14 Top Tourist Attractions in Zagreb & Easy Day Trips

While most people traveling to Croatia head directly for the country's long, beautiful coastline, Zagreb, its capital, offers plenty of big-city attractions. Home to a quarter of the country's population, Zagreb is the political and cultural center of Croatia and is a thriving, energetic inland city with some of the country's best museums, restaurants, and shopping. Most of Zagreb's major attractions are in the city center, which consists of two main sections: Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and Donji Grad (Lower Town). Gornji Grad lies on a high plateau and is home to Zagreb's Cathedral and parliament building, while Donji Grad is a more modern area known for its world-class museums and the Croatian National Theatre. A good place to start your Zagreb adventure is in Trg Bana Jelacica, the city's main square where the Upper and Lower Towns meet.

1 Gornji Grad and the Church of St. Mark's

Church of St Mark's
Church of St Mark's

The splendid cobblestone streets and red tiled roofs of the buildings in medieval Gornji Grad, Zagreb's Upper Town, make for a beautiful place to begin a sightseeing tour of the Croatian capital. Once two separate towns known as Kaptol and Gradec, Gornji Grad is home to many of the city's most visited tourist attractions, including the cathedral, parliament building, and numerous museums and churches. Other highlights include the famous stone gate marking the entrance to the eastern side of Gradec Town; Kaptol Square, notable for its many early 17th-century buildings; and the Dolac fruit and vegetable market. Perhaps the most striking feature, however, is St. Mark's Church, easily recognizable by its brightly colored tile roof bearing the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia, and Zagreb City. Tracing its roots back to an earlier 13th-century church, the church of St. Mark's other notable features include its Romanesque windows; Gothic doorway by Ivan Parler; and a series of statues of the 12 apostles, along with Jesus, Mary, and St. Mark. Be sure to also pop inside for a look at the stunning interior with its statues by famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, along with frescoes painted by Jozo Kljakovic.

Address: Trg Sv Marka 5, Zagreb

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Zagreb - TripAdvisor.com

2 Zagreb Cathedral and Treasury

Zagreb Cathedral and Treasury
Zagreb Cathedral and Treasury

Zagreb Cathedral - the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, formerly known as St. Stephen's Cathedral - was erected on the site of a previous structure destroyed by the Tartars in the early 1200s. Famous for its two ornately decorated spires, the present cathedral was built in the later half of the 13th century, although many alterations and renovations have been made since that have changed the structure dramatically. Most recently, the earthquake of 1880 destroyed large sections including the dome and the bell tower, although reconstruction maintained the original medieval design. Be sure to also visit the cathedral treasury with its many fine works of religious art, garments, and sacred objects.

3 The Museum of Mimara

The Museum of Mimara
The Museum of Mimara

The Museum of Mimara (Muzej Mimara) was created to house a collection donated by a private collector, Ante Topic Mimara, in 1972. In an 1895 Neo-Renaissance building designed especially for it, this extensive collection covers a wide range of items from a variety of locations and time periods, including a fine archaeological collection containing pieces from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, the Middle East, the Far East, India, as well as Inca and Pre-Inca South America. There's also a large glass collection from Europe and other Mediterranean countries, along with furniture from the middle ages and sculptures from ancient Greece. Paintings include works by Dutch artists Rembrandt and Ruisdael, Italian artists Raphael and Veronese, Flemish painters Rubens and Van Dyck, and Spanish painters Velázquez and Goya. French and English artists are represented by the works of Renoir, Degas, Boucher, and Delacroix, while notable sculptures include works by Auguste Rodin and Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Address: Trg Franklina Roosevelta 5

4 The Art Pavilion and the Meštrović Gallery

Art Pavilion
Art Pavilion

Zagreb's Art Pavilion (Umjetnički Paviljon), built for the international exhibition in Budapest in 1896, was given its permanent home here after the original iron framework was transported and reconstructed on its current site. Notable for its colorful yellow Art Nouveau exterior, the Art Pavilion is now used for changing exhibitions of contemporary art and contains important works by revered Croatian artist Ivan Meštrović. The oldest exhibition hall of its kind in Croatia, this impressive facility faces Trg Kralja Tomislava, a large public square notable for its statue commemorating the first King of Croatia. Also of interest to art lovers is the Meštrović Gallery (Atelje Meštrović), housed in a 17th-century home where Ivan Meštrović once lived and sculpted. On display are some 300 sculptures in wood, stone, and bronze, as well as drawings, furniture, and lithographs representing a variety of themes including religion and portraiture. The most recognized Croatian artist and a world-renowned 20th-century sculptor, Meštrović later moved to Paris where he became friends with Auguste Rodin (one of his most famous works, Pieta Romana, is on display in the Vatican).

