Zagreb: A Guide to Croatia’s Underrated Capital City

In this destination guide we make a trip to Zagreb, Croatia’s underrated capital city which is well-worth a visit.

A visit to Zagreb

Zagreb is one of those cities for which I always had a soft spot but never understood why it doesn’t have the same appeal among other travellers.

Sure, Zagreb may lack the name and fame of other European capitals and even inside Croatia the city lags behind destinations like Dubrovnik, Split, Istria and the islands when it comes to tourist numbers and international appeal.

Although Zagreb might be overlooked by many tourists, it certainly is a lively and highly interesting city to visit – and I surely didn’t mind returning to Croatia’s capital on my trip.

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Bars on Tkalčića street in the city centre of Zagreb ©Paliparan

Zagreb arrival

While I flew into Zagreb the last time I visited the city, this time I arrived by taking the ICN tilting train from Split.

There is simply no better way to arrive in Zagreb than by train.

The city’s main railway station (Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor – which simply translates to ‘Zagreb main station’) is located on what is perhaps the finest train station squares in the world.

This square, called Trg Kralja Tomislava (King Tomislav Square), starts immediately in front of the station and actually feels more like a pleasant park.

If you walk out of the station you will enjoy a great view over an equestrian statue of King Tomislav and the Art Pavilion at the far end of the park.

I don’t think there are many other train stations in Europe with such a grand entry into the city!

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The ICN tilting train from Split to Zagreb stops at the station of Gračac. ©Paliparan
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Zagreb railway station. ©Paliparan
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View from the train station towards the statue of King Tomislav and the Art Pavilion. ©Paliparan
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Zagreb’s main train station is beautifully located at the end of a park in the city centre. ©Paliparan

Into the city centre

Zagreb’s main train station is centrally located and most of the city’s sights are within walking distance or a short tram or bus ride away.

It takes an extra 15 minutes on foot to reach the heart of the city centre from the train station.

On your way you to the city centre you walk along a number of beautiful small parks such as Josip Strossmayer Park and Zrinjevac Park and pass by a couple of Zagreb landmarks such as the Art Pavillion and the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences.

If you just walk straight ahead from the train station, you end up at Josip Jelačić Square (called Trg bana Josipa Jelačića in Croatian), which is the very heart of Zagreb’s city centre.

This square is always busy with people walking around and the city’s blue trams passing by.

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Zagreb Art Pavillion. ©Paliparan
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Josip Strossmayer Park and the Library of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences. ©Paliparan
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The Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences with the statue of Josip Juraj Strossmayer in front of it. ©Paliparan
mazuranic monument
Monument to politician and poet Ivan Mažuranić. ©Paliparan
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Walking to the heart of the city centre along a leafy road. ©Paliparan
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Zrinjevac Park. ©Paliparan
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Ban Jelačić Square is the heart of Zagreb’s city centre. ©Paliparan
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Trams driving through a side street of Ban Jelačić Square. ©Paliparan
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City centre street. ©Paliparan

Coffee with a view

Croatia has true coffee culture and even in the far-flung corners of this country you can get a quality brew.

Needless to say, there are many nice cafés in Zagreb to stop for a coffee.

On of my favourites is Ritam Grada, which is a café-bar during the day but turns into a night club after dark.

The entrance is a bit tricky to find, but once you make it up to this place you are treated to fantastic views overlooking Ban Jelačić Square.

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The outdoor terrace of Ritam Grada. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying a coffee overlooking Ban Jelačić Square. ©Paliparan


Just one block behind Ban Jelačić Square you can find another famous city centre square.

Called Dolac, this elevated square is home to the famous Dolac Market (Tržnica Dolac) where you can buy all kinds of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

The Dolac farmers’ market in Zagreb is great fun to visit during the morning, although you will find it pretty much deserted if you arrive later in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, this was the case during my visit.

Instead, I headed to the outdoor terrace of Harat’s Pub where I enjoyed a tasty Croatian craft beer overlooking Dolac Square.

