If you are visiting Zagreb, these are the top things to do in the colourful capital of Croatia.
Zagreb is undoubtedly the political, economic, and cultural centre of Croatia. And it acquired this role gradually in the 12th century, when it became the cathedral city of the nation. Today, the city has many unique buildings and monuments, and at the same time, it is a quiet and relaxing city where visitors are happy to walk.
The Upper Town (Gornji Grad), which is the historical centre, was created from the union of two mediaeval neighbourhoods. The first is Gradec (in the west), where merchants and ordinary citizens lived, and the second is Kaptol (in the east), which was the seat of the priests and the church.
As a part of the Habsburg Empire since the 16th century, during the 19th century it experienced an extensive development that shaped the newer Lower Town. This part of Zagreb, with its impressive buildings, gives the city a more Central European character.
On a visit to Zagreb, with its colourful, beautiful pedestrian streets, squares, and thriving culinary scene, these are the top things to do:
Admire the Zagreb Cathedral
Zagreb Cathedral is undoubtedly the most famous and impressive monument in the city. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Stephen. The church was originally built in the 11th century, but it has been damaged several times by the various conquerors of the city before taking its current form in the 19th century. The last reconstruction started in 1880 after the devastating earthquake that affected the city and the building and, in fact, continues to this day. The central door of the cathedral is quite impressive, as are the many works of art that adorn the interior.
The Dolac traditional market is a prominent feature of the Kaptol neighbourhood near the cathedral. It is the beating heart of Upper Town’s daily activities. However, the Vlaska pedestrian strip is also a fascinating collection of chic new businesses among stunning historic structures.
Stroll down Tkalciceva Street
Unquestionably, the street that draws the most visitors and locals alike in Kaptol is the pedestrian Tkalciceva. It is the most lively and beautiful street in the old town. With colourful buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries on both sides, statues, small squares, and countless cafes, bars, and restaurants, it is a street worth walking and relaxing in one of its shops.
But, apart from the tourist interest, Tkalciceva is also a hub for art lovers, as it hosts several galleries (like the Galeria Turkalj on number 7 and the Galerija Mona Lisa on number 77) and interesting street art.
Finally, the street is strongly related to the famous author Marija Juric Zagorka, whose historical novels take place on the streets of the Upper Town. A statue of the author is located at the southern end of the street. From Tkalciceva, if you follow one of the narrow streets or stairs on its western side, you find yourself in the Gradec quarter.
Wander around Gradec
The once-walled quarter of Gradec is the most impressive area of the city and, at the same time, the administrative centre of the country. As you walk from Tkalciceva towards the centre of Gradec, you come across Stone Gate, the only surviving gate of the five former ones. In 1731, a fire burned all the surrounding buildings, and the only thing that was saved was the painting of Mary with the Child on the wall of the gate. Afterwards, a chapel was formed around the painting, which is still considered sacred and miraculous by the locals.
Continuing from the gate, you end up in Markov Square, in the centre of which is dominated by the church of Saint Mark. The church was originally built in the 13th century. But it was the colourful tiles that were placed on the roof in 1882 that made it special. The tiles bear the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, and Zagreb. Also in the square are the Parliament building and Vikeroy’s Palace, which houses the residence of the President of the Republic and other government offices.
From the square, if you follow Cirilometodska Street, you see the impressive Tower of Lotrscak, which has stood on this spot since the 13th century and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Every day, the cannons on the top of the tower signal the middle of the day. In the olden days, the inhabitants of Zagreb used to adjust their clocks according to the cannons.
Read stories about Broken Relationships
At number 2 on Cirilometodska Street is none other than the world-famous Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum hosts memorabilia from breakups that the public has donated to the museum, and touring its exhibits is a unique experience.
Every object (a toy, a cloth, or anything else you can imagine) hides its own story. The stories, sometimes funny and sometimes deeply moving, are an interesting record of human experience and memory. Although not very big, the museum requires the visitor’s time and attention to understand and experience the emotional charge of the objects. It is definitely a must-visit in Zagreb.
Ride Zagreb’s Funicular
Arriving at the end of Cirilometodska Street and in front of the Tower of Lotrscak, what catches your attention is the impressive panoramic view of the city. But at the same time, you notice two small blue waggons going up and down the hillside. At only 66 metres long, the Zagreb Funicular is the shortest in the world. It connects the Upper Town with Ilica Street in the Lower Town.
