The Best Reasons To Visit Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia is a must-visit destination for travelers looking to experience a lesser-explored part of Europe. Located in Central Europe, Zagreb offers visitors a unique look into its rich history, stunning natural beauty, exciting activities, and convenient day-trip options. With its ancient cobblestone streets and vibrant nightlife, there's something for everyone in Zagreb. Whether you're looking for an adventure or just want to relax with some great food and wine, Zagreb has it all.

Now that Croatia has joined the Schengen area and is beginning to adopt the euro, it's easier than ever to travel and enjoy all the amazing things this region has to offer. So whether you're a Game of Thrones fan or in search of the perfect island for your Mamma Mia moment, be sure to plan ahead and consider the best time to visit Croatia for your budget and expectations. writes that Zagreb has 17 districts, and there are two popular ones that you will likely spend most of your time exploring. One of these includes Lower Town, also known as Donji Grad in Croatian. The other district you will have a great time exploring is Upper Town. Also known as Gornji Grad, this district is home to some of the city's oldest architecture. Since there are so many amazing things to see throughout these famous districts of Zagreb and beyond, we've compiled a list of recommendations that should help you explore this unique city with ease.

Ride one of the world's shortest funiculars

To get between Lower Town and Upper Town quickly, head to Zagreb's very own funicular, Uspinjača. This funicular is not only one of the shortest in the world, but per Visit Zagreb, it is also one of the oldest forms of public transport in Zagreb. You can find the entrance to the station in Lower Town on Tomićeva street, near Jelačić Square. The funicular will safely transport you 66 meters (about 216 feet) and deliver you to the most popular part of Upper Town, Lotrščak Tower. Enjoy the ride and take in the wonderful views of Zagreb from above.

Explore the city's many museums

There are many museums in Zagreb that appeal to a wide variety of interests. Travelers looking for something unique can visit the Museum of Broken Relationships or the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art. Those in search of art and science-related experiences will enjoy the Mestrovic Atelier and the Croatian Museum of Natural History. Be sure to also visit the Mimara Museum, which features a stunning collection of artistic masterpieces from a wide variety of cultures, as well as the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters.

Check out the city's numerous churches

Zagreb is home to many incredible churches and cathedrals, each with its own unique history and style. The most popular (and arguably the most beautiful) of these is the Zagreb Cathedral aka the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. European Best Destinations writes that this cathedral's twin spires have become a symbol of Zagreb, making it a must-see. Travelers should also be sure they don't miss St. Mark's Church which, Absolute Croatia writes, is another cultural icon and one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb.

Sample some local food

Zagreb is not only a sight to see but a place to taste and you'd be missing out if you didn't give some of the local cuisines a try. Time Out Croatia writes that Zagreb is home to many traditional Croatian dishes such as zagrebački odrezak (veal cutlet in cream sauce) and štrukli (baked cheese-filled pasta). For those who enjoy seafood, Taste Atlas lists dagnje na buzaru (sauteed mussels) or Fiš paprikaš (fish stew) as recommendations, among many other tasty dishes.

Take part in Zagreb's vibrant nightlife

Time Out Zagreb writes that Zagreb has some of the best nightlife in Central Europe thanks to its many music bars and clubs. Meanwhile, Nightlife City Guide writes that travelers seeking local party hangouts should start their night at the central square, going around the pubs nearby, then following the crowds to Tkalčićeva and Trg Petra Preradovića. Here you are sure to meet other young Croatians and travelers looking to socialize and make (or possibly lose) a few memories.

Enjoy traditional Croatian folk culture

Every summer, Zagreb hosts its famous International Folklore Festival where, according to Carnifest, various folklore bands from throughout Croatia come to represent their regional cultural traditions through dancing, singing, and music. They also host dance workshops to teach people some of the folk dances. The International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (CIOFF) states this is an event of national cultural significance and is a UNESCO-led movement that aims to preserve intangible (immaterial) cultural traditions such as oral traditions, music, and dance. If you want to experience the best of Croatian culture, this is the place to be.

Watch Zagreb's famous gas lanterns being lit

Love Zagreb writes there are more than 200 gas lanterns in Upper Town. Many lanterns were first lit in 1863 but were removed in 1938 as war loomed over Europe. Since 2015 they have steadily been brought back to their original glory and are an iconic part of Zagreb's historical district. Today, you can see lamplighters, called Nažigači, making their way around the city around dusk, masterfully lighting the gas lamps. Feel free to chat with the lamplighters and ask any questions you might have. They are happy to show tourists how the lamps work and demonstrate the lighting process.

Take a stroll around King Tomislav Square

Located in front of Zagreb's Central Station is King Tomislav Square. In the center, you will find a large statue of King Tomislav who, Info Zagreb writes, is a major figure in Croatian history. He is said to have defended Croatia from Hungarian invasion and was instrumental in uniting Croatian regions into one country. Though he died only three years after being crowned king, he is considered the founder of Croatia. Today the area serves as an open area for people to congregate and also enjoy art exhibitions throughout the year.

Admire the beauty of Zrinjevac Park

Traveling to Zagreb with your partner? Visit Zagreb says this is the most romantic place for lovers to enjoy each other's company. Located in the heart of Zagreb, Zrinjevac Park is a green oasis with plenty of benches, pathways, and monuments to admire. This is the perfect spot to take a break from sightseeing and reconnect with your significant other. Pack a picnic basket with some štrukli, pick a sunny spot, and spend some quality time together to relax and admire the beautiful nature in the park.

