Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to one day in Zagreb! Zagreb, Croatia begins with Z, which is definitely the most mysterious later. And that’s fitting because Zagreb is full of quirk, mystery, smoke, hidden tunnels, legends, and Angelina Jolie. Don’t believe me yet? Follow me for 24 hours and you will soon learn of the hidden secrets of Zagreb…
One Day in Zagreb
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?
One Day in Zagreb
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our one day 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.
One Day in Zagreb
Morning: Museum of Broken Relationships
I promised that Zagreb was mysterious, and what could be more mysterious than the mysteries of the human heart? That’s why I suggest starting your one day in Zagreb at the Museum of Broken Relationships. If you’ve ever had a broken heart, and who among has not, you’ll be enthralled by the objects here left over from past relationships. Some will make you laugh and others will make you cry–but there’s chocolate at the gift shop to soothe your tears.
The objects in the museum change regularly so I can’t promise what you will see when you’re there. But I can share with you…
Three Fun (???) Facts: Museum of Broken Relationships
1) What’s the Most Awful Story in the Museum?
I was pretty depressed about the story behind this sea turtle pendant. A married guy gave it to his girlfriend and told her he specially thought of her when he saw it. Of course it turns out he had given an identical pendant to…his other girlfriend. Why do men like this always have a wife and two girlfriends? I bet he had ten girlfriends and they’re all around the world just walking about with sea turtle pendants like this.
2) What’s the Funniest Story in the Museum?
Perhaps it’s cruel to laugh at another’s heartache. If so, let’s be cruel together as I regale you with the story of this lamp. A German lady owned this lamp and loved both it and her boyfriend. Until one day she found some Internet “naughty films” starring her boyfriend, another lady, and this lamp…meaning he must have made the films after they got together, since the lamp belonged to her.
I choose to believe this lamp is sentient and figured out a way to let its beloved owner was a cheating bastard. Pleasant nightmares!
3) What’s the Craziest Story in the Museum?
You’ll have your own pick when you go, but my vote goes to the story of a woman whose ex-wife became obsessed with Guiding Light fanfiction and dumped her for a fellow Guiding Light fanatic, leaving her alone to care for her dying mother. The artifact isn’t actually from the relationship itself–it’s a DVD the dumpee made to process her feelings.
The moral of this museum is that relationships are terrible. Let’s all die alone, with only our sentient lamps for company.
24 Hour Treasure: Zagreb Breakfast
Before your tour, you’re going to want to have lunch, so stop at Otto & Frank for their amazing Zagreb breakfast. (Yes, it’s called Zagreb breakfast, but you can definitely eat it at lunch. The Croatian Mealtime Police will not stop you.) This feast is a crunchy bread topped with cheese and meat and salad and a SURPRISE on top.
(OK, fine. The surprise is an egg.) But as you will see when you eat the Zagreb breakfast, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell it is an egg at first bite.
One Day in Zagreb
Afternoon: Self-Guided Zagreb Walking Tour
Now that we’ve seen one of the stranger museums out there, how would you like to explore even more of the hidden wonders of Zagreb? Then join me a self-guided walking tour of the best hidden gems in Zagreb! On this tour, we’ll learn about how Zagreb has the smallest….in the world, as well as the … all the way from Las Vegas! Want to fill in the blanks? Then let’s hurry off to find…
Approximately Top 5: One Day in Zagreb
1) FUNICULEE FUNICULA!
Zagreb has two main parts: a lower part and an upper part. The upper part is more scenic and historic, so you’ll almost definitely spend more time here during your one day in Zagreb. It’s a pretty short walk from the Lower to the Upper, but if you’re not into stairs or just want a cool cultural experience, then take the funicular!
This is the world’s smallest funicular so I’m pretty sure you get to be in the Guinness Book of World Records if you ride it. It was created at the end of the 19th century by an Austrian businessman. But it was not successful because it takes one minute to ride the funicular up and only three minutes to walk the same distance, which you can do for free. Plus originally the car kept breaking down. But now you can ride it for funsies as many times as you want, which I think is worth the money. (PS. The ride is not expensive.)
2) St Mark’s Church
Now we are in the upper part of Zagreb, aka the pretty part. The first building you have to check out is St Mark’s Church. This is sometimes called the most iconic building in the city because of the tile patterns on top. Our guide, whom I shall call Goran, said that the checkerboard is a symbol of Croatia because in the Middle Ages a Croatian king got captured by the Venetians and had to win a game of checkers for his liberty.
Did he win? I think it’s pretty clear that he did, Internet Stranger, or else the Venetians would be putting checkerboards on everything. European history has changed so much over the last thousand years. Nowadays I assume if you were captured by the Venetian army, they’d just overcharge you for a gondola ride.
