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Home » Zagreb Travel Guide: A Cultural Mosaic Where East Meets West

Zagreb Travel Guide: A Cultural Mosaic Where East Meets West

Zagreb: Discovering Architectural Marvels, Vibrant Art Festivals, and Historical Temples of the Tito Era

When you walk through the streets of this city, you can vividly see the architecture of different eras – from medieval cathedrals to Yugoslav modernism. In Zagreb, there are dozens of art museums and galleries. In the summer, festivals and art events are held every weekend. Additionally, there are many parks, murals, and unique museums – like the Museum of Naïve Art or the Museum of Broken Relationships.

Strolling through medieval quarters and modernist districts, attending services in deconstructivist churches, and feasting on pljeskavica. Zagreb significantly lags in the tourist competition with the country’s Mediterranean coast. It is also not easy to compete with European capitals. Therefore, the city is not spoiled by tourist attention. At first glance, Zagreb simultaneously resembles Vienna and Belgrade. In the struggle between the two essences of the city – the showcased Central European and the sidelined Balkan – the uniqueness of Zagreb is not immediately apparent. But if you get to know the city a little more, you begin to understand its unique character.

Architecture

Warring Middle Ages: Gradec vs Kaptol

Zagreb is a matryoshka-like city. Each district is built in its own style, characteristic of a particular era. Therefore, a walk through Zagreb is a unique excursion into the history of European architecture and urbanism. The oldest part of Zagreb, which originated in the Middle Ages, is called the Upper Town (Gornji Grad). It used to consist of two parts that were at odds with each other. Gradec was a free royal city. And Kaptol, with its cathedral, belonged to the bishop. Since then, one of the streets is named Bloody Bridge – the site of medieval clashes between the residents of Gradec and Kaptol. After the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, a fortress was built around both settlements. In Kaptol, near the cathedral, fragments of the wall have been preserved. In Gradec, there is a tower and the Stone Gate (Kamenita vrata). Passing through them, you find yourself in a medieval town with low-rise, predominantly Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It feels as if you’ve stepped into the past.

Saint Mark's Church in the Upper Town. Photo: shadowgate / Flickr.com
Saint Mark’s Church in the Upper Town. Photo: shadowgate / Flickr.com

Kaptol, with its long streets that climb up the slope, has become a tourist center. The streets of Tkalčićeva and Radićeva have the highest concentration of restaurants and souvenir shops. The main attraction of Kaptol for tourists is the cathedral. It was damaged by the earthquake in 2020 and is currently closed for restoration. Interestingly, the original medieval cathedral was also damaged by an earthquake in 1880 and was reconstructed by Zagreb’s most famous architect, Herman Bollé.

In 2020, two earthquakes occurred in Zagreb. The first happened in March, with an epicenter ten kilometers from the city. As a result, many buildings in the center were damaged, especially the old ones. The second occurred in December, in Petrinja, 40 kilometers from Zagreb. Many sites in the city center are now under restoration, including temples and museums. The buildings display cracks and a lack of decorative elements. The city is not yet able to afford mass restoration. Also, many institutions and establishments are closed or not hosting events due to COVID restrictions.

To delve deeper into history, one can visit the City Museum (Opatička ul., 20). And it’s allowed to climb the Lotrščak Tower (Tomićeva ul., 9) – from the top, the entire center of Zagreb is visible. Near the tower, there are also two more modern attractions: the Museum of Broken Relationships (Ćirilometodska ul., 2) with a sad collection of items and stories about breakups. And the World War II tunnel-bomb shelter (Mesnička ul. 19), opened to visitors five years ago.

View of the Cathedral. Photo: Samuel Ioannidis / Flickr.com
View of the Cathedral. Photo: Samuel Ioannidis / Flickr.com

