Walk the cobbled lanes of the Croatian capital, Zagreb, to discover unexpected pleasures, from baroque buildings to fascinating museums and restaurants serving great food
While its better-known sibling Dubrovnik steals all the attention, Zagreb has quietly become a vibrant and sophisticated alternative. Not yet fully discovered by the tourist hordes, it’s the place to come and enjoy Croatia’s surprisingly fine cuisine. The architecture is a mixture of Italianate and baroque, and the best way to explore the city is by foot, making sure that you turn off the main streets; it is in the cobbled lanes that wind up and down the hills that you will find the true Zagreb, bohemian and shabbily beautiful.
What to do
Join the locals and get amongst the hustle and bustle at the daily Dolac market. You’ll find fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese and dairy produce on offer from 7am onwards. Afterwards refresh yourself with a coffee and cake. Café culture is in full swing in Zagreb - order yours at Gradska Kavana (00 385 1481 3007) on Jelac ˇ ic´ Square. The three-floor art deco coffee house is reportedly a favourite Sunday morning spot of the President.
Mimara Museum (00 385 1482 8100) is the pick of Zagreb’s many museums. Thousands of artefacts from around the world are housed in the great neo-Renaissance building, including paintings by Caravaggio, Goya, Rubens and Rembrandt. Wonder at the 17th-century Jesuit church of St Catherine (00 385 1485 1950) with its gleaming baroque interior.
Take the number 106 bus from the cathedral to the Mirogoj Cemetery, one of the most beautiful in Europe. Wander through the ivy-covered promenades or take a quiet shady walk among the ornate and beautiful gravestones. Then visit Medvedgrad Castle, constructed in the 13th century to protect the city from marauding Tatars after the old city was razed to the ground by the Mongols in 1242. An imposing medieval fortification, it commands views across Zagreb and the surrounding countryside.
Where to stay
The Regent Esplanade Zagreb on Mihnanoviceva was built in 1925 for Orient-Express passengers and has now been restored to its full art deco glory. Alternatively, international chain hotels such as Sheraton and Westin provide reliably good rooms with all the facilities you would expect from the two names. Those with an eye for style should unpack at Arcotel Allegra. Zagreb’s first design hotel, it’s modern and well located.
Where to eat and drink
Croatian food reflects the many cultures that have settled here. The cooking on the coast is more Italian in style while the interior is an eclectic mix of meaty Austro-Hungarian and Turkish. Croatia also produces good wine; try out the reds from the Peljesac Peninsula or the white wine Zlahtina.
Try Dubravkin Put (00 385 1 483 4975) on Dubravkin Put 2 for its fresh Adriatic seafood and brodet (fish stew). Baltazar (00 385 1466 6999) on Nova Ves 4 does the best bread and grilled meat in Zagreb. For gourmet grazing head to Okrugljak (00 385 1467 4112) and start your meal with a platter. Nibble on Dalmatian meats, such as slavonian kuten (salami spiced with paprika and garlic), and cheese from the island of Pag. For mains choose between delicious skewered meats like veal or duck and lamb from the spit. If it’s simpler food you’re after, grab a good pizza at Baschiera (00 385 1369 8999), Selska Cesta 215.
Time running out?
Mount Medvednica provides a permanent backdrop to Zagreb; escape the city and spend an afternoon exploring it. There is plenty to do outdoors from walking and cycling to just admiring the views of the city below.
The best way to see Zagreb is to stroll through its beautiful streets. A free City Walks leaflet can be picked up in the tourist offices and is a very good introduction to Zagreb. Make sure you wander through the narrow gas-lit medieval lanes of Gradec and Kaptol.
Currency is the Croatian kuna. Zagreb is one hour ahead of GMT and a two-hour 15-minute flight from London.
Wizz Air (0904 475 9500; www.wizzair.com) flies direct three times a week to Zagreb from Luton. Croatia Airlines (020 8563 0022; www.croatiaairlines.com) flies direct from Gatwick and Heathrow to Zagreb, or via Brussels, Frankfurt and Munich (shortest flight time is three-hours 45-minutes).
Zagreb Tourist Board: Trg Bana Josipa Jelacica 11 (00 385 1481 4051; www.agreb-touristinfo.hr). Visit the website for opening hours.
Café Europa: Life after Communism by Slavenka Drakulic (Abacus, £7.99). The Croatian author presents an insider’s look at the experiences of people in Eastern Europe after the retreat of Communism and the fall of the Iron Curtain.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.