Zagreb has been the political, economic and cultural capital of Croatia since 1991. It is a city off the beaten track of mass tourism, concentrated mainly on the coast, but of disarming beauty. Its charm ties together the best of Western and Eastern Europe.
There are many things to do in Zagreb: the city is full of museums, galleries, theatres and palaces with Austro-Hungarian, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, as well as elegant restaurants, boutiques, shopping centres, pubs and trendy cafés. It is not a city you fall in love with at first sight, but it will slowly steal your soul. The Upper Town, Gornji grad, is home to the two oldest parts of the city, Kaptol and Gradec; below it, 19th- and 20th-century palaces make up the Lower Town , Donji grad, a lively area with prestigious public buildings and 19th-century palaces.
Only three hours away from the coast, Zagreb is the ideal starting point for exploring Croatia and its myriad lakes, such as the Jarun reservoirs to the southwest of the city, or its promontories, such as Mount Medvednica in the northern suburbs, which are easy to reach for a day out.
The oldest part of Zagreb is Gornji Grad, the Upper Town, where you’ll find the famous and wonderful Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, built in the 12th century, and the 13th-century fortified tower. Also worth a visit is St Mark’s Church, recognisable by its roof tiles depicting the medieval coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, and the Zagreb emblem. A walk around the characteristic squares of the old town, such as the beautiful Ban Jelacic Square, reveals statues by Croatian artist Mestrovic. Gornji Grad is home to Dolac, the farmers’ market.
To reach the Upper Town, you can take the funicular railway.
St Mark’s Church, located on Trg Svetog Marka, is one of Zagreb’s landmark buildings: colourful, with a roof built in 1880 with polychrome glazed tiles in white, red and blue, it has the Zagreb emblem on the right side and the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slovenia on the opposite side.
The church dates back to the 13th century, of which it preserves a Romanesque window on the southern side and the base of the bell tower, while the Gothic portal, consisting of 15 figures placed in shallow niches, was carved in the 14th century. Inside are two works by Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia’s most famous sculptor, and frescoes by the painter Jozo Kljaković.
An example of a late Gothic three-nave church, St Mark’s has round columns that support the pensive ribbed vaults.
St Mark’s Square (Trg Svetog Marka) is also home to the Sabor, Croatia’s neoclassical Parliament, and the baroque-style Urban Palace, the seat of the President of the Republic.
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a neo-Gothic structure crowned by twin 108-metre-high spires, visible from several parts of Zagreb. Built at the end of the 13th century on the ruins of a 1093 building destroyed by a Tatar attack in 1242, its current face is the result of a series of works that have affected the building over the centuries.
In 1880, an earthquake completely destroyed the bell tower and the imposing dome as the main nave collapsed. The cathedral, which can seat more than 5,000 people, holds a priceless treasure trove of objects dating from the 11th to the 19th century and is the result of restoration work carried out by Hermann Bollé. Inside, you can admire the height of the vaulted ceiling and the oldest part of the cathedral as well as fragments of the Annunciation fresco dating back to the 13th century.
Since the 1930s, the Dolac open-air market has been the hub of Zagreb commerce. Located only a few dozen metres away from the city’s main square, Ban Jelačić Square, halfway between the oldest parts Gradec and Kaptol, this farmers’ market is actually the perfect blend of an open-air market and an indoor market.
Farmers from the surrounding villages come here, a place also known as Zagreb’s belly, to sell their genuine food products. The market is open daily, except on holidays, until 3 p.m. Be careful when you go shopping because few traders will accept the euro as currency.
On the market stalls of Dolac you can buy items carved in wood by craftsmen: kitchen items, toys, bottles are all very colourful and creative witnesses of an ancient peasant art. Red umbrellas with white stripes are characteristic of the market.
In the centre of the Upper Town is Kaptol Square where right in the middle you can admire a fountain known as Mary’s Column with four golden figures of angels at its base. The buildings facing this square have classical architecture dating back to the Middle Ages when the district developed independently of the urban agglomeration of Zagreb.
Kaptol is square-shaped and overlooked by the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Bishop’s Palace.
