Zagreb: Croatia’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
When you talk about the Balkans, you’re probably not thinking about Zagreb but the Croatian Adriatic coast. We can’t really blame you for that, because there are indeed a lot of interesting places to visit there. Especially cities like Dubrovnik and Split are very popular with tourists traveling around the Balkan Peninsula.
You shouldn’t forget Croatia’s capital, though! Although the country as a whole has become a popular travel destination, Zagreb is still something of a hidden gem. We can’t really understand why so many travelers neglect the city. It’s an exciting and welcoming metropolis, and even after several visits you’ll always find a reason to go back.
So if you’re in the mood for a trip to Croatia, ignore the crowded beaches and explore the country’s capital instead. If you’re still not convinced, here’s a list with our 10 favorite places in Zagreb!
Zagreb in a Nutshell
Zagreb is in the northwest of Croatia. Approximately 800,000 people live here, making it the country’s largest city. It’s located in the country’s inland and is about 170 km away from the Adriatic Sea.
The weather in Zagreb is moderate – it can be hot in the summer months, but it also rains pretty frequently here.
For getting around the city we would recommend using the public transport system. In addition to streetcars and buses, there is also a funicular, which connects the Upper and Lower Town.
During your stay in Zagreb, you should definitely try the local specialty Grenadir mars, which is pasta with onions and cheese. A typical Croatian lunch consists of cream cheese with sour cream, poultry, and cabbage. You will, of course, also find a lot of international restaurants in Zagreb – especially Italian dishes are very popular here.
There is always something happening in Zagreb. Throughout the year, the city hosts numerous events, concerts, and festivals. For example, the Pop-Up Summer Garden Fest takes place from June to mid-September. You can enjoy live music, movies, workshops, and lots of food and drink stalls here. If you are a film lover, you will feel right at home in Zagreb. There are many film events throughout the year, such as the ZagrebDox International Documentary Film Festival in March or the Fantastic Zagreb Film Festival in July, which focuses mainly on science fiction and thriller films.
By the way, Zagreb once consisted of two separate towns. They were called Kaptol and Gradec. Over the centuries, these two medieval settlements have grown together into modern-day Zagreb.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Zagreb
The Upper Town of Zagreb
Gornji Grad is a beautiful area! You can find some of the most famous sights of Zagreb here. Together with the Kaptol district, this neighborhood is one of the oldest parts of the capital. You can still see the remains of the medieval city walls and towers that used to surround the Upper Town.
The Upper Town is a really romantic part of Zagreb. It’s almost never crowded, and traffic is also limited around here. In addition, the district is full of historical sights, small museums, and cozy bars. You can also find the Croatian Parliament here.
In the Upper Town of Zagreb, there are numerous landmarks, including the Lotrščak Tower and St. Mark’s Church. Moreover, the Upper Town of Zagreb is famous for its secret sights. Most of them can be found in the courtyards off the main streets or behind the façades, which might seem rather inconspicuous at first glance but hold many secrets.
There’s a great event called Dvorišta that draws attention to this usually hidden part of the Upper Town. In Croatian, the name means “courtyards”. This event takes place every July and lasts for nine days. Following the motto “Every Courtyard Has Its Story”, this festival gives you the opportunity to discover a whole new side of Zagreb – one that is normally closed to the public. The participating courtyards are beautifully decorated, and there is live music as well as delicious drinks and snacks.
The famous cathedral of Zagreb boasts almost 1,000 years of history. Built in the neo-Gothic style, the cathedral was repeatedly destroyed and then rebuilt. It’s one of the tallest buildings in Croatia, and you’ll be able to see its two spires from a great distance. The cathedral is in the Upper Town, and even though the exterior is already incredibly impressive, we strongly recommend going inside as well. You’ll discover a beautiful interior and a treasury dating back to the 11th century.
