Croatia's largest city and capital, Zagreb, is often overshadowed by beach destinations in the south of the country and definitely underrated. Even though it's often overlooked by tourists, this medieval city offers plenty of things to see and do. The city streets and buildings will remind you of Vienna or Budapest thanks to their Austro-Hungarian influence. Explore traditional landmarks in the historic Upper Town, unique museums and beautiful parks. Discover why Zagreb is known as a city with a soul with our local's travel guide.
All of the main landmarks are located in the city center. The great thing about Zagreb is that almost everything in the center in accessible by foot. So let's get started!
The main square
Start your tour at the city's most famous square, Ban Jelacic Square, located just in the heart of the city. Take a picture under the huge statue of Ban Jelacic riding a horse or with numerous pigeons that roost here.
One of the longest streets in the city is called Ilica, just a few steps from Zagreb main square. Known as the 'street that never ends', it's filled with various stores, pastry shops and boutiques. But it is not just a shopping street. It's also home to some cultural sites and pretty medieval houses. Another famous street in Zagreb, also extending from the Ban Jelacic Square is the Tkalciceva street, known as Tkalca by locals. It's filled with vivid bars, cafes and restaurants, and open until late at night. This colorful street is one of the busiest in town and attracts many tourists and locals every day. Old wooden houses dating back to 19th century give the charming street even more of a nostalgic atmosphere. Even though you will surely have fun in one of the bars here, locals usually don't go out that much in Ilica, as it's considered too touristy. For a real local experience visit the bars around Cvjetni Trg (the Flower square).
Cathedral of Zagreb
A bit further you will find the tallest building in Croatia. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is considered to be one of the most monumental Gothic churches in this part of Europe. Its two spires are visible from various parts of the city. The Cathedral has been under renovation for over 30 years, and it seems like it is always under construction. Despite the scaffolding, the Cathedral is still impressive. Don't just look at it from the outside, come inside and discover its interior. Behind the altar you'll find the sarcophagus of the blessed Alojzije Stepinac, whose real grave is located in the crypt underneath. Also, it is a unique local experience to come here on Sunday morning during mass.
Dolac Farmers Market
The most famous marketplace in Croatia, called Dolac, is located just above the main square. You will easily notice it because of its red umbrellas that are a symbol of Zagreb. This charming marketplace has a long history, and it's the locals favorite place to buy fresh fruit, meat, fish and vegetables. Locals have a weekend ritual of buying fresh food and meat here for the traditional Sunday lunch. So if you want to escape the crowds, don't visit it on the weekend. 'Kumice' is the name used for women selling the goods in the market, and every Zagreb resident has their favorite kumica. At the top of the stairs that lead to the market stands the statue of 'Kumica Barica', dedicated to them. Don't stay here just to buy some groceries, locals love to drink their coffee here also. Cute, tiny cafes are the ideal place to get some rest after shopping!
Ride a funicular to reach the Upper Town
When you're done with exploring the downtown, head to the Upper Town (Gornji Grad). You can get to the historical town on the hill by foot or by taking the famous blue funicular. This funicular is 120 years old and it the shortest cable car in the world. It connects the downtown and the upper town. Even though the ride is short, it has a special charm.
Explore Zagreb's Upper Town
Zagreb's old town is purely magical and feels like it has been frozen in time. When you get off the funicular, you'll face a spectacular view of the whole city. Walk down to the Strossmayer Promenade and enjoy the view, with Zagreb Cathedral in the background. Stroll around cobbled, narrow streets and feel the magic of old Zagreb. With limited traffic, you'll hardly see any cars driving around here. The highlight of the Upper Town is the St. Mark's Church, with an impressive colorful roof that speaks for its own. Due to its colorful glazed tile roof, it's one of Zagreb's most famous symbols and the most photographed location in the town. Don't get scared if you hear a loud ?boom' all of a sudden. Lotrscak Tower is also located in the Upper Town, and its cannon fires every day exactly at noon to mark midday. One of the newest attractions here is the Gric tunnel. The tunnel was used as a bomb shelter in World War II and wasn't open until recently. It connects Mesnicka and Radiceva street and is 350 meters long.
2. Off the beaten path
Now when you're done exploring the most popular landmarks, discover some of the less-known attractions.
Visit the Mirogoj cemetery
Even though cemeteries are not usually a tourist attraction, Mirogoj Cemetery is special. Located on a hill just on the outskirts of the city, it is one of the most beautiful and majestic cemeteries in Europe. This beautiful tree-lined cemetery was built in the 19th century. It's a true architectural gem with lots of stunning arcades, churches, and sculptures of many local artists. The most famous Croatian public figures are buried here, like the first President of Croatia, respected writers and famous sportsmen.
