Zagreb may not have the Adriatic coast or the beaches like other renowned cities in Croatia, but it is a sophisticated European capital with an added spark of Balkan energy. Rich in culture, the city is a fascinating mixture of Austro-Hungarian and socialist architecture. Divided into two parts (lower town and upper town), Zagreb packs quite a cultural punch. No matter the season, there is always something happening to keep both locals and visitors entertained.
All begins with two hills
Zagreb’s early history dates back to when the Slavs built forts and churches in the area in the eighth or ninth century. Zagreb’s history is very much a tale of two towns – Kaptol and Gradec – whose rivalry was at times intense but whose fortunes were intertwined. While Kaptol was overwhelmingly under the church’s influence, Gradec was loyal to the king. The name ‘Zagreb’ was first used in 1904 at the founding of the Zagreb diocese in Kaptol. The city became the center of the Croatian national revival with the erection of important cultural and historic institutions. After the earthquake in 1880 and until 1914, development in the city was booming, laying the foundations of Zagreb as it is today. The first half of the 20th century saw a considerable expansion, and in the 1920s the population of Zagreb increased by 70% – the largest demographic increase in its history. After the World War II, the city became the capital of Croatia, one of six republics in former Yugoslavia. After the Croatian war of independence ended in 1995, Zagreb municipality expanded to include surrounding towns Zaprešić, Samobor, Dugo Selo and Velika Gorica, increasing its population to 780.000.
The city continues to expand and modernise. One of the major projects in the coming years is government’s plan to build a new university hospital in Zagreb which will bring together renowned medical experts and offer high-end medical technology equipment within modern facilities. The state plans to find the best project solution via international tender, and carry out the project with the help of EU funds.
In the western part of the city where once Leclerc planned its shopping center that never came to fruition, a new investment is being put together in the last few months. A group of private investors intends to build a modern shopping center comprising of 60.000m2 of commercial and leisure areas that will include a drive-in restaurant and children’s playgrounds. Investors’ ambitious plans have become evident since they commissioned a group of renowned Croatian architects who previously collaborated in the construction of the Arena Center in Zagreb, one of the largest shopping centres in the country.
In recent years, Zagreb has been developing rapidly to a cycling-friendly city. The length of the biking trails has increased continuously since 2000. The city has over 250km of cycling trails and dozens of locations for parking bicycles, and it plans further development towards becoming even more cyclist-friendly location.
Zagreb also aims to increase the number of filling stations for electric cars. There have already been dozens of charging stations around the capital, with new fast-charging station numbers on the rise, which Zagreb has been building with the help of the EU financing and in partnership with several other European cities.
Lots of art and tasty food
Today, Zagreb is also teeming with creative and vibrant energy. The city is home to numerous bars, coffee shops, boutiques and people taking their time to enjoy coffee and meals in a variety of restaurants. Zagreb’s biggest food fad are pastries with delicatessens mushrooming around the city in recent years. Torte I To, who started their business with their famous cheesecake in 2007, is one of the most popular. Another one is Vinček, a traditional family-owned business and a leading brand in cakes, biscuits and other delicacies. They began its mission with a small pastry shop, today they have over 100 employees and six pastry shops in the capital.
A fairly large city, Zagreb has an abundance of green spaces, parks and outdoor markets. Not far from the city center is Maksimir park, one of the oldest parks in Europe which is a true masterpiece of urban garden architecture. It is big enough to find a peaceful spot even during busy summer days. Zagreb’s ZOO is also located within the park with more than 275 animal species. The second popular escape spot is Jarun lake or the so-called “Zagreb sea”, where locals enjoy different activities – running, cycling, rowing; or simply enjoying a cup of coffee or tea by the lake. Every year INmusic festival takes place at Jarun lake.
Dolac Market in the heart of the city has on display a variety of local seasonal fruits, vegetables, cheeses, flowers, fish and souvenirs such as hand-carved wood products or shirt ties in typical red and white squares. Going local and buying local products is becoming a popular thing not only Zagreb, but in whole of Croatia.
The best modern and sometimes provocative art is stored in the city’s Contemporary Art Museum, also known as “Museum with slides”. Intertwined double slides were custom-made by Belgian artist Carsten Holler. And yes, visitors can actually go down the slide and awake their inner child.
Zagreb’s is also big on street art with graffiti’s covering the building walls across the city. Zagreb is beginning to embrace the talent of graffiti artists by giving them allocated spaces around the city to showcase their creative work.
A quirky museum of broken relationship is located in the beautiful baroque Kulmer palace in the upper town with many tourist attractions around. As the name implies, museum is a collection of sentimental items from relationships that failed the test of time. The museum continues to tell the story of hundreds of breakups of the love that never was.
Croatia’s success at the World Cup last year made the whole country ecstatic. Although it lost in the finals to France, the national team won people’s hearts both in Croatia and beyond. Half a million Croats gathered in Zagreb’s Ban Jelačič square to watch the game while the celebrations afterwards lasted for the days not just in the capital but across the country.