The full list
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Botanical Gardens form the east-west anchor of the ‘Green Horseshoe’, a U-shaped band of greenery laid out by Milan Lenuci in the 19th century. Near but removed from the bustle of the train station, it offers a wonderfully relaxing way to escape with your travelling companion amid the plots, plants, footbridges, lakes and ponds. Just west of the train station, 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.
Set in a neo-Renaissance former school on Rooseveltov trg, the Mimara Museum contains the most impressive art collection in town: 42 rooms house 1,700 paintings, statues and archaeological finds, set up chronologically and thematically. This huge trove was gathered by art collector and philanthropist Ante Topić Mimara, much of it during and immediately after World War II. Highlights include a collection of carpets, medieval icons, Chinese porcelain, and paintings by Raphael, Velázquez, Rubens, Rembrandt and Manet. Greek and Roman finds line the lower floors. The collection is vast – only a third is ever on display.
Croatia’s best professional basketball team is Zagreb’s club Cibona. European club championship banners hang from the rafters inside the team’s 5,000-person capacity Dražen Petrović Basketball Hall, located on Savska across from the Student Centre, which is named after the team’s most famous alumnus, hall-of-fame NBA player and one of the greats of the sport. Petrović himself, killed in 1993 in a car crash at the age of 28, has his own museum filled with trophies and memorabilia on the ground floor of the Cibona Tower. He and the Croatian national team famously won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics, losing out to Michael Jordan and the US Dream Team in the final.
On Sundays the fruit and veg stalls that fill Britanski trg during the week are cleared away, and an attractive bric-a-brac and antique market is laid out. In total, some 100 stallholders trade goods from first thing in the morning. Paintings, jewellery, old currency, badges, glass bottles, posters, crockery, silver, old farming tools and religious icons are all on display on wooden trestle tables. The morning is also a social occasion, locals gathering at nearby cafés such as Kava Tava and Eli’s Caffè to gossip and show off their purchases.
A ten-minute tram ride from the main square heading east of the centre, Maksimir Park comprises an attractive 18 hectares (45 acres) of welcome greenery opened to an appreciative public in 1794. Its many woods, meadows and lakes were landscaped in what was then considered the English style. Today 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 highest peak of Medvednica Nature Park near Zagreb, Sljeme is also the name used to define a series of accessible slopes that welcome hikers and ramblers all year round. They’re best known for their climbing and skiing – the hills are dotted with mountain lodges and Sljeme has been developed as a major international skiing centre, a fixture on the sport’s winter calendar. It provides training slopes for amateurs, night skiing, sledging and snowboarding for enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. There is snow cover on Medvednica for around 100 days a year and the slopes are given a coating of artificial snow when necessary, prolonging the season to four months.
The biggest event on the Croatian film calendar is October’s Zagreb Film Festival, which attracts some 35,000 visitors to watch features, shorts and documentaries, many screened in English or with subtitles. The competition is divided into three categories: features, shorts and documentaries. The winner of each receives the Golden Pram award created by local sculptor Nedjeljko Mikac. Overall the programming is interesting enough without being too obscure and there’s enough in English to justify timing your visit around it. Go along, catch a film, wander into a book promotion, watch a presentation on new film production technology, whatever grabs you.
If Zagreb has an iconic feature, it’s the twin towers of its Cathedral, created by Hermann Bollé after an earthquake struck the city in 1880. Right in the centre of town, not five minutes’ walk from the main square, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary, to give it its full title, is Zagreb’s most visible tourist attraction. Though much of the exterior has long been veiled behind construction sheathing, the neo-Gothic twin towers are visible over the city and are as close as Zagreb gets to a visual identity worthy of calling-card status. They were added by architect Hermann Bollé in the post-1880 rebuild, while the interior received neo-gothic altars, 19th-century stained glass, and a relief by Ivan Meštrović 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.
The Moderna Galerija holds one of the most precious collections of modern Croatian art, the heart of which are the paintings of the generation of cosmopolitan young artists active around 1900. Impressionist Vlaho Bukovac was one such; one of his best known works is La Grande Iza, a nude portrait of the coquettish heroine of a popular French novel, an instant hit at the 1882 Salon de Paris. The gallery is unique in attempting to bridge the artistic eras of the modern and the contemporary, including conceptual and video works beside painterly classics. All is housed in the impressively renovated Vraniczany Palace on pretty Zrinjevac. 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. Several contemporary artists are also featured here– sufficient to whet your appetite before hopping over the river to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see some more.
The daily market or Dolac, on a raised square a set of stairs up from the main square, has been the city’s major trading place since 1926. Farmers from surrounding villages come to sell their home-made foodstuffs and some of the freshest fruit and vegetables you’ll ever taste. In the covered market downstairs are butchers, fishmongers and old ladies selling the local speciality sir i vrhnje (cheese and cream). Flowers and lace are also widely available. Alongside, the renovated fish market, ribarnica, sells fresh produce every day but Monday. A number of cheap bars and eateries surround the large market square, providing sustenance from early doors, while several discerning restaurants, such as Kerempuh, base their menus around what is fresh and available on the stalls that day.
More great things to do in Zagreb
Croatia’s capital has barrels of charm and is perfectly suited for first-time visitors.
People in Croatia's capital city always give themselves time to linger and socialise over drinks.
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.
This ultimate guide to Zagreb restaurants covers it all: from splash-out fine dining to street food, bistros and east-west fusion.
Visitors to Zagreb tend to make a beeline for the cathedral and St Mark's church.