Germany’s number one holiday destination is – drumroll – Germany.
But more and more Germans, as well as expats located in Germany, are choosing Croatia as their holiday hotspot.
The capital city of Zagreb in particular is a popular destination from Germany. The flight less than two hours, and there are more than 30 direct flights per week. Lufthansa, Air Berlin, Croatia Airlines, Easyjet, Condor, and RyanAir all offer flights linking German cities to Zagreb, so the options are plentiful.
Croatia is now the sixth most popular destination for Germans on holiday and continues to grow in popularity, with 3.3 percent of German travellers choosing the country in 2014. But it’s still a refreshingly unique destination as well, not swamped by the 13.5 percent who went to Spain and 7.8 percent who chose Italy.
So why are so many Germans zooming off to Zagreb?
Here are ten things you didn’t know about Zagreb – and why you might want to add it to your itinerary.
Ban Jelacic Square in Zagreb. Photo: Marko Vrdoljak/Croatia.hr
There's this funny thing that happens in Zagreb - a funny thing with an unexpected connection to Germany. The Zagrebians adopted the German word "spitze" (tip) to dub their social phenomenon špica. In other words, Saturday mornings are not for sleeping in.
They're for getting glam and strutting yourself at the markets and getting a coffee downtown. And everyone does it at the exact same time, between 10:00 and 14:00, just on a couple of streets in the city centre. It’s the hub of Zagreb culture. Forget Friday night – Saturday morning is the time to dress it up, grab your shades, and hit the catwalk of Croatia.
2. The home of dragons
Berlin has a bear - but Zagreb's got dragons. The city is full of reptiles and medieval statues of snakes and dragons abound. Visitors can take walking tours which give the Brothers Grimm a run for their money - rumour has it a cursed snake queen is buried deep down in the tunnels of Zagreb's medieval mountain fortress, Medvedgrad. Could this be the true Medusa?
3. Open arms
Croatia may already have a lot of German tourists – but there’s always room for more. The flag and emblem of Zagreb shows a white-walled town with three towers, and the golden gates wide open. Supposedly this is to symbolize that the city is open to visitors and welcomes outsiders – quite the difference from other European capitals, which sometimes refer to the annual influx of tourists as a ‘German invasion’.
4. Homage to failed relationships
A heart-shaped licitar biscuit from Zagreb. Photo: Davor Rostuhar/Croatia.hr
Zagreb has a complicated history – and it doesn’t hide it. In fact, Zagreb has more museums per capita than anywhere else in the world, giving it the nickname of 'the city of museums'.
The city boasts a museum of Croatian architecture, history, ‘Croatian Naive Art’, ethnography, and art – but there’s one museum in particular which steals the spotlight.
The city hosts a truly unique Museum of Broken Relationships, devoted to mementos from relationships of all kinds. It's quirky, it's personal, nostalgic, and somewhat melancholy - but it's one of the hottest attractions in Zagreb.
5. Eat, pepper, love
The Dolac market in Zagreb. Photo: Marko Vrdoljak/Croatia.hr
Croatian cuisine is diverse and exciting – and the Dolac market, affectionately called “the Belly of Zagreb”, is a gastronomical experience to be reckoned with.
In particular, visitors are drawn to a traditional aromatic biscuit known as the paprenjak. Hard name; amazing taste. The cookie, once made by the women of old Zagreb, is an unusual combination of honey, walnuts, and pepper – a reminder of Zagreb’s unique contrasts.
The licitar is another popular biscuit of days gone by, colourfully adorned and shaped like a heart. Tradition dictates that the biscuit be given as a symbol of love and affection on special occasions. That’s Romance, Zagreb style.
6. Cats and classical music
Croatia has a thing about cats. The cute creatures are everywhere, dozing in sunbeams and begging for scraps from cooing tourists. Gorščica is no exception. But instead of a busy restaurant, this mountain house retreat offers a place to cuddle with cats in peace and quiet.
Gorščica is a cottage on a hiking path up in the mountains of Medvednica above Zagreb, and the food and drinks are another attraction to the area - but it's definitely off the beaten track. The staff also plays only classical music. So whether you're a nature lover or just want a place to relax, Zagreb has got it.
It's zen, Zagreb style.
7. Wonderful wifi
Ilica Street in Zagreb. Photo: Marko Vrdoljak/Croatia.hr
Many tourists are dependent on GPS - and thus wifi. But this ancient city, steeped in history, is way ahead of the game when it comes to modern amenities. The city centre has free wifi, along with many other streets, hotels and cafes throughout the city. In fact, there's a whole Facebook page offering the passwords for free wifi in the city. So in Zagreb you’ll never be lost – and you’ll never be without Instagram.
8. Safest public transportation
That's right, Zagreb hosts the world's safest public transportation system, with no passenger injuries in over a century. But there is a catch. We are referring exclusively to Zagreb's old-fashioned funicular. (Say that ten times fast.) It's the world's shortest street car funicular system, measuring just 66 metres long, and connects Upper Town and Lower Town. And a one way trip will cost you less than €1. Bargain!
9. Cheap thrills
It can't be denied, one of the best things about Zagreb - when coming from Germany - is the prices. The city is bursting with restaurants where prices are nearly 50 percent lower than in Berlin - and a beer is 63 percent cheaper in Zagreb. (Think about it - that's like three for the price of one.)
10. Sister cities
Zagreb and Germany share a special relationship. No, really. The city has been 'twinned' with Mainz since 1967. Now you know.
For more destinations visit croatia.hr.
This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by the Croatian National Tourist Board.