Croatia might be better known for its coastline, but if you are visiting its capital on business you’ll find much to discover, too. Nestled in the north-west of the country, Zagreb’s historic centre has a Central European ambience thanks to its architecture and café culture, the result of centuries under Austro-Hungarian rule.
The city centre is made up of two parts – the medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and 19th-century Donji Grad (Lower Town), which meet at Trg Bana Jelacica, the main square. While Gornji Grad is made up of cobbled alleys that are mostly pedestrian-only, Donji Grad is flat and laid out on a grid, with a constant flow of cars and trams. As a whole, the area is compact and can easily be explored on foot – here are some highlights to take in.
TRG BANA JELACICA
Zagrebian city life centres on the main square, laid down in the 19th century and named after Count Ban Jelacic, an army general who abolished serfdom, and is honoured here by a gallant bronze equine statue. Vienna Secession and art deco buildings surround the square, many with old-fashioned cafés at ground level, making it the city’s favourite meeting point.
Immediately north of the square, Dolac market (dubbed the “Belly of Zagreb”) has been in operation daily since the 1930s. On the piazza, stalls are piled high with colourful fruit and veg – in autumn, expect pumpkins, mandarins, lemons, dried figs and walnuts. Below, market halls vend meat such as red kulen (salami seasoned with paprika) and kobasica (sausages) from Slavonia, while an adjoining fish market vends fresh seafood, delivered direct from the Adriatic coast at dawn each morning.
The Upper Town is the heart of “Old Zagreb” – the first bishopric was established here in 1094, while the adjoining neighbourhood of Gradec was proclaimed a free royal city in 1242. Built into a hillside, with cobbled streets running north-south, traversed by wooden stairways running eastwest, you’ll see more tourists than locals in Gornji Grad.
Visible from Dolac market, the twin spires of the cathedral rise above terracotta rooftops. Its neo-Gothic façade conceals a spacious interior with tall, slender columns. There’s been a church here since the 13th century – check out the northern wall, which bears an inscription of the Ten Commandments written in Glagolitic, a medieval script that predates Cyrillic and remains unique to Croatia.
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