Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia, and is located between the Medvednica hill and the Sava river, at the north of the country.
When I landed in Zagreb and took a bus to the city centre, my first impression of the outskirts was of a damaged city, left to decay. Bad seeds growing on the sidewalks, the buildings’ front facades falling into pieces, the asphalt cracked open… You can see and feel Zagreb has suffered from war, the last one, the Independence War in 1995.
Still, after a few days here, you get used to this old, decadent look and it even becomes the charm of the city.
1. Ban Jelačić Square
Ban Jelačić is the main square in Zagreb. It is the most frequent meeting point for its citizens (who call it just “Trg” (the square)) and it concentrates multiple tram lines. It is the financial and commercial centre of the city, a very lively pedestrian area surrounded by shops and restaurants. The square has two main monuments: it is presided by the sculpture of Josip Jelačić (a Croatian king and national hero on the back of his horse) and the Manduševac fountain on the East.
The square is located below the medieval area of Zagreb, (conformed by the neighbourhoods Gradec – also known as Grič – and Kaptol) and south of the Dolac Market. It intersects with the longest street of Zagreb, Ilica, and which is the main shopping vein of the city.
During Christmas they set a very beautiful Christmas Market on this square, considered one of the best in Europe (2016, 2107, 2018) of which you’ll find more information at point 12 of this post.
2. Dolac Market
Since the 1930s, Dolac Market has been Zagreb’s farmers market. It is usually local people who sell their product here, but also people from all over the country come to Dolac to sell their goods. The market is set everyday between 6:30h and 13h. It has two outdoor levels: in the main one its offer consists mainly of vegetables and fruit and on the other level, smaller, you’ll find the flowers stalls. It has also an indoor area at ground level where you can find meat, fish, dairy products, honey, etc.
The open-air market is very characteristic for the red umbrellas with white, green and yellow stripes, covering the stalls to protect them from sun and rain. It is a very colourful and nice picture. It is located in the historical area of Kaptol, very close from the Ban Jelačić Square and the Cathedral. From the square, take the northwest street (Splavnica) and climb the stairs where the sculpture of a farmer woman will be welcoming you.
The square is surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops, so once the market is over the place is still very lively and you can enjoy a beer or a meal sitting by a terrace.
Monday-Saturday: 7h-15h | Sunday: 7h-13h
3. Tkalčićeva Street
Tkalčićeva is a very vibrant, pedestrian street, filled with little boutiques, cafes, restaurants and night bars. Full of locals and tourists, day and night.
It once was the red light district of Zagreb. Between the years 1899 and 1941, almost every house in the street was a brothel.
Every Saturday and Sunday, if you happen to be here by noon, you’ll be lucky enough to see the cavalry rank march of the Cravat regiment. Which is the change of the guard.
4. Lotrščak Tower and the Blue Cable Car
Lotrščak Tower was built in the 13th Century and its function was to guard the south gate of the Gradec Wall. Legend has it that the tower had a bell which rang every night before closing time, so the population could make it back to town.
In the 19th century a new floor was built, you can see in the picture the difference in colour of the 4th floor compared to the rest of the tower. And a cannon was installed on top. This cannon has been fired every day at noon for the last 100 years, with the passing of the change of the guard.
Visitors can climb by foot or with the historic blue cable car (which is 120 years old) that connects the Lower Town to the Upper Town. Right next to the tower you will find Strossmartre walkway which is described in the following point.
The Strossmartre, commonly known as Stross, is a hallway located in the Upper Town, next to the blue cable car and the Lotrščak Tower. From May until September there’s a summer festival with multiple activities. During the day the place converts into an art market, where local artists exhibit their pieces. There is a daily puppet show for the rascals at 17:00h and an open-air cinema by the church.
When the sun goes down, romantic lights go on. The place converts into a bar and live music starts. It’s a great spot to chill after work, glass of wine in hand.
6. Saint Mark’s Church
Saint Mark’s church is a beautiful church located on a square of the same name, in the centre of the historical neighbourhood of Gradec. The church has a very flashy roof, where you can see the coat of arms of Zagreb (white castle on red background) and the Kingdom of Croatia (Habsburg) made of colorful tiles.
On the outside, on the northwest wall of the church, you will find the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 sculpted in it (the original is being kept in the Zagreb City Museum).
