Zagreb turned out to be ten times the city I expected it to be. It was cultural and alive, bustling with a mix of tourists and locals, day and night. The “cafe culture” that was present in Italy is even stronger in Croatia. While to North Americans, a cafe is somewhere to sit and enjoy a coffee and a snack; here, cafe’s are as much bars as they are coffee establishments. And at night some even double as night clubs. Something we have noticed across Europe is that it’s publicly acceptable to drink beer or wine at almost any time of day. We stopped being shocked by someone sitting and enjoying a beer at 10AM weeks ago. But nowhere was it more present than in Croatia.
On another alcohol related note, beer is sold in 2L plastic containers at most corner stores. When you take into account the per litre cost of beer in Croatia, it is the cheapest we have seen yet in our travels – cheaper even than anywhere in Central America! And it’s not cheap unknown beer; quality export beers such as the German Löwenbräu and Holsten are sold as well as most popular local beers, meaning we paid about $3 CAD for 2L when at home it would cost about $11 CAD. Shocking.
In Zagreb, we decided to – for the first time yet this trip – rent an “entire apartment/home” through Airbnb. Prices were much cheaper than previous countries and if we stayed a bit outside of the city centre (and had to take a tram in or walk 20 minutes) we were able to get a wonderfully renovated apartment all to ourselves. Everything about it was perfect. Our host met us at the front door and welcomed us to the city with a bottle of wine for us on the table. Having the one-bedroom apartment all to ourselves meant we could sprawl out our stuff for a few days and not worry about always having someone else in our space!
Zagreb old town is relatively small and easy to walk around in one afternoon. We saw pretty churches, plenty of museums (from the outside), and lots of people watching. There is a funicular that takes you to the heights of old-town but we chose to walk and were rewarded with views over the city.
In the evening we were in search of food and lucked out sitting down for dinner at “PLAC – Kitchen & Grill” just off Zagreb’s main square. The menu offered cheap and simple food and the decor in the place was modern and welcoming. We ordered a large shish cevapi (“spicy ground meat, flat-bread, onion”) to share along with a glass of wine and beer. Oh my god, this was by far the best sausage I have ever had in my entire life. It was so incredibly simple and yet flavorful; no sauce was provided with the meal and it definitely wasn’t need.
Plitvice Lake National Park
The morning we left Zagreb with our rental car we drove to Plitvice Lake National Park. We had heard good things about it and it was en route to Zadar, our next destination. We were hoping the park wouldn’t be too crowded as it’s the tail end of high season but even still we had to drive ages through the windy gravel “parking lot” to find a spot off to the side. I guess we had forgotten to research the entrance fee cost for the park because the 110 HRK (22 CAD) fee shocked us a little. We noticed the fee was half that in October and even lower for most of the winter – and then we realized we were at another tourist trap.
Thankfully we read a blog that recommended taking the route backwards around the park then is directed. Had we taken the route where hoards of people trailed behind each other not only would we have gotten stuck in the middle of dozens of slow people stopping inconsiderately in the middle of the path to take photos, we would have had to wait ages for the ferry and the bus. The whole time around the park (the longer route) was stated at 6-8 hours and included one bus and one ferry (included in the ticket price). It involved only about an hour an a half of walking and a lot of waiting. We had overcast weather and none of the colours really popped but since it is forbidden to swim in the water, we were pleased it wasn’t too sunny and hot. Overall, the park didn’t really do it for us and I think there are much better things in Croatia, and in the world to spend your time and money on. But, as with most things, if you are a two-week vacationer with no travel budget and wanting to see all the “must-see” things in the Zagreb area, you’ll probably end up here – and while I don’t blame you, I also don’t envy you.