Croatia is THE place to be this summer it would seem with everyone flocking to this part of the Adriatic Sea. With its clear blue waters and stunning national parks, I can definitely understand why the world would want to come here. It's also more exotic than Spain, cheaper than Italy and safer than places like Turkey at the moment. So I decided to check it out for you all to find out where's hot, where's not and where is just awesome.
The best way to see a country is with locals, so I hooked up with Nina who runs Oh! So Croatia to join their early August tour through this beautiful country. The trip is perfect for travellers on a budget who want to see the real Croatia; from the beaches and culture to the festivals and parties. If you want to know more about the trip (which I seriously recommend) check out my review that explains the trip in more detail and how to get involved. It's great for making new friends and aimed for 18-30 year olds who just want to have a good time.
I started in Zagreb, it's a really easy place to fly into with direct flights from a lot of UK airports this year and is the capital of the country. Zagreb is full of everything a good capital should consist of - gastronomy, culture, art, architecture, music and history. There is no shortage of side streets and cobbled roads here to get lost in, all full of beautiful buildings to see and visit. The best place to start is the main square, Ban Jelacic Square (Trg Josip Jelacic in Croatian). It's the centre of Zagreb's downtown pedestrian zone and sits below the old city core with the famous Dolac Market nearby.
Trg Josip Jelacic
The square has been there since the 17th century and so has a lot of beautiful buildings ranging in styles such as classicism, secession and modernism - for someone not into architecture it's easiest to say it's just very, very pretty!
The centre of the square has a large statue that you can't miss in the middle which is of Josip Jalacic on a horse (excellent photo opportunity for us tourists), so you'll know you've found the right square when you get there. There were also lots of market stalls around and if you get up early enough you'll see the fruit and veg market in full swing right in the centre of the square. No matter where you are in Zagreb you'll easily find your way to the square as most of the tram services come here regularly with services running into the night.
There are a number of restaurants and bars to sit in that overlook the square so grab a drink, a bite to eat or even a cheeky gelato and watch the world fly by in this picturesque setting.
Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Katadrala Maijina Uznesenja)
The next stop during your visit should be Katadrala Maijina Uznesenja which is more often referred to as Zagreb Cathedral by you and I. It is absolutely massive with two tall spires so you won’t miss it when looking out for it. If you want to head inside please remember to be respectful and take something to cover your shoulders and legs with. It’s very hot in summer so I know you won’t want to dress like a nun all day but all you need to do it pack a pashmina or scarf in your handbag and wrap it over your shoulders or around your waist so it covers down to your knees. They also enforce this rule sometimes so you may not even get in if you’re not prepared. While I was there it was being restored but it was still beautiful so make sure you find it!
St. Mark’s Church
St. Mark’s Church is an easy find as I’m sure you can tell due to the chequered roof. The tiles were made to depict the coat of Arms of Croatia and it’s another great place to hit. First built in the 13th century it’s a stable place of worship in the city - of course a lot of changes have been made over the years to create what it is today!
The Stone Gate
The Stone Gate, or Kameinta Vrata is one of five original gates that was built to guard Gradec and the only remaining one - it’s pretty cool so check it out.
The Museum of Torture
This is a very small museum in the heart of old town. With over 70 full scale instruments and devices of torture that were used over the ages are to show the fear and violence found through the ages in Croatia and Europe. It’s a little creepy so make sure you’re feeling brave when you go! It’s definitely worth a visit and only opened this year so try and pop in.
The Museum of Broken Relationships
The Museum of Broken Relationships sounds fairly depressing, but in reality it’s quite special and even won the European Museum Award 2011 for the most innovation museum in Europe. People from all over the world have sent in personal belongings that relate to a broken relationship and a story that links to it which is then in turn displayed in the museum. In reality it’s awesome and just trust me when I say to go!
For those of you who like to party, this is the street in Zagreb to get to. It’s clean, safe and a great place to meet the locals during a night out. Croatians are such great people and speak such good English so make sure you get to know some of the locals. Tkalciceva also has good cafes and restaurants so if you’re not sure where to grab a bite to eat check here first.
Strossmatre Park was a really lucky find which I literally stumbled across. It's got a few benches and tables which offer the best view of the city from above. There is also a number of street vendors who sell food, drinks and souvenirs so that you can relax with a nice cold beer and a local Croatian dish while watching the sun set over the city. For those who don't want to climb the streets of old town to get here, there is a cable car that will take you up for a couple kuna.
There will be other places definitely worth visiting but unfortunately I only had half a day here and I don’t like to give advice on things I haven’t done! Let me know if you’ve been to Zagreb and can recommend anywhere for me to add.