Why visit Zagreb?
Lively and sophisticated Zagreb is often overlooked by Croatia bound tourists in their rush to the breathtaking coastline of the country. But, those that do take the plunge are greeted by a surprisingly intimate city, despite the population pushing a million, some austere Austro-Hungarian architecture and enough entertainment to make a never-ending pub crawl a real possibility. Orientating yourself is simple, with nearly everything of importance revolving around the central square: Trg bana Jelačića. The Upper Town (Gornji grad) contains the two historic cores – the ecclesiastic Kaptol, with the impressive Zagreb Cathedral, and Gradec, typified by elegant mansions and peaceful squares: which together form the most interesting part of the city and can rival any European capital for elegance.
The innovative Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of Broken Relationships keep Zagreb at the cutting edge of culture and the abundance of green spaces add another option for the intrepid traveller. Hikers will enjoy the walks on Mount Medvednica and those looking to escape the heat can go swimming in the artificial lake at Jarun. When night falls, another side of Zagreb comes alive, as its reputation for bohemian adventure and boisterous night-life is aided by a series of live gigs, banging clubs and varied summer festivals.
(1-negative experience; 5-positive experience)
Despite the area having been occupied since Roman times, modern Zagreb is the result of the merging of two medieval villages that had developed on two separate hills. The first written mention of the town occurred in 1094 when the ‘Kaptol’ dioceses was established and in 1242 ‘Gradec’ was declared a ‘free town’. The competition between these two communities would be a running feature in the development of what we now call Zagreb, with the contrast of the ecclesiastical influence on the Kaptol district and the fortified and administrative centre of Gradec district still seen today. In the face of this division, the local was brought under Austrian Hapsburg control at the start of the 15th century.
In the middle of the 15th century, and in the face of the Ottoman invasions of Europe, the bishop finally fortified the Kaptol and together the two towns held out whilst the Turks conquered much of the surrounding lands. Almost by default, the then unified Zagreb became the capital of Croatian identity, whilst the almost two centuries of constant warfare crippled the local economy. The government fled to Varaždin where it remained until 1776 while plague and fires reduced the residents of Zagreb to a paltry 2800.
Only the receding threat of Ottoman expansion brought new impetus to Zagreb. The construction of a market, Trg Josip Jelačića, further helped the development of the town as new constructions around the square were undertaken. Furthermore, The south-running roads provided useful trade routes to the Sava River, attracting merchants and artisans once again.
The 19th century, finally saw Zagreb inherit some of the grandeur that we see today. Improved rail links to Vienna and Budapest, plus an economic expansion fuelled by the clothing trade, steam mills and tanneries, augmented an educational and cultural blossoming. It was during this period that the University of Zagreb was constructed and the Music Institute was established and Zagreb became the centre of the Pan-Slavic Illyrian movement, which campaigned for south-Slavic nationalism and autonomy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The dream was finally realised, when following the end of the First World War, Zagreb and Croatia joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The inter-war years, saw a building boom in the centre, where new working class neighbourhoods were developed between the Sava River and the train station, and residential quarters constructed on the southern slope of Mt Medvendinca. In April 1941, Germany invaded and entered Zagreb without resistance. A rather right-wing Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska) was established, who ruled until 1944 and the establishment of a unified Yugoslavia under the strong hand of Marshal Tito.
In communist Yugoslavia, Zagreb, much to disgust of its citizens, played second fiddle to the new capital of the state, Belgrade but still expansion continued. New districts were constructed south of the river which were developed into the mammoth housing project called Novi Zagreb and an airport was constructed at Pleso. Zagreb was made the capital of the newly founded state of Croatia when it declared independence in 1991.
Zagreb experiences a continental climate with four distinct seasons and is noticeably hotter than the rest of the country due to its inland position. Summers are hot with temperatures averaging 22.0°C and temperatures above 30°C not uncommon. Autumns are cooler and wetter with more unpredictable tendencies. Winter is cold, with temperatures averaging −0.5°C and snowfall common. Spring is lovely but short with temperatures rising quickly.