Hike to Medvedgrad, a medieval fortress above the city
Mount Medvednica proudly stands above Zagreb, having protected the city from cold winds and enemies for centuries. The mountain has a status of a National Nature Park and is home to various animal and plant species. On the southern hills of Medvednica, the medieval fortress of Medvedgrad (translated as 'bear town') is located. It provides a spectacular view of Zagreb. The 13th century castle was built to protect Zagreb from Tatar invasions, and its turbulent past has inspired many legends. The most famous legend is about the Black Queen who buried a treasure around the fort.
Relax in some of the beautiful parks
Zagreb is home to many green spaces, and you can find many of them in the city center. Eight famous parks are located in the center, and the most famous is Zrinjevac. In this romantic park you will find pretty water fountains and lots of flowerbeds. Maksimir Park is just a short tram ride east of the city center, and it is known as the oldest park in Zagreb. The parks houses the Zagreb City Zoo, which was recently renovated. With five lakes and lots of greenspace, it's the favorite weekend spot for locals. Insider tip: drink a coffee at Vidikovac, the central building with a nice terrace, where you can enjoy delicious coffee and a spectacular view of the park.
Embrace Zagreb's coffee culture
If you're a coffee lover, Zagreb is the city of your dreams. Croatians really know how to enjoy their coffee, at any time of the day. And they haven't picked up to trend of taking their coffee to-go. Croatians sip their espresso or cappuccino slowly while sitting in their favorite local café, usually for several hours. To them it is not just drinking coffee, it is a social event. Locals catch up with friends or family over a cup of coffee at least few times a week. To see how locals drink their coffee at their best, visit the Flower Square on Saturday morning when the event called Spica (shpitza), is happening. Spica is basically a social phenomenon going on every Saturday morning in the city center. Locals wear their best outfits, go shopping, catch up with friends in cafes, have lunch in town, and create together the famous Saturday morning ritual. The city center is completely packed from 10 am to 2 pm and you can hardly find a place in the nearby cafes.
Shop at the antique market on Sundays
The flea and antique market is held every Sunday morning at the British Square, located just a few minutes by walk from the main square. It has been held here for more than 10 years and locals love to drink their first morning coffee here. You can buy porcelain, crystal and glass, silver, artwork, old books, jewellery and so much more. It's a lively local gathering and a perfect way to get a taste of Zagreb as a local!
Zagreb has plenty of museums. Whether you are interested in modern art, history, or bones, you will find something to suit your interests. To find out more about rich history of Zagreb, make sure to visit the Zagreb City Museum, and technical geeks will love the Technical Museum of Nikola Tesla. The highlight here is a demonstration of Tesla's electrical feats and discoveries. Art lovers should visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, with lots of abstract-geometric works, or the Modern Gallery, that showcases lots of Croatian artwork. The most unusual museum is the Museum of Broken Relationships, dedicated to failed love of all kinds. Its exhibits include personal objects left over from former lovers. Each piece has an accompanying story of a past relationship, and pieces are collected from all over the world. The Museum of Illusions is also unusual but very fun to visit. Here explore the world of illusions that will blow your mind! One of the newest museums is the Zagreb 80's Museum, which represents everyday life in former Yugoslavia in a unique and interactive way.
Go on a day trip to Samobor
The medieval city of Samobor is located just 25 kilometers from Zagreb. It's easily reachable, with frequent and cheap buses. This romantic city with baroque architecture will charm you with its picturesque squares and easygoing atmosphere. It is also famous for its rich gourmet tradition. Definitely don't forget to try the famous local dessert called ?Kremsnita'. It's an essential part of every visit to Samobor! The most beloved pastry shop of locals, ?U prolazu', is situated on the main square.
3. Tuck into delicious Croatian cuisine
When it comes to food, Zagreb has plenty to offer. Even though Croatia is most famous for its seafood, cuisine in Zagreb is a bit different. Zagreb cuisine is mainly focused on meat. The most famous traditional dish is turkey and Mlinci. Mlinci are homemade flatbread, similar to matzah bread. Another delicious meal is the Zagreb steak, similar to a cordon bleu. But the dish most unique to Zagreb is strukli, a pastry filled with sour cream and cottage cheese. They can be either boiled or baked, as well as sweet or savoury. Strukli are definitely a must-try for everyone! Also, try some of the meat specialities from the grill or roasted on a spit. Lamb or veal under the bell are cooked slowly in their own juices, so they are really delicious! In Zagreb you can find some of the best homemade cevapi or burek, traditional Balkan dishes. Some of the best restaurants in Zagreb that serve traditional food are: Sestinski Lagvic, La Struk, Purger, Okrugljak, Tac and Tvornica Pljeskavica.