20 great things to do in Zagreb
There are countless cultural things to do in Zagreb, and its compact size makes it easy for first time visitors to navigate. Attractions range from historic sights and fascinating galleries, complemented by destination restaurants, clusters of busy bars and numerous live music venues. Discover the very best things to do in Zagreb with our list of unmissable activities.
The best Zagreb restaurants
This ultimate guide to Zagreb restaurants covers it all: from top-level, splash-out fine dining to street food, traditional wholesome to high-end international, European bistro to east-west fusion. Get stuck in.
Zagreb nightlife guide
Vienna? Budapest? Ljubljana? Zagreb nightlife is matched by few places owing to the range of regular live music on offer – and for the sheer number of venues to stage it. Zagreb is also known for its music bars – places such as SPUNK transform into small clubs as the night wears on, with occasional live acts too. Read on for our list of the best places to dance the night away.
The best Zagreb bars
People in Croatia's capital city always give themselves time to linger and socialise over drinks. Whatever the time of year, new Zagreb bars are always raising and lowering their banners across the city centre and beyond, while traditional landmarks stay firm. Time Out's experts discover the best places to sip across town.
Essential Zagreb attractions
Zagreb attractions number plenty of stately icons among their ranks, owing to the city's status as a former Habsburg hub and capital of a new nation. Towering cathedrals, a venerable zoo and a stately cemetery all provide plenty of things to do in Zagreb. Our experts pick out the best.
Best galleries in Zagreb
Housed in the impressively renovated Vraniczany palace on Zrinjevac, the Modern Gallery is home to the national collection of 19th- and 20th-century art. It kicks off in spectacular fashion with huge canvases by late-19th-century painters Vlaho Bukovac and Celestin Medović dominating the sublimely proportioned hexagonal entrance hall. From here the collection works its way chronologically through the history of Croatian painting, taking in Ljubo Babić's entrancing 1920s landscapes and Edo Murtić's jazzy exercises in 1950's abstract art. Several contemporary artists are featured here too - sufficient to whet your appetite before hopping over the river to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see some more. The Moderna Galerija's most innovative feature is the tactile gallery, a room containing versions of famous paintings in relief form (together with Braille captions) for unsighted visitors to explore.
When it comes to historical art collections, the Mimara is certainly Zagreb's biggest in terms of quantity. Donated to the city by wealthy patron Ante Topić Mimara, the collection includes paintings, statues and archaeological finds, organised chronologically and thematically but with little by way of English explanation. Highlights on the ground floor include oriental carpets, south-east Asian sculpture and Chinese porcelain, while the picture galleries upstairs display works from every era from the Gothic period onwards, with artists like Velázquez, Rubens, Rembrandt and Manet each putting in an appearance. It's also an important venue for temporary exhibitions with an art or archeological theme.
Zagreb has always lacked the kind of small-scale independent galleries that occupy the fertile spawning grounds in-between public art institutions and private dealers. Which is why Greta, a gallery in a former clothes shop that opens a new exhibition every Monday night, has proved such an instant hit. Greta doesn’t follow too strict a curatorial framework, ensuring the widest possible variety of artistic approaches. The gallery’s location, at the apex of a bohemian Bermuda Triangle formed by the Fine Arts Academy, the Architecture Faculty and the Sedmica bar, ensures a knowledgeable and enthusiastic public. Indeed Greta regularly receives more visitors than many of the more established galleries, with opening-night celebrants spilling out onto the pavement outside.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Costing some €60 million and covering 14,500 square metres, the MCA – MSU in Croatian – is the most significant museum to open in Zagreb for more than a century. Its collection includes pieces from the 1920s and gathered since 1954 when Zagreb's original MCA (in Upper Town) was founded. Of particular note are Carsten Höller's slides, similar to the 'Test Site' installation he built for Tate Modern's Turbine Hall but custom-made and site specific for Zagreb – pieces of art patrons can ride to the parking lot. Croatia's outstanding 1950s generation of abstract-geometric artists (Ivan Picelj, Aleksandar Srnec, Vjenceslav Richter, Vlado Kristl) play a starring role in the collection, alongside photographs and films documenting the more outlandish antics of legendary performance artists like Tom Gotovac and Vlasta Delimar. The new-media and computer-art works produced by the Zagreb-based New Tendencies movement in the late '60s and early 70s reveals just how ahead-of-its-time much of Croatian art really was.
Lurking mysteriously in a little-visited area 4km west of the centre is this brand-new private art gallery, occupying a century-old barrack block painted in alluring matt black by modern restorers. Displaying the collection of businessman Tomislav Kličko, Lauba includes major works by virtually everyone who is anyone in Croatian art from about 1950 onwards. If you've already visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, then Lauba will provide you with a refreshingly alternative take on the local art establishment, concentrating on visually appealing works as well as more conceptual exercises. Figurative paintings by Lovro Artuković and disarmingly bling sculptures by Kristjan Kožul are among the highlights.