Weather in Zagreb now
The festival season kicks off in January with Night of the Museums (Noc muzeja) where free entry is offered to many of the city’s museums as well as exhibitions and events occur around the city. The international Zagreb Dox documentary film festival takes place from the end of February to the beginning of March at MoviePlex cinema in the Kaptol Center which is quickly followed by Restaurant Week (Tjedan Restoran) where special Restaurant Week menus are available for a decent price.
The summer festivals start in May/June with Summer on Strosu‘s (Ljeto na Strosu) music and events on Strossmayer Promenade. In June, the streets are filled for C’est is d’Best a riot of music concerts, theatre, street musicians, visual arts and dance. The eclectic InMusic festival lasts 2 days, is held on the banks of Lake Jarun and features many international bands and DJs. Park in Zagreb is another summer event that takes place in open-air spaces all across the city. Furthermore, in October, the Zagreb Film Festival, has pieces from around the world and is growing in popularity.
Zagreb can be broadly divided into two areas: Lower Zagreb, which is home to the majority of bars, restaurants and shops, contains the cheaper accommodation options and is a popular base for most travellers. Upper Zagreb is the medieval core of the city which has developed from two distinct areas: Kaptol – seat of the archbishop of Zagreb and home of the Cathedral and Gradec – situated on the Gornji Grad hill.
The train station is located to the south, in the lower town, and is a useful marker for the city’s limits. To the north lie a series of parks and pavilions, with the city’s main square Trg bana Jelačića. A little further beyond, keep travelling north up the hill and the twin steeples of the Neo-Gothic cathedral come into view.
Zagreb Free Walking Tour
Zagreb Monument & Sights Guide
Trg bana Josipa Jelaćića
(Governor Jelačić Square)
What is it? Zagreb’s main square, a popular meeting point and busy tram stop
Where is it? In the geographical heart of Zagreb
Information: Dedicated to Josip Jelacic, a Croatian national hero who fought off the Hungarians in 1848, ‘Trg’ (the square) was established in the 17th century and is distinguished by the architectural styles ranging from classicism, secession and modernism in the surrounding buildings. Interestingly, the equestrian statue of Jelačić which now stands proudly in the square’s centre, was removed between 1947 and 1990, when Tito ordered its removal because of its links to Croatian nationalism. Today, the square is a popular meeting spot and a great place to do a little people watching.
Monument Type: Cathedral
Address: Kaptol 31
Opening Times: Mon–Sat: 10-5 p.m. Sun: 1-5 p.m.
Information: The Gothic cathedral of Zagreb dates back to the 13th century, and despite being badly damaged by an earthquake in 1880, it has managed to retain some of its original features, most notably the sacristy containing a series of wonderful frescos. It is the tallest building in Croatia and its twin towers, seemingly always under renovation, are emblematic of the city and a soaring presence in the city’s panorama. Other interesting features include the baroque influenced marble altars, statues and pulpit, and the tomb of national hero Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac by Ivan Meštrović.
What is it? Zagreb’s most important farmers’ market
Where is it? Located between the Gradec and Kaptol districts in Upper Zagreb
Information: Established in 1930, Dolac Market is Zagreb’s best known and most visited market, and is the base from which farmers from the surrounding villages come to sell their produce. Specialities include home-made foodstuffs, fresh fruit and vegetables as well as a covered downstairs market with a number of butcher’s, fishmonger’s and predominately elderly ladies selling the local speciality sir i vrhnje (cheese & cream).
Monument Type: Military & Religious
Opening Times: –
Information: The Stone Gate was constructed in 13th century and is the only remaining gate of the defensive structure that once encircled the Gradec district. Legend holds that when in 1731 a fire destroyed much of the area, the gate, with its picture of Mary and Jesus, miraculously survived and to celebrate this feat a chapel was constructed below. Today, people of all ages stop here to pray and light candles believing the painting possesses spiritual and magical powers. On the western façade of the structure sits a statue of Dora, the heroine of an 18th century historical novel who lived with her father next to the gate.