Visit Lotrscak Tower

While staying in Zagreb, if you find yourself near the center around noon, you may hear a loud boom. It's no accident or emergency! Every day at noon, the Grič cannon fires from Lotrščak Tower to commemorate victory over Turkish invaders (per Visit Zagreb). Today, visitors to Zagreb can climb the tower steps to get incredible views of the city below and a bird's eye view of such famous sites as St. Mark's Church and the Zagreb Cathedral.

Eat your way through Market Dolac

Locals know the key to experiencing Zagreb is by walking through Market Dolac. Let's Learn Croatian writes this is the "stomach of Croatia." Since its opening, this market has been the place where vendors have brought their products to sell, making them central to the market's identity. This is where you can find locals socializing, sipping coffee together, and chatting with their favorite grocers as they make their purchases. There is no better place to get a taste of Zagreb!

Stroll along the Strossmayer Promenade

Visit Zagreb writes that the Strossmayer Promenade is the best place to get a bird's eye view of Zagreb. The promenade is located in Upper Town and is the perfect spot for a romantic stroll as you walk under chestnut trees. In the summers you can experience Summer on Stross when the promenade is filled with food vendors, music, artists, and of course, stalls selling various souvenirs to bring home with you. Sip a glass of wine as you do some people-watching and you'll begin to feel right at home in Zagreb.

Do some shopping at Ilica Street

At about 3.5 miles in length, Ilica Street is one of the longest roads in Zagreb, according to European Best Destinations. The street is the most popular in Zagreb for shopping and the majority of the traffic that passes along it is comprised mainly of people and cable cars. GPS My City writes that along Ilica Street you can find any number of shops that will fit your budget, large or small. You can find both independent boutiques and chain stores lining either side of the street as well as plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars to rest at between your shopping.

Wander along Tkalciceva Street

Wandering down yet another street might not seem appealing after you've made the trek along Ilica Street, but Tkalčićeva Street is not one you will want to miss. This historic curving street — which once divided two of Zagreb's settlements (per Visit Zagreb) — is full of personality. Evidently, it was once one of Europe's red-light districts. Today, its brightly colored buildings will entice you into the endless number of bars, cafes, restaurants, and craft beer pubs.

Visit Zagreb Zoo

Zagreb Zoo, which opened in 1925, is located in Maksimir Park and keeps a wide variety of animals. On your visit, you can find hundreds of different species of reptiles, birds, mammals (large and small), fish, and other invertebrates, according to Visit Zagreb. The zoo is part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is committed to the conservation and preservation of nature and the quality of life for its animals. Croatia Week also reports it's the only zoo in the world where you can see an animal called the Dinaric volhar rodent, and another called the "human fish."

Walk through the Stone Gate

Absolute Croatia writes that Zagreb's Stone Gate (aka Porta di Pietra) has great historical significance and is the subject of legend. Apparently, the Stone Gate was often damaged by fire throughout its history as it was partially made of wood. In the last fire, however, a painting of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus remained intact. Since then, a chapel was built inside the Stone Gate and a fence was made around the painting to protect it. Nowadays the Stone Gate is a place where many people, especially locals in Zagreb, go to say their prayers for their well-being and happiness and that of their loved ones.

Explore the city's spookier corners

Zagreb has no shortage of stories and sites for travelers interested in learning about the more macabre side of this destination. Make your way to the Mirogoj Cemetery where, Absolute Croatia writes, you can find the most beautiful cemetery in Europe. Here you'll find many beautiful monuments and architecture. To get the best experience and learn all there is to know about Mirogoj, consider booking a tour with Secrets Zagreb on their Whispers of Eternity tour. Spooky! Your guide will tell you all about the history of the cemetery as well as local customs and practices for burials in Zagreb.

Sample some of Zagreb's delightful dessert shops

Croatians are as serious about their pastries as they are their coffee, which, if you know anything about coffee culture in Croatia, is a pretty hefty statement. Around Zagreb, you'll find local desserts such as Jelačić bars which, Around Zagreb writes, are similar to the Viennese Sacher cakes. You'll also find some shops with their own twists on traditional pastries and desserts such as macarons, gelato, and croissants. Check out this list from Wanderlog which has curated 50 of the best pastry and dessert shops in Zagreb.

Experience the annual Zagreb Pride

According to Expat in Croatia, Zagreb was the first city not just in Croatia but in Southeastern Europe to host its very own LGBTQIA+ Pride parade. After this first event in 2002, the parades and marches have expanded and are now held across the country in Split, Osijek, and Rijeka. Zagreb Pride is held every June, and brings in visitors from all over Croatia to celebrate diversity with over 10,000 people participating in 2019!

Beyond Zagreb

Love Zagreb writes that Sljeme is the best place for skiers, snowboarders, and even sledders to hit slopes near Zagreb. Zagreb is also the perfect home base for a day trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, a world-famous UNESCO World Heritage site. The World Was Here First writes that you can rent a car, go with a tour group, or take a bus, and all will take around three hours of driving time. It will all be worth it, though, when you see the waterfalls and beautiful blue waters of the Plitvice Lakes.