It’s easy to fall in love with new cities upon your first (or second, tenth or 147th) visit. I should know, I do it all the time! Some might even call me a professional. Every once in a while you find a city that really resonates with you. The kind of place that sticks with you long after you’ve gone.
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and the largest city in the country. With that said, the population is just over 790,000 so the city feels more like a large town where everyone knows each other. We were always walking by people running into their friends and neighbors on the street. The city is full of really amazing architectural details, secret passageways and streets, and some of the best food and drink you’ll find in Europe (in my opinion, anyway).
It’s easy to fall in love with Zagreb. Don’t believe me? Well, I’ll reserve my “I told you so” until the end of this post. Here are my surefire ways to fall in love!
Learn about the sleeping dragon and the black queen.
Zagreb is a city with the coolest history. For instance, there’s actually a dragon living under the city.
Yeah, that’s right! A dragon! Apparently if you talk about it too much it wakes up. I think we’re safe, since you’re only reading about it, but we should probably keep it between the two of us, OK? I guess the last time it woke up, in 1880 there was a huge earthquake in the city. We wouldn’t want a repeat of that.
Witches were burned at the stake in Zagreb many years ago, as has happened in many other places. In fact, more than 250 women were burned at the stake for various reasons. We took the time to learn about one of Zagreb’s most famous witches, the Black Queen. She sold her soul to the devil and now roams around in the shadows and dark spaces of Zagreb. Be careful when you step out at night!
Speaking of folklore, if you’re looking for the perfect tour to take in Zagreb, I recommend going with Iva Silla over at Secret Zagreb Walks. We took the Sleeping Dragons and Other Folklore Tour and it was absolutely amazing. We learned so many more wonderful little stories about the city, the people, and their history. Iva is so thoughtful with her tours and she gave us some of the best recommendations before we parted ways.
Make some new friends on Tkalčićeva Street.
Our Airbnb was actually situated on the street above Tkalčićeva Street, so we spent a lot of time wandering around here. There are plenty of great restaurants and charming little shops to pop into.
Before it was a cute shopping and tourist area, this area was Zagreb’s red light district. Although you can’t really tell anymore, there is still one reminder of this.
She’s a beautiful statue, isn’t she?
Speaking of beautiful statues, you can also meet Marija Jurić Zagorka on your stroll. Marija was a Croatian writer and first female journalist. Her most famous novel was The Witch of Gric, but unfortunately none of her novels have been translated into English. Although you can find The Witch of Gric in German, so start brushing up on that.
Have the ride of your life on the Zagreb funicular.
I’m only sort of joking. Actually the Zagreb funicular is really cool, but it is one of the shortest funiculars in the world coming in at 66 meters (217 feet).
It was constructed in 1890 and has running up the mountain since April of 1893. The car can hold 28 passengers and at one point it actually had first and second class areas, even though it’s pretty tiny inside. The view from the top of the funicular is pretty spectacular, with Zagreb below you.
The lower entrance is found on Tomićeva Street, and the funicular costs a few (I think 4-5) Kuna to ride.
Spend an afternoon wandering around Old Town.
There are so many cool things to do in Zagreb’s Old Town. Stop and buy some roasted chestnuts and admire the Lotrščak Tower. You can find some street art (which I cover below) as well as churches (also covered below) in Old Town. The Strossmeyer Promendae makes for a lovely walk and a place to find some peace and quiet. You also have to check out the oldest pharmacy in Zagreb where Nicolo Alighieri, great-grandson of Dante worked.
No visit to the Old Town is complete without a stop at the Stone Gate. This is a sacred oath and prayer site in the city, so take a moment to stop and light a candle and have a prayer. Or just contemplate life, like I did.
Spare an hour to visit The Museum of Broken Relationships! Dedicated to the beauty and sorrow of relationships that just couldn’t last, this museum is quirky and surprisingly fun. It didn’t leave me feeling sad, even though I went with a packet of tissues expecting to cry my eyes out.
Make sure you take time to just wander around the streets. This is fast becoming one of my favorite things to do. I love walking around various parts of town, stepping into buildings where they will let me in.
Find peace in one of Zagreb’s many churches.
As long as there isn’t a service going on or a locked door, if I see a church I try to go in.
Zagreb Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church as well as landmark in Zagreb. It’s also the tallest building in the city! A cathedral has been standing in this spot since ancient times, but the present version was built in the 13th century. It was heavily damaged in the 1880 earthquake (that darn dragon, again). It’s been undergoing an extensive renovation project for the last few years, and according to our friend Iva at Secret Zagreb it could potentially, probably be under construction for a long time.
