Zagreb, the lively Croatian capital is home to 800,000 people. The city has a great deal of charm and character with typical central European cobbled streets and small cafes on every corner. A mix of history from different cultures and decades mingle in the streets of Upper and Lower Town.
Out of all the places we visited during our year-long honeymoon Zagreb was one of the most enjoyable. The city has a regal feeling about it with stately buildings rising up from the streets. The architecture really gives you the feeling that you’re in Europe when you walk along the streets. Another reason why Zagreb is so special for us is that we encountered some of the friendliest people here. Everyone was genuinely friendly and helpful and we made some friendships that should last long into the future.
In total, we spent just over two weeks in Zagreb. Just long enough to feel comfortable writing this travel guide, but not long enough for us to feel tired of the city. Perhaps part of our love for Zagreb is due to the fact that we visited over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Croatia, and Zagreb, in particular, is well known for its festive winter celebrations. Check below for more on this topic!
In this travel guide will take a look at one of the most magical cities in Europe. Zagreb, Croatia is a charming European capital with quirky cobbled streets, delectable food, and an aura of excitement in the air. Let’s dive in and see what makes Zagreb so special!
Croatian Visa Requirements
A number of countries, as well as Schengen visa holders, are Croatian visa exempted. The visa-exempt status is valid for a stay of under 90 days in any 180 day period. This means traveling to Croatia is easier and more convenient than ever before! For countries requiring a visa visit the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs website to learn more about visa requirements before visiting Croatia.
Entering Croatia by air or land is a fairly simple process as long as you have visa-free entry and have your travel documents sorted. On our most recent trip to Croatia, Corina and I entered the country via bus which we took from Bosnia.
Crossing the land border from Croatia to Bosnia was simple, but getting there was anything but! If you’ve ever bussed around the Balkans you might know what I’m talking about. This trip was a nightmare and involved massive delays, traffic accidents, and included Corina assisting the border guards in a criminal investigation! A post on this bus trip is long overdue. Travel is never boring!
Best time to visit Zagreb
Due to its oceanic to continental climate visiting Zagreb is most enjoyable during the warmer months. Any time between May and September will give you warm to hot temperatures, allowing you to enjoy the many outdoor sitting areas or to relax by the lake.
If you like the European winter atmosphere, however, it is a perfect time to see snow, watch fireworks during the new year, and enjoy your evenings over some nice wine. Stopping off for a glass of wine is a great way to socialize with the locals and to warm up in the winter months. If you are a fan of snow sports, Zagreb is one of the few capitals to host a ski world cup – in the winter you can watch the action live, or on a screen on the main square.
Zagreb: City tips
Zagreb International airport is located 17 km from the city, but you can also fly into Ljubljana, Venice, Trieste, Klagenfurt or Graz airports, which are just a few hours drive from Zagreb.
This gives a lot of options on how to get to the city. Direct flights to Zagreb tend to be on the pricier side, so staying flexible with travel arrangements will help save a lot of money. Not to mention the chance to visit a nearby country on the way to Zagreb!
Flying into a nearby city also works well if you plan to rent a car. Long haul flights tend to be cheaper when you fly to common destinations (such as Venice) so this strategy may actually save you money. This will also help in avoiding an additional transfer! Although a can is not necessary, it can be useful if you plan on visiting some of Croatia’s National Parks like the Plitvice Lakes which are a popular day-trip from Zagreb.
Assuming you don’t have a car, getting around Zagreb is easiest by tram. Zagreb has an excellent tram system that covers most main areas of the city. We took the tram for most of our trips in and out of the city center. If I were to guess, I’d say we took the tram for roughly 90% of our trips.
Other choices include the buses and trains which are plentiful in Zagreb and make excellent alternatives to the tram. You will find yourself taking these if you stay out of the center or visit places off the beaten path.
Unfortunately, Zagreb’s tram website is only in Croatian as of now. With some luck, you might be able to understand some timetables with the help of Google Translate. If all else fails you can always try asking a local to point you in the right direction.
Worried about communicating in Croatia? The official language is Croatian, but in the city, most people speak English as well. The city has a high number of English speakers, possibly due to its status as the capital of Croatia. You may encounter some situations where English is not spoken, particularly among elderly Croatians, but those encounters will be few and far between. With that said, it is always appreciated if you speak some phrases in the local language. You can learn some Croatian phrases here if you’re interested in putting a smile on some faces during your trip.
