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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a 24 hours in Zagreb itinerary! Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, but it’s not as popular with tourists as the smaller cities like Dubrovnik and Split. I guess that’s because Zagreb isn’t “on the water” and wasn’t featured on “Game of Thrones“. But even if you won’t find the Mother of Dragons in Zagreb, you’ll find delicious food, witches, Giant Nerd Murals, and so much more! Join me for a 24 hours in Zagreb itinerary and let’s discover it together.
24 Hours in Zagreb Itinerary
Where to Stay
There’s only one hotel I can recommend for your 24 hours in Zagreb itinerary and that’s the Hotel Jagerhorn. It has an insanely convenient location near both Ban Jelacic Square and some of the best views in all Zagreb. Plus the hotel is one of the most glamorous in the city because it is the oldest hotel left in Zagreb. Yet the prices are still totally reasonable. Really, what more could you ask for?
24 Hours in Zagreb Itinerary
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our 24 hours in Zagreb itinerary. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
The Balkans are hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Zagreb Itinerary
Morning: Croatian Museum of Naive Art
One thing Zagreb is famous for its unusual museums. We are going to the quirkiest museum in Zagreb on our next 24 hours in Zagreb itinerary, but today I am going to show you my favorite art museum in Zagreb: the Croatian Museum of Naive Art. Now, naive art doesn’t mean that this art is so gullible that it will buy the Brooklyn Bridge off a shady guy hanging around Port Authority. In Eastern Europe, naive art has a wonderful and special meaning all its own. Allow me to introduce you to the magic of naive art with…
Three Fun Facts: Naive Art
1) Naive Art is Untrained Art
Untrained doesn’t mean amateurish or bad! It just means that the artist hasn’t been formally trained in an art school. (In the US we’d be more likely to call this kind of work Folk Art.) But self-taught artists can be just as passionate and talented as Very Serious Art School Grads. And many of these artists use their talents to paint/sculpt ordinary people or landscapes close to home that might otherwise be ignored.
You might be wondering just how many Self Taught Croatian artists there even are. Great question, Internet Stranger! The Croatian Museum of Naive Art doesn’t only house Croatian naive artists. There are artists represented from many different nations. But the museum itself has almost 2000 works of naive art. The museum isn’t big enough to house them all, so the works on display change constantly. That just gives you a great excuse to visit Zagreb many times!
2) What Does Naive Art Look Like?
Since naive artists aren’t formally trained, it’s hard to say that there’s something all the artists have in common. It’s not like you can go to Naive Artist School. But one thing I noticed is that many of the paintings used bright, cheerful, and some might say unnatural colors. But this makes sense! After all, when The Man isn’t around to tell you what you can and can’t do, why not paint a pink cow?
Remember, one of the fun things about spending time in a museum is that your only job is to notice things. Just look around for yourself and see what the paintings have in common. Do you notice a lot of purple? See many men with squished noses? Let your observations run free! As long as you are looking carefully, there’s no way to get this wrong.
3) Anything else about Naive Art?
One final thing I noticed is that many of the paintings are about animals. Look at the happy gathering of animals above! It looks just like the forest in Bambi where Bambi and his mother are happy all the time and nothing could ever possibly go wrong. (I still haven’t seen Bambi, so it’s possible that something bad happens in the movie and I just don’t know about it. But no spoilers please!)
Hmm..animals, bright colors, goofy squished faces…naive art has a lot in common with children’s art, doesn’t it? But IMO, that’s a good thing. Who doesn’t like looking at children’s art? I don’t think art needs to be a creepy shark in formaldehyde to be interesting.
24 Hour Tip
You can’t bring bags into the museum, so don’t take anything larger than a wallet if checking things makes you nervous.
24 Hours in Zagreb Itinerary
Afternoon: Self-Guided Shopping Tour
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is shop at local businesses. Except for things like toilet paper, light bulbs, and basic black shirts from Uniqlo, I try to only shop when I travel so my home/wardrobe will be full of uniqueness. So let’s combine travel and shopping with this self-guided shopping tour.
Three Fun Facts: Zagreb Shopping
1) What’s the Best Thing to Buy For Lunch?
I know this feast above doesn’t look extremely beautiful, but trust me, it is extremely delicious. This is a burek, which is a stuffed hand pie you can find all over the Balkans. We got ours at the Dolac Market, which is really a can’t miss destination. And seriously, you cannot miss it. The market is notable for its giant red umbrellas that cover the stalls.
Traditionally burek is filled with meat, but you can also get it stuffed with apple or cheese. We tried the cheese and sprinkled it with sugar, which gave it a fun sweet-salty combo, like caramel-and-cheese popcorn.
2) What’s the Best Souvenir in Zagreb?