Lower Town: A New Chapter in the History of Zagreb

In 1850, Gradec and Kaptol united with each other and with surrounding settlements into a single city. This marked the beginning of a new era in the life of Zagreb. The part of the city that was built after the union is called the Lower Town (Donji grad). Following the trends of that time, streets intersect at right angles, and the houses are built in the spirit of historical styles and eclecticism, and later Art Nouveau (Secession). The main urban project in the Lower Town, the Green Horseshoe, was realized at the end of the 19th century. This is a series of park-squares with public buildings: museums, galleries, a theater, a library, and educational institutions. One of the most unusual parks is Zrinjevac (Zrinjevac). When twilight descends on the city and the lanterns light up, it seems as if you’ve stepped into the past, with carriages rolling down the streets instead of cars and men in tailcoats strolling about. If the Green Horseshoe is the focal point of the spirit of the beautiful era of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, then Zagreb’s central square (Trg Bana Jelačića) is a concise encyclopedia of architectural development from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century: from Historicism through Art Nouveau to Modernism. Especially noticeable is the skyscraper in the style of American architecture of the 1950s. From its observation deck (Ilica, 1), the differences in construction and characteristics of different parts of the city are clearly visible.

Monument to Count Josip Jelačić in the central square. Photo: Fred Romero / Flickr.com
Monument to Count Josip Jelačić in the central square. Photo: Fred Romero / Flickr.com

Interwar Period: Villas Influenced by Le Corbusier and the ‘Near the Mosque’ District, Where There is No Mosque

The area to the east of the Green Horseshoe was developed during the interwar period, when Zagreb architects balanced between Neoclassicism and Modernism. In this area, the eyes rest from the abundance of details and stucco of the Lower Town. The main place is the Square of the Victims of Fascism (Trg zrtava fašizma). Locals call this area “near the mosque” (kod džamije), which is perplexing because there is no mosque. The fact is, the pavilion designed by architect Ivan Meštrović, located in the center of the square, was converted into a mosque during World War II. Three separate minarets were built, and the pavilion was decorated with Croatian geometric patterns to emphasize the similarity between Islamic and folk art, thereby Croaticizing local Muslims. During the years of socialist Yugoslavia, this building housed the Museum of the Revolution. This phantom mosque, despite the brevity of its existence, is indelibly imprinted in the memory of the locals and the city’s toponymy.

Meštrović Pavilion. Photo: Fred Romero / Flickr.com
Meštrović Pavilion. Photo: Fred Romero / Flickr.com

Zagreb, squeezed between a mountain range and a railway line, thus grew in width. But in the interwar period, they began to develop the northern slopes of the city with villas and entire complexes in the concept of a garden city. Working there, architects had greater freedom than in the center, where investors demanded adherence to classical canons in architecture. While architects wanted to build modernist buildings, paying more attention to the function and structure of the buildings than to facade decoration. The opportunity to realize their ideas came from private development. Thus emerged a complex on Novakova Street (Novakova ulica) with functionalist villas, inspired by the works of Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Loos. Novakova Street leads directly to Šalata, a complex of the medical faculty mainly from the interwar period. From there, one can continue the walk along Voćarska Road (Voćarska cesta). Another route for lovers of interwar modernism is the vicinity of Zelengaj Park (Zelengaj) and Pantovčak (Pantovčak) and Vladimira Nazora Streets (Vladimira Nazora ulica).

Modernism under Socialism: The “Mammoth” and “Super-Andrija”

Skyscrapers A real heyday for modernist architects came with socialism. Zagreb was actively developed to the south of the railway tracks, and Grada Vukovara Street (ul. Grada Vukovara) and its surroundings became an open-air museum of modernist architecture. Here, key administrative and educational buildings of the socialist era were built. Particularly notable are the Zagrepčanka skyscraper (Zagrepčanka, Savska, 41), the brutalist “Rakete” complex (Zeleni trg), the TV tower (HRT, Prisavlje ul. 3), and the building constructed for the Union of Communists of Croatia, popularly known as “Kockica” (Kockica, Prisavlje bb).

Former building of the Union of Communists of Croatia. Photo: Plamen (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Former building of the Union of Communists of Croatia. Photo: Plamen (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In the 1960s, the city crossed the Sava River, and on the other side, the residential area of Novi Zagreb was built, where the ideas of Le Corbusier became a reality. Many think that Le Corbusier, followed by architects of socialist countries, dreamt of cluttering cities with ugly high-rise districts. But no, the idea of the modernists was to build fewer buildings, but tall ones, and to free up maximum space for parks and roads. In Novi Zagreb, this idea was partially realized. When you cross the Sava, it seems that the city disappears: a view opens up to green expanses, among which individual buildings are visible. The most famous high-rise complexes are colloquially known as “Mamutica” (Mamutica, Ul. Božidara Magovca) and “Super Andrija” (Super Andrija, Siget ul., 18).

