An August 2004 trip
to Zagreb by Elia Papillon
Quote: Croatia has recently become a popular European holiday destination again. Zagreb, the capital, is a lively and interesting place to spend some days.
In 1991, Croatia won its independence from the Yugoslav Federation, and Zagreb has been the capital city since this time. Geographically, the city sits between the River Sava and Mount Medvednica.
Zagreb is not a city on the same scale as New York, London, or Paris. But you can find things here for city lovers and also for those who don’t like cities so much. The nightlife is lively; there are many pubs, bars, theatres, and clubs. For the day there are many museums, historic sights, and pleasant walks. To escape completely from the city, Mount Medvednica is close by, for a day trip or overnight.
My highlights in Zagreb:
Tkalčićeva ulica – by day and by night. In the day, you can enjoy a drink at one of the many cafés; by night, you can pub-hop!
Mount Medvednica – to get away from it all. Great views of the city; it has hiking trails and is a national park area.
Gornji Grad (upper town) – the best place to lose yourself in the city. Narrow cobble streets, hidden historic monuments, picnics in the parks.
Donji Grad (lower town) – museum lovers’ paradise. Most of the many museums are here, as well as botanical gardens.
Most Croatians speak two or three languages: Croatian and, most often, German or Italian. You will find English spoken in Zagreb, but not so comfortably or often. If possible, learn some basic Croatian words; it will be appreciated. Also, you will find travelling easier. Most Europeans consider Croatia as part of Eastern Europe. Geographically, this is correct, but you will find Croatians to be more Western European in manner.
Croatia is a deeply religious Catholic country. When Croatia won its independence, the first place to make the recognition was the Vatican. Croats are mostly Roman Catholic, and Serbs are mostly Eastern Orthodox.
Accommodations are not cheap to find in Zagreb. If you plan and book in advance, you can make some savings. There are many high-end hotels in Zagreb, but just two youth hostels. One is great, and the other mostly houses war refugees and is not recommended to travellers.
You can find tourist information from the Croatian National Tourist Board or Zagreb Tourist Information . The best free leaflet is called City Walks and shows an introduction to the city. You can also buy a Zagreb Card costing 60 KN for 72 hours (€1 = 7 KN). With this, you have free public transport, 50% off the admission price at museums, and also some other discounts for accommodations and food.
When you want to change money, it is cheaper at a mjenjačina (bureau de change) than at a hotel. Euros or dollars are easy to change. To find an ATM, look for Bankomat signs.
If you are a coffee-lover, don’t come to Zagreb for good coffee. There is a lively café scene, but you won’t find Italian coffee. In most places, coffee is strong (with bitter ground remaining in the cup) and never hot.
Zagreb is easy to arrive at by air, train, or bus. Generally, trains are slower and cheaper, and the bus is faster and more expensive. To arrive at or leave Croatia, there are many trains. Around Croatia, there are some trains to other cities but none along the coast.
First, Zagreb is a walking city. Most sights are easy to find by walking. It is a nice city to walk also.
Public transport in the city is great. There are many tram routes, and they are frequent. If you have a Zagreb Card, you don’t need to buy transport tickets. To buy tickets, look for Tisak signs. The best value is the dnevna karta, a day ticket valid until 4pm the next day for 17 KN. You can also buy a 90-minute ticket for 7 KN. You can change trams in the 90 minutes, but not the direction you travel.
Ravnice is four floors high, with a private garden. In the garden you can dry your clothes, have a barbeque, or just sit in the quiet. The lady who owns the hostel lived in Australia for more than 10 years and speaks excellent English, German, and Italian. Downstairs in the hostel is the reception, Internet, and TV room. In the reception is some information about the city and tram times.
The second and third floors have flats, each with a kitchen, living area, and balcony. There are two bathrooms, three bedrooms (each for four people), and one bedroom for two people. The top floor is like a dorm, all open with bunk beds for sleeping. I stayed in a room for four people, but there were just two of us.
The kitchen in the flat has all kinds of equipment, which makes it easier to spend less money when you are on a budget. There is cooker, fridge, many pans, cups and plates, etc. There is coffee, tea, milk, oil, salt, pepper, and many other things that everyone can use. Nearby is a supermarket, so you can buy what you want for your meals.
As Ravnice is not in the city centre, it is quiet at night. Near Ravnice is Maksimir Park, where there is a small zoo and nice places for walking.
