Croatia is popular for its sprawling, beaches, picturesque towns and stunning scenery – all the ingredients you need for the ultimate summer holiday, popular among honeymooners, families and large groups alike. It is also made famous by Game of Throne series. Fans of the show will need no convincing. You can visit some of the series’ top locations with the Game of Thrones tour, recreating pictures of your favourite scenes. Among the attractions to have been featured are Dubrovnik’s city walls, which became King’s Landing; The Fortress of Kliss, which is the City of Meereen; and Trsteno Arboretum, which became the Garden of Red Keep.
To get to Croatia you will most likely enter from Zagreb, Croatia’s northwestern capital. Distinguished by its 18th- and 19th-century Austro-Hungarian architecture. it hosts some of Croatia’s best (and quirkiest) museums, along with a great shopping, dining, and café culture. Zagreb is also a city made for wandering, with most of the main things to do found in the city center. The city center consists of two main sections: The Upper Town (Gornji Grad) and The Lower Town (Donji Grad). The upper town lies on a high plateau and is where you’ll discover Zagreb’s cathedral and parliament building. While the lower town is a more modern area, and is known for its world-class museums. It’s also home to the Croatian National Theatre.
A good place to start your Zagreb adventure is in the city’s main square (Ban Jelacic square) where the Upper and Lower Towns meet. Here, you will also find the colorful Tkalciceva Street, which is filled with sidewalk cafes and restaurants, as well as boutique shops. And if you like museums, you’ll love Zagreb, which hosts some truly unique ones.
Must have Zagreb attraction you can do in one day
Ban Jelacic Square
Situated just below the hillside settlements of Kaptol and Gradec, it has served as the city’s commercial heart ever since 1641, when it was designated as a place where fairs could be held. Most of the buildings around the square date from the 19th century, and display a variety of architectural styles, from Biedermaier to Art Nouveau and Post-modernism.
The square was Zagreb’s main marketplace and carried the name “Harmica” (Hungarian for “one thirtieth”), after the tax levied on the goods that were sold here. In 1848 the square was officially renamed in honour of Ban (“Governor”) Josip Jelačić. After World War II the name of the square was changed to “Republic Square”, only to return to its previous title in 1990.
Ban Jelačić Square stands at the centre of Zagreb’s social life and the most popular meeting points are “under the clock” on the west side of the square, and “under the horse’s tail” – a reference to the equestrian statue of Ban Jelačić in the square’s centre.
The statue of Ban Josip Jelačić is the work of the Austrian sculptor Anton Fernkorn. It was placed on the square in 1866, only to be removed by the communist authorities in 1947. In 1990 a public petition secured the return of the statue, and it was unveiled on October 16th – Ban Jelačić’s birthday. Originally placed facing northwards in order to symbolize the Ban’s defence of Croatia’s rights against Austria and Hungary, the statue now faces south to provide a better balance to the layout of the square.
The Manduševac Fountain was built above a natural spring that provided Zagreb with drinking water right up until the end of the 19th century. Court records about the persecution of witches mention the spring as their main meeting point. There is also a legend connecting the spring with the name of the city. Namely, one sunny day an old Croatian war leader was returning from battle tired and thirsty, and asked a beautiful girl Manda to scoop up some water from the spring for him. The Croatian word for “to scoop up water” is “zagrabiti”. So the spring got the name Manduševac, after the girl, and the town got the name Zagreb after the scoop of water.
In a prominent position in the Upper Town in Kaptol Square, Zagreb Cathedral is visible from almost every part of Zagreb. It is known for its striking neo-Gothic architecture. It’s an active place of worship, but the number of worshippers is usually matched by tourists gaping at the magnificent architecture. Gaze up at its iconic twin towers and admire the décor of its sacred interior, which features exquisite stained-glass windows, intricate reliefs and neo-Gothic altars.
Zagreb Cathedral was formerly known as St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Today, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and to kings Saint Stephen and Saint Ladislaus.
Once you get to Kaptol Square you will see it is dominated by Zagreb cathedral which has been there since the 11th century.
The Archbishop’s Palace encloses it from three sides, and because of its twin 108 meters (354 ft) high spires, it is the tallest building in Croatia. It literally soars over the city. The Zagreb Cathedral must be seen and its sacristy is of great architectural value.
What you will see today does not represent the original construction. The first Cathedral was damaged during the Tartar attack and a great fire in the 13th century. It was again severely damaged by the 1880 earthquake and was restored in the Neo-Gothic style by Hermann Bollé, the cathedral you see today.
