I have a very special connection with Croatia – well Zagreb more specifically. Yes, the girlfriend (you know as Gordana, and at times Goga) is half Croatia and half Serbian so at the core of my connection with ex-Yugoslavia and the Balkans is, without a doubt, centred around her.
But if I wanted to get all gooey and sentimental then Croatia & Serbia are the two countries I visited on my first ever trip to Europe. That year I visited Belgrade, Zagreb and Split. I walked around with my jaw on the floor, looking up, looking down, eating food, drinking beer – different sounds, different language, different smells…I was in love with travel.
I’ve since been to Zagreb about 8 times, which I guess inevitably leads to – why did it take you eight years to do a 48 Hour Zagreb Itinerary.This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.
Zagreb is in which country again?
- Zagreb is the capital and the largest city of Croatia. It is located in the northwest of the country, along the Sava river, at the southern slopes of the Medvednica mountain.
- Zagreb is dubbed as a city of museums because there are more museums per square metre than any other city in the world. Museums are a huge time suck when you only have two or three days in a city but I’ve included some in this itinerary just in case you’re a history buff. But this doesn’t mean that there is nothing else for you to do if you aren’t a history buff.
- One of the many things that the Zagrebcani (the locals) enjoy is sitting in one of the numerous cafes watching the world go by. Honestly, I think there are more cafes per metre than there are people. In the evening, you can visit one of the many restaurants, grab delicious Croatian dishes like the Black Risotto, and finish the day in one of the bars or clubs. Whatever you choose to do, you are guaranteed to have a good time!
- The necktie was invented in Croatia.
Where To Stay In Zagreb
Art Hotel Like
Art Hotel Like is located in the center of Zagreb, just a few minutes away from Ban Jelacic Square. It offers comfortable accommodation and unrivalled comfort.
Esplanade Zagreb Hotel
Dating back to 1925, The Esplanade Zagreb Hotel is one of the most famous and gracious buildings in Zagreb. It’s one of the first buildings yo0u notice when leaving the train station. It offers supreme luxury, with beautifully designed rooms blended with the delicate combination of Art Deco heritage and contemporary blah, blah, blah…
What To Do In Zagreb
Glavni Kolodvor (Central Train Station)
I usually start every morning with a coffee spot but here in Zagreb there are so many of them just choose one, get your fix and move on. They’re a good one outside of the train station so let’s start there…
Aside from being the main train station in Zagreb, Glavni Kolodvor is an amazing testament to neoclassical architecture. Under the supervision of Hungarian architect Ferenc Pfaff and Hungarian sculptor Vilim Marchenko, Glavni Kolodvor opened in 1892. Over the past 125 years, Zagreb’s central station has maintained its integrity as a stunning and unique train station that features newspaper and bakery kiosks, as well as a chapel.
This train station tends to be a well-travelled hub for people travelling to other parts of Europe. If your passing through be sure to spend some time exploring the city. Here is the perfect one-day itinerary for exploring Zagreb by my good friend Allison Green.
Kneza Branimira (Graffiti Wall)
Back in 2010Goga and I took a bus tour from Zagreb, Croatia to Rome, Italy and when we left the bus station here in Zagreb, we drove along this street with all this graffiti on the walls. I love graffiti and visit my very own Graffiti Alley here in Toronto quite often as it’s always changing. Throughout Zagreb, you can find amazing pieces of art but the biggest concentration of them is along the Knez Branimirova known as the Branimirova Graffiti Hall of Fame. Learn more about some local artists HERE:
Ledeni Park (Ice Park)
It’s funny seeing this word Ledeni written out as I just learned how to say “Iced Tea”, Ledeni Čaj. I’ve been using it every time I sit in a cafe – even if I don’t actually want Ledeni Čaj. The Ice Park is one of Europe’s largest skating rinks with approximately two thousand square meters of ice to skate on – in the winter months of course.
Umjetnički paviljon u Zagrebu (Art Pavillion)
Located in the Lower Town section of Zagreb, the Art Pavillion Zagreb is the oldest gallery in Southeast Europe. It was constructed in 1898 and is specifically designed to accommodate large-scale exhibitions.
Library of Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences
Founded in 1866 as the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts, The Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts is a vital academic institution in Croatia. It is accredited with having organized over one hundred scientific meetings and conferences, as well as “evaluating works of important Croats throughout history.”
Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters
Located in the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters is a museum that boasts an impressive “fine-art collection donated to the city by Bishop Strossmayer in 1884.” The gallery hosts approximately 4,000 works, of which about 250 are kept on display.
