The city of Zagreb, capital of Croatia, on the historic and political threshold between East and West, illustrates both the continental and Mediterranean spirit of the nation it spearheads. Zagreb is the cultural, scientific, economic, political and administrative centre of the Republic of Croatia, and is home to the Croatian Parliament, Government and President. Its favourable location between the Pannonian plain, the edge of the Alps and the Dinaric range has allowed it to become a crossing point for mass international communication.
The city is protected from the cold northern winds by the mountain of Medvednica and opens up to the rest of the world thanks to a spacious plain and the Sava river. Zagreb, with a population of nearly one million, contains almost a quarter of the entire population of Croatia. Over the centuries, the city was inhabited by people coming from all over Europe; and, in recent years, by people coming from different parts of Croatia, ensuring a rich cultural life. Zagreb is a safe city whose doors are always open; a city with a tumultuous history teeming with interesting personalities; a city that warmly invites all those who wish to get to know it, and a city that will surely fulfill your expectations. In this city, you can easily meet remarkable people, make new friends and enjoy special moments. The façades of Zagreb’s buildings reflect the ebb and flow of history, while its streets and squares bear witness to the coming together of the many cultures that have shaped the identity of this laid-back capital. The best thing to do is when you first arrive is to take in Zagreb’s wonderful atmosphere, which, as many claim, is only surpassed by the legendary beauty of the local womenfolk.
Travel to Zagreb
The Main Railway Station (Glavni kolodvor) is in the heart of the city, near tram stops and bus stops.
The Main Bus Station (Autobusni kolodvor) is located 5 minutes from the Main Railway Station (Glavni kolodvor) and c. 20 min. on foot from the main square (Trg bana J. Jelačića). From the Main Bus Station you can take a tram (ticket 10,00 HRK / c. 1,3 EUR) or taxi to anywhere in the city.
Zagreb International Airport (Međunarodna zračna luka Zagreb) is located c. 15 km south of Zagreb. To get to Zagreb, take a shuttle that goes directly to the Main Bus Station. The shuttle leaves every half hour from the Airport (the schedule). Single ticket is 30,00 HRK (c. 4 EUR). From the Main Bus Station, take a tram (ticket 10,00 HRK / c. 1,3 EUR) or taxi to anywhere in the city.
You can also take a taxi from the airport, which can cost up to 250,00 HRK (c. 33 EUR).
We do recommend using the shuttle service from the airport to Zagreb (5 EUR) and any Zagreb-based taxi service (Ekotaxi, Cameo taxi, or Radio taxi) from Zagreb to the airport (c. 20-25 EUR).
Things to do in Zagreb
Home to a quarter of the country’s population, Zagreb is the political and cultural center of Croatia and is an energetic inland city with some of the country’s best museums, restaurants, and shopping. Most of Zagreb’s major attractions are in the city center, which consists of two main sections: Upper Town (Gornji Grad) and Lower Town (Donji Grad). Upper Town lies on a high plateau and is home to Zagreb’s Cathedral and parliament building, while Lower Town is a more modern area known for its world-class museums and the Croatian National Theatre. A good place to start your Zagreb adventure is Ban Jelačić Square, the city’s main square where the Upper and Lower Towns meet.
Suggested Zagreb upper town walk
Zagreb’s Upper Town is a network of little streets that stretch between two hills: Kaptol and Gradec. It is a delightful place to explore and hosts some of Zagreb’s most interesting restaurants, bars and cafes.
Start in Zagreb’s central square, Jelačić Square, and walk uphill to Kaptol, stopping at Dolac, the fruit and vegetable market. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Dolac express the soul of food-loving Zagreb.
A little further is Zagreb’s Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose twin spires are visible from afar. Begun in the 13th century, it was reconstructed in the 20th after an earthquake damaged it.
Head East to Gradec and Tkalčićeva , Zagreb’s most colourful street, filled with little cafes that can only be described as bohemian.
From the Tkalčićeva Street cross the street called the Bloody Bridge, pass through the Stone Gate and head up towards St. Mark’s Square where you can see the church and its tiled roof, and walk to the Lotrščak Tower.
Ban Jelačić Square
The square used to be Zagreb’s main marketplace and carried the name “Harmica”, Hungarian term for “one thirtieth”, the tax levied on the goods that were sold here. In 1848 the square was officially renamed in honour of Ban (“Governor”) Josip Jelačić who defended the Croats against Hungarian invasions. Ban Jelačić Square stands at the centre of Zagreb’s social life and the most popular meeting points are “under the clock” on the west side of the square, and “under the horse’s tail” – a reference to the equestrian statue of Ban Jelačić in the square’s centre.
The Manduševac Fountain, also located on the square, was built above a natural spring that provided Zagreb with drinking water right up until the end of the 19th century. Court records about the persecution of witches mention the spring as their main meeting point. There is also a legend connecting the spring with the name of the city. Namely, one sunny day an old Croatian war leader was returning from battle tired and thirsty, and asked a beautiful girl Manda to scoop up some water from the spring for him. The Croatian word for “to scoop up water” is “zagrabiti”. So the spring got the name Manduševac, after the girl, and the town got the name Zagreb after the scoop of water.
