The chic capital of Croatia combines cool cafes, quirky museums and beautiful green space
Paris might be known as Europe’s most stylish city but, with its impeccably-dressed locals, Zagreb could give it a run for its money.
Tucked inland and north of the famous coastal towns of Dubrovnik and Split, the city offers a fascinating history, beautifully mismatched buildings and a cool outdoor cafe culture, making it an essential stop on a Croatian road trip – and a welcome change to the country’s celebrated beaches.
What to do in Zagreb
See the city’s sights by foot
Once you get your head around the grid layout of the city it’s surprisingly simple to navigate. Start your day wandering through the succession of parks that form the Green Horseshoe.
Save some time for an ice cream outside the Croatian National Theatre with its sunny yellow façade, then work your way towards the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – its two spires rise above the rest of the skyline, guiding you on your way.
Hail a taxi or make like a local and take the tram out to Mirogoj Cemetery – it may sound macabre but the architecture will take your breath away.
Designed by Hermann Bollé, the architect behind Zagreb’s Cathedral, its beautiful copper domes (green on the outside, pastel-hued on the inside), tiled arcades and Gothic arches are majestic.
The cemetery is also the final resting place of several notable Croatians, including poet Petar Preradović and basketball star Dražen Petrović, who met an untimely end aged just 28.
St Mark’s Square
If you’re in Zagreb over the weekend, be sure to head to St Mark’s Square for the cerimonial Changing of the Cravat Regiment. Full of colour, sound and some impressive moves, the regiment wear uniforms that are replicas of those worn during the Thirty Years’ War.
From this square, you’ll also be able to hear the cannon that’s fired every day at noon at the nearby Lotrscak Tower.
The Museum of Broken Relationships
The Museum of Broken Relationships is a must-visit in Zagreb. One of only two in the world (the other is in LA), this quirky attraction began as a travelling collection of donated items summing up hundreds of failed love affairs.
Now it’s found a permanent residence in the Upper Town, inside you’ll find love stories summed up by rows over computer games, relationships ended by Skype and plenty of affairs. But don’t forget your tissues, you’ll need them for tears of both laughter and sadness.
Croatian for ‘yard’, Dvorista is an open courtyards festival in Upper Town held every summer. It sees locals turn their backyards into bars to give visitors the chance to experience a real taste of Zagreb life with al fresco music, cocktails and dancing.
If you’re planning a trip in winter, consider visiting during their Advent celebrations from December into early January, when the city’s spectacular Christmas market – consistently voted Europe’s best – opens.
Where to eat in Zagreb
Located just around the corner from St Mark’s Church, Bistro Vjestica is the perfect lunch or dinner spot to recuperate after a spot of sightseeing.
If you’re in the area at dusk or dawn, keep an eye out for the man who still lights and puts out more than 150 gas lanterns in the Upper Town every day – apparently his record is doing them all in 90 minutes!
Lari & Penati
Make like a local and head to one of the many restaurants selling small tapas-like plates. Restaurant Lari & Penati is our favourite; perch on a stall on the terrace and try the prawns with a cool glass of wine.
Make sure to also spend an evening on buzzing Tkalciceva Street, jam-packed with bars and restaurants.
Where to stay in Zagreb
Canopy by Hilton Zagreb
The welcome at Canopy by Hilton Zagreb is a warm one; staff are always equipped with a smile and plenty of recommendations for your stay.
The interiors of the 151 rooms and eight suites are inspired by the industrial history of the local area, featuring local textiles and artwork. Meanwhile, vibrant communal areas include a ‘social table’, various restaurants and a 24-hour gym.
Situated opposite the train station and near one of the main tram stops, you’ll be able to explore every part of the city from here – especially if you’re planning to head a little further afield to lakes Jarun and Bundek, or up to the mountain of Medvednica. Alternatively, grab a complimentary Canopy Bike and explore the city on two wheels.
Esplanade Zagreb Hotel
First opened in 1925, the Esplanade is one of the Zagreb’s most famous buildings, one that boasts a proud heritage. Originally built for passengers of the Orient Express, it is a fine example of art deco design – from the marbled walls to the elegant elevator.
The hotel has two restaurants and two bars (including Oleander Terrace, a champagne bar with views of the city), and its central location puts you just 15 minutes walk from all the must-see sights.
Zagreb’s oldest hotel (hailing back to 1827, no less), Hotel Jagerhorn is found nestled in a passage that connects the historic upper town to the city centre. A 2015 refurbishment fused contemporary design with the hotel’s heritage. Many original features – such as the exposed brickwork – remain, whilst rooms have been furnished with up-cycled pieces.
The hotel is also home to one of Zagrebs loveliest terraces, which is the perfect place to while away a couple of hours – whether over breakfast, an afternoon coffee or an evening drink.
Getting to Zagreb
British Airways flies direct to Zagreb from London Heathrow with fares starting from £39 one way. The flight time is two hours and twenty minutes.
Words: Kerrina Gray