Let me introduce you to a hidden gem in the Balkans. The capital of Croatia is often overlooked in favor of the coastal cities, but it has so much to offer. So here are 10 things you should do when visiting Zagreb. This will include some restaurants, museums, bars, and anything that will make your stay more memorable.
Before I get into the tips, let me give you some basic information about Zagreb.
The city has less than a million habitats and is the perfect sized city (at least for me). It has everything you would want but also allows you to run into all of your friends by accident all the time. If you are coming here by plane, the easiest way to get from the airport to the city is to take the shuttle to the main bus station. It costs 40 kunas (you can exchange money at the airport) and will get you into the city. From there on you can grab a taxi if you want or take public transport to your accommodation. Both are perfectly acceptable. The taxis are relatively inexpensive, so whenever you don't feel like walking you can call one. In Zagreb, you call the taxi station and they send you one most of the time, except in places like bus and train stations where there are taxi stands. If you grab one of the streets it will cost you more. For the bus and tram system, it is quite easy to manage. You can look it up on the ZET website or on google maps. Both are very reliable. As for how to use the public transport system, you have to buy a ticket either beforehand or with the driver (it costs the same) and then validate it. You can only validate it at the machines at the front and the very back. They are then valid for 90 minutes. You can switch trams and buses as much as you want within those 90 minutes. I suggest always having a ticket since they do tend to check quite often, especially in trams. Recently I saw that they also sell 30 minutes tickets for cheaper (4 kunas), which can be a great option if you are not going too far.
Now to the weather, it can vary quite a bit in Zagreb so I suggest checking the weather forecast before you come. Generally, there are four seasons and all will be different when it comes to temperature and weather. It tends to be quite sunny, but rain is frequent because of the mountains around them.
So now that we have that out of the way, let's get into what to do here.
1, Trg Bana Jelacic
This is the main square of Zagreb. "Trg" means square in Croatian. Don't beat yourself up if you cannot pronounce it. It will happen to you often in this country. Somehow they forgot to add the vowels in some of their words. So this square is home base for all the locals and tourists alike. It is the most common meeting point among friends, and many events take place here. Frequently they have some kind of farmers market or a fundraiser on this square. There are cute cafes around, to just sit and people watch. This is also the location of the tourist office, so if you need a map or information about events going on, you can get it here.
2, Old Town
So in the past Zagreb was split into to cities which were divided by a river. This river still exists, however, it has been hidden under a street. The old town was one of these two cities. It is located on top of the hill. You can either walk up or take a very short funicular ride, which will give you a nice view of the city. Once at the top, there are a few highlights you should not miss. One of them is the St. Marks Church, which is located in the centre of the old town. It is most known for its decorative roof. From there you can walk down to the Stone Gate. This gate has a shrine to the Virgin Mary since it was one of the few things that did not burn down in the catastrophic fire in 1731. It is therefore believed that the painting there has magical power and many come here to pray to the Virgin Mary for the health an safely for their loved ones.
3, Museum of Broken Relationships
Located in the old town, only a few streets away from St. Mark's Church is one of the most unusual museums in the world. This museum collects objects connected to people's failed relationships and the stories connected to them. This exhibit has been traveling around the world, but there is always a permanent part in Zagreb. I am sure you are now very confused. Why would anyone go and see this exhibit? It is actually very interesting. One you can see the objects people connect most with their relationships, which could be anything from a pair of shoes that the ex used to wear to the ax used to cut her furniture to pieces after they broke up. You will read some stories that are very relatable and some that are just plain crazy and you will question their authenticity. The entry fee is 40 kuna (approximately 6 euros) and well worth it in my opinion. It won't take you long to visit this museum, but it is a fun stop for a few hours one afternoon. You can find more information on the museum website if you are interested.
Another tongue twister for you. This is a famous coffee street of the city. It starts just off of Trg Jelacic and from the beginning to the end it is full of cafes. Pick your favorite and spend hours sitting, enjoying the atmosphere, people watching, reading a book, or chatting with friends. Coffee drinking is a huge part of this culture. If you meet a friend in town, you will go for coffee. If you have to conduct business, it will probably be done over coffee. Since everybody is spending s
o much time in these coffee shops. they are also accustomed to people sitting there for a long time. You will have no problem sitting in one for a few hours while just ordering one coffee. Nobody will tell you to leave or order something else. I used to come to one to study or read when being at home was just too quiet. My personal favorite is Cookie Factory located right at the beginning of Tkalciceva. It has a great atmosphere inside and outside, plus amazing bronies and cakes along with coffee.
