An Unambitious guide to Zagreb with(out) kids
Welcome to Croatia, the homeland of football vice-champions. Many people started loving Croatia because of the 2018 football World Cup. Thanks to great football success, people all around the world got to know more about this small country. Before that happened, one could say that Croatia was known for being the home country of one of the world’s greatest scientists, Nikola Tesla and that Croatians invented the tie. Nowadays, Croatia is better recognized because of Luka Modrić, currently the world’s best football player.
Some people also think that there is still war in Croatia. Don’t worry, it was over long ago. Now Croatians struggle with banks and debt, not bombs and gunshots. So, now it’s a cheap and safe destination.
Advent in Zagreb 2019
Most people think that Croatia is a country for summer holidays, but the capital city Zagreb became a very popular travel destination all year round, and especially at Christmas time. For the past three years, Zagreb has been voted the most beautiful Advent destination in Europe thanks to its unique Christmas Market. Holidays are always an opportunity to become a child again. There are many things to do with kids during Advent in Zagreb. You can read the Advent guide to find out where to meet Santa Claus and experience more magical moments in Zagreb. Did you know that Santa Claus moved from Laponia to Zagreb for Advent? We actually saw him drinking mulled wine and talking to regular people.
Things to Do in Zagreb with(out) Kids
1. The Ban Josip Jelačić Square
The best starting point to explore Zagreb is the Ban Jelačić Square – a huge square with a statue of a national hero riding a horse.
2. Walk uphill to Kaptol
3. Stop at Dolac Market
The most recognizable souvenir in Zagreb
If you look for the most recognizable souvenirs of Zagreb, you will find The Šestine Umbrella. This umbrella is part of the traditional folk costume, carefully handmade from metal wires, a wooden rod, chestnut handle and a red cotton canvas bordered with a few colorful stripes. You will see the bigger version of this traditional umbrella at Dolac Market serving mostly as parasols. The Šestine umbrella is often given to celebrities, government offices, ministries, ambassadors and presidents, but you can also buy one for a reasonable price.
4. Walk along historical Tkalčićeva street
Tkalčićeva is the most popular tourist street in Croatia, where all generations gather; students and pensioners. It is vivid and vibrant in the morning, day and night as if it never sleeps. This is not only a favorite touristic place, but locals also love to ritually drink coffee in this authentic street. It looks like people are never in a hurry and have plenty of time to relax here.
Tkalciceva Street, as we know it today, has changed its face and name throughout Zagreb’s history. It wasn’t a street actually. Tkalčićeva was once a stream with wooden bridges, surrounded by green trees, vegetation, and mills. Sounds idyllic if we look at it from a modern point of view, but Tkalča was a street of poor workers and servants who worked for wealthy citizens. They lived a hard life here. Now there is a stream of tourists, and instead of water mills, there are restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops. Only the old architecture and monuments bring back the spirit of old times.
5. Light a candle at Stone Gate
This is a unique historical and spiritual place. The Stone Gate was built in the 13th century as one of four main gates leading into the town. Within the gate, you will find a shrine praising the Virgin Mary. There is a true miracle story related to this gate. Since the city was made mainly of wood, fires were a frequent occurrence. A big fire in the early 18th century destroyed most of the buildings in and around the gate, barring a beautiful painting of the Virgin Mary, which is preserved very well even today. That is the reason people stop by, light a candle and pray in front of the painting.
6. Take a photo of the Roof of St. Marks Church
The most photogenic spot for tourists in the upper town is St. Mark’s Church, as it has elements of the Romanesque and Gothic dating back to the 13th century. This church stands out because of its unique and colorful roof that reminds me of Lego pieces. This unique roof depicts the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia. There is no fee to visit this church, but it is mostly closed, except weekdays at 18:00pm, Saturday at 7:30am and Sunday at 10:30am and 18:00pm.
Historic St Mark Square is also the site of the Croatian Parliament, government, and the Ban’s Palace, now the Presidential palace. The Croatian president became world famous for her gesture there after the Croatian team lost the World Cup. The whole world was talking about the Croatian president standing in the rain without an umbrella and hugging players and all the other people, including judges. Some people called her behavior inappropriate and other told that the world leaders should learn from this lady who smiles from her heart, even when her country is on the losing side.
