On the drive into Zagreb it was safe to say that I was unimpressed.
Having spent nearly 30 minutes sitting in traffic I finally reached my hotel. On the way into the city there wasn’t much to see but I was hoping that I would be able to find some of the hidden Balkan charm that many of the cities in the former Yugoslavia tend to have tucked away.
I arrived at 2 PM and I had a walking tour with Damjan at 4 PM so I decided to relax for a short while before meeting him and learning more about Croatia’s capital city.
I took a short nap and 10 minutes before our set meeting time I left the hotel to go wait for his arrival. It turned out that there was a mixup with the address but I was able to meet Damjan right on time nonetheless.
It was nearly dark when I spotted Damjan walking up the street towards me. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and a few moments later off we went to explore the city.
Before I tell you about my experience with Damjan let me tell you a little bit more about him and his tour company.
Damjan and Hello Zagreb
I reached out to Damjan when I was looking for a guided tour in Zagreb.
His website came up, HelloZagreb, and it looked like the most friendly and personal tour company out of all the options I could find. After reading a bit more into Hello Zagreb, and learning more about the tours they offered, I sent Damjan a message to organize a private guided tour and he happily obliged.
Hello Zagreb is a travel and tourism agency that’s based in Croatia.
They offer a range of tours in Zagreb along with many other tours throughout Croatia and even to places in Slovenia and further abroad. The tours they offer have been carefully designed and researched to provide tourists with the most in-depth, professional and personal experience during their visit to Zagreb and everywhere else.
Hello Zagreb continues to grow in popularity and each year rises through the ranks on its way towards becoming the best tourism and tour guide company in Croatia. The company itself is run by two individuals, Damjan and Martin, but I only had the pleasure of meeting Damjan.
Damjan is a late 30s lawyer-turned-tour-guide who is bound to be one of the coolest and most interesting people you’ll ever meet. He’s traveled all throughout Europe, to many other places in the world, and has become very knowledgeable in local Croatian history, European history and architecture as well.
Not only is he really easy to get along with but he’s full of interesting and unique facts that will enhance your experience with him in Zagreb and leave you wondering why every tour guide can’t be like him.
Now that I’ve gone over the basics let me tell you about my tour in Zagreb.
Heading to Croatia’s lovely capital city? Check out my post on the best things to do in Zagreb during your visit!
Wandering the Streets of Croatia’s Capital with Damjan from Hello Zagreb
After meeting Damjan the tour began right away just around the corner from our meeting point.
The Bloody Bridge
He pointed up to a street sign that said “Krkavi Most” and paused to look down the street. Krkavi Most, or Bloody Bridge in English, is a small alley that connects the streets of Radiceva and Tkalciceva.
It’s called the Bloody Bridge, Damjan explained, because not too long ago there was a bridge here that connected the two separate cities of Gradec and Kaptol, Zagreb’s two original towns. This is where the townspeople of those two cities would come to fight over the rights to the mills along the creek that was once running between the two cities.
While the bridge is no longer there the street was named after it as somewhat of a remembrance for a time when Zagreb was split in two.
The Zagreb Cathedral
From here Damjan slowly led me through quiet side-streets while continuing to explain small features and interesting historical facts that he would point out as we made our way to the famous Zagreb Cathedral.
He explained to me that the original cathedral was destroyed during the 1880 earthquake but was immediately rebuilt to appease the local Roman Catholic population.
It’s a very impressive and dominating Gothic style Cathedral and one of the tallest, if not the tallest, building in the country.
It’s also one of the most recognizable landmarks of the city and played an important role in Zagreb’s long and tumultuous history.
We walked inside and Damjan continued on explaining about how religious Croatians are and how important this cathedral is to them. While inside I noticed many people, young and old, praying and eventually we stopped out front of what looked to be a plain brick wall.
Damjan pointed up to a spot beside the stained-glass window where there was an original fresco still left over from the time when the cathedral was built. It’s one of the only remaining features left over from the Cathedral after the earthquake and is an impressive piece of artwork.
After leaving the Cathedral I asked about the defensive fortifications that surrounded it. The walls were originally built to defend the city from the Ottoman’s and only a few parts of the original walls remain to this day.
The Zagreb Christmas Market and Ban Jelacic Square
We made our way down to the Christmas Market that’s been held every year for the past few years in Ban Jelacic Square. Damjan took the time now to explain that Zagreb made an attempt this year to become one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe and it’s safe to say that I wasn’t let down by their advent offerings.
It was interesting listening to Damjan tell me about Ban Jelacic Square and right away I noticed the similarities of it compared to Republic Square in Belgrade.
Ban Jelacic Square is situated right below the to older towns of Gradec and Kaptol and has been a square since the 17th century. It only gained its current name in 1848 and by 1866 the large statue you see in the center of Jelacic himself was added.
