Zagreb Tours and Travel Guide
Zagreb Attractions & Landmarks Guide
With Habsburg-styled buildings, preserved medieval streets, and sprawling city parks, Croatia’s capital city Zagreb is the country’s economic and political center. Located at the base of Medvednica Mountain, Zagreb acts as a starting off point for travelers to the Croatian coastline and other Balkan countries. With a growing food, cultural, and art scene, Zagreb is poised to become one of the hottest tourist destinations in the Balkans.
Recently winning “The Top Destination Award” from the Croatian Tourism Awards, Zagreb is an oasis of culture and history in the hills surrounding the city. After beginning as two separate cities, Zagreb went through a time of turbulence before it finally prospered during an economic and social resurgence in the 1800s.
Filled with historical buildings, quirky art pieces and attractions, a bustling food scene, and a growing tourism industry, Zagreb should no longer be considered just a waylay to the Dalmatian Coast, but a prime destination for any traveler to Croatia.
A Tale of Two Cities
What is today considered Zagreb was originally two different medieval settlements, Kaptol and Gradec. These two cities were located on the hills, that share their same name, in what is now considered the Upper Town of Zagreb.
During the 1600s and 1700s, the area was plagued by fires and plague until the 1800s when the two cities were united. With a new clothing trade, rail links to other Balkan cities, and the development of the arts, Zagreb finally began to grow and prosper.
With a storied past and a burgeoning economy, Zagreb is a prime destination for travelers looking for history and romance in the hills of Croatia.
Upper Town v. Downtown
While Zagreb has multiple neighborhoods, the cities two main tourist areas are the Upper Town and Downtown. Both of these locations include popular sites and are where you can find some of the best food and shopping in the city.
The Upper Town
The Upper Town in Zagreb, or "Gornji Grad", consists of the streets and buildings that make up the area between the two original hill settlements of Kaptol and Gradec. The Upper Town is the oldest part of the city and is distinguished by preserved medieval streets, interesting bars and restaurants, and a quieter way of life than the busy Downtown.
The Upper Town of Zagreb is also the religious and cultural center of the city. St. Mark Church, the city’s most famous church, and Dolac Market, both add to the Upper Town’s cultural atmosphere. You can spend the afternoon walking around the historical buildings and streets before catching an afternoon coffee at one of the many cafes in the Upper Town.
The Downtown area of Zagreb is where you can see and experience the day-to-day life of Zagreb. This is where you can find the highest volume of boutique and chain shops, streets full of quaint restaurants, and every bar you can imagine.
The main area of the Downtown is Jelacic Square. Situated right between the Downtown and Upper Town, Jelacic Square is the central location for the city and the trams and buses that run through the square can connect you to any part of the city. If you are looking for a livelier atmosphere and shopping, then you can find it in the streets that make up the Downtown area.
Zagreb in the Winter
Zagreb is a destination that can intrigue any traveler at any time of the year. With outdoor markets and attractions, festivals, and a holiday atmosphere, winter in Zagreb should not be missed.
Zagreb is not only famous for its Christmas markets, but also the Advent Festival. The Advent Festival is a month-long celebration in December that converts the city into a winter wonderland. Markets are set up in squares, some of Zagreb’s most famous buildings are covered in tea lights, and everywhere you look there is a festive mood.
Skiers and snowboarders will love Zagreb during the winter. Medvednica Mountain features a ski resort for all of the powder enthusiasts. Or you can enjoy a winter night ice skating on the outdoor rink in King Tomislav Square.
Dating back to 1850, Zagreb’s market culture has been an integral part of the city. Today there are at least 20 open air and covered markets in the city in each of the neighborhoods. While there are plenty of markets you can choose to visit, the two most popular are Dolac and Britinac.
Dolac is the main and largest market in Zagreb. Sitting right behind Jelacic Square, the market is a two-level shopping area full of fresh produce, textiles, and trinkets.
To get to the market you have to take the stairs that are at the northern end of the square. For those who cannot take the stairs, there is also an elevator.
There are two levels to Dolac Market. The upper level consists of flowers, souvenirs, and fish stands while the lower level is made up of butcheries, food stores, and dairy stalls. The market is open until 3 PM, but it is recommended to go in the morning when all of the stalls are open and fully stocked.
While Britinac Market lies at the city center, it is actually smaller than Dolac. Only a couple of tram stops away from Jelacic Square, the open air market is where locals buy produce and goods. The main attraction at Britinac is the antique market hosted every Sunday. Shoppers looking for something quintessential Croatian will not be able to get there fast enough.
One of Zagreb’s top attractions, Mirogoj Cemetery, is a culturally and historically important destination in the city. The land the cemetery was built on was bought by the city after the death of linquist Ljudevit Gaj. The cemetery today is the final resting place for some of the most famous Croatians and their families.
The cemetery inters members from all religious groups due to the cemetery being publicly owned. The cemetery is also famous for its domed arcades that house mausoleums of important past residents of Zagreb.
Visitors can reach the cemetery by bus or car. If you are looking to be adventurous, you can walk from the city center, which will take around 45 minutes, and takes you further into other neighborhoods of the Upper Town.
The cemetery is open most of the day with hours varying at different times of the year and is free to enter. Be aware of the flower sellers outside of the walls that will try to sell you bouquets and other trinkets to place on the graves.
