In my book, traveling is all about discovering. That feeling of wonder when you enter a narrow street and can’t stop looking at the old houses, or the eye-widening sensation you get when you reach the coastline and can’t stop staring at the sea. It’s the wow factor in “look at this castle or Church tower” as well as the” I’ve never tasted anything quite as delicious in my life”.
And truth be told it feels like all these feelings get lost in the hustle of the top tourist spots. It gets lost in dealing with “I have to see this and that” and “must not miss the other”! Yes, it’s full and packed, and don’t get me wrong, it would be a pity to miss seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London, or Rome’s Capitolium but sometimes it feels so good for your heart, mind, and soul to just go on a treasure hunt for lesser-known destinations and be surprised.
And one of the most surprising European destinations is Croatia.
Bathed in the ever-sparkling blue waters, wearing the most enchanting pearls of the Dalmatian coast, with some of the most spectacular wildlife and parks, Croatia is a gem. And with beauties like Dubrovnik and with sunny islands and beaches, it’s not surprising that you most likely forgot to check out the capital and the 25 wonderful things to do in Zagreb, Croatia + 5 hidden Gems. So let’s dig into the gems first:
1. Holy Mary Monument
The first gem will be shining its golden lights from right in front of the Zagreb Cathedral. The Monument, dedicated to the Holy Mary depicts her on a tall pedestal majestic and impressive, surrounded by four angels. And if you love how the sun plays and reflects its light on the golden monument, you should also get there to see how beautiful it stands at night.
2. Jarun Lake
Since the entire country is a tale of natural beauties and scenery, here is one right in the city: Jarun Lake. Well, the lake might be artificial, but it’s beautiful nonetheless and it is in fact known as the Zagreb Sea, as a tribute to its huge size and its role as one of the most “active” parts of Zagreb. Bike trails, water sports, swimming or simply sunbathing, all make this place the entertainment center of the city. And did you see that blue color? Just enchanting?
3. Lotrscak Tower
Zagreb has a rich and impressive history and a long one for that matter. And a small part of that history is about defense and the fortified tower of Lotrscak, which has been around since the 13th century. Its main task was to guard the southern city gate and later on, it also received a canon that used to shoot precisely at noon to this day. Today the Lotrscak Tower has a gift and souvenir shop, and an exhibition space but it also is the place that gives you some of the best all-around sights of the city from its top.
4. Ban Josip Jelacic Monument
The Ban Josip Jelacic Monument sits proudly in the main Square of the city, wearing the same name. The square is a pedestrian-only area, and it’s probably the most popular one as well, so expect a mix of youthful vibe with locals and tourists alike. As for Ban’s Monument, if you are to know just one thing about him, know that this equestrian Ban Monument was initially placed facing north to symbolize Croatia’s defiance against the Hungarian and Austrian Empire and today’s south facing is simply for aesthetic reasons.
5. St. Nark’s Church
Emblematic and postcard material, St. Nark’s Church is simply a jewel. Just have a look at that cute colorful tiled roof. And if you are having trouble identifying the flags on the roof, just relax as unless you are a history buff, you are likely not going to guess that those are the medieval coat of arms for Dalmatia, Slavonia, Croatia as well as Zagreb’s emblem. Picture- candy and impressive!
Now that you have seen glimpses into the city and you can just tell there is a lot to discover, as Zagreb is first and foremost Croatia’s capital for good reasons and one of the most authentic and surprising cities that you can expect to uncover:
6. Dolac Market
Zagreb’s first and most striking charm is the fact that it still is very much a city for living and not so much a city of sighting spots. If you want to experience the real feeling of Zagreb you can start by going to one of the many farmer’s markets in the city. They are conveniently scattered all around the city so everyone can reach them. Probably the most popular one is Dolac Market, located right behind the main square, being the main trading place from the beginning of the century. And I mean trading everything from vegetables, meat, flowers, and all homemade dairy. A real Zagreb experience!
7. Park Bundek
One of the nicest places for relaxing and enjoying a family moment is Bundek Park. You can take it leisurely, slowly, or go for a revigorating walk, go and enjoy a bike ride with lake views and swans. And if you have kids with you, frat no more as there is not one but 2 playgrounds as well as some nice coffee shops or grab a bite at the near restaurant. This could probably win the title of the best park in Zagreb.
8. King Tomislav Square
The Square bearing King Tomislav’s name is dominated by the king’s monument. History tells the history of how Tomislav fought against the Hungarians and united Croatian lands into one country. But the square is so much more than history recounting. The Art Pavilion and the slopes of Mount Medvenidca are the first sights your eyes will fall in love with when getting to Zagreb by train.
