Croatia’s lively capital and largest city is one of my favorites in the Balkans. It lacks the sunshine and sparkling waters that attract most travelers to Croatia, but dang, does this city have a ton of character. It is beautiful in its own right, and boasts some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve seen in the Balkans. It’s a hot spot for nightlife and home to some amazing restaurants, bars, museums, and more. In other words, it deserves to be on any backpacker’s travel radar.
We spent three nights in Zagreb recovering from our weeklong birthday boat bash along the Croatian coastline, and I couldn’t have asked for a better spot to lay low. Zagreb was the change of pace I needed after the more crowded cities along the coast. Despite having far fewer tourists, Zagreb maintained an electric energy to it. If you’re considering a visit to Zagreb, do it. It may go overlooked by many backpackers, but I truly loved the city.
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Where To Stay in Zagreb
Since I was recovering from an utterly chaotic week of partying, my sister and I opted to split a nicer hotel in downtown Zagreb. However, I’ve heard from many a fellow backpacker that Whole Wide World Hostel is the place to be. Most backpackers will use Zagreb as the starting point of their Croatian adventures. A lively and social hostel like Whole Wide World Hostel is essential for picking up travel buddies. WWW Hostel is super close to the city’s downtown area, guaranteeing that you’ll be close to all the action.
How To Get Around Zagreb
Zagreb is great because the public transportation is excellent. As a traveler, you might not really need to use the public transportation because most things are within walking distance anyway. But, it’s good to know that you have that option. Ubers are also quite cheap within the city. You shouldn’t be spending more than $5 to get anywhere within the main part of the city.
Zagreb is a well-connected city. Whether traveling elsewhere to Croatia or bouncing to another country entirely, you can likely get there through Zagreb’s train or bus stations. I’m typing this out right now from the comfortable and scenic train ride up to Ljubljana in neighboring Slovenia. After living the bus life in Latin America for nearly three years, the train life in Europe feels like a big-time upgrade. Getting to and from Zagreb shouldn’t be an issue from any major Balkan destination.
The Best Things To Do in Zagreb
Zagreb has a lot of charm to it, and I recommend just roaming around to your heart’s desire. You’ll inevitable find something that catches your eye. This city is full of hidden gems. It has beauty everywhere you look, which I honestly didn’t expect. After being underwhelmed by other Balkan capitals like Tirana and Podgorica, I was truly shocked at just how beautiful Zagreb was.
The Museum of Broken Relationships
Although small, this museum is one of the coolest and most unique that I’ve ever been to. I often lose interest in museums the longer I stay in them, but the Museum of Broken Relationships kept my attention all throughout. It is a beautiful tribute to humanity and emotion. It will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you reminisce on your own past loves. The entrance fee is only about $6, and it’s worth spending an hour or two in there.
The Museum of Hangovers
Zagreb has no shortage of unique museums. Aside from the Museum of Broken Relationships, my other favorite was the Museum of Hangovers. I liked it as soon as I walked in, when they offered me free entrance if I could hit a bulls-eye on a dartboard while wearing drunk goggles. I was so damn close, but I missed by a few centimeters. They gave me a beer before I walked in and I got to reading stories of drunken shenanigans from people all over Croatia and the world. This museum is also quite small, but the variety of exhibits keeps things interesting.
Other Museums in Zagreb
Don’t worry, Zagreb has normal museums, too. You can’t miss the National Archaeological Museum, Ethnographic Museum, and any of the number of art galleries within Zagreb. Other strange museums include the Mushroom Museum, Museum of Illusions, and Chocolate Museum.
Roam Through the Park
As soon as you walk out of the Glavni Kolodvor Train Station, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Zagreb. The huge green space extends for blocks and blocks. I automatically love a city more if it has an easily accessible green space, and Zagreb nails that on this front. Lined with beautiful architecture on both sides, this huge park is a great place to roam around and spend the day. There’s always something going on in this park, including concerts, art shows, and more.
Aside from the main park, there are a lot of other green areas and public spaces to explore in Zagreb. There’s the Art Park close to the bustling downtown area. There’s a huge botanical garden just minutes away from the main train station. Zagreb is a city that gets it right. It may not have any of the stunning natural attractions that Croatia has in abundance, but it’s possible to get out in nature while you’re here.
Check Out the Churches and Cathedrals
Zagreb has some absolutely stunning architecture. Some of the best shows of architecture are its churches and cathedrals. Zagreb Cathedral is a can’t-miss, like literally, it’s tall and pointy. You’ll see it. St. Mark’s Church pictured above is another can’t-miss, with it’s uniquely-decorated roof.
Feast on Some Balkan Food
I could have stayed in Zagreb forever, mostly because of the food. Zagreb has a massively international food scene, and I found myself feasting on bao, Sri Lankan curry, tacos, and of course, traditional Balkan food. Eat to your heart’s desire while you’re in Zagreb. The food scene here is incredible and wildly international. Seriously, don’t miss Curry House while you’re here. Who knew I’d find some bomb ass Sri Lankan food in Croatia? There were also some amazing East Asian, Indian, and Lebanese restaurants, to go with the usual Balkan, Italian, and American-style restaurants. You could fall in love with Zagreb just based on the food alone.
Other Things to Know About Zagreb
Here are some crash course things you need to know in case Zagreb is your first stop in Croatia. Despite Croatia being in the European Union, they still use their own currency. The Croatian Kuna converts to about 6.5 kuna to $1 USD, or about 8 kuna to 1 euro. The cost of living in Zagreb is much lower than the other touristy spots in Croatia. Treat yourself while you’re here, because you’ll barely afford a cheap meal in Dubrovnik or Split for the price of a fancy restaurant in Zagreb.
I’ve found that a lot of people in Zagreb speak English, especially at places frequented by tourists. Zagreb is a modern city but maintains a very historic feel to it. It is a great home base for digital nomads and remote workers, much more so than anywhere else in Croatia that I visited. You’ll find great Wi-Fi everywhere. Zagreb is definitely a top candidate for where I would post up if I ever need to take a few weeks to catch up on life, while keeping costs low.
Many people will make the mistake of skipping Zagreb entirely. I get it, Croatia’s coastline is absolute stunning. There’s no denying that. I was in awe my entire time in Dubrovnik. Each stop along my Croatian coastline hopping cruise was breathtaking, from Korcula to Hvar to Makarska to Split and more. If you’ve got time, do not miss out on Zagreb. Even if it’s just for a day or two, you don’t want to miss Zagreb.
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