Zagreb is an active and vibrant city — a hub of government and politics mixed with high fashion, art and shopping. It’s a must-visit on any trip to Croatia, even if you don’t usually visit big cities. It will give you a much more well-rounded view of Croatia than just visiting the coastal areas.
You’ll find there are a lot of great things to do in Zagreb from just walking around the city center to visiting museums and taking in the architecture that dates back to the 18th century.
Zagreb also has a very distinct cafe culture, and you’ll find dozens of cafes along the pedestrian walking streets at which locals and visitors sit for hours sipping on coffee and talking with friends.
Be prepared to blend in! If you’re planning a trip to Croatia, definitely make Zagreb one of the stops. It’s not difficult to catch a flight from Dubrovnik or Split, or Pula, if you want to add it as a stop on a longer trip.
Deciding where to stay? Check out this guide on the best places to stay in Zagreb.
Short History of Zagreb
The history of Zagreb, the capital and largest city of Croatia, dates back to the Middle Ages. You can see the history as you walk around the city, especially near the Stone Gate to Upper Town, where remnants of the old city are.
Zagreb’s rich history began in the 13th century when the Zagreb diocese was established in the area of Kaptol, which was located in the Upper Town. In 1242, it became a free royal town. After many centuries, it received its first mayor in 1851. By 1945, Zagreb was declared the capital of Croatia. Today Zagreb is the highest populated and the biggest city in Croatia.
How to Get to Zagreb
Since its the biggest city in Croatia, there are plenty of airlines that flight into the city every day. You can generally get a direct flight from anywhere in Europe, and from some overseas locations.
The local airport is located about 12 miles from the center. You can get an Uber or taxi, which costs 180 HRK. The Zagreb Airport shuttle bus runs from the airport to the Zagreb central bus station every 30 minutes and costs 35 HRK.
You can also get to Zagreb by train from most places in Europe. The main train station is located right in the lower town and is easy to walk to from most tourist hotels in the area.
Top Things to Do in Zagreb
Stroll Around Lower Town
The unique part about Zagreb is that it is split into an Upper and Lower Town. The lower town (Donji Grad), created at the end of the 19th century, is considered the new center of the city, where most tourists stay, while the old center was located in the upper town.
One of my favorite things to do in Zagreb is walk around the city and get my bearings. It’s a nice city to walk around, and along the way you’ll see many of the top sights, like the Zagreb Cathedral and the statue of ban Josip Jelačić on his horse.
The train station is also located in the lower town. As you walk around, you’ll start to get a feel for the 19th century architecture, with the wide streets, open plazas where Croatians gather for big festivals (the streets are lined with Christmas markets in December), and rows of cafes and restaurants to enjoy as you stroll around.
⇒ Book a Zagreb city center walking tour.
Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
Now that you’ve seen the lower town, it’s time to walk (or ride) up to Gornji Grad, the Upper Town. It’s a steep climb so be aware. If you don’t want to walk up through the Stone Gate, you can take the funicular at Ilica street. It’s a very short ride, but it deposits you right at the top.
If you can walk it, you will pass through the Stone Gate and see what remains of the old city walls, which is fascinating on its own.
Check out Upper Town, where government buildings, some of the oldest and most unique churches in the city, like St. Mark’s Church, and museums like the Museum of the Broken Relationship, showcase the history of the the city.
It’s mostly a pedestrian-only zone, so walking around the sights and cafes is very easy.
Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption
The tallest building in town, Zagreb Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and Kings Saint Stephen and Saint Ladislaus. The two spires at 108 meters (354 ft) high, built in the gothic style, tower above the city and are quite impressive.
You can tour the inside of the cathedral while it’s not in use. There is a beautiful alter and stained glass. A recent renovation has restored the exterior to its original beauty.
Dolac is the largest market in Zagreb. Located just behind the main square, it’s easy to get to and is a place where you could spend hours walking through all the stalls featuring fresh produce, flowers, and homemade breads.
