Coffee-drinking is taken seriously in Zagreb. In the city centre, you can barely move for coffee houses sprawling into the streets, although it's surprisingly hard to find cafés with menus that extend beyond drinks - and even harder to find non-smoking cafés. But once you've found your café, you won't be disappointed: the finest offer expertly-made coffee, and treats to have a sweet-tooth grinning for hours. Here are the best cafes and coffee shops in Zagreb.
With a mixture of old wooden chairs and modern cast-iron affairs upholstered in pale blues and pinks, this delightfully twee, Frenchy-flavoured little place is the ideal spot to sip tea and munch your way through some of the Croatian capital's best lemon-meringue pies, cheesecakes and quiches. There's invariably a strong showing of different cakes in the glass display cabinet, rendering the selection process tantalizingly difficult.
Zagreb’s prime literary club also doubles as a café. There is a symbolic membership fee of 10kn/year, but members can then enjoy WiFi, carefully chosen music, a laid-back atmosphere and regular events that include readings by the big beasts of the local literary scene – with occasional ones by visiting English speakers. One Thursday in a month is reserved for unplugged concerts by local musicians. There’s also a small library of English-language books. Good coffee and several varieties of leaf tea help to make Booksa well worth the quick tram ride or ten-minute walk from the centre.
Botaničar is a stylish café, bar and sometimes art gallery near the botanical gardens. One of Zagreb's best-looking venues, the café is like a lookbook for retro furnishings; the well-lit room is scattered with '70s hairpin-legged tables and bright velvet sofas. The cafes aesthetic theme is inspired by the nearby gardens: leafy plants are everywhere, with hanging creepers flowing out of oak cabinets The drinks-only menu features coffee from Zagreb roasteries, a selection of craft beer and a respectable list of domestic wines. A soundtrack of gently jazzy music and the occasional chanson provides a relaxed, low-key atmosphere. The café gets buzzier when the after-work crowd arrive. An outdoor terrace overlooking the National Archives provides further inducement to visit in summer.
Europe's quirkiest museum might leave you in tears, but at least you can console yourself in this breezy little cafe afterwards. Here, friendly staff will whip you up an ice-coffee or a thick hot chocolate, and everything's served with a homemade biscuit for good measure. It's spacious enough to sit and work for hours, and there's a broad beer selection for when you're done.
The anchor of the café and pub scene on the buzzing street between the Hotel Dubrovnik and Flower Square (parallel to and one street south of the main square), Bulldog offers something for everyone. The interior is upscale: electronic sliding-glass doors; big flat-screen TVs for match days; a wide selection of Belgian beers on draught; cocktails; wine; and the standard list of coffee concoctions. A terrace leads to a boat-shaped front room with its giant-paddled, propeller-shaped ceiling fans, deck flooring and mezzanine observation level. Downstairs, a club, with green leather chairs and marble tables around a bandstand, hosts pop-rock cover bands, blues and jazz at weekends, no cover charge.
One of the most popular neighbourhood cafes on the Vlaška strip, Cajt had a reputation for serving speciality beers well before the craft boom took hold, and it can still be replied upon to deliver a vast choice of bottles. If your favourite beer comes from an obscure Belgian brewery, you will probably find it here. As well as serving Munich’s Augustiner on tap, Cajt has also embraced the new brews of the craft world, serving ales by local outfit Nova Runda on tap as well as bottles from the likes of Estonian Põhjala and Slovene Ressel. Bar-staff are a mine of knowledge and advice. The interior décor marks out Cajt as something of a post-modern period piece, with a row of strangely upholstered two-person booths, obviously custom-made to squeeze in to the café’s limited space. Only one minor drawback: Cajt is primarily a daytime meeting place, and can be rather quiet on week-nights.
Set in the hotel of the same name, overlooking the main square, this is one of the most revered coffeehouses in Zagreb, exuding classic charm and providing smart service. The location, of course, simply can't be beat.
Flagship city-centre bar of the Cogito bean-roasting outfit, this recently opened clinic for unrepentant caffeine-a-holics is just off the main street, at the start of the mysterious, half-hidden passageway which leads from Varšavska through to Masarykova. Minimally decorated save for some salvaged furniture and a few pictures, it serves a hard-to-beat brew, plus leaf teas, some freshly-squeezed juices, and that’s about it – although you will find muffins and cookies provided by the Piknik bakery and sandwich bar. Cogito have gone on to open new branches in Croatia and beyond, there’s another café at Prilaz Gjure Deželića 40.
