Zagreb is Crotia’s largest city and the capital. Located in the northwest part of Croatia near the Slovenian border, Zagreb has everything travelers have come to expect in a European capital city: cuisine, architecture, arts, culture and music. While the summer months bring longer hours of daylight and warm weather, winter in Zagreb brings Christmas markets and skating rinks, so any season is a good time to visit Zagreb. Introducing 16 of the Coolest Things to Do in Zagreb:
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Kaptol is a district within Zagreb, and dates back to 1094 when the Zagreb diocese was founded. Here you can see the Kaptol manors, a series of 25 town homes built between the Middle Ages and the 19th century, for the purpose of housing prominent canons from the church. The most prominent landmark of Kaptol is Zagreb Cathedral, which is the tallest building in Croatia. The Gothic cathedral was started in the 13th century and has been rebuilt many times after being destroyed in wars and earthquakes. The cathedral is such an important part of the Croatian culture that it’s featured on their currency.
Along with Kaptol, Gradec forms the medieval center of Zagreb. Gradec is also sometimes referred to as Upper Town, since the area sits on a hillside above the rest of the town. If you prefer not to make the short climb up to Gradec, a funicular is available for a small cost. Once you are on the hill, you may pay an additional fee to climb the lookout tower, Kula Lotrscak, for a commanding view of Zagreb. Don’t miss St. Mark’s church while you are here, with it’s colorful tiled rooftop depicting two shields. On your way out of Gradec, you can leave through the stone gate, which remains from when Gradec was a walled city. The gate has a passageway leading to Kaptol, inside of which is a small open-air church.
While Upper Town is the medieval center of Zagreb, Lower Town is the modern center. This is where you’ll find most hotels of Zagreb, as well as the commercial district. It is safe to say if you are staying in Zagreb for a while, you will spend a good amount of time in Lower Town. Ilica Street is one of the main thoroughfares through Lower Town and is one of the most popular shopping streets in Zagreb.
While Ilica Street is a commercial hub, Tkalčićeva Street is one of Zagreb’s busiest streets, albeit a more picturesque and quaint option for visitors. This is the cobblestoned street you’ll find lined with cafes, restaurants and boutiques. As the street with the highest concentration of bars in Croatia, if you’re looking for a night out on the town, look no further than Tkalčićeva Street. Don’t miss Mali Medo, a “boutique brewery” that can hold more than 400 patrons, with an outdoor terrace extending into the street.
This square is the center of the downtown pedestrian zone, and many important events and protests happen here. The square is surrounded by buildings of many different architecture styles with antique facades. If you visit over the Christmas holidays, you are in for a treat as the square is decorated with lights for the season.
Not far from Jelacic Square is the Dolac Market, one of the oldest and most popular markets in Croatia. Dolac is the main farmer’s market for Zagreb and farmer’s come from surrounding villages to sell their fresh vegetables and fruits in the upper, open-air market, while the lower level houses meat, seafood and other specialty foods. If you plan to enjoy a picnic in one of Zagreb’s many parks, a stop at Dolac Market is a good idea.
The Mimara Museum is Zagreb’s art museum, located just a few blocks from Jelacic Square, in a castle-like 19th century building. The collection totals nearly 4,000 pieces of art, including archaeological artifacts and art from Bosch, Rubens, Manet, Renoir and Degas. If you love a good historical scandal, visit the museum and read on up the namesake and founder, Ante Topic Mimara. This mysterious benefactor has several life stories and some even claim that the museum is full of fakes. The Mimara Museum is closed on Mondays; guided tours are available.
On the other side of Jelacic Square is Zagreb’s Archeological Museum. Many of the 450,000 artifacts here have been gathered from areas surrounding Zagreb and the museum continues to acquire “new” materials through ongoing digs in the Zagreb area. There is a permanent exhibit of the Prehistoric Collection, as well as varying educational programs and rotating collections. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Museum of Broken Relationships
For a more modern and whimsical museum experience, check out the Museum of Broken Relationships. Not far from the Stone Gate of Gradec, this museum originated as a traveling exhibit, acquiring donations from jilted lovers and the broken-hearted. Each item has a brief description or story about the lover who left it behind. There is also a gift shop, a cafe with outdoor terrace and live Jazz on Thursday evenings during the warmer months.
This unique urban planning feature is best appreciated from an aerial view. This horseshoe is formed from green spaces in Zagreb’s Lower Town. Designed by Milan Lenuci, an urban planner in the late 19th century, there are seven squares connected by parks to form the horseshoe. King Tomislav Square is just outside the main train station. In the summer, this square is filled with picnickers and families enjoying nice weather, while winter brings festive lights and a skating rink. The Botanical Garden is also part of the horseshoe design, and is truly and urban oasis to escape the city for a bit.
Wondering where to get that aerial view of Zagreb? Check out the Zagreb Eye or Zagreb 360, an observation deck on the 16th floor of the Zagreb skyscraper on Ilica street. Open every day, your ticket is valid all day, so you can visit during daylight hours and then return at sunset to watch the city begin to twinkle. There is also a bar serving beverages at the observation deck, so you can toast to the sunset over Zagreb.
Another oasis of nature in Zagreb is Jarun Lake, just a few tram stops away from the downtown area. This man-made lake sports several beaches, and loads of outdoor activities for the whole family, from wind-surfing, rowing paddling or walking and biking along the nearby trails. Jarun Lake also happens to be the location of Zagreb’s hottest nightclubs.
Maksimir Park and Zagreb Zoo
Maksimir Park is Zagreb’s oldest public park, and also houses the Zagreb Zoo. Comprised of over 40 acres, the park is landscaped like an English garden, with lakes and walkways surrounding the manicured lawns. Inside the park, you can also find the Bellevue Pavilion and the Echo Pavilion, the latter resembling a Swiss chalet. The park is easily reached by the city’s tram system, just a few stops from Jelacic Square.
The medieval village of Samobor is just 25km from Zagreb and makes a great day trip from Zagreb. Buses to Samobor from Zagreb are frequent, inexpensive and relatively fast. You can download a walking tour online and spend a few hours exploring the brick streets here. Take an hour to hike up the hill to the castle. Samobor is surrounded by nature for those looking for a bit of outdoor adventure, and is also renowned for the culinary scene. There are many restaurants to choose from and in the summer, you can enjoy the warmer weather from an outdoor cafe.
Another popular day trip from Zagreb is Karlovac, which is 49 kilometers from the city center. Buses and trains depart regularly for the “City on Four Rivers.” Karlovac was originally a fortress town, and was also heavily destroyed in the Homeland War of the early 1990’s. If you like beer, you’ll want to visit the Karlovac Brewery for a tour, or even possibly plan your visit around the beer festival in August.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s most popular national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is just a two-hour drive from Zagreb. Plitvice is best known for 16 colorful lakes that cascade into one another through a series of waterfalls surrounded by lush forest. There are many hiking trails and walkways around the lakes, and electric boat tours between some lakes. While there are accommodations near the park so that you can make an overnight trip, this can be done as a day trip from Zagreb, either on your own or as part of a guided tour (skip the line!).
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