To come to Ravnice take tram no.11 or 12 when you are at the main square. At the train station take tram no. 4, and at the bus station,tram 7. Take the tram at the direction Dubrava or Dubec.
There is a fixed rate for staying here of 99 KN or 13.50€ per night. If you stay more than three nights, they offer you a reduced price.
To see the website, visit Ravnice Youth Hostel or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 13, 2004
Ravnice Youth Hostel
I. Ravnice 38 d
Attraction | "Gornji Grad – Kaptol and Gradec"
Kaptol and Gradec are two original districts in the upper town of Zagreb. Start at (1) Trg bana J Jelačića. This is the main square and the centre of Zagreb. Most of the trams stop on the square, and the main tourist office is here also.
In the middle of Trg bana J Jelačića is a large statue of Ban Jelačić on a horse. He led Croatian troops to battle with Hungary. He wanted Croatia to be autonomous, but his battle was not successful. From 1866-1947 his statue was in the square, but then was removed by Tito. It was too nationalist. When the government changed in 1990, the statue returned.
Walk up Bakačeva from the main square. To the right you find (2) Katedrala marijina Uznesenja (Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). There are two large spires on the cathedral that you can see from most of the city. Inside you can find the Tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. This is the second cathedral here. There was a bad earthquake in the 1800s and much of the original was damaged, but you can see some design from the original here also.
Behind here is (3) Ribnjak Park, a nice peaceful place. There are places to sit and picnic. If you are travelling with children, they will enjoy it here.
From Ribnjak Park walk to (4) Dolac. This is the daily fruit and vegetable market. On a Friday or Saturday you will also find fresh flowers, home-baked goods, and wooden items. Around the edge of the market are small open shops selling souvenirs and traditional lace and clothing. At the end of Dolac are steps and at the left is Skalinska ulica. It meets (5) Tkalčićeva ulica. In the day people sit at outdoor tables drinking coffee and sipping beer. It is a popular street to be seen on and has a good atmosphere in the day or at night, so stop for a coffee or ice cream.
If you turn to the left on Tkalčićeva, you come back to Trg bana J Jelačića. I turned to the right and found myself to be away from the crowds and with very few other tourists. Turning right on Tkalčićeva, you will see many streets to the left. Any of these bring you to Radićeva ulica. Turn to the right here and you will find the (6) City Museum on a green. This is only a small museum. It tells the story and history of Zagreb in literature and also art. You can see here a beautiful model of the Gradec part of Zagreb as it was originally.
Ilirski trg is the road around the green, and here you can find Zagreb’s oldest café. It is called (7) Palainovka and is a Viennese-style café. It is the only place I found in Zagreb that makes really good coffee. There is a terrace outside with views down into the city. I stopped here for lunch, and it was really good.
Zagreb by Night - Gornji Grad
Attraction | "Gornji Grad – Kaptol and Gradec. Afternoon"
So you have had a nice lunch at Palainovka. Walk down Radičeva ulica. On the right, you find a small passageway that brings you to the (1) Stone Gate. Originally, this was the medieval Eastern gate to Gradec. Now it is a shrine; people come here to pray and leave flowers. There is a legend that tells of a fire in 1731. The fire destroyed each part of the wooden gate in this place, but not the painting of the Virgin and child. Many believe the painting has some magical powers for protection.
Walk through the stone gate and in front of you, and you will find (2) Trg Svetog Markov. Here you find St. Mark’s Church, the Ban’s Palace, and Sabor (parliament). St. Mark’s Church is one of the best-known sites in Zagreb -- not the church itself so much as the roof. The roof is from 1880 and has bright tiles showing on the left side the medieval coat of arms for Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia. On the right side is the emblem of Zagreb.
If you are standing and looking at the roof in front of you, on the left is the Ban’s Palace. Now, this is the Presidential Palace. In October 1991, it was bombed by the Federal Army. On the right is the Sabor, the Croatian Parliament. It was built in 1910, and from the balcony in 1918 the independence of Croatia was proclaimed.
From Trg Svetog Markov, walk down Ćirilometodska, and at the bottom is the (3) Lotrščak Tower. Built in the 13th century, it was for protection of the south gate of the city. For over 100 years, each day at noon, a cannon is fired. You can climb the tower to look out over the city for 5 KN.