Though this place shouldn’t be difficult to discover – located above the Stone Gate and below St Mark’s – it is, somehow, oft-overlooked and thus a great find. The front room is an art gallery with local artists’ works for sale. The back end of the building is a posh café (with seating in the front gallery as well) with Persian rugs thrown about, wooden floors and leather chairs. Beyond coffee, expect 15 sorts of tea, Leffe beer, wine and cognac.
The extravagantly decorated, cutesy Finjak is unique enough to attract custom from anywhere in the city centre. A courtyard also helps. The drinks selection is extensive but geared towards daytime consumption: exotic teas, fine coffees, San Servolo and sought-after beers.
'You are now entering Evolution Area' says the sign on the door, which leads through to a coolly minimal white space with a handful of tables grouped around the bar. For several years now Eli's has been Zagreb's leading venue for quality coffee, leading a brown-stuff brewing revolution that is slowly spreading to the city's other bars. It is also one of the few cafe-bars that has remained 100% non-smoking, ensuring that you can actually taste and smell whatever it is you're drinking. A foxy young professional clientele gather here to gas, goss and guzzle coffee from 100% arabica beans selected and roasted by the café owner Nik Orosi, the country’s first specialty coffee roaster and supplies a half-dozen cafés with enough taste to want the best coffee in town.
Express serves direct-trade coffee from several origins (the specific farm will probably be chalked up on a board) and organic leaf teas. Decidedly mellow in atmosphere, it looks like a tiny place with room for only a handful of drinkers, but actually stretches back deep into the building with a long narrow corridor leading to a semi-hidden smokers’ lounge right at the back. Outdoor seating on the pedestrianised bit of Petrinjska, and decent on-tap beer (Erdinger and O’Hara) ensure that it’s a decent summer-evening spot too.
'Central Zagreb' is becoming an increasingly broad geographical expression, thanks to a burgeoning archipelago of drinking venues sprouting up on the periphery. Located near the busy crossroads of Savska and Ulica Grada Vukovara, Greenery Procaffé functions perfectly as a local meet-up for residents and office workers as well as a destination café for urban explorers. A neat and welcoming L-shaped space with a first-floor gallery, it looks out on green hedgerows and leafy plants, pulling off the unusual trick of creating an intimate garden feel slap bang in the middle of a neighbourhood best known for its modernist buildings and grey blocks. As well as good coffee it takes tea drinkers more seriously than most Zagreb cafés, with a choice of quality brews. Gins and cocktails are Greenery’s other strong suits – and with a big outdoor terrace occasionally massaged by the friendly rumble of passing trams, it could be a good place to linger once the warm weather comes.
Once upon a time, a radio-era coffeehouse, the Gradska kavana, filled this side of Zagreb’s main square. A landmark but long closed down, it has recently been replaced by Johann Franck, sponsored by the afore-named and venerable Zagreb brand of coffee. Calling itself a café, bistro, bar and club, it still operates as a prime meeting place in the capital, a contemporary spot in a city full of them but in a prime location and with a heritage second-to- none. Elements of the interior created Nedjeljko Mikac reflect this urban legacy, with an Art Deco chair dating back to 1927 and a space dedicated to the pioneering vehicles of Ferdinand Budicki (Budicki was the first man in Zagreb to receive a fine for speeding – in 1901). Just as this establishment has undergone an overall change of style, so it serves a more multi-purpose function. As well as a fully working kitchen, today’s Johann Franck offers a full agenda of live performances, exhibitions, readings and sundry shows and screenings. Whether JF will achieve its aim of again becoming the vortex of social life in the capital is debatable – but this is certainly a step in the right direction. Its terrace, overlooking the statue of Ban Jelačić himself, will be busy come what may.
This is one of those places where the aroma of good coffee hits you as soon as you walk through the door. Just off the main street in Trešnjevka, a characterful Zagreb neighbourhood that’s always worth a wander, Karibu is a winning example of how to make good use of a small space, with benches fashioned from planks of salvaged wood facing friendly staff behind a small bar. The coffee is supplied by independent roasters and usually includes at least one blended option and one single-origin brew (Guatemalan beans were hitting the grinder during our last visit). There are also some excellent fruit juices, own-recipe iced tea, and a small but welcome selection of biscuits and tarts.
A traditional central-European café experience probably wouldn’t work in the middle of trendy bar-filled Tkalčićeva, unless it was a trifle kooky, or a touch camp. Procaffe covers these bases with aplomb, offering coffee drinkers and cake nibblers a backdrop of lush fabrics, plush burgundy tones and zebra-print details. A respectable list of cocktails in the 35-55kn range provides the evening drinking crowd with ample reasons to drop by; and there’s a huge glass aquarium-style enclosure for smokers.