Crkva sv. Marka
(Church of St. Mark)
Monument Type: Church
Address: Trg Svetog Marka 5
Opening Times: 7.30 a.m.-6.30 p.m.
Information: Constructed on the site of an earlier religious building, the Church of St. Mark we see today was built in the latter half of the 14th century in the late Gothic style. It is instantly recognisable due to the elaborate patterned tiled roof representing the coat of arms of Zagreb (white castle on red background) and the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. Other interesting features include two works by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia’s most famous sculptor, frescoes by artist Jozo Kljaković, and a portal consisting of fifteen effigies placed in eleven shallow niches, which are considered one of the most important Gothic constructions of its type in south-eastern Europe.
Muzej prekinutih veza
(Museum of Broken Relationships)
Monument Type: Museum
Address: Ćirilometodska ulica 2
Opening Times: Jun 1-Sep 30: 9 a.m.-10.30 p.m. Oct 1-May 31: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Price: General Admission: 25 KN Students, Pensioners: 20 KN Groups (+15): 15 KN
Information: Selected as the ‘most innovative museum in Europe 2011’, the Museum of Broken Relationships is an originative collection of mementos left by former lovers and the stories explaining their context. It originally started life as a travelling exhibition but found a permanent home in the Croatian capital in 2006, since when it has grown into one of Zagreb’s most popular tourist attractions.
What is it? Lively and scenic promenade running along the medieval city walls
Where is it? On the southern border of Upper Zagreb on the Gornij Grad hill
Information: Named after the 19th century Croatian bishop and politician Josip Juraj Strossmayer, the lively and picturesque promenade offers expansive views over the city and is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. It is especially atmospheric in the summer when the Strossmarte street festival takes over and the area fills with artists, musicians and food stalls all washed down with a healthy dose of alcohol.
Trg Petra Preradovića
What is it? Pedestrianised square famed for its flower stalls
Where is it? Lower Zagreb, 200m east of the central Ban Jelačić Square
Information: Founded in 1897 as part of an ambitious urban renewal programme, Trg Petra Preradovića (Petra Preradovića square) or Cvjetni trg (Flowers square) as it is popularly known by locals, is a favourite place to while away the time, with its street cafés and entertainers. Notable buildings on the square include the Serbian Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration built in 1866, as well as numerous palaces, including the monumental Palace of First Croatian Savings Bank and the angular Ehrlich’s Palace, all complemented by an array of austere Austro-Hungarian façades.
13 Things to do for Free in Zagreb
Vibrant Zagreb, capital and largest city of Croatia, is often skirted past by travellers heading for the sun and sand of the country’s magnificent coastlines. However, do not repeat their mistake! Zagreb is a fascinating place, rich in culture, architecture, history and good times, all at prices that the budget traveller appreciates. Dig a little deeper and with its unique churches, innovative museums and abundance of green spaces, you are never far from things to do for free in Zagreb.
❶ The Changing of the Guard takes place every Saturday & Sunday from noon – 2 p.m. on Trg sv. Marka (St. Mark’s square) and is marked by a parade through the city centre with trumpeters, drummers, standard-bearers who then go and take up positions around the city.
❷ Muzej suvremene umjetnosti (Museum of Contemporary Art: Avenija Dubrovnik 17) is the largest and newest of Croatia’s museums, and contains a total of 12,000 exhibits of which 600 are on permanent display. It is Free on the 1st Wednesday of the month between 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
❸ Park Maksimir is the oldest public park in Zagreb and is a great place to escape the noise of the city. It is a favourite destination for locals and a great place to have a picnic, take a walk or simply to enjoy the nature and peaceful environs.
❹ Tržnica Dolac (Dolac Market) is Zagreb’s best known and most visited market, and a great place to experience the everyday life of the city. Specialities include home-made foodstuffs, fresh fruit and vegetables as well as a covered downstairs market with a variety of butcher’s, fishmonger’s and predominately elderly ladies selling the local speciality sir i vrhnje (cheese & cream).
