Zagreb, Croatia — Unexpectedly Cool City 26

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During my summer in Europe last year, I spent about two weeks in Zagreb on three different occasions. I was holed up in Croatia for about a month, because I was wanting on a passport expediting service back in the States to get my Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese visa.

Expedited in this sense is a massive overstatement. Long story short — I will not be endorsing CIBT anytime soon. There is a longer story to this, but this is not the time. Basically, they were not great to work with, though I did end up getting my visas and being able to do the Ultimate Train Challenge.

zagreb opera house

Lovely and Underrated Zagreb

I stayed in a few different hostels when I was in Zagreb and the one thing I overheard from almost every backpacker there was some version of “everyone says to get out of Zagreb immediately and I agree — this city does nothing for me.”

I have no idea why people are so universally down on this city. It was a place that I immediately liked and as I walked around with friends, I must have said twenty times, “I could do this town for three or four months. I was mildly smitten.

Tesla statue zagreb croatia

one of the great inventors of the 20th century, Nikola Tesla

The downtown area consists of those 3-4 story buildings that seem to take up each city block, like you see in many other European cities, especially in places like Prague, Budapest, and Vienna. As you walk down the sidewalks, you pass by entrances that lead you to the inner portions of some of those city blocks.

There you can find quiet cafes, out-of-the-way stores and other gems. It is almost like you escape the city into your own little secluded zone, saved just for you and a few locals.

Not that Zagreb is that busy and hectic to begin with, which is one reason I really liked it.

In addition to just having the kind of relaxed vibe that I liked, it also is the location of one of my favorite museums in the entire world, the Museum of Broken Dreams. It was an incredibly moving experience — and one that was unexpected.

streetcar trains in zagreb croatia

I love, love, love trains and trams

Zagreb might not be the fanciest city in Europe. It might not be the most exciting. It might not have the most iconic sights. But in my eyes, it felt like a place I could call home for a while.

Hobo Bear Hostel

hobo bear hostel common area, zagreb hostel hobo bear

the common area downstairs

Another reason I enjoyed it here was that I stumbled upon one of my favorite hostels in quite a while. As you know, I almost never make reservations before I arrive anywhere. I must admit that summertime in Europe really tired my patience in that respect.

It was the first time I had really done Europe during the summer and a no reservations policy is simply not a good idea at that time of year. Lesson learned.

When I got to Hobo Bear, I was lucky to get the last dorm bed they had available. I ended up staying here on three separate occasions and they ended up comping some of my days there after I told them I was so impressed I was going to write about them.

Unasked for completely and yet another reason it has a warm place in my heart.

It is located in the main part of the downtown area that I loved. It is about 200 meters away from a tram spot (got to love good local public transport). There are dozens of cafes and restaurants within very easy walking distance. The staff is beyond helpful — this was in the midst of my whole passport fiasco and they helped hobo bear hostel zagreb croatiaguide me to the local DHL office to do some shipping, found me a place to get passport photos taken, and allowed me to have things shipped back to them… even though I wasn’t staying with them at the time.

As I said, most everyone just passes through Zagreb, so the odd thing was that I literally never shared a dorm room with the same person on back to back days. People would arrive, stay one night, then move on. But even though that was the case, they were pretty much booked solid the entire time I got there, so book in advance. In addition to dorm beds, they do have private rooms available.

I don’t recommend many places on this website, but this is an underappreciated city that I highly recommend you give a chance for a few days and one of the best hostels I have had the pleasure of staying at.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

26 thoughts on “Zagreb, Croatia — Unexpectedly Cool City

  • Dalene

    We felt the same way as you did. Even just carrying our bags from station to hotel the first evening, we immediately dug the vibe. We could easily go back and spend more time there (and hopefully not in sub-zero temps next time).

  • Scott

    Been to Croatia twice, but sadly have only passed through Zagreb. Yours is the latest post to make me regret this, and hoping to maybe change it this summer.

  • Joanna

    I have the same opion about this city! I’m for two weeks and life here is realy enjoyable. And there are nothing you have to, only things and places you can visit 😉

  • Ali

    I have only been to Dubrovnik but I really want to explore more of Croatia. I will definitely go into Zagreb with an open mind.

  • Andrew

    Zagreb was a mixed bag for me. My first experience there was a bit of a bust as the hostel that I originally reserved, I couldn’t find. I walked out to the edge of the city (which was too far out anyway) and just couldn’t find a place that looked like a hostel. In the end came back and found a different place at short notice. (In august no less, go figure).

    I like the Viennese feel to the center. The cafes are great in the warm days. I spent a large amount of time drinking beer and espresso while just enjoying the people. The food is tasty and not so weird for me.

    I wish I had actually done more in Zagreb. I went to a forest park, but only on my last day there for an hour. Some great old growth oak trees there.

  • Sophie

    Just goes to show you really can’t listen to what ‘everyone’ says. I was in Zagreb about fifteen years ago and thought it was a lovely city.

  • Giulia

    One should never listen to others’ opinions too much 🙂
    A place can be just “meh” to someone but perfect for you! What shoud I say about Cairo then, hehe 🙂
    Also, the hostel looks super nice!

  • Nomadic Samuel

    I’m the same way as you; I never make reservations anywhere I go. The only time I had a bit of a jam was in Singapore when I had two wait a few hours for a cancellation.

  • Luis

    I’ve heard people talk a huge lot about Dubrovnik and how amazing it is, I’ve seen plenty articles and videos about the city… but nothing about Zagreb. Sounds like definitely giving it a try!

  • Ian [EagerExistence]

    Hahaha Michael, I just wrote a post about “small world” coincidences. When were you in Zagreb at the Hobo Bear? I ask because I checked in there after midnight one night after getting lost in Hungary and ending up on the wrong train. I was only there 2 nights, but while I was there — there was this bloke who had stayed for weeks, returning several times, waiting for a delivery… something about visas or passports (my memory fades). Clearly it must have been you! I regret not starting up a conversation, but you were on your way out, and I was on my way in.

  • Anji

    I’ve heard wonderful things about Croatia- A friend of mine visited last summer and she was thrilled with the experience! It’s definitely in my Bucket List!

  • Jennifer

    I like Zagreb! It’s not a long drive for us, so makes for a great day trip. They’ve got a really great market and the old town is charming.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Really like the old town part also. Just a nice place to relax and enjoy some people watching. Also doesn’t hurt that Croatians are beautiful 😉

  • Mariella

    Isn’t the opera house so pretty… I mean, most of them look the same all over the former Austro-Hungarian empire and you will find almost the exact same building in Krakow, Bratislava, Lviv… but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s so pretty!!!

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