Inspiration for Europe
Travel and dream: discover the continent’s meeting points and explore the traces of its history through fresh eyes.
Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is the ideal city for those who want to feel the pulse of Central Europe without turmoil and enjoy its rich cultural offering. The city is divided into three highly differentiated zones.
The Upper Town of Zagreb is the city’s main attraction. It encompasses the prettiest parts of the capital: Gradec (or Gric) and Kaptol, which form its medieval core. Walking through their colourful, noble streets and enjoying the atmosphere is a simply must-do activity.
Remnants from the medieval era can be seen here, together with much more modern neo-Gothic elements, such as the bell towers.
Crowning the Kaptol hill is the neo-Gothic Cathedral of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary. This is one of the Croatian capital’s most imposing buildings, with its twin 108-metre spires visible from almost any point in the city. It is the icon of Kaptol, because Croatia is a fervently catholic country and this passion is never more strongly felt than in this spot.
The neighbouring hill of Gradec is home to the more formal area of the city. It’s where the nucleus of administrative life developed and constitutes the noble zone, abounding in baroque mansions and little churches.
Don’t be shocked if you suddenly hear a cannon shot. This is an age-old tradition, with the canon being fired every day at noon from the Lotrščak Tower, built in the 18th century.
This district is also where St. Mark’s Church is to be found, one of Zagreb’s most photographed monuments, with its characteristic multi-coloured roof depicting the coat-of-arms of Zagreb on one side, and those of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia (the three Croatian regions) on the other. All made out of roof tiles! The headquarters of the Croatian Government, the Croatian Parliament (known as the Sabor) and the Croatian Constitutional Court are also all located in St. Mark’s Square.
A particularly emotive experience may be had by passing through the Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata), the only surviving portal of the four that once provided access to the city. Besides being the more-or-less official border between old and new Zagreb, the gate also houses a strange little chapel in honour of the Mother of God, the patron saint of Zagreb. The chapel’s revered painting of the Virgin Mary is said to have miraculously survived the great fire of Zagreb in 1731. The most devout Croats spend hours and hours praying on these pews, surrounded by candles and plaques on which the word hvala is repeated, meaning “thank you” in Croat.
Leaving prayers and formalisms behind us, we go to the Lower Town, to the business centre, the beating heart of which is Ban Jelačić Square, one of the icons of Zagreb. With its Austro-Hungarian façades, it is a place for pedestrians, crossed only by trams and always crowded with people, as is Ilica Street, the city’s main commercial area.
After shopping in the famous Dolac Market, we invite you to enjoy the Zagreb atmosphere in Tkalčićeva Street, just a hundred metres from Ban Jelačić Square. The terraces go on and on between picturesque colourful houses, with musicians and mime artists performing in the street, as well as stalls and shops selling handicrafts and jewellery and so on. A good idea is to sit at one of the terraces to have a beer (pivo in Croat), and if possible make it the local brew, Karlovačko.
This is also a good place to eat. We recommend you taste fish from the Adriatic Sea, one of the country’s most delicious dishes. There are also plenty of typically Central European recipes and hearty meat dishes on offer, such as pecenje (roast meat), janje (lamb) and puran (turkey) with mlinci (noodle-like flatbread cooked in the oven), and cakes. And a visit to the city’s most legendary pastry shop, Vincek, is a must-do.
More than 30 museums and art galleries are scattered all over the city of Zagreb.
Zagreb has many green spaces, but none as beautiful as the Botanical Garden, with numerous different species of plants from all over the world, various lakes, and even a wooden bridge.
And if what you want is good views, why not go up to the Zagreb Eye, an observation deck some 182 metres above sea level. You’ll have the city at your feet. What’s more, in Summer they offer live music from six o’clock in the evening.
Finally, the Museum of Broken Relationships has gained much fame of late, an odd place which exhibits objects dedicated to stories of past loves, broken hearts, and personal healing, collected from all over the world and donated by people who have suffered a romantic breakup. This institution received the 2011 Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe.
Before leaving, you have to buy a couple of things that are almost a must. The first, a tie; curiously, this accessory so common in our wardrobe is a Croatian invention! And the second, the so-called tender heart, a typical memento of the Croatian capital, made of pasta and painted bright red, which can be found all over the city in different sizes.
LAS CLAVES DE ESTA CIUDAD:
The novel entitled Ruta Tannenbaum, by Miljenko Jergovic, which tells the story of two Zagreb families who live in the same building during the Second World War. One is catholic and the other Jewish. The book is a homage to the Croatian artist Lea Deutsch, a Jewish child prodigy who came to be the “Shirley Temple” of Croatia.
Marija Jurić Zagorka, who was the country’s first female journalist and an excellent writer, much appreciated by the locals. She was also a committed fighter for women’s rights.
the Regent Esplanade Zagreb Hotel (1925), a gem of Art Deco, which was built to accommodate the ostentatious passengers of the famous Orient Express train, which made a stopover in Zagreb as part of the Paris-Istanbul itinerary.
“Our Beautiful Homeland” (Lijepa naša domovino), the Croatian national anthem, composed in the 19th century with original lyrics by the poet Antun Mihanović.
Stuffed veal escalope (Zagrebački odrezak), in the style of the Wiener Schnitzel, filled with abundant cheese and ham. Pepper biscuits are also typical.
The Day of the City of Zagreb, which is held on 31 May, a festivity which honours the Mother of God of the Stone Door.