When people decide to go to Croatia, their choice rarely stops on Zagreb. They privilege the coastal towns, the beachfront locations, and we cannot blame them. But when we chose to go to Croatia in the middle of November, there was no point trying to hit the beach, those days were long over. So we decided to go to Zagreb because we knew there would be a cool city to discover, there wouldn’t be tons of tourists, and we could go to a place that is often overlooked. When you want to do things your way, Zagreb is the place for you!
If you come to Zagreb, we recommend you stay for 3 days, to be able to fully take in all the sights at a leisurely pace.
You’ll notice that there’s not tons to do in Zagreb and that’s ok. The city has a laid-back vibe, making it easy to explore at your own pace. It has a booming restaurant scene, for all the foodies out there. It also has the biggest number of museums per square meter, for those trying to get their culture on. It may not have beaches, but it makes up for it in many other ways.
When to go
As always, it depends what you want to do, and what your favourite season is. Zagreb has 4 distinct seasons with temperatures rising in the summer to 25 degrees C, and dropping close to zero in the winter. It’s also one of the rainiest capitals in Europe, so come prepared.
If you’re a Christmas fan, make sure you head there for Zagreb’s Advent. Christmas markets are sprinkled all over the city all through the month of December, making it the perfect spot to do some shopping for unique gifts.
What to do
There’s plenty to see and do in town, and even a few things you can check out around the city. Everything is pretty close together, and you have tons of parks and green spaces, so walking around is the best option!
No European city would be complete without its cathedral. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of Zagreb’s icons. With its twin towers and defensive walls with round towers, this church is quite beautiful to visit, adding to the city’s skyline.
Across the Cathedral, you will find the famous fountain of the Virgin Mary with her Angels. The gold-plated beauty is hard to miss.
Inside the Cathedral, you will find peace… and the embalmed body of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac. He was the Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960, renown for helping the Jews and others to escape during WWII and publicly condemning the Yugoslavian government and its actions during the war. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1998 for all his work.
If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Ribnjak park, right next to the Cathedral, is a great place to wander.
You know how much we love food, and fresh local products (mainly produce), so Dolac Market was a must on our list. This open-air market is one of the iconic features of the city.
Here, you will find local vendors selling fish, cheese, fruits and veggies, some toys and handmade goods, and pretty much anything else. Come early in the morning to get the freshest and best products. Head there around 3-4pm to get the best deals. And no matter when you go, make sure you’re hungry!
St Mary’s Church
With its beautiful gold and green spire standing tall, this beautiful 18th century church is hard to miss from the market. Take a little moment to step inside and admire its beauty.
Undoubtably the most colourful and lively street in Zagreb, this is where you’ll find all the bars, restaurants, boutiques and shops. You’ll also find the statue of Marija Jurić Zagorka, Croatia’s first professional female journalist, and advocate of equal rights (and you know how much we love strong independent women!).
In the area, you will also find the Bloody Bridge which is actually an alley that connects Tkalčićeva with Radićeva. The bridge that was originally there was torn down, but the alley still bares its name.
You will also find the statue of St George with the dragon he killed.
The Stone Gate
This is your official entrance into Upper Town. It is the only old town gate that remains in the city today, although it was rebuilt in the 18th century. Under the arch, you will find a little chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Zagreb.
St Mark’s Square
Impossible to miss once you’re in the Upper Town, St Mark’s Square and Church are the heart of this part of the city. The Church was built in the 13th century and still stands tall today.
All around the square, you will find important government buildings like the Banski favori, the Governor’s Palace, and Sabor, or the Croatian Parliament. This is also where you will find the Croatian History Museum, the Old City Hall an the Croatian Museum of Naive Art.
Another important part of the Upper Town is Catherine’s Square with St Catherine’s Church. It’s said to be Zagreb’s most beautiful Baroque church.
Right behind the church, you will find the best view from Gradec. You will see the Cathedral, Dolac market for sure. On a clear day, you will also see the dome of Mirogoj cemetery and Mount Medvednica.
Running along the southern edge of Gradec hill, you have the Strossmayer promenade. Lined with trees, it is a peaceful place to walk around, admiring the city from above.
There, you will find the statue of Anton Gustav Matoš, one of the city’s greatest enthusiasts and beloved Croatian writer.
You will also find the world’s shortest passenger cable railway, the 66-metre funicular! This connects Lower Town to Upper Town, although there are steps that might get you there just as quickly!
The funicular is just next to Lotrščak Tower, the only preserved mediaeval tower from he 13th century fortifications. This is where they shoot the famous canon from. Every day at noon, a loud bang can be heard here. Watch out, because it’s much louder than expected!
Museum of broken relationships
We usually consider ourselves pretty lucky, in love and in life. But luck was not on our side when we were in Zagreb. Despite the rainy and grey weather, we made the best of our time here. And as you know, we’re not big on museums, but there was one we were really looking forward to exploring – the Museum of broken relationships… but it was closed when we went. It closes once every four years, and it had to fall on the dates we were there!
Started in 2006 this museum started out as a joke between two lovers who ended their relationship. Today, it’s a globally crowd-sourced project that features items left over by lovers when their relationship ends. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?! Yeah, that’s why we wanted to check it out too! Guess we have to go back.