❺ Muzej ulične umjetnosti (Street Art Museum: Ulica kneza Branimira & parts of parts of Dugave and Siget neighbourhoods) is an ambitious open air art project located in 3 areas of the city where the city walls have been given over to graffiti and murals.
❻ Botanički vrt (Botanical Garden: Trg Marka Marulića 9A) covers an area of 5 hectares and is home to over 10,000 different species of plant (including 1,800 exotic plants). It is open Mon & Tue: 9 a.m. – 2.30 p.m. Wed – Sun: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. from Apr – Oct.
❼ For another slice of real Zagreb, check out the Hrelić Flea Market (Sajmišna cesta), one of Zagreb’s grittiest and most hectic events. It takes place on Saturday mornings and items on sale include used cars, clothing, all manner of goods and hardware, and some of the cheapest & greasiest food anywhere in the capital.
❽ Perhaps Zagreb’s most famous monument, Zagrebačka katedrala (Zagreb Cathedral: Kaptol 31) dates back to the 13th century, and despite being badly damaged by an earthquake in 1880, has managed to retain some of its original features. It is the tallest building in Croatia and its twin towers, seemingly always under renovation, are emblematic of the city and a soaring presence in the city’s panorama. Most pleasingly, it is Free to visit and open Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. & Sun: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
❾ Hrvatski muzej pošte i telekomunikacija (Museum of Post and Telecommunications: Jurišićeva 13) is dedicated to the history of post and telecommunications in Croatia with several thematic exhibitions augmented by art exhibitions from professional and amateur artists. It is free to visit and open Mon – Wed & Fri: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. & Thu: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
❿ The unique Kamenita vrata (Stone Gate) was constructed in 13th century and is the only remaining gate of the defensive structure that once encircled the Gradec district. Today, it is a popular pilgrimage site where people light candles and prey.
⓫ Constructed on the site of an earlier religious building, the Crkva sv. Marka (Church of St. Mark: Trg Svetog Marka 5) we see today was built in the latter half of the 14th century in the late Gothic style and is instantly recognisable due to the elaborate patterned tiled roof representing the coat of arms of Zagreb (white castle on red background) and the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. It is Free to visit and is open daily 7.30 a.m. – 6.30 p.m.
⓬ Nicknamed the ‘Zagreb Sea’ by locals, Lake Jarun is the perfect place to cool off after a sticky Croatian day. Swimming is, of course, free and there are 5 blue flag beaches to enjoy as well as plenty of bars and restaurants in which to relax.
⓭ Strossmayer Promenade (Strossmayerovo šetalište) is one of Zagreb’s most interesting and lively place. Throughout the year, the street offers fabulous views across the city and a great place to mingle with the crowds, but it is in summer, when the ‘Summer Stross’ festival is held, that the street truly comes alive. Events take place daily from 11 a.m. tp midnight with concerts and theatrical performances all washed down with a healthy dose of alcohol.
Map: 13 Things to do for free in Zagreb
Zagreb’s budget accommodation options have undergone a dramatic change in recent years as more and more people have cottoned on to the potential of offering simple sleeping arrangements at lower prices. Hostels that are well positioned in the city centre, cost a fraction more but many offer social extras including pub crawls with free entry into selected bars & clubs thrown in. Do note, however, that if you are planning on staying in Zagreb on the cheap then you may need to book ahead especially in the summer months.
Logistics Youth Center (Jakuševečka 87) is Zagreb’s cheapest accommodation option with a variety of dorm options ranging from €6.90–€11.73 depending on the day and the type of room. The location isn’t ideal but the staff are said to be extremely friendly and helpful and they do offer free wifi & maps. There’s also a terrace on which to relax and even camp (€4.14 – €6.21) if you really want to save the pennies.
Maju Jaya Hostel (Slavonska Avenija 3) offers 5 or 6 bedroom dorms ranging from €9.52-€12.28 and although it is a little out of the centre, visitors’ reviews have good things to say about the cleanliness, staff and cooking facilities. Additionally, security lockers and wifi are offered free of charge.
