Top 5 things to do in Zagreb
Croatia is a country of idyllic Adriatic coastlines, dramatic mountainous landscapes and a fascinating history. It’s also more popular than ever with visitors discovering its world-class wine making, olive oil and mouth-watering cuisine. And no trip to this wonderful country is complete without a visit to its capital, Zagreb, nestled between the River Sava, the Alps and Medvednica mountains in the countries’ northwest corner. So if you’re wondering what’s on offer and what to see, here are our top 5 favorite things to do in Zagreb.
A brief history of Zagreb
Zagreb, the largest city in Croatia, has a history stretching back centuries. Romans first settled the area to the southeast of modern Zagreb but the city itself is believed to descend from two settlements that emerged on neighboring hills – Kaptol and Gredec – in 1094. The pair were bitter rivals separated only by the Medveščak creek, now present day Tkalčićeva Street, and individually they faced a number of invasions.
First came the Mongols who devastated both communities in 1242. And then came the Ottoman Turks who took over much of the surrounding territory in the mid-1400s before plague struck. Finally the two hill towns merged into one, mainly out of self-preservation, and the combined city of Zagreb rose to prominence, especially in the 19th century.
As the city grew, many new buildings were built including the university in 1874 and the national theatre in 1890. Art Nouveau architecture followed as Zagreb and parts of Croatia passed between the kingdoms of Austria-Hungary, Italy and Yugoslavia in the 20th century before finally declaring independence in 1991 when Zagreb became the Croatian capital. And it’s this fascinating historic background that gives the visitor so many things to do in Zagreb. Let’s dive in!
1) Explore the historic city center on foot
With countless cultural attractions including a towering cathedral, stately buildings from the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg era, museums, galleries, churches and even a zoo, it is hard to know quite where to begin in this city of one million souls. And while Zagreb’s biggest highlights are well signposted to aid the disoriented tourist, nothing beats being shown around by a local to get a real feel for the old city.
And that’s why the first of our favorite things to do in Zagreb is to take a walking tour of the city to get to know one of Europe’s smallest but most diverse capitals. Starting off in Ban Jelačić Square, the central square named after the former governor Josip Jelačić, your expert local guide will introduce you to the two old hill towns of Gradec and Kaptol that form the core of the historic city. You’ll visit the impressive cathedral that dominates Zagreb’s skyline, the seat of government in the House of Parliament and even check out the shortest funicular cable car in the world that travels between the upper and lower districts. It’s a fabulous introduction to this captivating city.
2) Take a bicycle ride around town
If you’re feeling a little more energetic, why not take to two wheels and explore with a bike tour through the heart of Zagreb? The city is a great place for cyclists, with lots to explore from parks, squares and wide open green spaces to old streets, alleys and lanes leading through the historic center. And with your own private guide you’ll discover the city’s most famous sights, together with some of its lesser-known, hidden ones too, all from the comfort of your bicycle saddle.
It’s not all peddling, though: you’ll stop off at the open-air food market to taste wonderful organic fruit, make a pit stop at Zagreb’s oldest bakery and then visit local artisan workshops to see shoemakers and traditional jewelers. Why not round it off with a picnic of goodies from the market and bakery? It’s just another of the wonderful things to do in Zagreb but with a slightly different perspective on all that the city has to offer.
3) Taste & make the local cuisine
Wherever you travel, the quickest way to learn about a destination is to check out the markets and local cuisine, and Zagreb is no different. For nearly a century, the vibrant, bustling, aromatic Dolac Market has been open for business; it’s located between the upper and lower towns, just north of the main Bana Jelačića Square. Farmers and traders travel from all over the country to sell their produce at the Dolac Market, making it one of the best places to pick up some local delicacies.
To discover the flavors of Zagreb, why not take a tour of the city and market with a local Croatian chef? You’ll start off with some sightseeing in St Stephen’s, the largest cathedral in Croatia, plus the Stone Gate and Government Palace before heading to the Dolac Market. Check out outdoor stalls laden with scrumptious fruit and vegetables or head inside for delicious dairy and mouth-watering meats. And you’re not just here to window-shop! With the help of your guide, you’ll pick out the best seasonal produce to cook together in the chef’s nearby kitchen and then sit down at the table to enjoy a typical Croatian meal. What better way to get your teeth into the things to do in Zagreb?
4) Check out world-class local wines in a Zagreb wine bar
If you’re a wine-lover, you’ll know that Croatian wines have a history dating back to the original ancient Greek settlers and they are becoming increasingly popular on the world stage. And with over 300 geographically designated wine regions, there is plenty to choose. Why not spend an afternoon learning how to pair these delicious vintages with Croatia’s traditional cuisine at a wine tasting session in a local Zagreb wine bar?
Located in Tomiceva Street at the bottom of the funicular, this well-stocked bar offers over 90 different Croatian labels, ranging from limited production boutique wines to some of the most renowned wines in the country (and even some bottles that are not generally for sale). Your expert sommelier will guide you through the whites, red, rosé and sparkling wines, explaining how to pair each one with meat, cheese and some of Croatia’s wonderful local dishes. It’s a relaxing and memorable way to explore the city and one of the most enjoyable things to do in Zagreb. Živjeli, cheers!
5) Visit Zagreb’s parks and forests
And finally, one of the best things to do in Zagreb is to take a relaxing stroll through one of the lovely, scenic parks or forests within the city limits. Downtown Zagreb, in the valley that separates the two original rival settlements, is the airy, green heart of the city. And the 19th century, U-shaped Lenuci’s Horseshoe, named after the very forward-thinking architect who drew up the design, is a unique landscape of seven interlinked parks and botanical gardens to explore.
Or why not take a wander through Maksimir, Zagreb’s largest and oldest park, dating back to 1794? It’s a classically landscaped park that boasts lakes and creeks, together with a wonderful wide promenade leading through the meadows and a natural forest that still exists at its heart. Just a short walk from the civic center of historic Zagreb, this and the city’s many other parks offer idyllic, naturally beautiful havens away from the hustle and bustle and are not to be missed.
Top 5 things to do in Zagreb
Despite its distance from the sun-soaked beaches of the Adriatic, the capital of Zagreb has a charm all its own that, thankfully, more and more visitors are discovering. From its magnificent Austro-Hungarian and Art Nouveau architecture to the beautiful, natural landscapes of its parks, Zagreb really is a perfectly scenic and pleasantly compact destination for a stroll. And don’t forget to browse the city’s markets or stop for a plate of local food, washed down with a glass or three of Croatian wine. Given the number of things to do in Zagreb, it’s undoubtedly a fabulous destination so what would you like to explore first? Leave a comment to let us know, or speak to our expert travel consultants who are waiting to help you book your trip to the beautiful Croatian capital – you won’t be disappointed!