By Taylor Gordy
The hum of passing cars is soft in the background, but the croaking of frogs on green lily pads is more prominent in the tranquility of the Zagreb Botanical Garden. Nearby, a gravel path opens up, flanked on either side by beds of multi-colored pansies. A young woman sits beneath the shade of a tree, coffee in hand, textbook in her lap. “I come here because it’s beautiful,” Ivana, a local dentistry student, says in blunt Croatian style. The Botanical Garden is only one of numerous serene spaces in Zagreb, which is arguably a city best enjoyed outdoors. A traveler could fall in love with Zagreb without ever setting foot inside a building, which equates to a cost-effective and memorable experience. Enjoy plenty of outdoor time with the following locations during your stay in the Croatian capital.
- Lake Jarun
When Purgers, as Zagreb’s citizens are called, need a break from the commotion of the city, Lake Jarun is a popular choice. Built in 1987 to accommodate the Univerzijada (The University Games), it is a perfect place for walking, cycling, and, in warmer months, swimming and sunbathing. Enjoying a cappuccino at Caffe Bar Marion and watching the smooth strokes of kayakers on the water is a welcome respite after a long day of sightseeing in the city. For travelers looking for a little more excitement, Jarun is also the venue for the annual INmusic festival in June, which takes place on the Island of Youth in the middle of the lake. Jarun can be reached on tram line 17, and the ride from the city center is about twenty minutes.
- Park Maksimir
Zagreb’s largest park is 316 hectares of shady trees, still ponds and walking paths. Maksimir was planned in the 19th century by Archbishop Juraj Haulik, who wanted to design the park “as an adornment of the metropolis, as well as the pride of the homeland.” Separated from the highway by thick shrubbery, it is a calm place to take in fresh air. Children emit guttural noises in the white, Romanticist-style Pavilion of Echoes to test if the sound will truly resound. Locals relax in the grass or on the benches lining the center path, or enjoy a meal in the outdoor seating of Restoran Maksimir. The park is also home to the Zagreb Zoo, which boasts a wide variety of animals from the capybara to the African lion.
- Zagreb Botanical Garden
A division of the Faculty of Science of the University of Zagreb, the Botanical Garden was founded in 1889. Since then, admission to the garden has been free and open to the public. Around 5,000 taxa of flora are grown within the garden walls, from colorful flowers to tropical plants kept in glasshouses. On a typical day, grandparents stroll children up and down the paths, students on a field trip follow botanists in white coats, and visitors stoop to read the scientific names of the plants. The garden is simultaneously a haven from the din of the city and a singular educational experience.
- Dolac Market
Zagreb’s farmer’s market is a square full of bright red umbrellas, fragrant produce and animated locals. Zagrebians and tourists wander the market to purchase fresh, ripe fruit and vegetables. A carton of strawberries goes for around 10 kuna, or a dollar and fifty cents. Delight your loved ones with souvenirs of Croatian olive oil, natural honey, or a bottle of the local liquor, rakija. Vendors also sell fish and homemade cheeses along the perimeter of the market square.
- Mirogoj Cemetery
Mirogoj is the national cemetery of Croatia, and, with its massive brick walls covered in lush green ivy, it is also one of the most picturesque places in Zagreb. It is a short bus ride from the Zagreb Cathedral in upper town. Outside the gates stands a small market selling candles in colorful glass jars and flowers to leave at the graves. The graves are tightly packed within the interior of the gates, each one bearing the word obitelj, or family, followed by the last name of the interred. A calm hush settles over the grounds as people stroll the paved lanes or sit on benches in front of their loved ones’ final resting place. In the rear of the cemetery lies the Tomb of the Fallen Warriors, where 3,300 World War I soldiers who died in Zagreb’s hospitals are entombed. Franjo Tudjman, the first president of Croatia, is buried at Mirogoj, and locals often leave candles decorated with the Croatian flag at his monument.
One truly could spend a full and enjoyable day in Zagreb without ever going inside. Stroll around the Botanical Garden, explore the zoo at Park Maksimir, have coffee and relax on the banks of Lake Jarun, lunch on fresh produce and mingle with locals at Dolac, and reflect on the day amid the monuments at Mirogoj to make for a well-rounded, economical introduction to the Croatian capital city.