Despite the beautiful Adriatic coast and summer madness, in last few years Croatia’s capital Zagreb has been increasing its number of year round visitors in the recent past. Here are some tips of things to do if you want to experience a weekend in Zagreb like a local.
“Let’s go for a coffee” is probably the most commonly used phrase in Croatia. It doesn’t actually mean you need to only drink a coffee; you can also have tea or juice if you prefer, but they will always ask you for a coffee. Coffee is something every Croatian drinks, spending time at cafes talking to friends, family or just alone reading a newspaper, a book or working on laptop. Croatians will always be found sitting in cafes, and almost never take a coffee to go. So, if you want to experience a real Croatian coffee tradition you should start your day off at the stylish cafe Johann Franck on the Zagreb Central Square. It was recently redecorated and renamed after Johann Franck, but before that, it was one of the main gathering points of people in the city since 1930. It was a place where citizens could come to have their coffee, exchange information and read over 60 different newspapers in several languages. Because of this tradition the cafe is decorated in the 30’s style with a library with books in several languages. The cafe has three levels, and on the top level is a lounge bar where you can have a brunch. Johann Franck is the 19th century founder of the Croatian coffee factory Franck. So it’s quite obvious that there you will taste nothing but the finest traditional Croatian coffee.
One of the best traditional restaurants in the city is Didov san in the Upper Town. Decorated in the traditional style of a Dalmatia tavern it offers a lot of authentic dishes from the Croatian region Dalmatian Zagora. You can try Dalmatian prosciutto, famous cheese from the island of Pag, octopus salad and even uštipak, a type of fried dough served with cheese called kajmak. This place is also famous for having grilled frogs and snails on its menu.
While in the Upper Town take a walk through it. It’s after all the most beautiful part of the city. In front of Lotrščak Tower is a nice view over the city and it’s my favourite place in town. It’s so nice to sit there, watch the sunset and listen to a guitarist gently playing. In the Tower is the Grič cannon which marks noon every day since 1877 – so don’t be afraid when you hear it bang, it can be really loud.
In the evening have a drink in one of the bars in Tkalčićeva street. I prefer cafe – jazz bar Melin. On the weekends they have live jazz music playing. The bar is very small, so it can be overcrowded. After few drinks in the centre you should continue your night at some of the local clubs. The most popular among locals is Katran, a club in an old factory building of very alternative design, over three floors with different types of music and affordable drinks.
On Saturday mornings people from Zagreb go to the Dolac market to buy groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, cheese and some other homemade products. What makes the outdoor market so vivid is The Šestine Umbrellas. These red umbrellas are recognisable symbol of Zagreb, the tradition of which dates back to the 18th century. As a tourist you can try seasonal Croatian fruit or some cheese, I especially recommend homemade cottage cheese and to buy your souvenirs there if you can.
After finishing grocery shopping and when the Grič cannon marks midday, it’s usually time to meet friends under the clock on the Central Square (Trg bana Josipa Jelačića) and have coffee in one of many cafes in the centre. Saturday morning in the city centre is called Špica by the locals. Everyone comes to the centre to see and to be seen – celebrities, politicians, families with children, young couples and even pensioners. Sometimes, in spite the enormous number of bars, it can be hard to find a table.
In the evening, you can have dinner at the Mali Medo pub in Tkalčićeva street. If you like meat, sausages and beer, this is a right place for you – sorry vegetarians. The pub produces its own beer, and you can choose between several types of light, dark or wheat beer. This place is for every budget and it is very popular place among locals. If you prefer fish, I recommend going to the restaurant Korčula in Teslina street, but be prepared to pay a little extra as fish from the Adriatic Sea can be expensive. If you like homemade pasta visit restaurant Fotić in Gajeva street. It is a nice cosy restaurant with delicious food.
For cheap drinks on Saturday night try the bar Žirafa, but you need to make a reservation in advance because from 8pm until 12am they have happy hour and all drinks are half price.That is why is impossible to find a table especially on the weekends. While in Zagreb try rakija – a traditional Croatian shot which comes in various flavours. Be careful though, it’s very strong. Afterwards check the Vintage Industrial Bar situated in an old button factory. If you prefer rock music, that is the right place for you.
There are several clubs on the beach at the lake Jarun. You can easily go from one to another, and during the summer in the city is cool to feel like you’re at a beach bar.
Sundays are reserved for family and recreation. In the morning you can visit Zagreb’s beautiful gothic style cathedral, which is the most significant Catholic monument in the Zagreb area. Afterward check out Sundays antique market at the very lively Britanac Square. What Špica is to Saturdays, this market is to Sundays. At the antique market you can buy anything from jewellery, vases, books, coins, to even commodes and armoires. On the square you can have coffee and sandwich or pancakes at Kava Tava cafe.
On Sundays people from Zagreb also like to spend their time in nature. They usually go to the lake Jarun, the mountain beyond Zagreb Sljeme or Maksimir park, but those places can be very crowded. If you’d like to have peaceful moment for yourself in nature before you go back home, grab some food for picnic and go to the Jelenovac wood. It is a really nice green area where you can take long walks, picnic, and you will only run into some dog walkers. Privacy is guaranteed.