7. Climb the Lotršćak Tower
A few steps from St Mark Square is the 13th-century Lotršćak Tower, which fires a cannon every day at noon. It is the most significant symbol of Zagreb, reminding us of the great defense against the Turks. If you climb to the top of the tower (for a 2,5 euro entrance fee) you get a great 360-degree view of the city and the fabulous roof of St Mark’s Church. It is recommended to go at noon to see and hear the cannon fired. In front of the tower, you can see old-timers waiting to see those who love to discover and romanticize Zagreb from a modern point of view.
8. Talk to A Great Poet at Strossmayer promenade
Strossmayer promenade is one of our favorite parts of Zagreb. It is an ideal place to escape from the city crowd. One of the best Croatian poets, A.G. Matoš, used to find some peace and inspiration here. Now there is the statue of him sitting on one of the benches. You can sit next to him and have some philosophical talks if you like. Statues are good listeners. Matoš lived a bohemian life, mostly being alone. He died young and is remembered as a rebel and a dreamer.
Strossmayer promenade is shaded by large chestnut trees. Colorful and unique pieces of art adorn the trees, benches, and lamp posts along the alleys. It is most popular in summer when it is full of artists, food stalls and cafes. Over the last three years in particular, it is very attractive and vivid at Christmas time as Advent in Zagreb is in full swing.
9. Take a ride in the shortest cable car in the world
There are few ways to get to the upper town: You can climb up the stairs or take the small funicular, the shortest in Europe. For more than one hundred years, it has been transporting locals and tourists between the upper and lower towns. The lower station is located on Tomićeva Street, while the other station is located at the base of Lotršćak Tower. The shortest ride in the world will cost you 4,00 Kuna (approx. 0,5€). The funicular departs daily (including Sundays and Holidays) every 10 minutes.
10. Take a panoramic look of the Lower town
11. Pass through Tunnel Grič
If you are not claustrophobic, you shouldn’t miss going through the 350-meter long Tunnel Grič. It is a fun and free attraction. Tunnels are always mysterious and exciting places that evoke kid’s imaginations. It is exciting to be a mole for a while and walk underneath a city through a hill. The tunnel has several exits to different parts of the city, all near the central, historic and touristy part of Zagreb. This tunnel was built during World War ll and served as a bomb shelter. Today, it is a tourist attraction and also helps people as a pedestrian shortcut to avoid climbing the hill. The tunnel is worth seeing, especially during the Advent time.
12. Experience “Špica” at Flower Square
13. Relax in one of the parks
If you need to relax, you don’t have to go too far away from the city, because just around the corner from the central square is one of the most romantic places in Zagreb, Zrinjevac Park. It has a bunch of fountains, lots of greenery, flowers, and benches. In the heart of Zrinjevac stands the Music Pavilion which serves as an open-air concert stage. Many memorable concerts are held on this stage during summer and Christmas time. At its northern part, there is a meteorological column from 1884. This is a small device showing temperature, air pressure and weather which was very interesting to the kids.
14. Visit The Museum of illusions and Museum of Broken Relationship
Museum of Broken Relationships hosts a really interesting collection of artifacts from people around the world who have donated pieces that reflect lost love, broken-hearted lovers, families divided and personal loss. Some are actually very funny and sarcastic. All items are followed by a personal story. This is a unique concept that contains mementos of failed relationships and the stories that surround them.
15. Eat Štrukle
Vegan options in Zagreb
Here is a list of the best restaurants and bars where you can get vegan or vegetarian nutritious and healthy dishes in Zagreb. If you want to get your vegan/vegetarian meal quickly, there is a vegan bar called Green Point in the city center next to the Cvjetni trg (Flower Square) on Varšavska street. They have delicious seitan burgers, hemp dishes, falafel, and ‘scrambled eggs’ made of tofu. They are also known for having big portions which are not too common in vegan restaurants.
I have found recipe ideas from Veganopoleio very inspirational. This musician chef travels all over the world and prepares a variety of vegan meals with local ingredients she sources as well as preparing vegan versions of traditional dishes including vegan versions of typical Croatian dishes.