24hrs in Zagreb

24hrs in Zagreb

Little did we know how Zagreb would surprise and delight us.

After a brief sojourn in Hungary, we met up with friends who had Croatia on their itinerary, which suited us perfectly. Now I’ve heard so much about this country for its coastline and stunning islands, although never actually visited myself.  So perhaps you could forgive me for not knowing the capital city of this former Yugoslavian state.

One of the many things I love about travel is how it broadens not only my soul, it expands my mind and teaches me so many things I didn’t know about culture, countries and their traditions.  So my Croatian education was about to begin with a little dalliance into its capital city, Zagreb.

Unfortunately due to weather conditions in the area, our visit was only too brief; with floods, cyclones and torrential rain, lengthening our trip in Croatia didn’t seem like the greatest of ideas.  So Zagreb became a pit-stop for us and a short excursion into the city was on the cards.  Little did we know how it would surprise and delight us.

In this 24hr Guide to Zagreb, we share our heart-warming experiences of this vibrant, fresh and intriguing capital that is understated and simply not on enough people’s travel itineraries.

Zagreb’s eclectic mix

Let me create a visual jigsaw that we can fuse together for a Zagreb masterpiece! Imagine an eclectic mix of parks and greenery, rivers, ancient buildings, modern architecture, state of the art tram system, café culture, historical legends, outdoor market, mountain backdrops and you pretty much have the key components of Zagreb.  Add to that a mixture of youthful exuberance from its student population, almost as many bicycles as Amsterdam, colourful roofs and a whole host of museums to see, you can start to feel its essence and vibe.

Zagreb was only made Croatia’s capital in 1945, although the city itself actually dates back to Roman times. Through its turbulent history Zagreb has made it to the leaderboard of Croatian cities and is today the seat of the country’s parliament.  So don’t be surprised if during your time visiting the city you see a caravan of State Police escorting some nobility or dignitaries through the streets.

The first thing that captures your attention as you enter the city is its clean, smog-free highways, lined with trees, the Sava river, luscious parks and statues and fountains.  No wall-to-wall traffic jams or hooting cars, just a gentle throb of trams and vehicles sedately going about their business with the mindset of a township rather than a capital city.  It already feels like a great place to be and you’ve not even hit the main centre yet.  What a refreshing introduction that is.

City Highlights

Walking past the impressive looking railway station, you almost feel as if you have entered through an invisible gateway that sucks you into the heart of the city.  Highways are replaced by gardens, monuments and Austro-Hungarian designed museums and the cars have been swapped for trams that effortlessly glide through the capital’s streets.  

Magnetised towards the old town and the history that it harbours, the walk through the tenderly cared for gardens make you forget that you’re in a major city and you instantly feel a relaxed air washing over you.  How perfectly this prepares you for the buzz of the central plaza.  

Ban Jelačić Square has you aghast with its neck-craning hotels and traditional buildings that somehow seem to blend so well and you feel caught up in indecision as you consider which way to turn.  The traditional brown tourist signposts don’t really offer any help, as they reveal a plethora of attractions to check out, you are seriously spoilt for choice.  Whether you love museums, art, music or history, this compact city has it all.  Iliac Street is your main shopping avenue, which is strewn with a whole range of boutiques and branded shops. If you love shopping, this is the street for you.

Roof-top Perspective

Although for your 24hrs in Zagreb, to get an all-round feel for this wonderful city, why not get a panoramic perspective. You have two options:

The Observation Tower is on the main Plaza and costs €8 each to climb to Floor 16 of a modern office block.  Or you can go walk 500m further down the road and take the charming vernacular which is thought to be the smallest in Europe.  This, or the steps if you feel fit, will take you up to the old town known as Gradec where you get get lost in the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Museum of Torture and the 13th Century Fortress – Lotrščak Tower.  For €2 you get to climb this ancient tower, built to guard the southern gate of the Gradec old town and see the old cannon, which to this day is still fired to mark midday.

St Mark’s Church view

Personally the Tower had a more authentic feel for me as you swapped the modern lifts of the Observation Tower for the stone steps where you feel like you are treading the same footprints as the ghosts of a bygone era. The views from here are quite incredible as you glance north towards the unique mosaic roof of St Mark’s Church and south back towards the modern skyline.

