Croatia’s stunning coast peppered with islands is loved by travelers. But another major destination of the country is its capital, Zagreb. Due to its location, many leave Zagreb off their Croatia itinerary, but those that have visited will agree that’s a mistake.
Very much the cultural capital of Croatia, the best places to visit in Zagreb highlight the history and Balkan character of the city. It’s unlikely you’ll find sights like those on this Zagreb itinerary by the coast, making a trip here all the more worthwhile. To help you understand why you should go, here’s what to do in Zagreb in 1 day.
Best Time to Visit Zagreb
To get the most from your visit to Zagreb you need to think carefully about the time of year you plan to visit. Zagreb’s weather is considerably different to that of the coast, with chilly winters and stifling summers thanks to the lack of a seaside breeze. Ultimately, the best time to visit Zagreb is either spring or fall, during the months of April, May, June, and September when the weather is pleasant but mild and the summer crowds have yet to arrive.
How to Get Around Zagreb
Zagreb is not very large compared to some other European capitals, but it’s still large enough to cause some tourists headaches. When it comes to sightseeing, many of the city’s attractions are located in or near the part of the Old Town known as the Upper Town. While that area is compact enough to cover on foot, you’re likely to find yourself in other parts of the city while visiting Zagreb.
The city’s public transport network, made up of trams and buses, will help you get around the city. It’s likely the trams that you’ll end up using the most as they connect spots like the city center, the train station, and the bus station. Both buses and trams share the same ticket system, with single tickets that last 30 or 90 minutes costing 4kn and 10kn, respectively.
To make your way into the city from Zagreb airport, the best choice is the airport shuttle bus which takes 30 minutes to reach the Zagreb central bus station and costs 35kn.
Where to Stay in Zagreb
Zagreb has a broad range of accommodation options to choose from, so whatever your style of travel you’ll have somewhere that suits you. Even though many of the attractions in Zagreb are located in the Upper Town, the best places to stay in Zagreb tend to be found in the Lower Town and city center. Beyond suggestions of where to stay in Zagreb, below you’ll find some ideas for different price ranges.
Visitors to Zagreb looking to treat themselves best look to the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel for their stay. Rooms in this stunning five star hotel boast an elegant Art Nouveau style and guests have access to a restaurant, bistro, and spa center on-site.
A great choice for those not looking to break the bank are the apartments at Main Square Residence. Not only do they put you right in the heart of the city on Ban Jelačić Square, you also have access to facilities like a kitchenette, refrigerator, and air-conditioning.
For a great budget friendly option near the city center, be sure to look at Hostel Chic. Featuring spacious dorms and private rooms, in a quiet area, this hostel is perfect for a relaxed visit. For more hostel recommendations, see our Zagreb hostel guide.
For more accommodation options in Zagreb check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Zagreb Itinerary
Spending only one day in a destination can often feel rushed, but luckily Zagreb is the perfect size to be explored in that amount of time. Sure you can spend longer in the city if you like and there are more attractions, particularly museums, than what is included here. What we’ve done though is boil down the very best attractions into this Zagreb travel itinerary. That way, you can feel confident that you’re seeing the best of Zagreb and not missing out on anything major.
However, before we get to our Zagreb itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
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With that key subject covered, it’s time for us to dive into what the best things to do in Zagreb are and how you go about fitting them all in your 1 day in Zagreb.
Recommendation: If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of the city, consider joining a walking tour with a local guide. The walking tour visits many of the places mentioned in this Zagreb itinerary, so you won’t have to worry about missing out on anything. You can book a spot on a walking tour here.
The tallest building in Croatia is the Zagreb Cathedral. It has twin spires that can be seen from spots all around Zagreb. Unfortunately, it seems that one of the spires is permanently under renovation. Dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, the cathedral was founded in 1093 and still retains much of its Gothic style despite being ravaged by fire, war, and natural disasters over the years. While the treasury is only accessible through special appointments, you can freely see the cathedral interior and its altars and tombs.
Coming across from the Zagreb Cathedral to the city’s medieval center, make sure you pass through what is known as the Stone Gate. This entrance through the fortifications around the Upper Town is noteworthy thanks to the shrine that’s housed within it. Following the road you almost feel like you’ve wandered into a chapel as it curves through the 13th century gate. The Stone Gate is home to a painting of the Virgin and Child that is said to possess powers, and was the only thing to survive a fire that swept through the city in 1731.
St. Mark’s Church
Easily one of the most beautiful buildings in the city of Zagreb is St. Mark’s Church. Surrounded by an empty square, the church makes a strong impression thanks to its tiled roof. With multi-colored tiles, the roof of the church bears two coats of arms, one for the city of Zagreb and the other for the former Kingdom of Croatia: Slavonia and Dalmatia.
Unfortunately, tourists will normally only get to see the church’s exterior, as St Mark’s is only open during mass. A nice consolation though is that the square outside the church is where a changing of the guard procession takes place on weekends during warmer months.
Museum of Broken Relationships
Unusual museums are a great way to mix things up when sightseeing, and Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships is perfect for that. Located a short walk from the Church of St Mark, this museum centers around failed romantic relationships. Items from hundreds of breakups are on display in the museum exhibits, each with its own story explained. The concept for the museum started in 2006 as a travelling exhibit before finding a permanent home at Kulmer Palace in 2010.
