All the things you have to do in Zagreb
July 3, 2020
After I moved to Germany, I had to do a little report about my hometown. It was supposed to be a brief overview of the city, things that you can see and do there, and what I would recommend to someone who is visiting or just passing through Zagreb.
It is embarrassing to say, but I actually had to google about my hometown. Except for some general information about Zagreb and sights like the main square, I really didn’t know what to say.
While I was still living there, I wondered many times, why so many tourists come to Zagreb, there is nothing special here.
You know that feeling when you don’t understand why people admire some old buildings, you see it every day, and it’s no big deal.
So, after researching on the internet, it came to me, ‘wow Zagreb is amazing.’ I just took it all for granted.
Actually, there is plenty of things to do in Zagreb.
A lot of people have heard about Croatia’s beautiful sea, hospitality, and extraordinary cuisine. But if you ask them about Zagreb, you will probably hear only one thing: „It’s the capital city of Croatia“.
But Zagreb is a lot more than that, and here I will try to show you the beauty of my hometown that until recently, even I was not aware of.
All the things you can do in Zagreb
Explore the Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
The historical story of Zagreb’s upper town dates back to the Middle Ages. Zagreb, as we know it today, was created on 2 hills, Kaptol and Gradec. These two, initially hostile towns, equalize and expand over time. Finally, in 1850 they merged to form the city of Zagreb.
I will walk you through the Upper Town and try to show you all the beautiful things you have to see in Zagreb.
First stop: Zagreb Cathedral
The Cathedral of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most monumental Neo-Gothic sacral building southeast of the Alps. Without a doubt, this is the most dominated building in the Zagreb skyline.
With its prominent spires visible from most parts of the city, Zagreb Cathedral is truly the most beautiful landmark in Zagreb. As a matter of fact, Zagreb Cathedral is the tallest building in Croatia.
I wrote this part about spires before Cathedral was damaged by the earthquake, and the spires were still standing tall and proud. They are now replaced with two large metal crosses, and I’m not longer sure if Cathedral is still the tallest building in Croatia. But I just don’t want to erase this part. I’m hoping that it’ll soon be repaired and returned to its old glory.
One more interesting fact is that the Cathedral Organ is Croatia’s protected cultural good, and it’s classified among the top ten finest organs in the world.
Second stop: Buy some local food at Dolac Markt
Dolac Markt is the so-called “belly of Zagreb.” It’s the central open-air market, located just above the main square. A great place to experience local life and to taste some fresh seasonal products from Zagreb surroundings.
From Dolac, you’ll continue your way through Tkalčićeva Street.
Third stop: Take a coffee break in Tkalčićeva Street
Once a stream, that divided rival towns Gradec and Kaptol, and today the most vibrant street in town. Medveščak stream is still flowing under the street.
Tkalčićeva Street, or Tkalča as locals call it, is a beloved spot in Zagreb for drinking coffee and meeting with friends.
People spend hours here, just drinking coffee and talking about life. My favorite thing was to observe people. How they make their way through the crowd in a hurry to get to their destination on time. How they absorb Zagreb’s beauties stopping by every interesting building or a place. Or how they are laughing and having a good time.
Lined with restaurants, cafés, and shops, Tkalča is always filled with people. So here you can always find something to do or observe 😉
If you are interested in exploring Zagreb’s nightlife, this is a perfect place to start your night. You can choose from many pubs and bars, and if that’s not enough, from here you can reach almost every club in Zagreb in less than half an hour.
After exploring Tkalča, head out to Radićeva Street, another charming cobblestone street that will lead you to our next stop.
To reach Radićeva Street you will have to cross the Bloody Bridge. Small cobblestone street that used to be a bridge over the Medveščak stream. It’s named after the many fights between Gradec and Kaptol that happened right here on this spot.
Fourth stop: Light a candle at Kamenita vrata
Kamenita Vrata, or literally translated Stone gate, is the only gate preserved from the Middle Ages. This gate is famous for the legend of the icon of the Virgin Mary. The icon was miraculously saved during the fire in which the gate was burned completely.
Today our Lady of Kamenita Vrata is the patron saint of the city and is celebrated on the 31st of May. This is also the City of Zagreb Day.
Inside the gate is a little chapel, and the icon of the Virgin Mary still stands on the altar. Many citizens come here to light a candle, worship, and pray for the fulfillment of their prayers.
Continue walking through Kamenita Street, and you will come to St Mark’s Square.
Fifth stop: Marvel at the colorful rooftop of St. Mark's Church
St. Mark’s Church is one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb. Definitely one of the most famous symbols of the city that attracts attention with its multi-colored tile roof. Tiles on the roof represent the coat of arms of Zagreb and Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia.
The Church is located in St. Mark’s Square, where in medieval times was the seat of the town administration, Town Hall. Today this old Town Hall is home to Croatian Parliament.
