Zagreb. For me, the name evokes images of depressingly grey Russian-style apartment blocks and big guys named Igor. Our first impressions arriving in Zagreb didn’t dissuade from those preconceptions. We waited an hour at the bus station for our Airbnb host (in what ended up being a miscommunication about meeting points). Bus stations in most places are grimy places where all the down-and-out hang out. Zagreb’s bus station is no exception. After waiting an hour we decided to take a taxi to the apartment. The driver took us on a tour and made what (we later found out) was a 5 minute ride into a 15 minute ride through graffiti-filled neighborhoods. I don’t think I’ve seen any place with as much graffiti as we saw in Zagreb. By the time we arrived at the apartment we weren’t loving the city. We didn’t like our Aibnb host either (more on that in the next post). Zagreb was not getting off to a good start.
We did a lot of walking over the next 2 days and slowly gained an appreciation for the city. While certain places look a bit rough (I think at some point I remarked that it is a poor man’s Prague) the city has a lot of green spaces full of fountains and statues. The inhabitants all seemed to be out; there were magic shows and children’s theatre in the park, as well as a lot of young couples making out on benches. Outdoor bars were busy. There was a vibrant, lively mood to Zagreb.
Most of the highlights stretch from the train station, through the green parks and squares of the lower town, up to the upper town. There you’ll find most of the city’s historical buildings, churches, and museums. Highlights include the church and buildings on St. Mark’s Square and Zagreb Cathedral (which is easily the most impressive church we’ve seen on this trip through the Balkans). We visited the Museum of Broken Relationships (which we were curious about) and toured the city on the hop on/hop off bus when it got too hot. But mostly we walked around the old town enjoying the architecture and views over the city. After seeing the Ivan Meštrović Gallery in Split we wanted to see the Meštrović Atelier in Zagreb but ran out of time. I’m told it is worth visiting.
Recommended: This 2.5 hour walking Tour. Zagreb’s little streets can be confusing.
Overall, we found Zagreb a pleasant and comfortable city. The downtown core is small and easy to walk. But the city stretches out and includes many parks as well as beaches along the Sava River. It’s not a spectacular city. But it struck both of us as a nice place to live, with a lot of green spaces for its residents. And despite it being ‘scruffy’, we’re told it is a safe place. We probably won’t ever be back to Zagreb but are happy to have seen it.
Other observations/impressions: Zagreb feels like a whole different country than the Croatia we know along the coast. Geographically you are back in Central Europe. People are not as friendly and there’s a ‘big city’ attitude. Locals ride their bikes on the sidewalk and can be aggressive: don’t make sudden movements when walking because you risk getting hit. I’ve mentioned how much we’ve loved our 2 months in Croatia – we felt a bit of sadness in Zagreb. Not only was Zagreb our final stop in Croatia, it felt a world away from our ‘home’ in Split.
Accommodation. Since writing the above, we’ve been in Zagreb many times (due to logistics between Croatia and the Schengen zone). We only stay in one place: The Palace Hotel. Right between the train station and the main square and facing the park. Perfect for a day or two.
Airport. Franjo Tuđman Airport (code: ZAG) is about 30 minutes from downtown Zagreb. We usually take Uber to get there.
Below: Because I love trams…
Have you been to Zagreb? What did you think of it?
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