April 24, 2010
ZAGREB, Croatia, Apr. 24, 2010/ Bon Voyage / — Say ‘Croatia’ and many travelers might think ‘Dubrovnik’, but the capital is actually Zagreb, a great little city in its own right. Unfortunately it is often ignored by tourists as they make a beeline for the beautiful Dalmatian Coast to see Dubrovnik and Split, but visiting the capital will give you a more rounded view of Croatian culture.
It’s a large city, a little less than 1,000,000, but it seems pretty low key. Much of the commercial district and the historic area are closed to traffic.
Watch for the car-free zone
We found that out the hard way. We drove right into the heart of the city. I kept telling my husband I thought we should park, but he insisted he thought we were OK, right up until the traffic police stopped us and asked us what we were doing driving there!
The officer was very nice about it though: he had us turn around and told us where to park and how to get to the funicular to get up to the Upper Town. Still if you drive in, park before you get to the car-free zone.
The funicular that takes you from the Lower Town to the Upper Town is a historic funicular railway, built in 1890. With 220 feet (66 meters) of track, it’s one of the shortest funiculars in the world. Tickets are cheap, the ride is fun, and it will save you a steep climb.
The Upper Town, Gornji grad, is the medieval core of the city. It’s delightfully hilly with narrow streets lined with shops and cafes. You’ll feel like you’re in Old Zagreb. This is where you’ll find the Cathedral with its twin spires and St. Mark’s Church with its colorful tile roof displaying the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia and Zagreb. St. Mark Square is also the site of the Croatian Parliament and the Presidential Palace.
Wind your way to the Gradac area and Tkalciceva, the city’s most colorful street. It’s lined with little outdoor cafes housed in 18th century buildings. You’ll be hard pressed just to walk by: each place looks so inviting that you’ll want to stop and have a drink before you continue your sightseeing. It’s probably this street that makes the Upper Town feel so cozy and intimate.
Big city feel
Lower Town has most of the museums and hotels. It’s all wide boulevards, huge squares and big formal buildings. You have the feel of a big city in the Lower Town. You will probably find, as we did, that you end up in the Trg Jelacica, the city’s central square. Upper and Lower Towns meet here as do all roads and trams (and confused foreign drivers). Pleasant as this was, we spent most of our time in the Upper Town.
You can fly into Croatia’s capital, of course. You can also take the train, hop on a bus, or drive in. You might want to spend most of your Croatian holiday enjoying its beautiful coast, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much you’ll like spending a day in Zagreb.
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