Zagreb is the captial and largest city of Croatia. It is one of the highest capitals of Europe, it lies at an elevation of 158m. The city center is divided into Lower Town (Donji grad), or simply downtown and the hilly Upper Town (Gornji Grad), that in turn is divided into Gradec and Kaptol, once two rivaling towns. Zagreb is surrounded by stunning green mountains. In Kaptol you find the gothic Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption, a 13th century roman catholic cathedral whose spires were damaged during the 2020 earthquakes (and the whole cathedral in the 1880 earthquake), Croatia’s 2nd tallest building at 105m and the most prominent Gothic building Southeast of the Alps. In front of the cathedral is the beautiful Holy Mary Monument. Intact parts of the city walls are surrounding the cathedral. In Gradec, you find the famous pedestrian the restaurant street, Tkalčićeva ulica. On this narrow, curved street you find ktichen from all over the world in beautiful historic buildings. On St Mark’s Square (Markov trg) you find St Mark’s Church (Crkva sv. Marka) wirth its coat of arms roof, the Croatian Parliament, the Government of Croaita, the Constitutional Court of Croatia and the Old City Hall. The square was cordoned off after the earthquake though. Most churches are closed for visitors because of damage after the earthquake, and probably also because of the pandemic. Other churches in Upper Town are the baroque Church of St Catherine and St Mary’s Church. The world’s shortest funiculare, or stairways take you up to the historical buildings and pedestrian streets of Upper Town from Lower Town. There is a famous promenade, Strossmayer Promenade, that goes down from Upper to Lower Town, and along hills, with sculptures and trees.
Ban Jelačić Square (Trg bana Jelačića) is the main square and heart of Zagreb, situated in Lower town, just on the stairs to Upper Town. Here people meet under the white clock. This is also a busy tram hub, and here you find beautiful historical buildings as well as modernist buildings, market stalls, monuments like the equestrian Ban Jelačić Statue and a modest fountain that gave the city its name. There is a modern glass “skyscraper” at the square as well, that feature a 360 degree observation deck on top (currently closed due to covid, 2021). Ilica is the main shopping street that goes West of the square. Here you find Nama, a classical department store with an art deco atrium and other classy stores.
Just above Jelačić Square is the busy Dolmac Market, where you can find fruits, vegetable and souvenirs.
The Croatian National Theatre is a beautiful yellow baroque building completed in 1895, at the mighty Republic of Croatia Square (Trg Republike Hrvatske), one of Zagreb’s largest squares. Here you also find the Museum of Arts and Craft, The St George dragon statue and the modern Music Academy building with its colourful beacon on the roof. The square is part of the Lenuci Horseshoe, a U-shaped system of city squares with parks in downtown. Maksimir Park, Park Ribnjak and Strossmayer Park/Zrinjevac (in the middle of the city center) are some parks worth mentioning. There is also beautiful Botanical Gardens (Botanicki Vrt) near the railway station.
Novni Grad, the new city, is surrounding the city center. Here you mostly find grey modernist highrises, shopping malls, and wide boulevards. The river Sava flows in the Southern part of Zagreb.
Zagreb has fairly many modern highrises or “skyscrapers” for a European city, many of them are hotels and office buildings in glass and steel. Most of them are spread out throught the outskirts of Lower Town. A tall TV tower (169m), Croatia’s tallest tower, stands on top of the highest mountain, Medvednica, which highest point is at 1035m, situated North of Zagreb. In the same mountain area is Medvedgrad Castle (temporary closed in 2021) from the 13th century, it lies 593m above the sea! We could see both from our hotel room (at the Westin) in central Zagreb.
Lotrščak Tower is a 13th century tower that stands on a hill on Gradec (Upper Town) and since 1877, a cannon has been fired every day at 12 o’clock…until recently. Since the 2020 earthquakes it has been silent. The tower is really a hidden gem, few people know about it but if you climb the stairs the views of the city are amazing, 360 degrees. During our visit no other tourists were visiting. Stone Gate (Kamenita vrata) is another landmark and surviving part of the wall. During our visit an outdoor funeral was taking place, right in public, with pedestrians and delivery bikes passing right through!
In 2020 two earthquakes shook Zagreb, a 5.5 in March and a 6.4 in December, causing damage to many buildings, injuries to people and a few fatalities! We could still see the damage on many buildings, especially old ones, that already had fallen into disrepair after the war in the 90s.
