48 Hours In Zagreb: How To Enjoy Two Days In Zagreb
In a country of gorgeous coastlines, a multitude of paradise-like islands, photogenic waterfalls, and fabulous historic cities, a landlocked city might find itself pushed to the background. So is the fate of Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city and probably the most underrated destination in the country.
Need proof it’s so good? Well, Lonely Planet just named it the #1 spot on the best places to visit in Europe in 2017 list. Cool huh?
Anyone who wants to get the “full Croatian picture” can’t skip Zagreb. Far removed from the beach resorts of Dalmatia and the country quietness of Istria, Zagreb provides you with some welcome sophistication and an insight into big-city life in Croatia.
Zagreb is home to about one out of every six Croatians, with its population of around 800,000. If you happen to not know much about this historic city—it’s not the most famous of Croatia’s urban hubs, after all—, it suffices to realize that there is a vibrant café culture and the great people-watching that comes with it, charming historic districts, a rather large collection of excellent restaurants and the best museums in the country. Also, compared with the crowded Croatian coasts, there are times when there are so few tourists, and all you can see are locals.
If you want to experience a wonderful contrast, head to Zagreb after visiting a city like Dubrovnik. It’s a city that still feels “undiscovered,” unlike most other Croatian landmark destinations. If you decide to visit Zagreb, you’ll be richly rewarded with loads of things to do.
You might wonder how long you should spend in Zagreb and that’s what this post is all about. Generally speaking, first-time visitors can get a good grasp of the city in two days. Spending 48 hours in Zagreb is enough time to explore its Upper Town aka the historic core of the city, the Lower Town with the city’s greatest square, and the green parks in the south, which offer a refuge from the hustle and bustle of downtown Zagreb. And, this leaves you time to explore other nearby cities (Venice anyone!?).
But hey, if you have more time you can dig much deeper and discover its hidden gems.
Here Is Just One Way You Can Enjoy 48 Hours In Zagreb
Spend the first day of your 48 hours in Zagreb exploring the city’s Upper and Lower Towns. The first is the heart and soul of Zagreb, the place where the city originated as the twin hill towns of Gradec and Kaptol. The latter is home to iconic Ban Jelačić Square, which is the focal point of virtually everything that goes on in Zagreb, from social life to transportation. On the following self-guide walking tour, you’ll hit pretty much all major highlights in the city on your first day.
Day 1 In Zagreb: Morning
Start your day of urban exploration with a visit to the Market, known locally as Dolac. Located in the heart of Kaptol in the historic Upper Town, only a block up from Ban Jelačić Square, the Market dates from 1930. This is when the city created this centralized open market space by tearing down parts of the ramshackle Old Town in Kaptol.
Nowadays, the Market is jam-packed with vendors and producers from Zagreb and the surrounding areas but also from all over the country. Here, you’ll find everything from cheese, meat and poultry, fresh produce, fruits and all other market foods you can think of. Mingling with the local crowd, it’s a great place to get a first taste—literally—of what Zagreb has to offer.
The Market is free to visit and open every day. The busiest time is the morning, which is why you’re encouraged to visit then. If you are staying in an apartment, grab some ingredients to make dinner – and if you’re feeling extra brave try one of these Croatian recipes.
Head back down to Ban Jelačić Square, which is really the beating heart of Zagreb. Take your time strolling around, Habsburg-style architecture that surrounds you. Make sure to stop by the visitor center at the eastern end of the square to pick up a map and some brochures.
A major tram intersection, this square is always buzzing with activity. Position yourself strategically on a café patio, order a coffee and lunch, and watch the world go by. Because of the elegant buildings, frantic pedestrian activity and absence of tourists, this is probably the best place in all of Croatia to enjoy some people-watching.
Day 1 In Zagreb: Afternoon
After lunch, it’s time to begin your self-guided tour of Zagreb’s historic core. Leave Ban Jelačić Square to the west, entering the Octagon shopping gallery almost immediately on your left. This imposing gallery houses some of the top stores in Croatia, including a tie store that explains how the necktie, or “cravat” was invented by Croats. You’ll emerge from the gallery on the other end, onto Petra Preradović Square, home to an all-day flower market and quaint outdoor cafés.
Turn right diagonally across the street toward the Funicular. This late-1800s funicular works its way up the steep hill and is a Zagreb classic. It’s often referred to as the shortest funicular in the world. You have two options here—walking up or taking the funicular, the latter obviously being the most fun.
