Zagreb is back on the map

British Airways resumed flights from Heathrow to the Croatian capital last week. Mick Webb gets on board

Zagreb's reputation as a fun-loving city doesn't go into cold storage for the winter. Outdoor festivities continue into January with markets and concerts, as the locals trade their summer beers for mulled wine. The neighbouring mountain, Medvednica, also comes into its own, with its small ski centre (4km of varied slopes: pp-medvednica.hr), just a half-hour's journey by tram and cable car from the centre.

Zagreb's upper town, Gornji Grad, rises proudly above the plain where the rest of the city is arranged in a grid of uniform avenues. By contrast, Gornji Grad's cobbled, medieval streets span two hills (Kaptol and Gradec) and are filled with striking buildings and a healthy number of museums. This is by no means a fossilised tourist trap, though; a walk through Gornji Grad is as much a window on Zagreb's daily life in as it is on the city's turbulent past.

Start in Zagreb's central square, whose lengthy name, Trg Bana Josipa Jelacica, is mercifully shortened by everyone to "Trg", (The Square). Take Bakaceva Street, which slopes up beside the tourist office, towards Kaptol's focal point, the cathedral (free; 10am-5pm daily, from 1pm on Sundays; 00 385 1 481 4727). Startlingly white, it sports 108m-high twin spires – one of which is being restored and looks like a bandaged arm – that dominate the city skyline.

Head west from the cathedral square and down the steps to Dolac, the city's most atmospheric market. Between 6am and 2pm every day, it's filled with the bright colours and the scents of fresh fruit and vegetables; it's particularly lively on a Saturday, when many Zagrebians come to buy from the same stalls where their mothers used to shop.

Another flight of steps leads downwards from the south west side of the market to Zagreb's best-known party street, Tkalciceva. Once the course of a river separating the two hills of the Old Town, it's now a flow of pastel-coloured two-storey houses with balconies, every one of which is a bar, restaurant or café. Try the local Medvedgrad beers in Pivnica Mali Medo at number 36 (10am-midnight, noon to midnight on Sundays; 00 385 1 492 9613; pivnica-medvedgrad.hr). A half-litre glass costs 14 kuna (£1.65).

Retrace your steps back down Tkalciceva and turn right down a street with the poignant name of Krvavi Most, "Bloody Bridge". It recalls the disputes that used to take place in medieval times between the residents of Kaptol (the church-dominated community) and those of Gradec, the secular district on the neighbouring hill. You reach the latter after a right turn into Radiceva, followed by, after 400m, a sharp left turn through Kamenita Vrata, the 18th- century Stone Gate. As your eyes become accustomed to its dark interior you will see candles flickering and people at prayer. Legend has it that when fire destroyed the original wooden gate, a painting of the Virgin Mary was miraculously spared. Since then, the gate has been a shrine where residents of Zagreb pray for good luck in all matters of life and death.

Follow Kamenita Street from the gate until you reach St Mark's Square, Markov Trg, the centre of Gradec and the heart of Croatia. On your left is a long Baroque building with a butterscotch-coloured façade, now the seat of Croatian government. Opposite is the slightly grander stone Parliament building, while in between them is the church of St Mark (Sunday 7.30am-6pm; 9am-noon on other days; free ; 00 385 1 485 1611). On Saturday and Sunday mornings the square is the setting for the ceremonial changing of the guard, ancient in appearance but recently introduced. The start of the event is signalled by the thunderous boom of a cannon, which is fired at midday on the dot, scattering pigeons, causing locals to check their watches and sending first-time tourists diving for cover.

Cirilometodska Street leads south from the square towards, at number 2, the latest and most intriguing of Gornji Grad's museums: the Museum of Broken Relationships. Exhibits that encapsulate or recall the end of a relationship are accompanied by a short text telling the story of the break-up. There's an unworn wedding dress, a teddy bear and an axe, which was applied to the furniture of a cheating lover (daily 9am-10.30pm; 25 kuna/£2.80; 00 385 1 485 1021; brokenships.com).

Carry straight on from the museum down Dverce Street to the Strossmayerovo Boulevard, which winds along the southern edge of Gradec and is the summer venue for evening concerts. In winter, it dazzles with views across the lower town. You can get back down to the main square by the funicular railway (5 kuna/65p) or via several flights of steps.

Better still, interrupt your descent with lunch (or dinner) at the beautifully-situated restaurant Pod Grickim Topom (00 35 1 483 3607; restoran-pod-grickim-topom.hr; closed Sundays) at Zakmardijeve Stube 5, with views of the town below. The menu uses seasonal ingredients from Dolac market and includes dishes such as beef tagliata with grilled vegetables and home-made goat's cheese ravioli with sage butter; mains cost about 100 kuna (£11).

Continue down the steps to reach the main square again.

Fresh cuts

Advent is celebrated enthusiastically across the city (adventzagreb.com). The central square of Josip Jelacic hosts an ice rink and music concerts every evening between 5pm and 9pm, weekends 10am to 2pm. In the surrounding streets, there's a traditional Advent Fair, with stalls selling gingerbread cookies, trinkets, Christmas decorations and souvenirs.

New on the accommodation block, and an economical alternative to the traditional hotel, is the small, stylish B&B Studio Kairos (00 385 1 46 40 680; studio-kairos.com). It's a 10-minute walk from the main square at Vlaska 92, with doubles starting at €48 (£39), including breakfast.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Mick Webb travelled as a guest of Croatia Airlines and the Zagreb Tourist Board.

The new daily service between Heathrow and Zagreb with BA (0844 493 0787; britishairways.com) joins Croatia Airlines' six flights a week (020-8745 4683; croatiaairlines.com), while easyJet (0834 104 5000; easyJet.com) flies from Gatwick.

 

Staying there

Best Western Premier Astoria, Petrinjska 71 (00 385 1 480 8900; hotelastoria.hr). Doubles start at €101 (£81) including breakfast.

 

More information

Croatia Tourist Board: 020‑8563 7979; croatia.hr

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?