Have you ever wondered what the capital of the country home to the famous Dubrovnik is like? Zagreb is safe, exciting, small, historic, interesting, and cool — all at the same time. Friendly people, an exciting atmosphere, and definitely value-for-price. There’s something for the hopeful backpacker, the enthusiastic gallery-hopper, and the busy businesswoman. Put simply, it’s your perfect weekend getaway. Alongside all cultural happenings and sites to see, festivals, fairs, new shops – I’ve always wanted to write a short guide of some great places to eat, drink and sleep when in Zagreb – so here it goes!
the heart of the city — The Main Square Hostel
Mere footsteps away from the Ban Josip Jelačić Square is a designer hostel concealed at the top of a building between Radićeva and Tkalčićeva streets — a way to offer yourself affordable luxury. Many times when I’d be in the city, I’d pop up here just to say hi to the friendly staff and help a foreigner around. Upon arrival, a welcoming shot of traditional rakija is a must. Each room shares stories from Zagreb’s most visited landmarks and history and the best part is, it’s so easy to feel like you belong.
old town’s charm — Hotel Jägerhorn
One of my first impressions of this delightful gem off Zagreb’s longest street Ilica was one balmy summer evening for their weekly live jazz sessions. Sitting there being mellowed away by the enchanting view through tree branches towards the Upper town, listening to soothing sounds of the hotel’s fountain accompanied by trumpet, percussion, and keys, I drifted far away into my thoughts, humbling myself with the surrounding. The hotel was, in fact, an institutional pension built back in 1827, one which hosted writers, poets, and artists alike. Once famous for serving wild game specialties, the family running the business today has taken it as their mission to revive this historical site where you can enjoy quiet sips of wine or locally brewed beer and superb service.
evergreen — The Regent Esplanade
Many locals like me rush by the Esplanade, greet its majesty in quick awe and move on. Out of all of the places that I’m listing here, this is the one I’ve never even walked into, but felt the need to include. Its façade alone is mesmerizing enough to evoke memories of a past time. If you’re looking for a luxurious stay such as those of the old Orient Express — Alfred Hitchcock, Queen Elizabeth II, Ella Fitzgerald or Sophia Loren, to name a few — the Regent Esplanade Zagreb is probably your best book.
just like mama’s lunch — Pithos
Pithos Breakfast & Brunch would be one of those kitchen places that offer what resembles your mama’s menu du jour. Imagine you’re having a difficult day at work and you can take a stroll into this small restaurant where they serve two meals, no complaining. The prices are more than reasonable, the food is fresh, bought the same morning at the local market, and last time I checked, they didn’t even have a fridge. What you see is what you get.
for fashionable foodies — Mundoaka Streetfood
Mundoaka is one of the hippest places to have a quality dinner just around the corner of the Jelačić Square. The few times I visited, I was so impatient to start eating that I didn’t even get to snap a photo. With what seems like a never-before-seen menu, they like to mix a variety of influences into something that they call “Food with Heart and Soul”. What to expect? Don’t expect anything but not being able to choose from the delicately arranged seasonal meals made for open-minded, organic-loving foodies — and a slight cue.
exquisitely yours — Dežman Bar
I think everyone can agree that Dežman’s Passage is surely one of the most romantic streets of Zagreb’s city center. Somewhat hidden from the eyes of passersby in Ilica and Frankopanska, this charming little pedestrian zone makes one feel as though they’ve teleported to another realm. Suddenly, you could be in Le Marais, or in a corner of Mayfair in London. There, between specialized boutiques and conceptual stores, stands Dežman Bar — a little corner perfect for catching up with your best friend, offering delicious bites of finger food and even better drinks.
number one bosnian cuisine in zagreb — Sofra
Though Sofra is indeed a traditional Bosnian restaurant (and here I am trying to focus on Croatian heritage and culture), its middle-eastern influenced specialties have proven to be a real hit around here. So much that they’ve opened up in three different locations across town! There’s literally nothing you can go wrong with on the menu. As an appetizer, try uštipci s kajmakom (fried dough with a spread of cream), for your main dish perhaps Bosanski lonac (Bosnian Pot), and if you have any space left after that heavy meal, highly advised is their oh-so-sweet Baklava. With a high probability of a folk quartet popping in and making your dining all the more Balkan, this place is always packed.
zagreb’s oldest tavern — Pod starim krovovima
In translation — “Under the Old Rooftops” — is Zagreb’s oldest up-and-running tavern that serves those of good faith and humor a very domestic atmosphere, with a range of inexpensive drinks and that Upper-town, historical feel. It’s a must-go, especially if you’re into high cultural indulgence upon arrival to a new destination. Every time I enter, I feel like I traveled back in time at least fifty years, if not a hundred. It’s a great place to start a night out — at least to take a peek into the soul of the old capital, today more of a ghost town ideal for a picturesque evening walk.
a basement filled with rakija – Mojo Wine & Rakija Bar
The Croatian idea of a wine bar often turns out to be something that looks more like a place you would go to grab a beer with friends in New York, but it’s the variety of rakija that counts here. I always seem to enter this place thinking — why don’t I visit more often? It has this atmosphere you want to blend in with for hours. Mojo Bar is located in a dimly lit basement at the beginning of Zagreb’s Design District, just a few minutes walk from the main square, right across from the National Bank. Drop in for DJ sets and live gigs, and every single flavor of Croatian-style schnapps you can imagine.
jazzy beats for the young at heart — Melin Café
Tkalčićeva Street embodies the core of what touristic Zagreb has to offer: something for everyone — from product design and Burek to high-end restaurants and miniature clubs. But, there is one place there that always gets me, and it’s called Melin. As a cult café bar renovated a few years back, Melin is perfect for enjoying live jazz, a few sips of Pelin, and a unique mixture of young and old, foreign and domestic guests. If you’ve missed this place on a Friday evening in the springtime, you’ve missed the true essence of “Tkalča”— finding yourself at peace in the middle of all of the commotion.
a little oasis for a sip of great coffee — Café U Dvorištu
I don’t think one entire blog dedicated to coffee joints in Zagreb would be enough, let alone a single paragraph of a blog post. However, yesterday as this cozy little place came to mind, I couldn’t help but visit and allow myself to get lost in its charm. Café U Dvorištu (dvorište = courtyard) is one of those places that have been steadily attracting visitors of many different profiles for years, all tied to that same homey feeling that you can find tucked away between old Zagreb’s busy streets.