Address: Trg kralja Tomislava 22, 10000, Zagreb

5 The Archeological and Ethnographic Museums

The Archeological and Ethnographic Museums
The Archeological and Ethnographic Museums Connie Ma

With its focus on Croatia's rich history, Zagreb's Archeological Museum (Arheoloski Muzej) boasts five main collections containing some 400,000 pieces, many of which are from the local area. Of particular interest is the museum's display of Egyptian mummies (the cloth from the Mummy of Zagreb shows script that has yet to be deciphered), Greek vases, and a medieval section focusing on the Great Migrations of the Peoples. One of the most important pieces is the Head of Plautilla from the ancient town of Salona, as well as an extensive coin collection including Greek, Celtic, Roman, Byzantine, and modern pieces. Also of interest is the Ethnographic Museum (Etnografski Muzej) with its extensive collection showing the cultural history of Croatia through exhibits of ceramics, jewelry, gold, musical instruments, textiles, tools, weapons, and elaborate costumes. The traditional folk costumes alone are worth the visit, with various colors and styles illustrating the country's regional diversity.

Address: 19 Nikola Subic Zrinski Square, Box 13, Zagreb

6 The Croatian National Theatre

The Croatian National Theatre
The Croatian National Theatre

Built in 1895 by Viennese architects Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner, the Croatian National Theatre (Hrvatsko Narodno Kazaliste) sits at the northwest corner of Zagreb's "Green Horseshoe" in Donji Grad. Officially opened in 1894 by Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I, this imposing yellow structure in Trg Marsala is a landmark feature in the Lower Town. Built in Neo-Baroque and Rococo styles with two small domes at the front and a larger dome towards the back, the building also boasts a superb interior containing artworks by Vlaho Bukovac, and The Well of Life by Ivan Meštrović (if possible, try to take in one of the venue's regular opera, ballet, or drama performances).

Address: Trg maršala Tita 15, 10000, Zagreb

Official site: www.hnk.hr/en/

7 The Modern Gallery

The Modern Gallery
The Modern Gallery JasonParis

Zagreb's Gallery of Modern Art (Moderna Galerija) is in Donji Grad in the splendid Vraniczany Palace, built in 1882. Home to numerous fine works by 19th- and 20th-century Croatian artists, the Gallery of Modern Art opened in 1973, although the institution dates from the early 1900s when it began acquiring important pieces by such artists as Ivan Meštrović, Mirko Racki, and F Bilak. The collection has grown through the years and now displays works by Ljubo Babic, Miljenko Stancic, V Karas, M Masic, Emanuel Vidovic, and a host of other well known Croatian artists, along with frequent temporary exhibitions.

Address: Andrije Hebranga 1, Zagreb

8 Maksimir Park

Maksimir Park
Maksimir Park

Designed in the style of an old English garden, Maksimir Park (Maksimirska) is a beautiful green space encompassing almost 45 acres. The largest park in Zagreb, it contains two pavilions: Bellevue Pavilion, built in 1843, and Echo Pavilion, added after a Swiss design. The park also boasts many excellent paths and trails, as well as manmade lakes, wooded areas, and flower gardens, making it a great place to relax or have a picnic. For those traveling with youngsters, there's also a small zoo. Referred to by locals as Zagreb's "living monument," Maksimir Park is named after Bishop Maksimilijan Vrhovac, who was responsible for its construction in 1794. Across from Maksimir park is the Dinamo Football Stadium where Croatia hosts international matches.

9 St. Catherine's Church

Interior detail of St Catherine's Church
Interior detail of St Catherine's Church

The Jesuit Church of St. Catherine was built in the first half of the 17th century and is considered one of the finest churches in Zagreb. Highlights include its beautiful interior with many fine examples of Baroque art, along with stucco reliefs by Italian artist Antonio Quadrio dating from the 1720s. Also of note is the ceiling of the nave with its many medallions with scenes depicting the life of St. Catherine by Giulio Quaglia. Other features of interest are the Altar of St. Ignatius by Francesco Robba and, behind the main altar, the fresco St. Catherine Among Alexandrine Philosophers and Writers by Kristof Andrej Jelovsek, dating from 1762.

Address: Katarinin trg bb, 10000, Zagreb

10 Lotrščak Tower

Lotrščak Tower
Lotrščak Tower

Built to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall, the Lotrščak Tower (Kula Lotrščak) dates to the 13th century and has long been one of Zagreb's most recognizable landmarks. Legend has it that this large, square Romanesque tower once held a bell that rang out each night prior to the closing of the gates to warn residents outside the walls to return (anyone left outside would have to remain there for the night). In the 19th century, a fourth floor and windows were added to the tower and a cannon placed on its roof, which has since been fired every day at noon. Visitors can climb the tower for stunning views over the city and visit its exhibition gallery and gift shops. Another important medieval structure is the Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata), the last of five original city gates. Built in the 13th century, the building famously survived a fire in 1731, as did its painting of Mary and Jesus. To commemorate the important relic, a chapel was built to house the painting (the subject of pilgrimages ever since, it can still be seen behind a metal grille).

