Most people come to Croatia for the chic coastline, but its capital, Zagreb, offers plenty of big-city attractions. Zagreb is home to a quarter of the country’s population, being the political and cultural center of Croatia. A thriving and vibrant city, the city boasts some of the country’s best museums, restaurants and shops. Most of the main attractions of Zagreb are located in the center, which consists of two main parts: Zagreb Gorni (upper town) and Zagreb Donji (lower town). The upper city is located on a high plateau, which also houses the main Cathedral and the parliament building of Zagreb. The Lower City is a more modern area with world class museums and the Croatian National Theatre. A good place to start your acquaintance with Zagreb is the main square of the city, where both parts of it meet.
Church of St. Mark
The magnificent cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs of buildings in Zagreb’s medieval Upper Town make it the perfect place to start exploring the Croatian capital. Once two separate towns known as Kaptol and Hradec, Zagreb Gornji is home to many of the most visited attractions in Zagrebincluding the cathedral, parliament building, and numerous museums and churches. Also look out for the Kaptol Square with buildings from the early 17th century, and the Dolac vegetable market. The most striking monument is the church of St. A brand easily recognizable by its brightly colored tiled roof with the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia and Zagreb. It traces its roots back to an earlier 13th-century church, and among the church’s many noteworthy features are the Romanesque windows, Ivan Pavler’s Gothic doorway, and a series of statues of the 12 Apostles, along with Jesus, Mary, and St. Mark. Be sure to go inside and admire the stunning interior with its statues by the famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrović and frescoes painted by Jozo Kljaković.
Zagreb Cathedral and Treasury
Zagreb Cathedral — Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, formerly known as St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It was installed on the site of a previous structure destroyed by the Tatars in the early 1200s. The cathedral stands out for its two ornate spiers, created in the second half of the 13th century. Since then, there have been many changes and reconstructions that have significantly changed the structure. The strongest earthquake in 1880 destroyed most of the cathedral, including the dome and bell tower. As a result of the reconstruction, the original medieval project was restored. Be sure to visit the cathedral’s treasury with its beautiful works of religious art, garments and sacred objects.
The Mimara Museum was established in 1972 to house art donated by private collectors. Housed in a neo-Renaissance building from 1895, the museum contains a wide range of exhibits from different parts of the world and different time periods. Of particular note is the fine archaeological collection of artifacts from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, the Middle East, the Far East, India, as well as South America. There is also a large collection of glassware from Europe and other Mediterranean countries, along with medieval furniture and sculptures from ancient Greece. Among the paintings, the works of the Dutch artists Rembrandt and Ruisdael, the Italian artists Raphael and Veronese, the Flemish painters Rubens and Van Dyck, the Spaniards Velázquez and Goya stand out. French and English artists are represented by works by Renoir, Boucher and Delacroix, while notable sculptures include works by Rodin and Houdon. Museum address: Trg Franklina Roosevelta 5.
Zagreb Art Pavilion
The Zagreb Art Pavilion (Umjetnicki Paviljon) was created for the international exhibition in Budapest in 1896. After the exhibition, it was returned to Zagreb on a large iron platform and installed in its current location. Known for its colorful yellow Art Nouveau façade, the Art Pavilion is now used for contemporary art exhibitions and contains important works by the respected Croatian artist Ivan Mestrovic. This is the oldest exhibition hall of its kind in Croatia, located on the large city square named after the first King of Croatia, Tomislav. Also interesting for art lovers is the Mestrovic Gallery (Atelje Mestrovic) in an old building of the 17th century, where Ivan Mestrovic once lived and sculpted. Approximately 300 sculptures in wood, stone, and bronze are on display here, along with drawings, furniture, and lithography. The exhibition covers many topics, including religion and portraiture. The most recognized Croatian painter and world famous sculptor of the 20th century, Mestrović later moved to Paris where he befriended Rodin. One of his most famous works, Pieta Romana, is on display at the Vatican. Address of the Zagreb Art Pavilion: Trg kralja Tomislava 22, 10000 Zagreb.
Archaeological and ethnographic museums
Focusing on the rich history of Croatia, the Zagreb Archaeological Museum (Arheoloski Muzej) has five main sections containing approximately 400,000 artifacts. Of particular interest is the exhibition of Egyptian mummies, Greek vases and the medieval section on the Great Migration of Nations. One of the most important attractions of the Zagreb Archaeological Museum is the Plautilla from the ancient city of Salona, as well as an extensive collection of coins, including Greek, Celtic, Roman, Byzantine, and modern examples. Also of interest is the Etnographic Museum (Etnografski Muzej) with its extensive collection of exhibits covering the culture and history of Croatia. Here you will find exhibitions of ceramics, jewels, gold, musical instruments, textiles, tools, weapons and elaborate traditional costumes. The traditional folk costumes alone, with different colors and styles, are worth a visit, demonstrating the country’s regional diversity. The museums of the capital are one of the good reasons to visit Croatia.