In the same square you can find important governmental buildings such as the Croatian Government, the Croatian Parliament and the Constitutional Tribunal.
7. Zagreb Cathedral
Zagreb’s Cathedral is located in the Kaptol area, only 2 minutes walking East from Dolac Market. Is the tallest building in Zagreb and its twin towers can be spotted from all over the city. It is a beautiful Gothic building dating back in the 13th Century and it is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, to the king Saint Stephen and to the king Saint Ladislaus.
Before leaving this area, I recommend you take a walk around the Cathedral, so you can discover part of the old walls that used to protect this same Cathedral and the Kaptol neighbourhood, back in the 16th century.
8. Grič Tunnel
Grič Tunnel is a net of underground pedestrian tunnels located under the historical area of Grič, also known as or Gornji Grad or Gradec. It consists of a main hall connected by two passageways (one towards the west and another towards the east) and four more passageways going towards the south. The tunnel spans 350m, and it has a total of 6 exits distributed on the neighbourhood.
It was built during the World War II to serve as a bunker and a promenade for the population of Zagreb. After WWII, the tunnels were left unused until the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995) when again, served as an airstrike shelter. After that, in 2016 the tunnels were remodeled and opened to the public as a tourist attraction. They are open 12h a day for people to walk by and it is also used for cultural events every now and then. During Christmas season the tunnels are decorated and is a quite popular attraction.
9. Lake Jarun
Lake Jarun, formed by the Sava River is located in the area by the same name, southwest of the centre. Jarun is also a Sports and Leisure Centre where you can practice various aquatic activities such as surf, paddle or row and also for skating, jog or skateboard. It’s also a very nice area to walk or ride a bike on the Sava riverside. The lake is surrounded by nightclubs and cafés where, on a sunny day, is very nice to sit and relax.
If you happen to visit Zagreb in the summer and you are the kind of person that enjoys live music with a beer under the sun, you can’t miss the INmusic Festival, which takes place at Jarun Lake Islands since 2006. Famous international bands such as Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand, Moby, Interpol, Massive Attack, Pixies or St. Vincent has played here, among some other national bands.
10. Bundek Park
Bundek Park, located south of the historical city centre in the area where locals call Novi-Zagreb, is a green area which was renovated back in 2005, where a lake in a very bad shape was turned into a touristic and events center in the neighbourhood. The lake is surrounded by trails and a pathway where people can jog, cycle or skate in a quiet and healthy environment.
Bundek hosts all kind of events (open-air cinema, flower show, live music, etc.) mostly during the summer. One of the most importants is the International Fireworks Festival which is been taking place since year 2000. It is a 3-day festival which takes place by the end of June where teams from all over the world display, during 10 minutes, their pyrotechnic wonders. Not to be missed if you happen to be there around this time.
11. Musem of Contemporary Art Zagreb
The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb is located in the Središće neighbourhood. It is all the way south from Ban Jelačić Square, after crossing the Sava river and passing through Bundek Park. I would suggest renting a bike and cycle from the city centre.
The museum, designed by architect Igor Franić, was inaugurated by the end of 2009. It houses a permanent exhibition “Collection in Motion” and various temporary exhibitions. Free guided tours are available to the “Collection in Motion” as well as the temporary exhibition whenever the group is at least 5 people.
Tuesday-Sunday: 11h–18h | Saturday: 11h–20h
Adult: 30 KN | Every first Wednesday in a month: free admission for all visitors
12. Advent in Zagreb (Christmas Market)
If you want to visit the best Christmas Market in Europe, Zagreb is your destination. Voted the best Christmas Market for 3 years in a row (2016-2017-2018) is certainly a great season to visit the city.
Advent, as they call this festivity, runs from the 2nd of December until the 7th of January, where the whole city is immerse into a very festive atmosphere, full of candles, light displays, concerts, food and handicrafts stalls.
The hot spots are the Ban Jelačić Square and surrounding streets, the Ice Park, the Zrinjevac Park, the European Square, the Strossmayer Square, the Grič Tunnel, the Marić Passage, the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery, the Stross and Kaptol near the Cathedral.
You can check all the activities programmed for this year’s Advent in the next link: www.adventzagreb.com
In addition, if you are interested in visiting other cities in Croatia, check this post about the best places to visit in this beautiful country.