Visit the best Zagreb attractions
You’ll find plenty of things to do in Zagreb so it’s a shame that it often gets overlooked by tourists rushing to the Croatian coastal resorts. Zagreb sits inland from the country’s bustling beach resorts but believe me, it’s well worth a short detour. Indeed Croatia isn’t that big. You can drive from the coast to Zagreb in a day but stay a while. Undoubtedly, you’ll be glad you did.
So, what can you expect when you arrive in Zagreb? In reality, Zagreb consists of three areas. Firstly, the Old or Upper Town. Here you’ll find the Presidential Palace, the magnificent St Mark’s Church and the Sabor or Croatian parliament. In addition, you’ll discover a whole host of museums and art galleries to explore. Wander its cobbled streets but don’t forget to come out at night to see the original gas lamps alight.
If you’re a shopaholic then head for Lower Town (Donji Grad) where you’ll find plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants. Croatia is a good value destination so you’ll find lots of bargains too. Generally, most visitors won’t venture into the third area of New Zagreb. Not because there’s anything wrong with it but none of the main attractions are found there. You’re more likely to find yourself in New Zagreb if you’re visiting the city on business though as many of the new high-rise office buildings can be found there.
Top 10 Things to do in Zagreb
- Ban Jelacic Square
- Zagreb Cathedral
- Museum of Broken Relationships
- Maksimir Park
- Dolac Market
- King Tomislav Square
- St Mark’s Church
- Lotrscak Tower
- Zagreb 360
- Mirogoj Cemetery
Ban Jelacic Square
Firstly, start your tour of the city in Ban Jelacic Square. You can pick up maps and stuff at the tourist information office here. Also, right in the middle of the square, you’ll see the statue of Ban Jelacic after whom it’s named. In case you don’t already know, I didn’t, Josip Jelacic is a local hero. Ban isn’t his first name, it’s his title, Ban Josip Jelacic. He is celebrated for his role in defeating the Hungarians during the uprising of 1848.
Unless you have your eyes shut, you won’t miss Zagreb Cathedral as it stands impressively overlooking the city. Accordingly, it’s visible from pretty much everywhere. Make an effort to see it up close though. Its full name is the Cathedral of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and as you might have a guessed its’ a Roman Catholic cathedral. It’s a beautiful Gothic building, the towers are particularly impressive. In fact, it’s the tallest building in Croatia.
The cathedral on this site dates from the 11th century although that’s not what you’ll see today. It’s been rebuilt and restored a number of times since then due to war, fire and earthquake. It’s still a very impressive building though.
Meanwhile, wander inside to view the magnificent altar, imposing organ and the burial places of many Croatian heroes. The cathedral is open to visitors from 10 am to 5 pm except on Sundays when it opens from 1 pm to 5 pm. If you wish, you can also attend Mass here several times a day. However, if you prefer to just wander around and admire the artwork and building interior then go ahead. However, be mindful of the fact that it is a working cathedral and follow their request to turn off your phone.
Museum of Broken Relationships
This quirky Museum is situated in Zagreb’s Upper Town so is easily accessible as part of your tour of the city. Specifically, it aims to take visitors on “a unique emotional journey around the world through hundreds of break-ups”. In fact, it might make you laugh just as much as it makes you cry. However, it’s a fascinating insight into human behaviour. It’s a small museum so it won’t take up a lot of your time but it’s worth a visit just because it’s so unusual.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is open daily from 9 am to 10.30pm. Tickets cost 40 kn with discounts for children, seniors and students. If you need a coffee or a strong cup of tea after your emotional visit they also have a very nice cafe.
Sometimes, however lovely the city you just want somewhere peaceful to get away from it all. While in Zagreb, head to Maksimir Park for some green space and a chance to relax. This well-maintained parkland has walking trails, forest, playgrounds and even a zoo.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of a traditional market any day of the week. Dolac market is open from 7 am to 3 pm daily except Sundays when it is open 7 am to 1 pm. You’ll find all the regular market produce here, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy. A particular speciality of the market is its cornbread, made fresh each day. I love to see the rows of flowers waiting to be sold. Dolac is an authentic local market used by locals and tourists alike.
King Tomislav Square
King Tomislav was Croatia’s first king and his monument stands in the square which bears his name. He was crowned in 925 by Papal decree after defending Croatia against the Hungarians. A reminder that Croatia is an ancient kingdom, not a new country.
Today, King Tomislav Square is a popular place to hang out in the city centre. It’s close to the railway station and boasts the Hotel Esplanade which was built to accommodate passengers on the famous Orient Express. I didn’t realise but it used to stop at Zagreb on the route from Paris to Istanbul. Also in the square is the Art Pavilion. The building itself is interesting as it was built for the Budapest Millennial Exhibition of 1896. After the exhibition, it was taken apart and moved to King Tomislav Square. Nowadays, you can visit the pavilion to see one of the many art exhibitions organised here.
St Mark’s Church
You’ll find this distinctive church in Zagreb’s Upper Town. It’s not the easiest place to get inside as it’s only open from 9 am to 12 pm daily although you have the option of attending mass in the evening. You should visit anyway just to see the fabulously ornate tiled roof. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. The coloured tiles contrast distinctly against the white walls of the church and it really is quite stunning.
The Lotrscak tower was built in the 13th century. Each day they fire a cannon called the Gric cannon. This quirky little place even has its own Twitter feed at @gricki_top. It tweets just once a day. Rather bizarrely it tweets the one-word “bum” at noon each day. Just so you know, bum actually means boom in Croatian. It’s certainly memorable anyway. More conventionally, you can climb the tower for some fabulous views across Zagreb.
Somewhere else you can get a great view across Zagreb is from the Zagreb 360 observation deck. Find it on Ban Jelacic Square. The observation deck is open from 10 am to 10 pm so you can fit it into any sightseeing schedule. Visit at night for fabulous views of the city lights or visit during the day to pick out your favourite things to do in Zagreb. Even better, go twice. Your ticket is valid for the entire day. Tickets cost 60 Krona per person for adults, half price for children and under 3s go free.
Even if you wouldn’t normally visit a cemetery on your trip you should make an exception for Mirogoj. It’s been called the most beautiful cemetery in Europe and it is in fact, quite stunning. It has a park-like feel to it. As you wander around you can find sculptures by artists such as Ivan Meštrović, Antun Augustinčić, Dušan Damonja and Edo Murtić as well as many others.
View monuments such as The Monument to Fallen Croatian Soldiers in World War One, The Monument to the Yugoslav National Hero, the Memorial Cross to Croatian Home Guard Soldiers, The Monument to the Victims of Bleiburg and the Way of the Cross. In addition, there is a German military cemetery here. Also visit the Wall of Pain, a monument dedicated to Croatian victims of the Croatian War of Independence.
Where to next?
We visited Zagreb as part of our driving tour of the Balkans. It was a fabulous road trip. Find out all about the other parts of our trip by visiting some of the pages shown below.