Osijek has a well-earned reputation for being the most relaxing of Croatian cities. Its inhabitants are notoriously laid-back and welcoming, its city centre is full of parks, and the stick-around-a-while-longer quality of its cafes and restaurants stands as a warning to anyone who thinks that life is there to be hurried. Walking is a pleasure rather than a burden in a predominantly low-rise centre whose skyline is periodically punctured by some unusual architectural treat. And if you’re not much of a walker, then don’t forget that the flat nature of the terrain ensures that Osijek is very much a bicycle-lovers’ kind of place. It is also the only city outside Zagreb that has a tram network, with two lines that take you almost everywhere you need to go in the city centre.
Osijek is also a major university town, providing a seemingly endless supply of young people who will decide what to do with the rest of their lives just as soon as they’ve had a few more drinks. There are some excellent bars, pub and clubs, with prices a fraction of what they are in Zagreb or on the Adriatic coast. The fact that the city centre comes in two parts – Gornji Grad to the west and Tvrđa to the east – gives a night on the town an extra flavour: on warm summer nights there’s a constant stream of people flowing along the riverfront between the outdoor bars of Zimska luka and the pubs and clubs of the Tvrđa district a kilometre or so downstream.
Osijek is very much the capital of the Croatian southeast, an up-and-coming tourism centre that is increasingly well celebrated for its distinctive local cuisine and boutique wineries. There are also signs that Osijek is beginning to punch its cultural weight: the Croatian National Theatre in Osijek’s ground-breaking production of Unterstadt, staged in the open air during the Osijek Cultural Summer, won the best production in 2012’s Teatr.hr awards; while Osijek-based design team Lega-Lega are becoming a major nationwide retailer of T-Shirts and stationery, opening shops in Dubrovnik and Zagreb.