Hostel Temza (Augusta Šenoe 24) comes well recommended, although a little pricier than some other options, and offers 6-8 bedroom dorms costing €12.50-€14. It is fantastically located on one of Zagreb most lively streets and services include a free breakfast, wifi, and a 24hr bar.
The night-life in Zagreb, unsurprisingly, predominately happens in the city centre with the pedestrianised Tkalčićeva ulica the spiritual home of the pub crawl in the Croatian capital. Other bar streets include the slightly more upmarket, and thus more expensive, lounge-bars around Cvjetni trg (Flower square) & the main square Trg Bana Josipa Jelačića. That is not all, however; bars are everywhere in Zagreb, so be sure to also check out the streets: Preradovićeva, Radićeva & Bogovićeva which are also packed with a range of bars & restaurants. For something a little less aimed at tourists, bars along the Savska cesta & Ilica streets are commonly frequented by the city’s student population.
During the summer, much of the night-life decamps to Lake Jarun with the club cluster (inc. Aquarius & Gallery) drawing much of the late-night crowd. Other clubs of interest include Saloon club, which has been attracting the great and good since the 1970s and Sirup, the place to go if you are a fan of electronic music. Admission to clubs usually costs between 20kn-60kn and be aware that several clubs impose a dress code which means no trainers.
And don’t forget the charming Strossmayer Promenade which is a lovely place to have a beer with spectacular views overlooking the city and what’s more when ‘Summer Stross’ festival is held, that the street is taken over with events taking place daily from 11 a.m. to midnight.
Things to buy
Ilica, the main street running west from Jelačić, is the traditional hub of shopping in Zagreb and where a vast number of international shops and banks can be found.
There are many interesting markets to visit in Zagreb with the best known and most visited being Dolac which is the base from which farmers from the surrounding villages come to sell their produce. However, don’t miss out on the modest antique market held every Saturday & Sunday morning on Britanski trg or the Sunday morning Hrelić Flea market where all manner of weird and wonderful goods are sold.
Typical local products include Croatian wines, rakija (grape brandy), olive oil and truffles which all make thoughtful gifts for the loved ones back home. For some innovative souvenirs ideas head to Take Me Home (Tomićeva ulica 4) and on Radićeva ulica there are many independent jewellery shops and boutiques. The Tourist Information Centre (Trg bana Josipa Jelačića 11) sells everything from postcards to books and could also be a useful place to pick up something.
If you are need of urgent supplies the two shopping centres: Avenue Mall (Dubrovnik Ave 16) and Centar Kaptol (Nova ves 17) are useful places to start and for foreign language books: Algoritam (Harambašićeva ulica 19) and Profil Megastore (Bogovićeva ulica 7) are well stocked.
Things to eat
Some of Zagreb’s local specialities include purica s mlincima (roast turkey with flat baked dough), štrukli (baby cheese pasta parcels boiled then baked), and the strangely popular zagrebački odrezak (pork cutlets stuffed with cheese and ham). In addition, the stomach filling meat and offal soup ujušak, comes served with root veg and dumplings, and is certainly worth a try.
For those on a tighter budget, in the centre there are numerous pizza-cut, kebab shops, pancake-to-go and fast food restaurants including all the major chains. Sandwiches are sold across the city and usually cost between 10–20 Kuna.
Wifi & Internet
Wifi is pretty straightforward to find in Zagreb with a few internet cafés and, bars and restaurants offering the service. Simply, check out our useful map…
Zagreb airport (Međunarodna zračna luka Zagreb: Ulica Rudolfa Fizira 1) is located 17 km south-east of Zagreb in the suburb of Pleso. A host of airlines provide services amongst which the national carrier Croatia Airlines who offer connections to all the major European capitals. Other selected airline include British Airways (London), Turkish Airlines (Istanbul), Lufthansa (Munich), Iberia (Madrid) & Air France (Paris).
