Zagreb is Europe’s newest capital city; picturesque, relaxed, and lacking a big-town vibe, it's a place where Mediterranean chic meets Balkan eccentricity. You might have noticed that Zagreb is wonderfully quirky, but if you hadn’t quite figured out why, here are ten things you may not know about:
1. Saturday mornings are sexy
Between 10am and 3pm on Saturdays, a coterie of socially-conscious locals don their finest, flashiest clothes, and strut their way to Bogovićeva, just by the main square. Then they sit, drink coffee, and pout. It’s part of a strange phenomenon called špica, and it’s all about seeing and being seen.
2. Dragons are the city’s favourite creatures…
You’ll see horses standing proudly on plinths in most European capitals. And while Zagreb is partial to a stallion or two, their creature of choice is the dragon. The reptilian beast lurks all over – look out for Austrian sculptor Anton Fernkorn’s recreation of St George slaying the dragon next to the national theatre.
3. … closely followed by dogs
You can barely walk two metres without tripping over a Chihuahua. Cafes and bars tend to be dog-friendly, and pups trot around at their owner’s feet, happy in the knowledge that they rule the city streets.
4. You can take a tiny, thrillingly safe train
One to get health and safety officials jumping (carefully) for joy. Zagreb’s old-fashioned funicular system – the little street car that trundles up and down from the old town to the new – is the world’s safest public transportation system, reporting zero passenger injuries in over a century.
5. There’s a unique museum dedicated to lost love
Celebrating romance is way too conventional for Zagreb, which has a special place reserved for the heart-broken. The Museum of Broken Relationships showcases relics from lost loves and loved-ones lost. It’s touching stuff – a sensitive soul might even find it sublime. Most people will find themselves weeping profusely as they peruse the keepsakes and billet-doux; more cynical visitors will need to excuse themselves, so that they can repress their unexpected surge of emotions in a quiet corner.
6. But at least you can comfort eat afterwards…
The cutest stalwart of Zagreb’s confectionary scene is the licitar – a popular and traditional biscuit. Shaped like a heart and glazed in red, the delicious thing is supposed to symbolise love and affection.
7. Even the water pumps are arty
There are dozens of galleries in Zagreb, but you needn’t even enter one to get your art fix. Street art is taken seriously here, and the latest initiative is a wonderful programme called Pimp my Pump.
8. You can never eat your lunch in peace
Every single day, the Zagreb locals get their eardrums pummelled when the cannon of the 13th century Lotrščak tower booms out at noon – a tradition that started in 1877, and has been maintained ever since, with the dual purpose of aligning church bell ringers and terrifying tourists. Check out their facebook page…
9. There’s a secret tunnel network under the city…
And no-one knows what’s down there. Gric, the tunnel that runs through the central part of the city, is permanently closed to the public, as is the tunnel network under medieval mountain fortress Medvedgrad. The latter is said to be home to a cursed Medusa-like snake queen.
10. It has a brand new arty area
Martićeva, the Eastern part of the city centre, has recently been declared Zagreb's design district: in recent years, all manner of creative businesses have set up camp in this once-barren slice of the city, and it's swiftly becoming Zagreb's hot spot à la London's East End or New York's Lower East Side. It'll be celebrated this June in a joyous festival four-day festival of art and design.