Zagreb was voted the most boring capital city a few years back. However, when I arrived in summer 2017, it exceeded my expectations.
Arriving by bus, I had to take the tram to the hostel in town and as I was fumbling for my map, a location Croat asked me where I was going. I told him and he told me where to get off and even directed me which way to go. How’s that for going out of your way to help someone? I’m so so blessed. The Dots hostel was a no frills, clean and very central hostel with helpful people. Its a 5 minute walk to the old city of Zagreb.
I did the free spirit walking tour ( it’s free! Just tip as you like!) of Zagreb at 11am from the Horse statue at the main square. The group was large but the tour guide Mia was really very knowledgeable about Zagreb. Because it was Sunday, we were lucky enough to catch the changing of guards and also, at 12pm, the canon fires from the look out tower that offers panoramic and sunset views. I highly recommend going up 30 minutes before sunset to get the best pictures of town.
The free spirit walking tour covers almost all that you need to see in the old town of Zagreb. The market, the cathedral, the pub street, the bloody bridge, St Marks square and the church, the Parliament House and of course, the museum of broken relationships, one of its kind and extremely popular with tourists. You also see the most holy place in town and learn interesting facts along the way. It’s a 2 hours walk and you climb quite a lot of stairs.
For food, I recommend the Dolac market for fresh produce. It’s known as the Belly of Zagreb and it’s easy to see why. This market feeds the whole of Zagreb. The sellers are basically small producers who grow their food around Zagreb and they sell it here daily. Most use very little pesticides and that’s why I saw bees buzzing all around the fruits. They open daily in the mornings till about 1pm. I got 2 bananas and 500g of fresh cherries for only 1 euro, about 7 Croatian Kunas.
For lunch, I had the Cevapcici, which every Croat loves. It’s basically seasoned minced meat shaped into sausages, grilled and eaten with flat bread, onions and a sauce you like. I had mine at Plac, just below the Dolac Market as they serve fresh meat from the market. You can also try La Strukle which is a dough filled with cream and it’s typical northern Croatian food.
For dinner, I headed to Heritage which is a small deli near the hostel and it’s the master mind of Master chef Croatia winner Sime Susic and his chef friends. They serve typical Croatian food sourced from various parts of Croatia from small producers. I had very good sandwich with salami with soured peppers and also the fig salad which was delicious.
You need to drink Croatian wine. They don’t export any of it yet so you probably wouldn’t have tasted it unless you’re in the country and I had very nice reds. The north have more whites and the coastal lower parts is red, which is where I’m spending most of my time in Croatia so I can’t wait. So far, the ones I’ve tried are really good and affordable. Their coffee is also famous but I’m not a coffee drinker so please tell me what you think if you drink it.
At night in the lower part of Zagreb which is the newer part of the city, you see a few beautiful large buildings, like the national theatre and also the railway station. The parks are the highlight in summer. People hang out in the evenings to enjoy the summer weather and also, I had a wonderful jazz concert just in the park on Sunday.
On weekends, most of the Croats head to the upper part (old Zagreb) for food on Tkalčićeva street or bar street as they call it. It’s a pedestrian street with all the bars, cafes, restaurant and you will definitely find something you like to eat. I had breakfast there and it was nice to people watch.
Zagreb is said to be one of the safest city in Europe and it’s true. I walked back to my hostel at 10pm after the concert and the first night around 11pm and I didn’t feel any danger. Apparently, pickpocketing is also not widespread here yet. But still, no reason to let your guard down. The people are really nice and helpful and most of them speak English as they studied 2-3 languages in school.
A nice day trip from Zagreb is Plitvice lakes. This is a Unesco protected site and it was super crowded when I was there. In fact, the guide said Unesco has already warned them to restrict entry so as to protect the nature reserve but thankfully, the Croats were slow to act so I had a good time. You can pay for a day trip like I did or do it on your own although the logistics will be harder and you have to queue for a long time for tickets. My guide managed to skip the queues and the group and I got in within minutes. There, you can go on your own which will probably be more enjoyable. They have the upper and lower parts (just like Zagreb 😂) and both sides can be explored easily on clearly marked trails. Do head to the caves when you’re going down to the lower part. It is a good cool place to hide from the heat. Expect to spend about 4-5 hours walking everything. Bring water, sunscreen and snacks and you don’t have to bring your bikini because it’s forbidden to go in the waters, for preservation purpose. There are clearly marked signs on the trails so you just have to remember where your car/bus is picking you up and back to Zagreb. For me, I chose the drop off to Zadar after Plitvice.
The drive to Zadar was beautiful. You can see hills and the Adriatic Sea on the way and it made me want to head to the beach immediately. Once I dropped off my bag at the Bnb, I walked to the beach for the sunset! The beach was not sandy but made of stones and pebbles and it seemed like everybody was there! The beach had steps for you to climb up from the sea and also, it had a huge diving tower and a lot of people jump off it. There was also a pool made of sea water for those people afraid of currents and want a more controlled environment. The lifeguards were also pretty nice to look at and of course makes the place safe to swim. Zadar’ sunset was pretty spectacular for me that night.
In the day time, you see large crowds anywhere that’s near the sea. Not just the beach, but also in the pavements that are near the sea. So much so they also had stairs for you to climb out of the sea once you’re done. I guess it’s the only way to escape from the scorching heat from the sun.
I chose to explore the old town’s cathedral and the museum as they had the Chagall exhibit before heading to the beach in the evening for the sunset again.
For food, seafood is the highlight here as it’s a costal town. My bnb owner Renata said the best seafood was at Fosa so I tried that for lunch and it was alright. My 3 course lunch of soup, shrimp pasta and Apple cake cost me 30euros. For dinner, I had grilled scampi one day with salad and the black risotto with cuttlefish (Rizoto Sa Sipom) at Konoba Stomorica on the second night. It’s an old restaurant that’s been around for many years. My bnb owner said they have the best black risotto in Zadar and it’s her favourite place to eat. I had to agree with her. Prices are also cheaper than Fosa.
Zadar had quite a lot of mosquitoes so please remember to bring your repellent. My bnb had no air conditioning so it was quite a night mare at night as it was pretty warm and I had to leave my windows open. Thankfully, my citronella essential oil that I dabbed myself before I slept with worked wonders so I slept through the night.
Heading south to more coastal towns including Dubrovnik so wait for my next blog!