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Zagreb experiences

Isabel Putinja

Contributor

Croatia's capital city offers an eclectic mix of Austro-Hungarian and Socialist-era architecture, plenty of parks and green spaces, and a plethora of museums and galleries. But the best way to tune into and get acquainted with a city is by experiencing it. Here are a few ways to plug into Zagreb's special vibe.

A shopping trip to Dolac market

Visiting a market is a good way to get a feel for the pulse of a city. Zagreb's beloved Dolac market is just a few steps from Ban Jelačić Square, sandwiched in-between the upper and lower towns. You'll spot the flower sellers first, and once up a few steps, the sprawling fruit and vegetable market made up of neat rows of stalls sheltered by bright red parasols. Open every day, Dolac is always busy and bustling but things start to wind down by 1pm when vendors start to pack up so make sure you visit in the morning. On the edge of the market are a few stalls selling handicrafts like lace, wooden objects like spoons, kitchen tools and toys, and wicker baskets.

Browse the Museum of Broken Relationships

The Museum of Broken Relationships is one of Zagreb's most popular and quirkiest museums. Its vast collection is built of anonymous donations of personal objects symbolising the story of a failed love affair. A few of the more compelling examples include an axe a woman used to chop up her ex's furniture, a prosthetic leg that belonged to a man who fell in love with his physiotherapist, and an 'injured' garden gnome that was propelled into a windscreen. The museum was founded by two local artists in 2011, inspiring the launch of a similar museum in Los Angeles.

A walk through the atmospheric Botanical Garden

Of Zagreb's many parks and gardens, the under-the-radar Botanical Garden is one of the most atmospheric. This is a good spot to grab a quiet moment among lily ponds straddled by wooden bridges and along the paths of the English-style arboretum and flower-filled rock gardens. 10,000 species of plants grow here, with the greenhouses sheltering the more delicate exotic plants. Entrance is free and guided tours can be booked in advance.

Explore the up-and-coming Zagreb Design District

Design District Zagreb is the name of a neighbourhood festival which has caught on as the new moniker of this dynamic district. It's here that a number of creative businesses have set up shop in recent years along Martićeva street which runs east from the Croatian National Bank building. Once empty buildings and abandoned shopfronts have been infused with a burst of creative energy with the opening of art galleries, design studios, concept stores, and trendy bars and bistros. Look out for architectural landmarks like the modernist 'Vitić skyscraper' and its colourful window shades, and the ten-storey 'wooden skyscraper'. 

Stroll through the Upper Town

The charming cobblestone lanes and historic buildings of Zagreb's upper town make up the oldest section of the city. Part of the fun is getting there. One option is to take the funicular in Tomić Street. This happens to be one of the shortest funiculars in the world, travelling along a track of only 66 metres to a height of 30 metres, and connecting the main thoroughfare of Ilica Street in the lower town to the Strossmayer promenade. This romantic chestnut tree-lined walkway winds up along what remains of the city's medieval walls. It also offers one of the city's best viewpoints over the terracotta rooftops of the lower town and Zagreb cathedral. Another way to reach it is via the Grič Tunnel which was built during WWII as a bomb shelter. Today it provides a convenient way for pedestrians to reach the upper town.

Pause for coffee

Coffee is taken very seriously in Zagreb. You'll notice that there's no shortage of cafes and somehow they appear to be full at all times. Lingering over a cup of coffee with friends or colleagues is a favourite past time here. This becomes an almost sacred ritual on Saturday mornings when the entire city dresses up and descends on the city centre's cafes. Even the local paparazzi are on hand to catch shots of local celebrities and document who they're with, and perhaps more importantly, what they're wearing.

Browse the flea market at Britanski trg

Britanski trg (British Square), or known simply as 'Britanac' by locals, is a charming square surrounded by cafes and bars with a laid back vibe. An open air produce market attracts shoppers in the mornings, while flower sellers are open for business any time of day. On Wednesdays, glass, porcelain, ceramics, jewellery and trinkets are for sale here, and Friday is the day to come to browse second-hand books. On weekends the square is taken over by collectors browsing the antiques market.

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