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Zagreb's official colour is blue, but after a short walk through the city, you'll be dazzled by green. Lush parks and leafy squares pop around every corner, and streets, even those busy with traffic, are lined with trees.
Head north from the centre and you can quickly be on shaded trails that meander through Tuškanac forest. Even the city's northern skyline is adorned with the green Medvednica mountain. Not many European cities have such an easy access to pristine nature like Zagreb.
But green is not only the colour of Zagreb's looks. In recent years, it's become the city's outlook too. Sustainable living, eco-friendly transport, slow and organic food and clothing – all these are ideas that have taken root and are now blossoming in Croatia's capital.
The city's inviting green spaces now host various events and festivals which promote ecological thinking. Restaurants and deli shops are stocked with healthy food, even getting around Zagreb can be done in a mindful way. So here's the list of all things green that show Zagreb's true colours.
Lounging among greenery
Nothing is more leisurely than enjoying a quiet moment in a park. The centre of Zagreb boasts plenty of landscaped oases but the dearest one to the locals is Zrinjevac Park. During summer, this nature retreat lined with century-old plane trees is home to various open air festivals: from street food to film screenings. Every evening (4-13 August, 19:00-23:00) you can join a retro dance party or catch a promenade concert held in the park's Music Pavilion (Saturdays 29 July-28 August, 11:00-13:00).
Plant lovers will thrive in the Botanical Garden – a true island of tranquility in the city centre. This 4.7 ha large English-style arboretum features more than 10,000 plant species, lily-covered ponds and plenty of shaded benches to enjoy a peaceful moment (open Mon-Tue 9:00-14.30; Wed-Sun 9:00-19:00).
If you want to be surrounded by green expanses without leaving the city, head east towards Zagreb's biggest and oldest park Maksimir. With countless walking trails, open commons and five lakes, Maksimir is the best place to escape the urban hubbub. Every Saturday (10:00-19:00) throughout the summer, join Picnic in Maksimir and have your lunch on the grass with plenty of entertainment. You can even take the little ones to the nearby Zagreb Zoo (open daily 9:00-20:00) to see 275 animal species, including the rare snow leopard and red panda.
Those who love straying off the beaten path will enjoy Zagreb's hidden pockets of semi-wild greenery. Just around the corner from the busy Ilica street, several walking trails lead into Tuškanac forest. The prettiest one, Dubravka Trail, meanders gently uphill until it reaches Cmrok – a delightful meadow with a view of the famous Mirogoj cemetery. If you're looking for a secluded place, ideal for a romantic picnic, head to Rokov perivoj – a small park above Britanski Square.
Only half an hour's drive, Medvednica nature park is heaven for outdoor activities. Do as the locals do and go on a two-hour hike to Sljeme hilltop (1035 m). You can also catch the regular bus 102 from Mihaljevac and walk along the mountain ridge where trails are not as steep. For a bigger adrenaline rush, do some cycling, trail running, even free rock climbing – all available on the mountain. When you feel tired, stop in one of many mountain huts and replenish with a hearty home-cooked meal.
Getting around with no carbon footprint
When it comes to eco-friendly transport, nothing beats the simple art of walking. With elegant streets built to human measure and most highlights close at hand, Zagreb is a ramblers’ delight. If you want to shift to a higher gear, join the growing community of runners and joggers. For recreational purposes, the banks of the river Sava are ideal, but exploring the city's highlights while running is quite unique too. You can join CulturRun (www.minutadvije.hr) guided tours that accommodate all fitness levels.
Cycling in Zagreb is booming too, both as a means of transport and a way to explore the city. With more and more locals cycling on a daily basis, Zagreb is expanding its network of cycling paths and lanes (map of recommended routes available at the Cycling Union website http://sindikatbiciklista.hr). Even if you arrive in Zagreb without a bike, you can join the public bike sharing system Nextbike with 20 terminals all over the city. Register on site, via website (www.nextbike.hr) or mobile app for a one-time fee of 79 KN. The first 30 minutes are free and each additional hour is 8 KN.
Once you're fitted with two wheels, you can cycle around the centre or head to Lake Jarun with more than 10 km of cycling trails. The next option is to go sightseeing on a bike. It’s a great way to cover more ground and to get themed and custom-made guidance from local tour agencies, such as BlueBike, Lobagola (www.lobagola.com), Žuti Mačak (www.zutimacak.hr) and Pedaloo (www.pedaloo.eu).
If you arrive in Zagreb with your own e-vehicle, don’t worry. There are plenty of e-stations to recharge your car, bike and scooter. Check the full list at www.puni.hr.
Red hot events at green venues
All year round the leafy Zagreb outdoors is the go-to place to get active or to relax. But when summer arrives, things get taken to a new level with exciting events and festivals heating up the atmosphere. The brightest of all is the Fireworks Festival at Bundek lake and park when world's best pyrotechnicians light up Zagreb’s skies.
