Both at the Center and on the Cusp
At the confluence of Eastern and Western Europe, Zagreb, Croatia keeps its arms stretched out, fingers dipping into both modernity and the old guard. This is really a “new” country, and Zagreb, its capital, is slowly learning to find its independence.
Zagreb has a skyline that is indicative of its history. The city is split into the Gornji (upper) grad and Donji (lower) grad. The Gornji is the medieval core. Developed as two separate towns - Kaptol, the seat of the Bishop and Gradec, the free town where tradesmen and artisans lived they merged in the 1770s to form the northern section of historic Zagreb. It's in this area you'll find The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or known as its pithier name, St. Stephen's Cathedral. The twin spires soaring into the sky, the structure has stood on this spot for centuries.
Moving up the timeline, The Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb was established in 1840. The following year it gained government support putting it on par with many of other national theatres around Europe. The Theatre moved to its current, beautiful building in 1895 and has hosted many of Croatia's – and the world's – finest artists, including Franz Liszt and Laurence Olivier.
For such a low-profile city, Zagreb is home to an incredible collection of art. See over 3700 works at the The Mimara Museum. Opened in 1987, permanent holdings date from the prehistoric period up to the 20th century and include an international who's who of painters: Caravaggio, Rubens, Velazquez, Turner, Renoir and many more.
The Lower Town is home to the Zagreb's cultural and commercial hub. Ilica Street is the city's longest and is considered to be the most expensive. The busy thoroughfare is home to many shops and spans the entire western half of the city. You'll find local Croatian goods as well as tiptop designers like Gaultier and Lacoste. Did you think you'd find stores carrying babushkas? This is the modern, more western Zagreb. And also why you should visit.
This is a city of such…potential. Most skip Zagreb and head straight to the golden Adriatic coast. What a mistake. You could be visiting all the great classical capitals of the region, especially when you have a Eurail Austria-Croatia-Slovenia Pass, or Eurail Croatia-Slovenia-Hungary Pass. From Zagreb, you're less than 2.5 hours from Ljubljana, Slovenia, another city coming out of its communist shell. Budapest and Vienna are both less than seven hours away by direct train.
To understand the whole of a country, it's best to not just skip to the tourist hotspots. Learn about its history, culture and people. Armed with this knowledge, you can freely hop back on the train and find your place in the sun.
With some 1,200 islands along the Croatian seacoast, you'll be basking in no time.
Contributed by: Melanie, Marketing Project Manager, French American with Swedish and Italian origins, who comes from the Entertainment business and truly believes that traveling by train is the best entertainment experience ever!