Where is the Best Place to Live in Croatia? The Case for Zagreb

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Photo Boska i Kreso

A few years ago, I suggested to the TCN writers at the time that we do a series called Where is the Best Place to Live in Croatia. As we were bigger in number and located all over the country, I thought it might make for an interesting series. And so it proved, with the three submissions we published:

Where is the Best Place to Live in Croatia? The Case for Rijeka

Where is the Best Place to Live in Croatia? The Case for Split

Where is the Best Place to Live in Croatia? The Case for Varazdin

After almost two years living in Zagreb, it is time to continue the series, and I would hereby like to answer the question – Where is the Best Place to Live in Croatia? The Case for Zagreb.

My earliest memories of Zagreb were hardly auspicious, and if I heard myself saying that is was probably the best place I have ever lived decades later, I would have been very surprised. 

But the fact is that I truly do feel that way after having lived in many diverse places in my time – Manchester, Surrey, York, Banbury, rural Northamptonshire, Munich, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ekaterinburg, Tbilisi, Kardzali, Nairobi, Kigali, Hargeisa, Bosaso, Hiroshima, Hvar, and Varazdin.

Amazing experiences all, and I feel privileged to have travelled so much.  


(Photo J. Duval)

It didn’t really feel that cool as I first emerged from Zagreb Train Station for an overnight stop en route to Medjugorje back in 1987 – ah, the power of a Jesuit education – nor when I made my regular trips to Zagreb Bus Station, Ban Jelacic and Zagreb Train Station en route to Graz and Ryanair to the UK two decades ago. Zagreb didn’t seem that cool, or a place I wanted to spend a lot of time. 

But then, things changed. 

A lot. 

In the last 5-10 years, Zagreb has undergone a huge – and positive – change, notwithstanding the destruction caused by a major earthquake in March 2020. Yes, a lot of the buildings were damaged, but this is a city which has really come to life in the last few years, both for locals living here, as well as the increasing number of visitors who are discovering a little hidden gem which is slowly becoming a European superstar. Actually, no longer that hidden – back in 2019, Lonely Planet named Zagreb as the number 1 destination in Europe.  

So what makes Zagreb so cool these days?

1. Safety

I have lived in some hairy parts of the planet – none more so than the rough end of Manchester as a student in the 90s – but few if any have felt as safe as Croatia, or Zagreb as a capital city. It is a city where you can lose your laptop on the street in the centre of the city, not notice until the following day in another city, and still be reunited with it thanks to the kindness of strangers – read more in Losing a Laptop in Zagreb: the Kindness of Strangers


I am constantly in awe of how safe it is to walk home at night, even in the early hours. Not once have I felt threatened (a huge contrast to late nights in cities in Western Europe), and the number of solo female tavellers who cite safety as one of the top reasons why Zagreb is significant. In fact, in a recent NomadList survey, Zagreb was preferred by a larger percentage of female nomads than male, with safety being a top reason. 

2. A City of Four Seasons

Having lived for 13 idyllic years on Hvar, where there is essentially a season around the summer, and a non-season around winter, with little inbetween, I was surprised how much I have come to appreciate the distinct four seasons of Zagreb. And each season seems to be introduced with a defining event. Winter, of course, is defined by the award-winning Advent in Zagreb, an annual event that grew from nothing to be voted the best in Europe three years in a row. 

And anyone who was here earlier this month will agree that there are few more spectacular ways to welcome Spring than the excellent Festival of Lights. Ah, Spring – the trees in blossom, the outdoor cafe terraces filled. What a season to be alive.

Summer in Zagreb is a relatively new discovery to me after years on the coast, and probably my favourite time to be in the capital, while others head to the coast. A LOT of people head to the coast, leaving being a much emptier city, but one full of cultural events and things to do, where the ratio between tourist and local seems to be almost equal. There is time, space, and the insider knowledge that those who have stayed behind have done so for a reason – that actually Zagreb in the summer without the people is a seriously cool place. 

