I finally have time to write something for the blog and it is sadly poignant to be writing about Croatia the day they lost to France in the World Cup Final. But how amazing their World Cup journey has been and France needed some luck to surpass them. It’s a great metaphor to how you will feel as a tourist in Croatia. It’s a tiny place but filled with all sorts of wonders from incredible Mediterranean sailing to fascinating world history to delicious cuisine – and it has only recently been part of the tourist map (and the World Cup) so what it has accomplished in such a short time is extraordinary.
So… back to the tourist trail. If you are lazy – or short of time – there are some attractions that are mostly on level ground although they span a wider geographic area than I had anticipated. Getting exercise in Zagreb is easy 🙂 Your route will depend on your starting point. We’ll start at Ban Jelačić Square and branch out from there.
A beautiful place to start is Nikola šubić Zrinski Square. It was a meadow until the late 19th century when it was turned into an elegant public square. A meteorological post and a bandstand were donated to the city by wealthy citizens and joined by a fountain known as “The Mushroom” shortly after the opening of the Zagreb waterworks in 1878. There are also some museums in this part of town but I didn’t check them all out.
My pick was the Arts and Crafts Museum, which I would recommend. The highlight was a good collection of art deco pieces. It’s a good insight into the development of arts and crafts in the Balkans. The museum is next to another, more famous, statue of St. George. It’s on Marshal Tito Square where you will also find The Croatian National Theatre, the Well of Life and Zagreb University.
The most spectacular public space is King Tomislav Square. There is a monument dedicated to Croatia’s first king – the warrior who united Croatian lands for the first time. There is lots of green space for lounging. Opposite the square is the Main Railway Station. The railway arrived in Zagreb in 1862, connecting it to Vienna and Budapest. Visitors exiting the railway station were treated to a spectacular view of Zagreb.
The square also houses the Art Pavilion. The Art Pavilion was built for the 1896 Budapest Millennial Exhibition using the latest technology and then dismantled and reassembled in Zagreb following the exhibition. There are several art deco buildings next to the square that reward a slow walk and a sharp eye. The other beautiful building is the Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925, to
accommodate guests on the Orient Express in high style. These days you can stay, dine or drink at the hotel and pretend you are in an Agatha Christie novel 😉
If you are ambitious and interested in historical architecture and landmarks, there are some other things you can check out a few streets away. The Kalina House has Art-Nouveau inspired ceramic tile details, including stylized bats. Nearby is Zagreb’s first skyscraper at the corner of Masarykova and Gundulićeva. The nine story building set records in 1933 Zagreb. This is Nikola Tesla territory and you will find a statue of him reminiscent of Rodin’s The Thinker. It’s also worth looking for the Oktogon off shopping street Ilica. It is an elegant reminder of the trajectory of commerce over the centuries – a spectacular arcade full of extravagant materials rather than a Fedex cardboard box on your doorstep…
A final quirky thing to search for is The Grounded Sun. It’s an unusual bronze sphere celebrating the sun. It inspired Davor Preis to create the Zagreb Solar System – metal spheres representing the planets are placed in positions all over the city. The sizes of the planets and the distances separating them are all in exact proportion to Kožarić’s original sun. A quirky way to explore intriguing Zagreb…