Zagreb, Free Walking Tours: Where We Went, What We Saw & Where We Walked

zagreb free walking tour

'Hello Zagreb' offer unusual and exciting tours with local guides - they are not a free walking tour though. They were quite good but if we were to go to Zagreb now, we'd defo choose a free one, simply because there are so many of them and they all look good!


Free Walking Tours, Zagreb

  • Free Spirit Tours: this one is a 2-hour free walking tour of Zagreb, through the old town. It covers all the places we've seen and that we've written in this post: Zagreb's main square, Stone Gate, St. Mark's Square, Lotrscak tower, Catherine's Square + places to eat and drink too!
  • Zagreb Before Zagreb: this one can be booked on Guruwalk, which mean that it is a 'pay-what-you want walking tour: it's completely free to book and join the group, but the 'guru' expects to be rewarded once the tour ends. Some people give €10 per person, some people give US‎$ 50, you choose the price.'
  • Free Walking Tour Zagreb: this one can be booked on Tripadvisor, they don't have a separate website. They give a tour of the Old City of Zagreb and also a War Tour... they don't seem to cover the Tunnels, though :(
  • Urban Hike Zagreb: 'Guided, off-the-beaten-path experience that also covers a destination’s popular highlights where you will learn history in a fun fashion while roaming the city landscape. See where have lived communist elite during the rule of the workers. Walk the tunnel built to protect the Nazi puppet regime and check the most recognizable Zagreb landmarks, such as the Cathedral, the Parliament and the Main Square.'
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We were shown round Zagreb by Hello, Zagreb super-star tour guide Adam and we're gonna tell you all that we've learnt from him in case you miss your free walking tour or simply: in case you don't wanna go on a walking tour at all, preferring to do all the exploring yourself :)

Our City Tour of Zagreb: Some History

We met Adam just outside Zagreb Cathedral and we liked him instantly: he was really friendly and bubbly. He started us off by giving us a brief overview of the history of Croatia, which was useful as we knew nothing about Croatian history. The Croats (who were Slavic) arrived in Croatia in the early 7th century. Fast forward to the 16th century, like Hungary, Croatia was taken over by the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, the Croat ruling elites decided to join with their neighbours to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. By 1929, a royal dictatorship was introduced and Yugoslavia was formed.

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During World War II, the country became a puppet state of Nazi Germany (and some really nasty stuff happened at places like Jasenovac). After World War II, unlike most of Europe, Yugoslavia was pretty much left alone by both the West and the East. They were communist, but were separate from the Soviets. From 1953-1980 Tito was the president. He's often described as a 'benevolent dictator' which seems like an oxymoron to me, but asking Croats they seem to view him like Marmite - they either love him or hate him. In 1991 Croatia voted for independence from Yugoslavia and a war broke out. Actually Adam and other Croatians we've met refer to this as 'The War'. By 1995 the war was over and they were independent. In 2009 Croatia joined NATO and in 2013 they joined the EU. Adam joked that there are certain places in Croatia that have stayed in the same place geographically, but have been called many different countries.

Zagreb Day Tour, Station 1: Zagreb Cathedral

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Our first stop was Zagreb Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Church (at this point we'd like to state that we are not big fans of centralized, hierarchical religious institutions and would like to remind people that several Roman Catholic priests were members of the Ustase and committed war crimes). We were amused to see that they'd hidden the scaffolding with a photo of what it should look like. Adam revealed that the scaffolding (and photo) had been up as long as he can remember. The cathedral is made of limestone, which falls into disrepair if unpolished. As Croatia was 'communist' (in case you're interested in why we put that into quotation marks, read here) for 30 years and as most communists discourage religion, the cathedral was left to fall into disrepair. Adam also revealed that Zagreb Cathedral is the tallest building in Zagreb, and, due to an architectural error, one of the towers is 4cm taller than the other. Inside the cathedral, we were fascinated when Adam pointed out a mural of the Croatian Glagolitic Script - the Glagolitic alphabet is the oldest known Slavic alphabet. The Croats used it between the 12th and 20th century. This piece celebrates Croatia transferring from Paganism to Christianity:

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I like it because it reminds me of the language in Futurama lol... Futurama and ancient languages aside, Zagreb Cathedral has a lot of other cool things from lots of different countries, including: the (buried) body of the blessed Bishop of Croatia, who fought against the commies and the Nazis (yes, there were Roman Catholics who resisted, nothing is black and white); it is thought that he will soon be named a saint. Our favourite thing, though was the Slovenian statues of the last supper, which was a lot more interesting than the traditional painting:

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Adam also told us a funny secret about Zagreb Cathedral and made us swear not to blog about it - you'll just have to go on the tour and find out what it is for yourself!! :) Outside of Zagreb Cathedral, Adam pointed over to Medvednica (Bear Mountain) and told us that Zagreb is the only capital which holds the ski cup!

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Zagreb Free Tour, Station 2: The Bloody Bridge and the Stone Gate

On our way over to our next stop, we learn about Zagreb's relationship with tourism: rewind to six years ago and Zagreb had next to no tourism. Nowadays there is a lot more, and everyone (us included) seems to like Zagreb. Adam thinks it's because people have low expectations of Zagreb and then are pleasantly surprised by it, possibly because Zagreb is clean and safe (gentrification!), has an extremely low rate of homelessness (some Croatians might have something else to say about this and related issues of class though...). Adam explained that Zagreb was originally two smaller cities: Kaptol (where the cathedral is) and the larger Gradec. Gradec and Kaptol were separated by Medvescak Creek, which has now been concreted over and is a short road with some cute cafes and pubs. The Bloody Bridge once joined Kaptol and Gradec, so called because there was lots of fighting on it! We also passed a tie shop, and discovered that Croatia holds the record for the longest neck tie in the world (haha). It measured 808m! Anyway next, we walked through the Stone Gate:

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The Stone Gate has been around  since the 13th Century, and in the 18th Century there was a fire that destroyed everything in/on the gate except for a statue of the Virgin Mary. Croatia being a Catholic country, this was taken as a miracle and people still pray inside the gate today. We saw a few people praying and read some of the prayers on the wall:

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Read as in, just looked at them - we don't speak any Croatian!! But we noticed a lot of Majkos and Hvalas and we learnt that Majko = mother and Hvala = thanks. Next up: my favourite thing in Zagreb: St Mark's Church!

Zagreb Day Tour, Station 3: St Mark's Church, Art Park and Jelacic Square

Isn't it beautiful? I'd actually seen a photo of it before we came to Zagreb, and just assumed it was an average church with a beautiful hologram on it (I have no idea why). So I was surprised to see it was 'real' and made of tiles! I LOVE it! Adam told us that the coat of arms on the right is the coat of arms of Zagreb. And the one on the left is for the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia.

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The upper left bit of the Church is for Northern Croatia: everyone agrees that red and white have been the Croatian colours since before Croatia was even Croatia, but no one is sure why the chess like pattern is Croatian, it just is. The upper right bit is three heads of the lion/leopard symbolising the three kings of the coastal part of Croatia. And the bottom bit is a marten and represents the Eastern part. Interestingly (I think) marten = kuna in Croatian. Kuna is the current currency in Croatia, but back in the day, marten skins were traded and used as currency! (Mind, blown. Also, martens are part of the weasel family so we are not happy. Also, it's speciesist. Uncool.) And then... we found our favourite view of the city:

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Which was right next to Art Park and a cute avenue with lots of art on it... we then went in a creepy tunnel under the city, we liked this bit a lot, apparently they sometimes hold raves in there!

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After the tunnel it was time for a coffee for me and an ice tea for Tanbay. We had them at Cogito Coffee and they were both delicious. Re the word 'cogito', worth reading about 'ergo sum' an Descartes, too.

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Our final stop was Jelacic Square. This is probably the most famous square in Zagreb and is named after Count Jelacic. You can see a statue of his likeness in the centre of the square on top of a horse. He has a sword in his hand and was originally pointed east towards Hungary, which many Croatians hated for good reasons: the Kingdom of Hungary (and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire) oppressed many ethnic groups that belonged to its territories, including the Croats. Of course, as my Hungarian bf Tamás likes to say, Hungarians like to conveniently forget this.

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During the communist times, Jelacic was branded a traitor, his statue was moved, the square was renamed Republic Square and it became a parking lot. When communism fell in Croatia, the statue was put back, but this time he is facing south, to no one in particular as Croatia no longer hates Hungary (apart from nationalists to whom we recommend reading Maria Todorova's book Imagining the Balkans and Anderson's imagined communities ;)

Fast & Simple Food Tour Of Zagreb

Best of Zagreb offer unique and original guided walking and sightseeing tours, day trips and excursions. We tried their Fast & Simple Zagreb Food Tour which included a walk through historical Zagreb, Croatia and some delicious treats with our wonderful guide, Samia :)


#1. Kras Chocolate

We started the tour in a way we think all food tours should start, actually in a way we think all tours should start: with chocolate. Kras is a Croatian food company based in Zagreb who specialise in confectionary products. The chocolate was very tasty and the perfect start to our tour.

#2. Dolac Square


Our first stop was Dolac Square. Since 1925, Dolac Square has been the home of one of the best farmers' markets we've ever been to. Why did we like it so much? It was so clean and, perhaps more shockingly, sooo quiet! We are so used to being hassled and shouted at at markets, but there is none of that here. As Samia pointed out, all the fruits and vegetables have prices on them - why would they need to shout out to us? Guided by Samia, we made our way through the market, past many different fruits and vegetables of all different colours. All were seasonal and all were beautifully coloured.


My favourite stop was at a wild berry stand. The difference in size between the wild blueberries and the home grown blueberries was unbelievable!


And we got to try out some of the freshest, juiciest blackberries we've ever tasted. We loved walking through the farmers' markets with Samia. We like visiting markets, but they can often be intimidating - especially in a foreign country. But with Samia we were free to browse, take photos and soak up the awesome atmosphere.

#3. The fish and meat markets


Although we've recently become vegetarian (and are aiming to become vegan), we still thought that it would be important to visit the fish and meat markets, as these are such an important part of Croatian cuisines (and really, most cuisines). We learnt that as Zagreb is only 1.5 hours from the sea, the fish is very fresh and most sellers are proud to say that it ‘swam this morning’. We also learnt that it’s perfectly acceptable to eat horse in Croatia, there were a couple of butchers selling horse.


#4. Croatian Herbs


We checked out some herbs in the inside market - apparently Croatia grows a lot of medicinal herbs, more than any other country in Europe!

#5. Alcohol in Croatia

There are three traditional types of alcohol in Croatia: beer, wine and brandy. One type of brandy is made with plums, the other with grapes and almost all types include a few medicinal herbs or more!

#6. Croatian Sauerkraut


Next we tried sauerkraut. Now I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut (to my soon-to-be mother-in-law’s dismay), but, this sauerkraut was delicious!!! They have two types of sauerkraut in Croatia: thinly sliced and plain old leaf. We tried the thinly sliced and it was so good, with a strong vinegar taste.

#7. Corn Bread

Then came the corn bread, again not something I’d usually go for, but again something that Croatia has changed my mind about!


We also tried lots of different fresh cheeses. Lots of these will be mixed with fresh cream, and some will be mixed with egg which makes the filling of our next treat:

#8. Burek


This was one of our absolute favourite foods of the day: Burek. Fresh cheese, cream and egg are mixed together to make the filling, which is then put between lots of layers of dough. Actually, traditionally Burek has a minced meat filling. But we went for a cheese one. They also do apple ones! The cheese Burek was amazing! It was so tasty and nice of hot - perfect for a cold rainy day.

#9. Strukli


Next came a dish that’s similar in some ways: Strukli is a cheese filled dish between a layer of dough. It’s served either boiled, or boiled and then baked. We had the latter option and it was simply divine. It was similar to a white lasagne, though the dough is of course completely different. The difference between a Strukli and a cheese Burek is the number of layers.

#10. Croatian Street Food

Croatians are not too fond of street food, as they believe food is a social thing to be enjoyed with friends and family. However, around Zagreb there are a still a couple of tasty street food options, both based around corn: one is popcorn and the other is fresh corn-on-the-cob! We tried a corn-on-the-cob and it was delicious, really fresh and juicy and the perfect thing to follow the rich Strukli.

#11. Croatian Cakes


There are two types of traditional Croatian cakes: one is based on foods you can find round the house or farm - nuts, berries etc, and the other is based on what the royals would eat. We tried an example of each cake: the farm type had sultanas, cottage cheese, walnuts and poppy seeds. The royal type was made with egg white and sugar. Both were really nice and so different! The poppy seeds complimented the sultanas really well, and the royal one was like a soft, fluffy meringue.

#12. Croatian Wine


Our tour ended just like a good food tour (and indeed any good tour) should: with wine! I tried a white: an Itocki Traminac Vrh which apparently the Queen (of England) likes!! I liked it too, it was dry with a honey aftertaste. Tanbay had a red: a Josic Cuvee. It was smooth and slightly smokey. Traditionally, the Croatians mixed wine with water to create weaker wines.


All in all, we loved our Fast & Simple Food Tour with Best of Zagreb. Everything we tried was local, fresh and delicious! Our absolute favourite was the Strukli. Our guide Samia was lovely, she was really knowledgable and shares our passion for food. We highly recommend this tour when you come to Zagreb. To book your spot head over to their website: Best of Zagreb and/or find them on TripAdvisor and don’t forget to follow them on Facebook and Twitter (Please note that each Fast & Simple Zagreb Food Tour is slightly different, depending on time of the year/ which shops are open, so your tour might feature some slightly different treats.) To keep up with our own adventures, follow us on Twitter and Facebook too. We also made a video about our tour here:

Wrap Up: Our Walking Tour & Food Tour Of Zagreb

We loved our tour of Zagreb with Hello Zagreb, it lasted about three hours and we went from knowing basically nothing about Croatia, to feeling confident that we now know a lot about its culture and history. We also believe that the free walking tours we listed above could also do the job well. Anyhow, Adam was a great guide: informative, funny and lots of fun! You can find them on TripAdvisor and Facebook but, as we've mentioned in the beginning of the post (scroll above), there are plenty of free walking tours in Zagreb. Important note to fellow female travellers: if you ever encounter harassment in Zagreb, here's a place you can contact. To keep up with our adventures, you can follow us on Facebook too! Also, we make daily YouTube videos and days 146-147 were all about touring Zagreb:


P.S.: If you're interested in a way of travelling and getting accommodation cheaply, you might wanna check out house sitting. Trustedhousesitters.com was kind enough to provide us and our readers with a 10% discount, feel free to click on the link to use it :)

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ABOUTME

Travelling through the kyriarchy and weaselling our way out of the rat race - a female travel blogger writing about socially and politically conscious travelling.

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