Park Zrinjevac is the park I often refer to as the Harry Potter park because the trees remind me of the films, anyways it’s a favourited part of Zagreb for locals and visitors. It’s a great location for picnics, a scenic stroll, or for attending one of the many events hosted in the park’s music pavilion, where concerts are held throughout the summertime. During Christmas-time, the park is lit up with festive lights, holiday songs and holiday markets.
Ban Josip Jelačić Square/Trg
Ban Josip Jelačić is the central square in Zagreb and is named after ban Josip Jelačić, a nobleman, military general, and aristocrat of Croatia. Although the square’s official name is Trg bana Jelačića, locals often call it Jelačić plac. Ban Josip Jelačić is one of Zagreb’s best places for local cafes and restaurants.
This square is also my first official taste of what a “European Square” is like, so every time I come back, the little boy inside me gets excited – like I’m visiting Europe for the first time again.
Zagreb Farmers Market (Dolac Market & Kumica Barica – Statue
The Zagreb Local Farmers Market/ Dolac Market is one of Zagreb’s most vibrant and lively spaces which is probably why I love markets so much – in general. Oh and for the record – no one in Europe calls a market a Farmers Market. Goga tells me that as a child, every morning her mother would go to the market to buy what they want for the day. It was always fresh, always local and what was in season.
Here in Zagreb that tradition continues, whether rain or shine, the Local Market is always a place filled with colourful fruits and vegetables. The market was established in the 1930s and has been one of Croatia’s main grounds for the trading and selling of local and foreign goods.
Kitchen & Grill Plac
I love restaurants that are right around the corner from a market. I feel like it can’t get any fresher than that right? Kitchen & Grill Plac is a small diner located just below the famous Zagreb market – Dolac. Plac offers traditional meat delicacies served with fresh vegetables from Docal market. Sorry if you’re vegan but meat lovers get used to these words – cevapcici and pljeskavica, its ground beef like hamburger. The Plac has hamburgers and cheeseburgers made from only 100% beef from domestic breeding. Pair that with a nice selection of local wines and beers and we are all set!
Zagrebačka katedrala (Zagreb Cathedral)
The Zagreb Cathedral is a magnificent church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, as well as both Saint Stephen and Saint Ladislaus. Like most long-standing churches, the Zagreb Cathedral was built on the site of a 12th-century cathedral that was desecrated and destroyed by the invading Tartars in 1242. The current church was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries and it is the tallest building in Croatia standing at 105 meters.
Sveta Marija na Dolcu (St Mary at Dolac)
Church of St. Mary on Dolce (Sveta Marija na Dolcu) dates back to the 13th century, originally a monastery but now a chapel. The church did not suffer any damage in the earthquake of 1880, so masses were held in it while the cathedral was being repaired. Today, St.Mary’s Church is surrounded by modern buildings, erected after the renovation of Dolac in 1925 (when the Cistercian monastery was demolished).
Craft Room Zagreb
If you’re a lover of craft beer like me then the Craft Room pub is the place with superior beer and food as well as music and entertainment. Get this – The bar has more than a hundred domestic and foreign craft beers plus hamburgers, snacks, and several types of sandwiches. I’m sure at this point you know how much I love beer. My good friend and occasional drinking buddy Yashy from Baby & Life put together a great Craft Beer Guide for Zagreb. Check it Out!
Victory Art Cafe
This coffee shop is pretty cool and it’s out by the National Theatre so I figure it’s a good place to start. Victory Art Cafe is an elegant Parisian-style coffee house, with a cute summer garden and a great selection of coffees and cakes. The owners who are antique collectors have added a vintage feel and rustic touch to the furniture.
Hrvatsko narodno kazalište u Zagrebu (Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb)
Believed to be a “neo-baroque” masterpiece, the Croatian National Theatre was established in 1895 in order to bring world-class drama, opera and ballet performances to Zagreb at an affordable price. Not only is the Croatian National Theatre a cherished institution of Zagreb, as well an amazing architectural feat that is reminiscent of the Palace of Westminster in London, England – just not as yellow.
Muzej za umjetnost i obrt (Museum of Arts and Crafts, Zagreb)
When it comes to capturing the craftsmanship of Croatia the Museum of Arts and Crafts does so in such an amazing way. The museum exhibits furniture, textiles, metal, ceramic and glass that date back to the Middle Ages. The museum aims to preserve local, traditional craftsmanship and celebrate the culture of Croatia’s working class.
