Let's admit it - Zagreb is not one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. To holidaymakers whose time is precious, Zagreb is normally too ordinary to be put on the list to visit. However, to slow travellers like us, Zagreb is a very liveable city, where you can really experience what a Croatian society is like without all those tourists. Here is what we think of Zagreb after our first week.
First of all, as lovers for the outdoors, we appreciate all the lush parks in and around Zagreb. Within our first week here, we hiked at the Medvednica Mountain which has over 50 marked trails, did a 14km walk around the large Maksimir forest park, toured the Green Horseshoe (Lenuci Horseshoe) where beautiful parks, the Botanic Garden and landmark buildings mix and meet, and checked out the off-the-beaten Dubravkin Put in the Tuskanac forest area. All the green spaces provide a perfectly relaxing hideaway for the locals to run, cycle, hike, stroll and play.
We love the outdoor farmer's markets with their big red umbrellas. Other than Olac - the main market in town, the almost equal sized Trznica Kvatric market is only two minutes walk from us. In both of the busy and buzzing markets you can find bountiful fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, meats, baked goods and fish. The variety, quality and price almost certainly beat those in supermarkets. Also compared to the farmer's market in Split, we find prices here are lower and not inflated due to tourists.
We love bakeries! They are ubiquitous and always busy! There must be an unwritten rule in Zagreb - you can't go 50 meters without a bakery, otherwise people would die of hunger!
Every time we walk past a bakery, we can't resist but check out those delicious looking sweet and savoury pastries. So far, we've tested many types and have our favourites such as the heavenly Medimurje layered cake (see Pic 3 below) - a rich, moist and creamy cake with four layers of fillings including apples, walnuts, cottage cheese and poppy seeds.
One thing that has pleasantly surprised us is the people - they stop and walk around if you are taking a photo rather than walking straight into your view and they give way on narrow footpaths rather than barging through as if you didn't exist. Polite and aware of others around, people in Zagreb are like a totally different breed compared to those in Split. We are not sure if the less touristy factor has contributed to this behaviour difference, but we definitely appreciate this new norm when out and about.
Another pleasant surprise is free public toilets! Unlike in most European cities (at least the tourist centric ones) where toilets are paid to use, Zagreb provides plenty of free public toilets in the downtown tourist area and in parks and makes sure they are all well maintained and signposted. What a smart move - the result is clean streets and parks! Even the dogs behave themselves as we hardly saw any dog poop on footpaths :)
We tend to get around by foot, but there is a really good network of trams that cover a large area of the city. The trams are a convenient and inexpensive way to get around the city and seem to be well utilised by the locals. As it's treated as just one zone, it is only 4 kuna for a 30 minutes trip.
Zagreb provides free public wifi in the city center. We've used it and found it easy to connect. It is a progressive move on the city's part and provides convenience for anyone who is in need of an Internet connection. We appreciate this thoughtful infrastructure.
In addition to the above mentioned, we also love the fact that there are many day trip destinations from Zagreb either within Croatia or in Slovenia and Austria. In normal situations, one could drive to Ljubljana for lunch and return home afterwards. But COVID-19 has complicated border crossings and you can only move freely within the Croatian border. We enjoyed our day trip to the picturesque town of Samobor.
One thing we don't enjoy in Zagrab are those ugly rundown buildings and graffiti which is eye sore. But they are not Zagreb's specialty. We saw plenty of ugly rundown buildings and graffiti in Split as well. It seems the locals are so used to living side by side with them that they stop trying to make any improvement. Surely renovating a building costs a lot of money and time, but removing ugly graffiti could be done with less effort. I wish someone starts a public campaign of removing graffiti - the city would look far better without them!