9. Zagreb Church of St. Catherine
The story behind the beautiful baroque Church of St. Catherine is the story of surviving. It has a most striking history with tales of fire and earthquake and changing orders, and since it has been around since 1620 you can just imagine how much it transformed during the ages. Just think that you get to see an altar dating back to 1762. So you can take a moment of silent admiration and wonder at St. Catherine’s life depicted on the ceiling of the nave.
10. Botanical Garden
Stepping into the Zagreb Botanical Garden might feel like stepping into a fairytale land set in an oasis. Not that Zagreb is all that noisy, but you can hear the neverending sound of the city, and if you just need a moment to step out of it, enter here. Surely it’s not the biggest one in Europe nor does it hold any records but it is quite spectacular when in bloom and always a great escape.
11. Croatian State Archives
Croatian State Archives has the very administrative scope you might imagine from its title but it is something quite impressive to look at it from all angles, inside out. With a classic art nouveau building style and with symbols like owls and globes, it really stands out as one of the most imposing landmarks and its designed purpose: knowledge and library.
12. Mandusevac Fountain
The most famous fountain in all of Zagreb, the Mandusevac is a fountain of old legends telling stories about love and knights and fair ladies and how Zagreb and the Mandusevac got their names. Located in Ban Josip Jelacic Square, it is also considered something of a magical water place. Meaning that back when the waters of Mandusevac were still drinkable, it was said that anyone drinking from it would stay in Zagreb and fall in love with the city.
13. St. Francis of Assisi Church
There is something very special about this church. I mean it is considered to be one of the best Franciscan churches in Europe dating to the 13th century, but to be fair, the exterior being so rather plain does hide an incredible jewel inside. The Neo-Gothic interior is just something else. It is serene and inviting, it is solemn and yet open or maybe it is the blue ceiling and the paintings of St Francis and the stained glass windows that make it all soo special.
14. Zagreb Cathedral
Not far from St. Francis lies another spot on Zagreb’s must-see tour, the Zagreb Cathedral. And when I say must-see I mean it. The two towers of the monumental Gothic Cathedral spear the sky and leave you in awe. The interior is equally impressive and grand. And if you are wondering why the old clock is right just twice a day, know that it has been stuck on 7.03 ever since the 1880 earthquake. But looking at all the other sublime architectural features, the gargoyles, and the sculptures I think we can forgive that little fact.
15. Trg svetog Marka
St. Mark’s Square or Trg svetog Marka features the famous and colorful St. Mark church. But it is not the only impressive and important building in the Square. The Croatian Parliament as well as the Constitutional Court of Croatia are located here. It does seem that this little square holds a lot of the administrative power in Croatia.
16. Academy of Music
If you happen to see a modern building topped by a rainbow of colors, know that you have reached the new location of the Academy of Music. And it is quite the most eye-catching building. The Academy of Music is today by far the largest music institution in Croatia, but, it is also the oldest one dating back to 1829. With such a prestigious card it’s no wonder that the Academy deserved and moved into its new and incredible location.
17. Basilica of The Sacred Heart of Jesus
Walking the streets of the lower city, on Palmoticeva street, you can spot another one of Zagreb’s religious edifices. This time it is a Roman Catholic church, the Basilica of The Sacred Heart of Jesus. If the Neo-Baroque style of the exterior is beautiful then the interior is simply stunning and creates an out-of-this-world atmosphere. It might be the impressive altar or the light that reaches through the stained glass, but it might just be that it is indeed a place of worship.
18. Croatian Parliament
Focusing on the colorful tiles of St. Mark Church you might not take a deeper look at the other buildings in the Square and miss the palace that holds the Croatian Parliament. And the truth is that, by comparison, the Baroque Palace shows up in white with columns and is a rather blending-in building that you notice by the flags flying by the door, totally unlike the photogenic church. Still, it is worth your time to have a look and know that is the location of Sabor (the unicameral legislature of the Republic of Croatia).
19. Zagreb Mosque
In the spirit of multiculturalism that rules most of Central and Eastern Europe, there is also a Mosque in Zagreb. The Zagreb Mosque is in fact the largest in Croatia and besides being a house of prayer it is also home to an Islamic Secondary School as well as a cultural center. You could say that the Mosque is the heart of the Muslim community in Croatia.
