Zagreb is a fantastic destination, whether you’re planning a short city break or something a little longer. There are loads of reasons to visit the Croatian capital, from its eclectic collection of museums to the vast selection of day trips within easy reach. If you’re still looking to be convinced, we’ve got a whole alphabet of motivations for you to make Zagreb the next place you go to.
Art lovers will find no shortage of places to see exceptional works while in Zagreb. Institutions such as the Gallery of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art display local talent and pieces from all over the world. Meanwhile, the Mestrovic Atelier should not be missed, as it is the former home and studio of Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia’s most well-known sculptor, now open to the public. Art in Zagreb is not restricted to such places, however, and the street murals painted by the likes of Lunar, OKO and Lonac show incredible skill and can be spotted all over the city.
When it comes to bars in Zagreb you are spoilt for choice. There are bars that do exactly what it says on the tin – Beer Bar and Booze and Blues – as well as others such as Blok Bar and Dezman Bar that are starting to make names for themselves. There are relaxed establishments that welcome the locals and hip places that are embracing the growing trend in Zagreb for great design and craft beer. Visiting a good mix of both during your holiday will help to give you a well-rounded picture of the city.
Craft beer scene
As the craft beer revolution has taken off around the world, it’s not surprising that Zagreb is in on the act. But while the likes of Zmajska pivovara, with its instantly recognisable dragon emblem, are relative newcomers, one brewery in Zagreb has been creating craft beer for more than two decades. Medvedgrad creates wheat beers, porters and lagers to sell at its pub-restaurants all over the city. A visit to the one on Tkalciceva Street is a must for any beer lovers. Meanwhile, look out for the music-inspired brews created by Visibaba. Anyone for a John Lemon or a Janis Hoplin?
Croatian design could be the next big global trend and there’s plenty of evidence of it all over Zagreb. If you’re really into art and design, be sure to visit during one of the headline events, such as Design District Zagreb, which is held in June. Otherwise stop by the Croatian Design Superstore on Marticeva Ulica at any time of the year. Here, you’ll be able to pick up products from fantastic designers, which make unique souvenirs.
There are no shortage of events to enjoy in Zagreb throughout the year, so it’s worth checking the calendar to make sure your trip coincides with an element of the culture you’re particularly interested in. There is Florart, Zagreb’s flower show in May, as well as the Dance Week Festival, which covers everything from classical to avant-garde styles. June sees the arrival of the movie buffs and music lovers, as the Fantastic Zagreb Film Festival and INmusic take centre stage. And don’t miss Zagreb Summer Evenings when classical musicians put on special performances around the city.
The Zagreb Funicular is ostensibly a way to get you from the Lower Town to the Upper Town, but having been in operation since 1893, it is also a piece of history. Having been converted from its steam engines to electricity in 1934, it continues to function perfectly and it doesn’t take long to travel the distance of 66 metres. Fantastic views of Zagreb await at the top.
Get there from your local airport
Do not underestimate the benefits of being able to fly from your local airport. Monarch departs from London Gatwick and Manchester to Zagreb throughout the summer months, meaning the Croatian city is just over two hours away for many.
Hike up Medvednica Mountain
Mount Medvednica is tantalisingly close to Zagreb, just to the north of the city, and the perfect place to go hiking. There are no fewer than 70 trails to choose from, although number 12 is widely recognised as the one that offers the best views. Well-positioned signposts will ensure that you don’t get lost.
No holiday would be complete without a good ice cream and Zagreb has quite a selection of places vying for the top spot when it comes to the best ice cream in the city. Vincek, which has been going since 1977, is one such contender and has shops throughout Zagreb, including in Kvaternik Square. Vincek boasts over 40 flavours and fruit is a common theme, although chocolate, hazelnut and walnut also feature. If it’s Instagrammable ice cream you are after, however, then Millennium on Bogoviceva Ulica cannot be beaten. This stylish parlour serves its ice cream in rippled drifts of frozen deliciousness.
If there are multiple generations of your family travelling together, you’ll find something to suit everyone. Zagreb has a number of attractions that kids will love, including the Technical Museum, complete with helicopters, planes and fire engines, and the zoo. There are plenty of small grassy squares where the kids can work off some energy and child-friendly restaurants. Up until the age of seven, kids can also travel for free on public transport in Zagreb.
History lovers will not want to miss out on a visit to Krapina during their stay in Zagreb, as it is the site where Neanderthal remains were found in 1899. You can find out more about the way people lived 30,000 years ago with a multimedia display at the site. Alternatively, for something a little more modern, you can visit the pilgrimage site of the Church of St Mary, which has beautiful ceiling paintings.
For great views across Zagreb, you can’t beat Lotrscak Tower, which was originally built in the 13th century, with the aim of protecting the southern gate from invasion. You can climb to the top for a small entrance fee and see many of the city’s most famous buildings and monuments. It is open daily through the summer, from 9am during the week and 10am at weekends, up until 9pm. One time you may want to avoid is 12 noon, when the tower’s cannon is fired to commemorate an instance of shooting at the Turks camped across the river in the mid-15th century.