It's been here for years, the 'Cultural Information Centre', but still attracts a loyal, bohemian following throughout the week. It's an art school vibe. Cultural activities centre on film screenings, photo exhibitions, book presentations and lectures. Drinks wise, there's Heineken on draught, though most settle for local bottled varieties; gemišt spritzers at 12kn, and numerous teas. Many customers seem capable of making a single espresso last a whole afternoon.
Kim’s is one of those cult neighbourhood cafes that rarely makes it into the guidebooks, probably because it lies outside the strict centre – although just uphill from Kvaternikov trg, it’s hardly difficult to get to. As well as a regular coffee-supping joint for local residents it’s also something of a destination café for interlopers – it’s an ideal venue for an intimate meeting or an informal natter. As well as regular coffees they do a range of Kim’s specials (26kn) such as Gingerbread Latte, or Pumpkin Spice Latte, which come in bowl-like mugs topped with generous swirls of cream. Decor reflects the folksy-crafty side of the Ikea catalogue with a lot of whites and reds, and hearts and flowers as key motifs. The iron railings out front give an intimate garden feel to the terrace, even though the street scene itself is a bit on the grey anonymous side.
This small, red-brick basement bar is decked out in wry, kitsch-but-cool details, with a veritable solar system of tiny mirrorballs hovering above the bar, and a seating area that – illuminated by tiny pinpricks of light emerging from bronzey-yellow panels – looks like the inside of a huge honeycomb. During the day Kolaž serves coffee to local office workers and lawyers, while by night it fills up with a sophisticated bohemian set with an easy-going straight-gay-whatever sense of social orientation. The music ventures into similar areas of ambiguity, ranging from PJ Harvey to La Roux with all kinds of indie-rock, synthi-pop, electro-disco and exotica thrown into the mix. Czech-brewed Vévoda is among the bottled beers, while the handsome array of spirits includes some fine local liquors – ruta (rue brandy) being a particular one-more-for-the-road favourite. Weekend nights can be a tight squeeze.
Magnolia by name, magnolia by nature: the décor of this elegant café-patisserie is an unblushing shade of pink; the desserts on offer in the display counter delicate and decorous. Highlights among the cakes (20-22kn per slice) include a spongy green-tea cake, a “Caiprinha” lime-and-cream cake, Magnolia’s rich own-recipe chocolate cake, and a superb cream-and-meringue confection. At 12kn a slice Magnolia’s quiche is one of the best-value savoury treats in town. The drinks list includes a better than avarage choice of sparklies, from miss-spelt ‘prossecco’ to more expensive Moets, making Magnolia an appropriately bubbly spot for a wee celebration. The music is pop-retro, and slots nicely into Magnolia’s all-round sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice feel.
Known by all as 'Krolo' after the writer Miroslav Krleža who lived here, this beautiful old wooden bar near the main square gives its many patrons a flavour of pre-1991 Zagreb. The bar staff are easy-going, the inviting older clientele religiously scan the day's newspapers and the younger regulars gather round the semicircular bar. No DJs, no hipster-attracting tricks, but still crowded and raucous at weekends. Timeless is the word you're looking for.
Noel Bar is arguably Zagreb‘s most aesthetically pleasing place in which to enjoy a relaxing daytime brew. Designed by local architecture studio Penezić and Rogina, it’s a great example of how to make the most of a small space, with a glass-cube bar area enfolded by a tiny L-shaped lounge with room for three or four tables. Wall-hugging green couches provide a simple and effective sense of comfort. An outdoor terrace with decking, sofas and potted plants has the feel of a small urban garden, and is deservedly popular with local drinkers on languorous summer evenings.
Traditionally visited for its access to hiking routes rather than the chance to chill with a cup of the brown stuff, the prosperous hillside suburb of Šestine has finally got the natty café it has been crying out for. A simple structure with chic contemporary furnishings, big windows and grassy views, it’s the perfect place to spend a meditative hour or two. The drinks list may be small but it’s a masterpiece of shrewd selection; the coffee comes from the town’s top roasting outfit Cogito, the beer from the Garden Brewery, and there are tubs of the cold stuff from Samobor ice-cream alchemists Medenko. There are toothsome cookies and bake-snacks aplenty, and with Šestine’s children’s playground just a few steps away, it’s popular with families at weekends. Suddenly, there is a lot more to Šestine than the long walk uphill.