Nights are also magical at the 13th century Medvedgrad Castle perched on Medvednica mountain. The fort is famous for the glorious views of the entire city but Medvedgrad Music Nights (11 - 15 July) spice up the nocturnal ambience even more. Just before the summer is over, climb to Medvedgrad once again to catch a reenactment of medieval times. During the Medieval Days festival (30 September - 1 October), you can watch knights fencing, hear old locals legends, and even brush shoulders with the notorious Black Queen – Zagreb's most famous evil ruler.
Cinephiles too can enjoy a unique setting under the starry Zagreb sky. The program of the popular Fantastic Zagreb Film Festival (29 June - 8 July) is screened at Tuškanac Summer Stage – a remarkable open-air cinema hidden deep inside Tuškanac forest. Other types of art thrive throughout the summer (25 May - 7 October) in the hip Art Park just below chestnut-lined Strossmayer Promenade. Launched by the local street artists, this fun initiative turned a once neglected playground into an interactive art colony for people of all ages. Head there to watch street artists paint murals in real time or learn about green initiatives promoted there, such as protecting the Adriatic Sea from overfishing or saving rescued city animals.
A special green program is also part of the cutting edge neighbourhood festival Design District Zagreb. Rooted in the microlocation around Martićeva street, the program promotes globally important topics, such as improving community living and managing resources responsibly. Head to Ratkaj Passage near Martićeva to catch the festival’s interactive events.
Healthy foodie experiences
Green and organic thinking is particularly strong on the Zagreb foodie scene. But before you experience the explosion of new trends, don't skip the classic small-scale shopping at Zagreb’s farmers' markets. Colourful Dolac market features seasonal fruit and vegetables from all around Croatia, including eco produce from family farms (OPG) like Sever and Veselić. The market’s ground level is a treasure trove of artisan dairy, meat, pickled and bakery produce. Look out especially for Gligora cheese and Veronika fresh dairy.
Most small scale artisan food in Croatia carries the OPG label, which stands for family-run farm. You will find these delicacies at markets or speciality food shops such as Košara&Kašeta (Britanski trg 2) or Grga Čvarak (Kutnjački put 9). The choice ranges from organic fruit and vegetables, homemade pastries to free-range meet and dairy. In recent years Mali Plac [Small Market] has been the locals' favourite place to forage for organic food. The initiative grew from a small gathering in the attic of a Zagreb building to hosting regular market days. Throughout June, catch Mali Plac every Wednesday at Branimir shopping mall (Branimirova 29) or join their Thursday Picnic event on Vranyczany Plateau (Upper Town) during August.
If you fancy cooking at home, health food shops are the place to stock up. They sell fresh eco food but also organic and GMO-free grains, spices, pickles and all other ingredients loved by vegetarians and vegans. The best ones are Bio&Bio (Ilica 70, Oktogon Passage), Garden (Masarykova 1, Martićeva 12), Farma (Masarykova 24), Greencajg (Vukovarska 14, Heinzelova 4) and Ceker (Nova Ves 73a).
When it comes to eating out green and organic, a few restaurants stand out. Vegehop (Vlaška 79) serves a great range of vegetarian meals, while Bistro Zrno (Medulićeva 20) is famous for cooking up a vegan storm. If you're on the go, check out Green Point (Varšavska 10) for quick and excellent vegetarian bites. Fans of burgers will like the concept of Submarine BBQ (Frankopanska 11) where all ingredients are locally sourced – you can ask for each one specifically as you wait to be served. To round off a meal, indulge your sweet tooth with a range of healthy desserts. Dessert House (Savska 95) serves excellent raw cakes while Vis à Vis by Vincek (Tomićeva 2) makes gluten- and dairy-free sweets to die for. Summer wouldn't be complete without a refreshing ice-cream and the best one is the homemade Medenko, served at Cogito café (Varšavska 11) or stocked in Veronika deli (Ilica 62).
Green souvenir to take home
After you've explored the best of green Zagreb, it makes sense to pick up a unique sustainable souvenir. Head to Kantarion shop (Martićeva 14c) and choose something to pamper yourself or your loved ones. This mecca of natural cosmetics boasts creams, lotions, healing and essential oils, shampoos and baths salts all made with pure organic ingredients. The lines of products are as varied as the scents and colours, featuring local herbalists and artisan cosmetic chemists.
For a longer-lasting gift, pick a T-shirt or underwear made from organically grown cotton and beautifully designed by Brokula&Ž (brokulaz.com). Track down their collection in Bio&Bio shops or Take Me Home souvenir shop (Tomićeva 4) and make sure to check for a fun message hidden on the inside.
Awareness of sustainable living culminates with the popular Zegevege festival (28-29 September) – the largest green event in the region. If you’re visiting Zagreb in September, head to Ban Jelačić Square and join thousands of eco-minded people. Healthy produce and workshops on various topics of eco living don’t get better than here.