Close to the tower is probably the most unusual pub in Zagreb. It is called (4) Tolkien’s House. By the name, you can tell it is a theme pub for Lord of the Rings. Unlike most theme pubs, this isn’t just a tourist-oriented pub, as you will find many young Croatians here also. Inside the pub, you can find everything from the Lord of the Rings. Outside is a nice terrace with cozy armchairs, books to read, and heating in the evening.
I had my first introduction to Croatia’s most popular beer, Ožujsko, and also became fluent, with proper pronunciation of živjeli!lose by here is the (5) funicular to the lower town. At the bottom of the funicular, if you turn left, you are back at Trg bana J Jelačića, where you started your walk this morning.
Now, it’s time to find something to eat.
I went out with some other travellers from the Ravnice Youth Hostel.
We found a reasonably cheap restaurant at the back of Dolac market. I found very little vegetarian food in Zagreb, mostly pizza and pasta. All I needed was something to make a lining in my stomach for the beer that was to come later. Pasta it was.
After dinner we went to Tkalčićeva ulica. All through the day I heard people talk about this street at night, so I wanted to see why. Really, it is different at night. It was summer when I was in Zagreb, and most people were sitting outside. We went to a few different bars on the street. All play different music - and loudly. This is not the place for a quiet drink and to write your journal. When you want a lively night and to bar hop, then it is perfect.
We went to Tolkien’s House for cocktails. The cocktail list is long, but it is only in Croatian. We were with a Slovene girl, so she could tell us about most of the cocktails. Even if you don’t speak Croatian, the staff is quite used to tourists and most speak some English. We sat around tables on the terrace under the heating and sampled several cocktails. They have a large chess set here, and all the pieces are characters from the Lord of the Rings.
Some people went to a nightclub out of the city. The rest of us moved next door to Indy’s. Indy’s is a Mexican bar. There is also a terrace here, and that night they had a live band playing Mexican and Spanish music. You can find also cocktails here, but I decided to sample the large collection of foreign vodka instead. They have many types, Stolichnaya (definitely the best vodka – Russian, of course), Krupnik a Polish honey vodka, Šljivovica a popular Croatian plum brandy, and Travarica a Croatian herbal vodka (something like the Czech drink Becherovka.)
Zagreb is not a cheap place for a night out, especially if you are travelling on a budget. This time I wasn’t; I was here only for a short holiday, but I was conscious of some others from our group.
Also, Zagreb is not a late city. Most pubs, bars, and restaurants close by 11pm.
Friday or Saturday is a good night to go when you want to meet young Croatians.
After Indy’s we walked back to Trg bana J Jelačića and caught a night tram back to the Ravnice Youth Hostel.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 13, 2004
Before the recent war, Croatia was a popular tourist destination. I didn’t know any people that had been there since the war ended, so I didn’t know how I would find the country to be. I travelled there in August 2004 for some days, just to Zagreb and some places close by.
I fell in love with Eastern Europe after I travelled in Czech Republic and Poland for the first time nearly 10 years ago. It will always be a favourite part of the world for me. Actually, I would live somewhere here if possible. Much has changed in this part of the world since the ending of Communism, but much also remains the same. For me, much of the beauty of Eastern Europe is in the simplicity of life, the friendly people, the laid-back pace of life, and the many natural beauties.
I arrived in Zagreb by train; the train station is in the lower town, Donji Grad. If you have never travelled in Eastern Europe before, Zagreb will be a rude introduction to one of the most beautiful parts of the world.
Zagreb is not the cleanest city I have seen. The Upper Town is cleaner than the Lower Town. In many places there is much graffiti, and you will see many beggars. People do not have so much money, and you can notice this easily. But it is a safe place to travel. People are friendly and always make an effort with foreigners.
So what did I like best? Although it was August, it was not so crowded (most tourists travel to the coast and islands for the sun at this time). Walking is really the best way to see the city, and getting lost was one of the best things I did. I extended my morning afternoon walking tour along little side streets. At one time, I found myself near a large shopping centre that I failed to find on any Zagreb map, but I don’t think I could find it again if I went looking!
Strolling around with no fixed place to go allows you to be freer, and this is when you find the special hidden places. I try always to do this when I travel, and this is always when I get a real feeling for a city or place.
I met many different people – local and foreign – and I took time to talk with them. Listening to how they find the changes in the country changes your own opinions also. Zagreb is a wonderful city that I really like and already want to return to.