Travelling to Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb CroatiaIn 1094, two Hungarian villages emerged in the area that today comprises Zagreb. After surviving destruction by Mongol invaders 150 years later, and an ongoing rivalry between the two settlements, the two villages finally united as one in the face of invasion by the Turks. By the 16th century, the two were being commonly referred to as Zagreb, and the sabor—the Croatian parliamentary body that still exists today—had been formed. During this time, Zagreb began to be considered as the “capital” of the surrounding land, and by the early 17th century, Croatian viceroys were ruling with the city as their seat of power. After a lengthy period of hardship during the 17th and 18th centuries, Zagreb once again became the dominant city in the region in the 1800s. During this time the city welcomed new technology such as rail roads, plumbing, and gasworks. When the area was a part of Yugoslavia, Zagreb was second only to Belgrade in population. When Croatia declared independence in 1991, Zagreb was made the capital.

Today, Zagreb is home to a rich history and cultural heritage, and the city hosts plenty of museums, galleries, performance halls, and a thriving café society. Nearly 700,000 people live in the city as of current, with over 1.1 million living in the wider Zagreb metropolitan area. To travel to the city nowadays, flights are available from all the major cities of Europe. Croatia Airlines offers flights from most Western and Eastern European countries, as well as Russia and Israel. As the capital of the country, Zagreb is well connected to nearby population centres by both bus and train as well. Bus service is available from Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Switzerland. Short flights, train routes, and bus services are available from Zagreb to the country’s other population centres as well, such as Pula, Split, Dubrovnik, and Zadar. To travel within the city, visitors can access the Zagreb Tram system, or the widespread bus service. Special tourist bus routes run through the city too.

Sightseeing is a popular pastime for visitors to Zagreb. The rich cultural history means that there are plenty of ancient monuments that can be enjoyed. Most tourists like to begin a tour of the city at Ban Jelacic Square. This square is home to two important sights. In the centre of the square stands a statue of Ban (Viceroy) Josip Jelacic, a national hero who led an uprising against the Hungarians in the mid-19th century. Also in the square is Mandusevac Fountain. While in the square, enjoy one of the many side-walk cafes for a relaxing meal or drink. Not far from the square stand the two Neo-Gothic spires of the Zagreb Cathedral. As with many European monuments, this cathedral has been continuously under refurbishment for centuries, with the oldest parts dating from the 1200s. The vibrant Dolac market is near the cathedral, where locals and visitors alike can purchase produce and craft items. The Stone Gate of Zagreb is another popular destination. With a mural of the Virgin Mary, the gate escaped destruction in an 18th century fire, and is now revered. Other ancient monuments to see include the Lotrscak Tower, the Presidential Palace, the Sabor, and St. Mark’s Church.

The city is also home to a number of museums that are likely to be of interest. These range from major institutions to more niche and quirky museums. The Museum of Contemporary Art is home to a selection of permanent modern art as well as revolving exhibitions. The Archaeological Museum has one of the largest collections of prehistoric artefacts in Europe, as well as pieces from Classical, Medieval, and Ancient Egyptian times. The Museum of Broken Relationships is a quirkier museum that features donated contemporary artefacts from all over the world, each with an accompanying story of how the piece relates to a bygone relationship. This museum has toured the world, including a lengthy stay in London, and won the European Museum Award in 2011 for most innovative museum. The Mimara Museum features the private collection of Ante Topic Mimara, a famous art collector and benefactor who was notorious for having apparently acquired many paintings illegally during the turbulent times of World War II. Works on display include pieces by painters such as Renoir, Degas, Manet, and Caravaggio.

Many excellent day trips are available with Zagreb as a starting point. As Zagreb is the capital of the country, routes originating in the city cover the countryside like spokes from the central hub of a wheel. Samobor is a popular destination, as it is a beautiful pastoral town that is located just 15 or so miles from Zagreb. By bus, a trip to Samobor takes only 30 minutes. The main square is a popular point to visit, and is full of side-walk cafes and eateries. The town is famous for making a custard cake that is popular throughout the country: samoborska kremsnita. Varazdin, to the north of Zagreb, is another excellent city to visit. During the hard times of the 17th and 18th centuries, this city was the capital of the region, and so has its own legacy of history and cultural heritage. Spancirfest, the country’s largest open-air festival, is held in Varazdin annually. A final popular day trip is to the Croatian coast of the Mediterranean. Coastal resorts such as Opatija, Novi Vindolski, and Krk are perfect destinations for overnight stays.  The official site for Zagreb is here