I visited Zagreb last spring and immediately felt at home in this young and vibrant city, still recovering from its turbulent past, but with its eyes on the future. The capital of the young republic of Croatia – the country declared independence from ex-Yugoslavia in 1991 – is a place where Western, Central and Southeast Europe meet, and that will surprise you for its splendor, energy and joie de vivre.
If you’re headed to Zagreb any time soon – and I certainly recommend you do! – make sure to make the best of your time. Based on my recent trip, this itinerary offers you the highlights of Zagreb in four days, and it’s a great starting point for exploring the beauty of Croatia.
Wander through the streets of Zagreb
I personally like to familiarize myself with a new place by wandering around with all my senses fully awake. Usually these first impressions are the ones that stuck with me the longest.
So I’d recommend you start exploring the capital of Croatia by losing yourself in the colorful and picturesque streets of the old town.
Zagreb is a walkable medium-sized city, with a fascinating and diverse architecture, and ever present old trams seemingly just arrived from the communist era.
People watch at Ban Jelacic Square
Wherever you go in Zagreb, you’ll inevitably end up in the bustling Ban Jelacic Square, the centre of modern Zagreb, commercial heart and favorite meeting point.
Observe the variety of architectural styles of the buildings around the square, from Biedermaier to Art Nouveau and Post-modernism, or sit in one of the many cafes for people watching.
Visit Zagreb’s Cathedral
From the main square, head up to the Kaptol neighborhood to visit one of Zagreb’s symbols: the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a beautiful Neo-Gothic cathedral from the late 19th century.
Around the cathedral, you’ll find the interesting Renaissance defensive walls, built between 1512 and 1521 to protect the church from the Ottoman Turks. Next to the cathedral, you can also visit St Stephen’s Chapel, or admire the fountain of the Virgin Mary with Angels.
Taste local specialties at the Dolac Market
With big red umbrellas and small stands of juicy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, the Dolac Market is another icon of Croatia’s capital. Held every day of the week, close to the Ban Jelacic Square and the Cathedral, this busy farmers’ market is known as “the belly of Zagreb”.
Find your way through the many stalls and enjoy the sights of the colorful and perfectly aligned fresh fruits, the smell of the newly picked vegetables, or the taste of home-made foodstuffs and local specialties.
Explore the nightlife at Tkalciceva Street
Like any other Mediterranean capital, Zagreb has a vibrant nightlife and an interesting art and music scene, frequented by both locals and visitors.
For your first night in town, explore the popular Tkalciceva Street. Bursting with restaurants, cafes and bars, Tkalciceva is perfect for an after dinner coffee or drink al fresco, or even a bar-crawl.
Enter the Upper Town through the Stone Gate
Dedicate your second day in Zagreb to the Upper Town. To enter the Upper Town you have to go through the Stone Gate, the only old town gate still intact.
The Virgin Mary chapel located under the arch of the Stone Gate has been a place of pilgrimage since 1731, when a painting of the Virgin miraculously survived a devastating fire.
Discover St Mark’s Square
Passing through the Stone Gate, you’ll find yourself on St Mark’s Square, home of one of Zagreb’s best known buildings – St Mark’s Church, famous for its roof tiles decorated with the coats of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia and the city of Zagreb.
Located right in the centre of St Mark’s Square, the 13th century Romanesque Church of St Mark is surrounded by the Croatian Sabor, or Parliament, and the Banski Dvori, the seat of the Croatian Government.
Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships
The Museum of Broken Relationships was one of my favorite experiences in Zagreb. This unusual museum, located in the Upper Town, displays love letters, photographs, personal diaries and all sorts of quirky objects that remained as a memory of broken relationships.
All the pieces in exhibition were donated to the museum by people from around the world, as a way to celebrate and immortalize a love story from their past.
Call me a weirdo, but I find the idea and concept behind this museum incredible romantic.
Climb the Lotrscak Tower
Before finishing your Upper Town tour, make sure to climb the Lotrscak Tower for a magnificent 360º view of the city.