High-rises "Mamutica". Photo: Branko Radovanović (CC BY-SA 3.0)
High-rises “Mamutica”. Photo: Branko Radovanović (CC BY-SA 3.0)

After World War II in Yugoslavia, huge and uniquely shaped monuments to the national liberation struggle, also known as spomeniks, were actively erected. Most of them are located far from major cities and are gradually deteriorating. However, in Zagreb, within the city limits, there are several interesting monuments from this period: the December Victims’ monument (Park prosinačkih žrtava) and the monument in the Righteous Among the Nations Park (Park Pravednika među Narodima), Memorial Park Dotrščina. Near the airport, in a quiet and low-rise area, the “Broken Ring” monument is erected. One can indulge in nostalgia for socialist Yugoslavia not only by walking through the expanses of Novi Zagreb and the suburbs but also in the very center of the city, thanks to the Zagreb 1980s museum (Radićeva, 34). The museum is made from a retro apartment with a collection of items from that time. Everything is allowed to be touched, and you can turn on the technology, play video and board games. For those who grew up in the USSR, it will be interesting to compare items from the same era in Yugoslavia with Soviet ones.

Religion: Deconstructivist Churches and Sunday Masses

The experience of Zagreb would be incomplete without visiting churches or even attending a Sunday Mass — Croats are incredibly religious. The ancient churches in the center are, of course, interesting, but such can be found in many European cities. The uniqueness of Zagreb lies in its modernist sacred architecture. The search for new forms for temples continued even under socialism. In the 1950s, the Catholic Church faced persecution, but after the Croatian Spring, the anti-religious campaign softened. In the 1970s, the first church in Novi Zagreb was built in the spirit of functionalism with a wavy roof (Crkva Svetog Križa, trg svetog Križa, 1). In the 1980s, a mosque in modern forms appeared (Gavellina ul., 40). The heyday for architects came in the 1990s, when churches began to be built even more diversely. We recommend visiting the deconstructivist church of Blessed Augustin Kažotić (crkva Blaženog Augustina Kažotića, Ivanićgradska ul., 71) or taking a walk in the eastern part of Novi Zagreb, where there is the highest concentration of unusual modernist churches.

Church of the Blessed Augustin Kažotić. Photo: Roberta F. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Church of the Blessed Augustin Kažotić. Photo: Roberta F. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Other Activities: The Museum of Naïve Art, Walking Tours of Murals, Exploring the City Through Street Art, and Visiting Ancient Cemeteries

Zagreb’s art museums and galleries can be a journey through a brief history of world and Croatian art. Unfortunately, some museums are currently closed for restoration due to the earthquake. Among them are the two main collections of classical art: the Gallery of Old Masters and the Mimara Museum. Although their collections are not the most unique, and similar art can be seen in any European city. Among the unusual museums is the Museum of Naïve Art (Ćirilometodska ul., 3). It was originally created as a peasant art gallery. Now it is a serious institution that exhibits naïve art from foreign and Croatian artists. More academic creations of local 20th-century artists can be explored at the Modern Gallery (Ul. Andrije Hebranga, 1) or at exhibitions in the House of Croatian Artists (Trg žrtava fašizma, 16). This is the same pavilion that was once a mosque and the Museum of the Revolution. The author of the pavilion is the famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. His work can be seen in his former studio (Mletačka ul., 8). In the Modernist building of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Avenija Dubrovnik, 17) in Novi Zagreb, there is a huge collection of art, multimedia exhibitions, and regular events. In the summer, they are organized on the museum’s roof. Even more current and contemporary exhibitions are held in numerous private galleries.

Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Myriam Thyes (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Myriam Thyes (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In Zagreb, art is not confined to museums or galleries; it’s abundant in the streets and parks as well. You can arm yourself with a map of interesting murals, join a street art tour, or simply wander the streets at random – in Zagreb, street art can be found at every turn. For example, thanks to the Pimp My Pump project, water columns have become art objects. The greatest concentration of street art in the city is on Branimirova Street, where the wall separating the railway has become a gallery for graffiti artists.

