Zagreb, Croatia

When you consider Zagreb in relation to the rest of Croatia, it really is quite large.  In the larger scheme of things, this population of 800K – 1million people is really quite small.  And nowhere is this more evident than in the city center and what has been divided as the old Zagreb and the new Zagreb.  As such, you really don’t need more than 2 days to see all that Zagreb has to offer: anything beyond this, you will honestly find yourself revisiting already-seen sights, and just wandering.  That said, it is still worth the visit and I encourage everyone to make it part of a larger tour of Croatia as a whole.

Nights

The President Pantovcak hotel (http://www.president-zagreb.com/) is a wonderful 4 star hotel that I highly recommend.  Never, in all of my travels, have I honestly felt so attended to.  But first things first: don’t be put off by the splash screen of the hotel’s website; I was at first and am glad that I decided to stay here.

The hotel is small and consists of roughly 10 rooms, all of which (I think) look out over a park-like garden.  Depending on your room type, you will have varying types of decks/patios; I didn’t use mine too much because it was just too hot, even at night.  But, if nothing else, just having the deck made me feel better.

Breakfast in the morning is an absolute treat!  The fruit, the cheese, the juice and coffee all amazing.  And once the hotel found out that I am a vegetarian, they made me eggs, rather than a meat tray, for the remaining days.  Like I said, I’ve never felt so attended to. (Breakfast is not included in the price but definitely worth the extra money, and I never think this!)

If there is one downside to the President Pantovcak, it is that it is located just on the outskirts of the old town.  It only takes 5 minutes to walk to the center, so it’s not bad, but you can’t just step right outside your hotel… you have to take a few steps.

Now, if you want to stay elsewhere, I can make a few recommendations.  For all out glory, stay at the Regent Esplanade (http://www.regenthotels.com/zagreb-hotel-hr-10000/zagr1).  I went here for drinks and didn’t want to leave the lobby!  I can only imagine what the rooms are like!

Another interesting find, at least to me, was the Palace Hotel (http://www.palace.hr/): interesting because it is a stunning building very centrally located –although a tad close to the train tracks – and it only received 4 stars.  I didn’t stay here, so I can’t vouch for the rooms – or that of the Esplanade – but it looks like a viable option, especially if the President is booked.

And one last thing: I would not recommend staying at either the Westin or the Sheraton hotels.  Although both of these hotels are given 5 stars by the local tourism council, at least from the outside, I don’t know how this is possible.  And in addition to that, both hotels are quite a schlep to the old town.  You have better options.

Bites

I only went to one restaurant the 2 nights that I went to dinner: Nova.  This is a vegetarian restaurant located a short distance from the center on the main street, Ilica.  If you’re not a vegetarian, but are willing to try something a bit different, this is your place!  The restaurant is a bit hard to find because it’s not right on Ilica street, but if you pay attention, you will see the stairs leading to the first floor restaurant.  Okay, so it doesn’t have outdoor seating, but when you get tired of the fish and grilled meats every night, you have to make compromises.  Nova has nightly specials as well as a standard menu and if I do say so myself, the chick pea soup with oregano was incredible!  I was a bit hesitant at first, but with the sesame seeds (instead of salt!), phenomenal.  The smoked tofu, the setai, the quinoa, and everything else made this vegetarian one happy man.

Sights

As I said at the beginning, there isn’t a lot to do in Zagreb and it really can be done in 2 days.  You can try to divide your days in to upper old town and lower old town, but these only take about a half day each.  And that’s with lots of photos, coffee, and strolling.  But, whatever you do, do not miss out on meandering through the Dolac market.  Stunning!

You don’t need to buy anything – but if you want some fruit or veg to snack on in the parks, here’s your place – but the colours, the interactions, and the smells are incredible.  There is also a meat market under the outdoor market but buyer beware: I was having flashbacks of the souks in Marrakesh with the smells, the flies, and, well, you get the picture.

I am typically a big fan of museums but museums that were about ethnography, natural history, native arts, etc just didn’t do it for me.  The one museum that I did go to was the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters.  Whoever chose the name for this museum is a former marketer; there are 2 old masters in the museum, neither of which were the artists’ best works.  And if you must know, there is a Bruegel the elder and a Tintoretto that don’t have much fanfare surrounding them.  The cost to enter is only 10 kruna so it won’t break the bank, but if you plan to come here to get out of the heat, think again; the museum is not air conditioned and I can only image what it is like full of people!  When I commented to the nice ticket-taker how hot it was – as in, it can’t be good for the paintings – she simply said “I know” in a matter-of-fact tone.

The other thing that I do highly recommend is taking a stroll down Tkalciceva street.

This street is lined with bars and coffee shops and during the day, a wonderful place to relax and get out of the heat.  Although I didn’t venture here at night, I suspect it is crowded and packed with the locals.  The street isn’t far from the Dolac market and is listed on most maps so you should be fine.

Overall, I think Zagreb is a great place and I am chuffed that I finally did it: everyone questioned why I chose Zagreb, much less Croatia, but all that I know is that I am happy I did..  And if you can do it before it becomes a formal part of the European Union, do it; it’s one of the few easily accessible places that you can still go and pay 200 kruna for a bottle of wine!  I love monopoly money!

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