Recommended events in Zagreb
The Kontejner curatorial team’s slightly barmy Device Art triennial rolls on into autumn 2015, continuing their fascination with artists who work through gadgets, machines, high technology and low technology to comment on our increasing reliance on the world of the device. This year the event is co-curated by the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, the Video Pool Media Arts Centre in Winnipeg and Eastern Bloc in Montreal.
Zagreb Film Festival
Arguably the one great social event of the autumn season, the Zagreb Film Festival is certainly one of the most informal and enjoyable celebrations of celluloid in this part of the world. It’s also one of the most popular cultural happenings in the country, putting bums on seats in a way that would drive most other festival organisers purple with envy. The deftly curated programme delivers a genuinely global selection of non-Hollywood production, focusing attention on films that wouldn’t normally get a run down at the local multiplex. Prizes are handed out to the best films on the final weekend, but the whole affair is treated with relaxed good humour rather than award-ceremony angst. It’s certainly not a formal affair and there‘s hardly any VIP segregation; you’ll probably see international directors drinking in the same café as the filmgoers themselves. The festival’s main venue is the venerable, Art Nouveau-styled Kino Europa, and it is here that festivalgoers come to enjoy pre-show drinks or hang around in search of an after-party. However, it is also a genuinely citywide affair, with retrospectives, themed seasons and documentary screenings taking place in all manner of venues across town. And with what seems like the entire population of Zagreb going out to watch films that they might not bother seeing if they were on general release, tickets sell out very quickly – so consult the programme carefully, make your choice and book in advance.
The main regional showcase for documentary films, with an international range of the best contemporary work, and prizes for the best submissions.
Ernst Barlach & Käthe Kollwitz: ‘Beyond the Borders of Existence’
Put together by the Ernst Barlach Foundation in Hamburg, this exhibition takes a fascinating look at the relationship between Kollwitz’s graphic art and Barlach’s sculpture. Despite being very different artists, they were kindred spirits, sharing a deep pacifism based on their experiences of World War I. Under the Nazis, both artists were branded decadent and they were effectively prevented from exhibiting. It’s rare to see such a concentration of key works by either artist – which is why this exhibition is so unique.
Enigmatic, bearded and tweedy Scottish folk visionary Roberts (ex Appendix Out) weaves the spirit of traditional songs into his own hypnotic and compelling ditties.
More things to do in Zagreb
Just west of the train station and forming the east-west arm of the Green Horseshoe, these lovely gardens were founded in 1889. The first plantings took place in 1892. Since, the 4.7 hectares (11.6 acres), dominated by an English-style arboretum, and containing rock gardens, lily-pad-covered ponds, symmetrical French-inspired flowerbeds and ten glasshouses (closed to the public) have been an island of tranquillity in the city centre. It's an idyllic spot to grab a shaded bench in summer. About 10,000 plant species come mainly from Croatia, some from as far as Asia.
Maksimir Park & Zoo
A ten-minute tram ride from the main square heading east of the centre, these attractive 18 hectares (45 acres) of welcome greenery were opened to an appreciative public in 1794, the many woods, meadows and lakes landscaped in what was then considered the English style. Rolling hills cradle footpaths and cafés, providing ample room for jogging, romancing and relaxation. At one end you'll find the City Zoo, with the daily feeding times posted up for the seals, sea lions and otters, so that you can time a family visit around them. On the other side of the road stands Croatia's national football stadium, also called the Maksimir, base of home-town club Dinamo Zagreb.
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary (Katedrala Uznesenja Blažene Djevice Marije) is Zagreb's principal landmark. And though much of the exterior has long been veiled behind construction sheathing, its neo-Gothic twin towers, visible over the city, are as close as Zagreb gets to a visual identity worthy of calling-card status. The first church was destroyed by the Tatars in 1242 and later reconstructions were damaged by fire. After an earthquake in 1880 the city hired architect Hermann Bollé, who added a monumental pair of 105m-high bell towers. The interior remains austere: neo-gothic altars, 19th-century stained glass, and an Ivan Meštrović relief that marks the resting place of controversial Croatian Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. An effigy of the archbishop rests on a raised platform behind the main altar.
