Zagreb – the capitol of Croatia! Many Istria itineraries recommend skipping Zagreb but since we were flying in and out of this city, it felt only right to explore it while we were here.
The last leg of the journey into Zagreb was easy on the highways (no without one final toll – I wonder what the heck we paid in tolls on this trip), filled up the gas tank (I could not believe how expensive gas was here – to fill up the tank of our tiny car was close to $80 USD) and returned the car in downtown Zagreb (with the assurance the massive deposit would be reversed – update, it was!).
Being in the city was a bit daunting – it was so different than everything we did in the country side and sea side – to be back in a European concrete jungle was a bit much. This was clearly a working city not catered to tourists and that theme came up multiple times during our time in Zagreb – both in positive and in negative ways. It was refreshing and exciting to be back in a European city!
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After dropping the car off, we made the fifteen minute walk to the center of the city to find our Airbnb. While directions were a bit vague, we were delighted at just how central this Airbnb ended up being! Our host met us and checked us in – even offering to set up car transport to the airport for our check out. While we were tempted to start exploring, we were starving so we headed over to our dinner location, Lari & Penati.
Read about our experience at Lari & Penati here!
We were certainly read for a post dinner walk with our full bellies. Luckily we were dining right next to Park Zrinjevac so we took our walk through there. It is designed quite nicely with flower beds, fountains, gazebos, and statues for famous Croatians.
We noticed a sign indicating the general direction of several museums. We learned that Zagreb is known as the “City of museums” with more museums per capita in the world – who knew! They span from traditional museums to some very niche areas of interest. Most popular one is the Museum of Broken relationships with I will admit, even after reading about it I do not quite understand. Unfortunately we did not have time for these on this trip but certainly something worth noting for the future.
Our next stop was the Cathedral of Zagreb. On our way there we found a replica of the city that we enjoyed exploring. We also learned that back in the day, there were two towns on the two hills of current day Zagreb that ended up coming together to form the city.
The Cathedral is very beautiful – the exterior resembling those of other Catholic European churches. I wanted to save going inside for tomorrow since we had a very long day that started at Plitvice National Park. It was time to tuck in and get a good start for our day exploring tomorrow.
After a sneak peek of the area yesterday, we were excited to see what Zagreb has to offer. Unlike every other part of Croatia we have seen so far, Zagreb is connected with electric trains that seem to run frequently. This was fun driving since the trains and the cars share the road at certain points. In the heart of Zagreb where cars are not permitted, the trains still operate.
It was really fun to observe the creative outdoor areas, especially since the car traffic vanished in the middle of the city.
Our first stop was Cogito Coffee to get Kevin his morning brew. When we arrived on the street, we were a bit perplexed until we spotted it tucked away down an alley. Kevin ordered a perfectly crafted cappuccino and we split a giant and delicious almond croissant.
Just a few blocks from here I read about a viewpoint for a great view of the city. When we arrived, I was shocked to see a funicular! We opted for the stairs but I was so surprised I did not see this in my research.
When we reached the top, we were impressed how high we were above the city despite the short walk. There were signs indicating the destinations of interest on the hill. We walked over to St Mark’s Church and were so intrigued by the exterior.
This church is so different than the traditional European church. The tile artwork and the colors on the roof were striking. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city dating back to the 13 century. Unfortunately, there was a fence around to perimeter and we were not permitted inside or any closer to the building. I read later that you can see the inside if you attend mass so there’s a little tip for future visits.
We continued to the walking and stumbled upon the Stone Gate. At first we thought it was simply a mini church since St Mark’s Church was closed but we learned that a medieval gate that has been converted into a shrine for Mary. The story goes that a fire destroyed every part of the wood gate but a patient of Mary and Jesus, hence the shrine dedication.
Our next point of interest was Park Grič and SUS Tunel Grič. The park is built around ruins that used to be wall defense of medieval Zagreb. Oddly we read that ceramics found here were actually made in Orvieto! Small world when trips collide. But we could not find the tunnel entrance, despite the map indicating we were there. A bit more exploring and we discovered the entrance of the tunnel was actually underneath the park (duh!).
This tunnel was built as a bomb shelter and evacuation route in WWII. It is 350 meters long and is currently used as a pedestrian walkway.
When we popped out of the tunnel, we were on the other side of the city close to where we were on our stroll last night. We instead headed north in a direction we had not seen yet and admired the various stores and restaurants – I can only image what areas like this look like when things are in full swing.
Since we were close by, we headed back to the Cathedral of Zagreb to take a look inside. On our way there, we passed what appeared to be an active Catholic church which confused us – why would this so close to the Cathedral?
Well after we read a few of the signs around the church, we learned why that probably is the case. The Cathedral was unfortunately not well cared for due to lack of funds while under communist rule. That combined with an earthquake that left much of the exterior damaged launched a full restoration project that is underway. We were certainly disappointed that we could not go inside a second church but it was clear from the outside areas how much work had to be done to repair the church.
I had allotted time in our day to explore two churches and we were unable to visit both of them which left us with quite a bit of time left – our walking tour was concluding much quicker than expected. I recalled seeing a sign for a farmers market Tržnica Dolac so I was hopeful there would be some fun to occupy the time.
And luckily I was right! This farmers market was intense and took up an entire square – not even just the perimeter but all throughout the space. Mounds of various fruit were on display – I have no idea how someone would be able to choose where to purchase from but this place was bopping with activity. On the one side there was a row exclusively of women selling cheese – how I wish we were in a position to buy all this! Then we discovered an indoor section tucked in another corner which was an entire fish market. From shellfish to octopus to enormous whole fish – it was quite a sight. One experience that I would seek out on a future trip was to find a chef to do a market tour, purchase items from here, then make a dinner with those items. And when we thought it was over, there was a set of stands in the lower are for all the flowers, lavender, and plants your could want. What an impressive market!
While the market did fill a bit of time, we still had some to burn before lunch. We stopped at MELT for gelato and headed to another well rated coffee spot. Up for another coffee, we walked over to Eli’s Cafe. This was a very modern coffee establishment. Coffee themed everything – from the door handle to the light fixtures.
Enough time had passed for our 11AM lunch at Kut and excited would be an understatement – I had a good feeling this was going to be an amazing meal.
Read all the details of our most memorable meal at Kut here!
Since we had visited all the sites I had planned for the entire day, we headed over to Craft Room for craft beer. Craft beer seen in Croatia was actually quite impressive. We hung here for awhile, having a great conversation with the server. Times like this I wish I grabbed Quarry Quarrel from out of my backpack – we saw so many tables playing card games throughout the trip.
We headed back to the Airbnb, freshened up, and packed up for our very early departure in the morning. Our dinner this evening was a fancier stop – Theatrium.
Read about our last meal in Croatia at Theatrium here!
And that concluded our time in Zagreb! We started making the journey home very early.
While I can see why people suggest skipping Zagreb, I do not agree. This is a city with a pulse, not centered around the economy of tourism and is a very lived in city. I can see why digital nomads are attracted to Zagreb! And honestly if nothing else – you must go eat at Kut – full stop. We only scratched the surface with this visit, Zagreb has a lot to offer.