Croatia’s capital Zagreb is situated inland from the nation’s celebrated Dalmatian Coast and, for that reason, it’s often somewhat overlooked as a destination in its own right. Full of quirky museums, interesting art galleries, tempting coffee shops and streets lined with historic buildings, Zagreb deserves to be recognised as a colourful, exciting place for a city break.
Not only does this capital have a lot to offer, but it’s still something of a hidden gem, making it a less crowded choice for holidaymakers looking for a city break with a difference. And, at just over a two-hour flight from London, it’s ideally suited to a weekend trip. With that in mind, here’s how we suggest you spend 48 hours in the city.
Day 1 – The city’s highlights
Zagreb is a compact city whose architecture, squares and al fresco eateries make it a real delight to walk around. So, we suggest you do much of your exploring on foot.
Begin the first of your days here at Trg Bana Jelacica. This bustling square is the heart of the city in both the geographical and social sense – locals flock here to meet up, while it’s a popular spot for sipping coffee at one of the many cafes and watching the world go by. If you have time, begin the day with a little coffee and people watching, but if you’re eager to start moving through the top attractions, then simply enjoy a quick stroll to see the square’s highlights, such as the equestrian statue of of Ban Jelacic (a 19th-century governor).
Less than a ten-minute walk will take you to Lotrscak Tower, which dates back to the 13th century. Originally, it was built to protect the city from the Turks; today, it is a great vantage point for viewing Zagreb from above. Climbing the spiral staircase will reward you with excellent 360-degree views. Pop back at midday, meanwhile, and you can see the cannon being set off – something that has happened each day at noon for over a century.
Strolling just a minute down the road will take you to your next stop – the Museum of Broken Relationships. This quirky museum is great fun and, as its name suggests, it’s full of relics from past relationships. Some, such as vinyl records, are what you’d expect, while others, like a stun gun, are somewhat more unusual.
When you’ve finished exploring, it should be time to enjoy a spot of lunch. There are plenty of good options nearby, including Rocket Burger, which also serves a generous breakfast until 2pm. If you prefer the sound of something Mediterranean or Croatian, try Trilogija instead, which boasts both wonderfully fresh food and friendly staff. You also might want to pop into Vincek afterwards, which is famous for its delicious ice creams, cookies and cakes.
After lunch, amble over to Kaptol (roughly a 15-minute walk) and take the number 106 bus, which takes less than ten minutes, to Mirogoj Cemetery. One of Europe’s most beautiful cemeteries, it dates back to late 19th century. Its scenic location is paired with pretty paths, sculptures and beautifully crafted tombs, making it the ideal place for a quiet, reflective walk.
Head back into the city centre for dinner. Among your best options is Mundoaka Streetfood, which is one of the most popular places to eat out in Zagreb at the moment. While its name implies this is a street food stall, it’s actually a small bistro that offers sit-down meals from across the world. Known for the quality of its food and its inventive menu, it really is a fantastic place to eat after a busy day’s sightseeing.
Day 2 – Art, parks and browsing
Begin your second day in Zagreb with a visit to arguably its finest art gallery – the Museum of Contemporary Art. Open every day except Mondays, this attraction is impressive from the moment you arrive, thanks to its stunning building designed by Igor Franic – a celebrated local architect.
Spanning 17,000 square metres, the gallery houses both Croatian and international works across a combination permanent and temporary displays. Plus, it also acts as something of a hub for the arts – throughout the year, the gallery hosts concerts, film, theatre and other performances, so it’s worth checking what will be on during your visit.
Should you be travelling mid-week, it’s worth bearing in mind that admission is free on the first Wednesday of the month.
Once you’ve perused the gallery, head to Zinfandel’s for lunch. It’s just under two miles from the museum, but it’s worth the walk – especially as it’s en route to your next destination anyway, meaning you can break up the journey with a delicious meal. This is an excellent place to try local food, such as Croatian cheeses and fresh fish. An upmarket restaurant, it’s also the ideal place to treat yourself before your break ends.
After lunch, continue your walk to Maksimir Park to spend a peaceful few hours strolling among the scenic landscaped gardens. Amid the artificial lakes and lawns, you’ll find a variety of other attractions, including the beautiful Bellevue Pavilion, which is one of the park’s most scenic structures, and the Zagreb Zoo.
Next, make your way to Dolac Market in Upper Town. Dating back to the 1930s, this lively market is full of colourful fruits and vegetables, as well as a wide selection of other local produce. You can also find locally made handicrafts here, making it a nice place to pick up some souvenirs – or simply soak up a little Zagreb culture.
Once you’ve finished exploring all the market has to offer, you can think about dinner. A ten-minute stroll will take you to Tip Top, which has a great literary history, as well as serving up fabulous food. The menu is dominated by seafood, which is a real Croatian staple, making this the perfect place to round off your holiday to Zagreb. There is also an excellent wine list, so don’t forget to pair your meal with a suitable tipple to toast your trip.