Zagreb is Croatia’s capital city, one of four major republics that once comprised the former Yugoslavia. Today, with over 1 million people in its metropolitan area, nearly one in four Croatians call this beautiful and historic city home.
Rich in culture and natural beauty, Zagreb and its environs offer a host of attractions for visitors.
I was impressed with my first trip to Zagreb shortly after the 1991 War of Croatian Independence, especially its extensive tram network with multiple lines helping me navigate the city.
Here are some of the best things to see and do while visiting Zagreb and the surrounding area.
Ban Jelačić Square
The central square of Zagreb is a vibrant gathering spot for locals and visitors alike and home to many shops, cafes, and historic buildings. Dolac Market located next to Ban Jelačić Square is a wonderful place to buy fresh produce, local delicacies, and souvenirs.
Historic City Center
The historic center of Zagreb is one of the city’s main attractions featuring beautiful architecture, charming streets and alleyways and many cultural and historical landmarks.
This area beginning north of Ban Jelačić Square is a medieval urban center hosting museums, galleries, churches, palaces, and government administrative buildings.
Visitors can reach the historic district by a funicular on nearby Tomićeva Street or by foot from Ban Jelačić Square.
Republic of Croatia Square
One of the largest and most beautiful of Zagreb squares, the Republic of Croatia Square is located in Lower Town southwest of Ban Jelačić Square. The impressive Croatian National Theatre building sits at the heart of its center. This massive and famous opera house is a must-visit for fans of the performing arts.
Dating back to 1855, the Republic of Croatia Square also hosts the Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Croatian School Museum, Zagreb Academy of Music, The Academy of Dramatic Art and the Anton Dominik Fernkorn sculpture of ‘St. George Killing the Dragon.’
A stunning example of Gothic architecture, the Roman-Catholic Zagreb Cathedral is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
Completed in 1217 and rebuilt several times due to invader destruction and earthquake damage, this towering church is the second tallest building in Croatia. Its twin spires reach 341-feet into the heavens making it a landmark visible from many spots within the city.
St. Mark’s Church
This parish church of old Zagreb located in St. Mark’s Square dates back to the 14th century and is one of the oldest architectural monuments in the city. The iconic church exhibits evidence of an even earlier Romanesque history before it was radically reconstructed with the classic Gothic three-nave architecture.
Most famous for its elaborately decorated roof, the Church of St. Mark proudly displays the Coat of Arms of both Croatia and Zagreb on its boldly colorful tiles.
Museums of Zagreb
As the capital of a modern European Nation, Zagreb has no shortage of fascinating museums and galleries. These impressive venues showcase the history, art, and culture not only of Zagreb and Croatia, but also of Europe and the world.
Among the most visited and noteworthy are:
Zagreb City Museum located in a restored monumental complex highlighting the cultural and artistic aspects of Zagreb along with its economic and political history. Displayed items and holdings range from the ancient Roman era to the modern period.
Museum of Contemporary Art founded in 1954 and now located in Novi Zagreb Center features a rich collection of Croatian and international contemporary visual art from the 1950s to the present.
Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters displays permanent holdings of European paintings from the 14th to 19th centuries along with the Ivan Meštrović Studio showcasing sculptures, drawings, lithography portfolios and other items created by this famous Croatian artist.
Museum of Broken Relationships is perhaps the most unusual of Zagreb’s museums. The eclectic institution features a fascinating collection of donated items representing failed relationships and lost loves. This unique gallery provides a fascinating insight into this poignant human condition.
This expansive park on the outskirts of the city features winding paths and five tranquil lakes. A haven from the hustle and bustle of city life, the natural oasis is popular with tourists and locals alike.
With several spacious meadows and numerous creeks, the park is home to an array of local flora and fauna.
Zagreb’s Zoo is located in the southern part of Maksimir Park.
Medvednica Hill and Nature Park
Located just outside of town, the Medvednica Nature Park is a protected area featuring stunning scenery, an array of hiking trails and a variety of outdoor activities including winter skiing and snowboarding.
The old Medvedgrad, a recently restored medieval burg dating back to the 13th century sits on Medvednica Hill overlooking the western part of the city. The Shrine of the Homeland and its eternal flame serve as a memorial to all fallen Croatian heroes.
The ruined medieval fortress Susedgrad is perched on the far-western side of Medvednica Hill. Abandoned since the early 17th century, the historic ruins are frequently visited during the year.
Town of Samobor
Visitors to Zagreb also enjoy exploring the nearby medieval town of Samobor. Just a short drive from Zagreb proper, Samobor hosts a variety of cultural events and festivals throughout the year.
Regardless of when you visit this charming community with its rustic cobblestone streets, historic buildings, castle ruins, and churches, it’s a treat. The town of craftsmen are world renowned for their crystal glass cutting and the delightful little community is also famous as the founder of the kremšnita cream cake, a Croatian dessert popular nation-wide.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Although located about two hours from Zagreb and requiring a day trip to enjoy and explore, anyone visiting the city should make this special excursion. Simply put, Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most beautiful natural attractions, not just in Croatia, but perhaps in all of Europe.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site features a vast array of idyllic cascading lakes and waterfalls all surrounded by lush verdant forests and native wildlife. It is so breathtakingly beautiful that the Park appears like something out of a make-believe fantasy movie rather than just Mother Nature at her finest.
Dining and Shopping
Numerous shops, boutiques, store houses and shopping centers offer a variety of wares including quality clothing, crystal, ceramics, china, wicker or straw baskets, and of course, top-quality Croatian wines. IIlica is Zagreb’s most famous shopping street. Tkalčićeva Street is popular for its cafes, bars and restaurants featuring both local and foreign cuisine.
Popular Croatian dishes include turkey, duck or goose with mlinci, štrukli- a cottage cheese strudel. The afore mentioned kremšnita, and orehnjača – a traditional walnut roll. Licitar hearts, colorfully decorated sweet honey dough biscuits are a Croatian cultural heritage and traditional Zagreb symbol. They are especially prevalent in Zagreb’s festive and well-attended Christmas markets.
With its old-world charm of Eastern Europe and its recent growth as a modern European capital with cosmopolitan flair, Zagreb is a rapidly expanding tourist destination that should be on your list of places to visit.
Guaranteed, it will not disappoint.architecturedininghistoricmuseum
What do you think?