I will not tell you what the rest of the symbols stand for! You have to take the tour to find out!
3) Tunel Gric
One of the coolest secrets in Zagreb is the Tunel Gric. This was a bomb shelter during World War II and eventually it fell into disrepair and got gross and creepy. But more recently it was renovated and turned into a fun walkway for pedestrians. Do you need a guide to find your way through these tunnels without getting lost? That’s really up to you and your own judgement of your spelunking abilities.
The Tunel exits into an art park, which Goran said used to be a sad drug park. But now it has become a popular place for street art and graffiti. “Art is the best drug, kids,” I said to some small Croatian children standing nearby. This seemed to frighten them, but I’m not sure why.
4) Snack Time!
It’s been long enough since our Zagreb Breakfast, so it’s time for a snack! This hand pie in my hand looks kind of like burek, but it isn’t. Here’s what I have written down in my notes, “It sounds like strudel but it isn’t”. So I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a delightful and toothsome dish known as strukli. It’s dough stuffed with cheese, and it’s not stuffed pizza crust, so you know it’s got to be good.
But just in case I’m wrong, you can try going around Zagreb and asking for “not strudel” and see what that gets you.
5) Cathedral of the Assumption
The cathedral itself is quite beautiful and contains a multitude of secrets. The sweetest is that a bishop, who is interred in the cathedral, saved Jewish citizens during World War II by hiding their names on lists of residents of the city. As a person of Eastern European Jewish ancestry, I’m always very grateful to anyone who didn’t just go along with the Nazis.
But everyone’s favorite secret about the cathedral is the provenance of the chandeliers. They actually used to belong to a Las Vegas casino and were donated to the cathedral. That’s wild! From Sin City to the Blessed Mother! Zagreb Cathedral, I give you this slogan for free.
One Day in Zagreb
Evening: Dinner at Bistro Apetit
Croatia is really a country that knows how to do fine dining, so I encourage you to dive into all the classy joints you can find when you’re in town. Bistro Apetit is one of the best restaurants in Zagreb, and its chef apprenticed at Noma in Copenhagen, so you know he knows his stuff. My waiter told me that the chef, Marin Rendic, had cooked for Angelina Jolie. On the one hand she doesn’t look like she eats much, but on the other hand she can certainly afford the best, so I choose to be impressed.
There isn’t really a menu. As with many fine dining restaurants, you order a certain number of courses and chef prepares what he will. I recommend you get the seven course menu because that way you get to eat the most. That’s just science. Dive into the culinary adventure with me!
I always like a tasting menu to start out light and refreshing, so I was super content with this seafood with citrus and caviar. The salty caviar was the perfect pairing with the sweet seafood and sweet-sour citrus.
After a light course, we want a rich one, so let’s try steak tartare made with ribeye. Steak tartare is made with raw meat, so only the very best quality meat will do. But that’s what makes it so delicious–that you can really taste the flawless beast. I think it’s the best possible way to respect the animal that gave its life so you could eat it.
This next course was a perfectly summery lobster with apricots. I don’t think there could be any more summery combo than lobster and stone fruit. This dish tasted like a fine August day in Maine.
This beauty is the house signature dish, cuttlefish ragu. At least my waiter told me it was the signature, but it’s possible he was making it all up. I mean, I can’t even verify his statements on Wikipedia or anything. I don’t always enjoy cuttlefish because it can be tough, but this was as tender and soothing as a James Ingram ballad.
I’m a big believer that the final main course of a tasting menu should be simple, so the quality of the ingredients can shine through. This duck with crunchy root vegetables fit the bill perfectly. Also any meal where you get to have caviar, lobster, AND duck, is a very good thing.
Our first dessert was probably the most technically impressive because they made this mint ice cream right in front of you at the table by using the MAGIC of liquid nitrogen. This tasted like I was being punched by mint in the face. Like Mint Mike Tyson was just going to town on me and possibly even biting my ear. But I mint this as a compliment.
Of course just one liquid nitrogen dessert isn’t enough for any reasonable person. That’s why we have this lemon and rosemary “souffle”. But the liquid nitrogen here is used to create a fabulous cloud of rosemary scent that wafts about your head while you eat your lemon dessert. I can see why Angelina Jolie liked this chef. I bet she looks really great dressed in a cloud of rosemary.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Zagreb!
What would you do with one day in Zagreb? Do you have anything to donate to the Museum of Broken Relationships, even if it’s not as cool as a sentient sex lamp? And would you trust Angelina Jolie’s advice on restaurants? 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 spend one day in Zagreb.