Zagreb is made for strolling. Wander through the Upper Town's red-roof and cobblestone glory, peppered with church spires. Crane your neck to see the domes and ornate upper-floor frippery of the Lower Town's mash-up of secessionist, neo-baroque and art deco buildings. Search out the grittier pockets of town where ugly-bland concrete walls have been transformed into colourful murals by local street artists. This city rewards those on foot.
Afterwards, do as the locals do and head to a cafe. The cafe culture here is just one facet of this city's vibrant street life, egged on by a year-round swag of events that bring music, pop-up markets and food stalls to the plazas and parks. Even when there's nothing on, the centre thrums with youthful energy, so it's no surprise that Croatia's capital is now bringing in the city-break crowd. Zagreb is the little city that could.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Zagreb.
From romances that withered to broken family connections, this wonderfully quirky museum explores the mementos left over after a relationship ends. Displayed amid a string of all-white rooms are donations from around the globe, each with a story attached. Exhibits range from the hilarious (the toaster someone nicked so their ex could never make toast again) to the heartbreaking (the suicide note from somebody's mother). In turns funny, poignant and moving, it's a perfect summing-up of the human condition.
A 10-minute ride north of the city centre (or a 30-minute walk through leafy streets) takes you to one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe, sited at the base of Mt Medvednica. It was designed in 1876 by Austrian-born architect Herman Bollé, who created numerous buildings around Zagreb. The majestic arcade, topped by a string of cupolas, looks like a fortress from the outside, but feels calm and graceful on the inside.
Right in the heart of the city, Zagreb’s bustling fruit and vegetable market has been trader-central since the 1930s when the city authorities set up a market space on the 'border' between the Upper and Lower Towns. Sellers from all over Croatia descend here daily to hawk fresh produce.
This very short, and steep, funicular railway line, constructed in 1888, connects the Lower and Upper Towns of Zagreb.
East of the centre, this gallery is housed in one of the few architectural works by Ivan Meštrović and has a busy and diverse rolling program of exhibitions and events throughout the year. It's a must on the art circuit of Zagreb; check out what's on while you're in town. The building itself has also had several fascinating incarnations, reflecting the region’s history in a nutshell.
Lotrščak Tower was built in the middle of the 13th century to protect the south city gate. Normally you can enter and climb up to the top for a sweeping 360-degree view of the city, but it was closed for extensive restoration work in 2018, with no date set for reopening. Directly across the street is the funicular railway, constructed in 1888, which connects the Lower and Upper Towns.
Zagreb’s main orientation point and its geographic heart is Trg Bana Jelačića – it's where most people arrange to meet up. If you enjoy people-watching, sit in one of the cafes and watch the tramloads of people getting out, greeting each other and dispersing among the newspaper- and flower-sellers.
Spread over three floors, the artefacts housed here stretch from the prehistoric era to the medieval age. The 2nd floor holds the most interesting – and well-curated – exhibits. Here, displays of intricate Roman minor arts, such as decorative combs and oil lamps, and metal curse tablets, are given as much prominence as the more usual show-stopping marble statuary. An exhibit devoted to Croatia's early-medieval Bijelo Brdo culture displays a wealth of grave finds unearthed in the 1920s.
Housed in a city icon designed by local star architect Igor Franić, this museum displays both solo and thematic group shows by Croatian and international artists in its 17,000 sq metres. The permanent display, Collection in Motion, showcases 620 edgy works by 240 artists, roughly half of whom are Croatian. There's a packed year-round schedule of film, theatre, concerts and performance art.