Zagreb Street Art. Photo: Kevin Dooley / Flickr.comZagreb Street Art. Photo: Kevin Dooley / Flickr.com
Zagreb Street Art. Photo: Kevin Dooley / Flickr.com

Street art in Zagreb is not limited to graffiti. In the summer, the city center hosts the Okolo Festival. Its aim is to invade urban spaces with art (installations, sculptures, and graffiti). An interesting example of this approach is the action by artist Davor Preis, who complemented an existing sculpture of the sun with nine plaques representing planets and placed them around the city according to the distance of each planet from the Sun. Searching for these plaques is an excellent way to explore the city in a playful manner. Another example is the transformation of Ribnjak Park (Ribnjak) into an art space. It’s not only decorated with graffiti but also regularly hosts art events – film screenings, concerts, and performances.


Parks play an important role in the urban development of Zagreb. For example, the Lower Town is shaped by the Green Horseshoe, which includes the Botanical Garden (Trg Marka Marulića, 9A). It’s especially lovely in summer when everything is in bloom and you can stroll through a corridor of flowers. During the warmer months, there’s an open-air cinema in Tuškanac Park (Dubravkin put bb). The Mirogoj Cemetery (Aleja Hermanna Bollea, 27) is the final resting place of many famous citizens and offers pleasant walks along its ivy-clad alleys and arcades. Halfway between Mirogoj and the city center is the ancient, somewhat neglected Jurjevsko Cemetery (Jurjevsko groblje, Jurjevska ul.) with its beautiful tombstones. To immerse yourself in the mystical atmosphere of Zagreb, you can join a city ghost tour, which typically includes a visit to Jurjevsko Cemetery. The northern part of the city is located on the slopes of the Medvednica mountain range – an ideal place to escape to nature and rejuvenate. In winter, people ski there, and in summer, they walk along the forest trails of Medvednica Nature Park. Along the way, you can visit the abandoned sanatorium (Brestovec) and the Medvedgrad fortress, and in the park itself – a cave and a mine.

Medvedgrad Fortress. Photo: Miroslav Vajdic / Flickr.com
Medvedgrad Fortress. Photo: Miroslav Vajdic / Flickr.com

On hot days, Zagreb residents often head out to swim, sunbathe, and paddleboard at Lake Jarun (Jarun). Besides the beaches, there are barbecue areas, playgrounds, and sports fields. There are also several nightclubs near the lake. Thus, a day at the beach can seamlessly transition into a night at the disco. For a day trip from Zagreb, you can visit the baroque palaces in Varaždin or head to Karlovac for its Renaissance fortress. In Krapina, there’s an interesting Neanderthal Museum. The most popular option for a day trip is the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is a 2.5-hour bus ride away. But the lakes and waterfalls are so beautiful that it’s advisable to stay longer than a day. By car, you can also manage a day trip to the coast, for example, to Rijeka, or take a mini-tour of the spomeniks – significant monuments are located in Sisak, Podgarić, and Jasenovac.

Rastoke Village on the way to Plitvice Lakes. Photo: pollykneys / Instagram.com
Rastoke Village on the way to Plitvice Lakes. Photo: pollykneys / Instagram.com

Food: The Rivalry of Burgers and Pljeskavica, Signature Steak with Pickled Cucumber, Štrukli, and Žganci

From a gastronomic perspective, Zagreb is a melting pot of culinary traditions, where Central European mixes with Balkan, regional with local, all infused with international trends. Zagreb is currently experiencing a culinary boom with cuisines from different countries. Restaurants to suit every taste – from Lebanese to Sri Lankan – can be found on the main restaurant streets of Teslina (Teslina ulica) and Tkalčićeva (Tkalčićeva ulica). Vegetarians won’t suffer in Zagreb. New cafes that don’t use meat or fish are opening regularly, and the list of vegan-friendly establishments is constantly growing.

Owners of the vegan cafe "Vege Fino". Photo: Mitch Altman / Flickr.com
Owners of the vegan cafe “Vege Fino”. Photo: Mitch Altman / Flickr.com

There are a couple of classic Zagreb dishes that locals recommend trying. The Zagreb steak (zagrebački odrezak) is a breaded cutlet stuffed with ham and cheese. And kosichka (zagrebačka pletenica) is the same as the steak, but with the addition of pickled cucumber. Zagreb is also popular for dishes from Zagorje — the nearest neighboring region. For example, štrukli is fried or baked layered pastry with either a savory or sweet filling. Zagorje potato soup and žganci — a dish made of cornmeal with bacon and sour cream — are also beloved. Zagreb cuisine includes dishes from other Croatian regions, so you can try Dalmatian, Istrian, and Slavonian dishes. Therefore, by ordering a three-course meal, you can embark on a culinary journey across the country.

