When we first booked our trip to Croatia, Zagreb was not high on our list of places to visit. In fact, we only included Zagreb because we wanted to fly out of there back to Australia. I figured that Zagreb would be just another large European city. But since we had the option to spend a few days there, I decided to research it more thoroughly.
I quickly discovered that there are so many things to do in Zagreb and although it may not have the sparkling Adriatic Sea at its doorstep, or a walled old town to get lost in, it still has plenty to offer. It certainly had enough to keep us entertained for our entire visit, and we came to wish we had stayed there longer. So if you are planning a visit to Zagreb, let’s go over the best things to do there:
- Take a Stroll through Gornji Grad
- Check out the View from the Lotrscak Tower
- Admire the Roof of St Mark’s Church
- Ride Zagreb’s Funicular
- Go Shopping at the Dolac Market
- Sip a Coffee and Watch the World Go By
- Cycle around Jarun Lake
- Drink Croatian Wine in a Wine Bar
- Day Trip to Plitvice Lakes
- Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Zagreb
Take a Stroll through Gornji Grad
Zagreb’s Gornji Grad (upper town), is its historic district, and the oldest part of the city. Gornji Grad is a network of small streets that stretch between two hilltop settlements, Kaptol and Gradec. You will be charmed by its narrow cobblestone streets, and its medieval squares.
The upper town is home to some of Zagreb’s must-see landmarks, such as the Cathedral of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Stone gate, St. Mark’s Church, the Croatian Parliament building, Lotrscak tower, the Museum of Broken relationships, Strossmayer promenade, and many more.
Gornji Grad is a delightful area to explore. If you’re hungry or need a drink, head to Tkalčićeva Street for plenty of interesting restaurants, bars, and cafes. Tkalčićeva Street also has the best nightlife in Zagreb, so be sure to head back there after dark. Grab a bite, listen to live music, or enjoy some Croatian beer with the locals! Zagrebians love to go to Tkalčićeva Street for a night out.
Check out the View from the Lotrscak Tower
The Lotrscak Tower is a 13th-century medieval tower, and for 20 HRK you can climb it for some great views over Zagreb. The climb up is quite easy. There are information displays on each level before you reach the top. The tower also has a famous cannon which fires at noon every day without fail. We heard it as we were eating lunch in a restaurant down below. It’s pretty loud!
Admire the Roof of St Mark’s Church
You’ll find St Mark’s Church in the middle of the upper town, on St Mark’s Square. It is Zagreb’s most iconic church and is a pretty popular part of every things to do in Zagreb list. The highlight of St Mark’s Church is its ornamental tile rooftop, that depicts the coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, and the city of Zagreb. The church was closed during our visit, but its delightful outer facade (especially the roof) still made our visit worthwhile.
Related: Cheapest Destinations in Europe
Ride Zagreb’s Funicular
Zagreb’s funicular first opened in 1890 and it is sixty-six meter long. It connects the upper and lower town, and it’s the shortest funicular in the world! It’s very quick, taking only fifty-five seconds to go up or down. Even if you are fit enough to walk the steps, at 4 HRK one way, why not take Zagreb’s famous funicular!
Go Shopping at the Dolac Market
If you’d like a taste of local life, one of the best things to do in Zagreb is to wake up early for some shopping at the Dolac Market. The Dolac market is Zagreb’s most famous open-air farmers’ market, and it’s a great place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy products, and all sorts of local produce. It’s a very colorful market and it’s also a great place to people watch. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, it’s still worth taking a stroll through it. If you’re after some souvenirs to take home you’ll find stalls selling them there.
Sip a Coffee and Watch the World Go By
Zagreb has a very strong coffee culture, which will become very obvious to you as you walk around the city. There are cafes in pretty much every street corner! The locals use coffee as an excuse to socialize, so you’ll see plenty of Zagrebians sipping coffee while chatting with friends. A few of the best cafes to check out are:
- Velvet Cafe (Dežmanov prolaz 9)
- Kava Tava (Britanac 1)
- Express bar (Petrinjska 4)
Cycle around Jarun Lake
Located south of the city, Jarun Lake is a popular hang out for Zagreb’s locals, especially in summer. Zagreb is far from the sea, so Jarun Lake is where everyone goes to cool down and to take refuge from the summer heat. Although swimming and sunbathing is a popular activity there, that’s not all you can do. This two-kilometer long artificial lake is encircled by a footpath and a cycling track. That means that even in the colder months you can still enjoy the lake. You can hire a bike and ride around the lake; or if cycling isn’t your thing, why not hire a pedal-boat instead? If you’re only in Zagreb for a short period of time, we also have a 24 hour Zagreb itinerary taking you through the best sights.
Check out the Architecture and Parks of Donji Grad
Donji Grad, the lower town, dates from the 19th century, and its architecture is completely different from that of the upper town. Its Austro-Hungarian architecture will likely remind you of Vienna and Budapest.