Don’t miss Opatovina, a lively street full of imaginative restaurants with excellent food.
Built in the mid-13th century, the Lotrscak tower was meant to protect the southern gate of the Gradec city walls. The name derives from the Latin Campana latrunculorum ‘thieves’ bell’, referring to a bell hung in the tower in 1646 to signal the closing of the city gates.
You can climb the tower for an overwhelming 360-degree view of the city or visit the gallery and shop housed here.
If, during your visit to Zagreb, you hear the explosion of cannon shots, don’t worry: every day since 1 January 1877 at 12 o’clock, the city through this ritual remembers the legend that has it that the Turks camped on the Sava beat a retreat after a cannonball landed on the plate intended for the Pasha.
A less fanciful explanation is that the cannon shot allowed the churches to synchronise their clocks.
Built between 1620 and 1632 on the ruins of a 14th century structure, St Catherine’s Church is one of the finest examples of Baroque art to be found in Zagreb, although it has suffered damage from both earthquakes and fires over the centuries.
The church has a nave with six side chapels and a sanctuary. The vaulted ceiling and walls are adorned with valuable stucco work dating back to 1732. The interior of the church building was devastated first in 1645 and then in 1674, so a number of Croatian noble families offered the necessary funds for reconstruction in exchange for the honour of being buried within the structure.
The palace where the Croatian president resides is known as Banski Dvori and includes archives, government offices and the court. In the square in front of it, St Mark’s Square, the impressive changing of the guard is celebrated at noon from April to September. Built between the second half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th century, the Ban Palace, in the Baroque style, was once the seat of the Croatian viceroys and has been the official residence of the government since 1900.
The two Baroque buildings that make up the Banski Dvori were bombed on 7 October 1991 during an air raid by the Yugoslav People’s Army. The following day, the Croatian parliament declared independence, making it a day of celebration for the country.
A former Jesuit monastery houses the Galerija Klovicevi Dvori, the Museum of Modern Art, which extends over three floors and has 2,630 square metres of exhibition space and over 2,000 works.
The museum presents different exhibition programmes: national and international exhibitions, monographic, group and thematic exhibitions, the Mimar for the private collection, the Gradec Gallery for monographic exhibitions of individual authors, and Lotrščak as an information point and small exhibitions of specific content all dedicated to Croatian and international modern art.
The complex housing the museum has an irregular pint, beautiful decorative elements on the exterior façade and two portals, one dating from the Renaissance and the other from the late Baroque period.
The small Croatian Museum of Naïve Art holds more than 1,875 works of art – paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints – mainly by Croatian artists. The Virius and Lacković sections are particularly numerous and valuable, as are the drawings by Rabuzin and Kovačić.
The museum, located in the 18th-century Raffay Palace in the Upper Town, is considered the most important museum of naive art in the world. The permanent exhibition was created under the dual motto: ‘Naive art segment of modern art’ and ‘They created the history of naive art in Croatia’. Occasionally, thematic exhibitions or retrospectives of naive artists are organised, as well as recreational and educational tours.
Naive art, also called primitive art, the art of modern primitives and so on, is a distinct segment of 20th century art.
Closed on Mondays and public holidays.
The Zagreb City Museum, muzej Grada, was founded in 1907 to tell the story of the city from prehistory to the present day. Works of art, documents and handicrafts make up the permanent exhibition housed within the restored monumental complex of the former Poor Clare Convent dating back to 1650, commonly known as St Clare’s Convent. All aspects of ancient Gradec are covered: from politics to ecclesiastical affairs, from economics to architecture.
In the Municipal Museum, you can discover the legend of the origin of the name Zagreb, the medieval life of the city and the life of the 21st century through 75,000 objects arranged over more than 2,000 square metres of art. The museum’s holdings are divided into five memorial collections, twenty collections of objects and six documentary collections. In particular, the following collections stand out as a valuable historical source for the study of the city’s history: the prehistoric archaeological collection, medieval archaeological collection and archive collection.