When you come inside, don’t miss the baroque marble altars, statues, pulpit and the tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac by Ivan Meštrović.
Croatian National Theatre
The Croatian National Theatre is an architectural masterpiece and renowned performance venue. Many world-famous opera singers and ballet dancers have performed on its stage since it first opened more than a century ago. Marvel at the exterior splendor and book tickets for a performance or a tour to see the auditorium’s sumptuous décor.
Museum of broken relationship
The Museum of Broken Relationships is a bittersweet love letter to the collective shattered heart. Many of its exhibits comprise sentimental relics that remained at the end of relationships. Read the accompanying descriptions in English for insight into the emotional value behind each piece. Enjoy this pleasant and unexpected change of tone from the more traditional art museums in the city.
Zagreb city museum
The Zagreb City Museum tells the long story of this region, from prehistory to present day, in the magnificent 17th-century surroundings of the former Convent of the Poor Clares. Venture through exhibits relating to local culture, economics, politics and the arts to get a thorough understanding of the community of Zagreb.
St Mark’s church
With checkered tiles depicting colorful coats of arms, the roof of St. Mark’s Church is visually striking. In addition, investigate the church’s interesting mixture of architectural styles and several significant artworks. Take photos of its famous exterior, watch a changing-of-the-guard ceremony and view sculptures by lauded artist Ivan Meštrović.
Shop at the Dolac market
Dolac open-air market is one of the most popular markets in Zagreb and for a good reason. You can find everything here, from fresh products to clothes to trinkets.
The Dolac market is open every day except Sundays. The market’s working hours vary depending on the season, but generally, it is available from early morning until late afternoon. It is an excellent place to buy souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home.
Some of the most popular items include: Croatian honey, Handmade lace, Hand-painted ceramics, Croatian wines and olive oils, locally produced cheeses and meats.
Stone Gate Chapel
Stone Gate is the only remaining gate of Gradec. It leads from the Upper Town to the picturesque Radiceva Street. But, it’s not the historic gate itself that makes it a Zagreb must-see: it’s the open-air chapel that resides inside the gate…and the tale that goes with it.
According to legend, there was a fire in 1731 that destroyed the (then) wooden gate. However, the fire peculiarly left a painting that was hanging inside the gate, “The Virgin and Child,” completely intact.
The painting in now enshrined inside Stone Gate and surrounded by an open air chapel. People come to pray and give thanks to the Virgin Mary by lighting candles, leaving flowers and mounting engraved plaques on the walls. As one of the top things to do Zagreb, visitors can also light a candle, admire the plaques and pause to pray in one of the pews.
Ride the shortest funicular in the world
“Old Lady” (Stara dama) is one of many points of pride of the Croatian capital. It connects Zagreb’s Upper (Gornji grad) and Lower Town (Donji grad). The lower station is located on Tomićeva street (which starts on Ilica), and the upper station is located on Strossmayer’s promenade, at the foot of the Lotrščak tower. With a 66m long strip, it’s also known as the shortest public railroad in the world (although some other towns also claim to have the shortest funicular).
It officially started running on October 8th, 1890 which makes it the oldest form of public transport in Zagreb. Other than its original steam engine being replaced by electric power in 1934, the funicular has retained its original appearance and construction structure. It’s a famous tourist attraction but tired locals use it often as well!
The funicular cars are decorated with floral motifs, and each has a capacity of 24 passengers. It operates from 7 am to 10 pm daily, and the journey takes just over a minute. A one-way ticket costs 4 kunas (about €0.60).
End your day in Tkalciceva street
Bustling with life, Tkalciceva Street is the place where both locals and tourists go to have a good time – it is a must-see when in Zagreb. Named after a Croatian historian, it is a long winding street lined with charming little houses and balconies, which makes it the perfect place for a romantic stroll.
With bars, cafes, restaurants, and clubs lining the streets, there is lots to see and do. You can enjoy some of the best local cuisines here before heading on to one of the nearby bars. Numerous venues offer live music and, with the best nightlife in Zagreb, Tkalciceva Street has something for everyone to enjoy.
When to go
The Dalmatian coast typically boasts a hot, dry summer, and mildly wet, windy winter. Further inland, you can expect sweltering temperatures of up to 30°C in July while temperatures fall to below zero in winter. When you go is up to you, but May and September are safe bets for sun-drenched fun without excessive sweating!
How to get to Zagreb
Flying to Zagreb
Zagreb is well connected year-round to other major cities in Europe, and the rest of the world. Zagreb International Airport, also known as Franjo Tuđman Airport Zagreb, is Croatia’s largest and busiest.