Museum of Broken Relationships
M could be for museums in general, as Zagreb has more of these cultural institutions per square metre than anywhere else on the planet, but we’ve decided to focus on one museum in particular. That is because the Museum of Broken Relationships is not like anywhere you have ever visited before. Packed full of mementos from love affairs that have gone sour and the stories behind them, it is a quirky, poignant and sometimes funny.
Zagreb might not be most famous for its nightlife, but you’ll find it easily punches above its weight with an interesting mixture of offerings. For live music in intimate venues, head to Tvornica kulture, Sax or KSET, which are all in the vicinity of Ban Jelacic Square. You’ll find various clubs to go onto afterwards in the same area. If clubbing is your priority, then Aquarius and Gallery, close to Lake Jarun are the best options.
Orijent cake shop
When it comes to cakes and pastries in Zagreb, look no further than Orijent on Maksimirska Cesta, which has been serving the people of the city since 1936. It is still run by the same family and the marzipan creations in the window will draw you in. Once inside, you’ll be transported back in time due to the stunning original décor. Then you just need to decide which cake to order.
The Plitvice National Park lies just under two hours’ drive from Zagreb, making it one of the most popular day trips out of the city. There are organised tours and buses that can take you to this incredible place, which is the biggest protected area in Croatia. Wander the paths and wooden walkways to discover vivid turquoise lakes and magnificent waterfalls.
For a capital city, Zagreb has a surprising number of green spaces, making it easy to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy a bit of quiet reflection on all that you’ve seen. Maksimir Park is the oldest in the city and can be easily reached by taking trams number 11 or 12 from Jelacic Square. Jarun Park is centred around its huge lake, making it a popular place to enjoy watersports, but it also makes for a great location for a stroll.
You don’t have to go far from the city, an hour and-a-half’s drive to be precise, to get to the tranquil sanctuary of Rastoke. This small community is the perfect place from which to take advantage of the stunning Kordun region. Think pristine rivers and gushing waterfalls against a lush background of beautiful Croatian scenery. As well as exploring on foot, you can also take part in all manner of activities, from rafting and kayaking to horse riding and trout fishing.
Like many other trends that are sweeping the world at present, the appetite for street food has not bypassed Zagreb. There are pop-ups and food carts to be discovered all over the city and regular events at locations, such as Dolac Market, where vendors gather together to offer an unprecedented amount of choice. When it comes to the restaurants serving up street food, it’s Mundoaka on Petrinjska Ulica that everyone is talking about. Take your taste buds on a world tour with its expertly prepared dishes, including pulled pork sandwiches, bruschetta, Spanish tortilla and shakshuka eggs.
One of the thoroughfares that you will probably find yourself on multiple times during your stay is Tkalciceva Street, as there’s so much going on. It is full of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops, making it a great place to refuel and fantastic if you’re in one of those moods when you don’t quite know what you want to eat and need somewhere to grab your attention. In the evenings, the shops tend to be lit up and the whole street has a relaxed and friendly vibe.
If the whole point of your holiday was to relax and forget the stresses of home, take advantage of Zagreb’s proximity to some soothing thermal springs. They have been enjoyed since the Roman times and are the perfect way to unwind. Terme Tuhelj is located just 40 kilometres from Zagreb and includes a pool with a waterfall and even hydromassage. The wooden setting of Varazdinske Toplice makes it extra special, while Krapinske Toplice, 45 kilometres from the city, is regularly named among the top ten thermal springs in Europe.
Off to the east of Zagreb and within easy reach for a day trip is Varazdin, which once served as the capital of Croatia. Even though its status as premier city only lasted for a short period in the 18th century, Varazdin retains many of its historic buildings and the compact pedestrianised centre makes it great to wander around. Take note of the fine Baroque architecture of the palaces and churches, as well as enjoying the imposing castle, situated in pristine parkland.
Watch the world go by
While it’s very tempting to pack your holiday in Zagreb full of visiting attractions and taking day trips, be sure to include some time to just people watch and take in the atmosphere. The downtown area has some fantastic terrace cafes that are perfect for this purpose and you’ll see many locals doing the same. In fact, they even have a name for the customary after-shopping coffee drunk on a Saturday – Spica.
Christmas is a particularly stunning time in Zagreb, as the whole of the city centre comes alive with festive cheer. The focal point is the Christmas markets, which have been voted the best in Europe for two years in a row by the Best European Destinations tourism site. As well as purchasing some great Christmas presents and enjoying some delicious seasonal food, you can enjoy entertainment, such as singing and dancing in the streets.
After such a fantastic time in Zagreb, the memories of your trip are likely to last a long time, but there are great ways to assist them. For example, licitar hearts have become the symbol of Zagreb and you can easily take one home with you. Originally fashioned out of gingerbread, these little mementos now come as fridge magnets and pendants to remind you of your trip. For an altogether chicer souvenir, pop into Take Me Home on Tomiceva Ulica to pick up a cutting edge designer-created item that has been made with the express purpose of fitting perfectly into your hand luggage.
When it comes to places to eat in Zagreb, they don’t get much more special than Zinfandel’s. Rewarded for its innovative approach to food with two Michelin stars and complete with al fresco dining options and stunning views from its terrace, it’s definitely a winner. If you have a special occasion to celebrate during your holiday in Zagreb, you’ll find Zinfandel’s inside the Esplanade Hotel on Mihanoviceva Ulica.