The Croatian Natural History Museum exhibits important rock and mineral finds from all corners of the globe. Founded in 1986 as a scientific institution, its holdings today exceed 250,000 specimens divided into several collections. The geological and palaeontological collection is a presentation of the evolution of the plant and animal world. It also houses the most important Neanderthal collection in the world.
The museum also has a well-stocked library with more than 30,000 titles related to natural history. The permanent exhibition displays collections with material from Croatia and comparative material from other parts of the world. From time to time, thematic exhibitions are organised.
Zagreb’s Lower Town, Donji Grad, is located in the valley between Kantol and Gradec, and develops around Preradovića Square, where a typical flower market takes place and street performers perform. The Lower Town is full of important museums, such as the Mimara Museum and the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters.
Among the most beautiful squares in the Lower Town are Marulic Square, in typical Fin du Siecle architecture, and Tgr Marsala Tia Square, with the neo-Baroque Croatian National Theatre and the Dontana of Mestrovic’s Life. A stroll along Illica Street, the longest in Zagreb, takes you through the Lower Town, its shops, restaurants and pubs. In the Lower Town is Zagreb’s old Botanical Garden, with over 10,000 species of plants, ideal for a relaxing day out.
A gleaming yellow Art Nouveau building houses the Zagreb Art Pavilion. The uniqueness of the building was designed specifically for the display of major exhibitions more than a hundred years ago. The need for an exhibition space such as the Art Pavilion was very much felt in Zagreb in the last decade of the last century when artistic life began to develop in the city.
The Pavilion is located in the Lower Town, south of Nikola Subic Zrinski Square and just north of Tomislav Square. Inaugurated in 1898 with a large exhibition dedicated to local artists, the building is the oldest gallery in south-eastern Europe.
The gallery has a total exhibition area of 600 square metres and does not have a permanent exhibition as it specialises in one-off solo and group exhibitions, with works by two Croatian and foreign artists. Throughout its history, the gallery has organised around 700 events with artists ranging from Andy Warhol to Mimmo Rotella. In the course of its 100 years of existence, the pavilion has become a central cultural institution and the venue for important exhibitions of modern and contemporary art by Croatian artists, retrospectives, and independent exhibitions.
Jelacic Square is the central square of the city of Zagreb. Located south of the Dolac market, it is a pedestrianised area that is a real meeting point for the inhabitants of the Croatian capital. Predominantly in Austro-Hungarian style, but with buildings belonging to a variety of architectural styles, this pulsating heart offers visitors and others excellent cafés and shops lining the square.
An equestrian statue of Jelacic, the governor who led Croatian troops against Hungary in the 19th century, has stood in the centre of the square since 1866, but in 1947 dictator Tito ordered it removed and placed in a warehouse. Only in 1990, on 11 October to be precise, was the statue returned to its original position.
Jelacic Square is the central tram station: during the day it is served by lines 1, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, while at night lines 31, 32 and 34 run there.
The Mimara Museum is Zagreb’s most important cultural space. Founded in 1980 and opened to the public in 1987 thanks to the rich and diverse art collection donated by Ante and Wiltrud Topic Mimar, it includes works of art from the ancient world, European works of art from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, and works of art from the East and the Middle East.
The 3,750 works of art belong to different cultures and civilisations and are created using various techniques and materials. There are approximately 450 drawings and paintings by famous masters of different schools, among them Raphael, Velasquez, Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya, 200 sculptures from antiquity to the 20th century, rarities from ancient Egypt and classical Greece. The museum also has a rich art library with 5,400 titles. The permanent exhibition conceived as a chronological sequence of historical periods.
Housed in a late 19th-century neo-Renaissance building on Roosvelt Square, the museum is closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Housed in an elegant 19th-century neo-Renaissance palace is the art collection donated to the city of Zagreb by Bishop Strossmayerova in 1884. The gallery contains the works of illustrious painters of the past, from the 15th to the 19th century, belonging to various European schools of painting, including Bellini and El Greco. Among the artistic currents are the Flemish painters and, of course, the classics of Croatian painting.
Also known as the Old Masters’ Gallery, it houses over 650 works of art, although only a third can be viewed by the public when visiting the rooms on the second floor and the picture gallery.
