Captivated in Croatia – A Guide to Zagreb

IMG_1397I spent 1 full day in Zagreb, Croatia.   It is the capital of Croatia and has a laid back vibe…almost like a small town, not like the largest city in Croatia!  The rich culture and old structures are divided into the Upper and Lower Towns. Upper town with its rich history and landmarks, and Lower town with its arts, culture and big business.

Chillout Hostel – conveniently located a few blocks from Ban Jelacic Square, this hostel has a cool vibe. The staff is helpful, the bar is always buzzing. Just around the corner from the hostel is the funicular to Upper Town.  My room was really small for two people; bunk beds, a small closet and a private bathroom. The rooms vary; dorm style or private.  I’ve seen pictures of the other rooms, and I feel like I got the shittiest room in the place!

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Things to See:

Ban Jelacic Square – the central square in Zagreb, a great meeting point. Right in the pedestrian zone close to Upper Town, with market stalls set up during the day.IMG_0371

St. Mark’s Church – MUST SEE. This cute little church has the most beautiful roof made of colorful tiles that represent the coat of arms of Zagreb and the coat of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. The church was built in the 13th century; it’s possible to look inside for a small donation.

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Zagreb Cathedral – MUST SEE. The tallest structure in the entire country! It is Roman Catholic and Gothic in style. Have a look inside; it is just as grand with many paintings, statues and a sarcophagus of a noted cardinal/Archbishop (these things always creep me out a bit!).

 

Gradec Gate – The Stone Gate that leads into the historic medieval section of the town.  It dates back to at least 1266, and was damaged in many fires since Zagreb’s structures were made mostly from wood.

IMG_1404Inside the Gate is the painting of the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus. It has a decorative baroque fence around it, and many flowers and candles sit below it. This painting survived the fire of 1731, even though the Gate was badly damaged.

IMG_0366So light a candle, say a prayer – many believe the painting has magical powers.  Don’t miss the famous statue of Dora outside the wall of the other entrance.

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Plitvice National Parka 2 hour drive from Zagreb, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the largest and oldest parks in Croatia. Of course the one day we needed to be outside exploring this beautiful park, it is pouring rain.  It is really hard to describe how stunning it is here..even in the rain. The colors….the water is every shade of pretty green or blue you can imagine. This is due to minerals/organisms in the water and sunlight.

 

It’s quiet and peaceful, aside from the sound of the rushing water cascades and waterfalls.  There are 16 lakes in total, and over 90 different sizes of waterfalls. I really wish we had time to explore for a few more hours.  It can get really crowded here in the summer, and the paths are narrow so bring your highest level of patience!  There are 8 hiking routes; each one should take around 2 hours so a full day here is ideal. I’m not sure which route we took, but I’m pretty sure our trail took us to the biggest waterfall, Veliki.

 

 

Things to Do:

Stroll through Lower Town – Lower Town is all about parks, arts/culture, and is the business district. The easiest route is called the Lenuci Horseshoe which will take you past the National Theater, King Tomislav Square, and the botanical garden.  It’s a nice area for a casual stroll, or to sit and take in the surrounding flowers and fountains.

 

Climb the Lotrscak Tower – for spectacular city views! The tower was built in the 13th century to guard the Southern Gate.  It is a simple design and there is a large bell in the tower that signaled the closing of the gates and a large cannon that fires every day at noon.  It’s probably a fun experience to be in the Tower when that goes off. Ha-ha.  $4 entry fee.

 

Wander around Dolac market – the locals come here to get their grub, so you know it’s good. There is an indoor section where you can find older Croatian ladies making cornbread and cream cheese. Outside there are stalls covered by the famous Sestine umbrellas.

 

Ride the funicular – It is the smallest and one of the steepest in the world, and only takes 60 seconds to get to the top. Just to say you rode it! $4 fee

 

Museum of Broken Relationships – MUST SEE. Give yourself an hour or so to see all of the exhibits in this small museum. The exhibits are items that are memories of broken relationships of all kinds, and are sent here from all over the world.  Some of them are stupid; some are hilarious (like the person who took their ex’es toaster – see pic below), and some are completely heartbreaking. A really unique experience.  $8 entry fee.

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Enjoy the café scene – people here love their coffee (but sometimes going for a coffee also means drinking alcohol!). A popular café to try is Velvet.

Find some street murals – one of the best ones is located in Gradec, around the corner from the Museum of Broken Relationships. It is a turtle painted on the ground, and you can get a great pic of it with the top of Zagreb Cathedral in the background. I’ve seen many pics of the different ones…they are amazing! If you see one, snap a pic!

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Places to Eat, Things to Eat:

Unfortunately, I was dealing with food poisoning while I was in Zagreb so I did not have any amazing dining experiences. The first night we went to Starifijaker, a traditional restaurant and one of the most well known. I could only stomach soup and tea, but I could tell from what everyone else ordered that it was top notch!

And here are some yummy things to try!

 

Cottage cheese and sour cream – easily found at the market. You can mix them together and add salt and pepper.

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Strukli – a dough filled with cottage cheese and sour cream

Cevapi – minced meat in a skinless sausage, served on its own or with flatbread

Burek – a flaky phyllo pastry traditionally filled with meat. The cheese filled variety is also yummy

Cuspajz – a hearty stew with meat or veggies or both!

 

 

Things to Drink:

Rakija – potent fruit brandy….drink with caution!

Karlovacko –local beer

Ozujsko – local beer

Wine– so many types of wine are made in Croatia, so enjoy your wine tasting!

 

Things to Buy:

Paintings – painted by locals artists, you can’t go wrong!

Sestine Umbrella – it’s part of the traditional costume, and you can see them on the stands in Dolac market

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Traditional Croatian cravat – Guess what? Neckties originated in Croatia, so there’s nowhere better to find a tie to add to your collection

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Licitar Hearts – can be bought in all the Balkan nations, but I purchased my favorite ones in Zagreb.  The history of these hearts began when young boys would give girls these heart shaped cakes, to tell them they liked them.  There is a small mirror in the cake, so the girls know it’s her that is the object of affection. So cute.

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Pumpkinseed Oil – I got mine in the market. I was excited to come home and put in on my salads or dip bread in it, but I’m not sure I love the taste. Hahaha

 

 

Things I Missed But Would Do Next Time:

Mirogoj Cemetery – one of the more noteworthy landmarks in Zagreb, it is located approximately 30 min from the Central Square if taking public transport.  It accepts burials from all religious backgrounds and it is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe.

Overall, a stop in Zagreb is a great option. Many travelers overlook this gem in favor of the towns on the Adriatic Sea, such as Split or Dubrovnik. Do something different and head north to check out Zagreb and Plitvice National Park. If only for a day or two, you will fall in love!

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