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 full list
This distant relation of Austrian Strudel and Turkish borek is made from rolled dough, delicious when filled with the traditional cottage cheese and sour cream. Whether cooked or baked, sweet or salty, in a soup or with added poppy, pumpkin or spinach, all versions deserve attention. When taken to try štrukli in a traditional local restaurant, most first-time visitors are impressed by the gentle taste of the soft dough, creamy cheese, the eggs and sour-cream sauce. Many venues pride themselves on their štrukli, although the kitchen at the landmark Esplanade Hotel provides some of the best - if not the best - in town. The more contemporary La Štruk specialises in this local pastry, providing more unusual choices such as cheese-and-nettle and cheese-and-paprika varieties.
Drink your way down Tkalčićeva
The fairytale street of Tkalčićeva, which snakes up from focal Jelačić trg, was once the flowing stream of Medveščak. The little sidestreets leading off it, Splavnica (from splav, raft) and Krvavi most ('Bloody Bridge'), link to its watery origins and colourful past as the flashpoint in local disputes over the centuries. For two decades, this atmospheric thoroughfare has provided Zagreb with its prime bar crawl, a constant current of revellers moving from spot to spot. Venues move in and out of fashion, but you're pretty much guaranteed a good time at the Funk Club, a regular café by day, a lively DJ basement by night. The buzz around the horseshoe bar, as thumping beats come up from the cellar, is as sassy as anywhere on Tkalčićeva. The more recently opened Rakhia Bar specialises inrakija grappas, as well as sought-after Velebitsko beer and craft brews from the Visibaba range.
Sip a rakija
A clear grappa-like fruit brandy, rakija comes in a baffling range of styles. Quality rakijais usually 40 percent proof, but can be anything up to 80 per cent. The most typical base ingredients are plums and grapes, although you'll come across grappas made from apples, peaches, pears, cherries and figs too. Also popular are honey based medica, orahovica from walnuts and biska from mistletoe leaves (not its poisonous berries). The best places to try them are Rakhia, a specialist rakija spot on the main bar strip of Tkalčićeva; Alcatraz, in the main bar hub around the Flower Market; and the Bikers Beer Factory on Savska cesta.
Hop aboard a blue tram
Zagreb has no A train or red double-decker bus – instead, it has (mainly) blue trams, that criss-cross the Lower Town and beyond. Nearly all pass through the main square, Jelačić, from where you can reach many distant points of the city. Modern low-floor models have replaced the egg-box shaped vintage variety in the last few years – although the new ones lack the iconic main fog light at the front. Electronic cards have been brought in, valid for trams, buses and the funicular, to replace paper tickets, and available from kiosks. Touch in as you board. Details of tariffs, routes and timetables can be found at www.zet.hr.
Take a tour of Mirogoj
The final resting place for 300,000 souls of many religious backgrounds, Mirogoj is Zagreb’s Highgate, and encapsulates the city’s rich patchwork history. A 15-minute journey from Kaptol on the No 106 bus, Mirogoj is also an architectural gem. Behind a series of green, onion-shaped cupolas, which cap ivy-covered brick walls, are tiled arcades, monuments to Croatia’s most prominent citizens. Some you would recognise from Zagreb’s street signs: Stjepan Radić, for example, who gives his name to Radićeva, was a politician shot in the Belgrade Parliament in 1928. His more recent counterpart, Franjo Tudjman, is honoured for his role in the Yugoslav War with a modern monument of black marble. The best time to visit is on All Souls’ Day, November 1, when everything is shrouded in a halo of candlelight.
Get involved in špica
The local custom of špica is the Saturday-morning habit of having coffee in Zagreb’s city centre. More specifically, it takes place where Gajeva meets Bogovićeva and Preradovićeva by the flower market on Cvjetni trg, and between 11am and 2pm, after everyone has paid a visit to the Dolac market across the main square.
Literally, the word means the point of something sharp. Though nominally about drinking kava and enjoying a morning off from the hassles of the work, this ritual is more about looking sharp, of seeing and being seen. It’s an impromptu stage for fashionistas, wannabe glamourites, local paparazzi and hush-toned trend mongers.
Eat a local lunch
Cheap and satisfying, gableci are cut-price lunches sold at outlets around town where à la carte dishes may be twice as dear. You’ll see boards up, usually during the working week, suggesting the three or four gableci for that day. You will find vendors of gableci around the Dolac market and Kvarternikov trg, for example, neighbourhood spots serving bean stew (grah), turkey with Zagorje pasta (purica s mlincima), and squared pasta with roasted cabbage (krautflekerli). One place to try them Gostionica Purger (Petrinjska 37), titled after the local name for someone from Zagreb.
Trace Zagreb’s history
This former 17th-century Convent of the Clares in the Upper Town has a permanent collection of 4,500 objects illustrating Zagreb’s history from prehistoric times, laid out in themed sections. These include recent Iron Age finds, walk-through reconstructions of 19th-century Ilica shops and study rooms of famous Croatian artists. Perhaps the biggest attractions at the Zagreb City Museum are the old packaging, automatic music machines and propaganda posters from the last century, offering a personal, human touch and a real feel for what life might have been like here in 1955. Many exhibits are interactive and it’s well documented in English. The sundial in the courtyard is the city’s oldest, and is still showing the right time.
Rave in a drugs factory
Still going strong despite the municipal authorities' threat to dramatically raise the rent, this shrine to all things alternative grew out of Zagreb’s anarchist movement and is still run as a non-profit-making collective. A courtyard decorated by some of Zagreb’s best street artists has a café-bar on one side, and a concert venue-cum-club space on the other. Events range from anarcho-punk gigs to dub reggae DJs and cutting-edge dance music, with all kinds of other styles thrown in for good measure. Visual arts association Otomptom throw impromptu film evenings screening animation and shorts. Popular with a broad spectrum of Zagreb’s club-hungry youth, Medika is much more than just a gathering point for the grungey underground.
Saunter through the MSU
The largest museum ever built in Croatia and the first to be built in Zagreb for 125 years, the Museum of Contemporary Art opened its doors in 2009. It comprises 5,000sq m of exhibition space, a library, a multi-media room, a boutique and a children’s workshop. The MCA, known to Croatians as the acronym MSU, is one of the major cultural institutions to have been located in Novi Zagreb, the little-visited area over the Sava river. With its proximity to the redesigned Bundek recreation park, it represents a new stretch to the famous urban axis of Zagreb’s Green Horseshoe, created in the 19th century.