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Zagreb completes the picture of modern Croatia. The country’s lively capital is a popular destination for a short holiday. Offering everything that’s asked of any great capital city with arts, music, grand architecture and great restaurants all thrown into the mix.
Trams wind through wide streets of chic boutiques lined with Austro-Hungarian facades and packed cafes that onto the pavement. This city was made for spending days lazily strolling and losing time drinking coffee, visiting museums and galleries and soaking up some culture in the numerous cinemas, theatres and concerts. Year-round you’ll find the streets alive with stylish locals come day and night, working, socialising and enjoying the sun in the parks. Street musicians and cyclists all play their part in bringing Zagreb to life.
Head up high to the historic upper town (Gornji grad) high on the hill which houses the Croatian government in mighty buildings, the colourful Church of Saint Mark and a unique art museum.
You’ll see many churches and chapels on your holiday to Zagreb. It has one surviving town gate with a small chapel hidden inside it. Another impressive holy site is Saint Mark’s Church in the upper old town, which has some very decorative tiling on the roof which dates back to 1880. It depicts the medieval coat of arms for Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia on one side and the symbol of Zagreb on the other.
The Croatian Museum of Naïve Art features works created by artists who were not part of the artistic mainstream. Located in the historic upper town, this playful collection features lyrical landscapes and village scenes painted in the mid-20th century by self-taught peasant artists. As glass was a cheap and readily available material, most of the paintings were constructed on a glass canvas, giving them a unique shine. One of the artisits, Generalic, took his paintings to an art show in Paris as an unknown and returned a very rich man.
Another of Zagreb’s quirkier attractions is the Museum of Broken Relationships. Beginning as a travelling exhibit, the collection settled in the impressive Kulmer Palace in 2010. Featuring all kinds of items of sentimental value, see love in many forms and objects as you embark on an emotional journey from the first date to the post-love loneliness.
The town of Motovun, high up on the Istrian Peninsula, is an excellent option for a day trip. Looking down upon the vineyards and surrounding countryside, the views from the ramparts are breathtaking. Wander in and out of the small shops in the narrow streets before dining in the quaint square – al fresco style.
The neighbourhood of Jarun is dominated by its vast lake, which provides the perfect place for swimming or boating in the summer or a backdrop for walks at any time of the year. Despite still being part of Zagreb, it represents a welcome breath of fresh air for those who live in the city.
Croatia is covered in natural beauty, meaning there’s plenty to discover if you want to venture a little outside of the city. The Plitvice Lakes National Park, where the first shots of Croatia’s four-year war with Yugoslavia were fired, is a lush forest set in limestone rock with 16 terraced lakes flowing into each other via idyllic waterfalls. The walks here are easy, with carefully maintained trails and a network of wooden walkways providing a gentle route through the trees. You can even enjoy a gentle boat trip into the heart of the park.
The Istrian Peninsula is just a couple of hours away from Zagreb by car and it’s stunning. Enjoy views of the thick forests which blanket the rolling hillside with farms, vineyards and picturesque little towns dotted in-between. Hiking trips are widely available, as are self-guided walks.
Many locals choose to get around the city by bike, and you can too. The parks provide relaxing car-free spaces for a pedal, and there are also options to explore with guided bike tours.
Between smaller grocers and larger supermakets you’ll find everything you need. Zagreb boasts many international chains and unique boutiques (try the fashionable Oktogon Passage), as well as the Hrelic Sunday flea market just outside of the city where you can find literally anything – even motorbikes and second-hand cars.