‘Zagreb City Guide: Tips from a Local’ blog post was first published on Culture Tourist On August 8th 2017, and updated on July 2nd 2021.
Zagreb is my home town, and after living abroad for seven years, I’m back in Zagreb since last summer. It’s much smaller than some other European capitals, like Paris, London or Rome. But, with just around 800,000 inhabitants, it’s small enough to be very liveable, and big enough to feel like a large city. Here is my Zagreb City Guide with some of my favourite places and tips for visiting Zagreb like a local.
Zagreb City Guide: Tips from a local
Zagreb has that great vibe with its historicistic architecture, coffee culture and numerous lovely park. It’s still a bit undiscovered and cheaper than some cities in western Europe. It’s a great place to visit if you’re going to spend some time on the Croatian coastline. With the help of this Zagreb City Guide, you shouldn’t have any problem in planning to spend two or three days in the Croatian capital.
Climate in Zagreb
Zagreb has a great climate with four different seasons. It has warm Summers, but also cold Winters with a lot of snow sometimes. In Spring, it’s filled with colourful flowers. And in Autumn, it’s covered in red, brown and yellow leaves, while the city smells like cooked corn and baked chestnuts.
Zagreb local TIP: In Winter, you can go skiing on Medvednica Mountain, located on the outskirts of Zagreb. In the first week of January, some of the World sky championship races are organised there. Residents of Zagreb love hiking and visiting some restaurants with delicious traditional food from that region, located there, too.
Public transport in Zagreb
Zagreb public transport consists of trams, buses and a funicular. Trams are mainly operating in a city centre, while the buses connect it with the residential neighbourhoods.
A single ticket valid for ninety minutes in one direction will cost you around one and a half euros (ten kunas). However, if you’re planning to take a short ride for up to thirty minutes, you can buy a special ticket that will cost you only around fifty cents (four kunas). If you’re planning to hop on and off a few times during the day, then the 24-hour ticket is something for you. You can buy it for around four and a half euros (thirty kunas).
Zagreb local TIP: If you want to ride in public transport like a local, you should complain about it a lot, too. When entering the tram, just roll your eyes and state loudly how the tram is late again.
Mix of influences
One of my favourite things in Zagreb are those different influences you can feel in it. You’ll notice Austrian and German influence right away in its historical architecture and food. Mediterranean influence is visible in the way people live in the streets and in its coffee culture, that’s just amazing.
There is a strong influence from the east, especially in food like čevapčići or burek (I urge you to try both) from neighbouring Bosnia.
Zagreb is surrounded by a green ring, the rural area with a lovely tradition, too. It’s one of fantastic things in Zagreb. Although it’s an urban city, it benefits from that beautiful area around it. Not only it’s a great place for day trips from Zagreb, but the city residents could enjoy all the homemade food and local products from there.
Zagreb local TIP: If you want to feel it too, visit Zagreb’s central market, Dolac. There, especially on its ground floor, you’ll find pastries, dairy products, lovely fruits and vegetables and some other delicious local food to try.
Places to see in Zagreb
Zagreb is quite a small city, and most of the places mentioned in this Zagreb City Guide could be seen on foot.
Trg bana Jelačića
The main square in Zagreb, Ban Jelačić Square, is the meeting point and the true heart of Zagreb. It was named by the man whose statue you can see in the middle of it – Ban Josip Jelačić, a significant person in Croatian history. Among other things, one of his major decisions was the abolition of serfdom in Croatia in 1848. Another important site on it is the Manduševac Fountain. If you’re throw a coin in it and make a wish by the local legend, it may come true.
This square is also a location of numerous fairs, concerts and manifestations, so there’s always something happening on it.
Zagreb local TIP: Zagreb locals would rarely call this place by its full name. But, they instead refer to it as The Square – Trg. So, if you’d like to behave as a local in Zagreb, try to learn that hard word and meet your friends at Trg.
On the northern side of Ban Jelačić Square, a model of the city centre is located. It’s a lovely statue on which you can see the city from above and plan in which direction to wander next.
Just next to it is Dolac Market, a place where you can find various fresh food from all over Croatia. I just looove the cottage cheese they have there. But, you can also find some delicious pastry or excellent quality fruit and vegetables. It’s also very famous for typical red umbrellas and a statue of ‘Kumica’, one of the ladies coming from villages around Zagreb to sell their products at the market in a big city.
