Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, might not be the first thought of this country as many will associate it with its coastal towns such as Dubrovnik or Split. Zagreb is a continental European city, and although culturally and historically abundant, it is still among the less-known metropolitan cities in Europe.
With more than 800 000 inhabitants in the city and around 1.2 million including its urban agglomeration, Zagreb has more than a quarter of the population of Croatia.
Zagreb is much more than its best-awarded Christmas Market, so why not discover its main attractions during a weekend break!
Day 1 – Upper Town
The most natural starting point when visiting Zagreb is its central square, so arrive with a tram, to the Ban Josip Jelacic Square from whichever direction and continue on foot. This square is the most famous gathering point from where you can start exploring the famous Upper Town (Gornji Grad), the historical Old Town of the city situated on two hills, also known as Kaptol and Gradec. This medieval core of the city contains most of the recognizable sights in Zagreb. Head to Tkalciceva Street, but first you might want to stop by the Dolac Market where locals descend daily to buy some fresh produce. You will notice that Tkalciceva is lined with cafes and restaurants, so if you feel like having a morning snack or coffee, pick a place and enjoy.
At the top of Tkalciceva Street, on the left is the Stone Gate with Virgin Mary shrine, a popular place for prayers. As you continue, you will soon notice the most recognizable landmark of Zagreb, Church of Saint Mark. It lies on the square of the same name and it is the most photographed site in the city. Right next to the church is situated the Croatian Parliament building.
At this moment, there are several nearby museums you might want to visit. We suggest you check out Croatian History Museum, Croatian Museum of Naive Art, but if looking for something different, than don’t miss the emotional rollercoaster called Museum of Broken Relationships.
Few steps away lies the gorgeous Klovicevi Dvori Gallery hosting exhibitions of both Croatian and international artists. Next sight is situated right across the museum, and it is the Lotrscak Tower, once a fortification built to protect Gradec. Continue and stroll the Strossmayer promenade for the most romantic views of the city.
Here you will notice that there is another way to get to the Upper Town, and that is with the famous Zagreb funicular that connects the promenade with the main street Ilica.
Before you leave this area, we suggest you pass through the Gric Tunnel, the only tunnel from WWII open for public.
So far, you might have been exhausted from all the sights, so it is time to sit down for lunch! The two most iconic restaurants in this area are definitely Nokturno and Leonardo. From pizza over all sorts of Croatian dishes to international cuisine, these two are ‘a must’ when visiting Zagreb!
For the afternoon, we reserved one more landmark, actually the biggest one in the city, Zagreb Cathedral. Although its twin spires seem to be renovating since always, this magnificent Gothic and Neo-Gothic structure will leave great impressions.
Before it gets dark, you might be interested in visiting one more place a bit further North. A 15 minute ride with a tram or bus takes you to Mirogoj, the burial place and the wonderful park.
The day has been undoubtedly long, so we suggest you go back to Tkalciceva Street and sit for a drink in some of the numerous bars and pubs. If you feel peckish, fast foods and restaurants are on every corner, just think of a meal, and it is probably within a few minutes walk from you.
Day 2 – Lower Town
Day two is reserved for Lower Town, a more urban central area with some of the most beautiful squares and green areas in the city. This time we suggest you arrive at the Main Train Station (Glavni kolodvor) by train, tram or bus and continue on foot.
Right next to the Main Train Station stretch the three central green areas, a gathering point of many locals – King Tomislav Square, Josip Juraj Strossmayer Park and Zrinjevac Park. Take a stroll to admire their beauty but also visit some of the valuable buildings located in them such as Art Pavilion and The Strossmayer gallery of Old Masters. During the winter holidays, this area turns into one of the top locations of Zagreb Christmas Market.
To take a break from the cultural side of the city, continue strolling till you reach the longest and central street in Zagreb, Ilica. This street starts at Ban Jelacic Square, so it is quite easy to find it. Ilica is a home to numerous shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes. Take your time to explore them and do some shopping. When you’re done, stop for lunch or coffee to take some rest. The most popular square to sit for a coffee is Cvjetni Square (Flower Square), also known as špica literally meaning the tip or a peak.
The afternoon schedule contains some more museums and important sites. The one you will find in Ilica Street is Museum of Illusions, a huge tourist attraction and a fun, interactive place which displays various optical illusions through different games and puzzles. Head South in order to check out a few more places worth a visit. Across the Croatian National Theater you will find the Ethnographic Museum with a collection of more than 2800 displayed cultural items. Right next is situated one of the most famous museums in Zagreb, Mimara Museum. It hosts more than 1500 exhibits of around 3700 various works of art from the prehistoric to the 20th century period. Here you can find some of the most notable artists such as Bosch, Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya etc.
One more museum that we suggest you visit is Nikola Tesla Technical Museum displaying various technology with more than 6000 items from Croatia and abroad.
Round up this busy afternoon visiting a green oasis in the heart of the city. Zagreb Botanical Gardens offer colorful, yet serene atmosphere with more than 10 000 species of plants of which some are endangered.
Depending on your desires, you can spend an evening walking all the way to Sava River, stroll its bank all the way to artificial lakes – Jarun and Bundek.
If you would prefer a more lively night, some of the greatest clubs are located in your vicinity. For a good gig or simply a place with good music check what Boogaloo, Vintage Industrial bar, Bikers Beer Factory or Močvara have in their schedules.
Day 3 – Maksimir and Sljeme
For the final day in Zagreb take it slow as the locals do. The day is reserved for nature and relaxation, and luckily Zagreb is abounding in beautiful green areas. Whether you like running, jogging or simply walking and enjoying the beautiful surroundings, Maksimir park is a place to go. Situated in the eastern part of the city, Maksimir is easily accessible by trams 11 and 12 from Ban Jelacic Square.
Now enter this wonderful green oasis, the oldest public park in town and a habitat for many animal and plant species. Visiting Maksimir is always a good idea as the park is stunning in all seasons, but if we had to choose our favorite time in Maksimir, then autumn is an absolute winner. Spreading over 18 hectares, wandering further in the park can actually feel like being far away from the city hustle.
You will find several big meadows, creeks and five lakes, numerous paths, places to sit and – Zagreb Zoo! Situated within a park, right across the stadium, the zoo is one of three zoos in the country with 2225 animals of 275 animal species from all over the world. It is a part of several international organizations as a contributor to protection of animal species.
Maksimir is great for birdwatchers, too, as there are over 100 bird species in the park.
Take this connection with nature a step further and head to one more favorite location of locals. Medvednica and its highest peak Sljeme rise on the northern side, merging with the city. Most of the area is a nature park and the location is mostly known as a skiing resort hosting some of the biggest skiing competitions. Getting to Medvednica is doable by car, public transport or…maybe hiking?
Medvednica is not only the ski resort in winter and a park in all other seasons, here you will find some interesting attractions such as several castles including Medvednica Castle, Zrinski Mine, Veternica cave and more.
After a long and active day we believe you would like to take it slow for the evening. Zagreb is a city of numerous options that do not include bars and clubs. How about booking a theater performance? Zagreb has a good number of theaters hosting amazing performances, just pick one according to your genre preferences. For important social topics go to Exit Theatre, good satire awaits you in Kerempuh Satirical Theatre and for the world-class performances visit Croatian National Theatre.
If time is on your side, don’t stop here and include a few more interesting locations in Zagreb such as Zagreb Eye, Vatroslav Lisinski concert hall or few more museums.