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Zagreb: The capital which was founded by a knight in the 11th century.

The Croatian capital is not: ‘Fancy For No Reason”

Zagreb: The capital which was founded by a knight in the 11th century.

Zagreb is a vivacious and convivial city whose residents like to get out and drink together, coffee by day at al-fresco cafes throughout the city centre, and something stronger by night at the endless selection of buzzing bars and clubs. They also have a voracious appetite for cultural events that is met by a vast array of festivals that bring mainstream and fringe artists, musicians, actors, dancers and filmmakers to the capital throughout the year.

Probably the most famous and certainly the most quaint gathering spot in the city is Tkalčićeva, a pedestrianised Upper Town street that was once a river separating Gradec from Kaptol. Long since dried and paved over, it is lined with pretty one- or two-storey houses, the ground-level of most of which have been given over to bars or cafes (as well as boutiques and art galleries). A hub for al-fresco drinking and socializing, flowing from one bar to the next, Tkalčićeva is popular with young residents and tourists alike. The south end of the street snakes down into Trg Bana Jelačića (Jelačić Square). This is where seven different tram lines meet, so it is a constant hub of activity and easy to get to from almost any point in the city. Most people arrange to meet up under the clock or at the corner known as Krleža (after a bookshop that once stood there), and then sit at one of the pavement cafes to gossip and watch the milling crowds around the tram stops. Another very popular destination for coffee-drinking and people-watching is Preradovićev trg, a pedestrian expanse also known as Cvjetni trg for the flower market that took place here until the 1980s.

Long, laidback coffee-drinking is so integral to Zagreb life that there is a special word for it: špica. It loosely translates as ‘going for Saturday morning coffee’, with all that connotes. The špica typically takes place any time between 11am wake-up and 2pm, when thoughts start slowly to turn to lunch, and is particularly focused on Cvjetni trg, as well as the cafes where Gajeva street meets Bogovićeva, while it can also incorporate a visit to the Dolac fresh food market. Going to the weekend markets is generally a social event more than an actual necessity to shop; another hotspot, particularly for an alternative crowd, is the Britanski trg on Sundays, when stalls selling antiques and quirky vintage items replace the weekday fruit and vegetable stands. If you’ve caught the browsing bug, continue on to the warren of streets near Ilica, Radićeva and Tkalčićeva where you’ll find eclectic designer boutiques, artisan stores and jewellery shops.

More to check out – Zagreb’s festivals:

  • IN Music festival: One of Croatia’s biggest open-air festivals, held over three days each June at Lake Jarun. Three stages on which artists the likes of Florence and the Machine, Kasabian and PJ Harvey have performed; DJs at the turntables; camping around the lake; food, drink, watersports and fun.
  • Music Biennale Zagreb: Taking place every other spring (odd years since 1961), this is one of the most important festivals of contemporary and experimental music in Europe.
  • Strossmarte summer festival, with open-air concerts and events at historic locations around the Upper Town.
  • Zagreb Film Festival, bringing around 35,000 visitors to the city each October for a celluloid celebration that incorporates shorts, feature films and documentaries, national and international.
  • Zagrebdox documentary film fest held each spring; Anima Fest in May/June, reviving Zagreb’s 1950’s heyday as an animation film centre; Fantastic Zagreb each June/July, with fantasy and sci-fi movies screened at outdoor locations.
  • The World Theatre Festival held each September; Perforations, with experimental drama and contemporary dance performances each October; the Eurokaz International Festival of New Theatre in June; the Contemporary Dance Festival each May/June, and Cest is de Best, series of street performances and live music, also each May/June.

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