The last stop on our adventure through Croatia is majestic Zagreb. Croatia is mostly famed for its incredible coast and Game of Thrones film locations, neither of which is in Zagreb. Nevertheless, there are many reasons to visit Zagreb other than being the capital.
With nearly a thousand years of history, it is one of the oldest cities in Central Europe, thus a delight for history buffs. Wedged between river Sava and mount Medvednica and with over 30 beautiful parks scattered all over Zagreb, it is one of the greenest European cities, perfect for nature lovers. But regardless of the type of traveler you are, there is something for everyone to enjoy. From extensive shopping streets, quirky cafes, and cultural events to museums and so many attractions, which are just a stone’s throw away. It is an old city with an infectious youthful atmosphere that is hard not to like. To do Zagreb justice, we recommend staying longer than a stopover before heading to the azure coast. This is the only way to have a taste of the local way of life.
One of us is going to be exploring Zagreb in an unusual way. So stick around until the end to find out how and enjoy learning why Zagreb is worth visiting.
Getting around Zagreb is a piece of cake. Public transport like trams is available, but because the city is so pedestrian-friendly, you probably won’t need to use it. And Zagreb is the type of city best enjoyed at a slow pace. So the perfect place to start is the main square Jelacic and turn the history pages one block and narrow street at a time.
1 Scenic Strolls
Zagreb’s main sights are divided into Upper Town and Lower Town, connected by Zagreb Funicular, the shortest funicular in the world (just 66 meters long). Start your stroll around Zagreb in Jelacic Square and follow the Green Horseshoe path that connects a series of parks and hotspots around Lower Town. As you make your way past Lotrscak Tower, climb to the top for stunning city views and wait for the Gric cannon to fire at noon and church bells that follow. Then make your way to Upper Town’s Gradec to explore the city’s medieval heart.
2 Zagreb Cathedral
The majestic Cathedral, with its tall spires, which can be seen for miles, is one of the main sights in Zagreb. This Cathedral has been through it all – fires, earthquakes. And unfortunately, during our visit, the Cathedral was under construction due to the earthquake that hit in 2020, so we could only marvel at it from the outside. But if it happens to be open during your stay, make sure to go in and appreciate the sound of the 6,100-pipe organ.
3 Unusual Museums
Apart from the Zagreb City Museum, where you can discover the city’s history, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, where you can admire art installations and exercise your imagination, Zagreb also has a few peculiar museums. Yes, Zagreb is a capital that doesn’t take itself too seriously. At these museums, you can spend a pleasant afternoon and have a laugh.
The Museum of Broken Relationships showcases artifacts of doomed romances donated by the couples themselves. It’s an amusing pastime, browsing the endearing and funny relics if you have time to spare. For more unusual entertainment, head over to the aptly named Hangover Museum and Croatian Museum of Naïve Art, a display of work by amateur artists. Did we mention Zagreb is incredibly inclusive?
4 Fantastic Day Trips
Zagreb’s advantageous location makes it an ideal place to base yourself and take day trips. In just two hours, you can sunbathe on the Adriatic Sea. Though you might want to take your time cruising along the rich coastline, it is doable. In just thirty minutes, you could be hiking the Medvednica mountain, which will reward you with panoramic views over Slovenia, Hungary, and the Adriatic Sea. And a twenty-minute ride out of the city center, you can find yourself at the peaceful Jarun Lake, where activities include biking, kayaking, or swimming in the summer.
5 Dolac Market
Behind the Jelacic square, you’ll find the lively Dolac Market. Rows of neatly arranged red umbrellas shelter local vendors displaying rainbows of fresh fruit and vegetables, rows of honey, cheeses, and rakija. Come with an appetite and spend the morning feasting your senses on the multitude of fragrances, vibrant colors, and authentic local flavors. If you are staying in Zagreb over Sunday, head to British Square to search for antique treasures at the local flea market.
6 Indulge in Local Food
Similar to other Balkan countries, Croatian cuisine captures the essence of the Mediterranean diet. The ingredients are organic and locally sourced, giving the impression that you can infinitely indulge without repercussions. You’d be right to take full advantage of that as you eat your way through the bourgeoning restaurant scene in Zagreb.
Here are some restaurants we found most impressive.
As for dishes, Strukli is native to Zagreb and should be the first thing you try. It’s a deep-dish cottage cheese-filled pastry served sweet or savory and comes in different flavors. So head toLa Struk, try as many as you can manage, and let us know which one was your favorite in the comments!
The upscale Dubravkin Put restaurant and wine bar serve contemporary dishes highlighting the best of Croatian cuisine and Mediterranean influences. Try the tuna tartare or the Black risotto and soak in the romance while sipping Croatian wine on the terrace.
For pre-dinner drinks or post-dinner entertainment, head to a local favorite, Kulturni Centar Mesnicka, buzzing with a different genre of live music throughout the week.
Heritage is the ideal lunch spot to enjoy a break from sightseeing, experience traditional Croatian flavors, and sample local beers.
Wine tasting is one of the top things to do in Croatia, and there is no better place to do it in Zagreb than at Bornstein wine bar. Take a wine tour around Croatia without leaving the ambiance of a 200-year-old vaulted cellar paired with Croatian cheeses.
7 Café Culture
On weekends, the locals flood the café-speckled streets and spend hours over coffee. Then, it’s their time to indulge in lengthy conversations and show off their best threads. So, if you find yourself in Zagreb on a Saturday, join them for their favorite morning tradition by heading to the main pedestrian street, Tkalciceva.
As if all the kilometers we covered walking around Zagreb were not enough, John discovered Zagreb for the second time while fulfilling his wish to meet fellow runners from around the globe. He competed in the 30th Zagreb Marathon (he ran the half marathon), with his biggest supporter cheering along the way. In addition to the many miles he covered in various countries in preparation for this half marathon, John added 13.1 miles to the astounding record of lapping the world 2.3 times in his lifetime.
We are certain that this marathon will help us remember Zagreb in a way we didn’t expect, and years down the line, we will reminisce about this part of our odyssey with gratitude and disbelief at what we achieved. So, whatever your passion is, mix it up and join a cooking competition when in Italy or a cheese rolling championship in England. No matter how big or small the feat, do it for the memories.
Zagreb may not have the glistening dreamy coastline to attract visitors, but it is brimming with culture, history, and natural retreats. These overlooked treasures are waiting to be explored. We hope to have given you enough reason to add Zagreb to your travel wish list.
Feel free to comment below if you enjoyed a different experience we didn’t cover in our list.