Croatia is well known for its Adriatic coastline, but its inland is definitely worth visiting, as well. That’s why I decided to compile a series of posts dedicated to not-so-well-known places there, but absolute musts if you are planning to spend more days in this beautiful country.
We will start with the baroque pearl of North Croatia – Varaždin.
A quick guide to Varaždin
Varaždin is one of those towns which charm you can feel instantly. It is full of charming small streets, beautiful mansions, picturesque churches and friendly people. Once it was the capital of Croatia, but it lost that status in 1776 when it suffered from a great fire that destroyed two-thirds of its buildings. It was rebuilt afterwards in, then fashionable, Baroque style, which made it today a Baroque capital of Croatia.
Nowadays it is a trendy destination because of its street festival ‘Špancirfest’ organized each August and Baroque music festival, held annually in September.
How to get there
Varaždin is located 80 km North of Zagreb and the best way to get there is by car. Cities are connected with the highway, so it’s a nice one hour drive from Croatia’s capital. You can also get there on a train or bus, but I wouldn’t recommend it, because it can take a lot of time and be a bit pricey for the service you are getting.
A day in Varaždin – Itinerary
Varaždin is a rather small town in which you can easily walk everywhere, and you can see most of it in a day. Here is my itinerary for a trip to it and some of the ‘must see’ places there.
#- St. Nicholas Church
I started my visit to Varaždin at St. Nicholas Church. It is easily recognizable by its light grey colour and a small statue of a bear in its tower. The legend says, there was a bear’s lair here, so when the church was built mother bear came to look for the little bears. Since she couldn’t find them, she turned to stone out of sadness. Builders decided to build her into the tower so she can stay there forever.
#- Traditional craft Square and Ursuline Church
Just a short stroll away is the Traditional craft Square, where you can find some of the craftsmen showcasing their work. I found hatter’s stand to be the most interesting. However, you can buy jewellery, local honey and other products, as well. The light pink facade of Ursuline Church gives it a perfect historical setting, so I had a feeling I stepped back in some other time.
#- Old Town Fortress
Old town fortress is an absolute symbol of Varaždin – its image is everywhere, on its coat of arms, postcards and many places around the town. I just love medieval castles and fortresses, but this one is one of my favorites because it’s right in the city centre and perfectly preserved. Its construction began in the 14th century. Today is home to Varaždin City Museum, so it’s a perfect place to learn more about its history.
#- Coffee break at Miljenko Stančić’s Square
This is definitely my favourite square in Varaždin, with its lovely cafes and a beautiful view of the old town fortress. It is perfect for taking a break from sightseeing and enjoying in a cup of coffee like a local, by sitting in a terrace of one of the cafes, reading about Varaždin and chatting with friends. Building with a painted facade on the square is Sermage Palace, which is hosting a nice collection of work of Croatian painters from the 20th century.
#- Museum of Angels
Just a few steps from it is an unique Museum of Angels, where artist Željko Prstec is displaying artistic work dedicated to the subject of angels from 2011.
*TOP TIP: Next to the museum is Restaurant Verglec, place with a beautiful interior and nice meals. Definitely, a restaurant for lunch or dinner I would recommend!
*TOP TIP 2: If you interested in a local food and traditional products, take a look at a store named ‘Špajza‘ located in the same street. They are selling homemade jams, liqueurs, sweets and other typical Varaždin’s products.
#- Shopping – small local shops
I continued my stroll through the cute picturesque streets of the city centre. Many small galleries and shops are offering local products, traditional craft items and recognizable ‘Croatian Naive Art’.
A long time ago, I decided not to buy anymore a cheap mass produced souvenirs, but to instead look for local designers or particular products. So, before I went to Varaždin, I stumble upon a very talented designer behind the brand Ekatrin Katrin. She is making fashionable leather bags that stand out by the combination of different colours and patterns. I bought a cute purse there that will fit my Autumn outfits perfectly.
#- Main Square – Korzo
Varaždin’s main square (or ‘Korzo’ how locals are calling it) is having that very Middle European appearance, with a Baroque Town Hall, which is one of the oldest in Europe. Every Saturday at 11 AM you can see a procession of the civic guard called ‘Purgari‘ here (it is taking place every Saturday between 15/5 and 15/10).
On the other side of the square Varaždin’s Cathedral is located, with its beautiful Baroque light pink facade. It was built in the 17th century as a Jesuit church. Today it hosts a Baroque music festival, which is organized annually since 1971.
*TOP TIP: If you are a sweet tooth like me, pay a visit to a patisserie ‘Kavana Grofica Marica‘ located there. It is offering a wide range of sweets and cakes in its beautiful, elegant interior.
#- Lunch in the park
Varaždin is also known as a ‘Town of flowers’ with its many beautiful parks. One of them is Šetalište Vatroslava Jagića, where I went for a lunch in Restaurant Park. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Varaždin. Restaurant’s terrace overlooks the park, and although it is located in a very city centre, it is such a tranquil place. The food was amazing, service excellent and prices very affordable. I just loved this place and cannot recommend it more!
If you are feeling like going for a beer later on or looking for a place to go for a drink in the evening, beer house Medina škrinja is a perfect choice, and it is placed just next to the Restaurant Park. Located in the old medieval house, I had a feeling of stepping back in some ancient time of knights and court ladies. Try local fruit liqueurs or some of the many different beers they are offering.
Varaždin has so much to offer, from beautiful parks, great food to its Baroque architecture, it would be hard to choose what I liked the most. So if you want to go for a day trip outside the Zagreb, or you are on your way to Croatia’s coastline, I can not recommend visiting Varaždin more!