We can all research the typical sightseeing spots a city has to offer. But what about the other side? The real local things that make a place special? Zagreb has plenty of those to offer. And luckily those places and things are not exclusive. Therefore, here comes my list of top 10 things to do when in Zagreb, to truly feel like a local. Or better said ‘purger’. Purger is the local name for a person from Zagreb. Be a good purger and follow my guide 🙂
1) Meet under the clock
Every purger is doing this at least once a week. Whenever you are meeting with somebody in the city centre, locals would usually say ‘okay, let’s meet under the clock’. What they mean by this is the clock on the Ban Jelačić square, the main square in Zagreb. It is a very convenient meeting location as most of the tram lines stop there. Also, the square is usually quite crowded and therefore it’s not easy to spot people. Hence, the clock area gives you a perfect opportunity to locate your date. The Ban Jelačić square is also the starting point to the largest bar and café street in Zagreb, called Tkalčićeva, or short ‘Tkalča’. So if you are meeting somebody for drinks, propose to meet them under the clock. I’m sure the locals will be both surprised and proud of your local knowledge.
2) Dress up for Špica
I guess first I have to explain what špica (pronounces shpitza) is. The word itself means something like ‘peak’. It is a social phenomenon in Zagreb (and all bigger cities across Croatia), happening on Saturday mornings and early afternoons (approx. 10am – 4pm). As most people only have one day in the week for running errands, go shopping and do coffee catch ups with friends, Saturdays established themselves to be the perfect day for such a social event.
This consequently means that in this one day, you will see everybody and be seen by everybody. So, you want to look your best.
Especially women really make an effort with putting their make up as well as the most fashionable clothes combination on they can find. Dressed all up, they go for coffee in the most popular and visible places at for example Cvjetni trg (flower square). Or you can just see them walk around the centre. Therefore, it is no surprise that Saturdays turned into some kind of streetstyle fashion show event. Magazine and Instagram photographers run around the city photographing outfits. They publish the best on a regular basis on their accounts, turning the city into a streetstyle fashionista thing. These are the most popular blogs: fotozibar.com, stylezagreb.com, cromoda.com
To sum up, špica is all in one, fashion show, gossiping event and party for those who stopped going out. See and be seen is the motto. So don’t be surprised if you visit Zagreb looking all stylish and somebody starts taking pictures of you. Take it as a compliment and don’t forget to search for your photo online!
3) Go for coffee in your neighbourhood
I’m pretty sure you already heard that Croatians do not only love to drink coffee but they also spend a crazy amount of time doing it. Now, you can go for coffee in the popular places downtown but it is not where you will find the typical local people (unless it is špica of course). The locals enjoy spending time in their neighbourhood cafes. So, if you are not located in the city centre, you should check out the neighbourhood and go for a coffee there. However, I understand that when visiting a city, you will most probably stay in its centre area. In that case, I propose you go to one of the cafes that are hidden in backyards (dvorište) or visit the design district in Martićeva street for cool alternatives.
4) Visit Jarun
Jarun is a man-made lake in the western part of the city. Locals like to come here to relax, do sports or (guess what!) go for coffee 🙂 You can find the Saturday špica at the lake as well. There are several restaurants and cafes to choose from. Mostly however, you will find the locals inline skating, jogging or biking their way around Jarun. The 6,9 kilometres path around the lake are perfect for little recreation. Also, you will see our national rowers training there. If you have more time on weekends, you can check out the windsurfing school and the beach volleyball events as well. In summer, swimming is allowed in one part of the lake. You can reach Jarun easily with the tram numbers 17 and 5 going from the city centre.
Fun fact: At night, Jarun turns into a party location. Check it out if you are into fancy beach style partying!
5) Get your food from a local market
When visiting Zagreb, there is no way that you don’t come across the colourful market Dolac, located just above the Ban Jelačić square. It is quite unique and famous for its red sunshades. In Croatia in general, and especially in Zagreb, local people get their food from local markets. It’s fresh, economic, you know where it’s coming from and you are supporting the local community. Each morning, but especially on the weekends, locals are going to get their groceries: fresh fruit, veggies, meat and fish. All available at the market. Make sure to check it out, even if you buy only an apple. The atmosphere is worth it! By the way, every Zagreb neighbourhood has its own market, with Dolac being the most popular one due to its location.
