When I thought of Croatia, I thought of Dubrovnik (subject of a future blog) which is a beautiful city and a backdrop to Game of Thrones, or Split, Croatia’s coastal heaven. Until just a few months ago I did not know about Zagreb, which is the Capital and lesser known city of Croatia and I had the opportunity to visit and spend a couple of weeks there.
The truth is, I did NOT love Zagreb and I probably will never visit again, here is why…
The opinions I am about to share are based solely on my experience but positive or not, I felt it was important to share these opinions as I have done with other cities I have visited. Please read and use this information only as a guide, I do not intend to discourage anyone to visit Zagreb solely based on my accounts, just make sure you do your own research before you go to avoid disappointments, I’m sure your experience will be much different than mine.
Zagreb is divided into three parts: the thousand-year old Gornji grad (Upper Town) which houses the Presidential Palace, the picturesque St Mark’s Church, the Croatian parliament , museums and galleries, and the 19th century Donji grad (Lower Town) with shops, restaurants, cafes, theatres and parks; (in my opinion, the only area worth visiting in all of Zagreb)and the modern post-World War II area of Novi Zagreb or New Zagreb which is full of high-rise buildings and basically has little to offer visitors.
Historically, Croatia is a young country that has been thru a lot, a recent violent past which its grimness is still very much palpable everywhere you go.
One day, I was strolling thru the city and as I walked in no direction wondering thru the streets, and streets of what looked and felt like Socialist architecture , plain, gray, some looked like they had war scars , most with no architectural design what so ever, instead, they made me feel like I walked into the past , a very close and violent past and it did not feel good, in fact, I wanted to turn around and go back to my apartment.
I visited the war museum in Zagreb and although very informative, I could not help but feeling depressed and almost wanting to run out of there as fast as I could because it reminded me to much of my own countries (Colombia) recent violent past. Walking thru the galleries and for example seeing bloody pictures of war victims and war memorabilia like bomb shrapnel, hit a nerve.
I am from Colombia and I lived in Medellin during the end of the 80’s and beginning of the 90’s, during that time, Colombia was going thru one of the worst times of its history, yes, I literally was living in a daily episode of Netflix’s Narcos, and it was NOT fun. While Pablo Escobar was on a rampage against the police and the politicians, normal folk like me, were just collateral damage to the biggest assassin and terrorist our country has ever known, so Croatia’s war history and vibe, especially Zagreb’s, hit to close to home, it made me feel very uncomfortable and out of place.
But it’s not all bad news, here is what I liked and what I recommend:
Zagreb is also called a city of museums as there are more of them per square foot than any other city in the world. Some notable ones you should consider visiting is the Museum of Broken relationships (bring tissues and prepare your self to do a lot of reading, other wise it wont make sense), close to St Marks Square, Museum of illusions and the Museum of Contemporary Art, to name a few.
One of the many pleasures that the locals enjoy is sitting in one of the numerous cafes watching the world go by, by the way, In Croatia, Cafes usually only serve coffee and or drinks, no food, so if you want to nibble, make sure you ask if they serve food before you sit down and avoid disappointment.
Something you need to be aware of in Croatia is that the service industry, especially restaurants, are a new concept, yes, that restaurants have only opened in the last 5- 10 years, so they are just getting the hang of both food and service.
Don’t expect a lot of “wow” food here, most, if not all of it, will be forgettable. I had several bad experiences with food and service. In addition, make sure you look at your bill before paying to avoid surprises, some restaurants will charge you a service fee for cloth and utensils, literary.
Zagreb locals love their carbs, as you stroll around the city, you will find bakeries almost in every block, the baked goods are fresh and warm, one bakery you will easily find is Dubravic, so make sure you go and try some local favorites.
A fun fact: Chestnut trees are all over Zagreb, make sure you try some roasted chestnuts if in season or chestnut paste with cream, it’s a Croatian staple and it is a treat.
If you are a foodie, you may enjoy visiting the daily Dolac market, where customers will find seasonal fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish, food, and crafts. A close walk away, you will be in the Ban Jelačić square, Zagreb’s meeting place, where you can either shop, eat, bank, and absolutely the best place in Zagreb for people watching.
Want to get a glimpse of Zagreb from above? Visit the 360 tower, just a block from the square, go up and enjoy uninterrupted views of the city while you sip a cocktail or beer and admire (or not) the quirky décor.
If you look at all the top sites to visit in Zagreb, first, they are not very long and second, you will find an odd listing: Mirogoj Cemetery. A tram ride and 15-minute walk away from the Square, you will get to this cemetery, if you are interested in history, architecture or nice scenery, Mirogoj is a good place to go. I prefer/recommend visiting during sunlight hours 😊.
As you can see, Zagreb does have things to offer, (I hear it has a fantastic and popular Christmas market) but for me it was an acquired taste that I kept wanting to like, but just could not swallow.
I may never make it back to Zagreb, but I will probably be back to Croatia, it is a beautiful Country that has a lot to offer to all kinds of tourists and travelers, so if you find your self in Zagreb or if you have been, I would love to know your side of the story…
Keep curious, keep traveling, the world is to beautiful not to explore…
#Zagreb #museumbrokenrelationships #zagreb360 #thiscolombianeatsandtravels #keepcalmandtravel #travelmakesmehappiest #cntraveler #natgeotravel #travel #bbc_travel
A couple of resources: