The capital of Croatia is one of the most vibrant cities in Eastern Europe, but when the buzz gets too much, there’s plenty to do outside the city limits. Wondering where to go? Try these starting points.
Trieste: The glory of the European Union is that crossing borders is simple – no lines, no passport checks and no hassle. So Trieste, one of Italy’s most intriguing cities, is just a two-and-a-half-hour drive west of Zagreb. Wander the streets, pop in for a coffee at one of the Viennese-style coffee houses, and see the Piazza dell’Unita – the largest sea-facing square in Europe. Then catch a ride to the spectacular Miramare castle, a cream-colored castle set on a promontory in the middle of a marine reserve. It’s heavenly.
Rijeka: It’s a swift two-hour drive southwest from Zagreb to hit the Adriatic coast and Rijeka, the main town, is a glorious mishmash of Habsburg and Baroque architecture. Don’t miss the National Theater building, the Roman arch, and the baroque St Vitus’ church, and take a stroll along the calm seafront.
Plitvice Lakes National Park: A Lord of the Rings-style collection of 16 lakes formed by a runoff from the mountains above (the Dinaric Alps), thanks to the different amounts of minerals in the water, each lake is a different color (anything from green to blue to grey). They’re split into two levels – 12 on top and four below and are accompanied by waterfalls hollowing out caves from the limestone and travertine.
Trakoscan Castle: Looking more like a wedding cake than anything else, the castle – perched on a tiny bluff and enveloped in trees – has been in existence since the 13th century, although it was only renovated in the 1800s. Today, it’s owned by the government and functions as a museum with some beautiful gardens, expansive grounds and even a manmade lake, covering what used to be a valley.
Samobor: One of the most popular weekend escapes from Zagreb (it’s only half an hour away), Samobor is a beautiful little town dating back to the 13th century with cafes lining the delightful main square, a stream running through the center, and a ruined medieval castle on the hill. Savor that walk, because you’ll need an excuse to eat some of the town’s renowned pastries – the Samoborske kremsnite, a custard tart, and rudorska greblica, a centuries-old cheesecake.