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Dolac Square is home to a daily farmers’ market. ©Paliparan
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This picture which I took on a previous trip shows how Zagreb’s Dolac Market looks like in the morning when it’s bustling with activity. ©Paliparan
Unfortunately, the market was already over when I visited this time around in the afternoon. ©Paliparan
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Located just behind Dolac, Harat’s Irish Pub is a great place to enjoy a beer. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying a pint of beer while overlooking Dolac Square. ©Paliparan

Zagreb cathedral

When you stand on Dolac Square you can already see the spires of Zagreb Cathedral towering high above the houses.

Located in a part of town called Kaptol, Zagreb’s cathedral was built in the 13th century, although much of what you see now is a reconstruction in Neo-Gothic style which was completed in 1906.

The cathedral is formally known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary and besides Mary is dedicated as well to kings Saint Stephen and Saint Ladislaus.

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Alley leading up to the cathedral. ©Paliparan
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Zagreb Cathedral as seen from Dolac. ©Paliparan
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Zagreb Cathedral. ©Paliparan

Tkalčića Street

A trip to Zagreb is not complete without a visit to lively Tkalčića Street.

Also known as Tkalčićeva Street (given that the street can be called both Ulica Ivana Tkalčića and Tkalčićeva Ulica in Croatian), this famous Zagreb street is full of bars, pubs and restaurants.

The street is named after Ivan Tkalčić, a famous Croatian historian and priest.

As the street is located in the heart of the city centre and is close to all the sights, you’ll likely find yourself returning to Tkalčića Street many times on your Zagreb trip.

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Tkalčića Street. ©Paliparan
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People enjoying a drink on Tkalčića Street. ©Paliparan
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Bars on Tkalčića Street. ©Paliparan
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Tkalčića Street is a great place to grab a beer or some food. ©Paliparan
Enjoying some pljeskavica (a traditional Serbian spiced meat patty) and a beer at Mali Medo on Tkalčića Street. ©Paliparan

Upper Town

The Upper Town of Zagreb (called Gornji Grad in Croatian) is the true historic heart of the city centre.

Here, the citizens of Zagreb started to build defensive walls around a hill named Grič in the Middle Ages out of fear of a Mongol invasion.

This part of Zagreb became known as Gradec and is nowadays home to Croatia’s government offices and the National Parliament (Sabor).

The best way to enter Gradec is through the Stone Gate, which is home to a streetside shrine to the Virgin Mary.

In the centre of Gradec you can find the beautiful 14th century Saint Mark’s Church with its magnificent tiled roof showing the coats of arms of the city of Zagreb and the old Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia.

Other famous churches in this part of town are the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius (located next to Zagreb city assembly) and Saint Catherine’s Church.

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Street leading up to the upper town. ©Paliparan
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Approaching the Stone Gate. ©Paliparan
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Inside the Stone Gate you can find a shrine to the Virgin Mary (sadly behind some wooden boards on my picture as it was being renovated). ©Paliparan
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Saint Mark’s Church. ©Paliparan
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Street in the Upper Town of Zagreb. ©Paliparan
Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. Cyril and Methodius
Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. Cyril and Methodius. ©Paliparan
Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. Cyril and Methodius
Cathedral of St. Cyril and Methodius. ©Paliparan
St. Catherine's Church
St. Catherine’s Church. ©Paliparan

Museum of Broken Relationships

If you visit just one museum on your Zagreb trip, make it the Museum of Broken Relationships in the Upper Town.

The Museum of Broken Relationships evokes many different emotions, as some exhibits are just extremely sad or full of melancholy, while others will raise a smile.

While the more modern break-up stories are often more funny, there are also more tearful tales, especially the ones related to World War II or the Yugoslav Wars.

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The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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A child’s wartime love letter. ©Paliparan
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Some exhibits in the Museum of Broken Relationships are hilarious. ©Paliparan
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Portrait and crayon box. ©Paliparan
museum broken relationships exhibit
The sad story behind the portrait and crayon box. ©Paliparan
old racing bike
A very old racing bike. ©Paliparan
bike story
Another bike story. ©Paliparan


At the south side of Gradec there is a park from where you can enjoy some commanding views over Zagreb.