From here you are perfectly positioned to walk the streets of this medieval part of town, still beautifully intact and take in the delights of St Mark’s church.  With the oldest coat of arms in the city and its Gothic feel, you can only gaze in amazement at the mosaic tiles forming the Zagreb flag. 

Not more than 200m to your right you soon reach yet another gate of these ancient walls, the Stone Gate.  This sacred site where local townspeople would light candles and pray is still upheld today and despite a number of fires in its history, a painting of the Virgin Mary still remains in tact.

Stone Gate

Tkalčićeva Street

Whilst on your brief sojourn through Zagreb, you cannot miss a walk down Tkalčićeva Street. In ancient times, the street used to be a creek which formed the basis for a thriving watermill industry of soap, paper, liquor and cloth. Sadly none of the mills remain, just a cobbled street paves the way, as you retrace the flow of water that made Zagreb such a thriving industrial centre.  Today the street has a more café culture, with bistros and restaurants framed by multi-colourful facades.  Listen for long enough and you may just hear the gentle sound of trickling water or is that just your beer?

Dolca Market

Heading south on Tkalčićeva Street, you’ll be distracted not only by the amazing old buildings and street art, you’ll also be intrigued by Skalinska Street.  A narrow lane that climbs steeply towards the alluring vision of the Cathedral.  It is filled, wall to wall with umbrella covered tables where eager clients wait to sample Croatian fare.  The buzz of this tiny lane is amazing and you feel as you walk up the tiny pavement as though you’re in a scene from Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  Walk slowly and soak up the atmosphere, which is almost palpable.

Zagreb market mural

At the top of the street you suddenly emerge from the rabbit warren lane into the open air and a square that is filled with the vibrance of market stalls.  Welcome to the daily Dolac Market which has been thriving since 1926. Bright red umbrellas give you the first indication of something exciting happening and then the gentle buzz of locals zipping in-between the hundreds of Farmers’ Stalls that offer you traditional and local products.  This is the most popular and most visited market in Zagreb and it is unmistakable with its canvas painting backdrop of the Jalačić Square and the old town’s Cathedral. Imagine a handful of fresh figs in August plucked from the trees only that morning or the enticing appeal of home-made honeys and jams.  Fresh fruit in a rainbow of colours calling to you to buy and a plethora of vegetables in every shape and size, just ready to convert you away from meat.

Zagreb cathedral

From the hum of the market, walking down the steps brings you back to centre stage and a turn to your right will take you towards the 11th century cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary.  This beautiful Roman Catholic building hosts two claims to fame; first is its height – the tallest building in Croatia and second is that the cathedral is the most monumental sacral, Gothic building south east of the Alps.  It has survived Mongol invasions, Ottoman attacks and earthquakes; hence it has had to evolve in its thousand year history and still maintains its rightful lofty status amongst the city’s stunning architectural prowess, proudly rising above the city’s roof tops for all of Croatia to see. Spending time just wandering around these streets and the park will give you a chance to reflect back on lives of those who called this city home and those who defended it to the hilt.  Just sit quietly to hear the echoes of their voices and the sounds of ancient times.


And of course, to round off your 24hrs in Zagreb, undoubtedly a night visit must be on the list.  Although we didn’t get a chance to, you could easily imagine how these magnificent buildings, parks and fountains would light up once darkness fell.  I think nighttime offers a completely different perspective on a place and an alternative vibe that goes beyond the clubs and restaurants.

Zagreb is an incredible city and unlike some of its western European cousins, it gifts to the visitor an intimate city rich in architecture, culture and colour.  It appeals to every sense and seriously piques your curiosity.  Whilst the coast might well calling you, take a diversion to this capital city and be enthralled by its treasure.








































Search for the big yellow ball in the sky.

Search for the big yellow ball in the sky.

So, after what seemed like an age of organising, logisticising and planning ( in fact it was only 3 months) we set off on our year long (or maybe two) motorhome trip around Europe. It was March 4th 2016. ‘Scoobie’ our Pilote 740c motorhome had arrived, had been kitted out and was ready to go. The rental house was handed back to the landlord, our furniture was squashed into a ‘big yellow’ unit and off to Padstein we went, just for a few days before we headed off.

