Zagreb City Guide: Our Favorite Picks for Art, Culture, and Music
By December 19, 2012
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So by now you may have got that I love Zagreb. If you missed my last article on Why I Love, Love, Love Zagreb, Croatia, you can read all about the many reasons here, as well as what prompted me to extended my stay. In the meantime, here are the highlights of my time in Zagreb:

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Zagreb cathedral.

Top 3 Zagreb Experiences

1. Strolling the Upper Town

Zagreb Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary) towers skyward as you approach the Kaptol district in Zagreb’s upper town. Surrounded by a U-shaped medieval stone wall bookended by conical turrets, this Roman Catholic white marble gothic cathedral is the tallest building in Croatia and can be seen from all around. It’s the best place to start your city walk, and from here you can branch out through the winding streets to Dolac Market, Zagreb’s largest farmers market, before heading over to sample the buzzing food and happy hour scene centered on Tkalčićeva and Radićeva streets. We stopped in at Stare Skaline for Beef Stew “Hunter Style” and Chicken Livers with Polenta, both of which were phenomenal.

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Meandering from here, you’re sure to hit the old town gate at some point, which is at the top of Radićeva street. Dark and lit by candles from within, the gate houses a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Behind a fancy wrought iron gate is a portrait of the virgin that is said to be sacred since it was the only thing to survive a fire that burned through this area.

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Old town gate.
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St Mark’s church.
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Stone head of Matija Gubec.

A little more walking will take you to the not-to-be-missed St. Mark’s Square where you’ll find iconic St. Mark’s Church. This gothic church has a colorful tiled roof covered in patterns and featuring two coats of arms: the white castle on red is Zagreb’s coat of arms and the other represents the kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. Also in the square are government buildings belonging to the Sabor, or Croatian parliament, and the large stone head of Matija Gubec, the leader of a peasant uprising. His head is mounted on the corner of house number 8, on the spot where he was executed. The square is filled with gas lamps, and at night you can actually hear their soft hiss.

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The Croatian flag outside Sabor, the Croatian parliament.
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Hissing gas lamp.

2. Discovering Unique Museums

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Museum of Broken Relationships
The Museum of Broken Relationships houses objects and mementos from all over the world with no place to go, all left over from failed relationships. The multiple rooms of this small museum are crammed full with personal objects, each accompanied by the intimate, and often highly entertaining, stories behind them. The museum began as a traveling exhibition, and eventually grew into a brick and mortar museum offering a positive message of healing and recovery:

“Unlike ‘destructive’ self-help instructions for recovery from failed loves, the Museum offers a chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation: by contributing to the Museum’s collection.”

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Museum of Broken Relationships.
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Museum of Broken Relationships.

Mimara Museum & Museum of Contemporary Art
Another great museum to check out is the Mimara Museum (Muzej Mimara), housing Zagreb’s best art collection, a diverse collection of art ranging from European paintings to archaeological artifacts from Egypt, Greece, and Rome to Far Eastern artworks. For something distinctly Croatian, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti) is filled with art by modern Croatian artists.

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Hieronymus Bosch, Mimara Museum.
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Mimara Museum.

3. Free Cultural Events

Strossmartre: Zagreb’s Live Summer Music Scene
In the Parisian spirit and in fact modeled after Paris’ Montmartre district, Zagreb’s Strossmartre is an outdoor summer event concentrating on art, culture, and music. For 100 days in the summer, stretching from May through September, you’ll find musical performances, art installations and open air cinema.

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Situated at the edge of the upper old town, with spectacular views of the lower town, everything is centered on Strossmartre Promenade, which stretches from the cable car station past a stage and adjoining beer pavilion. The atmosphere was magical, walking beneath chestnut trees adorned with sea shell chandeliers, each decorated with original art like carved tribal busts embellished with elaborate jungle-inspired masks.

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Boom Pacha Boom, a 7-member Croatian 50’s BeBop retro rock band, was performing under a full moon that night. They were dressed in polka dot poodle skirts and iconic 50’s wear, singing 50’s classics in Croatian with occasional spots in English.

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Movies under the Stars
In the summer there are also free showings of movies in an open air theater. Usually one of the films is in English and you can grab a seat, or a hammock, to watch the flicks. There are plenty of popcorn vendors on hand, popping up fresh bags of popcorn, not just at the movies, but all across town too.

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Zagreb is a captivating place to spend a few days. Unlike its busy Western European counterparts, it still retains a sense of timelessness where you can, if just for a moment, forget you’re in the 21st century.  Best of all it has a relaxed bohemian vibe that makes a visit here an absolute treat.

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