Established in 1836 and becoming independent in 1939, the Zagreb Archaeological Museum boasts a collection of over 450 thousand items. From prehistoric times to the early Middle Ages, the museum has many interesting objects presented with a skilful and evocative use of lighting. The Egyptian collection, unique for Croatia, and the numismatic collection, one of the largest in Europe and the world, are excellent.
The museum has a unique collection of Etruscan monuments. The most famous piece is undoubtedly the precious Zagreb Linen Book, the longest extant manuscript in the Etruscan language.
Croatia’s social and cultural heritage is housed in the Ethnographic Museum in Zagreb. This institution was founded in 1919 on the initiative of a textile merchant who donated an important collection of traditional costumes and textiles to the museum. Just under 85,000 items are housed in the museum, although there are around 3,000 on display.
There are two main strands: Croatian folk costumes and folk art objects. The museum is housed in a building of Art Nouveau architecture, attributed to architect Vjekoslav Bastl, and its task is to systematically collect objects belonging to popular culture. The museum is located on Mazuranica Square at number 14, in place of the Crafts Museum; the building will impress you with its large dome.
The collection of objects from the traditional culture of non-European countries is particularly valuable, consisting mainly of items brought back to Croatia by sailors, explorers, travellers and artists. The museum boasts extensive photographic documentation, a library with 20,000 volumes.
Furniture, textiles, ceramics and metal objects dating from the Middle Ages to the present day are housed in the Museum of Arts and Crafts, founded in 1880 with the aim of protecting works of art and popular craftsmen’s work from the dominance of mass-produced industrial products, but also to create a new aesthetic culture for the middle class.
The 160,000 exhibits are classified through 19 different museum collections: furniture, metal, painting, sculpture, clocks, photography and photographic equipment, musical instruments, graphic design, ivory, printing and bookbinding, printed and varnished, leather, devotional objects, smoking accessories and toys. There are eight exhibition rooms on the ground floor with over one thousand square metres of museum space dedicated to temporary exhibitions.
The museum is housed in a building designed and built for the first time in Croatia for its exhibition function. The building’s façade in perfect German Renaissance style complements the setting of one of the city’s most beautiful squares.
One of the most important collections is the Gothic collection housed in the first exhibition hall. While in some parts of Europe the Gothic style of the 15th century was replaced by Renaissance art, in countries beyond the Alps, this was not the case. Elements of the Gothic language were often used as decoration for everyday objects, while in the field of furniture design it marked a period of great technological achievements.
The museum includes a library with over 65,000 volumes of books and magazines. Founded at the same time as the museum in 1880, in addition to an art history lesson, its collections were intended to provide exemplary models for art and craft production. It also includes a special collection of old and rare books from the 16th to the 19th century.
The most important Croatian works of art from the 19th and 20th centuries are kept in the Gallery of Modern Art in Zagreb. More than 10,000 pieces are housed in the historical Vranyczany Baron’s Palace: paintings, sculptures, medals, photographs and drawings from the last 200 years of the country’s artistic production.
The initially small collection was housed in another palace, but the collection gradually became so important that in 1934 it was necessary to opt for this new exhibition space built in 1882 by Ferdo Kondrat for Baron Lujo Vranyczany. Two floors of the building have become an exquisite gallery housing the museum’s permanent collection of modern Croatian painting and sculpture.
The Zagreb Botanical Garden was designed and built in 1890 and is home to 10,000 species of plants, one fifth of which belong to the tropical flora. The 5-hectare park was laid out in the English landscape garden style, in which winding paths delimit small, irregularly shaped areas.
The need for a botanical garden in Zagreb was discussed in 1876 by the then Rector of the University, but it took a good 14 years before the project was realised. The Botanical Garden is well known for its valuable collection of plant species from the Croatian flora. There are three rock gardens where efforts are made to preserve the country’s wealth of fauna.
The Botanical Garden of the University of Zagreb is located in the city centre, just one tram stop from the central railway station, and a 10-minute walk from Jelacic Square. The Garden is open to the public from 1 April – 1 November, while it is closed in winter.
