagreb’s most famous streets. Each summer painters, musicians, and other artists gather on the Strossmayer’s walkway (Strossmayerovo šetalište) to present their works. Many concerts are being held there so you can have a glass of wine, listen to music and enjoy the magnificent view of Lower Town.
Zagreb is neither large nor small. About 800 000 people live there, a bit more if you add the whole urban area encompassing the city. It’s big enough to be eventful and vibrant, but not to become overwhelming or chaotic. You can move around the center by foot, which is very convenient. In case you need to go further, there are trams, buses, and affordable taxies. It’s very easy to get from one place to another, and if you have any trouble finding the right spot, locals are always happy to help you out.
Great pubs and cafés
For Croatians coffee is more than just a source of caffeine. It’s a holy drink, a daily ritual, an excuse to get out of the house and meet friends. No matter what day and time it is, cafés in Zagreb are constantly full. From early morning till late evening, on weekdays and weekends, before classes, after work, on a break, Croatians enjoy their cup of coffee. Whether it’s the center or outskirts, each neighborhood is full of cafés. Nearby the main square, in both parts of the old town, you’ll find lots of creatively designed spots, such as the famous Eliscaffe serving high-quality coffees, the colorful and artsy Jutro or the retro Caffe Bar Finjak.
Other areas have their cafés where locals meet to exchange the newest gossips. They usually aren’t very fancy, but what makes them special is the unique Balkan vibe and homely atmosphere. For many people, those cafés are an extension of their living rooms. After spending the whole afternoon drinking coffees, you’ll be full of energy, so you can finally enjoy Zagreb’s nightlife and its great pubs. Go to Vintage Industrial Bar for a concert, to Tolkien’s Bar for an original local beer or to the Titus (http://www.titus.hr/) where you can listen to rock. Whatever music genre and style you prefer, Zagreb most likely has it. It’s a great city for going out, especially if you like the alternative kind of places.
Open and friendly locals
Croatians are charming, and their smiles are contagious. As in all Balkan countries, hospitality’s a crucial part of the culture. Thus Croatians are open and welcoming. As soon as you arrive in Zagreb and have a chat with the locals, it’ll feel like home, or at least like visiting an old friend. People say hello to each other whether they’re friends or not. They like to talk, ask questions, make jokes and laugh. There’s something very natural about their behavior. Croatians are smiling because they feel like to, not because it’s polite. They aren’t always polite, they don’t bother much with courtesy, but nevertheless – they’re charming. Besides, Croatians are always up for a glass of wine or a shot of rakija.
Tons of art
Zagreb is a great city for art-lovers. There are lots of museums and art galleries, such as the Croatian Museum of Naive Arts and Art Pavilion. Cinemas are great, especially the legendary Kino Europa, the oldest one in Zagreb. If you’re into European movies, that’s your place. In the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, you can watch a play, ballet or opera performance. Many clubs and pubs organize concerts. The center is full of street artists, especially the Strossmayer’s walkway mentioned earlier. The artsy vibe is being spread all across the city, and the longer you wander around, the more you’ll feel it – in the bars where creative people meet, in the small and big galleries, on the streets and in the cafés with interiors so beautiful they must have been made by artistic designers.
Countless festivals and other events
There’s no boredom in Zagreb. Even though the city isn’t very big, something is always happening. In June there’s the famous InMusic Festival being held and international stars, as well as local musicians, perform in Zagreb. There’s also the Zagreb Film Festival, International Folklore Festival, World Theatre Festival, Animafest, Queer Zagreb FM Festival and many others. You can listen to live music in bars and clubs, on the squares, in the parks, and on the streets. Lots of exhibitions and other art-related events are taking place too. Here you can find out what’s up in the city right now.
Relatively low prices
It’s not the cheapest destination in Europe, but still – Zagreb’s rather affordable. Prices are much lower than in the capitals of Western Europe; they’re also not as high as on the Croatian coast. In the cheapest pubs (cheap doesn’t mean bad, many good bars in Zagreb aren’t at all expensive), you can have a beer for about 12 Kunas ($2 USD) or a glass of wine for 10 ($1, 50 USD). Prices for a night in a hostel start from 75 Kunas ($12 USD). Groceries are quite expensive comparing to the other Balkan countries, but way cheaper than in places like the U.S., Germany or England.
Summing up, it’s a great city – to visit or to live in. Safe and well-organized, but at the same time lively and eventful; combining the Balkan spirit with a bit of West European touch, Zagreb’s a perfect mixture. It might not be as spectacular as other European capitals and as breath-taking as the coast, but it’s charming and worth visiting.
Are you convinced yet to visit Zagreb, the capital of Croatia? We hope so! Share this article with your friends and let them know there’s one more city in Europe they should add to their bucket lists.