Things to Do in Zagreb
The living heart around which Zagreb beats, Ban Jelacic Square (Trg Bana Jelacica) was built in the mid-19th century when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it marks the boundary between Gornji Grad and Kapitol (both in the Upper Town) and Donji Grad (Lower Town). The huge, paved piazza is named after a military leader of the 19th century, whose equestrian statue by Austrian sculptor Anton Dominick Ritter von Fernkorn was erected in 1866; it has great sentimental value to the Croatian people as it was removed from the square in 1947 by the Communists, and only replaced in 1990 during the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Surrounded by elegant and arcaded Baroque buildings – many swathed in advertising hoardings – the vast square is crossed by several of the city’s great boulevards, including Illica and Radićeva. It is lined with bars and cafés that move outdoors in the summer, when locals and visitors jostle for space with buskers, beggars and the trams that constantly rattle around its perimeter. A Christmas market takes place during Advent, and Jelacic Square is where the people of Zagreb see in the New Year with fireworks and live music.
At Zagreb’s much-loved, indoor-outdoor Dolac Market, all manner of edible supplies and artisanal products are trucked in from the fertile farming regions of Croatia and displayed in myriad stalls sheltered by red umbrellas. The capital city’s premier market has been bustling for 80-plus years and attracts a loyal crowd of grocery-shopping locals as well as hungry visitors on the hunt for a cheap meal. In addition to being a great place for food shopping, it is also an excellent people-watching spot.
The Catholic parish church of Zagreb’s Gornji Grad (Upper Town) is one of the most distinctive buildings in the city, thanks to its brightly patterned tiled roof. Built in the 13th century, there is now little left of the church’s original construction save for a couple of windows and its ornate central doorway, a Gothic addition from the late 1370s. The statues of the Holy Family and the Apostles in the niches just inside the doorway are by Czech sculptor Ivan Parler and were added at the same time. Thanks to damage by fire, several of these statues have since been replaced by wooden reproductions.
Following the devastating earthquake of 1880, St. Mark's Church (Crkva Svetog Marka) was rebuilt once more and its emblematic roof was added, which is adorned with the coats of arms of Zagreb, Croatia and its various regions. Despite its jewel-colored stained-glass windows, the church’s interior is not well lit, but it does have several exceptional artworks: highlights include the Pietà and the Crucifix over the altar, both by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia’s much-revered 20th-century sculptor; and a series of softly colored biblical frescoes by artist Jozo Kljaković. St. Marks sits on its own cobbled square at the hub of Zagreb’s political and religious life, surrounded by the Croatian parliament buildings.
One of Zagreb’s oldest and most renowned landmarks, the Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata) dates to the 13th century. The atmospheric entryway leads to the medieval Upper Town and hosts a shrine to the Virgin Mary. In addition to tourists, the landmark attracts religious devotees, who come to pray and light candles.
With narrow cobblestone streets, red tiled roofs, and gorgeous medieval squares, Upper Town (Gornji Grad) is Zagreb’s historic district and most picturesque part. Many of the city’s most visited tourist attractions are here, including the Stone Gate, Zagreb Cathedral, and the Bloody Bridge.
Dotted with landscaped gardens, century-old trees, and lovely fountains, Zrinjevac Park (also known as Nikola Subic Zrinski Square) is a popular relaxation spot for Zagreb locals. Take a break from exploring the city and stroll along the tree-lined paths or simply rest on a park bench, watch the fountains, and enjoy the aroma of fresh flowers.
Nicknamed the “Zagreb Sea” by the locals, Jarun Lake is a pleasant oasis just outside the city center. This popular year-round recreation area offers city dwellers a break from the bustling urban center with pebble beaches, cycling paths, and a range of outdoor activities. Take a day trip and relax by the beach, try your hand at windsurfing or paddleboarding, or just people-watch at one of the waterfront cafes.
Marking midday with a single shot from the famous Grič cannon since the late 19th century, Lotrščak Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb’s historic Gornji Grad (Upper Town). It was built into the defense walls of the original 13th-century settlement of Gradec and closed every night at sundown; reputedly those who were left outside the walls overnight were in grave danger of being robbed.
As Gradec was gradually absorbed into present-day Zagreb, the use of Lotrščak Tower changed and down the centuries it has been a prison, a warehouse, a fire station and even a billiards club. The tower has been extended upwards since the 13th century; today the square, five-story tower houses an art gallery but most people visit to scale the spiral staircase up to the observation post to catch a glimpse of the bright tiles on the roof of St Mark’s Church and gaze out across the parks and Baroque mansions of Zagreb’s Donji Grad (Lower Town).
This quirky museum zeros in on heartbreak and failed relationships, both romantic and platonic. Relics of relationships past, from photographs to unusual mementos such as an ax, are displayed alongside explanations of their significance, sending visitors on an emotional roller coaster—at times comical and at other points heartrending.