The weather was inclement when we arrived in Cornwall as it had been for ten whole weeks leading up to our trip but that was OK because our first port of call was Spain and it was March so it will be warming up nicely we thought.  When I say inclement what I mean is lashing down with sleet, thunder and lightening. It didn’t seem to matter even though it had rained solidly since christmas because  all our hard preparation had to come an end and now was the time to get a little excited. After all, it’s not every day you sell up and head off to who knows where for who knows how long in a 7.5 meter tin can on wheels. Some 24 hours later and 800 miles further south we landed in Santander on Spain’s northern coast,  to find well, err, the same weather as we had left in Padstow… ‘Not a great start, I mused,  but it’ll warm up in a day or two, surely.

After two days of torrential rain, thunder and lightening  we decided to say goodbye to the elephant park, our first stop after disembarkation and headed south to find sunnier climes.  Most of the other Motorhomes that joined us that first night, we presume, had jumped on the motorway and blasted south to Marbella or somewhere like that but we wanted to explore the northern part of Spain as it looked fabulous on the maps. Surely Burgos, two hours drive away, would be warmer. We took our time and meandered along the ‘A’ roads up and over the hills, climbing up one hairpin after another. Over the hills, over the ‘SNOW’ covered hills we crawled, winding our way down the other side. SNOW, FLIPPIN SNOW!!!  This wasn’t part of the plan. Maybe those other Motorhomes knew something we didn’t.

It was snowing when we got to Burgos, a light dusting was forming over the camp ground as we manoevered Scoobie into place. We really didn’t do much as it was so cold you could freeze prawns on the cooker but we managed a bike ride into town avoiding the snow showers as we went. We had received the heads up about a building worth oggling over so we thought we’d take a look  and err, well, yeah actually, it was worth the frost bitten fingers and stinging earache. Wow, it was impressive.  A big church! No, a really big church. We took the tour just to warm up and allegedly history would have you believe that around 1250AD some unsavoury types with bad attitudes came up from the south to pillage, rape and claim land as their own and the christians who had settled there had to put some manners on them. Handbags were thrown and a christian victory ensued and they built this cathedral as commemoration of their glory. Some wine was drunk, a few boars slaughtered, a few more christians entered the world nine months later ( presumably) and everyone lived happily ever after.

Personally, I have no idea what these unsavoury types were thinking. I would have stayed south in the warm which is precisely what we had come to Spain to look for… warmth. Not wanting to prolong our arctic discomfort any longer we packed up and took the high road south to Segovia just north of Madrid. Surely it would be warmer there, it’s just north of Madrid. It was flippin colder, a perishing  ‘0’ degrees. That’s ZERO. Too cold to snow! As I walked around this ‘not to be missed’ beautiful Roman town complete with aqueduct, cathedral and palace, I felt my ‘stiff upper lip’ quiver as I tried to revive my frost bitten fingers once again. The thin film of light grey cirrus cloud prevented the sun from heating the ground, the icy wind piercing through 4 layers of clothing at the turn of every corner of this beautiful place. I couldn’t help thinking ‘What the hell were the Romans doing building a town here’.

In very basic Spanish I  asked a local if this was normal weather. He said.. ‘yada yada yada’. I said ‘wha?’ He said ‘yada yada yada’. I said ‘wha?’ He said ‘yada yada yada’. Not a clue if it was normal weather or not but whether it was or wasn’t it was effin freezing. Does’t really matter because  the  upshot of the lowdown is that Segovia should deffo be on the todo list, just leave it till May and stay in the freebie site in the carpark by the Bullring. It was clean, tidy and graffiti free. No electric but a dump and water. Perfick.

As we headed off to our next stop, Salamanca, I was full of hope. With the aid of a google search I had fathomed that Segovia sits a whopping 3000 plus feet above sea level, no wonder it was brassic. The further west we went and the lower we descended, the more the clouds broke up and the more the outside temperature gauge on the dash went up and up. 2, 4, 7… 9… Hey up I thought, I’m on to a winner here… It seemed to stay on 9 for an age but then just outside Salamanca a miracle happened… BOOM…10, TEN DEGREES then 11 then 12… ‘Give someone a lollypop… DOUBLE FIGURES!!! You beauty. And there it was, in all it’s glory….. the Sun.

The quest for the big yellow ball in the sky was over. Poking out from behind a little fluffy cumulo cloud in the big blue sky it was a joy to behold… After a brief trip to the hozzie to recover from mild hyperthermia, we unhitched the bikes and headed off into town for a mooch with a whopping 14 degrees outside temperature. Happy Days!

Salamanca, now there’s a place but thats for the next post. TTFN