Despite often being overshadowed by its coastal neighbors down south, Croatia’s capital city Zagreb has its own charm. This vibrant medieval city has architecture, history, and museums that will appeal to a wide range of visitors. In many ways it’s reminiscent of other Central European capitals such as Budapest, Prague, and Vienna. But there’s a uniqueness in the things to do in Zagreb that makes any visit here enthralling, whether you’re in town for a few days, or just passing through on your way to the coast.
1. Walk the upper town
A walk through Zagreb’s Upper Town is a special experience. This is the medieval heart of the city, and there are beautiful views over the rest of the Lower Town as well. Be sure to visit the Old Town Gate and pay a visit to the shrine to Mary – visitors from around the continent stop in here to pay respects to this humble landmark. There are several restaurants and bars throughout the Upper Town, and during warmer summer months many spill out onto the terraces outside.
Insider tip: Be sure to visit Strossmayer’s walkway in the summer. Painters, artists, and outdoor performances transform this area into a captivating street festival.
2. Catch your breath in Maksimir Park
Maksimir Park is a beautiful park that covers 18 hectares just outside the main hustle and bustle of busy Zagreb. This tranquil green space dates back to the late 1700s, and was one of the first of its kind in southeastern Europe. You’ll find a mixture of landscaped gardens, vast lawns, and open water, which combine to make for a rejuvenating experience.
Insider tip: You can easily reach Maksimir Park by tram from Jelačić square – take number 11 or 12.
3. Museum of Broken Relationships
Zagreb’s quirkiest museum is also one of its most popular. The Museum of Broken Relationships may sound slightly morbid, but it offers fascinating insight into relationships and the human psyche. The museum has toured the world, but Zagreb is now its permanent home. While a visit here may leave you feeling a little nostalgic, it’s one of the best things to do in Zagreb on a rainy afternoon.
Insider tip: The store and café next door to the museum is a great place to reflect on your experience.
4. Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park is at the top of the list for many visitors to Zagreb, despite it being a two-hour drive away. It’s popular for good reason – this pristine national park is home to magnificent lakes and waterfalls that will leave you in awe of Croatia’s natural beauty. The lakes change color throughout the day, depending on the sunshine, and there are well-kept walkways and a restaurant where you can stop and sample local dishes. A trip here takes a full day, but is well worth the excursion.
Insider tip: Access to the lakes without a car can be difficult. There are several private tour companies that will pick you up from your hotel, and even continue on towards the coast if that’s next on your Croatia itinerary.
5. Stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables
Zagreb’s popular fresh fruit and vegetable market is worth exploring, even if you don’t intend to buy anything. This vibrant market attracts traders from across Croatia who descend on this historic square to sell their fresh produce. There are meat, seafood, dairy, and flower sections nearby. You can also pick up a range of natural products, clothes, ornaments, and prepared street food.
Insider tip: If you’re staying somewhere with self-catering facilities, save money by skipping a restaurant dinner and instead cooking a meal with food sourced in the market. You’ll find everything you need to whip up a tasty meal using locally-sourced ingredients.
6. Visit St. Mark’s Church
St. Mark’s Church is possibly the most iconic building in all of Zagreb, thanks to its beautiful tiled roof. It represents the coat of arms of Zagreb and the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia in an intricate mosaic. The inside is equally impressive, with sculptures by renowned Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.
Insider tip: The Cravat Regiment performs an impressive, and rather intimidating, guard of honor every Saturday and Sunday. It takes place at noon between April and October.
Zagreb may be one of the most convenient cities in Croatia to visit by rail. Even if you’re passing through on your way to Croatia’s main attractions of Split and Dubrovnik, be sure to schedule a few days to take in this classic European capital.
Originally published on Eurail.com