For štrukli, visit La Štruk (Skalinska ul., 5), and for other local dishes, head to national restaurants: Stari Fijaker (Mesnička ul., 6), Kaptolska Klet (ul. Kaptol, 5), Vinodol (ul. Nikole Tesle, 10). In the arena of Zagreb street food, a battle unfolds between Balkan traditions and international influences. Grilled meat – pljeskavica and ćevapi – dominate the outskirts, while in the center, you’ll find burgers (Burgeraj – Preradovićeva ul., 13 or the Submarine chain) and Asian food (Soi Fusion Bar – Ilica, 50, Poke Poke – Bogovićeva ul., 4, Kai street food – Jurišićeva ul., 2a). Croatia, in general, is a coffee country, and in Zagreb, you can find good coffee in almost any establishment. For coffee connoisseurs, there are a dozen excellent third-wave coffee shops in the city, especially recommended are U dvorištu (Jurja Zerjavica, 7/2), Quahva (Teslina, 9), and Monocycle (Trg žrtava fašizma, 14). Also, consider visiting the cafe-bookshop Booksa (Martićeva ul., 14d), the eco-cafe Botaničar (Trg Marka Marulića, 6), and the retro cafe Orient Express (Teslina, 10). All these cafes are convenient for working with a laptop, except for Orient Express, which has a more relaxed atmosphere.

In the Tkalčićeva Street area, there are many beer bars, including craft ones: Pivnica Medvedgrad (Tkalčićeva, 36), Craft Room (Opatovina ul., 35), Valhalla beer bar (Radićeva, 25). Bacchus (Trg Kralja Tomislava, 16) plays jazz. The best clubs are located outside the center. House and techno are played at Depo (Radnička cesta, 27), Boogaloo (ul. Grada Vukovara, 68), or Aquarius (aleja Matije Ljubeka, 19). Rock and alternative music can be found at Močvara (Trnjanski nasip bb) and KSET (Unska, 3).

Approximate prices in Zagreb establishments:

Dinner in a good restaurant: soup – 20–30 kunas (2.65 – 3.98 euros), main courses – 50–100 kunas (6.63 – 13.26 euros)

Street food: burger or poke – 40–50 kunas (5.30 – 6.63 euros)

Filter coffee in a good cafe – 15–20 kunas (1.99 – 2.65 euros)

Craft beer – 20–25 kunas (2.65 – 3.32 euros).

What to bring home: gingerbread hearts, chessboards, and souvenirs from the local flea market

The most famous Zagreb souvenir is the licitar gingerbread in the shape of a heart, which is even included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The gingerbreads are sold in all souvenir shops and stalls on the central square.

Licitar Gingerbread. Photo: Seanpu1 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Licitar Gingerbread. Photo: Seanpu1 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

You can embrace stereotypes and nostalgia by visiting the Croatian shoe brand Borovo store (the most central one is at Preradovićeva ul., 16). This brand existed during Yugoslavia and was popular in socialist countries. Another wardrobe item associated with Croatia is the cravat. In many languages, its name comes from the French “cravate.” These neck scarves were part of the uniform of Croatians in the Austrian cavalry, which included Croats. Souvenir versions in the Croatian red-and-white checkerboard are sold at Kravata store (Radićeva, 13). Croatia has used the checkerboard in its heraldry since the Middle Ages. According to one legend, it symbolizes the unification of the red and white Croatian tribes. Be careful – the white-and-red version (top left square is white) is the Ustaše variant of the checkerboard. The Ustaše were Croatian nationalists. Another famous craft store is the umbrella shop Cerovečki (Ilica, 49). They sell Šestine umbrellas – once part of the national costume, now one of the symbols of Zagreb. For food souvenirs – sausage products, herbal mixtures, homemade rakija – it’s best to shop at the central market Dolac (Dolac, 9). An alternative to the market is the Croatian products store Kredenca (Radićeva ul., 13). There, in addition to food, they also sell home goods. A good store with local natural cosmetics is Aromatica (Vlaška ul., 15). A great souvenir option is perfume and home fragrances inspired by the atmosphere of Zagreb from the store Notes of Zagreb (Skalinska ul., 2). Souvenirs from Zagreb designers are sold at the Take me home store (Tomićeva ul., 4). For retro souvenirs from the Yugoslav era, and if you’re lucky, from the Austro-Hungarian era, you can visit the antique bazaar at Britanski trg (British Square). It operates on Sundays in the first half of the day. An alternative is the flea market Hrelic (Sajmišna cesta). It’s open on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 7 am to 8 pm, but the most sellers are there in the morning on Sunday. If you don’t want to travel far or wait for Sunday, you can visit Ulični ormar (Jurišićeva 16) for vintage clothes and accessories.

