We began our travel to Croatia with the capital city, Zagreb! This relatively small capital, with a “mitteleuropa” atmosphere allows the travelers to discover it quite easily, We were staying half an hour from the city center but the tram network is convenient to go wherever you want to go in the city. Unlike the coast full of tourists, Zagreb is very Croatian and is still the economic center of the country, a few hours driving from the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.
We arrived at night time at Zagreb, directly from Paris, but it is quite easy to drive to your hotel in the citycenter. You can take either a taxi or the shuttle to the city center. After a good sleep, we are ready to visit the capital! However, with the very high temperatures experienced mid-July, our first idea is to go and look for fresh drinks, near the main square, Ban Jelacic square, on behalf of the local hero who kicked out the Hungarian enemy in 1848. It is really the main dynamic place in Zagreb, where everyone gathers to go out and meet.
The Croatian in Zagreb are not particularly kind, from our point of view. They either work, caring about their daily lives or get bored to see so many tourists invading their country during summer, peak season (and unfortunately it will get worse and worse as we move down the South). ..But it does not prevent us from visiting all the wonderful historing building and churches all around the city, notably the St-Marc Church, with a lovely decorated roof, but also the Virgin Mary Cathedral, which inside is really impressive and is not to be missed. It is a fact, Zagreb is very proud of its catholic legacy and you can even see a small church right in the street where you can sit and pray near the Ban Jelacic square, near the old gate of Gradec.
A relatively small capital city with a surprising architecture
A dynamic nightlife
After having the old upper town the day (without forgetting some shopping as prices are quite interesting, cheaper than in other countries), it is a must to try the Croatian nightlife, dynamic during summer season. Even if the local gastronomy is not particularly great (lot of pasta and pizza, however you can taste the Zagrebacki odrezak (veal with grilled ham and cheese) or the janjetina (roasted lamb with Mediterraneans herbs), you can enjoy the nightlife with crowded bars near the old town. Go to the Tkaliciceva street, near Ban Jelacic square. But in order fully enjoy it, we advise you to book a hotel in the old town. As a conclusion, Zagreb, medium-size capital has a lot to offer so don’t hesitate to discover it during two or three days then rush to your next destinations, Plitivice lakes!
Plitvice National Parks
With your rent car (we took one in Zagreb and gave it back to Dubrovnik airport before heading back to France, many choices in Zagreb, compare the prices..we took Hertz), we are going to Plitvice, approximately three hours from Zagreb. We book an hotel right next to Plitvice National Park (an airbnb at Grabovac) in order to squeeze the very long queue to enter the park. Indeed, we arrived at the park at 6.45 am and the gates open at 7.00 am! Very good idea as you can see people can wait for hours before they can enter in it in normal hours. Make sure you arrive there early, it is a very touristic place! But it is worth waking up early, the blue lakes are wonderful, many waterfalls are astonishing and the average complete walk can last up to 5 hours if you take your time. So make choices related to what you want to see and in which conditions (with or without (too many) people), and try to spot a brown bear, the symbol of the parc!
It is worth noting the countryside around Plitvice is also very quiet and beautiful, ideal to have a nap or feel like you really on holidays! It can be good to enjoy some quiet time before heading to the coast, with many tourists everywhere in summer season! In some places, life seem not to have changed for 100 years. Go and meet shepherds and their sheeps walking quietly and eating fresh grass…Therefore, even if it can be really crowded in the National Park to see the amazing lakes, many walks are possible in the surroundings, quiet and peaceful.
Where did we sleep?
- Apartments Luxe: A small hostel, around 20 mns from the old town of Zagreb in tram. It is not located in the city center so it can bother some of you, as it not much cheaper than sleeping there (even if we found it good quality for the price). Rooms were clean and big, but take into account the distance from the center (And there were many road works affecting the tram network, which was an issue when we were there).
- Apartments Patar: A traditional bed and breakfast (without breakfast!), airbnb style near Plitivice. The area is full of rooms to rent everywhere so you can also compare the prices online before booking (but important to book, above all in high summer/peak season!). Sleeping very near Plitivice National Park allows you to arrive before the gates open and therefore avoid all the groups of tourists who come during the day, Nothing to say particularly about the accommodation, rooms are big and clean, but it is not easy to find this place among all the B&B available in the area. Be prepared!