36 Hours in Zagreb

Over six months later and I thought I should finish my 2016 Spring Break European Tour chronicles once and for all.  Of course no travel experience is every really finished per se- the places you went, the foods you ate, the sights you saw, they all stay with you forever.  Sure you might forget some the name of a restaurant you ate at, or the color of the flowers you thought were so exotic, but you’ll never forget the way seeing and tasting and experiencing those things made you feel.

If you have a short amount of time in any one place, don’t freak out but instead take advantage of your limited schedule by implementing some helpful time management techniques.  As long as you keep your wish list reasonable, because we’re all human and unfortunately are limited to 24hr days, you will have plenty of time to see and experience everything you hope to on your trip.  Here are my suggestions for making the most of a quick trip without feeling rushed.  So, without delaying any longer, I give you my personal guide to spending 36 hours in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia.

1. Sight-see at night

Our time in Zagreb started late at night, as we had to fly from Budapest to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Zagreb.  Geographically our flight path did not make a lot of sense, but financially it was by far the fastest and cheapest option we had given our time restraints.  After arriving at the airport, we easily made our way to the bus stop outside that was to drop us off just a few blocks from our hostel.  Map in hand, we sat quietly, watching the sun set across the city.  By the time we got checked in and unloaded our gear, it was late, and we were starving.  We didn’t want to waste any of our limited time so we decided to go out and explore.  We walked through the main square and along several smaller streets, looking at the buildings and getting a feel for the layout of the city.  Because we were able to starting experiencing the city right away, rather than waiting for the morning to roll around, we already had a sense of what we wanted to do the next day and knew what we would be comfortable not seeing again.

Every city offers its own unique landscape, a mix of natural formations with the built environment.  Parks, monuments, iconic buildings, and murals offer beautiful scenes that are only to be found in that particular city, so of course it’s natural for any visitor to want to see the top ‘to-dos’ or ‘to-sees’ in a new town.  Every tourist wants their picture taken while throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome or on a big red double-decker bus in London.  The catch-22 is that often sight-seeing in its own can be very time consuming.  Planning routes through unfamiliar streets and walking, bussing, or taking the tram from one side of the city to the other can take an entire day, and after fighting your way through crowds and traffic and long lines, you will find yourself utterly exhausted by nightfall.  A very good strategy for avoiding the exhaustion and giving yourself more time to enjoy the sights you want to see is to go at night.  Night-time touring offers you a different view of the iconic buildings you want to see.  The lighting is different, the atmosphere is different, and it is easier to get up close and personal with many of the intricate details you might not be able to see if you’re trying to view a location with hundreds of other tourists around.  You will gain a different and unique perspective of the area you want to view that usually remains reserved for the locals.  This also helps to free up time during the day to visit museums, shops, and restaurants that are not open in the evening hours.


My suggestions:

  • Cathedral of the Assumption
  • St. Mark’s Church
  • Jelacic Square
  • Porta di Pietra


2. Focus on a specific type of attraction

Everyone knows that large cities have a lot to offer, especially when a large percentage of the population is made up of a stream of visitors constantly moving in and out.  I had a professor who used to say to us, “There is one thing that you have in common with the President of the United States, and that is that you both have 24 hours in a day.”  This specific professor was a retired employee of the CIA and taught us the valuable tool of implementing BLUF into our writing.  BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front.  FYI- while this is an extremely important strategy for getting the most valuable information out to the readers immediately, I want you all to stick around a while and therefore clearly do not practice that technique with my writing here.  However, I think that when faced with 36 hours to experience a new city in a new country, BLUF is a perfectly appropriate strategy to utilize.  You simply do not have the time or energy to see and do everything.  So take a moment, preferably before you arrive, and identify your top three or top five or top whatever and GO TO THEM.  Do not wait.  It may so happen that all of these places are on complete opposite sides of the city and therefore you may have to do a little bit of strategic planning.

If this task seems impossible and overwhelming, narrow down your BLUF just a little bit more.  What is your main priority?  Are you an art enthusiast?  Do you love nature?  Are you on a culinary journey?  Choose an avenue and follow it.  For example, one thing I loved about every major European city is that I was able to find Love Locks somewhere, somehow.  I knew that this was something I wanted to see if I could find in Zagreb as well.  After finding thousands of them sitting up above the city with a fantastic view, I was satisfied with what I had accomplished in Zagreb.  By choosing a specific path, not only are you going to see the things that you want to see, but you will likely find some hidden treasures that do not pop up when you search for things to do on TripAdvisor.  These are the gems, the special moments that you will hold on to as you make your trip your own, rather than just like everyone else’s who told you what you should do when you go somewhere.


My suggestions:

  • Strossmayer Promenade
  • Zagreb Botanical Gardens2016-03-30-08-24-592016-03-30-05-53-13dsc_0981

3. Experience culture through food

Everyone’s gotta eat, might as well kill two birds with one stone and eat local.  This means you get nourishment and culture at once.  This might seem obvious to some, but to others it doesn’t come naturally.  I refuse to eat at fast food or chain establishments when I travel, and usually at home as well.  I didn’t travel half-way around the world to eat a burger.  I am not going to navigate city streets in language I don’t know or use currency that is unfamiliar to me just to shrink back into my comfort zone when it comes to food.  I came to this place to experience it, really, deeply experience everything that it has to offer, so of course that mentality must extend to my mealtime as well.  Finding local, authentic favorites takes practice.  One general rule of thumb is that the smaller the establishment, the less ‘touristy’ it is.  This means that the owners/chefs/employees are not trying to target ~you~ as a tourist, but are simply making good, authentic food because it is what they do.  Of course, if you happen to see a restaurant that you want to go to, by all means, go!  Any time you see something you want to try, this is your moment, don’t wait for another because it may never happen.  Any new restaurant, any new type of food you order is going to be an experience, and I’m already proud of you for trying something new.  Another good way to do this would be to go to a local market or street vendors.  This way you have the option to try a variety of things and you don’t waste a lot of time sitting down and ordering a meal.2016-03-30-13-50-15

My suggestions:

  • Pancake breakfast at Kava Tava
  • Lunch/snacks at Dolac Market
  • Strukli (boiled/baked dough with cottage cheese- mine also had pesto and pumpkin seeds) dinner2016-03-30-11-32-072016-03-30-18-13-01

I hope my tips gave you a few ideas for how to manage your precious time wisely.  Flying into Zagreb knowing that I had 36 hours to do with what I wanted was initially stressful. However, I didn’t waste my time being frazzled about how I was going to spend my time.  I just went out and explored.  Things will fall into place, and what you want to happen will!


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