Zagreb is extremely easy on the eye.
We immediately passed through a beautiful green public square, before turning on to a broad, attractive, tree-lined street which led all the way to our apartment.
In the more touristy parts of Croatia, such as Split and Dubrovnik you don’t find much of a difference between the price of a similar apartment in a Western European city.
In the less visited Zagreb however, you can book a killer apartment for a comparatively cheap price.
We stayed for around €30 in the embassy district and in a modern, elegant apartment with all the finer touches.
Given the apartment was so nice, we debated staying in and enjoying what our €30 had bought us, before thinking better of that plan and heading out to explore Croatia’s capital city.
Zagreb is renowned for its super social coffee culture rather than its nightlife, but despite it being a Sunday, the city was alive with people enjoying a pleasant summer evening as we wandered about.
Why Zagreb doesn’t get more of a mention in tourist blogs and books is beyond us?
The city is full of beautiful architecture, the pinnacle of which has to be the insanely attractive cathedral.
The gold ornaments around the outside were enough to make Kanye West’s jewellery collection look cheap, while the scale of the thing demanded attention in itself.
And everyone just seemed to be out relaxing in the squares around it – catching up, romancing, or bracing themselves for the week ahead.
At this point a sign to the ‘museum of broken relationships’ caught our eye.
‘A chance to feel like a smug, newly married couple?’ we thought. ‘Terrific!’
But more of that later.
For now we were so hungry that we needed to eat or we’d no doubt argue and end up as an exhibit in the museum ourselves.
We headed down through Zagreb’s central square to a pedestrianised street full of restaurants and bars, and settled for the logical choice of eatery in Zagreb, an Indian restaurant…
Ok well not the most Croatian of restaurants but oddly the Croatian capital has a number of a hugely popular Indian restaurants.
We chose a table outside on the main thoroughfare and settled in to do some people watching.
As with most capital cities, Zagreb feels young and energetic, but conversely, not touristy.
Unlike other Croatian cities, the vast majority of people were Croats just out enjoying their evening, as opposed to tourists.
The music coming from all the bars along the street also suggested that Sunday was as popular an evening amongst the locals for socialising as any.
For us the mark of a truly interesting place is being able to sit and enjoy what’s happening around you.
Zagreb fit the bill perfectly – a place where your entertainment is the atmosphere and people around you.
Our longest day of driving was the leg from Zagreb to Krka National park, but having made a commitment to the museum of broken relationships – which seemed ironic given the topic – we got up extra early to check it out.
Perched at the top of a beautiful vista overlooking the city, the museum is accessible via a small cable car which climbs up from the old part of the city.
In short, the museum was genius.
As the name suggested it was a tribute to broken relationships, from broken romances, to friendships gone sour, to family breakdown, through medium of objects that represented the breakup.
‘What an uplifting visit!’ I hear you say sarcastically.
Well actually in some ways yes.
For example, it’s always reassuring to learn that other humans are as complex as we are!
And a lot of the exhibits were quite tongue and cheek.
A video game symbolising that ‘he never paid me enough attention, and was always playing Sims’, or a dog’s chew toy to show that ‘she always loved that dog more than me.’
Some of course were very sad and poignant, albeit very engaging.
Either way, this museum must be replicated and placed in every major city and that’s an order – it’s fascinating.
We walked out holding hands extra tightly as an act of defiance to the museum of broken relationships but having enjoyed it immensely.
We made our way back into the old town to sample some of Zagreb’s famous coffee culture.
Even though we were fairly short on time and dived into a bakery the coffee was five times better than Starbucks and handled like it was sacred by the elderly bakery owner.
Turns out the rumours were true – Zagreb really does love coffee.
Our rental car, which would take us South and onto the main sections of the roadtrip was from Zagreb airport.
Not that interesting in itself, except that Zagreb Airport opened a mere 6 months ago and is incredibly shiny and smart.
Largely the new building is a response to the crazy boom in tourist numbers that Croatia has experienced over the past 10 years in particular.
Funnily enough the airport we ended our journey at is also only a year old.
Before now, Croatia simply hasn’t had the infrastructure to deal with the demand.
A nice problem to have I suppose and one it’s now rectified, boosting tourist numbers even more.
And yet, our reflections of Zagreb are of a nicely balanced city.
Not too touristy, but not unaccommodating or unfriendly either.
It’s an odd thing to find a capital city playing second fiddle to coastal towns but that’s Croatia for you.
Either way, Zagreb needs to be on your road trip itinerary.