You will notice that Zagreb is a very green city. There are many small or big parks everywhere. One of the biggest is Jarun. This park is set up for all kinds of outdoor activities. They have a manmade lake very popular in summer for swimming, but also kayaking, canoeing and any other form of water sports. They have volleyball courts and soccer fields. There is a running track around the whole park and many more attractions. There are a few food stands in case you get hungry. You are sure to pass a lovely afternoon or evening just handing out here. If Jarun is very far from your accommodation, you can also go to Bundek, which is very similar with a little less shade, or try Maximir although that one has no lake but it is the perfect place for a picnic.
6, Stari Kotac
Here is a very local tip for you. If you like meat, you will love the local cuisine. One of my favorite dishes has to be cevapi or pljeskavica. It is basically ground beef in either a sausage shape or a patty. They normally serve it with lepinj (a flatbread), raw onions, and ajvar (a pickle made of tomatoes and paprika). It is absolutely amazing. If you want to try this dish, you will be able to buy it in almost all restaurants. However, the locals like to go to the most authentic place called Stari Kotac. It is a little outside the centre and looks like a hole in the wall, but the food is absolutely amazing. You will get the most authentic taste, feel and it is cheap. So do not be discouraged to go inside. Also, if you are not into waiting you might want to call ahead and make a reservation. They may speak broken English or German if they do not just ask someone from the reception of the place you are staying at to do it for you.
7, Ritam Grada
This is a cafe/bar/club right on the main square. It gives you an amazing view of the square at night, and a great place to hang out at night. The entrance is a little tricky to find. Just walk around the block and find the walkway before the bakery. The entrance will be on the left side. There is no entrance fee, just buy a drink and enjoy. Depends on the night they have different themes. Just check their Facebook page before going if you care. Otherwise just go and be surprised. It is always a good mood and the view is hard to beat at such a cheap price.
If you are looking to go out in the evening, the most common thing to do in Zagreb is to go to a bar; however, you can also head to one of the most famous clubs around called Gallery. It is located in Jarun, so not quite in the center, but this allows them to play loud music until the early hours. It is one of the most popular clubs in the city so it will get quite packed on the weekend. I haven't been in a while, but you used to be able to just get a ticket for 20 kunas at the door (the price has probably gone up by now). If you come a little earlier there will be no line either, but remember that you are already in the south of Europe and therefore the party starts late. Not as late as Spain, but there is almost nothing going on before midnight.
Now, this probably seems very random, but the bread and baked good are amazing in this country. If you are ever looking for a quick bite to eat, just track down the closest bakery and get a sandwich or a slice of pizza. There are a few competitive companies: Mlinar, PanPek, and Dubravica are the biggest. Personally, the last one is my favorite and their tomato mozzarella sandwich in olive bread has saved me from hunger more often than I like to admit. They are at almost every corner of the city, just like coffee shops, so you will have no problem finding one.
Another one of these debates going on is the one about the best ice cream place in town. The two competing stores are Millennium and Vincek. You can already see from the title which way I lean. Both stores are amazing. If you want to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee with your ice cream, Millennium will be a good choice since they have quite a large sitting area, mostly outside. The one in Vigo is limited to a few tables in the back of the store which tends to be full most of the time. One thing that is amazing in the Balkans is that they will actually sell you pola-pola (half-half) if that is what you want. That basically means that instead of one scoop they will give you two smaller ones with two different flavors. Sometimes they may charge you a bit more, but it is totally worth it. It is still cheaper than getting two scoops and most of the time you get almost as much. So don't let the long lines scare you off and make sure you try the ice cream while in Zagreb.
Bonus Adventure - Plitvica
If you have one additional day in Zagreb or are just so fast that you finished all your activities in fewer days, take the time to go to Plitvica. Plitvica is one of Croatia's national parks and is about a 1.5 hour drive from Zagreb. While it may seem far the drive is so worth it because the park is breathtaking. It is one of my favorite places in Croatia and I am already looking forward to going the next time. I will write a full guide on the park later on, but please look into it if you have some additional time. I promise you will not regret it. The sight is beautiful both in summer and winter, although be aware of how packed it can get in the summer.
That is the end of our tour. I hope it helped convince you to visit this beautiful city or if you were already going, give you some ideas on what to do. I would love to hear about your experiences in this city. Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @lettersfromatravelinggirl.
Do you have other European cities on your travel itinerary? Check out the different city guides I have across Europe to help with things to do. Not sure where to go yet? Take a look at some of my travel bucket list posts to get inspired.