Hrelic Flea Market. Photo: ivana / Flickr.com
Hrelic Flea Market. Photo: ivana / Flickr.com

Where to Stay

Considering the unique architecture and atmosphere of each district, you can choose the style and era that personally appeals to you, but each option has its nuances. A downside of living in Gradec is poor transport accessibility. You’ll have to walk down to stops and other attractions. Definitely avoid settling in the restaurant-rich Tkalčićeva Street and neighboring streets – it’s very noisy there.

The areas north of the center are quiet and green, but again, you’ll have to constantly climb the slope on foot as buses are infrequent. And in these areas, there are not many supermarkets and restaurants. Lower Town is the ideal choice for those who are in Zagreb for the first time and have not yet fallen in love with a particular area. It is full of attractions, shops, and restaurants. It’s easy to reach both the Upper Town and the new districts in the south. Tram routes pass through this area, plus it’s close to the bus and train stations. But there is a downside here too – seismic risk, as in the Upper Town.

Two major earthquakes in 2020 in Zagreb showed that it is safer to live where houses are newer and not so close to each other, that is, to the south of the railway – in Novi Zagreb and in the area of Grada Vukovara Street. Here you’ll find the cheapest accommodation, surrounded by many parks with lakes. However, to reach the main attractions in the center, you’ll need to use public transport or a taxi. The coolest hostel in the city is Swanky Mint. It’s located in a former factory building. There is a swimming pool, tour office, souvenir shop, and bar on the premises. Besides dorms, it offers a wide selection of private rooms. Two other cool options are Main Square Hostel and The Dots Hostel.

Common room in Swanky Mint Hostel. Photo: Booking.com
Common room in Swanky Mint Hostel. Photo: Booking.com

The Hotel Capital has the best rating on Booking, but the real classic among Zagreb hotels is the Esplanade. Built in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express, its interiors feature the luxury and chic of Art Deco, including a cocktail bar reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s novels. The hotel’s list of awards spans several pages. In general, historic interiors, especially Art Deco, set the trend in Zagreb’s hotel business. For example, Hotel Puntijar is furnished with antique furniture, and the new Le Premier strives to closely resemble the Esplanade. Among chain hotels, Hilton dominates – in Zagreb, there is the five-star DoubleTree and the four-star Canopy and Garden Inn.

Interior of Hotel Puntijar. Photo: Booking.com
Interior of Hotel Puntijar. Photo: Booking.com

Entry into Croatia

Traveling to Croatia by plane is a convenient option for European citizens, as several airlines offer direct flights to various Croatian cities. Major airlines like Lufthansa, Air France, and British Airways frequently operate flights to Croatia’s primary airports, including Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik. Budget airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet also offer more affordable options, with routes connecting major European cities to Croatian destinations. For those coming from within the Schengen Area, Croatia does not require a visa for short stays. Also, Croatia joined the Schengen Zone on 1 January 2023.

Transport in the City

From the airport to the Zagreb bus station, special Pleso Prijevoz buses operate (tickets can be purchased online, costing 35 kunas (4.64 euros)), running every half an hour to an hour). And the city bus №290 to the Kvaternikov trg stop (tickets can be bought from the driver in cash, costing 10 kunas (1.33 euros)). A taxi ride to the center through an aggregator will cost 70–90 kunas (9.28 – 11.93 euros), with an airport taxi driver – from 100 kunas (13.26 euros).

