As much as I did not appreciate Budapest, a much as I was pleasantly surprised by Zagreb. What an authentic place, right in the centre of Europe. There are very few tourists, at least this time of year, and you know what? I really enjoyed it. Listening to locals, blending in and not having someone with a Nikon every 2 meters. Also, given that I am Bulgarian, I kind of understand a good chunk of what is going on around me given the similar languages.
Zagreb is cheap. Literally everything is cheap and you will feel like you are getting your buck’s worth every minute.
Where to stay
I stayed in the Esplanade Zagreb and the hotel is absolutely fantastic., beautiful rooms, stunning decor and it was something like £70 a night.
You can get a taxi anywhere, just make sure to have cash.
Where to visit
Walk around the center (or Old Town). It is so authentic, one feels like they are in touch with a culture without imposition of hoards of tourists.
This is the main square. Full of flower shops, shops, restaurants and outdoors cafes (with heaters). Just people watch and embrace the town.
The street where famous people go, and other people go hoping to spot famous people going there? Sounds like a private members club in London – yep but on a full on heated street. They also have a cool ice cream shop right in the middle, which you should probably try. Music plays from the sound systems across the street and the vibe is overall super cool.
Advent Zagreb (Christmas only)
While I was in Zagreb, there was an event called ‘Advent Zagreb’. Ice skating, live bands, trees decorated with fairy lights, mulled wine – it is so much fun. There is something for everyone in there. During this time, the tunnel that goes under the hill of Old Town was also turned into a little animated area with music and Christmas figures everywhere, kids seem to love it, so did it – so let’s say it is fabulous for all ages 🙂
The Cathedral is stunning inside and out. Stunning Gothic architecture, painted glass and artefacts. Beware they have this guy (I believe he is a saint), who is buried in the church in one of those transparent coffins. People go to pray to him but I got a bit scared seeing him, as he looks very well preserved. I looked him up and apparently he was a controversial figure in the Croatian history and the nation was split if he is truly to be made into a saint.
St Mark’s church
Walk further up from Zagreb Cathedral and you will reach the height of Old Town and St Mark’s church. It is so peaceful up there. Literally no people, and you can enjoy the winding streets and pretty houses, almost without seeing a soul. The stunning roof top of the Church is what draws most, as the actual church is only open for mass.
Dolac Market Mural
Painted in 2017, it adds an enigmatic vibe to the otherwise vibrant market. Go early and have a look at the market spanning in front of you with the Mural as a background. I found it absolutely stunning.
Light a candle in the stone gate
As most places in the vicinity, there is a lot of tradition and beliefs around Zagreb. The Stone Gate, is more like a small tunnel full of placards, stuck on burnt walls and small candle holding sand boxes spread around. Legend has it, that back in 1973 a huge fire broke out burning everything to the ground except for a painting of the Virgin Mary, which was found unharmed although everything around it burnt. The gate was subsequently rebuilt, and the painting hangs there to this day, drawing people for prayer every day.
What to eat
Get burek, it is the tastiest pastry ever. You can find it in any bakery. My favourite version of it is with feta cheese, and add Ayran to it as a drink (yogurt based drink).
Overall food in Zagreb is just good, whatever you try just tastes amazing. I guess they still have functional, local agriculture and food tastes like you are eating real food (shock).
Visit The Old Pharmacy Pub, gorgeous facade and beautiful interior. It also has 2 resident doggies.