The German newspaper Der Spiegel said in October 2017 that “Zagreb could possibly win the title of the most boring city, at least in Europe”.
It also went on saying that the city’s best attribute was the road that left Zagreb behind to head towards the Croatian coast.
Talk about German honesty!
But was the German tabloid right?
Jonathan Bousfield of TimeOut magazine seems to disagree.
The author has recently described Zagreb’s new tourist identity as “an unusual and unique hybrid, a city in northern Europe with a southern climate and culture: a Croatian success story.”
Do the Germans have some type of vendetta against the Croatian capital or has there been a miraculous change in the management style of tourism in Zagreb in less than a season?
Zagreb: a “new” face with no filters
The article published in TimeOut tells us about a new ability Zagreb seems to have developed to show off its best face without applying any sort of makeup.
In Zagreb locals and visitors live and feel the city shoulder to shoulder.
It is a new tourism model that distances itself from the exploitation of the “sun and the sea” that currently pervades in the Dalmatian coast.
And the results are increasingly obvious.
According to Sanda Čorak from the Croatian Tourism Institute, the tourism sector in Zagreb has grown three times more in the last five years than the rest of Croatia.
But do you know what’s the most peculiarly perverse thing about this new Zagreb?
That it doesn’t seem to care whether you’ve just landed there or not.
Or whether your experience as a visitor is being exceptional or otherwise.
Zagreb is what it is.
Unlike other destinations along the most visited routes in Croatia, where waiters tend to interrupt your meal up to three times to make sure everything is OK, in Zagreb they don’t need to.
They feel confident with their offer.
In Zagreb you know you are eating good food.
Joe Orovic, an American journalist, calls this type of experience: anti-tourism.
Joe tells us that on his trips to Dalmatia he often felt as if he was walking through an amusement park where all experiences were thoroughly curated and apparently copied from city to city.
“Almost everything was mechanical, with abundant adjectives and exclamation marks:
Come and marvel at our incomparable historical destinations!
You are welcome! Enjoy our delicious homemade and authentic cuisine in our wonderful konoba!
Try our fun, exciting and informative excursion to the National Park, where you can admire and marvel at the natural beauty of Croatia! ”
And why don’t you kill me now? Joe replied.
Zagreb, however, loses all that unnecessary staging.
Zagreb, as the TimeOut article explained, “adapts to the needs of the local public and the result is what we all look for but rarely find – a friendly city for visitors where tourists feel like locals and locals don’t feel displaced.”
That is, the ideal city for the 50+ traveller like you and me, don’t you think?
New proposals are constantly being discovered in Zagreb, such as the Museum of Broken Relationships!
And in Zagreb, new events are created that attract both locals and visitors to develop a more lasting tourist season.
The Pop-Up Summer Garden is an example of this evolution, a point of promotion of local drinks and culture, not far from the city.
With this kind of effort, Zagreb is filling the gaps in the landscape and in the tourist calendar, not only to attract visitors but also to keep its local people happy.
Unlike the Adriatic coast, if you go to Zagreb in the middle of autumn or winter, it will be difficult for you to find something closed.
This new model is part of a broader plan, according to the director of the Tourism Board of Zagreb, Martina Beinenfeld.
It may seem accidental, that’s what it is.
But is not.
Zagreb’s new tourist identity implies a broader vision of long-term sustainable tourism.
The goal, according to Beinenfeld, is to strike a balance between local needs, cultural respect and historical preservation.
“We position Zagreb as a destination that does not know the term” seasonality “, as is the case with some of our coastal destinations.”
It is clear that Zagreb cannot dream of seasonal tourism due to its somewhat temperamental climate.
And Zagreb cannot rely only on its beauty as a city.
It needs to have personality and charm.
And to rely on that model, Zagreb can’t only count on tourists en mass with selfie sticks.
It needs an identity divorced from the masses.
An experience, not just a beautiful view.
“Croatia wants tourists,” insists Joe Orovi. “Zagreb wants travellers.”
Like you and me.
Zagreb awaits you, Traveler 50+! With all its personality and passion for good food!
Because Zagreb is the perfect city for those who prefer to drift through urban spaces and feel their truerhythm.
Interestingly, the main food and flower market is still in the centre of the city, right next to the central square.
Can you imagine the number of hours you can lose yourself here observing locals buying their fruits and vegetables before boarding the cozy trams that take them home?
The cult of fresh food is evident wherever you go in Zagreb.
There are many stalls in the street corners selling an ever-changing variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
And in the central square food fairs usually pop up for you to buy meat products, sausages, olive oils and other delicatessens.
The food is absolutely essential in the Zagreb experience.
If you want to stuff yourself with meat grills from the Balkans, Adriatic seafood and cakes from Central Europe, you are in the right place.
In addition, recently, Zagreb has also experienced successive revolutions of Slow food, bistro-type food and street food, all of which has left a deep mark on the city’s appearance.
Now the bars and cafes with terraces are spread all over the place, winding and surprising through side alleys.
The emphasis on local food crafts has changed the catering business, generating boutique patisseries, boutique ice cream, boutique coffees, boutique burgers and, of course, boutique beer!
Zagreb is one of those strange rare places where international franchises have been replaced by smart and interesting venues.
Zagreb’s main attractions are not tourist attractions.
Zagreb’s main attraction is the personality of its public spaces: squares, parks and the Grič tunnel: a World War II anti-aircraft shelter that free to the public (instead of turning it into the typical tourist attraction with a souvenir shop).
Very interesting also – the Art Park, an industrial area just behind the main shopping street that was retaken by street artists and turned into an open-air gallery.
What do you think, then?
The most boring city in Europe or a success story of a new tourism model?
Yeah, me too. 🙂