And as the locals come back with their tans and annual dose of fjaka from the beach, so the leaves start to fall, and the magic of Autumn descends upon us. The Artupunktura art and culture festival seems to encompass the very best of this most pleasant of seasons. 

3. Nature

There can’t be many greener capital cities in Europe. And once you have enjoyed the nature in the city, check out the magic all around with the fabulous Around Zagreb website, which brings out the very best in outdoor Zagreb and surroundings.  And with the addition of the new Zagreb Cable Car, how simple is it to switch from city life to the ski slopes in about 10 minutes (see video below)?

4. Walkability

I can’t recall living in a city which was so walkable as Zagreb. It is a city of just under a million, where everything is not too far away.  As the central area is pretty flat, its parks and leafy avenues numerous, it is a great place to stroll and chalk up your 10,000 steps a day. Having said that, the public transport is affordable and excellent, particularly the tram network. And parking for a resident is more than affordable. 160 euro a year buys full access to an underground public garage where you never have to de-ice the car.  


(Photo Sanjin Kastelan)

5. Growing International Gourmet Scene

When I first started coming to Zagreb on a regular basis 20 years ago, the international options where a bad Chinese and a not-much-better Indian. How times have changed, and not only with the international options, but with a welcome diversity and experimentation of local food. Noel heads the way with its Michelin star, but there are so many other great dining options with Croatian food. But if you are looking for international – the range has really expanded over the last five years, from Thai street food and sushi almost on every corner, to Venezuela, Vietnamese and Nigerian.  

6. Accessibility

Not only is Zagreb easy to get around, but it is also a VERY accessible starting point for the rest of Croatia and several fabulous other European cities. Ljubljana, Belgrade, Budapest, Graz and Vienna are all 1.5 – 4 hours drive on good motorways, the allure of the coast under two hours, and several great destinations such as Split, Zadar, Pula, Rovinj, Osijek and RIjeka 2-3 hours away. 

The arrival of Ryanair has opened up Zagreb as never before, and with ove a million passengers last year, the Irish budget carrier has made the world a lot more accessible to Croatians, just as it opens up Zagreb to the world. 

Hiking, wine tasting, bikiing, culture – there is SO much around Zagreb which is easily accessible – one of my favourite things about living here. 


7. Vibrant StartUp Scene

Much as I loved my time on Hvar (and I really did), after 13 years of talking about olives, I thrived on the most vibrant intellectual life in Zagreb. This is a city on the move, with SO many entrepreneurs finding their way, eager to collaborate and build the new Croatia. This for me is one of the best things about living here – and one of the secrets of why summers are best.  

8. Cafe Lifestyle

Croatia, the lifestyle. Need I say more?

Just a great way of living.  And a great way to do business.


9. A Remote Work Hub among the Best in Europe

A couple of years ago, the words Zagreb and digital nomads would not be mentioned in the same sentence. How times changed. The Zagreb Digital Nomad Week put the city on the remote work map, and as nomads arrived, they really liked what they saw – a truly hidden gem on the remote work map. We interviewed the self-styled King of Nomads, Dean Kuchel, at the time, who gave his impressions of Zagreb as a digital nomad destination – the only thing missing in his opinion was more digital nomads.

And those nomads and remote workers have been coming in droves ever since, spending in the city and bringing their positive mindset. At times I feel a nomad myself, albeit a stationary one, as I maintain relationships with nomads I met a couple of years ago. And while I never seem to move, the thing that connects us is their  love and desire to return to Zagreb. Zagreb was recently named in the top 5 most-liked destinations in the world on the influential NomadList 2023 survey, as well as the fastest-growing remote-work hub


10. Dolac Market on Saturdays

The iconic Dolac marketplace is one of the great symbols of Zagreb, and an excellent place to pick up your locally-produced fresh fruit and veg (and at prices which surprised me in a good way when I started making it part of my routine. But then I got into the habit of stopping for first a chat, then a drink with a little spek, onions and bread, with the locals, a wonderful way to pass an hour or two on a Saturday morning, listening to their stories past and present. 

Ah, Zagreb, why would you live anywhere else?


What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.

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Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.









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