You’ll now find yourself in Gradec, one of the original hill towns. This area is filled with interesting historic attractions and the views down are nothing short of amazing. You can pick and choose attractions as you please, but it’s strongly recommended to pay a visit to the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art, arguably the most interesting art museum in Croatia. Here, in this small museum, you can see expressionist paintings made by amateur peasant artists, roughly between the 1930s and 1980s. It’s a fascinating place, one of the most unusual and surprising art museums you’ll ever visit.
A second recommended museum in Gradec is the Museum of Broken Relationships, which is exactly what its name suggests. Alternatively, consider visiting the Zagreb City Museum, exhibiting the city’s history through displays of furniture, paintings, clothing, artefacts and town models.
Other attractions in Gradec include the Strossmayer Promenade, the Church of St. Catherine, St. Mark’s Square and Ban’s Palace. Just east of St. Mark’s Square, you’ll walk through the Stone Gate, the only remaining gate in Gradec. You can visit this historic gate—there’s an improvised chapel inside.
Walking through the gate, you’ll find yourself on Radićeva. Walk downhill and turn left toward the Market (where you were this morning). Cross the Market once again toward the Zagreb Cathedral, known officially, and a bit elaborately, as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saintly Kings Stephen and Ladislav. This is the most important church in Catholic Croatia. A true sight to behold both inside and out, make sure not to skip this on your tour.
Day 1 In Zagreb: Evening
Kick back after a long day of walking and sightseeing on Tkalčićeva, one of the most charming and atmospheric streets in Zagreb. Situated in Kaptol and completely pedestrian, this street is lined with some of the most beautiful old houses in the city, inviting restaurants and patios. If you liked people-watching earlier today, you’ll be thrilled to spend the evening in this area. Try getting a seat at Mali Medo, a popular brewpub whose large outdoor terrace extends along the street.
If you’re into spooky walks, check out Iva and her storytelling walking tours.
Day 2 In Zagreb
The second part of your 48 hours of Zagreb tour will be much more low-key and relaxed than yesterday. Today, you’ll visit some of the less-visited attractions in the city and have plenty of time just to hang out and enjoy the city atmosphere.
Day 2 In Zagreb: Morning
In the morning, take the bus for a short ride to Mirogoj Cemetery. This phenomenal cemetery is one of the greatest, beautiful and most evocative cemeteries in Europe. A quiet and contemplative spot, Mirogoj Cemetery is the final resting place of many great and historically significant Croatians, including Franjo Tuđman, Croatia’s first president following independence from Yugoslavia.
Designed by Austrian architecture Herman Bollé, who’s also buried here, this cemetery encompasses mausoleums, gates, and wonderful tomb-lined arcades. Visiting is free. Make sure to pick up an information booklet at the visitor center before you go.
Day 2 In Zagreb: Afternoon
Zagreb’s modernish city center is home to a U-shaped series of parks, appropriately known as the Green Horseshoe. A short walk south of Jelačić Square—make sure to pick up some picnic food at the Market first! These parks are a perfect place for a relaxing lunch on a blanket and to slow down.
Alternatively, or additionally, you may also want to check out one of the museums in the Green Horseshoe. There’s plenty of them, but you should focus on the Mimara Museum and the Arts and Crafts Museum. Note, however, that these museums aren’t as impressive as those in the Upper Town. So, if you want to keep your museum visits limited, focus on those first.
Make your way back toward Ban Jelačić Square in the late afternoon for pre-dinner drinks. An interesting option on the way is Kino Europa, which is a 1920s cinema with a bar and a small and large screening room. This is the venue of many film festivals and related events in Croatia. If you’re lucky, there may be a screening on the day of your visit.
Day 2 In Zagreb: Evening
For dinner, there are a plethora of options for you to choose from. A recommended place for classy Croatian cuisine is Vinodol Restaurant, serving a variety of Central European dishes ranging from meat-focused to vegetarian, soups and strudel for dessert. In the mood for pizza? Head to Karijola, one of the most popular pizzerias in the city.
If you’ve had a large or late lunch, and feel like a light dinner, consider going to Cheese Bar. Located one block from the Zagreb Cathedral, this fun and amiable establishment is a great spot to sample Croatian wines paired with local cheeses and olives. Vegetarians are encouraged to check out Nishta, one of the best meatless restaurants in Zagreb. Its menu features an extensive mix of international vegetarian dishes; its salad bar is huge.
Bonus: If you find yourself in the city during the Christmas holiday, you’re in the right place! Zagreb won the award for best European Christmas market meaning the city is truly magical during the Christmas holiday.
Tip: If you have more than 48 hours in Zagreb, check out these fun day trips you can do from the Croatian capital.
All that there is left to do now is to book your two days in Zagreb! We have a bunch of accommodation options for Zagreb here, to help get you on your way.