Growing up on Kušlanova Street, most of my childhood memories are linked to the games we used to play on our street and in the backyards, where we used to sneak around searching for the hidden treasure. Quite unexpectedly, once we actually found one; it was a large sports bag filled with money, lots of money. We showed it to our parents and they, to our surprise, handed it over to the police. It was hard to describe our disappointment.
Nevertheless, the habit of mooching about the Zagreb yards stayed until this day, which leads me again and again to the Zagreb Courtyards – a summer event revealing a unique story in every courtyard. Visitors have the opportunity to take a peek behind the façades of some of the most beautiful palaces of the Zagreb’s Upper Town and experience the genuine magic of these unique venues. In The Courtyards, you will also find a lot of first-class urban entertainment, delicious snacks, refreshing drinks, and superb music artists, from jazz and classical to pop. It is these unique histories and secrets of the city that I like to highlight on my running tours, providing a truly local experience.
Zagreb’s hidden treasures
Besides playing on the streets with my friends, there are other memories that stayed with me like little pink balloons in my head: family strolls through the Maksimir Park on my father’s shoulders, visiting the beautiful Zagreb ZOO (lion dwellings were completely rebuilt recently allowing you to be separated from a sleeping lion only by the glass) and drinking juice on the Vidikovac with an unforgettable vista of the main promenade and the Second lake where you can see swans and duck families swimming around.
The other pink balloon refers to our visits to Orient, the patisserie that now, 35 years later, has the exact same interior as when I was five. Known for its high quality ingredients, this family business dating from 1936 had, and still has, a unique sweets with extraordinary combination of flavors such as “Lime Pie”, Schwarzwald, Mozart, “Pozdrav s juga” (Greetings from the South), “Dubrovačka trilogija” (Dubrovnik trilogy), etc. The recipes date back at least 100 years. The cooking procedure is very long and meticulous, they choose the best eggs, take special care regarding cleanliness and shelf life of their ice cream. The imagination that goes into combining different ingredients is something truly special.
It would be unfair to miss mentioning our visits to the Lebarović shop, the oldest watchmaker in Zagreb that is in charge of all public city clocks. I don’t know whether my father had so many watches or whether they were broken all the time, or he just liked to mingle with old Lebarović in his very small and cozy shop (I know I did), but we went there quite a lot.
City center – culture, views, food and drink
Getting older and attending high school, I started navigating to the city center, spending many summer nights on the Strossmayer Promenade, the so-called Štros. Nowadays, I like to walk down the Strossmayer Promenade in the deep shade of chestnut trees enjoying the view of the centre of Zagreb, sit next to the poet Antun Gustav Matoš, whose statue sits on a bench, I like to climb up the stairs to the plateau Gradec and enjoy the spectacular view on the Zagreb Cathedral occasionally accompanied by some good music playing in the background. For many years now, Zagreb is offering a unique summer festival “Summer on Stross” or “Strossmartre” organized by the Zagreb band “Kraljevi ulice” (eng. “The Street Kings”) dedicated to cultivating the old Zagreb style and atmosphere. Every night during summer months you can find a concert, children’s play or an art workshop in this romantic area.
Once on Štros, a walk through the streets of Upper Town is just gorgeous allowing you to relax on the Vraniczany meadow near the Lotrščak Tower, where lazy afternoon picnics are held in the summer; go to the Museum of Broken Relationships and discover interesting love stories, their symbols and remnants, circle around the unique Church of St. Mark and fill the silence and peace of our Stone Gate. I enjoy taking a ride on the Zagreb Funicular when going to the Upper Town. When going down from Štros, I like to go by stairs to the Art Park, an open art gallery situated in the beautiful city park, to enjoy a cold refreshing beer and a great atmosphere during numerous free events that take place here.
Leaving the Art Park, you will pass by the Chillout Hostel. Breathe in the good vibes spreading from its terrace or take a look at its creatively designed rooms. Right after the hostel, on the left side, you can enter the Grič Tunnel which often has some thematic exhibitions. Once you get out of the tunnel, walk down the Mesnička Street and try authentic traditional culinary delicacies representing the Zagreb-Zagorje region of Croatia in the restaurant Stari fijaker. The specialties of this area are punjena paprika (stuffed peppers), sarma (cabbage rolls), purica s mlincima (a traditional Croatian Christmas meal – roast turkey with a delicious pasta-like side dish, made of cooked unleavened dough seasoned with turkey drippings), and, of course, štrukli (cooked cheese-filled dough, unlike anything you’ve had before, but this is the quintessential Croatian comfort food that you will want to have again and again).
Some special occasions require to sweeten my life intensely with liquid bajadera in Kraš Choco Bar in Ilica Street, right across the Zagreb Funicular. It is a kind of a warm nougat brink made from the popular Kraš chocolate called “bajadera”. Afterwards, I like to walk through Tkalčićeva Street, sit above the crowded street in the peace of Opatovina Park. At the end of the Park, surrounded by old city walls, there is a unique summer theatre offering shows with old Zagreb themes including witches, an intriguing part of the Croatian history. In Tkalčićeva Street, you will walk by the statue of Marija Jurić Zagorka, the first female journalist in this part of Europe who was also famous for her historic love novels. Her home on Dolac 8, which can be visited every Thursday, offers a unique view on Dolac – Zagreb’s main market and on Medvednica Mountain.
I saved the best for last – Medvednica Mountain, Zagreb’s favorite fellow citizen and friend. Visiting Zagreb isn’t complete if you don’t see at least a bit of “our playground”, as our running friends call it. It is a part of our city, so it is very easy to dedicate from mere three hours to a whole day, or couple of days, depending on your preferences, to see such natural beauty. There are many beautiful parts of the mountain such as Horvat’s steps, named after Vladimir Horvat, a huge fan of Medvednica, who single-handedly built the 500 stone steps from 1946 to 1953 in the inaccessible part of the mountain. If you can be an early bird just for one day, witnessing the daybreak on Sljeme with a view on the slowly awakening city is an experience that stays with you long after you leave our town.
City Guide of Go! Running Tours Zagreb