The roads are really good, like in the rest of Croatia, and it is a modern country with nice people, many can speak English since they are not dubbing movies. This was the first trip during the pandemic. We had to wear face masks inside stores and restaurants. And a covid vaccination pass was required to enter the country. The weather was very pleasant with sunny blue skies and it was nice to sit outside open air restaurants even in the late evening.
Zagreb is very walkable by foot, and if you want to go a bit a away from the center, there are modern blue trams (also some old ones) that are really cheap and takes you to the outskirts. We only needed to take the tram once though. There is no metro.
We felt that Zagreb is a very safe city, with no gangs, women walking alone after dark and couples sitting in dark parks in the middle of the night. But beware of bikes! Many Zagrebers like to transport themselves with bikes, but there are very few bike lanes and they don't want to ride on the tram lanes. So after arriving from the airport, walking towards the city center, we found ourselves surrounded by crazy and aggressive bikers, ringing their bells trying to get their walk through the pavements!
Zagreb Franjo Tuđman Airport in Velika Gorica is a large and modern airport with a futuristic terminal, it lies Southeast of the city. We arrived there by a our Ryanair flight. The best way to get to the city center from the airport is by bus.
In the outskirts you also find many large modern shopping malls, like Avenue Mall, Arena Centar, Cvjetni Center mall, Supernova and City Center One. National and University Library is a large glass building along the avenue Ul. Hrvatske bratske zajednice, filled with fountains, monuments and other large modern buildings. Arena Zagreb is a large futuristic white arena building for sports, concerts etc.
We visited Zagreb for one whole day, and some half days, totally four nights. At first we stayed 2 nights at the 5-star highrise hotel The Westin Zagreb, then travelled around in Slovenia and Italy (Venice), and when we returned to Zagreb we stayed at the 4-star Best Western Premier Hotel Astoria. Both hotels were good value for money.
We travelled around Croatia with bus, there are very few trains in Croatia, and they are more expensive. The bus terminal is situated a bit away from the city center, in the East part of lower town, so it is a bit inconvenient every time you take a daytrip, or want to travel further. We visited Rijeka, Venice, Ljubljana and more, all by bus.
Zagreb has many museums, many of them closed after the 2020 earthquakes though. We visited the Museum of Illusions (quite small but kind of cool), the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art (small, in the old town but really interesting art) and the Nikola Tesla Technical Museum (in the West part of Lower Town, worth to visit for some rare cars, airplanes, trains, vintage hi fi and space rockets and a small exhibition about Nikola Tesla). The weather was nice with sunny skies and much to see on the streets, so it was enough of museums anyway. The Art Pavilion is a beautiful yellow baroque building, facing the green King Tomislav Square (Trg Kralja Tomislava, a popular meeting place where you also find an equestrian statue of the king) and the central railway station, Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor, the Croatian State Archives is a grandiose jugend building in Lower Town and Museum of Contemporary Art in a boxy futuristic building in the outskirts.
There is also the Mimara Museum (in a palace like grey building opposite our first hotel, the Westin, currently closed after the earthquake), the Museum of Broken Relationships, Zageb City Museum, the Archeological Museum, Museum of Arts and Crafts (one of the first custom-designed museums in Europe, yellow 19th century building), Museum of Torture and Art, Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters, Drazen Petrovic Museum (baseball player), Croatian History Museum and many more museums. In the middle of the Zrtava Fasizima Square in the East part of Lower Town you find the Croatian Society of Fine Arts, a circular building that is illuminated in red at night.
Please check museums websites to see if they are open, considering covid and the earthquake.
In the outskirts, South of the Sava River, is Novi Zagreb (New Zagreb), that is newer but very few sights are situated there.
There are many good and affordable restaurants in Zagreb, but it can be hard to find Croatian food. Italian and Bosnian food can be found everywhere though, also Indian food is quite common. We found a good Sri Lankan restaurant on Tkalčićeva Street, Curry Bowl. Even though you might read in many guides that 10 % tipping is required, it is often not needed since you just pay with card and they don’t expect it, but if you find their service especially good you can do it. You can’t expect to pay with card everywhere though, and the ones that don’t accept credit cards are probably the ones who expect tip. the most popular restaurants are on Tkalčićeva Street and Upper Town in general, and around Ban Jelacic Square. It is also possible to buy food to go in one of the numerous Konzum supermarkets, that varies in size, or Spar or Lidl but they are not common in the city center. It is easy to find a 4 star or 5 star hotel in the city center for a very affordable price.
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