There are four main parts to the market — the flower market, the indoor market, an open-air market and the fish market. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, the market gives a good introduction to real life in Zagreb and may introduce you to something you’ve never tried before.
Ban Jelačić Square
This square is the center of the city in Zagreb. It’s also referred to just as Trg (the square). The square features a large statue of Ban Josip Jelačić on a horse, created by Austrian sculptor Anton Dominik Fernkorn, and is a good place to start exploring.
There are lots of cafes, bars and restaurants to explore, as well as architecturally significant buildings and art museum. This is the best place to witness Zagreb’s cafe culture. There are dozens of outdoor cafes lining the street where you’ll see locals congregating and relaxing with friends.
Zagreb 360 Observation Deck
The Zagreb 360 Observation Deck offers one of the best views of the city and surrounding areas. For a small fee, you’ll be taken to the 16th floor observation deck where you can take pictures (albeit through bars that obstruct the view), grab a drink at the onsite bar and soak up the view. You can also return at night with your ticket.
Located a little ways outside of the main part of the city, you may need to grab a taxi to Mirogoj Cemetary, but it’s worth it for the architecture, museum-worthy sculptures, monuments and headstones. Take a walk around the cemetery to view the monuments erected for some of Croatia’s most prominent citizens.
This beautiful garden was founded in 1889 and is made up of more than 11 acres of plants, flowers, an English-style arboretum, ponds and glasshouses. It’s a great respite from the city. Stroll through the gardens, take up a spot on the grass and read, or just grab a shaded bench and enjoy the surroundings. Most of the plants and species come from Croatia.
Zagreb is also called the city of museums, as there are more museums per square foot in this place than any other place in the world. While you’re there, you’ll need to be strategic about which museums to visit so you can see the ones you want.
Here are some of the top museums in Zagreb. Each has its own appeal:
- Museum of Broken Relationships – A collection of personal items telling a story of a relationship that didn’t work out.
- Image of War – War Photography Museum – A collection of photos taken during the Balkans war in the 1990s.
- Museum of Contemporary Art – Three floors on permanent exhibition, plus temporary exhibitions that require an extra ticket. The permanent exhibition shows works of contemporary artists mostly from Croatia.
- Modern Gallery – The Gallery was founded in 1905 and has been one of the major art institutions in the Croatian capital ever since.
- Mimara Museum – Located on Roosevelt Square, housing the collection by Wiltrud and Ante Topić Mimara.
At the end of the day, one of things you have to do in Zagreb is enjoy its cafe culture. One of the best places to do that in the city is on Tkalciceva Street. It’s probably the most beautiful and vibrant street in Zagreb.
It’s an interesting historical street with lots of bars and cafes. An excellent place for a walk, a meal or a drink. There are plenty of things going on at all times, especially in the summer when the street is packed. There are lots of restaurants, street food, wine bars and classic bars.
I’d give a recommendation for where to go, but I think it’s best to let the feeling move you and just plot down where ever you fancy as you walk down the street.
When visiting Croatia, make sure you add Zagreb to your itinerary, before running off to other nearby destinations like Dubrovnik and Pula. It’s got a lot to offer. If you’re looking for more ideas of what to do throughout the country, check out this Croatia in 10 days or less guide.
How Long to Spend in Zagreb
As you can see, there are plenty of things to keep you busy for at least a few days in Zagreb. These are just scratching the surface of the many activities there are to do in Zagreb. If you want to make a full holiday of it, you could easily fill 5-7 days.
Most people tend to combine a trip to Zagreb with a visit to the coastline cities of Dubrovnik or Split as well, so spending 3 days in Zagreb and another 3 in Dubrovnik will make a great trip.
Where to Stay in Zagreb
While there’s plenty to do in Zagreb to keep you busy for many days, most visitors only spend a few days in the city before moving on to other parts of the country, especially the coastline. If you’re only spending a few days, it’s wise to stay in the center of the city to make the most of your time.
The hotels we recommend in Zagreb:
For more information about visiting Croatia, check out this guide on Where to Go in Croatia and find ways to make the most of your vacation in this fascinating country.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.