Well, YMMV, but I think it’s also food. We stopped at a gourmet food and souvenir store called Galerie Ana to snack on two of Croatia’s most famous food products: truffles and olive oil. So why not combine them by trying some truffle olive oil? It was much more affordable than the equivalent stuff would be in my hometown of NYC, and it really jazzes up any bland weekday meal. One bite of this stuff, and I feel like I’m back in Croatia!
Of course it’s wrong to only eat the olive oil and not try the succulent olives themselves. That’s just science. So we feasted on olive paste and washed it down with two famous Croatian wines: Plavac and Dingac. Again, these wines are much harder to find back home and would definitely be pricier even if you could find them.
Also, fun fact! Plavac Mali means “little blue”. I was curious if that meant that the grapes are little and blue, or do people think that the wine is a little blue? Or is it that if you drink too much of the wine, it will make you feel a little blue? Yes, I’m sure that last one is it.
3) What About Some Shopping History?
What a funny question! But we aim to please. In fact, there is some history of Croatian inventors included on the tour. We stopped at this giant mural of legendary inventor Nikola Tesla. Tesla is most famous for designing the alternating current electrical system. But my guide also insisted that Tesla invented the radio, only he doesn’t get enough credit for it. I gather that defending Tesla’s honor is a popular sport in Croatia.
On top of that, apparently Thomas Edison cheated Tesla when Tesla was a young inventor. He told Tesla that he would pay him a very large amount of money to help him design something. Tesla did it and then asked for the money, at which point Edison insisted that Tesla just didn’t understand he was joking. Oh, Thomas Edison! You were fantastically intelligent, but you were not very nice.
24 Hour Treasure: Tolkien’s House
As a certified nerd, I was SO EXCITED when my guide told me that Tolkien’s House was in Zagreb. I mean sure, I was a little confused because I thought he was English and never realized that he had been to Croatia because you learn something new every day. But it turns out that Tolkien’s House in Croatia is just an adorable pub that serves yummy beers in a lovely outdoor setting. I suggest getting the Red Hobbit Ale for the name alone. (It tastes really good too! But even if it didn’t, I would still be all about the name.
24 Hours in Zagreb Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Noel
I’m a firm believer that any kind of food can be delicious. I’m just as happy eating some unidentified street meat as I am dining at a gastronomic temple of haute cuisine. But I’ll admit that I’m a total sucker for fine dining. It’s just such a fun adventure! I never know what the waiter is going to bring me next! It’s like entertainment and food all wrapped up in one delicious package. That’s why I recommend getting dinner at Noel, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Zagreb.
You’ll start with a little surprise known as the amuse bouche! What will you get? There’s no way to tell! My favorite part of my amuse bouche was this adorable non-alcoholic watermelon drink to refresh the palette. But do not worry! There was plenty of booze with my meal.
Up next we have a refreshing trout with yuzu. I never expected to find yuzu at a Croatian restaurant, but that’s just one of the delicious wonders of globalization.
This next course was foie gras prepared five different ways which is about as glamorous as it gets. I know some people don’t like eating liver, but I’m Jewish, so it’s like mother’s milk to me. Some were more sweet, some were more savory, but all of them were melt in your mouth delicious.
It’s very important to have balance in a good tasting menu. The next course after the rich foie gras was a light Adriatic fish with spinach, lemon, and shrimp butter…If there’s any moral to my posts about Croatia, it’s that you need to eat as much Croatian seafood as possible.
And bouncing back to a rich course we have cappellacci stuffed with blue cheese. These were fab, but so decadent that I don’t think I could have eaten more than a couple.
Up next is some of the strangest combination of foods I have ever met: rabbit, quail egg, bacon, and calamari! So many different kinds of protein and all so delicious! I suppose this is the Croatian equivalent of surf and turf.
And for our final main course, we have a lovely piece of lamb that was as tender as a baby sheep. It was served with babaganoush, chili, and pineapple, just in case we didn’t have enough international flavor in this meal. I’m just crazy about how many different kinds of protein were in this tasting menu. The whole thing practically screams, “Hell yeah, we’re the newest country in the EU! Get ready for Croatia to dominate!”
Got room for dessert? Well, make room because we have a giant bowl of apricots coming to you in a porcelain egg, fool! The apricots were served with white chocolate and marigolds, which was lovely, but all my attention went to the perfectly fresh stone fruit. Just one bite of a fresh apricot in summer and I can practically hear the Beach Boys playing “Surfing USA” while chowing down on some lobster rolls, that’s how summery they are.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Zagreb Itinerary!
What would you do with a 24 hours in Zagreb itinerary? Do Croatians like surf and turf? And has anyone in Zagreb ever died in a duel defending the honor of Nikola Tesla? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have one 24 hours in Zagreb itinerary.