The Croatian coast and its luxury resorts have overshadowed Zagreb for a long time. They are not that far away from the city, but the seaside feels like an entirely different country. Zagreb is relatively small for a capital and it’s not very crowded either. You’ll see a tourist here and there, but they’re usually just passing through. There’s this pleasant, tightly knit community feeling here. It’s like being in a small town where everyone knows each other. Visit the Dolac Market and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It has been Zagreb’s main trading area since 1930. Dolac is divided into two parts: one is above the ground and the second below. The first one showcases different kinds of produce. You can buy vegetables, fruit but also preserves like jams, chutneys, and stuff like honey. Everyone shakes hands, they know each other by name. There are also arcades with cafes and bars where people like to get hammered when they close their stands. The other market is a little different. You need to walk downstairs into an underground hall. Think of the Lord of the Rings’ Mines of Moria, but then with meat and delicious Croatian dairy. It’s pure genius if you think about it: free refrigeration for all the stuff that would rapidly go bad in the sun.
Not only the market, but the entire core of Zagreb is split between upper and lower town. Ban Jelačić Square is located almost next to the Dolac. There’s nothing special about it, just one of your standard-issue old town squares. It’s a pedestrian-only zone where people like to meet up before venturing into a night of partying. You can take the famous Zagreb funicular to climb up further towards more touristy sites. It’s like an almost vertical tram, but super slow. You can run laps around it using the stairs, but that’s to be expected from a device that’s been operational since 1890. The ride ends at the bottom of the Lotrščak Tower. It’s usually crowded there as tourists gather around noon to witness “the cannon shot”. Most cities have a way to signal the middle of the day. In Zagreb’s case, it’s a stupid loud cannon shot that you can’t prepare for.
From there you can walk straight to the Cathedral: a beautiful gothic church and the tallest building of Croatia. Weird, right? It’s been damaged by several fires and earthquakes. But show me a cathedral that hasn’t. Saint Marks Church is another one worth paying a visit to. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb and one of the most recognizable landmarks. St. Mark's Square is also where you’ll find the parliament and the presidential palace. Next stop: Tkalciceva Street, one of the busiest streets in the area with cafes, restaurants, and solid nightlife. Craft beer and Štrukli are two things you might want to sit down for here. Štrukli is a cottage cheese casserole Zagreb is known for. Everyone has their own recipe and it can be either boiled or baked, sweet or savory.
There are some interesting museums you can visit in Zagreb. The Museum of Broken Relationships is one you should never visit with a date. Unless you’re planning to break up: then these exhibitions could come in handy. Take a daytrip to Medvednica when you need a break from city life. It’s just twenty kilometers north of Zagreb and it’s an absolute joy to hike. There are skiing slopes open in the winter, but I prefer the mountain during summer. People relax and gossip around many barbeque stands serving shashliks and refreshing drinks. The Veternica Cave is available to explore if you’re into that sort of stuff. The early inhabitants worshiped the cave bear here, which the mountain takes its name from. It also served as a hideout for criminals and all sorts of hoodlums. I always get The Descent vibes from these caves, so I’d pass. Medvedgrad Castle watches over Zagreb from one of the slopes of Medvednica. Many legends are surrounding this fortress and the notorious Black Queen who ruled these lands with an iron fist. She supposedly had a large raven that sat on her shoulder and guarded her fiercely. Black Queen is the Elizabeth Bathory of these lands. Magic, drinking human blood and general debauchery only begin to describe the stories connected with that persona.