I’ve visited Zagreb a couple of times before, but the most recent trip was to celebrate my cousin’s wedding. Not only was it great to have a few days away, it was a privilege to witness the cementing of another successful multi-country relationship! My cousin was born in New Zealand, but having a Swiss father meant he relocated there in his 20s, meeting his now-wife, and eventually moving to Croatia. It’s complicated but awesome that I have a relative that lives so close (only 2.5 hours away).
Another brilliant thing was that my Dad and two of my aunties also joined in the celebratory-travel-party from Australia. It made for a great time to catch up, speak English (and occasionally try to understand Swiss-German, courtesy of the Swiss side of the family) and relax.
Zagreb is a cute, sprawling city packed with museums, parks, ancient cathedrals and open-air markets – plenty to see and do. We were there at the end of August and it can be quite hot surrounded by all that concrete, yet for our purposes – relaxing in cafes cooled by wafting spritzes of water and drinking local beer or eating ice cream – it was ideal.
So based on what I’ve seen and done, here’s my top picks for Zagreb!
Free walking tour
A free walking tour is always a great way to get your bearings in a new city. Join the Free Spirit walking tour at 11am at the horse statue in the main square.
Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships
One of my favourite museums of all times, for the curious-at-heart, the exhibit showcases physical objects that are the remnants of failed relationships with a story explaining each piece. The experience is a surprisingly poetic glimpse into what is left behind after a relationship ends.
Hike up to Sjleme
Just out of Zagreb you might be surprised to find out there is a ski resort, albeit small (1035m), and actually much better for walking than skiing. To get there, take tram 14 to the end of the line and then switch to tram 15. The journey will take you around 40 minutes but it’s worth it if you want to get out of the city for the day. Once you arrive, simply follow the red and white dots (a red dot with a white dot in the middle) along the upward but not overly steep walking track until you reach the top – it will take you a couple of hours so make sure you take water, hat sunscreen etc. At the top, stop for a drink or food at one of the restaurants and enjoy the view! You can return the same way or take the bus.
Walk the many parks and gardens
Zagreb, for all its buildings, trams and streets, is a green city, with plenty of parks and gardens to wander through. There are also a couple of lakes you can either walk or catch public transport to if you’re looking for a waterside view or a quick dip.
Enjoy some local ale and pub food
Zagreb seems to have a pretty frothing pub culture, with plenty of local and imported ales and beer on tap, along with tasty pub grub. You won’t go far without finding a burger or something equally meaty on the menu. And don’t forget to finish (or start) the night with a strong shot of rakija – guaranteed to stimulate the digestive juices!
And speaking of meat, if you’re in Croatia, you have to try ćevapčići. This is a grilled minced meat dish that comes served traditionally with raw onion, a delicious paprika sauce and bread. You can’t go wrong!
The city centre of Zagreb seems to be overflowing with shoe shops (mostly women’s), along with plenty of the usual other suspects. If you’re there and you want something to add to your travel wardrobe, it’s not hard to spend money!
Zagreb is easily connected to other main hubs with a bus and train station not far from the centre of town. We travelled by bus – the trip from Graz in Austria is easy and much cheaper than paying for petrol, road tolls and parking. Yet be warned that you are in Croatia – so everything runs on Croatian time – at least if you go into expecting delays you just might get a welcome surprise.
And my cousin’s wedding was a beautiful affair: cocktails and finger food in a charming garden area followed by excessive amounts of food on the terrace. The bride was stunning, my cousin scrubbed up surprisingly well and although we didn’t make it to sunrise like some of the other guests, I still think 3:30am was a pretty good effort.