It's a pity more don't make it to this attractive cemetery. Mirogoj is widely regarded as one of the city's architectural gems. Behind a series of green, onion-shaped cupolas that cap ivy-covered brick walls, are tiled arcades, monuments to Croatia's most prominent citizens and the final resting place of 300,000 souls of various religious backgrounds. Stejepan Radić, who was shot in the Yugoslav Parliament in 1928, is buried here; so are Croatian literary giants Petar Preradović and Tin Ujević. Designed by Hermann Bollé of Cathedral fame, Mirogoj opened in 1876. As the rolling landscape continues to gain residents, it also gathers more museum-worthy sculptures, headstones and memorials. Renowned 20th-century Croatian sculptors Ivan Meštrović and Ivan Rendić are responsible for some of them. Of special note: Franjo Tudjman's modern, black-marble monument, worthy of an independent nation's first president. The grave of basketball legend Dražen Petrović, who died in a car accident at 28, is one of the most visited sites. Mirogoj comes into its own on All Souls' Day, November 1, when Croatian families visit loved ones equipped with thousands of flickering candles – a moving experience.
St Mark's Church
Two coats of arms grace the red-white-and-blue chequered roof of this emblematic church: Zagreb's and Croatia's. Since the 1200s when the Romanesque original was built, the church has gone through many architectural styles – note the Gothic south portal and baroque, copper-covered belltower. Inside are hand-painted walls by Jozo Kljaković and a crucifix by Meštrović. The square outside, housing the Ban's Palace and the Croatian Parliament, has been the hub of political activity since the 1500s.
Where to stay in Zagreb
Sheraton Zagreb Hotel
A true five-star on any scale, the Sheraton has 306 rooms, all with marble bathrooms, well lit and expansive living spaces, handsome wooden nightstands and desks, and high-speed internet connections. All in all, like a polished version of home – with turndown service. The lobby flows from the café bar across to the restaurant under cascading glass chandeliers and leather armchairs. There are 17 conferences rooms, a fitness facility, spa and indoor pool. When you factor in the location, service and level of pampering, it really is quite good value for money. Make sure you ask about weekend specials when prices can drop down.
Something of an urban landmark ever since it first opened in the 1970s under the Intercontinental banner, this cool five-star slab has frequently been the top choice for high-end Zagreb visitors: the Stones, Sophia Loren and Nick Cave have all graced its halls. In 2005, a €10-million renovation gave the hotel its contemporary feel and current 378-room, 13 conference-room look. The rooms come equipped with fog-proof mirrors and marble-effect bathrooms. The north-facing units have grand views of the Old Town and Sljeme Mountain. The hotel's 'Heavenly Bed' philosophy prioritises a good night's sleep with deluxe mattresses and pillows and high thread counts. The sparkling, jet-set-worthy fitness and beauty centre contains Turkish and Finnish saunas, cutting-edge Nautilus equipment, and massage treatments alongside pedicures, manicures and facials. The 17-metre pool is surrounded by tasteful wooden lounge chairs and black stones, bathed in an ethereal blue light.
DoubleTree by Hilton
Rising serenely above Radnička cesta, Zagreb's developing commercial and financial district, the sleek bronze block of the DoubleTree was the major hotel opening of 2011 and brings a new dimension of contemporary design and comfort to Zagreb's upper-bracket accommodation. All rooms feature a svelte mixture of charcoal, chocolate and ochre surfaces and fabrics; big windows provide both plenty of light and a a sense of outside bustle. Desks and luggage space are well provided for, even in the smaller 'standard' doubles. Wifi, and media hubs that allow you to play your gadgets through the hotel TVs and speakers, are standard throughout. Importantly, every room has a bathtub. Another major plus is the top-floor gym and spa centre, with a small pool on one level and a large exercise area just above it, big wall-to-ceiling windows offering breathtaking panoramas of the city as you pedal way or pump iron. Down on the ground floor, the the hotel bar and the Oxbo restaurant share a relaxing open-plan social space.
Panorama Hotel Zagreb
The phrase you hear thrown around with regard to this property is 'a good bang for the buck'. The re-named Panorama Hotel Zagreb is located next to the Dom Športova arena on the western edge of the city centre – five stops on the No.9 tram from the train station – and thus a favourite for those travelling to Zagreb for sporting events and various mid-sized-venue concerts. The 279 straightforward and ample-sized rooms are internet-ready and equipped with everything you would expect: tea- and coffee-maker, safe and satellite TV. The part you might not expect – how helpful and nice the staff are. Sweeping views from the upper storeys live up to the hotel's name.
Hostel Swanky Mint
A courtyard on Zagreb’s main shopping street harbours this engaging former dry-cleaning and textile-dying factory, still featuring an atmospheric combination of exposed brickwork and industrial floors. There are some cute double rooms alongside the regular dorms, and the communal areas (complete with kitchen facilities, bar, and leafy backyard) come with exactly the right mix of laid-back vibe and social buzz.