There's an increasing number of smart-and-comfortable cafes in Zagreb that do the coffee-and-cakes thing respectably well. What distinguishes Oranž is the sheer scope and quality of what's in the display window: plumping for the impossible-to-resist lemon-and-lime meringue pie simply makes you pine for all the other cheesecakes and gateaux that you could have had in its place. There is also a respectable number of sandwiches, quiches and salads, but it's the sweet side of Oranž that will hold you in repeat-visit thrall.
Named after one of the most famous trains in the world, during its 100-year existence connecting Paris (and London) with Istanbul, the Orient Express took three routes. The most southerly of these passed through Croatia, with one of the dastardly deeds in Agatha Christie's 'Murder on the Orient Express' famously taking place just outside Slavonski Brod, where the train also stopped. Themed around one of the train's luxurious carriages, this narrow, centrally-located bar is decked out with a wonderful series of black and white photographs of the glamorous passengers the train carried in its heyday, French-language signage, shiny copper and a bottle-green colour scheme. While the narrow seats in the front part of the bar are more fit for a drink on your own or with a friend, the back of the bar is spacious enough to fit a crowd. Apart from coffee, soft drinks and beer, the drink list offers a wide selection of cocktails, gin, whiskey and other fine spirits.
One of Zagreb's classic watering holes, patronised by writers and actors since the 19th century, 'Under Old Roofs' looks every inch the part, with its bare pine floor, wooden panelling, timber-beamed ceiling and old-style ceramic stove. It's one of the few bars in the Upper Town that has successfully held on to a regular late-night clientele, with art exhibitions and sporadic concerts helping to keep the bohemian spirit buoyant. With hard-to-get Vukovarsko beer on draft, and a handsome list of rakijas and wines, it's certainly the right place for the discerning drinker; while the baguette sandwiches will take care of any lingering hunger.
If quirky, imaginatively-designed cafés are what you’re after then Martićeva is the place to find them. Just a few doors away from local cultural hub Booksa, Program is run by the same people who brought you the late, lamented Divas, the famously eccentric living-room-gone-bonkers café that arguably set the whole Martićeva trend rolling. Program goes for a rather novel refurbishment-in-progress look, with (totally unnecessary) scaffolding in the middle of the room and bags of builders’ cement stacked under the tables. Artwork on the walls and pink chairs on the ceiling provide an additional degree of abnormality, without taking anything away from the café’s eminently comfortable and relaxing vibe. The coffee is good; the cakes look a bit on the heavy-duty side at first sight but turn out delightfully soft and springy when they’re on the end of your fork.
Zagreb’s off-street courtyards remain a much-underused resource, one of many urban attributes which are talked about with great affection but which rarely seem to take off. Which is why courtyard cafés like Regular Bar are such a good thing, drawing customers into a cute passageway diagonally opposite the Britanski trg market. It’s primarily a coffee bar and a lot of effort has gone into getting this just right: the brews are good, the décor goes for a cool uncluttered Sixties feel that hits the right balance between modernity and nostalgia, and service comes with an added citrus twist - patrons are provided with (free) jugs of drinking water flavoured with slices of lemon and lime. The tree-shaded terrace makes for a great off-street hideaway, while DJ events provide reasons to push the boat out on weekend evenings.
This two-room café-bar at the southern end of Savska cesta (near the Savski most tram terminus) is far from the cute exercise in nostalgia that you might assume from the name. It does have an old-style domestic-apartment feel, however, with bits of salvaged sideboards and storage cabinets jutting from the walls – each filled with a distinctly homely kind of junk (biscuit tins, toy cars, old books). The front room with huge curving bay window comes with fitted soft benches and feels rather like an oriental pasha's divan. Hoegaarden, Leffe, Erdinger and Croatia's finest Velebitsko pivo feature among the bottled ales.
A long-standing favourite in the cake-shop stakes, Zagreb is a dependable all-rounder that also has a solid selection of ice cream. Pick of the treats is the Zagreb torte (20kn per slice), a spongey combination of chocolate, hazelnuts and apricot jam that is a worthy rival to any of the chocolate cakes on offer elsewhere. Other highlights include the Geraldine, with chunks of pear enclosed in a cone of custard and cream (18kn), and the mille-feuille slice (16kn) – the latter an exemplary piece of pastry-pulling that is not always done quite so delicately elsewhere in the city. Slastičarnica Zagreb’s terrace, right next to the Nikola Tesla memorial on the corner of Masarykova and Preradovićeva, is a quiet alternative to the bustling cafés of Flower Square just around the corner.