Visiting Zagreb in search of a new conception of Croatia

After knowing Croatia only for the terrible events of the 1990s, it was time to get to know it for what it is today, in person.

Zagreb uptown

Zagreb uptown

Croatia is a beautiful country located in the Balkans, one of the several ones emerged from the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Actually Croatia existed long before Yugoslavia itself, but only a small part of its history was marked by independence.
An important and long part of its past was under Austrian rule, and that reflects in Zagreb’s downtown appearance, which is characterized by beautiful Middle European atmosphere and architecture. Zagreb old uptown could easily be a neighborhood of Vienna or Prague, and its old streetcars crossing downtown are not so different from the ones you can find in Budapest or Bratislava.

Statue of Josip Jelačić in the middle of Trg bana Jelačića, Zagreb's central square

Statue of Josip Jelačić in the middle of Trg bana Jelačića, Zagreb’s central square

As for me, I had never been to Croatia until a few days ago, therefore the image about that country engraved in my mind was the one we all received from TV news during the 1990s: a country suffering war misery, its tanks facing enemy forces, and people hit with cluster bombs on the streets of Zagreb.
That’s the reason why I was twice as happy about visiting Croatia for the first time. Not only the city covered in snow introduced itself in the best possible way, but I also finally had a chance to get to know the country for its present, not only for its tough past.

Zagreb historical center is rather small, it is easy to visit by walking, and is made up of two different parts: a more recent downtown where the main square is located, and an older uptown which is a bit elevated from the rest of the city and easily reached by stairs or cable railway. The uptown, with its small houses, its narrow alleys and almost no traffic is really delightful.

Main railway station square

The first sight of Zagreb for those who reach it by train

Zagreb is home to several museums. I suggest to visit the Archaeological Museum as I did, which exhibits a wide variety of ancient artifacts from several different civilizations. For 20 kunas (US$3.50, or €2.60) you will be transported into the every-day life of ancient Romans, Greeks, Etruscans, Egyptians, and even prehistoric civilizations.
A very original one is the museum of broken relationships, on which Amanda of A Dangerous Business wrote a nice report.

Egyptian sarcophagus, Zagreb's Archaeological Museum

Egyptian sarcophagus, Zagreb’s Archaeological Museum

Street signs on uptown highlights

Street signs on uptown highlights

As for food, my limited contact with local cuisine suggested Croatians have a fancy for meat products, even thou not so extreme as in other eastern countries, like for instance Romania.
I was very pleased in finding many vegetarian and also vegan restaurants. I was also so unlucky, however, to find all of them in their closing day or under renovation!

I’m always very happy to go visiting Eastern and Middle Europe cities. The reason is that they tell a story of culture, beauty and former power of a “once upon a time” Europe. Add to that an everyday life pace which is much slower than in Western Europe, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The adjective I associate to those towns (other than beautiful) is relaxing.

The downside

All of this was unfortunately ruined by the multiple signs of admiration for army generals who were indicted for war crimes that I found all around the city. My hope of building in my mind a non war-related image of Croatia proved not possible. Not this time, at least.
But that’s just me. It doesn’t have to be the same for everybody else, and maybe one day it will not be like that any more even for me.
Plus, not only Zagreb is beautiful. There are other places in Croatia worth visiting, like, to name one, the beautiful coast on the Adriatic sea, Dalmatia.
Therefore the answer to the question:

Are Zagreb and Croatia worth a visit?

is a definitive YES.

View of Zagreb from Uptown

View of Zagreb from Uptown

Uptown church

Uptown church

Cable railway to uptown

Cable railway to uptown

10 Thoughts on “Visiting Zagreb in search of a new conception of Croatia

  1. Guess the horrible history is so recent that you can’t not be reminded of it while there. Still, looks like a nice destination. There are so many places I want to visit, you’ve reminded me that the former Yugoslavian states and other parts of Eastern Europe are on my tentative list.
    EarthDrifter recently posted..A Taste of ThailandMy Profile

  2. Nice to read that you fulfilled the quest of your title!

    I think I had similar judgement of Warsaw before going, and upon arrival the sheer magnificence of the place was enough to mock my ignorance! In regards to Eastern European countries I’ve only been to Poland and the Czech Republic, but from that experience, and from what I have read, I completely agree with you when you say: “I’m always very happy to go visiting Eastern and Middle Europe cities. The reason is that they tell a story of culture, beauty and former power of a ‘once upon a time’ Europe”.

    Hopefully this year, I will explore more of Eastern Europe, with Croatia and Romania being particularly high on the list!
    Shing @ The Culture Map recently posted..What Ezra Pound Taught Me (about Life and Travel)My Profile

    • Hope you will have the chance to explore again this beautiful part of Europe in 2013. If everything goes as planned, I will go to Russia soon :)

  3. Beautiful photos! Love seeing Zagreb with snow on the roof tops…I’ve only been there in summer. Fantastic city. Love the food (great takeaway pizza too) and flat out AWESOME patisseries for sweet or savory goodies. Miss that place :)
    Alex-Wanderlust Marriage recently posted..One of the best and most affordable ways to book accommodation in EuropeMy Profile

  4. Zagreb is definitely on my itinerary for my Eastern European trip. I am so in love with Croatia. Can’t wait to visit!
    Elle recently posted..Boating, and Things of That NatureMy Profile

    • Hello Elle, welcome to Any Latitude. What other countries in Eastern Europe are on your itinerary?
      When I have time I want to visit the other countries that once made former Yugoslavia.

  5. I am meat eater and Croatia is a meat Paradise :-) They can cooking meat. I have been to Croatia only once, but it was enough to understand it.
    Victor Tribunsky recently posted..Our Adventure on the Epiphany of the Lord: Russian Winter, Russian Cuisine and Russian BathMy Profile

    • Dear Victor, I’ll take your word for it, as I hadn’t much time, and most of all much interest, in eating meat in Zagreb.
      Regardless of food habits of anyone, I think that getting to know food culture of a place is very interesting and also very important if you want to know more of the culture and history of its people.
      Glad you had a great time on that aspect in Croatia!

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