I’ve always found a bit hard to write about the city where I was born and grew up – Zagreb. That’s why I was always postponing this blog post.
However, things changed lately, and I’m in Zagreb maybe twice per year. But, like a visitor now. That’s why I’m starting to see it from a different side of view. I’m more and more a guest in it.
So, I thought that now, I can combine those two roles and give a bit different view of one of my favourite cities. And here it is, my ultimate guide to Zagreb from a local point of view!
Zagreb like a local: Ultimate city guide
Zagreb has that great vibe with its coffee culture, friendly locals and delicious food. And it’s still undiscovered and relatively cheap when compared with some cities in western Europe. That’s why I believe it’s one of the places you should put on your travel bucket list and visit soon!
Zagreb has a great climate with four proper seasons. It has warm summers and cold winters with sometimes a lot of snow. You can even go and sky then at the mountain Medvednica located just at the edge of the city (some of the World sky championship races are organised there).
If you want to ride in public transport like a local, you should complain about it a lot, too. But, that’s something I noticed everywhere I lived for a longer time. So, maybe it’s not so typical for Zagreb in the end 😉
Although my choice in Croatia would always be to use a car, public transport in Zagreb can save you from paying for parking and dealing with often heavy traffic during the pick hours. Public transport consists of trams (riding mostly in a city centre) and buses (connecting it mostly with the neighbourhoods outside the city centre).
Single ticket valid for 90 minutes in one direction will cost you around 1.5 euros, but if you’re planning to only take a short ride up to 30 min, you can buy a special 30-minute ticket that will cost you only 50 cents. If you’re planning to hop on and off a few times during the day, than 24-hour ticket is something for you. You can buy it for around 4.5 euros.
Mix of influences
What I really love in Zagreb are those different influences you can feel in it. Austrian and German influence in its historical architecture and food, Mediterranean influence in the way people live in the street (coffee culture is amazing here), the influence of the rural area around the city which you can especially feel on its central market Dolac – with all the nice food and products from the countryside.
There is a strong influence from the east as well, especially in a nice food like čevapčići or burek (I urge you to try both) that comes from the neighbouring Bosnia.
Architecture & places to see
Zagreb isn’t a large city, and its centre can easily be seen on foot. The most interesting places are Zagreb’s main square, Trg Bana Jelačića (often only called the square – ‘Trg’ among the locals), Upper town (Gornji grad) and a Green Horseshoe (Zelena Potkova) the line of parks with many beautiful and important buildings built next to them at the end of the 19th Century.
#1 -Trg Bana Jelačića
‘Trg’ is a meeting point and a true heart of Zagreb. Horse rider statue of Ban Jelačić and a fountain Manduševac are the most popular sights there. Tourist Information Centre is there, too, together with some very nice cafes. On its northern side is a model of a city centre, a very nice spot to see the city from above and plan in which direction to stroll next.
Just next to it is Dolac Market, a place where you can find a variety of fresh food from all around Croatia. I just looove the cottage cheese they have there, but you can also find some delicious pastry or an excellent quality fruit and vegetables. It’s also very famous for typical red umbrellas and a statue of ‘Kumica’, one of the ladies coming from villages around Zagreb to sell their products in a market in a big city.
#2 -Gornji Grad
The oldest parts of Zagreb are Gradec (Grič) and Kaptol, where the Cathedral is. They were two separate towns in the past that were fighting a lot between each other. That’s why you’ll see a lot of fortification walls and towers around them. Even the street which connects them is called Krvavi most, meaning the bloody bridge, because of all violent battles happening there.
# -Gradec (Grič)
Gradec is filled with small picturesque streets, many cafes and a few very cool museums. Museum of broken relationships is becoming very popular lately. Museum of Ivan Mestrović (the most famous Croatian sculptor whose sculptures can be found all around the world) or the Museum of Naive art (rural art from the middle of the 20th century) are also a great choice. Zagreb City Museum is also interesting and a place to go if you would like to learn more about the city’s history.
You can enjoy some of the best views on Zagreb from there and ride in the old funicular (which is a part of Zagreb’s public transport) if you’re not feeling like climbing all the stairs to the Gornji grad.
