Traditionally, July marked the start of the silent season in Zagreb. After fun and frenzied festivals brought the parks and courtyards to life, the city would begin its exodus to the coast, with cars of families gliding down to the Adriatic – leaving many of Zagreb’s restaurants, bars and clubs shut for the summer. Wandering around Zagreb in mid-July was once a soporific experience – not entirely unpleasant, but for many visitors and locals, it felt a bit, well, boring.
That’s all changed in the last few years. Zagreb has embraced its treasury of public spaces, and now you’ll find some sort of pop-up festival or gastro-fair on almost every street corner. It’s mostly the work of enterprising locals and an open-minded tourism board, who have realised that Zagreb’s authentically laid-back, ‘outdoor’ way of life is exactly what people are looking for on a summer city break. They just needed more things to do.
A tranche of new micro-venues have popped up in and around the city’s handsomely Habsburg downtown area, and its medieval Upper Town. July sees the annual Courtyards festival bring rollicking music and performance to the capacious courtyards, once a forgotten feature of its Austro-Hungarian architecture. But, easily the most popular new summertime venture is the Pop Up Summer Garden, offering a much needed reprieve from the city’s sweltering heat.
Set in the attractive, tree-studded promenade of Tuškanac, Pop Up has a ‘secret garden’ feel – and its unbeatable location guarantees cooler temperatures and plenty of shade. The maiden event kicked off in the the summer of 2018, but since then the festival has really found its feet. Run by Zagreb mainstay Swanky Monkey, (awarded the city’s bravest bars at the Time Out Croatia awards at RnB this year) the original venue is spread over three terraces, offering some of the best cocktails in town – as well as a dizzyingly diverse music programme. Oh, and its also one of Europe’s best hostels, with large downstairs quarters with a laid-back backpacker’s vibe. Here, Swanky have kept that vision alive, transplanting its cosmopolitan atmosphere to a beautifully hidden outdoor location.
When you approach Tuškanac from the Ilica, you’re greeted with a cluster of wooden-roofed venues selling craft beer, cocktails and food. At the end of the garden, you’ll spot the Tuškanac Summer Stage. A purpose built-wooden stage, the cinema has been restored back to use in the last few years. Tucked away from the hot concrete and buzz of the city centre, this summer stage offers a beautiful outdoor cinema experience with an expertly curated programme that runs until autumn.
This year, Swanky has collaborated with Rougemarin, a cult restaurant serving gourmet burgers and top-notch bistro food. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be greeted with live music – across July, there’s a different act on almost every night. Although upbeat, the music is a conversation-friendly mix of jazz, electronica, live acoustic and Latin – serving early evening summer vibes. The programme is studded with a few extra special performances – a live brass band, or a mini-orchestra playing classic tunes from Hollywood movies. The best bit? It’s all, 100 percent, totally free to attend.
On a hot afternoon, you’ll find queues of people snaking around the cocktail booths and luxuriating in the shade of the evergreens. New this year is the ‘Design Corner’ – a showcase for local artisans to sell their handmade wares. The super stylish Marmelo bags and ETO designs are ones to catch if you want to pick up a swish souvenir.
The hottest addition to Pop Up’s second year is undoubtedly its visual, Instagram-friendly touches. A giant, purpose-built birdcage made of swirling white wire is the perfect place to grab your selfie as you glide on the swing inside. More impressive is the garden tunnel – a large half-moon shaped structure blooming with foliage and seasonal flowers. There’s also Zagreb’s first outdoor gallery, showcasing a handful of local legends and street artists. These are just a handful of the aesthetic touches that makes Pop Up so unique – bulb letter signs, pastel-coloured hammocks and linen canopies are regular features. The level of production is unbeatable, and you’d struggle to find a better looking event or micro-venue in Zagreb this summer. Now more than ever, Zagreb offers plenty of things to do in midsummer – and venues like Pop Up Summer Garden offer increasingly good reasons to stick around.