I know most of the photos I’ve seen of the cathedral depict it with scaffolding on one side or the other. I thought it was maybe part of the actual church.
St. Mark’s Church, in Old Town is probably the second most well-known church in Zagreb after the cathedral. Originally built in the 13th century, it was radically renovated in the late 14th century. It was closed on the days we had our visits, so we weren’t able to go inside, but the roof more than made up for it.
The Church of St. Catherine, also in Old Town, was built by the Jesuits when they came to Zagreb in the 17th century. It’s a great example of Baroque architecture in the city.
Take a walk through the tunnels under Zagreb.
One of the coolest discoveries we made in Zagreb were the not-so-secret secret tunnels under the city! We were guided through these by Iva at Secret Zagreb, but they were so cool we went back.
They’re kind of creepy but that’s what made it such an awesome experience. Used as shelters during previous wars, the main open tunnel stretches beneath the Old Town. They were only unlocked a few years ago and you can only explore certain parts, but you should definitely make it a point to go here when you visit Zagreb!
See and be seen at Ban Jelačić Square.
The main square of Zagreb, located right at the bottom of Gradec and Kaptol hills, is literally the place to be. Almost every time we walked through this square there were tons of people meeting up with friends or just chatting away. Buy yourself some roasted chestnuts or grab a seat and just hang out.
Enjoy all of the amazing street art.
I don’t think these photos really need words. You can find street art everywhere in the city. These are my favorites, and all three were captured in Old Town.
Pick out the best produce at the market.
We were so spoiled with grocery options in Croatia. They know how to do outdoor markets!
Dolac Market seriously rivals any other market in the world. There is a huge section just for flowers as well as a section for handmade Croatian gifts. But the real star is the fruit and veggie market, which is huge! You can find literally any kind of veggie you want to eat.
Head down the stairs and check out the indoor section of Dolac Market for meats, cheeses and fresh pastas. You won’t need to hit up a grocery store, that’s for sure.
Find the perfect antique gift to bring home.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Zagreb on a Sunday, head to the British Square where you’ll find a weekly antique market. Sellers set up under the bright red umbrellas and have everything from art and books to silverware and antique pocket watches. Even if you don’t buy anything you still get a feeling for the local people, which I think it important when travelling.
Marvel at the beauty of the Croatian National Theater in Zagreb.
There’s nothing like standing next to a big, beautiful to really make you feel alive, right? I’m partial to this building since it’s my favorite color and all. But I think you’d like it, too.
The National Theater puts on theater, ballet and opera performances. It was moved to this building in 1895, when Franz Joseph I visited the city and unveiled the new space. It’s definitely a building that should make it to any visitors must-see list.
Stroll through the Botanical gardens.
What I loved the most about our visit to the gardens was that it felt like we literally stepped into fall. I’m sure they’re just as pretty during any other time of year, but it was especially gorgeous in October when we went.
The gardens are free to enjoy and aren’t super large. Combine a trip here with stopping to see the National Theater and you’ll find yourself on a very pleasant walk!
Let’s move on the important things: FOOD!
Everyone has to eat. Here are our favorite places to eat in Zagreb!
- Mundoaka Street Food is the kind of place you HAVE to go to. Seriously, if there’s one thing you take away from this post, eat at this restaurant.
- Nishta has the most amazing vegan food. We had the best falafel at their Dubrovnik post, so we had to seek out the Zagreb restaurant. We weren’t disappointed!
- If you want some traditional Croatian food, head to Pivnica Medvedgrad. Go to the one on Ilica 49, they have a bigger kitchen and better service.
- We had the best brunch at Kava Tava, before we went and browsed the vintage flea market in the British Square.
- We went to Craft Room one evening and had some tasty appetizers and some delicious Croatian craft beer. I highly recommend this place if you want to try out interesting brews!
So? Have you fallen in love with Zagreb yet? I told you so! I know I tend to be over-the-top positive about most places we get the chance to visit, but Zagreb was just amazing. It reminded us of all of our favorite cities but it certainly had its own charm. Do you have a city like that? Tell me, what makes a city stand out to you? What makes it your favorite?
Happy Thanksgiving to anyone who is reading from the States! I hope you all have a fabulous day eating all of the delicious food you can get your hands on.