Just a few steps away from St Mark’s Square, you will find one of the most unusual museums in Zagreb, Museum of Broken Relationships.
Sixth stop: Spice up your day in Museum of Broken Relationships
It’s in human nature that we are always interested in other people’s lives. Some of us are nosier than others, but let’s agree, we all want to hear some good old break up stories.
The best thing about this place is that they regularly change exhibits, so there is always something new to see. Each item is accompanied by a short story about the relationship. How it all started and how it all went in the wrong direction.
Some of the stories are quite funny, some of them are really sad. What makes this place even more unique is that you can find a lot more than painful and embarrassing breakups, but also stories about friendships and family relationships.
The only thing that was a little disappointing to me is the size of the museum. It’s quite small, just 4 or 5 tiny rooms. The rooms al filled with exhibits, that’s true, but somehow, in the end, I had a feeling that it’s was just not enough.
But maybe that’s just because I’m too nosy 😉.
Anyway, this place really is worth visiting if you are up for something different.
If you continue down that same street, you will come to my favorite viewpoint in Zagreb.
Seventh stop: Admire the view over orange rooftops at Kula Lotrščak (Lotrščak tower)
Kula Lotrščak dates back from the 13th century when walls and towers were built around the Gradec to protect the town. The role of the Lotrščak tower was to defend the southern entrance to the city.
In the Middle Ages, bells on this Tower were warning citizens to return to the fort because the gate would soon be closed and locked. Today, there is a cannon there, which symbolically honors some past times by blasting every day at noon.
Lotrščak Tower is part of the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery. Here you can see a photo exhibition about Zagreb. And if you climb to the top of the Tower, you will see the most beautiful panoramic view of Zagreb.
Now it’s time to explore Strossmayer Promenade and take some cute pictures with Cathedral in the background.
Eighth stop: Stroll down the Strossmayer Promenade
Strossmayer Promenade is probably the most romantic place in the city. An avenue of chestnut trees, baroque architecture, and a fantastic view, what more do you need for romance.
You can sit on the bench with Croatian famous poet A.G. Matoš, ‘lock’ your love with love locks or enjoy one of many events on the Strossmayer Promenade.
After exploring and taking selfies with A.G. Matoš, it’s time to go for a ride!
Ninth stop: Take a ride on the funicular
Funicular in Zagreb is the world’s shortest funicular. The track is only 66 meters long.
It is also the oldest means of public transport in Zagreb. Since it has completely retained its original appearance and construction, the Zagreb Funicular is protected as a monument of culture.
Although it was not its original purpose, over time, Zagreb Funicular has become an unavoidable tourist attraction.
It connects Upper and Lower Town, and ride duration is 64 seconds.
If you are visiting Zagreb during hot summer days, now comes the best part of our tour.
Tenth stop: Cool down in Grič Tunnel
This pedestrian tunnel was built during World War II and was used as a bomb shelter. Since then, the tunnel was rarely used. In 2016 it was remodeled and opened to the public as a tourist attraction.
Although there is nothing to see inside most of the year (except when it hosts exhibits), around Christmas, this tunnel transforms into a beautiful passage from a fairy tale. It’s a perfect place to hide from the cold or to cool off during hot summer days.
There are few exits in the tunnel, and we’ll choose the last one, Exit – Radićeva Street. In this way, we are just a few meters away from the main square where our journey continues.
It’s time for Lower Town (Donji Grad)
Unlike the narrow, winding alleys you can find in the medieval Upper Town, a Baroque Lower Town features wide green boulevards and massive buildings reminiscent of Vienna or Budapest architecture.
Lower Town is home to the most prominent buildings and museums and many green areas and the main square.
See you "under the clock"!
In Zagreb’s very heart on ban Jelačić Square, you will find what seems to be just an ordinary clock. But under this clock, many friendships and relationships began.
It was and still is, a favorite meeting spot for many locals. So, if someone tells you “meet me under the clock,” you now know where you have to go.
In history, Ban Jelačić Square was a trading center below the Gradec and Kaptol. Today is the beating heart of Zagreb. This square is named after Ban (‘Governor’) Josip Jelačić, and his statue stands in the center of the square. Most of the buildings here are from the 19th century, and they represent many architectural styles.
While here, don’t miss visiting Zagreb 360° or Zagreb Eye observation deck. Located on the 16th floor of the Zagreb Skyscraper, it offers a spectacular view over Jelačić Square, Upper, and Lower Town. There is also a bar where you can relax your tired feet after walking around the city.
If you are in the mood for shopping, stroll down the longest street in Zagreb, Ilica Street. In Ilica, you can find everything from local stores to famous international brands and restaurants and cafés.
One of the hidden gems in Zagreb is Oktogon. It’s a passageway that connects Ilica Street with Petar Preradović Square. Take a short break in the middle of the octagonal atrium and gaze up through the glass roof. It’s also an excellent place to take some photos!