This is a popular Square for locals and it’s lined with cafés, restaurants and other interesting shops.
It’s used as a meeting place and from here you’ll be able to make your way easily to anywhere else in the city or just orient yourself if you’re lost. It’s a completely car free area and if you need to get on a tram you can catch most of them here.
Damjan explained the history of the square and its local importance before leading me through some side streets to a long set of stairs. We made our way up the stairs, walked down a short tree-lined path and stood in front of a tall, white tower that overlooks the entire city.
The Upper Town
The tower, known as the Lotrscak Tower, is a famous city landmark and was built in the 13th century to guard the southern gate of the wall that surrounded Gradec. Damjan pointed out to a cannon sticking out of the highest window and told us that it goes off every day at noon.
Today, the cannon is only used to signal the time and warn the church bell-ringers throughout the city that it’s time to ring the bells.
After enjoying the great view over the city for a short while longer we made our way further through the narrow streets of the Upper Town until we were standing out front of Zagreb’s most famous museum.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is an interesting museum that’s dedicated to failed relationships. It was created by two artists, who were once lovers, that split up and didn’t know what to do with all of the things they shared and used together.
Eventually they decided that adding all of those shared items to a museum would be a good idea so they asked some of their friends to add to the collection and the Museum of Broken Relationships was born.
Damjan and I continued onward, slowly walking and talking more about Zagreb’s history and Damjan’s time abroad. Only a few short moments later and we were standing alone in a square with a large church dominating one-half of the space. It was St. Mark’s Church and if you’ve ever looked anything up about Zagreb you will definitely recognize it.
St.Mark’s Church is most famous and recognizable for the pattern of tiles that the roof of the church is composed of. The tiles are laid out in such a way to represent two different historical coats of arms of the city and country.
On the left is the medieval coat of arms of the Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia regions and on the right is the coat of arms of the city of Zagreb.
It’s a very impressive sight and one of the most photographed attractions in the city.The church itself is surrounded by imposing government buildings, schools and museums that make up most of the Upper Town.
The Lower Town
As we began walking back towards the Lower Town Damjan pointed out to one of the hundreds of lights that line the streets.
I would never have noticed but he said that many of the lights in the Upper Town, and some in the Lower, are lit using gas and still need to be turned on by a pair of men every single night.
It added a romantic and unique feel to the city and it made it a lot easier to imagine what life in Zagreb must have been like one hundred years prior. Without Damjan I highly doubt I would have even noticed the gas-powered lights and it turned out to be one of the most interesting things I learned about the city.
From here we made our way back to the Lower Town, specifically to Tkalciceva Street, through a somewhat hidden stairway that Damjan told me was a shortcut through the city. Tkalciceva Street is popular with people who frequent many of the bars and restaurants that line the street.
In the past it was the location of a small stream that ran through the two historic cities and there were many skirmishes over the control of the mills that lined this very stream. In the 80s and early 90s it was somewhat of a shadier area that prostitutes would frequent and there is even a statue dedicated to the once popular ladies of the night.
The Flower Square
The walk continued down Tkalciceva Street, past Ban Jelacic Square, and we stopped in Cvjetni Square, known locally as the Flower Square. This was the last stop on the tour, Damjan mentioned, and he told me a little more about the square itself.
The Flower Square is where, up until quite recently, the flower market was and people would come from all over Zagreb to buy flowers, seeds, bulbs and many other supplies for gardening and growing flowers.
The church that dominates the square is the Serbian Orthodox Church and is the only Orthodox church in the city, and interesting fact for a city full of Roman Catholics.
There are no longer any flowers sold in Cvjetni Square but there are plenty of cafe’s so it’s a great place to come relax, hang out and people-watch after a long day of walking around and exploring the city. You can expect many locals coming here after work as well to enjoy one another’s company and drink some specialty coffee drinks.
Final Thoughts and Recommendation
It was finally time to part ways with Damjan and, after more than 2 hours of walking through the city and having my head filled with information, I was sad to see him leave.
We exchanged some more information, he gave me a great tip on a nearby place to check out for dinner, we had our goodbyes and then he disappeared into the thick crowds of central Zagreb.
I had an incredible time learning about Zagreb and exploring the city with Damjan and I would highly recommend Hello Zagreb if you’re looking for an in-depth, informative and interesting tour of the city.
Whether you’ve been to Zagreb before and you’re looking to learn more about its history and culture or it’s your first time visiting and you don’t know a single thing about Croatia’s lovely capital it’s a great idea to get in contact with Damjan and ask him to take you on a tour.
Damjan was personable, friendly and someone I won’t soon forget. The next time I visit Zagreb, which will hopefully be sooner than later, I’ll definitely get in touch with Damjan even just to sit down for a coffee and hear more of his stories, world travels and learn even more about Zagreb.