Maximise your visit to Zagreb with these top tips!
Zagreb is mos definitely an up and coming city break destination in Europe. If you’re thinking of going, have a read of my post all about the attractions that await you by clicking here.
Once you’ve decided to visit Zagreb, here are my Top Tips to maximise your visit!
1. Stay Somewhere Central
Most of Zagreb’s tourist spots are incredibly central. The older sights are concentrated in the Gradec area with a few more in Kaptol. The stunning Austro-Hungarian Imperial buildings can be found in several locations, but the best are in the area known as the Green Horseshoe. Right in between the two main sections is Trg Bana Jelacica, Zagreb’s main square. If you book somewhere to stay near this area, you’ll be no more than 10-15 minutes of a stroll from virtually all the tourist attractions.
I stayed in the stunning Hotel Dubrovnik, literally right on Trg Bana Jelacica. It’s a chic and modern 4 star hotel, so it might not suit everyone, especially those travelling on a budget. Saying that, for the quality of the facilities, the service and the food, it was amazingly good value! They have a car park on the block next to the hotel which is a little hard to find because the street looks like it only carries trams. Parking is very reasonable and ideal if you’re including Zagreb in a road trip! If you’re arriving by public transport, loads of trams and buses stop really close to the hotel. If you arrive by train, Zagreb’s main train station is about 10 minutes walk from the hotel (with no hills to navigate).
2. Go on a Free Walking Tour
I found out about this tour in the tourist office on Trg Bana Jelacica. There are free walking tours that leave from the huge statue of Ban Josef Jelacica on horseback at 11:00 am and 5:00 pm. They last approx. 2 hours. The tour brings you up to Gradec and the Katarinin Trg and its amazing view out to Kaptol. From there it brings you to Lotrscak Tower, St. Mark’s Church, the Stone Gate, Dolac Market and on to Zagreb Cathedral before finishing back in Trg Bana Jelacica. The walk isn’t challenging but does involve some steps and cobbled areas.
The best thing about it is that it’s totally free! I would recommend that you give a small tip to the guide. They are so kind, helpful and knowledgeable and to me, a gratuity is warranted. There is no obligation however and anything you give is totally at your own discretion.
3. Get Yourself a Zagreb Card
This is possibly the best money saving tip I have for Zagreb! The Zagreb Card will get you into load of attractions for free and gives a discounted price on loads more! It also covers bus and tram transport in Zone 1! The major sights like the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Tortureum are free with the card and it gives you a discount for the Museum of Illusions and loads more too.
It’s also really reasonably priced. the 24 hour card costs 98 Kuna (approx. € 13/£ 11/$ 14) and the 72 hour card will set you back 135 Kuna (approx. € 18/£ 15/$ 20).
4. Check Out the Best Views
Because Gradec and Kaptol are situated on two hills, they give fantastic views of Zagreb’s Lower Town. Gradec is the best spot for views of the city. There are a few common spots, such as along the terrace leading from Lotrscak Tower that are often frequented. Katarinin Trg is slightly less busy, but due to it’s visibility and size, it can get crowded at times too. My personal favourite was one that I found by accident. If you head down a lane beside the Zagreb City Museum you will be greeted by a gravel path with the prettiest view of Kaptol and the spires of the churches! Just look!
One of the attractions covered by the Zagreb Card is the Zagreb 360 Observation Deck. I didn’t get the chance to explore it personally, but from my research, it’s clear that it offers some of the best views in the city!
5. Explore Gradec and the Gas lights After Dark
Even the street lights in Gradec are a tourist attraction! They are the original street lights that were installed long before the introduction of electricity. They all still run on gas! Every evening at dusk, they are lit using the old long gas lighting poles and the extinguished every day after sunrise. The resulting effect is a beautiful, and even romantic light in the old streets around Gradec at night. Well worth a little explore!
6. Visit St. Katherine’s Church at 6:30 pm
The beautiful St. Katherine’s Church in Gradec is also known as the “Barbie” church due to the pastel pink and white decoration on the walls. It is also incredibly difficult to get into. It isn’t generally open to the public. BUT… if you arrive here just after 6:30 pm, the church is usually opened for worship and you can step inside. If you’re discrete, you can pop in and have a look at this wonderful building. It isn’t unheard of for tourists to be asked to leave, particularly if they are deemed to be acting in an unsuitable or disrespectful manner.
7. Go Shopping for a Tie
The French may be famed for the word cravat, but it was actually the Croatians that invented the neck tie! It was first worn by Croatians fighting in France during the Thirty Years’ War from 1618 to 1648. Once King Louis XIV started wearing one, the nobles copied and a trend was born! So when you’re in Zagreb, buy yourself an authentic Croatian souvenir that was both invented and made in Croatia! There are numerous places to buy them and you can spend as little or as much on one as you choose. The best value and best quality ones are available away from the big tourist areas. Keep an eye out for a shop when you’re out exploring the city!
