If you’ve ever been to Zagreb, chances are you discovered the perfect Central European city: grand Imperial buildings, narrow cobbled streets and cafés spilling out on to the streets. Chances are you also discovered millions of Zagreb hearts, on sale seemingly everywhere.
Though these traditional biscuit hearts might be the most commonly found example, there are plenty of other quirky and unique features that could help bill Zagreb as either the city of love. Or heartbreak. Depending on your preference…
Life in a heartbeat: Zagreb’s Love Tour
Now, I know what you’re thinking, this sounds either incredibly tacky – or pretty damn dodgy. But hear me out: it’s actually quite sweet. (Plus we’ll get to both tacky and dodgy later…)
The love tour is actually simply a collection of sights in Zagreb’s old tour (known as Gradec) that locals have endearingly come to refer to as the love tour.
The first ‘stop’ on the tour is the statue of local writer Antun Gustav Matoš. At first glance, the shiny man sat on the shiny bench isn’t too much to look at, but this is actually one of the city’s most well-known statues and a big favourite with locals. Legend has it that if you rub his nose, you’ll meet the love of your life.
Just around the corner is the best view of Zagreb cathedral you can find with both feet on the ground (but the panorama point is well worth the views on a clear evening). The terrace railing now sports several love locks (where doesn’t in Central Europe these days?), but its amorous reputation proceeds them, as this has long been known as the Kissing Spot, popular with teenage couples.
Directly next to the viewpoint, you can find a beautiful Baroque Saint Catherine Church, the final stop on the tour.
So there you have it: meet the love of your life after rubbing the statue’s nose, take them to the kissing spot and then – bam – off to Saint Catherine’s to get married. Sorted.
Museum of Broken Relationships
Of course, it’s not all lovey-dovey in Zagreb, as the Museum of Broken Relationships can attest to. Often jokingly referred to as an ‘extension’ of the Love Tour, this relatively new museum has to be the best thing to see in Zagreb.
So what is the Museum of Broken Relationships? Well it basically started off as art project, thought up by two locals, in order to showcase leftover personal mementos from relationships: an old love note, a Valentine’s gift or even just a postcard.
The idea caught on and soon people all over the world were donating objects. Why? Some have said it brings them closure to relive the story of their lost love and donate it to the museum.
Today, the museum is a small but engrossing collection of these items. The exhibits are as varied as the heartbreak that comes with them: a shoe from a BDSM-fling, undelivered letters written to a mother who abandoned her children, a stuffed caterpillar from a doomed long-distance relationship. The stories are really evocative, too.
If you love romance novels, dramas or just life stories, do not miss this museum.
Zagreb heart or Licitar
Ok, so we’ve had love. We’ve had heartbreak. Now for something a bit tacky: Licitar.
I’m not going to lie – I wasn’t a huge fan of the Zagreb hearts you find almost everywhere. When made well, these wooden mementos of love are quite endearing, however the sheer number of cheap knock-offs turned me right off. Bright red, cheap-looking boxes hanging from every tourist shop door, postcard after postcard with them plastered everywhere… gah. Sorry Cupid.
The original Licitar are gingerbread biscuits and are traditionally given at weddings or on Valentine’s Day. The brightly decorated sweets are actually UNESCO-protected and have since grown to become the symbol of Zagreb.
They are, in short: unavoidable. But if love is what they aim to inspire, the tacky tourist embodiment missed the mark with me.
And finally: something dodgy from the city of love and heartbreak.
Chances are you will walk down Tkalciceva Street in central Zagreb to explore one of its pubs. Interestingly, the street actually used to be a stream dividing to the two cities that grew to become Zagreb.
However even more interesting is the fact that each building on the street used to be a brothel. And in fact, this area was the first in Europe to use red lights to denote such establishments, pre-dating Amsterdam’s feature De Wallen district. You can read more about the street here.
Something to think about during your Love Tour…
To visit all of the sights here, why not take the Free Spirit Walking Tour?