If you ever visit Zagreb, you’ll probably see smiling faces riding the blue bikes. As a part of Blue Bike Tours, they have the unique experience of Zagreb. Local tour guides, comfy bikes and a diverse offer of tours make the whole experience special!
In this cycling Interview, we are speaking with Alida Mezić, a co-founder of Blue Bike Tours that shares their vision, beginnings, experiences and more.
There’s been a big trend in bike tours in the last couple of years, but your story began way back in 2010. What motivated you to develop bike tours in Zagreb? Was blue your color from the beginning?
The idea of bike tours around Zagreb came after our first bike tour ever in Buenos Aires. The experience was so unexpectedly excellent, we processed the impressions for days afterwards and came to the conclusion: we have to start this in Zagreb. Since we are both riding every day, we knew that in Zagreb this would not be a problem. After all, if it can work in Buenos Aires, it can certainly work anywhere.
The first round of bikes was not blue, it was important to us that they were safe and comfortable, with wide enough tires that would not fall into the tram rails, and we subsequently ordered them painted in “Zagreb” blue.
You have different types of bike tours – from the most popular Zagreb sights to unusual tours, such as the one that takes us through Zagreb during the Yugoslavia period. What is the tour development process like and how many guides do you have?
Originally (12 years ago!) we offered 3 tours for city sightseeing: Zagreb Highlights, which covers all the most important sights of Zagreb, which every visitor who is in Zagreb for the first time must and definitely wants to visit. It was somehow clear to us that Novi Zagreb is an unfairly neglected but promising destination, so we immediately organized the Back to Socialism tour, and it turned out that we were right. To “our” people it is “irrelevant”, but we have had countless occasions where even people who work in tourism asked us with amazement: “so what are you showing them there?” Each location has its own story and charm that the audience recognizes.
Of course, along with Highlights and Back to Socialism, the All of Zagreb tour was imposed by itself, which combines these two in a 4-hour drive, for people who have more time, do not back down when they see 4 hours of cycling and simply want to get a complete insight into the development of the city.
Over time, we developed (and are still developing) new tours, specialized for the customs and characteristics of the place, listening to the interests and wishes of the guests. We also modified the first 3 original tours over time, so that they now only partially look the way we drew them in the beginning. Already after the first 10 or so tours, it became clear that some places and stories that were “important” to us, most guests didn’t care about at all, and some other places, which we did not even consider, turned out to be a hit.
We have 3 permanent guides, and 6 more available if necessary.
What is the tourist demand for getting to know Zagreb on a bicycle and what’s the percentage split between domestic and foreign tourists?
The demand is high, and growing, because tourists are no longer what we have learned them to be: people who come to lie on the beach, go out for pizza and a club in the evening. For example, lately we have had quite a number of guests, mostly families, who are on summer vacation somewhere on the coast, and since the above-mentioned lying on the beach is not an option for them, they go on one-day trips around, and that’s how they get to Zagreb, because after all, it is the capital. And in the few hours they have at their disposal, they will hardly find a better option for getting to know the city than a bike tour.
Until recently, we had almost no domestic guests, but we are seeing more and more of them, but still only as companions of their foreign guests or relatives, so I would say that the proportion of domestic guests is negligible.
Have you noticed the “points” that delight tourists the most?
First of all, tourists on bicycles often spontaneously start whistling or humming – this always thrills me. And then they regularly replace that whistling with “wow” when they see the HNK (Croatian National Theatre), Tomislav Square, Zrinjevac, the view of the Cathedral from the Gradec plateau, St. Mark’s Church, Bundek, when we enter the tunnel. All these places we take for granted, we pass by them every day, so, in a way, we are used to them and their astonishing beauty. I had a man from Bangalore on the tour who burst into tears (literally) when we arrived at Zrinjevac. It was October, the trees were all in red-orange leaves; it’s normal for me, it’s like that every fall, and he’s never seen leaves of any other color than green. So that delight is very often to my great surprise 😉
What do you think is a “must” to visit in Zagreb?
I think that you should definitely visit the entire Green horseshoe (or Lenuzzi’s horshoe, sequence of green squares and parks in lower Zagreb), the Upper city and the Grič tunnel, and visitors definitely “fall” every day without fail – at the shot of a cannon 😉
Do you organize tours in other areas as well?
Yes, in Split. But that is a tale for another occasion.
Do you cycle in the other destinations and which ones do you recommend?
From the first time we took part in a bicycle tour of the city, the first thing after booking accommodation is choosing a bike tour (now all cities have several options) and no other way of getting to know the destination is out of the question. So we cycled around London, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Helsinki, Brussels, Paris…
Usually, those are excellently designed routes, the crowds are far less than on various walking or bus tours, and it is certainly wise to choose a small local service provider because, instead of large franchises, there are fewer participants and the guides are certainly locals.