I love Zagreb for so many reasons. Off the beaten path and away from the tourist radar, Zagreb is refreshingly local. Still relatively inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe—and even Croatia—the city is filled with regal architecture, a gas-lamp old quarter where time stands still, and inexpensive hearty cuisine. I was charmed by Zagreb’s unpretentious attitude and abundant cultural pursuits, especially its unique museums, architecture, art scene, and live music scene.
Zagreb is a place I knew little about beforehand. I decided to head here to round out my tour of Croatia, which was deservingly beach heavy. Essentially, I wanted to see what Croatia was like away from the sea.
Zagreb turned out to be in total contrast to every other place I visited in Croatia. Although it wasn’t as jaw-droppingly beautiful as Dubrovnik, the quintessential city on the sea, it was equally dynamic and in some ways more charming and friendly. It felt clean and cultured in contrast to Split, which is gritty and still living off the clout of its historical robustness. It felt classically European after the Dalmatian Coast, presenting a fusion of both Eastern European timelessness and Western European style.
Orientation: Zagreb’s Upper and Lower Towns
Zagreb is a city of two hills: Kaptol and Gradec, which were rivals throughout history until they were united by common commercial interests and merged to form Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. These days the city is made up of both an old and new town. Both Kaptol and Gradec form the upper old town, or Gornji Grad, together. While the upper and lower towns are both charming, the upper town is incredibly so. There, an attendant still goes around lighting each gas lamp by hand at twilight, something which takes you back in time when you see it happen. The newer lower town, or Donji Grad, sits between the train station and the upper town and is filled with art museums, theaters, parks, and beautiful architecture.
From the bus station, it was a 20 minute walk to reach the train station, which is fairly close to the historical center of town. A large park filled with museums and lined with classical buildings stretches from the front of the train station to the town square, Ban Jelačić Square, at the base of the upper town. Our hotel, the classically elegant Palace Hotel, faced the park half way up, housed in a historical art nouveau building with a beautiful facade.
Originally I was just planning to pass through Zagreb on my way out of Croatia. However, after wandering around the city that first night, I immediately decided to extend the trip and stay longer, after just a tiny dose of this dynamic city.
Stay tuned for our Zagreb city guide, stuffed to the brim with great stuff, out tomorrow.