If you’re looking for museums to check out, you’re in luck because Zagreb is home to the largest number of museums. There is really something for everyone, from the Nikola Tesla technical museum, to the archeological one, and a ton more.
Right below the Lotrščak Tower, as you take the steps down to Lower Town, you will find Art Park. This cute park for children is decorated by street artists. We love street art, and this is the only place we found some in the city, along with a short staircase by Catherine’s square.
Ban Jelačić Square
Between Upper town and Lower town (though considered to be a part of Upper), you will find Ban Jelačić Square. It’s the city’s commercial centre, and has been since 1641. This huge square, with the imposing statue of Ban Josip Jelačić is where a lot of the trams and buses stop.
The Lenuci Horseshoe
Ok, at this point, we could break down all the little things you can find around the Horseshoe that makes up the Lower Town of Zagreb, but that would be waaaaay too long. As they say: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”. So here is what we suggest. Walk down the horseshoe. And stop and admire what you feel is important to you. The horseshoe is made up of sooooo many parks. Find a bench and people-watch. There are museums all around it too, so you can stop and explore one of them if you feel like it. Just do you, boo.
Start at Zrinjevac park, where you have the Meteorological Post, First Fountain and the Archeological Museum. You can also find HAZU and the Gallery of Modern Art there. Just after, you will find the Art Pavillion.
You will then get to King Tomislav Square with its imposing statue greeting everyone coming out of the main railway. Turn right when you get to the Hotel Esplanade, an iconic landmark of the city since 1925. Fun fact: Guests from the Orient Express used to stay here. One of its famous guests was Josephine Baker, a provocative dancer from the 20’s.
Keep going as you will make your way through the Botanical Gardens. If the Gardens are open, take a stroll there, as you’ll be able to discover over 10,000 different plant species.
Keep going as you will come upon the Croatian National Theatre and the very sensual Well of Life.
Don’t be surprised to see students around there, as the Zagreb University is just there. You will also find the museum of Arts and Crafts and the Mimara Museum. Did you spot the other statue of St George, this time killing a dragon? Famous guy, isn’t he!
If you are looking to leave the city centre and explore things that are different, we have 2 spots to recommend for you.
Ok, we know what you’re thinking. Why in the world are we recommending a cemetery?! Well, this is no ordinary place. The architecture here is absolutely beautiful. We don’t want to make this a main tourist attraction, but both a random tour guide and our hostel recommended we walk around here.
This is Zagreb’s main cemetery, opened in 1876. It is the final resting place of many notable Croats, and people from all religions. This is why you will see all sorts of Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim symbols around.
If you go here, please be respectful. It is not a place to take Instagram pictures, but a place of respect and humility. Just take in the beauty of nature and enjoy the moment.
To get there, take the 201 or the 226, just near the Zagreb Cathedral. The bus stops right at the cemetery.
We love a city that’s so close to nature. Just North of Zagreb, you will find Medvednica Mountain. Because Zagreb is known for being rainy, we didn’t have a chance to go here, but we know we will be heading up for a hike next time we’re in the city.
There are plenty of ways to get up there, but the most eco-friendly is biking or taking the bus. If you head there, here are some more details on how you can do it.
Where to stay
Chillout Hostel is our favourite place to stay in Zagreb. With a name like Chillout, there’s really no way to go wrong, is there?! This hostel fits in perfectly with the vibe of the city: friendly, laid-back and full of life.
Downstairs, you have the bar where locals and travellers can meet. Such a chill vibe, cool music and awesome staff makes this a place to meet new (or old) friends. Super well located, right near Art Park, at the steps of the Upper Town, Chillout has super comfy rooms, with your choice of dorms or private.
As if that wasn’t enough, their staff is super friendly. Corey made it a point to let us know where all the cool spots were, and had some awesome recommendations for us when it came to restaurants and things that were off-the-beaten path. Plus, they offer free walking tours around the city, so you can learn more about the sites.
We can’t wait to head back here, meet up with old friends and make new ones.
Where to eat
Because we had such a short time in Zagreb, we have 2 recommendations for you in town:
Mali Medo: This microbrewery is known for its craft beer and delicious food. Situated in Tkalčićeva, this place has an extensive outdoor terrace, so it’s perfect in the summer. Derek loved his Pub plate that had a bit of everything. I opted for pizza, as our waiter told us it was better than Italian pizza. If you try, let us know what you think. The verdict is still out for us!
Stari Fijaker: If you’re looking for typical Zagreb or Croatian food, this is your spot. They don’t have many vegetarian options, but they were very accommodating, modifying their side dishes for me. I had the delicious veggie steaks.
Zagreb is fairly small (but oh-so-cute) so walking around town is your best bet. However, if you want to get somewhere faster, or get out of the rain, their bus and tram network is pretty awesome.
If you’re looking to visit all the museums (which would take you a long time), you may want to get the Zagreb Card. Like in other cities, it gives you discounts on so many entrances and attractions, free transport and so much more. It may be worth investing in the card if you plan on hitting these places up.
Although our time in Zagreb was short, it was the sweetest. Such a cool, laid-back city, so many parks and beautiful architecture, we highly recommend you find some time, head away from the coast, and discover this capital!
Have you ever been to Zagreb? Did we convince you to check it out? Let us know in the comments.
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