Its main center is Jelačić Square which is a great place to start a walk through the lower town. The colorful Jelačić Square is always buzzing with activity because it’s the center of Zagreb’s social life. Everyone meets in Jelačić Square!
From Jelačić Square, follow the Lenuci’s horseshoe. The Lenuci’s horseshoe is a U-shaped complex consisting of seven landscaped city squares and parks. It was created in 1882, by Milan Lenuci, a Croatian urbanist. As you follow the Lenuci’s horseshoe, you will wander through beautiful parks, across classy squares, and past several fountains and grand buildings.
Some of the famous sights included in the horseshoe are the Nikola Subic Zrinski Square, and the Zagreb Botanical Garden, with its collection of 10,000 plant species from all around the world. You will also pass some of Zagreb’s most beautiful Austro-Hungarian styled buildings, such as the Art Pavilion, Glavni Kolodvor, the Croatian National Theatre, and the Archaeological Museum.
Drink Croatian Wine in a Wine Bar
We were so pleasantly surprised by Croatian wines! Australians like to think that nobody can match our wines, but after visiting Croatia we had to admit that they are very strong competitors! Zagreb has a lot of wine bars where you can head to sample the local vino.
Our favorite bar was Basement Wine Bar, perfectly located right at the base of the funicular. It has an extensive selection of wines to choose from, and the owner is very friendly, and more than happy to give recommendations. If you like red wine, try a Dingač, or if you prefer white try a Graševina. Pair a glass or two with a delicious platter of local meats and cheeses, and then sit outside on the terrace and watch the funicular head back and forth.
Day Trip to Plitvice Lakes
While in Croatia you absolutely have to visit the Plitvice lakes, and they are very easy to get to from Zagreb. You can catch a bus from the main bus station, hire a car, or book a day tour. The Plitvice Lakes National park is considered one of the most beautiful national parks in the world. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This natural wonder consists of sixteen interconnected and crystal clear lakes, surrounded by over ninety waterfalls of all different sizes. The park is magical, with the color of the lakes changing from emerald green in the higher regions, to aqua blue in the lower parts. The whole park is breathtakingly beautiful! You can check out our day trip guide to Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Although Zagreb is an under-rated European city, it is vibrant, beautiful, and steeped in history. Plus unlike Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian Coast, it’s alive all year long, not just in summer! So if you’re planning a trip to Croatia, make sure you pay Zagreb a visit. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed, and like us, you’ll be left wanting to see more of it.
Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Zagreb
Make your trip to this northwestern capital of Croatia pleasant and memorable by booking the right accommodation. Here are our top recommendations on where to stay in Zagreb.
Budget Hostels in Zagreb
The Dots Hostel– A popular hostel for budget tourists and backpackers alike, The Dots Hostel is a centrally located hostel with comfortable dorms/rooms, new furnishings, and a TV with a Netflix subscription! From this hostel, you can do your Old Town exploration by foot or via bike rental, which you can arrange with the English-speaking, friendly staff.
Swanky Mint Hostel– This beautifully designed hostel offers non-smoking rooms, flat-screen TV with cable channels, and can arrange an airport shuttle or bike rental for your local tour. Check out the property’s gorgeous pool and be rewarded with great views of Zagreb.
Main Square Hostel- Main Square Hostel features air-conditioned rooms with super comfy beds, huge, thick pillows and duvets, normal-sized towels. There’s also a lift, which is great for anyone who didn’t pack light for the trip. Located in Gornji Grad, Main Square is practically close to everything like transport options, bars, shops, and restaurants.
Hotel Jarun- This property is just 15 minutes away from the beach, so you can definitely clock in some time for a quick tan or dip. There’s a good breakfast offered at the hotel. Otherwise, you have to step out of your modern-styled air-conditioned room and dine at the coffee shop or any of the restaurants right across the street or a block away.
Hotel National- Every room at Hotel National is air-conditioned and comes with a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, slippers, and free toiletries. The hotel makes fresh omelet or pancakes in the small breakfast room, so that is something to look forward to. The hotel is close to the main bus station, and the tram that stops just outside the hotel will take you to the city center in just ten minutes.
To compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com
Esplanade Zagreb Hotel- The Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, which is housed in a historical building, is an Art Deco-styled property featuring beautifully-designed rooms, first-class service, top-notch facilities, and amazing food. It’s also the center of the capital’s social life that you might find yourself rubbing elbows with a celebrity. The location of the hotel is also perfect as you can explore the city center and popular attractions by foot.
Located in the Gornji Grad neighborhood, the modern-style Hotel Academia is a perfect choice if you are into cafes, museum, and the Central European vibe of the city. There’s a center complex with a grocery store and pharmacy located on the property’s ground level for your immediate needs, and a shopping center 5 minutes away from the hotel.