Things To Do In Zagreb
1. Ban Jelačić Square
This is the main square in the city and a common meeting place where people can gather with friends and family. If you’re arranging a meeting the best spot would be under the big clock located in the square. It is a pedestrian zone, so there will be no cars zipping around. However, Ban Jelačić Square is still convenient for travelers. From here you can catch a tram to nearly anywhere in the city since this is where most of the trams stop. The architecture of the buildings in the square is from different decades and styles. However, the styles blend well together as they all have a luxurious and impressive feel to them. Zagreb is really quite beautiful as you can see from the square.
This is a great place to start your day in Zagreb as so many of the cities top sights are within walking distance! Ban Jelacic Square feels alive with the energy of so many people rushing about, laughing, and having fun together.
2. Zagreb Eye
At 182m above sea level, Zagreb Eye offers visitors a birds-eye view of the city (as the name might suggest). At roughly $10 the price is pretty standard as far as observation towers go. The great thing about Zagreb Eye is the bar located on the top floor. The admission ticket is good for the whole day so you are able to head back in the evening and grab a cocktail while you unwind after a long day of sightseeing. Check Zagreb Eye details and pricing here if you’re planning a visit.
When you purchase your ticket to the Zagreb Eye, the staff will ask if you are in the city for an extended stay. If so, you can get a visitor card made up which allows you to come back for the remainder of your visit. This is a really great thing as it allowed us to come back on multiple occasions to sip a coffee while looking out over Zagreb!
I know, this is a touristy thing to do, but it was seriously one of the best values of your entire 2018 trip!
3. Mirogoj Cemetery
Architecturally intriguing, the Mirogoj Cemetary is a resting place for people of all religious groups. This cemetery is considered one of the most important landmarks in Zagreb. I normally wouldn’t direct visitors to a burial ground, but this one is certainly awe-inspiring.
The cemetery is not the type we typically see in the states with rows of simple headstones. Instead, Mirogoj Cemetery opts for a more epic honoring of Croatia’s ancestors. You will see rows of mausoleums and luxurious burial spots each dedicated to a specific family. This is not a good place for superstitious travelers, but it is an interesting place to visit nonetheless!
4. Museum of Broken Relationships
Another unique attraction in Zagreb is the Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum displays mementos and stories from failed relationships. The exhibits were submitted by jilted lovers, as well as some parents who are separated from their children. Be warned the exhibits can be heartbreaking at times. Still, it is worth a visit as it is quite different from other museums you may visit. Some exhibits are available for view online and will give you an idea of the theme before you visit.
5. Zagreb funicular
At a paltry 66m, the Zagreb funicular is the shortest in the world. Despite its size, it is absolutely worth a ride when going from the Lower to Upper Town. The price is the same as a standard public transport ticket and is fairly affordable. We paid a few visits to the upper part of town and usually took the Zagreb Funicular up, and took the stairs down. It is quite interesting – especially if you have never seen one before!
6. Visit Zagreb Upper Town
Since we are on the topic of Zagreb’s Upper Town, it might be good to mention some of the history that can be found here. This is the oldest part of Zagreb with buildings that date back nearly 1,000 years.
Upper Town is fairly small in size but holds some of Zagreb’s best sights. One of these is the famous Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This ancient cathedral is an architectural marvel and should be on every Zagreb itinerary.
Upper Town is also home to the Dolac Market, a popular fruit and vegetable market in the city. This is a great chance to see residents and restaurant owners shopping for fresh produce. It is also a great chance for visitors to buy snacks as well. We were able to buy an assortment of nuts and dried fruits like figs and apricots. These snacks lasted for the final month of our trip and came in handy when we went on excursions to places like Bled Lake in Slovenia.
Be sure to come early if you plan to visit Dolac Market. The open-air market shuts down at 1pm with many vendors starting to pack up every earlier. It’s best to make this the first stop of the day as it is pretty interesting and worth checking out.
What to eat in Zagreb
The Dolac market is a fun place to indulge in fresh fruits and veggies, but you can also find local cheese and sour cream which is quite a delicacy!