Parks and Forests in Zagreb
Zagreb is not only a historical and urban complex, but also features plenty of green space. Throughout and around the city, you can find parks, forests, and rivers to relax and enjoy the elegant city.
- Medvednica - This nature parks sits on Medvednica Mountain, right behind Zagreb. The park totals over 80 square miles with plenty of hiking trails and a castle to visit. For those traveling during the warmer months, try going during the week to avoid the crowds on the weekend.
- Maksimir Park - The oldest of Zagreb’s park, Maksimir Park sits only a short ways from the city center. The park features countless trails, sprawling meadows, five lakes, and a little zoo.
- Jarun Park - Jarun Park surrounds Jarun Lake. Activities included in the park are rollerblading, hiking, paddling or rowing, or taking a dip in the lake before relaxing at one of the cafes lining Jarun Lake.
- Lenuci Horseshoe - Lenuci Horseshoe, or the Green Horseshoe, is a U-shaped area of connecting parks in Zagreb. The system of parks in the Downtown area of the city was designed in the 19th century by the urbanist Lenuci. Combining sprawling parks with stunning architecture, the horseshoe includes parks, fountains, museums, architecture pieces, and some of the most famous statues in the city.
Things to Know Before You Go
For travelers looking for unique cities on the up and coming, you won’t have to look any farther than Zagreb. Many visitors use Zagreb as the starting off point for their trip through Croatia or the rest of the Balkans, but spending a couple of days here can acquaint you with Croatian life and the varied past of this land. Zagreb has a special and telling past that sets it apart from much of the rest of Croatia and is an ideal destination for both the summer and the winter.
The high season for travelers to Zagreb is during May to September. These are the warmest months for the city and the busiest. Weather during these months are warm but not unbearable nor unpleasant.
Zagreb is dissimilar to it’s coastal city counterparts. Due to being farther inland and near the mountains, Zagreb’s overall climate is cooler, which means it is a perfect destination for the holidays.
If you are looking for a special holiday trip, Zagreb will not disappoint. The city during the winter takes on a romantic air with buildings and parks covered with snow and one of their biggest holidays, the Advent Festival, brings a festive feeling to the city.
Off-the-Beaten Path Activities in Zagreb
For travelers who are interested in checking out attractions that are off-the-beaten path or looking for a once in a lifetime experience, Zagreb has plenty to keep you busy.
- Mirogoj Cemetery - One of Zagreb’s most famous sites, Mirogoj Cemetery is an interesting afternoon experience. The cemetery sits north of the city above the Upper Town and is place of peace, architecture masterpieces, and the resting place to some of Zagreb’s most famous citizens. You can get lost in the green domed arcades or visit the many mausoleums scattered throughout the cemetery.
- Museum of Broken Relationships - This quirky museum is located in the Kulmer Palace in the historic Upper Town. With another location in Los Angeles, the museum is dedicated to the public, housing items that represent heartbreak with exhibits including axes, rings, and empty cups of fortune cookies.
- Blue trams - Constantly on the go through the city and one of Zagreb’s two main public transportation systems, the blue tram is a window to the past. The first tram in Zagreb was created in the late-1800s but became a symbol of the socialist era when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia. Generally packed and stuffy, these trams offer a look into the daily life of a local.
- Zagreb Observatory - If you’re looking for a relaxing night activity, you can find it at the Zagreb Observatory. With over 100 years of history, the observatory holds lectures, stargazing events, and educational experiences for visitors.
- Brestovac Sanatorium - If you are looking for a little scare, try to find the hidden Brestovac Sanatorium. Once used as a sanatorium for those with tuberculosis, the abandoned building is now a hotspot for thrillseekers, ghost hunters, and paintballers. The sanatorium is so well hidden in the woods that many locals even have trouble finding the building.
Safety in Zagreb
Zagreb, like most of Croatia, has a low violent crime rate. The most common issues a traveler may encounter are pickpocketing and overcharging. You may encounter these in the restaurants and nightclubs of Zagreb.
Solo female travelers should feel comfortable to walk around Zagreb alone. During the night, it is recommended to use your best judgment or travel with a group when exploring Zagreb’s nightclub scene.
Interestingly enough, Zagreb is seismically active. However, it is not common to experience any large tremors. But don’t panic if you may experience a smaller shake while you are there.
Zagreb Food and Art scene
With its continued growth and importance in Europe and the travel industry, Zagreb’s food and art scene has blossomed.
The food scene in Zagreb has its origins in traditional Croatian cuisine such as large lunches and fish dishes, but has also become globalized. Restaurants and cafes featuring bistro, fusion, and noodle dishes have begun popping up in the Downtown. Tkalciceva, the central street to Zagreb’s food culture, is home to martini bars, dessert bars, and little bistros. Visitors to Zagreb won’t have to look for long to discover this foodie street.
In addition to the food culture growth in Zagreb, the art scene has also found its footing. Dotted throughout Zagreb’s many parks are statutes of famous Croatians and modern architectural pieces. The city has begun to embrace murals and commissioned art pieces as well. Some of the most significant pieces can be seen near the Museum of Contemporary Art and Gallery and throughout the various city parks.
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