6) Go to a Dinamo Zagreb match
The football club Dinamo Zagreb plays a very big role in the city. How big? Well, here’s an example: When I was born, my dad immediately signed me up to be a member of the club. If you are from Zagreb, your heart is basically beating for the club. Okay okay, it’s not that intense, but almost. There are murals and fan shops all over the city. The official fan club of Dinamo Zagreb are the ‘Bad blue boys’. If you walk through the city with attention, you will notice their logo (a white bulldog head on blue background) all over.
Dinamo’s stadium is called Maksimir and is located in the eastern part of the city, just next to the popular park Maksimir. When visiting a game, make sure that you do NOT get a ticket in the north side of the stands. This is where the bad blue boys are cheering and it can get very intense as they tend to smuggle fireworks into the stadium. Their biggest rival is Hajduk Split, so derbies can get intense as well.
7) Enjoy the view from the upper city
Zagreb’s city centre can basically be divided in two parts: The upper city and the lower city (downtown). Both parts are connected through many different stairways, the famous funicular and even a tunnel! Every time I am in the city I discover a new stairway to reach the upper part of the city. Let’s assume you take the funicular. When you arrive at the top, you will find the ‘Strossmayerovo šetalište’ on the left side. (Strossmayer was a Croatian politician in the 19th century). In summer, you can discover many artsy events there with food and drink stands.
In winter, it’s basically the same, just in a winterly look. This means you can have drinks and enjoy the view over the whole lower part of the city. You will discover architectural masterpieces and the typical red roofs. Looking straight from the funicular, you will see the famously roofed church of St. Mark. Turning right from the funicular, you will end up at a square that offers a spectacular view over the cathedral.
Insider tip: This is a very instagramable spot, take your time for a selfie!
8) Use the blue tram!
Though truth: Zagreb has no metro system. Nevertheless, the city is well connected with blue trams and buses. (Side fact: Did I tell you that the official colour of Zagreb is blue? No? Well that’s why the public transport and everything else that is important in the city is blue 🙂 ) So I’m not saying that you should spend your time driving non-sense around the city. However, definitely keep it as an option when you for instance go to the lake Jarun. Most of the trams are new and modern and even have air conditioning in summer and heating in winter. If you are interested in history, there are still plenty of old trams around as well.
Don’t forget to buy a ticket though! You can get it at any kiosk (it’s a box that’s called ‘tisak’ and sells newspaper). There is a 30-minute ticket that costs you only 4 kuna. And you can basically reach everything in the city within 30 minutes. Just don’t forget to stamp the ticket. You can do this only at the very first or very last door of a tram.
9) Shop antiques and books at the ‘Britanac’ market
Local people call the British square (britanski trg) ‘britanac’ in its’ short version. It is a cute square at the edge of the longest street in Zagreb, the Ilica, not far from the city Centre. While there are many cafes that invite you to relax at their terraces every day, Sundays are different. On Sundays, before noon, there is an antiques and books (flee) market. It is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are into antiques from the Yugoslavian time. You will recognize the market through their usage of the same red sunshades as the Dolac market has.
10) Hike to the mountain peak sljeme and eat grah
Pack your dog (if you have one) and go hiking! Zagreb is located just under the mountain Medvednica, with its peak ‘Sljeme’. This means that there are many hills and green recreational areas around the city. Sljeme is also known for being one of Croatia’s top skiing spots in winter.
There are several hiking trails that lead to the mountain peak, starting already in the city centre. On the weekends, the locals like to go there for hikes, picking mushrooms or walking their dogs. A good stop while on the hiking journey is the mountain lodge Puntijarka. There you can enjoy the views over the whole city while eating a bowl of the typical bean soup ‘grah’.
Interesting fact: The mountain was an island within the Pannonian sea a looong time ago (around 5 million years).
You like the local tips but don’t want to miss out on the must-see sightseeing spots Zagreb has to offer?
No problem, read about them in my ‘top 15 must see spots in Zagreb‘ post.
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