Zagreb is one of those cities that defies explanation — though perhaps “charming” is the most appropriate of all the cliches that could be applied to it. It’s a great place to spend four or five days, but if you only have one day there, you can certainly get a good feeling for Croatia’s capital city if you use your time wisely.
Make your way to Ban Jelacic Square in the central city, and pick up a city map from the tourist information office. These maps have two walking paths marked on them, which will take you through both the Upper and the Lower Towns, though unfortunately the sights along the routes aren’t clearly marked. No worries though, they’re pretty easy to find.
Head up the stairs behind the tourist office to start the Upper Town walk, which will take you past the cathedral, into the market place, past St Mark’s church with its awesome roof, and into Katarina Trg, where you’ll see St Catherine’s church (popular for weddings) and the Museum of Broken Relationships. This is well worth a visit, as it’s interesting and well curated, but it’s a little sad.
Stop in at a bakery and pick up some burek for lunch. This is a regional specialty that’s similar to a pie in that the main ingredients are pastry and “something else”, but it’s not really much like a pie at all. Choose from ricotta, meat, or another filling such as spinach if it’s available, and eat it like you would any other kind of bakery food — wherever you want. Some bakeries have tables where you can scoff it down, or head back to the main square where there are quite a few places to sit down.
Follow the Lower Town walk around its circuit and towards the end you’ll find the Archaeology Museum. This is a large, interesting museum, and it’s not too expensive at 20kn (about €2.70). The highlights are the Egyptian and Etruscan exhibits, with the largest extant piece of writing on cloth from the pre-Christian period, which is also the longest Etruscan text that’s survived the years. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours there.
If you still have time, take the tram to Jarun, where you’ll find an enormous artificial lake. Walking around it would take a good couple of hours, so it might be best to do a shorter walk and just have a coffee or a beer in one of the lakeside bars.
Zagreb apparently has a nightlife but we wouldn’t know. We were couchsurfing, and the family really looked after us — they gave us advice about what to see and do, fed us delicious traditional food, and generally made sure we were okay. We spent our evenings with them instead of out on the town, and got to experience what it’s like to be a Zagreb local, as well as see the sights of the city.