Last summer, we kept asking ourselves, where are all the tourists?? This summer we're hearing and meeting tourists every time we go out. Each summer more and more people discover this beautiful city, but one of the wonderful things about it is it has kept it's soul. You can get a really good feel for the natural city life in the summertime as much as you can the rest of the year. Once you step into the squares, many parks and cobblestone streets lined in centuries old trees and pastel colored buildings from the Hapsburg era, you'll see why it's one of the most beautiful, green and surprising cities in all of Europe.
Here are just five things we love about Zagreb in the summer!
1. If you want to really get to know Zagreb, pick a cafe (there are literally thousands all over the city, everywhere you look!) and spend a few hours drinking a latte, called kava s mljekom. Zagrebians can spend hours drinking a single cup of coffee, which is pretty amazing when you see just how small the cups are. By the way, the coffee here is really strong and really good! Zagreb's coffee culture is something special. You can't go anywhere without hearing little spoons and cups clanking accompanied by conversation. I love seeing people sitting together, actually talking and engaging each other, and not on their phones. One of our neighbors often jokes that everything in Zagreb happens over coffee -- marriage proposals, job interviews, divorces, and most of all, politics.
If you like fashion, spend Saturday morning at a cafe in Cvjetni Trg (Flower Square). This is the time when everyone from celebrities to students dress to the nines to see and be seen... and to sit and drink coffee!
2. The Markets! Without a doubt, this is my personal favorite. Dolac is the main market nicknamed the belly of Zagreb, inbetween Ban Jelačić Square and the Cathedral. I love the small Britanski Trg market, but Dolac is special because of it's size, location and because it has a meat, cheese and bread market beneath it, along with wine and homemade products. I buy all of our cheese there -- most often Croatia's most famous cheese from the island of Pag at the Gligora stand. Try their mediterranean herb hard cheese! There is also a fish market next to the produce and two flower markets. Look for the vendors who are selling produce that's in season, usually with just a couple different varieties. Here you will find the best produce and the best prices. Today I bought the juiciest local peaches -- 8 for the equivalent of $1 (!!) next to a man who was selling 2 for $1.50.
3. Walk Gradac & Kaptol. Before Zagreb was unified, it was Gradac (Upper Town) and Kaptol (Lower Town). Both are gorgeous, and while there are so many spots to share, I think the best thing you can do is just walk and wander and get lost in the beautiful cobblestone streets. It's not big enough to actually get lost... at least for long!
4. The Sunday Antique Market in Britanski Trg. Saturday is the best market day in Britanac for produce and flowers, with stands of antiques as well, though nowhere near as many as Sunday morning. The antique market runs every Sunday of the year, but it is the very best during summer. Remember to barter and also enjoy the atmosphere with a coffee at one of the cafes in the square. Stop in at Pekarna Bašić for the best chocolate pastries in all of Zagreb! (Doesn't John Shea look so pleased to be back at the market for his thousandth time?!)
5. Eat al fresco and listen to live music. One of the most surprising things we've found living in Zagreb is how many beautiful concerts there are, and year round. Advent and Easter are holy, other-worldly experiences inside of St. Mark's Church, St. Catherine's and the Zagreb Cathedral with choirs, ensembles and orchestras. Summer is fun with concerts of all genres outside throughout the city. Have lunch or dinner by St. Mark's Church at Trilogija or Fajn Bistro - two of our favorite restaurants that regularly change their menus depending on what's fresh in the markets. The waiters at both know their Croatian wines - ask for their recommendation and prepare to have your mind blown:) If you have dinner on the terrace at Fajn Bistro, you'll get to hear music coming from just below it at Summer at the Stross with live bands each night. Go dance afterwards! Have coffee or a glass of Croatian wine on Tkalčića -- a lined with pastel colored cafes and restaurants.
There are so many other things I could add to this list, and so much I could say about the culture and history of Zagreb! But part of the magic of this city is getting to discover it's hidden character and qualities when you come.