Croatia Guide Part I: Zagreb

Several months ago I put together a Copenhagen guide with the best of intentions to round out the guide for Croatia which we went to immediately after Copenhagen. After I posted the Copenhagen guide, I found out I was pregnant and then ended up spending the summer trying to keep my meals down and napping on the couch. And then time just got away from us, so no my deadline is the arrival of the baby (eek). Incidentally, I’m due in a couple days, so I’m getting this in just in time.

So, here you go…

Cory and I went back and forth about where we wanted to go for the honeymoon, but we landed on Croatia because of a few things. First of all, it looks amazing. It’s one of those popular (yet a little off-beat) destinations that I’ve been admiring in my Instagram feed for a couple years. We were definitely not interested in the adventure-seeking third-world country bumpy-bus-riding kind of honeymoon. We wanted to relax a bit, but we also wanted to be active in some way. Croatia seemed the perfect option!

Most of what I had seen through my friends’ and travel blogs’ Instagram feeds was the pristine southern Croatian coast. Specifically sand-encrusted feet in front of clear turquoise alcoves tucked away from civilization. And the orange clay-roofed homes of the Unesco World Heritage town, Dubrovnik. All of it beckoned us, but there was another part of Croatia that intrigued me: northern Croatia. The Istrian region of Croatia.

With Croatia on our mind months before we had settled on a location, we watched an older No Reservations episode where Anthony Bourdain spent his time in the country in Istria where he dined on fresh white truffles and toured tiny medieval hilltop towns. So, when we scheduled our trip to late September-early October, when the white truffles are in season, there was no question that Istria would be at the top of the itinerary.

Thus, the plan was hatched where we’d rent a car for the first half of the trip and then island hop by public ferry for the rest. Here are the details of our two-week road/ferry trip through Croatia.

Croatia Trip Route

Before we get into the specifics of the trip, I’ll give you an overview of our trip. Starting in the capital Zagreb, we drove to the Istrian Peninsula and stayed in Motovun in the central part of the Peninsula. From there, we took day trips in the region, including Pula and Rovinj. Then, we drove south stopping briefly in Zadar for lunch and dropping the car off in Split.

Split is the jumping off point for many boat trips through the Southern Dalmatian Coast islands. We then took a ferry to the island of Korcula where we stayed three nights and then took another ferry to Dubrovnik from where we flew back to the U.S.

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Zagreb

We began in the Croatian capital, Zagreb. I had noticed many of my friends had skipped the city in favor of flying into the central coast town of Split – a common jumping off point for small boat cruises – or just using it as a stopping point in and out of the country. But from our intrepid friend, Jill’s, recommendation, we decided to spend two nights in Zagreb in order to spend an entire day to enjoy the town. We are so glad we did!

The Austro-Hungarian architecture is both austere and ornate and captivated me with each cobblestoned street turn. Many buildings added a bright pop of color against the gray sky we had that day. The Zagreb tourist office located in the middle of the city in Ban Jelacic Square has some great resources for self-guided tours. We stopped by their office to pick up the pamphlet that provided a little background and a map on where to go. The highlights included: Zagreb Catherdral, Dolac Market, St. Marks Church, and The Museum of Broken Relationships.

One day was probably enough for what we intended to do, but if you have more time, I might even recommend spending a day doing a culinary tour with Zagreb Bites.

What captivated me about Zagreb was that it is a bustling city where people live and work amidst the historical architecture as the backdrop. We were also immediately introduced to Croatian coffee culture where people spend hours lounging in the outdoor cafés sipping and chatting and sipping. The place for this is the pedestrian streets Trg Petra Preradovića and Tkalčićeva.

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Beyond the coffee culture and just ogling the amazing architecture, one of the major highlights for us was the Museum of Broken Relationships. I realize it’s kind of an odd place to spend time during your honeymoon where you’re celebrating your new relationship, but it was pretty fantastic. It’s a tiny little museum not far from St. Marks Church and cannot be missed on a trip to Zagreb. It’s a lovely emotional tour through artifacts from people’s heartbreaks, not just of romantic relationships, but of friends and family. It’s a beautiful contemplation of love and loss. I know there are exhibits around the world, but this permanent museum where it was founded shouldn’t be missed.

Beyond the sites, here are some of our other logistical recommendations:

Airbnb – We stayed in Jelena’s apartment and it was certainly one of the best places we’ve stayed and she’s a wonderful host. It was centrally located just a few blocks from the city center (it helps that Zagreb isn’t that big). Also, if you’re renting a car, there’s plenty of street parking and she’ll help you figure out how to ensure you paid for it correctly.

Note that rental apartments are pretty much the way to go in Croatia. Hotels are a bit more expensive and vary in how nice they are. Even before Airbnb, rental apartments were the best option for travelers. We found some amazing places through the site. I’ll recommend our favorites where applicable.

Food – As previously mentioned, I think it’d be worth checking out the Zagreb Bites tours if you’re in town a little longer and really want more culinary insight. In our case, we spent a couple days walking around and didn’t do extensive exploring of the food scene (especially after a culinary adventure in Copenhagen). However, we had some delicious burgers at Burgeraj our first night and had a great traditional Croatian meal at Stari Fijaker 900.

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Also note that the New York Times’ 36 Hours in Zagreb had some fantastic recommendations as well.

After two days in Zagreb, we headed out on our road trip to the Istrian Peninsula. For that, and the rest of the trip you’ll have to check out the next installments of the Croatia guide:

Croatia Part II: The Istrian Peninsula Adventure

Croatia Part III: The Southern Dalmatian Coast

 

 

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