Zagreb Cathedral and Treasury
Zagreb Cathedral – the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, formerly known as St. Stephen’s Cathedral – was erected on the site of a previous structure destroyed by the Tartars in the early 1200s. Famous for its two ornately decorated spires, the present cathedral was built in the latter half of the 13th century, although many alterations and renovations have changed its structure dramatically. Most recently, the earthquake of 1880 destroyed large sections of the cathedral – including the dome and the bell tower. Be sure to also visit the cathedral treasury with its many fine works of religious art, garments, and sacred objects.
The picturesque street in the city center was created in the stream valley between Kaptol and Gradec. Today, in Tkalčićeva Street you can find the old sundial that shows the right time, the statue of Marija Jurić Zagorka, the first Croatian female journalist and novelist, or you can simply enjoy one of the many cafes, galleries and restaurants.
Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and the Church of St. Mark’s
The splendid cobblestone streets and red tiled roofs of the buildings in the medieval Upper Town make for a beautiful place to begin a sightseeing tour of the Croatian capital. The upper town used to be divided into two neighbouring settlements, Gradec and Kaptol, whose diverse origin, interests and politics were often the cause of many conflicts between these two settlements. One of the relics remaining as the evidence of these tumultuous times is the Krvavi Most, a former bridge and currently a very short street in the Zagreb pedestrian zone, whose name literally means “Bloody Bridge.” It has been the site of several battles between the twin cities.
Upper Town is home to many of the city’s most visited tourist attractions, including the cathedral, parliament building, and numerous museums and churches. Other highlights include the famous Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata) marking the entrance to the eastern side of Gradec Town. Built in the 13th century, the building famously survived a fire in 1731, as did its painting of Mary and Jesus. To commemorate the important relic, a chapel was built to house the painting (the subject of pilgrimages ever since).The Dolac fruit and vegetable market is also part of the Upper town. Zagreb’s colourful fruit and vegetable market is just north of Trg Bana Jelačića and it is one of the few open markets in Europe. Traders from all over Croatia come to sell their products at this buzzing centre of activity.
Perhaps the most striking feature, however, is St. Mark’s Church, easily recognizable by its brightly colored tile roof bearing the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, and Zagreb City. Tracing its roots back to an earlier 13th-century church, the church of St. Mark’s other notable features include its Romanesque windows; Gothic doorway by Ivan Parler; and a series of statues of the 12 apostles, along with Jesus, Mary, and St. Mark. The interior features statues by the famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, along with frescoes painted by Jozo Kljakovi
Built to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall, the Lotrščak Tower (Kula Lotrščak) dates to the 13th century and has long been one of Zagreb’s most recognizable landmarks. Legend has it that this large, square Romanesque tower once held a bell that rang out each night prior to the closing of the gates to warn residents outside the walls to return (anyone left outside would have to remain there for the night). In the 19th century, a cannon was placed on its roof, which is still fired every day at noon. You can climb the tower and admire the view.
Next to the Lotrščak Tower is the funicular, or an elevator that leads straight down to Ilica (meaning “street” in archaic Croatian). At the foot of the funicular, in Tomićeva street, is a small souvenir shop boasting only Croatian design.
Suggested Zagreb lower town walk
Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe
During your stay in Zagreb, you may see the Strossmayer square, King Tomislav square and the botanical garden. These famous city fixtures are part of Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe, along with other popular sites.
Milan Lenuci, a popular Zagreb engineer in the 19th century, designed the green horseshoe that frames the city center. It encompasses eight squares and green surfaces in the Lower Town, including Nikola Šubić Zrinski Square, Josip Juraj Strossmayer Square, King Tomislav Square, Ante Starčević Square, Zagreb Botanical Garden, Marko Marulić Square, Maršal Tito Square and Ivan, Antun and Vladimir Mažuranić square.
Zrinjevac (Nikola Šubić Zrinski Square)
The square consists of several fountains and music pavilion. When you’re there, you can also see the busts of several Croatian great men, or enjoy the smell of flowers while sitting on a bench. The park is also a place of various art projects or live concerts, which are held at the pavilion.
Josip Juraj Strossmayer Square
This is one of the nicest squares in Zagreb, bearing the name of this prolific bishop that gazes upon you from his statue made by the great Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. The sculpture stands just behind the impressive building of Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Inside the Academy building, you can visit the Gallery of Old Masters, art collection donated by Strossmayer himself.
King Tomislav Square
Named after a courageous king who defended the continental part of Croatia from Hungarian attacks and for the first time united all Croatian lands into one country, this park marks the ending of Lenuci’s Horseshoe. It is situated right across the railway station, so that the travellers are immediately confronted with one of the most beautiful views in Zagreb, which takes in the statue of King Tomislav, the Art Pavilion, the cathedral’s spires and the green slopes of Mount Medvednica in the distance.
Maršal Tito Square and the Croatian National Theatre
The Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, commonly referred to as HNK Zagreb, is a theatre, opera and ballet house located in Zagreb. The building is located on Marshal Tito Square in Zagreb’s Lower Town.
At the entrance of the theatre, there is a wall fountain called The Source of Life, designed by the Croatian artist and sculptor Ivan Meštrović in 1905. In the southwestern part of the square there is a statue of St. George Killing the Dragon by Anton Dominik Fernkorn.
Suggested museums and galleries
For more about Zagreb, things to see, private guides, bike, electric bike or segway city tours, topical city walks etc., visit the official website of the Zagreb Tourist Board.