This mediaeval tower from the 13th century is most famous for its canon, which is fired everyday at noon. According to the legend, this centenary tradition started in the mid-15th century, when the canon was fired one day at noon, to protect Zagreb from the Turks, who then got afraid and decided not to attack the city.
Nowadays, the locals set their watches by the sound of the shot heard every day at noon.
Take the Funicular back to the Lower Town
You can either walk or take the funicular back to the Lower Town. When I left the Lotrscak Tower, it suddenly started pouring rain so I opted for the short funicular trip, while enjoying the views over the wet city.
As I learned afterwards, this Funicular Railway has actually a very interesting history. Built in 1888 and opened in 1890, the funicular was the first public transportation ever used in Zagreb.
With a total extension of 66 meters, and taking only 55 seconds to connect the Upper and Lower Towns, it’s also the shortest passenger cable railway in the world.
Explore the nightlife between Petra Preradovica Square and Bogoviceva Street
For your second night, explore the area between Petra Preradovica Square and Bogoviceva Street, with its many bars, sidewalk cafes, street performers and occasional bands.
This is the favorite meeting spot in the Lower Town for festive spring and summer nights.
Take a day trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park
I’ll go into more detail about the Plitvice Lakes in another post, but for now trust me when I say you absolutely have to visit this place if you ever find yourself in Croatia!
You can easily take a bus to the Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb main bus station. The journey takes around 2,5 hours each way and costs about 100 Croatian Kuna (13.5 Euros) for one way ticket, but it’s totally worth the time and the money.
Not even the rain stopped me from enjoying this incredible natural site of lush green forest, rousing waterfalls and turquoise lakes.
Shop at Ilica Street
You can’t possibly leave Zagreb without a shopping trip to Ilica’s high street stores.
Zagreb’s main street and commercial artery hides great deals, especially when compared with prices in Western European capitals. So take advantage of that and don’t go home with empty hands, or an empty suitcase.
Take a coffee with a view at Zagreb 360º
Take a pause and say good-bye to Zagreb enjoying its most spectacular view from the top of the Zagreb Skyscraper, at Ilica 1a.
Zagreb 360º is an observation deck, bar, event venue, and the most visited tourist attraction in the capital of Croatia. And once you get up there, you immediately understand why.
The admission costs 30 Croatian Kuna (4 euros) for an adult, but the stunning view is priceless.
For me, this was truly a perfect end for a great time in lovely Zagreb.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Hotel International, located in the business district, and a 10 minute tram ride from the city center.
I really recommend staying here, if you’re looking for good value for your money, meaning spacious, modern and comfortable rooms, good breakfast and restaurant service, and friendly and helpful staff.
I had dinner at this traditional Croatian restaurant on my first evening in Zagreb, after a recommendation from my hotel concierge, and was extremely pleased with the great food, welcoming staff and relaxed atmosphere.
If you’d like to have a taste of authentic Croatian cuisine this is definitely the place to go. They even have a veggie menu, if you’re a vegetarian like me.
I loved everything about this place: the simple yet beautiful decoration, the cool vibe, and, most importantly, the mouthwatering vegan food. My Tempehritos were simply to die for, and my omnivore boyfriend loved his Bar-Bea Burger.
Even if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian, you should definitely give this place a try. I promise you won’t regret it!
Please don’t leave Zagreb without visiting this restaurant!
I accidentally stumbled upon Agava on my last evening in Zagreb, and couldn’t have asked for a better culinary experience.
I’m not even exaggerating when I say this was one of the best meals I ever had: superlative food, exquisite atmosphere, and a great price – what else can a girl ask for?
Of course there are many other things to see and do in Zagreb, from markets and restaurants, to museums, churches, and other attractions. But if you’re planning a short stay in the city, before heading to the coast, exploring the Croatian islands, or simply returning back home, this guide will give you an overview of all the major attractions, and hopefully make you schedule your trip right away.
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