Yup, they have a lot of museums…
Muzej Mimara (Mimara)
Muzej Mimara, a Croatian art museum, that houses the collection of art collectors, philanthropists, and husband and wife Wiltrud and Ante Topić Mimara. The museum has an impressive collection of 3,700 varied works of art, with and I quote: “more than 1,500 exhibits constitute permanent holdings, dating from the prehistoric period up to the 20th century.”
Kamenita vrata (Stone Gate)
Located in the Upper Town (Gornj Grad) part of Zagreb, Kamenita vrata (the Stone Gates) are the remnants of the ancient city walls that once protected the old town of Gradec during the 13th century. The Stone Gates offers the best views of old Zagreb.
Crkva sv. Marka (St. Mark’s)
St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb was built during the 13th century (Romanesque Period). Since being built, the church has only been able to preserve a window in the south wall and the foundation of the bell tower. Architecturally speaking, the church has amazing Gothic arches, a gorgeous shrine, and its iconic south portal (arguably one of the most stunning architectural works in Croatia). The church venerates the life and mission of St. Mark, the ascribed author of the Gospel of Mark.
Hrvatski muzej naivne umjetnosti (Croatian Museum of Naïve Art)
The Croatian Museum of Naïve Art is a fine art museum dedicated to the work of ordinary men and women of the 20th century whose artwork became widely celebrated over time. The museum holds over 1,900 local Croatian works of art including paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints.
Museum of Broken Relationships
Yes, you heard me correctly and yes they really do have a lot of museums here!
Located inside of the Kulmer Palace in Upper Town, this unique museum takes visitors on a one-of-a-kind emotional journey as they explore various aspects of break-ups. According to the museum’s website, “The Museum of Broken Relationships explores broken love and other human relationships – what they mean to us, what they tell us about what we share and how we can learn and grow from them.” Exhibits are composed of objects “donated anonymously by members of the public from all over the world.”
Kula Lotrščak (Lotrščak Tower)
Located in the old town of Gradec (Upper Town), this fortified tower is located in Zagreb and dates back to the 13th century. Similar to the Stone Gates, the Lotrščak Tower was constructed to “guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall.” The tower gets its name from the Latin phrase “campana latrunculorum”, which translates to “thieves’ bell”, referring to a bell hung in the tower to signal the closing of the town gates.
Strossmayerovo šetalište (Outdoor Bar)
When it comes to enjoying the spectacular views of Zagreb, there’s almost no better choice than a stroll or jog along the Strossmayer promenade. Located underneath Lotrščak Tower, the Strossmayer promenade runs “along with the remains of Zagreb’s medieval defensive walls”.
This family-owned dessert specialist has been up and running for 40 years! Owned and operated by the Vincek family, Slasticarnica Vincek has single-handedly “changed the cake and pastry image of Zagreb.” Slasticarnica Vincek is famous for its custard slices served with whipped cream and quality chocolate. Slasticarnica Vincek is both locally and nationally celebrated for investing “in its production processes, shops and employees”, which has led Slasticarnica Vincek to become Croatia’s premier cake brand.
Orthodox Cathedral Zagreb
The Zagreb Orthodox Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Lord, is a Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. Built from 1865-1866, the church was designed by Croatian architect Franjo Klein and is situated on the Petar Preradović Square in Zagreb. The church is designed in traditional Romanesque and Byzantine architecture.
Pivnica Tomislav (Dinner)
When it comes to eating an amazing dinner at a reasonable price, Pivnica Tomislav is Croatia’s pride and joy. The restaurant serves local favourites like grilled chicken and potatoes with soup, along with a salad and dessert, at a price that’s probably ½ of what you think it would cost! Aside from serving some of Zagreb’s finest meals, Pivnica Tomislav is only a hop, skip, and jump from Ban Josip Jelačić.
If you thinking about a day trip that is relatively close to Zagreb I would suggest Plitvicka Jezera National Park it’s breathtaking. If you looking to get some hiking in then head up to Bear Mountain and Veternica Cave.
Another great destination, just under 2 hours away in the capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Veternica Cave | Bear Mountain
Despite being Croatia’s sixth-largest cave, Veternica Cave is one of Zagreb’s most frequented tourist destinations! Veternica Cave offers over seven kilometres of diverging canals and 380 meters of explorable cave space for visitors. The cave’s remote location calls for visitors to embark on a 50-minute bus ride/ hike in order to reach the cave; however, it’s well worth the hike!
If you looking for remote places, how about an island that is virtually untouched and sits in Croatia’s beautiful Adriatic Sea. That island is called Vis and here’s what to do when you get there!!!