Kaptol & Zagreb Cathedral
The oldest parts of Zagreb are Gradec and Kaptol. In the past, they were two towns. Gradec was a free royal city, while Kaptol belonged to the church.
There were numerous disputes and even bloody battles between them, especially during the Middle Ages. Even the street connecting them is called Krvavi most, meaning the bloody bridge, because of all the violent encounters.
Kaptol today is an area around the Zagreb Cathedral consisting of many Baroque and Historicistic houses. It’s a part of the city that developed around the Cathedral, mainly consisting of the old churches and homes of the clergy. That’s why it’s always a bit quieter than its neighbouring Gradec and Ban Jelačić Square. It’s lovely to take a walk from the Cathedral, along Nova Ves street, towards Opatovina park. A nice restaurant to have lunch at is Capuciner, located just across from the Cathedral. For the Lord of the Rings fans, a nice bar next to Opatovina park is Tolkien’s House.
Zagreb Cathedral, although it started to be built all the way back in the Middle Ages, today is mostly a Neo-Gothic building built at the end of the 19th century. It has a beautiful Gothic feel from the inside. Still, my favourite part is walking around it (something not many people actually do). You can see all the details in the stone sculptures there and some old houses surrounding them.
Located on a small hill above the main square in Zagreb is another old medieval neighbourhood – Gradec. It’s filled with small picturesque streets, charming cafes and a few very cool museums.
Museum of Broken Relationships is a great place, with quite a nice restaurant with a Parisian vibe. The Meštrović Atelier is dedicated to one of the most famous Croatian sculptors, whose works could be found all around Zagreb. Zagreb City Museum has a great collection dedicated to the city’s history. It’s also interesting because you can see the remains of the oldest city walls on its ground floor.
One of the most famous buildings at Gradec is Saint Mark’s Church. That small medieval church is very famous for its roof decorated with the coat of arms of Zagreb and Triune Kingdom of Slavonia, Dalmatia and Croatia. On the same, Saint Mark’s Square, some of the most important Croatian state institutions are – Croatian Parlament and the Croatian Government. So, don’t be surprised with the number of police and security there.
On the southern side of Gradec is an old Medieval tower, Kula Lotrščak. Every day, right in the noon, you’ll hear a cannon shooting from there. Legend says that a rooster fired from that tower saved Zagreb from Turkish occupation in the 16th century. So to remember that important event in Zagreb’s history, the cannon still shots right at noon each day.
You can enjoy some of the best views on Zagreb from there and ride in the old funicular. It’s one of the shortest public-transport funiculars in the world.
Zelena potkova (Green Horseshoe)
In the mid-19th century, Gradec and Kaptol united to the unified city – Zagreb. It soon started to expand to the south, to the neighbourhood known today as Donji grad (the Lower Town).
Many beautiful historical buildings were built during that time. Some of their facades are just gorgeous, and I’m always finding some new details on them while walking there. Unfortunately, many of them were damaged in two strong earthquakes in 2020. So, today, they are being restored.
While creating the city’s new area, they wanted to make Zagreb a greener city, too. So its urbanists started a project known as the Green Horseshoe. It’s a network of parks spanning through the city centre, forming a U-shape (you can see it well on the map above). Most of the buildings next to the parks are cultural institutions, like museums or theatres.
One of the parks there is the Botanical Garden. It’s open daily, making a lovely relaxing area right in the city centre.
Bundek and Jarun
If you really want to experience Zagreb like a local, visit one of Zagreb’s lakes, Jarun or Bundek. They are the city’s green oasis where you can stroll around them, have a picnic or enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
Coffee culture & craft beer movement
‘Let’s grab a cup of coffee!’ is probably one of the most common sentences you’ll hear in Zagreb. It’s a way to catch up with friends, finish a class in college or a day at work. You’ll see many cute little cafes and bars packed with people around the city. The craft beer movement is also quite strong in Zagreb, so look for local beers in bars.
One of the most popular streets in Zagreb is Tkalčićeva Street, also known as ‘Tkalča’ among the locals. That old medieval street is packed with bars, and it’s a place to ‘see and be seen’ in Zagreb. It’s also a wonderful street with cute little houses painted in different colours.