When I arrived at the viewpoint, a small rainbow even appeared over the city centre buildings.

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Lotrščak Tower at the south side of Gradec. ©Paliparan
park Grič
From Park Grič you can enjoy a great view over downtown Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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View over Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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Rainbow suddenly appearing in the sky over Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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Gradec viewpoint. ©Paliparan
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Zagreb Cathedral as seen from the Gradec viewpoint. ©Paliparan

Evening walk

After my visit to Gradec, I had another walk on Tkalčića and the surround streets, stopping for a kebab at a fast food restaurant.

I couldn’t resist another beer as well, for which I headed to Tolkien’s House, another fun Zagreb pub located on a quiet side street just off Tkalčića.

Zagreb is a great destination as well for those who enjoy late night drinks or are into partying.

However, as I needed to get up early the next day, I had no choice to head back to my hotel after a beer or two.

Besides, as I was sleeping in what is possibly the best hotel in Zagreb – the lovely Esplanade Hotel with its fine Art Deco design – I also wanted to make sure I enjoyed my wonderful accommodation to the fullest.

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Walking through some alleys back into the Lower Town. ©Paliparan
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Quick kebab on Tkalčića Street for dinner. ©Paliparan
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Tolkien’s House is a nice Zagreb pub. ©Paliparan
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Pint of beer at Tolkien’s House. ©Paliparan
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Evening walk through Zagreb. ©Paliparan
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Downtown bars and shops. ©Paliparan
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Back at the Esplanade Hotel where I stayed at during this Zagreb trip. ©Paliparan
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The wonderful Art Deco interior of Zagreb Esplanade Hotel. ©Paliparan


Zagreb is a fantastic city to visit as it has some interesting historic sights and a charming, fun-loving atmosphere.

Although this underrated city might lack the instant appeal of other European capitals and the Croatian coast, I have always tremendously enjoyed my Zagreb visits.

This time around it was no different.

Especially those who like to wander around charming streets and to stop frequently for a coffee or drink will love Zagreb’s Mitteleuropean vibe.

If you are looking for an out of the ordinary and lively European capital to visit, then Zagreb will certainly make for a great trip!

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Across Europe by Train: Interrail in the Age of Corona‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: LOT Polish Airlines Economy Class Bucharest to Warsaw (Embraer ERJ-175)
2. Walking Through an Empty Warsaw in Corona Lockdown
3. Review: Four Points by Sheraton Warsaw Mokotow
4. Review: LOT Polish Airlines Economy Class Warsaw to Zurich (Boeing 737 MAX)
5. A Stopover Walk Through the Old Town of Zurich
6. Review: Railjet Train Zurich to Feldkirch
7. An Evening in Friendly Little Feldkirch
8. Review: Nightjet Train Feldkirch to Graz
9. A Short Walk Along the Sights of Graz
10. Review: Emona EuroCity Train Vienna – Ljubljana – Trieste
11. Zidani Most: Europe’s Most Picturesque Train Station
12. Review: Ljubljana to Zagreb by EuroCity Train EC 1211 ‘Sava’
13. Flying With Trade Air on a Let L-410 Turbolet Across Croatia
14. Review: Palace Derossi, Trogir, Croatia
15. A Visit to the Tranquil Island City of Trogir, Croatia
16. Cycling on Ciovo: A Trogir Day Trip by Bike
17. Split: Croatia’s Bustling Seaside City Full of History
18. Review: Croatian Railways ICN Train Split to Zagreb
19. Review: Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb, Croatia
20. Zagreb: A Guide to Croatia’s Underrated Capital City (current chapter)
21. Review: EuroCity Train “Croatia” Zagreb to Vienna
22. Review: Dacia Night Train Vienna to Bucharest

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Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

One thought on “Zagreb: A Guide to Croatia’s Underrated Capital City

  • November 28, 2022 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks Koen, Incredible photos, some of the best of Zagreb that I’ve seen! ZAGs been on my radar for a while but you’ve convinced me that it deserves a look in. I’d love to take the train from Ljubljana…


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