But it is also the oldest and first means of public transportation in Zagreb, dating back to the 1890s. It has maintained its original look and construction until today, and that is why it is a protected cultural monument. So it is no coincidence that European Best Destinations elected Zagreb Funicular as the second most beautiful in Europe after Bica Funicular in Lisbon.
Go shopping on Ilica Street
The funicular takes you from the Upper Town to the centre of the city’s most commercial street. Ilica Street, one of the city’s longest streets at roughly 6 kilometres, is also where the city’s commercial bustle begins. It is undoubtedly a location worth visiting if you want to experience the energy of the city, with dozens of shops featuring both national and international brands, cafes, and restaurants.
At Gunduliceva Street 3, just a few meters from Ilica Street, Croatia Records Music Shop is a paradise for music lovers who are interested in buying vinyl records and CDs with Croatian music.
Make a stop at Ban Jelacic Square
In Ban Jelacic Square, the city’s main square, Croatians congregate for significant events, particularly important football games or concerts. Additionally, it serves as a connection point between the Upper and Lower towns and the focal point for all visitors to the town. It took its name in honour of Ban Josip Jelacic, a significant historical figure from Croatia, whose equestrian statue is located in its centre. For 80 years, the statue remained here. However, when Croatia was still a part of Yugoslavia, the statue was removed for political reasons and kept out of sight. During that time, the main city square changed its name to the Square of the Republic. After the fall of Yugoslavia, the statue was placed again in the main city square, which took back its name.
Do not miss the Lower Town
The 19th-century Lower Town (Donji Grad) was built beneath the more historic Upper Town. It is regarded as a hub for commerce, art, museums, and large parks. The streets of Lower Town are wider in comparison to Upper Town’s confined and cobblestoned streets. Here, squares, cafes, and expensive boutiques are dotted around the imposing buildings that house the majority of the city’s museums. Undeniably, the most important and characteristic building is the Croatian National Theatre. The theatre was completed in 1895 and is a blend of Rococo and Neo-Baroque elements. In front of the theatre stands a masterpiece by Ivan Mestrovic, The Well of Life, which depicts a group of people in various phases of life around a well that symbolises life, youth, and the source of eternal beauty.
Spoil yourself at Vincek
Whether you enjoy sweets or not, a visit to Zagreb’s Vincek patisserie is unquestionably necessary. Vincek will wow you with a history dating back to 1977 and products that consistently stand out for their quality and look. Here, you may sample both customary Croatian delicacies as well as their own creations, such as the outstanding orange cake. But you must not overlook the renowned kremsnita among them. The two most well-known varieties of kremsnita in Croatia are Samoborska from Samobor and Zagrebaka kremsnita from Zagreb. The first is distinguished by having a puff pastry top, a custard cream filling that is primarily meringue-topped, and a powdered sugar topping. Instead, Zagrebaka kremsnita has a distinctive chocolate frosting. Vincek has six stores all over Zagreb, but the most famous is undoubtedly the one on Ilica Street.
Enjoy the local cuisine
Croatia is a country with a particularly distinctive cuisine. It’s an interesting mix of Balkan and Central European influences that’s worth trying. Zagreb in particular has a vibrant culinary scene that combines the traditional with the modern. It is difficult to single out any of the dozens of good restaurants that exist in the city centre, but there are three of them that have something special to offer. Mali Medo(36 Tkalciceva St.) is a beer pub in the centre of Tkalciceva Street that offers a range of tasty dishes accompanied by their own beers. La Struk(5 Skalinska St.), on the other hand, specialises in the distinctive Croatian dish strukli in various combinations. Strukli is a phyllo dough filled with fresh cottage cheese and several other ingredients. Finally, at Gostionica Ficlek(5 Pod Zidom St.), you can enjoy traditional dishes with a fresh aesthetic in a modern space.
A perfect combination
Undoubtedly, Zagreb is a destination worth discovering. It is a perfect combination of Balkan temperament and Central European culture. With a series of important monuments, original museums, a lively market, and a strong culinary scene, it has everything to offer the visitor. It is also a city with thriving artistic activity and amazing street art. But mainly, it is a lively city with easy rhythms and smiling residents. And if the above are the things you have to do in the city, it is certain that you will discover your own special corner, your own special place, and your own memory that you will take with you when leaving Zagreb.