Address: Strossmayerovo šetalište 9, 10000, Zagreb

11 The City Museum

The City Museum
The City Museum Andrew Nash

The City Museum (Muzej Grada Zagreba), in Zagreb's Upper Town, consists of the Convent of St. Clair, a tower from the 1100s and a 17th-century granary. Built along the eastern town wall, the museum has been in operation since 1907 and houses 12 collections including almost 75,000 pieces. Together the collections describe the history of Zagreb through documents, maps, art, archeological finds, and other historical pieces, including a superb scale model of the old town of Gradec. The City Museum also has interactive museums to interest children, including fun hands-on workshops and a playroom.

Address: Opatička ulica 20, 10000, Zagreb

Official site: www.mgz.hr/en/

12 The Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters

The Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters
The Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters

The Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters (Strossmayerova Galerija Starih Majstora) is on the second floor of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the Lower Town of Zagreb. This 19th-century Neo-Renaissance building was commissioned by Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer in the 1870s to house both the Academy and the Gallery of Old Masters and contains a collection of almost 600 pieces, which he himself donated. On display are works by G Bellini, Veronese, Tiepolo, Bartolomeo Caporali, Proudhon, Carpeaux, Brueghel, Van Dyck, and the Croatian artists Medulic and Benkovic, as well as a sculpture by famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. Also worth a visit is the Museum of Arts and Crafts with its collection of more than 160,000 pieces from Croatia and other European countries. On display are textiles including a famous embroidery from Varazdin and tapestries from Tournai, Antwerp, and Brussels, as well as rare jewelry, musical instruments, and Gothic and Baroque sculptures, paintings, and ceramics.

Address: Trg Nikole Subica Zrinskog 11, Zagreb

13 The Museums of Naïve Art and Broken Relationships

The Museums of Naïve Art and Broken Relationships
The Museums of Naïve Art and Broken Relationships Connie Ma

In addition to its many fine art and history institutions, Zagreb boasts a number of quite unique, even quirky museums well worth visiting. One of the most popular is the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art (Hrvatski Muzej Naivne Umjetnosti) with its many displays of works by such well-known "naïve" artists as Ivan Generalic, Mraz, Mirko Virius, and Smaljic. Also on display are similar style works - sometimes referred to as "primitive" art - by international artists. Another attraction of interest is the Museum of Broken Relationships (Muzej prekinutih veza) with its fascinating collections of personal objects and artifacts from old lovers and partners, each accompanied by details of the failed relationship in question.

Address: Sv Cirila i Metoda 3, Gornji grad, Zagreb

Official site: www.hmnu.org/en/

14 Zagreb Botanical Garden

Zagreb Botanical Garden
Zagreb Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden (Botanički Vrt) was originally built as a research area for Zagreb University's Faculty of Botany. Encompassing some 50,000 square meters, it's part of a series of parks, which form the city's "Green Horseshoe" in Donji Grad. On the grounds are an arboretum, two ponds with numerous aquatic plants, an ornamental bridge, and some 10,000 different plant species, making for a pleasant escape from the city and a great place to relax or take a walk. Afterwards, if you have energy left for another museum, take in the nearby Natural History Museum (Hrvatski Prirodoslovni Muzej). Housed in the Amadeo Palace built in the early 1700s, the museum boasts some two-and-a-half million pieces, including minerals from around the world, an extensive zoological collection documenting a variety of plants and animals from Croatia, and finds from local archaeological digs.

Address: Marulicev trg 9A, Zagreb

Day Trips from Zagreb

Canal in Samobor
Canal in Samobor

While Zagreb itself makes for an excellent day trip for those vacationing in Croatia's many fine coastal resorts, those willing to check out the city's surrounding areas won't be disappointed. One of the most popular is the nearby town of Samobor, established in the 13th century and noted for its quaint, narrow cobblestone streets and beautiful Trg Kralja Tomislava main square, as well as the old fortress ruins on Tepic Hill known as Stari Grad. Today, Samobor is a popular getaway destination for those who enjoy hiking, and it is regarded as one of the best centers for Croatian cuisine. It's also home to the popular Samobor Carnival, held annually since the early 1800s each January and February. Also of interest is the well-preserved Trakoscan Castle, built in the 12th century and notable for its high walls and park-like setting.

More on Croatia