For city views of Zagreb, the best place to go is to the top of the Lotrščak Tower. Just down from St Mark’s Church along Strossmayer’s Promenade, this 13th century tower sits on the edge of the Upper Town. From it you can see right across the modern city center of Zagreb and enjoy its rather varied cityscape.
However, you also can get views back into the Upper Town from here and see buildings like St Mark’s Church and Zagreb Cathedral from a different perspective. If you don’t want to go up the tower, there are several good viewpoints facing the Lower Town on Strossmayer’s Promenade.
Ban Josip Jelačić Square
Venturing down into the modern part of Zagreb, it’s hard to avoid the central plaza of Ban Josip Jelačić Square. Named after Josip Jelačić and featuring a large statue of his, this square kind of feels like the crossroads of the city. Besides the statue of Josip Jelačić on horseback, the square also features a small inset fountain and some elegant architecture around its sides. Just up some stairs from the square sits Dolac Market, Zagreb’s bustling farmer’s market.
An unexpected curiosity worth finding is the Gric Tunnel which runs underneath the southern edge of the Upper Town. This great long pedestrian tunnel measuring 350 meters end-to-end was built as a bomb shelter for WWII. Nowadays it’s completely open to the public and is a tourist attraction and event space. Sure, it’s just a great big concrete tunnel, but there is something novel about cutting across town in a disused bomb shelter.
Croatian National Theatre
A major cultural landmark of Zagreb that also happens to be particularly striking is the Croatian National Theatre which was built in 1895. Surrounded by other institutions of the creative arts in the city center, it’s hard to miss thanks to its grand architecture and mustard-colored exterior. Theater, opera, and ballet are all performed here.
A great way to finish your day exploring Zagreb is to head for Tkalčićeva Street in Upper Town. This long pedestrian street is lined with countless bars and restaurants, meaning you can start with drinks before moving on to dinner somewhere closeby. Two popular places to get drinks just off Tkalčićeva which both have a literary theme to their names are Tolkien’s House and Oliver Twist.
Have More than 24 Hours in Zagreb?
Even if you can see a lot in 24 hours in Zagreb, it never hurts to give a destination a little more time. If you’re not pressed for time, spending longer lets you do two things. First, you have more time to hunt down other local attractions not listed here. Secondly, you have the freedom to include other interesting Croatian destinations as a day trip or two. To show you what you could do, here are some day trips from Zagreb worth adding to your Zagreb itinerary.
1. Plitvice Lakes
The one place in Croatia that may be just as famous as its coast is the incredible Plitvice Lakes. Set within their own national park out by the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Plitvice Lakes are a place like no other. There you’ll find 16 lakes cascading one into the next within a deep gorge surrounded by untouched forest.
Visits to the Plitvice lakes typically start down near the Veliki Slap waterfall, the largest waterfall in the park. Having walked down into the canyon and admired the waterfall, visitors can start making their way along the boardwalks that connect one lake to the next. There are also forest trails up along the ledge of the canyon for those who want to to enjoy a more complete view of this wonder of nature.
Upon reaching Lake Kozjak, the largest of the lakes, tourists get the chance to take a boat ride across and see everything from a new perspective. It’s quite easy to spend a day here hiking and moving from lake to lake, with little chance of growing bored. To read more about visiting Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb click here.
Recommendation: The Plitvice Lakes can get very crowded, especially during high season, so make sure to get there as early as possible. The best way to get there is via rental car. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com. If you don’t want to drive yourself, book a guided day tour here instead.
For a short trip out of Zagreb, look no further than the small city of Samobor. Located near the scenic Žumberak Mountains, Samobor is a popular escape for Zagreb locals as it enjoys a gentler pace than the capital. You certainly won’t be rushing around to see things here.
It’s best to start with the King Tomislav Square in the town center, lined with locals relaxing at cafes and restaurants. From here you can walk over to the Gradna River that creates many of Samobor’s most picturesque spots. Watching over all of this is St. Anastasia Parish Church where you’ll find a nice viewpoint of the humble city center. Back at the riverfront you’ll spot a lovely old covered bridge that leads into Wiesner Livadic Castle Park.
The park is also where you can pick up the riverside walking trail which heads out to Tepec Hill and the ruins of Samobor Castle. While it requires a little bit of a climb, the ruins are pretty cool and the surrounding nature can be quite a peaceful place to walk through.
Another important city in the north of Croatia is Varazdin, often nicknamed the “Little Vienna of Croatia”. Varazdin earns that title thanks to its elegant, if fading, Baroque architecture. The city was actually the capital of Croatia for a time and has quite a bit of history under its belt.
It’s best to begin a visit at Franjevački Square as that’s where you’ll find much of the city’s most beautiful architecture. A short walk away through the city center’s pedestrian streets you’ll find the Varazdin Town Hall. Over on Miljenka Stančića square there’s also the black and orange facade of the Sermage Palace which can be appreciated from one of the many outdoor cafe tables that fill the square.
However, it’s the whitewashed walls of the city’s Stari Grad Castle that really make the biggest impression. Around the outside you can walk along the high earthen wall that protected the castle and admire the well-preserved Watchtower gate. The castle now hosts the Varazdin City Museum, although very little information there is in English.
Well, there you have it – the ultimate Zagreb itinerary with everything you need to know to comfortably explore Zagreb in 1 day. Hopefully this has shown you that Croatia is more than just its coast and has got you thinking about how to add Zagreb into your next trip to the region.