On the top of the funicular is an old Medieval tower, Kula Lotrščak. Every day, right in the noon, you’ll hear a cannon shooting from there. Legend says that a rooster fired from that tower saved Zagreb from Turkish occupation back in the 16th Century. So to remember that day, the cannon still shots every day.
Kaptol is a part of the city that developed around the Cathedral, consisting mostly of the old churches and homes of the clergy. That’s why it’s always a bit quieter than its neighbouring Gradec and Ban Jelačić Square.
Zagreb Cathedral, although started to be built all the way back in the Middle Ages, today is mostly a Neo-Gothic building built at the end of the 19th Century. It has a beautiful Gothic feel from the inside, but my favourite part is walking around it (something not many people actually do). You can see very well all the details in the stone sculptures there together with some old houses surrounding it.
#3 -Zelena potkova
End of the 19th Century is when the city developed a lot, and it had to be expanded. That’s why a completely new neighbourhood was built between the Ban Jelačić Square (no. 1 on the map below) and a main city’s train station (no. 2 on the map). Many beautiful historical buildings were built during that time. Some of their facades are just gorgeous, and I’m always finding some new details on them while walking there.
A the same time, they wanted to make Zagreb a greener city too, so they’ve started a project known as a ‘Green horseshoe’ today. It’s a line of parks that goes through the city centre forming a ‘U’ letter (you can see it well on my map above). Most of the buildings next to the parks are cultural institutions, like museums or theatres. One of the parks is a Botanical garden, with free admission and is open daily.
#4 -Bundek and Jarun
If you really want to dive into a local way of living, then go to one of Zagreb’s lakes, Jarun or Bundek. They are the city’s green oasis where you can walk around, enjoy sports activities, have a picnic or enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in one of its bars.
Coffee culture & craft beer movement
‘Let’s have a cup of coffee together!’ is almost like a motto of people in Zagreb. It’s a way to meet with friends, finish a class in college or a day at work. You’ll see many cute little cafes and bars packed with people around the city. Craft beer movement is also quite strong in Zagreb, so look for some of the local beers in bars too.
# -Tkalča Street
One of the most popular streets in Zagreb is Tkalčićeva Street, also known as ‘Tkalča’ among the locals. It’s filled with bars, and it’s a place to ‘see and be seen’ in Zagreb. It’s also a wonderful street with many cute little houses painted in many different colours.
# -Art Park
If you love street art and a bit of an urban feeling in the cities, then Art Park is a place to go. It’s an open-air bar in a small city park which was decorated by some of Zagreb’s street artists. You can play ping-pong there and enjoy in some cool art pieces while sipping some of Zagreb’s craft beers.
Art Park is also next to one of the entrances to the Grič tunnel. A 350 meters long tunnel was built during the Second World War to serve as a shelter in case of bombing.
What to buy as a souvenir (yes, like a local!)
One of Zagreb’s symbol is licitar hearts, which people used to give as a present to their friends or lovers. They could be a really nice local souvenir (you’ll find them on Dolac Market or in some of the shops around it).
Food is also great in Zagreb, so why not to buy some of the Croatian sweets? ‘Paprenjak‘ is probably the most famous cookie, but I had a tough time finding it when I was in Zagreb the last time. However, if you’ll go to any of ‘Kraš’ stores around the city, you can find a lovely selection of chocolate bonbons there, that could be a perfect souvenir from Croatia.
Did you know that a tie was invented in Croatia? Or a pen? Well, now you know, and that’s why they could also be a nice (probably more expensive) presents from Zagreb. ‘Croata’ is the most famous Croatian tie producer and they have a store very close to Ban Jelačić Square.
Radićeva Street is packed with small stores selling very cool souvenirs and you’ll really find a lot of cute things there. So, if you’re on a look for some souvenirs, that would be my place to go!
So here was my ultimate guide for visiting Zagreb! Of course, I haven’t told you all of its secrets, but this should be enough for a great time in Croatia’s capital!
Have you visited Zagreb? Or are you planning to go there soon? Let us know in the comments below!