Mini break in Zagreb

It’s probably not the first place one would think of coming, but Zagreb, Croatia is a good destination for a minibreak. Especially in the Spring, or in the run up to Christmas for a mulled wine and craft stalls vibe. Smart Austro-Hungarian buildings, more good cafes than you can shake a stick at, excellent restaurants, lovely parks, and a central area which is compact and simple enough to navigate without getting stressed, Zagreb is super clean (except for the graffiti problem), organised, and very, very safe. Don’t expect crazy hedonistic nightlife or too much of a buzz (except during špica on Saturdays, see below), but do expect a stress-free time, outstanding wine and food, and friendly people, most of whom speak incredibly good English and who are proud of their country and happy to talk about it (just don’t try to tell them that any seaside exists other than the Croatian coast, it’s futile and is the one thing that’s sure to offend) and help you with recommendations on what to do / see / eat / drink

Logistics:

Croatia Airlines flies most days of the week either from Heathrow or Gatwick, but if you want to mix and match, BA (from Heathrow) and Easyjet (from Gatwick) also fly frequently and are extremely reasonable.

A taxi from the airport costs around 150HRK and takes around 20 minutes. On the way back to the airport, it costs around 90HRK. In my opinion, it’s really not worth the faff for the saving, but you can get a bus from the airport into the bus station, then a tram into town, if you’re so inclined. Generally taxis (look out for the stands on street corners) are very affordable and won’t rip you off, and nothing in Zagreb is that far away

The Regent Esplanade, a smart hotel just a short walk from the main square, is probably the best place to stay (Mihanoviceva 1, www.esplanade.hr)

On one of the four corners of Trg Bana Jelacica, the main square (don’t bother trying to pronounce anything, you’re doomed to failure) you’ll find a tourist office which is very helpful and gives out excellent (and free) concise colour maps, so this should be your first port of call. This map also clearly shows the tram routes (just buy a ticket at the kiosk before you board and punch it on entry)

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Don’t miss:

Wandering around the peaceful old (upper) town – Gornji grad – and its views over the city, seeing the cathedral and the Church of St Mark with its blue and white and red tiled roof

st marks

Using the old funicular (only 66metres long and 5kuna per person one way) – linking the lower centre of town (Ilica, precisely) to the upper town (Strossmayer Promenade) – alternatively you can walk up the steps beside it

Cvijetni trg – a great place for coffee and people watching, and the flower stalls (after which it is named) are really beautiful

flowers

Špica – on Saturdays from 10am til 2pm, when it’s nice weather, locals like to hang around the centre (Bogoviceva, Preradoviceva) drinking coffee, seeing and being seen

Mirogoj Cemetery – a short taxi ride from the centre and worth a trip if like me you love cemeteries (does that make me sound weird?)

cemetery

Dolac (marketplace) – just off the main square (pictured below). Follow the line of flower sellers, and walk up the steps. Pretty much all foodstuffs imagineable: fruit and veg and fish outdoors upstairs, meat, more veg, pasta, inside downstairs

main square

Britanski trg Sundays bric a brac and antiques until 1400 – a lovely buzzy market to wander around. Our best find? Fantastic quality retro handbags

britanac

Tkalciceva, a pedestrian street tailor made for mooching – 19th century hobbit type houses and many inexpensive bars and cafes, as well as some little arty shops

Zrinjevac – a small but extremely pretty and atmospheric central park with a bandstand

zrinjevac

Maksimir park and Maksimir zoo – only around £4 in a taxi from the centre of town is this fantastic zoo and huge park, both well worth a visit. The ‘park’ is not a formal one, but rather a huge expanse of woods and meadows, with lovely tree lined walkways. Take a picnic (and ideally some bikes) and you could easily spend the whole day here

zoo

Botanical gardens – depending on the time of year you go, it’s worth a little stroll through these gardens, very close to the centre of town

Seeing the theatre from the outside:

theatre

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Good restaurants abound in Zagreb, here are a few of the best:

Appetit – right in the centre – smart, modern, with excellent quality meat and fish

Carpaccio – again right in the centre – again, excellent quality meat and fish. Delicious pasta dishes. And lovely waiters

Takenoko – Kaptol centar – Japanese, modern, romantic atmosphere – try the spring rolls (nothing like any you’ve ever tasted before and not a vegetable in sight) and the monkfish wok

Mano – unmissable. And try the steak tartare, even if you think you don’t like raw meat

Pod grickom topom – for traditional Croatian food, a comfortable atmosphere and a fantastic view over the city, you can’t go far wrong with this failsafe option that’s in all the guidebooks

Lari + Penati – a small, quality place to drop in for a bite to eat and a glass of wine. Popular with locals and rightly so

Didov San – literally round the corner from St Mark’s Church is this little ‘local’ gem with a friendly, rustic ambience, serving hearty Croatian fayre. We were tipped off about it by a lovely local lady we met in town and were very thankful as it would have been easy to miss

didov san

Oranz cafe, just a little way along Ilica (West) from the main square, on the corner leading down onto Cvijetni trg – very reasonably priced cakes and quiches to die for

Some places to try in the evening: Bulldog, Bacchus, Pepermint, Hemingways, Jabuka, Maraschino, Sirup, Route 66

Pingvin – the place for after hours takeaway food (open 24/7). Not too classy but a godsend if you’ve been out drinking and need to fill your tummy in the middle of the night

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Museums. Zagreb has a plethora of them. A few to try:

Museum of Contemporary Art

Mimara

Museum of Zagreb 

Galerija Klovicevi Dvori - currently has a Picasso exhibition but we enjoyed much more the (free) “ Aftermath – changing cultural landscape” photography exhibition

Museum of Broken Relationships (Cirilometodska 2, www.brokenrelationships.com). Not quite sure what to say about this one. Kind of kitsch, but an original idea. At only 25HRK entrance, you don’t have much to lose and it will give you some conversation fodder (what would YOU donate to the exhibition?…)

Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters

And a few more: Museum of Arts & Crafts, of Hunting, of Peasant Riots, of Naive Art, of Blindness, the Technical Museum, the Archaelogical Museum

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For a pampering break: (tips from a part time local, ie me)

Massage -  Kresimir Abidic who used to be head masseur at the Mandarin Oriental in NYC now has his own salon (called New York) in the centre of Zagreb

Tony + Guy on Gajeva – excellent and much cheaper than Tony + Guy in London. You can usually get an appointment last minute if you’re not fussy who does you. A blow dry here is much more reasonable than at home, so why not treat yourself and look fab during your mini break

Adam i Eva beauty salon – the best in town and just a few minutes walk from the main square – but you need to book in advance as it’s (unsurprisingly) super busy

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There are many music / outdoor / cinematic events and so on happening throughout the year; if you really want to research the stay to death (but I think this article will keep you more than busy and you won’t miss any of the best bits) try:

Time Out Zagreb Visitors Guide for the year (50HRK – available at bookshops in Zagreb)

Spotted by Locals – a downloadable guide (www.spottedbylocals.com/zagreb)

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