It’s more convenient and cheaper to call a taxi through the Uber or Bolt apps, and local taxi companies Cammeo and Ekotaxi also have their apps. The bus and railway stations are located near the city center and can be reached on foot. Public transport in Zagreb consists of buses and trams. Tickets can be purchased from the driver (more expensive, but more convenient) or in advance at a kiosk. There are tickets for 30, 60, or 90 minutes (costing 4–15 kunas (0.53 – 1.99 euros)). A night bus ticket costs 15 kunas (1.99 euros), and a day pass costs 30 kunas (3.98 euros). There are also passes for 3, 7, 15, or 30 days.

To quickly reach the Upper Town, you can use the funicular, which costs 5 kunas (0.66 euros) per ride (funicular travel is included in the price of day passes). The city’s main tram hub is the central square Trg Bana Jelačića. From there, trams 14 or 17 go to Novi Zagreb. It’s better not to risk traveling without a ticket – controllers often appear, especially on tram routes in the center. The fine ranges from 500 to 800 kunas (66.30 – 106.09 euros), but if paid immediately, you are allowed to pay half of the minimum fine of 250 kunas (33.15 euros).

Funicular to the Upper Town. Photo: PredragKezic / Pixabay.com
Funicular to the Upper Town. Photo: PredragKezic / Pixabay.com

When to Visit

From May to September, the city hosts hundreds of different festivals and events, such as the InMusic music festival, the historical Zagrebački vremeplov, the Fantastic Zagreb film festival, and the Animafest animation film festival. However, summer can be hot and rainy, and accommodation prices are higher. The largest influx of tourists occurs during the Catholic Advent due to the Christmas markets. Zagreb received awards for the best Christmas market in Europe from 2016 to 2018. In October, the golden foliage of the parks gives the city a special charm. Moreover, there are fewer tourists at this time and the weather is pleasant for walking.

Zagreb's central square on Christmas Eve. Photo: Miroslav Vajdic / Flickr.com
Zagreb’s central square on Christmas Eve. Photo: Miroslav Vajdic / Flickr.com

Tips

Street Names. Streets named after people are usually marked on signs as “ulica-name-surname”, for example, “ulica Ivana Tkalčića”. However, it is much more common to see the address written or hear it referred to as “such-and-such street”, that is, Tkalčićeva.

Water. It’s safe to drink tap water and water from street drinking fountains.

Cash. Cash is essential in Zagreb. It’s needed for transportation fares, purchases in kiosks and small shops, and also in many cafes, bars, and museums.

Language. When traveling to Croatia, European foreigners will find that English is widely spoken, especially in major cities and tourist areas. This makes communication relatively easy for visitors. Additionally, German and Italian are also commonly understood, particularly in coastal regions due to historical ties and tourism. Croatian, the official language, is a South Slavic language and shares similarities with Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary for tourists, learning a few basic Croatian phrases can enhance the travel experience and is appreciated by locals. Road signs and important public information are often displayed in both Croatian and English, facilitating navigation and general understanding for foreign visitors.

Smoking. Smoking is mostly prohibited indoors in restaurants, but many bars and cafes allow it. Also, many people smoke in clubs, sometimes even in those where it’s prohibited.

Religion and Politics. Many Croatians are devout Catholics and equally fervent patriots, so it’s important to be careful when discussing these topics.

Immersing Yourself Before the Trip

Films The Zagreb School of Animation was the most famous in Yugoslavia. Therefore, we recommend watching their animated films, such as “The Elm-Chanted Forest” or “The Magician’s Hat”. On the other hand, Croatian directors are particularly good at dark, socially acute dramas. I recommend two films set in the outskirts of Zagreb – “Metastases” and “Fine Dead Girls”. Also, to delve into historical twists and turns, you can watch two films set during World War II – “Long Dark Night” and “Diana Budisavljević’s Diary”.

Books Classics of Croatian literature will help immerse you in Zagreb’s past. August Šenoa’s novel “The Goldsmith’s Treasure” tells about the medieval city and conflicts within it. The atmosphere of early 20th-century Zagreb is reflected in the novels of August Cesarec, such as “The Golden Boy and His Victims”. To better understand Zagreb, it is worth delving into the complex history of the country. This can be aided by Freidzon’s fundamental work “History of Croatia”. A lighter (but unfortunately untranslated) read that focuses specifically on the city itself is Celia Hawkesworth’s “Zagreb: A Cultural History”.

Music

Guidebook Author: Elvira Ibragimova

Cover Photo: Kristijan Arsovs

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