Grič tunnel is a 350 meters long tunnel built during the Second World War. It was created to serve as a shelter in case of bombing. Today, it’s often used as an exhibition venue or a lovely shortcut under the Gradec neighbourhood.
Where to eat in Zagreb
Zagreb offers plenty of nice places to eat. However, in this Zagreb City Guide, you’ll find just a few places located in the city centre where you can have a quick bite.
Pastry shops in Zagreb
Pastries are considered street food in Zagreb, and you’ll find pastry shops all around the city.
Bread Club – This is not just a regular pastry shop, but the guys working there make art pieces of their pastries. They have a few locations in Zagreb. However, one of the most beautiful ones is just next to the Ribnjak Park entrance. (Address: Vlaška 27, Zagreb)
Dinara – Another excellent pastry shop in Zagreb is called Dubravica. There, you’ll find more traditional pastries. But, definitely, amazingly delicious ones. They also have a few locations in Zagreb, but the ones closest to the city centre are at Dolac and Cvjetni trg. (Address: Preradovićeva 1, Zagreb)
Places for a quick lunch in Zagreb
Rougemarin Doma Bistro – Although they have a few restaurants in Zagreb, this one is an excellent place for a quick bite in Zagreb. Located just outside the main square, there you’ll find soups, sandwiches and other delicious food made by some talented chefs. They have a shop at the exact location, where you can buy some of their products, too. I’m actually quite a regular there. (Address: Petrinjska 2, Zagreb)
Good Food – This lovely restaurant in Zagreb is where you’ll find some delicious and healthy lunch options. From different salads, fresh bowls to some delicious lemonades, this is your place to go in Zagreb for some healthy food. (Address: Teslina 7, Zagreb)
Poke Poke – This small restaurant is one of my recent discoveries in Zagreb. They make some great poke bowls with fresh fish, vegetables and other ingredients. My favourite thing is to take one of their poke to go and have it at Zrinjevac Park close by. (Address: Bogovićeva ulica 4, Prolaz neboder, Zagreb)
Places for something sweet in Zagreb
Amelie – This is one of my favourite places in Zagreb when it comes to cakes. Using only the best ingredients, they make small art pieces out of their cakes and cookies. Their location in Vlaška street is just below the Cathedral. So you can enjoy a nice view while having some of their famous cakes. (Address: Vlaška 6, Zagreb)
Orijent – Another great place for sweet-tooths in Zagreb is Orijent. Not only they have some amazing cakes (my favourite is Pozdrav s juga, litteraly meaning hello from the south), but also some fantastic ice creams. (Address: Petrinjska 2, Zagreb)
Vincek – One of Zagreb’s classic cake shops, it’s still quite popular among the locals in Zagreb. I include it in this Zagreb City Guide because of their lovely terrace just next to the Zagreb funicular and a great variety of gluten-free cakes. (Address: Ilica 18, Zagreb)
What to buy as a souvenir in Zagreb
One of Zagreb’s symbols is licitar hearts. Citizens of Zagreb used to give them as a present to their friends or loved ones. You’ll find them in small souvenir shops around the Dolac Market or in the street between the Ban Jelačić Square and the Cathedral.
One of my favourite shops there is Nautilus Gifts (address: Vlaška 2, Zagreb) because you can find many souvenirs made by Croatian artists and designers there. Another one is Babushka Boutique (address: Vlaška 7, Zagreb), where you’ll find some lovely stationery, jewellery and home decor.
If you’d like to buy some food as a souvenir from Zagreb, then Paprenjak could be a nice choice. It’s probably the most famous cookie from Zagreb. Kraš is a Croatian candy factory, so if you visit any of their stores around the city, you’ll find a lovely selection of chocolate bonbons that could be a perfect souvenir from Croatia.
Did you know that a tie was invented in Croatia? Or a pen? Well, now you know, and that’s why they could also be nice (probably more expensive) presents from Zagreb. Croata is the most famous Croatian tie producer, and they have a store very close to Ban Jelačić Square.
Radićeva Street is packed with small stores selling very cool souvenirs, and you’ll find a lot of cute things there. So, if you’re on a look for some souvenirs, that should be your place to go!
Hopefully, this Zagreb City Guide with some tips from a local will make your stay in Zagreb more interesting, fun and meaningful.
Have you been to Zagreb? Do you have any other tips for visiting? Let us know in the comments below!