The largest and most modern museum in Croatia is undoubtedly the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. Founded in 1954 as a municipal gallery of contemporary art, it was moved in 1998 to the modern building designed by architect Franic in the Novi Zagreb district. After six years of construction, characterised by several delays, the museum opened its doors in December 2009.
The building has a total area of 14,600 square metres, 3,500 of which are reserved for the permanent exhibition with 600 exhibits.
An entire floor of the five present is dedicated entirely to visitors: the museum shop, a number of children’s workshops, a library with a reading room, restaurants and multimedia rooms make the museum itinerary accessible to all.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Zagreb is a beautiful city that can offer you a unique cultural, architectural and gastronomic holiday. If you have a couple of days to explore the capital of Croatia, you can start your itinerary from the heart of the city, from Ban Jelacic Square. Austere buildings of Austro-Hungarian architecture blend perfectly with those in Art Nouveau style to those symbolic of Modernism. For a splendid view of the entire city, climb the Lotrscak Tower.
Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful cathedral, the true hub of Zagreb’s religious life, the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, the Dvori Gallery, specialising in contemporary art, and finally relax among the stalls of the Dolac market and enjoy the nightlife of the clubs along Tkalciceva.
Devote the second day of your visit to exploring the Lower Town, not forgetting a visit to the Mimara Museum and Botanical Garden.
Around Zagreb are some of the most important sights in Croatia, such as the famous Medvegrad Fortress and the beautiful Mirogoj Cemetery. Furthermore, just a few kilometres from the city you can immerse yourself in nature: Maksimir Park, Lake Jarun and Mount Medenvica are ideal for relaxation.
There are three fortress ruins on the slopes of the Medvednica mountain range just above Zagreb, the most important of which is the medieval Medvedgrad Castle on the southern slope. Built starting in 1249 only to be finished five years later in 1254, it was erected to protect the city from Tatar invasions.
Easy to get to by car, you can also opt to travel to the fortress on bus line 102, although in this case you’ll have to be prepared for a walk of at least 30 minutes, from where you can enjoy a wonderful view of Zagreb.
The medieval Medvedgrad Castle was of great strategic importance as it was built near the western border of the Hungarian-Croatian state, but its history is marked by deep wounds caused by the 1590 earthquake. Restored since 1979, today the Medvedgrad Fortress features walls of imposing proportions, massive towers and majestic entrances.
The most valuable building within the old complex is the octagonal chapel of St. Philip and St. James, with its corner stones, rose windows, frescoes and a three-metre high Romanesque portal.
The second ruined castle near Zagreb, some 12 kilometres away, is Susedgrad. Probably built in the 13th century as a fortress on the road from Slovenia to Croatia, the castle was destroyed in 1573 during a peasant uprising. The third castle is Zelingrad, some 35 kilometres from the centre of Zagreb.
The Mirogoj cemetery is one of the most beautiful monumental parks in Europe, a true open-air art gallery. It was architect Herman Bollé who designed it and characterised it with a 500-metre-long Neo-Renaissance arcade, 20 lime-green domes and several pavilions, all mixed with rich vegetation. Situated on the slopes of Mount Medvednica, the park is surrounded by thick walls and houses a gallery of sculptures created by Croatian artists. Among the most interesting works are the graves of poet Petar Preradovic and Vladimir Bercic, created by Mihanovic.
The new Mirogoj cemetery in 1876 replaced the eight cemeteries active at that time. The neo-Renaissance style of the cemetery is characterised by symmetry, balance, clear perspectives and an almost modern division of light and shadow. Here, Catholics, Orthodox and Jews rest side by side. Mirogoj is a strange place: on the one hand it is quiet and peaceful, on the other it is artistic and monumental, just as every town, including the town of the deceased, should be.
To reach the cemetery in Mirogoj go to the central bus station near the Cathedral and there take the 106 or 226, after a 15-minute ride you will have arrived. The cemetery is open from April to September from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and from October to March from 7.30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Just a few kilometres from the city of Zagreb are true oases of peace and relaxation, such as the verdant Maksimir Park, Lake Jarun, where you can enjoy water sports, and Mount Medenvica, ideal for trekking, horse riding and mountain biking.