Travel: Zagreb grabbed hold of my heart in whirlwind visit to a hidden gem

The beautiful city of Zagreb.
The beautiful city of Zagreb.
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There are some places that are hidden gems and despite being the Croatian capital, Zagreb is often overlooked as a destination in its own right.

However, it is a fascinating city which manages to be charming and cosmopolitan at the same time and has just claimed Lonely Planet’s top spot as Europe’s number one most outstanding and underrated place that should be on travellers’ radars.

With the city having recently opened its long awaited airport terminal and with Monarch launching direct flights from Manchester, there’s never been a better time for a break to Zagreb.

I have to admit to falling in love with the city myself after a whirlwind weekend taking in its sights and soaking up its historical and cultural riches and modern buzzing vibe.

Zagreb is flat and compact which makes it almost impossible to get lost in. Unlike a lot of cities, it doesn’t feel touristy but like a “real city” where you are mingling with and enjoying all the same delights as the locals.

We stayed at the Dubrovnik Hotel which is perfectly placed in the heart of the city just across the road from the bustling Dolac market with its rows of vibrant red parasols and colourful displays of fruit, vegetables and flowers.

Life in Zagreb is laid back and unhurried. Indeed, my favourite tale from our guide during a walking tour of the city was about how the locals love drinking coffee in a languid and leisurely manner so when a major coffee chain opened up offering “coffees-to-go”, they were completely disconcerted and the coffee chain is no more.

That’s not to say there’s not plenty to do in Zagreb as there’s no shortage of sightseeing stops.

Take a ride on the quaint funicular which only takes about a minute but gives some stunning views from the upper part of the city.

There’s some spectacular architecture in Zagreb including the impressive Gothic-style cathedral which is the tallest building in Croatia.

St Mark’s Church with its colourful mosaic tiled roof featuring the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia and the emblem of Zagreb is stunning sight especially in the sun. You can even catch the Changing of The Guards ceremony at weekends.

Another of Zagreb’s traditions is the daily cannon firing from Lotrscak Tower. Even when you’re expecting it, it makes you jump out of your skin!

If museums are your thing, Zagreb is definitely the place for you as the city has the biggest number of museums per square metre catering for all tastes.

The Museum of Illusions is an interactive haven for children and adults alike but the highlight of Zagreb’s museums is the quirky Museum of Broken Relationships.

Opened by a couple who split up, this intriguing museum is full of the trinkets and momentoes of lost love and failed relationships.

Featuring everything from furry handcuffs, cuddly toys, framed letters and even an axe used by one jilted lover to smash up her ex-lover’s furniture, the stories range from the hilarious and shocking to the heartbreakingly poignant.

Zagreb has a thriving food and drink scene and you can sip coffee in the sidewalk cafes and tuck into the meat heavy specialities in the many fantastic restaurants before heading out to enjoy the city’s bar scene.

With so much to do and see, my only criticism of Zagreb is that a weekend wasn’t enough to fully sample all its myriad of offerings.

But with it now being so easy to hop on a plane to get there, it’s a great excuse for a return visit.

Travel facts:

- Monarch flights to Zagreb from Manchester and Gatwick airports. Fares from £47 one way. Monarch offers city break holidays staying at The Dubrovnik Hotel from £169.