Konoba is the name for a type of traditional inn in Croatia. You cannot go wrong by choosing to eat in one of those if Croatian food is what you are looking for. But, to be honest, you should be eating Croatian food if you’re in Croatia!
There is also a good selection of pizza places in Zagreb as well since Croatians have developed a great appreciation for pizza. This is mainly thanks to Croatia’s close proximity to Italy.
Getting A Hotel In Zagreb
Hotels in Zagreb are significantly more expensive than you will find outside the capital. Expect to pay $30+ for a room in an apartment, or $50+ for a hotel. Check out the search box below for a full list of available rooms and hotels.
We found Zagreb to be a bit pricier than other cities in the Balkans and ended up choosing to stay at a home-hotel located 15-minutes from the city center. This wasn’t an issue thanks to Zagreb’s great public transportation system. And staying in a private residence really helped save money on accommodation. There are quite a few apartments and houses available on Booking.com and they usually come with a lower price tag than comparable hotels in the area. The only downside is that they could offer fewer amenities and services than a dedicated hotel.
Best Zagreb Tours
Old Town Walking Tour
There are many guides available to assist you on a walking tour. However, I believe a self-guided walking tour is a simple and rewarding way to experience the city.
Start in Ban Jelačić square and take a walk around the Lower Town, where all the museums are. Walk uphill to Kaptol and you will find the Dolac Market. Take a stroll under the red umbrellas, soaking in the colors of the fruits and veggies. Passing by the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary start a stroll along the colorful street Tkalciceva, full of quirky cafes and bars. At the end of it is St. Mark’s Place, where you will find the church with a vibrantly colored rooftop and the parliament building. After that, you can take the shortest funicular in the world to descend back to Lower Town.
Relaxation By The Lake
If you feel like relaxing on the beach, but you do not have the time to go to the Adriatic Sea, take the tram or cycle to Jarun Lake by Sava River. This artificial lake will get you in a summer mood with its beaches, water activities, and jogging paths.
Medvednica is a nature park that caters to snow and ski lovers in the winter and hikers and cyclists in the summer. If you don’t quite feel like ascending on foot or by bike, you can choose to take the cable car to the top.
Medvednica provides amazing views of the city from above and also gives great photo opportunities. On the southern slope, you can visit the medieval fortress, built to protect the city after it had been devastated by the Tatars. Another sight to see is the Homeland Monument, a monument dedicated to Croatian heroes.
What to bring to Zagreb
In the winter warm clothes are a necessity! Be sure to pack a warm jacket or two to protect against the chilly wind in Zagreb.
Zagreb has oceanic to continental weather, so expect cold, rainy, and snowy winters. Zagreb has a totally different climate from the coastal parts of Croatia. So expect things to get chilly! We stayed in Zagreb from Christmas to January and absolutely loved it. It did snow, so come prepared, but it was nice to celebrate our first white Christmas. If you are bothered by the cold remember that you can always sip a cup of mulled wine. It’s the fastest way to warm up and forget the cold, and can be purchased at any of the Christmas markets that dot the city!
In the summer be sure to bring a swimsuit as you don’t want to miss out on the chance to take a dip in the cool water. Croatia offers plenty of chances for swimming in either beaches, pools, or lakes. A beach towel is also recommended unless you plan to travel light and purchase one locally.
The summer is quite different from the winter, you will feel like you are in a totally different city! Zagreb is hot and dry in the summer, so pack clothes accordingly. Light shirts that are breathable would be the best choice. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing shorts in Zagreb and feel perfectly fine walking around town with them. There is the stereotype that only tourists wear shorts, so if you want to bring some pants make sure they are light and comfortable.
Also, if you visit the beach it’s best to bring a pair of rubber water shoes with you. The beaches in Croatia tend to be a bit rocky so packing rubber shoes are a good way to prevent injury.
An electric converter is also a necessity! Assuming your devices are not continental Europe friendly, of course. Hotels may have adapters available at a small charge. However, if you are a frequent traveler it might be wise to invest in a universal travel adapter – it pays for itself in the long run!
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We hope you found some interesting things to do in Zagreb. If you’ve been to the city we would love to hear your thoughts on what you liked or disliked!
Also, if you liked this city guide please let us know in the comments below!
Check out the Ljubljana, Slovenia Travel Guide next.