Travel like a local in Zagreb – For when you don’t want to play tourist

by | Jan 3, 2017

Sometimes you want to blend in with the local culture and not play tourist.  Here is how to travel through Zagreb like a local.

How to travel in Zagreb like a local

Saturday Morning

Wake up early and dress to impress.  It is time to get your coffee and chat on.  Make your way to Bogovićeva street and the Trg P. Preradovića square and decide on which open air cafe/bar patio you want to sit in.  This area is on the south side of the main town square  (Ban J. Jelačića) by one block near the Oktogon and Hotel Dubrovnik.  Don’t worry if it is cold or rainy, every cafe has their patio covered and equipped with heaters.  In the winter months you will even have a blanket to keep you warm while you sip your kava (coffee).

Travel Zagreb like a local. Sometimes you don't want to play tourist.

I believe there is more outdoor seating than indoor seating for cafes in Zagreb. No matter whether it is rain or shine, you will be comfortable enjoying your latte outside.

To have a truly local experience, you should ensure that your kava takes you over an hour to finish.  For Americans, or those used to “venti” sized caffeine drinks, this can be a challenge.  Coffee in Zagreb is basically espresso sized.  Even a latte is about 1/4 the size of a “tall” coffee.  In true magician-like fashion, locals in Zagreb can make that turkish-style elixir of life last for hours.  Chat it up with your neighbors and enjoy your people watching morning.  You might still find yourself there in the afternoon!

Sunday Morning –

Wake up early-ish and grab the whole family or friend gang and jump on the 5 or 17 tram to Jarun Lake.  Read about how to use the tram here.   In good weather you will see the locals come out in force to enjoy the lake and the park around it.   This area is relatively close to university housing and has a major concentration of young families living around it.  If you don’t want to do the 20 min commute from downtown, either jump over to your closest church for service or repeat what you did on Saturday morning.

Locals and Food in Zagreb

Need something to munch on?  Visit one of the many bakeries in the city like Pan Pek, Mlinar, or Dubrovica and pick up a burek.  A burek is a phyllo dough pastry that contains a variety of fillings.  My personal fav is the spinach and cheese while Mr. 65 Liter enjoys the chicken.  They cost about one US dollar (7 KN) and they are a great cheap food found all over the city.  If you have a nervous stomach (like me,) pick up a burek before going to a cafe so you have some food in your stomach to soak up the caffeine.  Most coffee shops will only have dessert on hand to feed you unless they are associated with a restaurant.

Dolac Market is open year around. Get there before noon because it closes down by 2pm. Most vendors have their own scale for weighing out produce by the kilo.

If you are doing a long term stay and embracing slow travel with airbnb you will need to grab some groceries.  The most popular option is Dolac Market.   There are other large open air markets (one in each neighborhood) but assuming you are in the city center, Dolac will be the closest one.  The folks of Zagreb go out armed with their resusable shopping bags and come back with them bursting full. You will pay for plastic bags at the stores in Zagreb, so get used to the idea of having a bag in your coat pocket so you are always prepared.  You will find that eating out isn’t extremely popular here.  Most locals will eat at home and then go out to socialize over coffee or a glass of wine.

Get wild like a local in Zagreb

Be a hooligan. Okay, I’m not actually advocating this but you should be aware that this phenomenon exists in Zagreb too. Outside of their passions coming out at full force during fútbol games, you will witness these “troublemakers” in two ways.  They stay out late or rather go home very early on the weekends.  During my jet lag period in the city, my 5am walks through town brought me across many of these folks on their way home.

Second, there is graffiti all over town. The entire town is is tagged.  Everything from the floor up to about 8 feet high has been touched by spray paint.  No one has been able to explain why the city hasn’t removed it. Some of it has been in place for decades.  There is even a bridge now commonly refered to as  “Hendrix” because that name was tagged on it. Otherwise, the city is kept impeccably clean with a huge force of sanitation workers, so the graffiti is an incongruous thing that I still don’t understand.  I am talking about the tagging here, not the amazing street art that is everywhere in town as well.

Do Zagreb like a local. When you don't want to play tourist, here are a few simple ways to blend in with the locals.

A sample of the street art found all over Zagreb.

Whether you play the tourist or chill with the locals, you will enjoy your time in Zagreb.  From the classic sites to the unusual, whether it be for the best Christmas Market experience ever or a digital nomad’s home base, you will benefit from the experience and be happy you visited.

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Zagreb like a local is a great guide for when you don't want to play tourist. Get a real feel for the rhythm of Zagreb by participating in its daily practices.

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