St. Mark’s Church
Another famous church in the Upper Town is St. Mark’s Church. It is not as pompous or big as the cathedral, but that doesn’t make it any less worth seeing. In fact, St. Mark’s Church is the real landmark of the Upper Town because of its distinctive heraldic roof, showing Zagreb’s coat of arms and that of the former kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia. These two coats of arms give the roof of the three-nave church an embroidered look. Another coat of arms adorns the northwestern façade of the church. This is the oldest one in Zagreb, dating back to 1499.
The Lotrščak Tower in the Upper Town, which has been used as a watchtower, bell tower, and cannon tower, now serves as an observation tower and is a popular sight. Built in the 13th century, it is the best preserved part of the former city fortifications. Even today, a cannon shot is fired every day at 12 o’clock, reminding people of the building’s past function. For a small fee, you can climb the tower and have the most beautiful view of Zagreb.
The Lower Town of Zagreb
Zagreb’s Lower Town, Donji Grad, is where you’ll probably spend most of your time. However, you shouldn’t limit your visit to just Ban Jelačić Square and the surrounding streets. Of course, there are a lot of cool sights to see here, but we really recommend also exploring the more obscure corners of Zagreb.
Ban Jelačić Square
Ban Jelačić Square is the perfect starting point for exploring the Lower Town. The huge square is surrounded by beautiful buildings. Many of them were built in the 19th century. They display different styles of architecture, from postmodernism to Art Nouveau and Biedermeier.
There are many streetcars running across the square and connecting the different parts of Zagreb. You can also enjoy a fantastic view of the city here from a skyscraper called Zagreb 360°.
If you work up an appetite for something sweet, you can get some treats at a store run by the Croatian candy maker Kraš. You can also buy some souvenirs for your friends and family while you’re here.
On the east side of Ban Jelačić Square, you’ll find the Manduševac fountain. Underneath it is the source that supplied Zagreb with fresh water until the end of the 19th century. The fountain is also related to the mythical origin of Zagreb’s name. According to legend, an old man returning from battle met a girl named Manda. He asked her to draw some water for him, which means “zagrabiti” in Croatian. This is how the spring got the name Manduševac and the city got the name Zagreb. It is also said that the fountain will grant you a wish if you throw a coin into it.
Built in the late 19th century, the National Theater is probably one of the most beautiful buildings in Zagreb. The most important theater productions, operas, and ballets take place here. However, not only the performances are worth a visit but the building itself is too. You will be amazed by the Baroque richness of detail that can be found everywhere in the National Theater. In front of the building is the Fountain of Life, whose decorative figures depict the transience of aging.
The Mimara Museum is the largest art museum in Zagreb and has a somewhat controversial reputation. The art collector Ante Topić Mimara, after whom the museum is named, has been accused of art theft and fraud. Many people therefore assume that there are at least a couple of forgeries in the museum. Can you spot any?
Another attraction for art lovers in Zagreb is the Art Pavilion. It’s the oldest art museum in Croatia and the only one that was originally designed as such – it was built specifically for displaying large-scale works of art. You can find the Art Pavilion in Tomislavov Park in the Lower Town. The architectural beauty and the striking dome of the building make it one of Zagreb’s most impressive monuments. The collections within the Art Museum change frequently, so there’s always something new to discover. You can find out more about the current exhibits and collections on the museum’s website.
Lake Jarun is the place to be on a hot day. Despite Croatia’s long coastline, its capital is quite far away from the sea. That’s why people living in Zagreb cool off in Lake Jarun instead. In June, there’s also an open-air electronic music festival near the lake.
Croatia may not be the most exotic travel destination, but there’s still plenty to discover here, including its wonderful capital, Zagreb. We especially recommend exploring the Upper Town, which is one of the oldest parts of the city. There are many important sights here. In contrast, the Lower Town represents the modern side of Croatia’s capital. Ban Jelačić Square is one of the most beautiful spots in this area. Thanks to the streetcars, you can also reach any part of the city very quickly from here.
If you want to see another side of Croatia – one that is not yet overrun by hordes of tourists – then Zagreb is the place for you. It’s one of those places that doesn’t get boring even after several visits. We hope that you will love Zagreb as much as we do and that you will always want to come back!