20. Antun Gustav Matos Statue
Quirky feels right at home in Zagreb and not just when talking about Museums such as the Museum of Broken Relationships. Who would have ever thought there is even such a thing? Well, that aside, another quirky-looking sight is the statue of the poet Antun Gustav Matos sitting on a bench in the park contemplating. It is one of the most popular ones as well and for a good photographable reason.
21. Saint George Statue
You can admire yet another kind of statue, this time one of Saint George killing the dragon. Traditionally this theme is largely used to symbolize the victory of Christianity over paganism as well as good over evil. And Zagreb holds not one but 2 statues of Saint George. One in Lower Town with a bronze statue of Saint George about to kill the dragon, and one in Upper Town, standing by the slayed dragon.
22. Square of Petar Preradovic
This particular pedestrian Square is famous in the city’s life as one of the most colorful, inviting, and nicely scented Squares. That might be largely due to the fact that all around the square you can find coffee shops and flower stands and the statue of Petar Preradovics in the middle. And it might just be the very reason why t is also known as the Flower Square and it is indeed a fair-lovable place.
23. Zagreb Medvedgrad Castle
When visiting Zagreb, you can not miss the sight of a fortress looking over the city, right there on the top of Medvenica Hill. It is indeed one of the landmarks that create the image of Zagreb.
Part of the Medvedgrad Park, the Medvedgrad Castle has been diligently doing its job by watching over Zagreb since the early 13th century. And It is one of the best-preserved castles in Croatia and this historic landmark is the perfect location for tournaments, events, and fairs. It is a nice and well-earned change of pace for the impressive fortress.
24. Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor
The main railway station in Zagreb, the Glavni Kolodvor, is quite an impressive and unique building. It feels pretty nice to arrive in Zagreb and be welcomed in such style, even if the Neo Classic style building is such a beauty on the outside, at least. But practicality usually trumps everything. And on that note, there is a scene in one of the James Bond movies – From Russia with love, that was filmed here. So there you have it!
25. Museum of Contemporary Art
Contemporary Art sits well in a modern-looking building. And the Museum of Zagreb’s Contemporary Art feels the same way, located in a very cool and modern space. Holding the biggest collection of modern art in Croatia, with no less than 12000 objects, the building is indeed a continuous work of creation and preservation of all forms of contemporary art.
26. Museum of Arts and Crafts
On the opposite spectrum of love for art, the Museum of Arts and Crafts sits in a majestic and imposing location dating to 1880. Custom-designed as a museum from the get-go, it’s no surprise that the photogenic palace houses the finest collections of arts and crafts from medieval times all the way to the 20th century. For other ideas about what to check you can always come back to Framey’s collections on each destination. For instance, take a look at the collection: Most beautiful places in Zagreb.
27. Art Pavilion
Right across from the train station the Art Pavilion is just beautiful inside out. The exterior will charm you with its art nouveau architecture, being in fact the oldest art gallery in entire Southeastern Europe. And while you are here, don’t just admire the gallery from the outside but enter and let yourself be surprised at the art exhibitions. You will never regret it.
28. Porta di Pietra (Kamenita Vrata)
A reminisce of the 13th century, the Stone Gate or Porta di Pietra (Kamenita Vrata) is one of the most visited sights in the Upper part of Zagreb. It is the gate to the medieval city and the only remaining standing entrance, so step in. Inside there is also a shrine dedicated to the Virgin lady with stone slabs written by the locals giving thanks and praise to the Lady of the Stone Gate.
29. Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb
The yellow stunning silhouette of the Neo-Baroque Croatian National Theatre is the landmark, as far as the city’s cultural life goes, and has been so for many decades. HNK Zagreb, as it is known, is not just the largest Theatre in Croatia, but a cultural hub, with opera and ballet houses, included along the theatre part. Just an uplifting experience altogether.
Old and new all have a place in Zagreb. And as far as old and charming goes, it will be hard to find something that outdoes Tkalciceva Street. It is so much more than a street. It is a vibe, one with small boutiques and cafes, traditional shops, and simply full of life. Tourists and locals alike, all love it and enjoy vibing along with it, especially during the summertime.
Nothing beats the joy and enthusiasm you get from uncovering new and fascinating destinations. Very much like treasure hunting. And I hope this is how you feel about this underrated city and its 25 Wonderful things to do in Zagreb, Croatia + 5 hidden gems.
An entire world of inspirational destinations awaits you. And the first step you need to take is to download the Framey App (available on Google Play and App Store), and discover a whole other world of delicious spots.