Continue your way through Ilica, and you will come to one of my favorite places in Zagreb, Museum of Illusions.
Fool your eyes in Museum of Illusions
Do you love solving puzzles? Or just want to test your eyes?
I absolutely loved this place! There is a lot of interesting exhibits you can try out.
This is not one of those boring museums where you’re not allowed to touch anything, and there is always someone near you to remind you of it if you loosen up a bit and forget where you are.
As a matter of fact, they encourage you to try out everything and challenge your common sense.
Even though I almost lost my mind trying to solve some of the puzzles, I really had a great time and would do it again anytime.
After wandering all day between buildings, now it’s time for a little bit of green!
Take a walk along the 'Green Horseshoe'
The Green Horseshoe or the Lenuchi Horseshoe is a horseshoe-shaped complex of seven squares and parks lined with landmark buildings, like the Archeological Museum, Croatian Academy of Science and Arts and Modern Gallery.
It is the best route to explore the Lower Town.
We are starting our tour around the Green Horseshoe form Jelačić Square, and the first stop is Zrinjevac Park. The park made for romance and an escape from the hustle of the busy city life. Here you can find a meteorological post from 1884, 19th-century music pavilion, and the Zagreb’s first fountain “the mushroom.”
The next stop is The J.J. Strossmayer Square, where The Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts is located.
Continue south, and you will come across the Art Pavilion located on King Tomislav Square. King Tomislav was Croatia’s first king. His statue stands proudly at the end of the breathtaking park, where a lot of locals love to relax after a busy day.
Just across The King Tomislav Square, you will find the Central railway station. Here is also one of the most famous hotels in Zagreb, Esplanade Hotel. It was built in 1925 for reputed passengers traveling on the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul.
Head west and explore another Zagreb’s hidden gem, Botanical Garden. Opposite to Botanical Garden is Croatian State Archives. It was severely damaged during the earthquake and is no longer available for use. So, now you can only marvel at this building from the outside.
The last, but certainly not the least, stop on this tour is The Republic of Croatia Square. It is a home of the Zagreb’s most spectacular building, Croatian National Theatre (HNK).
Spending more time in Zagreb?
You are spending more than one or 2 days in Zagreb, and you wonder what you can do next?
Here are a few suggestions!
Spend the day in one of the most beautiful parks in Zagreb
Maksimir Park is one of the most beautiful urban parks not just in Zagreb but in Europe too.
It covers 18 hectares and is located east of downtown. This park is Zagreb’s oldest and largest public park. And it happens to be one of the earliest European parks. Who would have thought that? Well, obviously not me…
Here you can escape the city noise and spend the day in nature. Walk along five lakes, explore pavilions, gazebos, and sculptures in the park, take a coffee break with view over the park, or visit the Zagreb Zoo.
Hike Medvednica Mountain
If Maksimir is not enough for you, Zagreb has another jewel for nature lovers. Medvednica Mountain, located in the north of town, gives a special note to Zagreb’s skyline. These majestic green hills are guarding the city for centuries.
There are several hiking trails on Medvednica, but the most popular trail is the Bikčević trail that takes you to the Puntijarka mountain hut. Puntijarka is open the whole year from 9 AM to 9 PM, and food here is delicious (and not expensive).
Not a fan of hiking? No problem, you can easily reach the top by car or public transport. But I would recommend not to do that because you will not catch the real charm of Medvednica.
- Medvedgrad, one of the largest fortresses in Croatia
- Veternica Cave
- Zrinski Mine, a Middle Ages silver mine
Spend the day on Zagreb’s sea
Jarun Lake, or like many locals call it Zagreb’s sea, is a popular getaway for many citizens. The most popular recreational center by day, and clubbing place at night.
If you are staying for a couple of days in Zagreb, you should definitely visit Jarun. You can cycle, run or roller skate along the 5500 m track around the lake, play some sports, go swimming and sunbathing, or relax in one of the lake’s bars.
This is my favorite place to grill with friends, play some sports, and just spend beautiful sunny days in the open air.
Meander through Mirogoj Cemetery
You must be thinking she’s crazy?!
Who would want to spend vacation time in a cemetery?
Well, I can agree with you. At first, it sounded crazy to me too. But once you get there, you will understand. Mirogoj is actually a gorgeous landscaped park covered with sculptures and pavilions. Many people, even locals (including me), don’t know about this hidden gem, and it’s really a shame.
Wow! Almost 3000 words! To be honest (and why shouldn’t I be, I’ve already told you my shameless little secret about not knowing my own hometown), I didn’t think I could write almost 3000 words about Zagreb. But here we are!
I sincerely hope that you will consider spending some time in Zagreb before rushing to the Croatian gorgeous blue sea.
Have you already considered visiting Zagreb?