Zagreb, Croatia

Hidden treasures past and present in the Croatian capital


Hidden treasures past and present in the Croatian capital

So, how do you know the time in Zagreb? One simple way. On the dot of noon, a single heart-stopping cannon shot is fired marking midday. The booming time-check cracking your eardrums dates from 1877 and signifies victory over the Turks at a time when Croatia was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. It’s just one fascinating feature in a surprising capital, a city that in the past century alone has been part of four different nations.
These days Zagreb offers a vibrant mix of lifestyles embracing traditional Central European culture, a laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle and modern innovative projects. It’s a safe business and commercial centre with warm welcoming people that retain a proud allegiance to a historic past. It is so easily accessible as well with flights and trains arriving from all over Europe. Its inland location, close to the Slovenian border, is just far enough away from the pricy tourist resorts of the popular Croatian coast to ensure costs remain low. Zagreb is a delightful find, rivalling well-known neighbours like Prague and Budapest for history, culture and affordability.

Zagreb for many remains a little-known gem, but still becomes busy with European visitors in the warm spring and summer and again for a busy advent and festive period. If you really want a crowd-free experience, the best time to travel is February and November. These months see cooler temperatures and few arrivals but there are plenty of fun indoor activities, low season events, and lots of outside spaces to enjoy if you wrap up warm. Plus, in November you’ll still enjoy the beautiful autumn leaves.

The Upper and the Lower
Have fun exploring on foot, or try out the city’s really easy tram service. The centre is pretty much divided into two main parts, once distinct historic settlements. Gornji Grad or upper Zagreb is linked to the lower Donji Grad by funicular, but the journey between the two takes less than a minute, in fact it’s possibly the world’s shortest funicular and it can be faster to take the steps which run alongside. Top attractions are the lovely neo-gothic cathedral; bustling Tkalčićeva Street with its shops and restaurants; and the medieval structures of Lotrščak Tower and Stone Gate Chapel, site of the picture of Mary and Jesus that survived a devastating fire in 1731. Don’t miss also the church of St Mark with its wonderfully distinctive tiled roof.

Natural Zagreb
The aptly named ‘Green Horseshoe’ is formed by a series of no fewer than 8 parks curving around the centre in the lower part of town. The walkways take in stunning architecture, historic features and offer the chance to relax, and stroll in the fresh air. Our top spots are the botanical gardens with more than 5000 plant species and the area encompassing beautiful art nouveau buildings in the parks to the west. Close to the centre you’ll find Lake Jarun, a 2km wide artificial body of water with lovely strolling and cycle tracks, and Mount Medvednica for hiking. With just a little more time, venture further and take a day trip out to the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site of caves, lakes and cascading waterfalls.

Low Season Months

Jan Feb
Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov

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Top Experiences

Museum Hopping

There are more museums per square foot than any other city in the world with more than 40 in the city centre. Don’t worry about musty boring old exhibits; some of our favourites are the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Museum of Chocolate and the Museum of Illusions.

See a Dinamo Zagreb Match

Croatia’s most successful football team with 21 league titles, Dinamo Zagreb play at Maksimir Stadium which is also the home of the national squad. The team is renowned for their rowdy supporters group, Bad Blue Boys, whose antics certainly add to the atmosphere of the game.

Hike Mount Medvednica

Forested ‘Bear Mountain’ is just outside the city centre and is the perfect chance to admire the winter snowfall or autumn colours of this beautiful natural reserve. There’s also a cable car and road access if you don’t want to hike and a medieval fortress for history buffs.

Insider Tips

  • Don’t leave without trying ‘štrukli’ a traditional dish, specific to Zagreb. It’s a delicious pastry filled with a variety of stuffing. The classic is the savoury one filled with cheese, eggs, and sour cream, but you can also get sweet ones stuffed with walnuts, apple and so on.
  • Saint Martin’s Day is celebrated each 11th November with festivities of a wine theme taking place all around the city and the wine producing areas surrounding. Look for events celebrating the grape, vine and winemakers in a jovial ceremony mimicking a baptism.
  • Film buffs will be interested in the festivals which take place during low season. February sees ZagrebDox championing documentary film making, while November holds the annual Zagreb Film Festival with domestic and international features and events.

Good To Know

  • International Tourist Guides Day in February each year celebrates the contribution made by Zagreb’s guides in their roles as cultural ambassadors. Free tours of the city are offered to highlight their remarkable efforts. It’s usually around the third weekend in February.
  • For the best city views try the observation deck on the 16th floor of the Zagreb Skyscraper, an icon of its time, built in 1959. Or for something less modern, take the steps of the 13th century Lotrščak Tower. Even without climbing, the vistas from the base are fab.
  • Be like a local and make your meeting point ‘under the clock’. Anyone will know this means the clock on Ban Jelačić Square. It’s super convenient as many tram lines end here and it’s handy for heading off down Tkalčićeva St, or ‘Tkalča’ for short, for coffee or drinks.

Food & Drink

Stari Fijaker, Mesnička St

This beautifully decorated and traditional old place has been serving food since 1848. 5 minutes from the main Ban Jelačić Square, it specialises in authentic Croatian comfort food such as punjeka paprika (stuffed peppers), sarma (cabbage rolls), roasted meats and warm pastries.

Botaničar, Trg Marka Marulica

Just a few minutes from the botanical gardens, Botaničar is just one of many stylish venues in the city serving up top notch coffee from local roasteries. This one is a mix of retro themed furnishings, leafy plants and artworks along with a soft jazz soundtrack and craft beer and local wine menus.

Dolac Market

Going since 1890 it’s still best pick to hang with the locals and try autumnal veggies, winter roast chestnuts other seasonal treats at low prices. Located between the upper and lower towns it is distinctive with its red umbrellas to protect vendors and buyers from inclement weather.

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