The imposing, daffodil-yellow Neo-Baroque edifice of theCroatian National Theatre (HNK Zagreb) dominates Trg maršala Tita, the northeastern link in the network of parks around Zagreb’s Donji Grad (Lower Town), which forms the city’s cultural district. The theater was designed by Austrian architects and opened by Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1895; it is punctuated by towers on each corner and topped with a copper dome. The interior is equally opulent, a riot of marble, gilded columns and frescoed ceilings – also by Austrian artists – interspersed with busts of composers and opera singers
The scarlet-and-gold auditorium has the capacity to seat 800 and the repertoire includes a full season of ballet, orchestral and opera. As well as being the home of the Croatian Radio Symphony Orchestra, theCroatian National Theatre attracts big-name performers and theater companies from all over the world. In the square outside the theatre stands “The Well of Life,” a vast bronze sculpture by 20th-century Croatian master Ivan Meštrović in 1905.
More Things to Do in Zagreb
Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, is divided into two parts,Lower Town (Donji Grad) and Upper Town (Gornji Grad). The modern center of Zagreb, Lower Town is home to several museums, gardens, and historic buildings. Among the highlights is Lenuci’s Horseshoe, a series of seven interconnected parks that encircle the district’s top sights.
A bustling plaza in the center of Zagreb’s Lower Town, the pedestrian-only King Tomislav Square (Trg Kralja Tomislava) is a vibrant city meet-up spot, full of formal gardens and public event space. Named after Croatia’s first monarch, it forms part of the city's spectacular urban parkland, and is defined by botanical gardens and beautiful surrounding buildings. The square's southern flank is overlooked by the central train station, an elegant, Neo-classical building from the 19th century, connecting Zagreb to Vienna and Budapest via railway. The 19th-century Art Pavillion, a popular venue for high-profile exhibitions, sits on the square's north end. Inside the square, you'll find a vast equestrian statue of 10th-century King Tomislav, installed in 1947.
An energetic scene for markets, festivals, and concerts year-round, there's no wrong time to visit the square. Stop by on a city highlights tour to snap a pic, or drive right up to the front of the square on a vintage car tour through the city. The square is also a stop on running tours through the Upper and Lower Towns.
Mirogoj Cemetery isn't your typical graveyard, and the carefully designed 7-acre (2.8-hectare) property feels more like an elegant park with its tree-lined walking paths, neo-Renaissance arcade, and scenic Mt. Medvednica backdrop. Visit this popular attraction for a relaxing stroll, and feel Zagreb's bustling urban energy melt away.
Whether you’re fumbling your way through a mirror maze, “walking” across the ceiling, or entering a “zero-gravity” room, Zagreb’s Museum of Illusions is designed to challenge your perceptions and make science fun. One of two such museums in Croatia, it’s full of entertaining exhibits, brain-teasing puzzles, and one-of-a-kind photo opportunities.
Founded in 1890 and covering more than 11 acres, the Zagreb Botanical Garden is home to more than 10,000 species of plants, including 1,800 exotic plants and many native to Croatia. Designed in an English landscape style, the Garden features rock gardens, ponds, symmetrical French-style flower beds and trees and shrubs from around the world. Though not open to the public, hothouses hold tropical and subtropical plants, while more temperate glasshouses are home to palm trees and cooler glasshouses house plants that are sensitive to frost. The original Art Nouveau gardener’s lodge still stands, as does an old exhibition pavilion dating to 1891. A public lavatory and a storeroom also date to the end of the 19th century. During summer months, the Garden hosts concerts on Thursdays at 5:30pm.
For a scenic jaunt just a short drive from Zagreb's city center, Mt. Medvednica (Sljeme) offers a near-perfect mix of outdoor activities and fantastic vistas. Known for its network of protected trails, you can stroll, cycle, and trek in the woodlands, visit Medvedgrad—a centuries-old fortress—or hit the slopes at Sljeme Ski Resort.
Reputedly the most visited tourist attraction in Zagreb, the Zagreb 360 Observation Deck or Zagreb Eye is on the highest floor of the aptly named Zagreb Neboder (Zagreb Skyscraper), a bland and utilitarian high rise completed in 1959 that was nevertheless the tallest and most modern building in former Yugoslavia for many years. The Eye’s observation deck and covered terrace give spectacular panoramas across Ban Jelačić Square to the rooftops of the upper and lower towns, the twin-spired cathedral and to the Moslavačko hills beyond.
It was closed in 1989 at the start of the Balkan Wars and did not permanently reopen until 2013; today it is a romantic spot from which to watch the sun setting over the foothills or to take photos of the spires, streets and gardens of the city. Along with information boards pointing out the various landmarks, occasional live music and board games, food and drink are available all day in the Eye’s smart, dusky-blue bar and restaurant, including morning coffee or punchy cocktails to accompany night fall over the city.
