Monday, February 20, 2006

Monday Column - Croatia Destinations 4: Zagreb




Zagreb is not really the place for a summer holiday. Most of its 800,000 residents will be by the sea and it gets quite hot and sticky. However it’s a great place for a weekend break in spring or autumn. In winter the temperature can dip well below freezing with an average temperature of 1° C

Zagreb is 170 kilometres from the Adriatic, in north east Croatia. The city centre itself is quite compact and consists of three districts. The magnificent Cathedral is the focal point of Kaptol, in the north east. Gradec, immediately west of Kaptol is the centre of Parliament. These two areas are surrounded by woods. South of Kaptol and Gradec is the larger business area with a number of grand squares and parks. On the outskirts of town, south of the Sava River, is “New Zagreb” with a large exhibition area and several business parks.

The central square, Trg Bana Josip Jelačića links all three city centre areas and is the place to go whenever there’s a celebration, whether it be a national holiday or the return of a triumphant sports team. It’s a lively square with trams running backwards and forwards and plenty of cafes, hotels and shops. It’s probably not the best place to eat though as there’s not a lot of choice and it can be pricey. You’re better off heading to Kaptol which may remind you a little of the Latin Quarter in Paris, with plenty of bistros, bars and restaurants. Just north of Trg Bana Josip Jelačića is Dolac, home to the lively market that does a bustling trade every day of the week.

The best way to see the city is to follow one of the walks. You can “do it yourself” by picking up the City Walks brochure at a number of outlets, including Zagreb airport or the tourist office in Trg Bana Jelačića. Alternatively, join one of the organised tours, either on foot or by bus, which start every day at either 10.00am or 4.00 pm outside the tourist office. The bus tours are weekends only in the winter. Try not to miss the four squares that run north to south in the west part of the business area and include the impressive National Theatre Building (see Thursday’s photo).

Hotels in the centre can be quite expensive and we’ve generally stayed in Karlovac, about 40 minutes drive from Zagreb, or in the hotel Laguna, just south of the town centre, http://www.hotel-laguna.hr/. It’s not the most salubrious area, situated by the football ground, but its reasonably priced, has all the essentials including free parking, some cosy restaurants nearby, and is only a twenty minute walk into town. If you want something a bit more upmarket, there are plenty to choose from. The Dubrovnik Hotel, http://www.hotel-dubrovnik.htnet.hr/ is on Trg Bana Josip Jelačića and the Sheraton is also fairly central, www.sheraton.com/zagreb.

Zagreb has 10 theatres, 21 museums, 14 galleries and 12 art collections and is a regular venue for exhibitions, conferences and fairs. Look at the tourist board website for full details – http://www.zagreb-touristinfo.hr/ - but do check out the Mimara Museum which houses more than 3,750 works of art in a lovely building, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Strossmayer Gallery. If parks are more your thing, the Botanical Gardens are in the centre of town and Maksimir Park, also the home of Zagreb’s Zoo, claims to be the largest and most beautiful park in south east Europe.

Just north of Zagreb is Medvednica, a forested protected nature park with many miles of hiking paths and a ski centre at the highest peak, Sljeme. Further out are some fascinating old towns and the spectacular Plitvice National Park with its many lakes.

How to Get There

By Air

Zagreb Airport is 17 kilometers from the city centre and the trip is about half an hour by car. There’s a coach that will take you half way into town, as far as the bus station, where you’ll have to change to a bus or tram. Tram number 6 will take you to the central square.

By Train

The train station is at the southern end of town, Trg Kralja Tomislav 12.

By Road

There’s now a motorway linking Zagreb to southern Croatia. The main international roads are, Trieste-Ljubljana-Zagreb,Graz-Maribor-Zagreb, Klagenfurt-Ljubljana-Zagreb and Budapest-Varazdin-Zagreb.

See the Monday Column, posted on 30th January 2006 for more information on planes, trains, coaches and buses.

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