Zagreb Central Train Station, (Glavni kolodvor: Trg kralja Tomislava 12) which is located right in the downtown area, is a major international rail hub and as such there are direct services to Vienna, Budapest, Zurich, Munich, Salzburg, Ljubljana, Sarajevo (one-way 59BAM) and Belgrade (return ticket 44€). The domestic system is also quite well developed with trains to all major towns (except Dubrovnik) and a useful sleeper train between Zagreb and Split (197 kuna / 9h).
Zagreb Central Bus Station (Autobusni Kolodvor: Avenija Marina Držića 4) is located 10 min walk from the train station and is very well connected with services to large European capitals (inc. London, Paris, Amsterdam) as well as numerous cities in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. There are also national buses to all the major destinations of Croatia.
Local transport in Zagreb is also well developed with trams and buses being the main way to move about town. The tram system operates 15 daytime lines (No 1-9, 11-15, 17) and 4 night-time lines (31-34). A useful map with all the tramlines can be found here.
The bus system includes 113 daytime lines and 4 night-time lines and covers a larger area than the tram, spreading into the surrounding suburbs as well as neighbouring towns. A map for the bus system can be found here. The tickets for bus and trams are the same and cost 12 kuna for 1.5h, when bought from a kiosk, or 15 kuna for 2h, when bought from the driver. There is also a 24h ticket available for 30 kuna.
The Funicular Railway, running between the Upper & Lower towns, is in fact the oldest form of public transport in Zagreb and is one of the steepest in the world. A single ticket costs 4 kuna and it departs every 10 mins.
As with many European capitals all roads in Croatia lead to the capital so connections to the surrounding cities are relatively simple. However, be aware that you have to pay a toll to use any motorway in Croatia.
The A2 heads north, to Maribor (Slovenia) and onto Vienna (Austria). The A4 heads north-east in the direction of Budapest (Hungary) whilst the A3 goes south-east to Belgrade (Serbia). The A2 goes west to Ljubljana (Slovenia) and if you are planning on heading to the Croatian coast (Istria or Krk) use the A1 then A6 or just the A1 to head further south.
Zagreb Hitchhiking Out
The difficulty of hitchhiking out of Zagreb depends a hell of a lot on the direction on which you are travelling. Heading north and south-west, towards the vast majority of Croatia, is relatively painless with easily accessible hitchhiking spots and short waiting times. Heading east, towards Serbia and Hungary is a lot trickier and can involve very long waiting times and covering large distances on foot.
North towards Maribor (Slovenia) & Graz (Austria)
To reach the West Gate Shopping Centre / A2 Toll: from Črnomerec and Ljubljanica bus terminal there is a free bus that runs all the way to the shopping centre, once off the bus it is a short walk to the A2 toll.
North-East towards Varaždin & Budapest (Hungary)
To reach the northbound A4: take bus #212, #225, #275, #277 to Sesvete, and walk along Sesvetska ulica until you see the A4 motorway overhead. You can try the slip road on the other side of the bridge but it is not an ideal spot.
Alternatively, from Kvaternikov Trg take the bus #216 or #276 to Ivanja Reka, you can try hitching anywhere along Slavonska avenija, but be warned there are many different alternative routes by which drivers may be going.
East towards Osijek, Banja Luka (Bosnia) & Belgrade (Serbia)
To reach the Tifon Petrol Station just before the A3 motorway: from Kvaternikov Trg take the bus #216 or #276 to Ivanja Reka. At the petrol station you can try to get a lift to the toll which is located 8km away to the east.
South-West towards Rovinj, Krk, Split
To reach the Lučko Toll on the A1: from the centre, a few public transport changes are necessary. Firstly, take tram #4 or #7 to Savski Most, from here change to bus #111 or #132. Ask the driver to tell you when to exit or alternatively keep an eye for a large restaurant called Calypso. Once off the bus, the toll road is about a 10min walk.
West towards Sambor & Ljubljana (Slovenia)
To reach the bus stop on Ljubljanska Avenija: take tram #5 or #17 from the centre, be prepared that the ride takes around 45mins, exiting at the Precko stop. Locate Ljubljanska Avenija (also called Zagrebacka Avenija) and the huge Konsum supermarket. The bus stop is positioned on the road a little further on.
Written by: Jon