Zagreb is sometimes described as being a Central European city with a Mediterranean outlook – old buildings and coffee houses typical of Budapest or Vienna with a café culture in the evenings reminiscent of Barcelona. Although it was only 1991 when it became the capital of Croatia, following the break up of Yugoslavia, it has already developed its own identity.
My first visit to Zagreb was for two days last October. Autumn is a good time to visit, as the climate is mild and there is relatively little rainfall. And being a Senior, you are not limited by school holidays and can travel when fares are low on Easyjet, which flies from London Gatwick to Zagreb for about £100 return.
I drove to Zagreb from Budapest, 260 miles of toll motorway (one overall charge in Hungary, pay by distance in Croatia), covered in less than 3 hours. A couple of minutes delay at the border, but probably no delay at all after Croatia becomes an EU member in 2013.
The hotel I chose was the Arcotel near to the Central Station in the lower part of the city, a trendy, 4-star hotel, part of an Austrian chain – no Senior discounts, but relatively inexpensive. Most of the major hotels in Zagreb are locally owned, with the large international hotel chains having few hotels – exceptions being Best Western and Sheraton.
There’s much to see in Zagreb, but my top 5 places to visit are:
- The medieval Old Town, Gornji Grad, on a hill overlooking the rest of Zagreb. Being a Senior, I advise you to take the hundred-year old funicular, the Uspinjača, up to the Old Town, followed by a steady stroll back down to the lower part of the city.
- The Stone Gate, Kamenita vrata, the only remaining gate out of four that once connected the lower part of the city to the Old Town. It serves as a chapel where people take a moment to light a candle and say their prayers to acknowledge a religious painting which miraculously survived a fire in 1731.
- St Mark’s Square within the Old Town, with St Mark’s Church which has roof tile designs representing the coat of arms of Zagreb and Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia.
- Tkalčićeva Street on the way down from the Old Town, with medieval buildings and countless lively bars and restaurants. Near the bottom deviate a little to see the magnificent, Gothic Zagreb Cathedral.
- The gardens walk, the so-called ‘Green Horseshoe’. This sequence of eight parks in the lower city, including the Zagreb Botanical Gardens which forms the middle part of the horseshoe, permits you to stroll through greenery around much of central Zagreb. Although the Botanical Gardens is not in my Top Ten Gardens, it is still well worth a visit with over 10,000 species of plants including many large water-lilies.
Fortunately, unlike many other Central European cities, Zagreb is not yet a ‘stag night’ centre, but it has much to offer the party set as well as more mature members of society. So make a visit to this fascinating city whilst it’s still peaceful!