The airport is the main base for Croatia’s flag carrier, Croatia Airlines, and the Croatian Air Force. A number of major international airlines operate in Zagreb, including British Airways, Lufthansa, and Qatar Airways. Daily direct flights connect Zagreb with many other major cities in Europe.
Munich, Amsterdam, Milano, Paris, Frankfurt, London, Prague, Zurich… flying from all these cities to Zagreb only take 2 hours or less. Due to its great connections with other European hubs, Zagreb is easily accessible via one-stop or two-stop flights from anywhere in the world.
Taxis regularly await passengers in front of the airport, but, for an often less-pricey alternative, travellers can order an Uber or Bolt. Shuttle buses, by far the least expensive option, conveniently depart from the airport every 30 minutes. A one-way shuttle ticket is 30kn and takes travellers between the airport and the Zagreb Bus Station.
Reaching Zagreb by car
In the last ten years, Croatia has renovated and built a large number of new motorways, which makes travelling by car to Zagreb safe and pleasant and leaving Zagreb for a day trip quick and easy. In fact, the roads surrounding the city are ideal for cycling and getting to know the Zagreb’s lovely, leafy environs. At every turn awaits a hidden, authentic restaurant or an idyllic forest path to hike through.
You also don’t have to worry about vignettes in Croatia. Instead, toll booths are situated at convenient points on the highways. Fees can be paid in cash (kuna and euro!), card, or via prepaid Electronic Toll Collection (ETC).
Croatia’s motorways smoothly connect to major European roadways, and plenty European capitals are under 10 hours from Zagreb by car. If you don’t feel like driving, the new motorways ensure a smooth bus drive too – and Zagreb is well connected with major European cities. Some of the closest are Ljubljana (1.5h), Budapest (3.5h), Venice (4h), and Vienna (4h). Also at arm’s reach are Munich (6h), Milano (7h), Rome (9h) – and many, many more.
Reaching Zagreb by train
Zagreb is internationally connected to the following countries via railway: Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and Switzerland.
How to get around
Public transport in Zagreb includes trams, buses and a funicular. Tram and buses are both affordable and convenient which makes them a good way of getting to know the town on days when you don’t feel like walking.
Zagreb tram network is made of 116.3 km of tracks, with 15 daily and 4 night lines (running from 00:00 to 4:00). All trams are marked by a number on the front and rear of the tram and on the right side of the tram. There are several trams running on each line at once and they follow a certain timetable (Don’t always rely on the timetable as delays are common). You can always enjoy the architecture of the city while waiting for the next tram. Many tram stops have digital displays telling you when the next tram is about to arrive.
The whole tram network is contained within one zone and there are several types of travel tickets (also valid for buses and the funicular):
- There are day tickets (jednodnevna karta), which costs 30 kuna, and multiple day tickets
(višednevna karta), valid for 3 (70 kuna) or 7 days (150 kuna). They can be purchased at one of the many Tisak newsstands (kiosk).
- Single tickets (pojedinačna karta) are one-way travel tickets that must be validated (poništena) when entering the tram. You must validate your ticket at the first or last ticket reader on the tram, the middle ones don’t have the ability to validate tickets. They are valid for 30 / 90 minutes and cost 4 / 10 kuna. They can be bought at the Tisak kiosk or on the tram from the driver (in cash).
Bus service in Zagreb has been running since 1927 and today it consists of 134 bus lines (78 in Zagreb proper and 56 connecting the suburbs and the surrounding towns with the city center). The ticket system is the same as for the trams.
The most convenient way to get around the town is by a taxi and Uber. There are over a thousand taxi vehicles from different concessionaires in Zagreb. The most famous ones are Radio taksi Zagreb, Cammeo and Eco Taxi. Their prices are pretty much similar. Compared to a taxi, Uber as a service is considerably more affordable.
We suggest to allocate one full day to explore Zagreb before you embark the journey to travel around Croatia. Here’s our suggested itinerary if you want to explore Croatia.
Day 0: Fly/Train/drive into Zagreb
Day 1: Explore Zagreb
Day 2: Rent car and drive to Plitvice National Park (2 hours drive). Stay the night in Split (2.5 hours drive)
Day 3: Explore Split
Day 4: Drive to Krka National Park
Day 5: Drive to Dubrovnik and stay the night in Dubrovnik
Day 6: Explore Dubrovnik
Day 7: Day trip to islands from Dubrovnik
Day 8: Fly out from Dubrovnik
Have you been to Croatia? Please share in the comment box what is your favourite spot and place.