Croatia’s Underrated Capital – Is Zagreb Worth Visiting?
Croatia’s capital Zagreb is often overlooked when people are planning their trips to Croatia. In fact, when I was deciding whether to go, some people even told me it wasn’t worth it. However, as my friend and I had also heard positive reviews and it fitted nicely in our interrail route, we decided to give it a try.
During our trip we visited both Zagreb and Split, and I have to say, I much preferred Zagreb. My friend and I absolutely loved the city and now I always recommend it to people.
Zagreb isn’t your typical city break with a tick-list of sights to see. However, its leafy streets, relaxed yet bustling café culture and warm, exuberant locals make it a unique and wonderful place that is definitely worth visiting.
The Soulful Streets of Zagreb
One thing that struck us immediately upon arriving in Zagreb was how lively its streets were. And I don’t mean in the way that a British town centre street might be lively at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night.
In Zagreb, all the cafes, bars and restaurants spill out onto the street, where people gather at all times of day to eat, drink and be merry.
We arrived at about 11 pm on Tuesday evening and as we meandered our way through the city to find our hostel, enjoying the surprising warmth of the May evening, we were surprised at how many people were still out and about midweek. Arriving in a city late at night can be a daunting experience, but in Zagreb our map reading and navigation was accompanied by a soft rumble of overlapping conversations and dappled laughter that immediately put us at ease.
This impression of Zagreb only grew throughout the rest of our visit. During the day there is an active café culture, with various outdoor food markets bringing even more people onto the streets.
This makes simply wandering around Zagreb and stopping for a coffee or some food along the way an experience in and of itself.
Enjoying a drink on the Radićeva ulica - a long street full of bars, cafes and restaurants
Zagreb’s Lovely Locals
Another thing that makes Zagreb worth visiting is the friendly atmosphere it has thanks to its inhabitants. Everyone we met in Zagreb was really friendly – in most shops and cafes we ended up in conversations with the people who worked there. They seemed really excited and grateful for people to be visiting their city and were interested to learn about us and where we were from.
Zagreb locals are always happy to help – you get the feeling they are proud of their city and really want you to enjoy your stay there. One of our most memorable evenings was at a wine bar we stumbled across on Radićeva ulica (a long street full of bars and restaurants). The owner talked us through different wines from the region – which were delicious and like everything in Zagreb, very reasonable priced! He recommended we visit his friend’s restaurant and try the tuna steak, which we did the next night. His friend was equally as hospitable and the tuna steak was great too.
Green and other colours
Zagreb definitely struck me as a colourful city. It’s very green and leafy, with numerous parks and a botanical garden. The greenery contrasts beautifully with the red Croatian roofs that characterise the city, which can be best viewed from the Strossmayer Promenade that lies at the top of a hill, on the edge of the old town. You can get there via the funicular located on Tomićeva ulica, or if you’re feeling energetic, you can walk up the hill.
View of the red roofs of Zagreb from the Strossmayer Promenade
Zagreb is also bursting with street art, which further adds to the city’s vibrancy. The main street running parallel to the train tracks from the station, Ulica Kneza Branimira, is home to a long stretch of street art and is affectionately termed Zagreb’s “street art museum”. Definitely worth a stroll along here if street art is your thing.
Zagreb's "street art museum" on the Ulica Kneza Branimira
Quirky Museums in Zagreb
If you want to get an idea of how Zagreb is a little different to your average European city, take the fact that its most famous museum is the Museum of Broken Relationships. Made up of submissions from people all over the world, this fascinating museum features a series of objects that the donor connects with a past relationship, along with a brief description of said relationship and its breakdown. I mean, not the cheeriest activity in the world, but it was really interesting and unlike any museum I’ve ever been to – I’d say it was worth a trip.
For a bit of light relief we visited the Museum of Optical Illusions. I wouldn’t say it’s a must-visit but it was a good laugh and something to do if you have a spare hour or so – it had us in stitches!
The Museum of Optical Illustions in Zagreb
Or if you’re feeling really brave, Zagreb also has a Museum of Torture…
So, is Zagreb worth visiting?
If you like a fast-paced holiday packed with seeing famous sights, Zagreb might not be for you. It’s a city for people who like wandering round somewhere a bit different, discovering quirky places and meeting interesting people. If you like what you’ve read in this post, you’ll absolutely enjoy Zagreb.
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Rachel is a freelance writer and German translator who has lived in Hamburg and Stuttgart. She loves both travel and writing about it. Her favourite destinations are places that have a mixture beautiful scenery, interesting things to see and do and great food!