One of Zagreb’s most tranquil and atmospheric walkways, the Strossmayer Promenade (Strossmayerovo Setaliste) is both a popular sightseeing destination among tourists and a relaxed hangout spot frequented by locals. The steep and winding route connects the Upper and Lower towns, offering some of the most panoramic views of the city.
With its towering spires and magnificent neo-Gothic design, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (or simply Zagreb Cathedral) is one of the Croatian capital’s must-see attractions. The imposing twin spires are 354 feet (108 meters) high, making the cathedral the tallest building in Croatia.
Sitting on the southern flanks of Mount Medvednica and looking over the suburbs of Zagreb, Medvedgrad Castle is one of Croatia’s most important medieval fortresses. It was constructed in the mid-13th century to protect the growing city from invasion by the Tatars, who were warlike tribes under the rule of Mongolia in the Far East. The castle changed hands many times over the centuries, and by the mid-15th century was in the hands of the Counts of Celje, who terrorized the local area, plundering neighboring villages and towns. Following their downfall and a disastrous earthquake in 1590, the castle was abandoned and fell in to decay before being rediscovered in 1979 and slowly nursed back to life. Today the defense walls stand once more, encircling the carefully restored stone chapel of St Philip and St Jacob, the Great Palace, fortified towers and the Oltar Domovine (Homeland Altar) memorial to all the war dead of Croatia, made of stone from regions across the country and bearing an eternal flame. There are magical summer concerts at the castle in July and the last weekend in September sees an annual medieval pageant; a new visitor center is in the planning.
A flamboyantly Art Nouveau building originally constructed for Croatia’s art offerings in Budapest’s Millennial Exhibition in 1896, the Art Pavilion (‘Umjetnicki Paviljon’ in Croatian) was taken down piece by piece and transported back to Croatia. There it was rebuilt on the verdant ‘Green Horseshoe’ designed by Milan Lenuci in the late 19th century and encompassing a string of parks, squares and monumental buildings in Zagreb’s Lower Town. Overlooking the manicured formal gardens and fountains of King Tomislav Square (Trg kralja Tomislava), the Art Pavilion mimics the nearby Croatian National Theatre in style, and its glass-topped dome is now a symbol of Croatian culture and one of the best-loved landmarks of the city.
Painted in bright daffodil-yellow and adorned with stucco work and busts of Croatian artists and Renaissance Old Masters, the pavilion has a stately interior that was renovated in 2010 with ornate gilding, marble walls and floors and stained glass, with light flooding in from the central glass dome. Today it hosts a regular program of temporary art exhibitions, which can cover any medium from out-there Croatian video installations through to large-scale international exhibitions such as the works of Andy Warhol or the sculptures and lithographs of Alberto Giacometti.
Home to over 3,750 artifacts and artworks that span three millennia of history, the Mimara Museum—housed in a grand, neo-Renaissance palace in the Lower Town—is one of Zagreb’s highlight institutions. Opened in 1987, the collection ranges from ancient pottery and canvases by the Old Masters to Qing-dynasty objets d’art.
Located just south of downtown Zagreb, Bundek City Park (Gradski Park Bundek) is the go-to retreat for city-dwellers on a sunny summer’s afternoon – a tranquil oasis of lush gardens set around the beautiful Bundek Lake. The 35-hectare park makes a perfect spot for a family picnic or barbecue, while walkers and cyclists will find a network of scenic trails to explore.
During the summer months, swimming, fishing and boat rides are also possible on the lake, and the park hosts several live music concerts and other events. Bundek Park looks like it will be getting a makeover in the near future too – the mayor of Zagreb recently announced plans to build a skate park and an aqua park on the site. Watch this space!
Opened in 1954 and originally located in a grand palace in Zagreb’s Baroque Upper Town, the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art (Muzej Suvrememe Umjetnosti or MSU in Croatian) relocated to its gleaming white, purpose-built home in 2010. The gallery was designed by architect Igor Franić and is found in Novi Zagreb, south of the River Sava and slightly out of the center of the city. Its collections are on three floors and feature masterpieces of Croatian modern art, of which around 600 examples are on display from a repository of 12,000 works dating from 1950 onwards. The sleek, white and airy exhibition spaces highlight the works of Croatian art movements that may be little known but are nevertheless worth visiting for their innovation and style. Masterly paintings by Josip Vaništa and Marino Tartaglia, and drawings by Milan Steiner intermingle with whacky installations, sculpture, videos and photography as well as computer-generated art from New Tendencies, an international art movement that had its foundations in Croatia.
Various guided tours of the treasures of the museum are available daily, and there is a sprinkling of interactive artworks that will appeal to children as well as futuristic spiral slides on which to zip downwards between floors, specially designed for the museum by Belgian artist Carsten Höller. The terraces around the museum also contain several bespoke installations and the whole edifice looks spectacular when floodlit at night.
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