8. Use the Gric Tunnel as a Short Cut across Gradec
If you’re looking for a short cut to get from one side of Gradec to the other instead of having to climb up and over the hill or without having to take the long walk around it. When you’re on your way through the well lit tunnel, look around. You’ll see some painted signs fading into the concrete that were used when Zagreb was being bombed both during World War II and again in the course of the Homeland War in the 1990s.
9. Eat Where the Locals Eat
There are loads of restaurants designed to attract tourists and some are much more understated (and reasonably priced). These often serve better food and are often frequented by the locals. When I visited, there were loads of locals eating in the Kaptol area. My top tip would always be to eat at a restaurant that is busy and has a good proportion of locals. Let’s face it, in general, the locals wouldn’t eat there if the food was overpriced or overrated. There are also loads of cuisine options. If you’re looking for an authentic Croatian meal, they tend to consist of pasta, fish or both. Given Zagreb’s proximity to Hungary, I could recommend some good Goulash too, particularly if you visit when the weather is cold.
10. Go to Lotrscak Tower at Noon
Zagreb has a wonderfully simple tradition that manages to attract crowds on a daily basis. At noon, a canon is fired from Lotrscak Tower. With the exception of two days, this has happened every day since 1877! It’s such a cool and unique experience. I mean, how often might you get the chance to hear a canon firing in a danger free environment! The best view of it is from the walkway to the East of the tower. If you’re taking a video of it, hold onto your camera/phone tightly. The bang is much louder than you’d expect!
Lotrscak Tower once formed part of the defences for Gradec. The story of the canon firing goes that the city was under siege from the Ottoman (Turkish) Army and that the soldiers fired a cannon from the fourth floor of the tower and it killed the leader of the Ottoman Army! Even if this isn’t the most historically accurate of stories, it’s still a pretty cool one!
11. Visit the Dolac Market and Get Some Picnic Supplies
The huge Dolac Market has a wide range of food of all kinds. In the main square there is a seemingly endless amount of stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables. On the level below the square there are loads of more permanent stalls that sell all kinds of products that require refrigeration or things that might be found in a larder. With all of these wonderful foods available, it isn’t hard to find something you like and assemble yourself a picnic to take out to some of Zagreb’s idyllic open areas and eat your fresh, tasty and inexpensive food!
12. Go on the Old Zagreb Tour
This has to be one of the most unique tours I’ve ever done! It’s a very personal tour, conducted in an electric powered replica Ford Model T that fits to up to four people at a time. Your knowledgable local guide will bring you to all the highlights of the area and even point out different indoor attractions and other places that might be worth popping back to if you have time. There are a few different tour options that include Gradec, Kaptol, the Lower Town and various combinations of these and others.
13. Visit the Croatian State Archives Building
The Croatian State Archives building was formerly the library for Zagreb University. Following the formation of the Croatian Republic as we know it, they became the State Archives. The best way to see inside is by guided tour that takes place daily at 1pm and 2pm. It only costs 20 Kuna (approx. € 3). The interior of the building is an Art Deco Masterpiece and fans of architecture will be in heaven! Even if you’ve only a passing interest in these things, the tour makes for a very reasonable and interesting hour!
14. Walk the Green Horseshoe by Day and Night
The Green Horseshoe consists of a series of opulent buildings built by the Habsburg dynasty when the city was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They are all absolutely stunning pieces of architecture surrounded by beautiful parks and open green spaces. The highlights, buildings wise are detailed in my main post about Zagreb which you can read by clicking here.
This is a beautiful area to go for a walk or to simply chill out. You should also come back after the sun sets to see the Green Horseshoe lit up, it adds a whole new dimension to these wonderful buildings!
15. Visit Mirogoj Cemetery
This is the only place I visited in Zagreb that wasn’t walking distance from my hotel. It is possible to walk there from central Zagreb, but it would take between 45 minutes and an hour each way. I visited on my way from Zagreb to Ljubljana (via Trakoscan and Varazdin) so I had my rental car. Parking isn’t a problem out there as there are loads of spaces for cars. If you don’t have access to a car, you can always take a taxi or use public transport. Travelling from Kaptol, you take to 106 bus for Krematorij 5 stops to Mirogoj-Arkade and it’s a short 5 minute walk from there! The 203 or 226 buses will also get you there.
Mirogoj is possibly the prettiest cemetery I’ve ever been to. The main walkways (one of which is pictured below), are featured in many an Instagram feed. It’s easy to see why! They are the ultimate in serenity and to me, they are stunningly beautiful, albeit in a slightly morbid way. Even a walk in amongst the graves is lovely. They come in all shapes and sizes and this place is way bigger than you first realise! There are also several memorials to Croatia’s fallen heroes dotted around. The most prominent of these is at the rear of the chapel. It’s the final resting place of the Republic of Croatia’s first President, Dr. Franjo Tudjman. He held this office from 1990 the whole way through the Homeland War until his death in 1999.
Definitely consider a trip out to this serene haven, not just for a new profile photo or one for your Instagram feed, but to soak up the history and quiet beauty of this most elegant resting place for the people of Zagreb.