Croatian National Theater
Created in 1895 by Viennese architects Herman Gelmer and Ferdinand Fellner, the Croatian National Theater (Hrvatsko Narodno Kazaliste) is located in the northwest corner of the Green Horseshoe of Zagreb in the Lower City. Officially opened by the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph I in 1894, this imposing theater in the lower town immediately became a prominent landmark in Zagreb. The building was built in the Neo-Baroque and Rococo styles, with two small domes in the front and a larger dome in the back. The Croatian National Theater also has excellent interior decoration with illustrations by Vlaho Bukovac and Ivan Mestrovic’s Source of Life. Opera performances, ballet or theatrical performances are regularly held here. Address: Trg marsala Tita 15, 10000, Zagreb
Contemporary Gallery of Zagreb
The Zagreb Modern Art Gallery (Moderna Galerija) is located in the Lower City, in the magnificent Palace of 1882. Here you can see many beautiful works of Croatian artists of the 19th and 20th century. The Gallery of Modern Art opened in 1973, despite the fact that the collection itself has been formed since the early 1900s, when interesting works of outstanding masters began to enter it. Over the decades, the collection has grown significantly and is now the most complete collection of Croatian artists’ work. Address: Andrije Hebranga 1, Zagreb
Designed in the style of an Old English garden, Maksimirska Park is a beautiful green area on 45 acres. The largest park in Zagreb contains two pavilions: the Bellevue Pavilion from 1843, and the Echo Pavilion, built according to a Swiss design. The park also has many excellent trails and walking paths, artificial lakes, wooded areas and flower gardens. All this makes Maksimir a great place for a walk or a picnic. There is also a small zoo for children. Locals call Maksimir the “living landmark of Zagreb”. The park was named after Bishop Maximilian Vrhovac, who carried out its construction in 1794. Opposite Maksimir is the Dynamo Football Stadium where Croatia holds international matches.
Church of St. Catherine
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. immediately attracts the attention of its beautiful interior with fine examples of baroque art and relief plaster by the Italian artist Antonio Quadrio in 1720. The famous ceiling of the nave is decorated with colorful scenes depicting the life of St. Catherine. Other interesting elements inside the church are the Altar of St. Ignatius behind the main altar, as well as the fresco of St. Catherine, surrounded by Alexandrian philosophers and writers, by the artist Kristof Yalovshek, dating from 1762.
Created to guard the city’s southern wall, the Lotrska Tower dates back to the 13th century and has long been one of Zagreb’s most recognizable landmarks. According to legend, this large square Romanesque tower once had a bell that sounded every night until the gates closed, calling the inhabitants outside the walls to return. In the 19th century, a fourth floor and loopholes with guns were added to the tower, from where a volley was fired every noon. Visitors can climb the tower and see all of Zagreb at a glance. At the base of the tower is a small museum and souvenir shops. Another important medieval structure is the Stone Gate, the last of the five original city gates. Created in the 13th century, the structure survived a terrible fire in 1731. To commemorate the importance of the Stone Gate, a chapel was built nearby with a wall painting of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. This place is still a destination of pilgrimage.
City Museum of Zagreb
The City Museum in the Upper City of Zagreb includes the Convent of St. Clara, towers from the 1100s and granaries from the 17th century. Created along the eastern city wall, the museum has been operating since 1907 and contains 12 exhibits with 75,000 exhibits. The exhibition covers the entire history of Zagreb with many important documents, maps, art, archaeological finds and other historical items, including an excellent scale model of the old town of Hradec. The City Museum also has interactive exhibits to keep young visitors interested, including fun hands-on workshops and a children’s playroom. Address: Opaticka ulica 20, 10000, Zagreb
The Straussmeier Old Masters Gallery is located on the second floor of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the Lower City of Zagreb. This 19th-century Neo-Renaissance building was built by Bishop Josip Straussmeier in the 1870s. The Academy and Gallery of the Old Masters contains 600 pieces of art that the Bishop personally donated. Works by Bellini, Veronese, Bartolomeo Caporali, Van Dyck, as well as Croatian artists and sculptors are displayed here. Also worth a visit is the Zagreb Museum of Applied Arts, with its collection of over 160,000 artifacts from Croatia and other European countries. Textiles are on display here, including the famous Varazdin embroidery and tapestries from Tournai, Antwerp, and Brussels, as well as rare jewels, musical instruments, Gothic and Baroque sculptures, paintings, and ceramics. The sights of Zagreb are directly associated with tourists with this museum.
Museum of Naive Art
In addition to art and history museums, Zagreb has many rather unique, even quirky, museums that are definitely worth a visit. One of the most popular attractions is the Museum of Naive Art in Zagreb (Hrvatski Muzej Naivne Umjetnosti) with the works of such famous “naive” artists as Ivan Generalic, Mraz, Mirko Virius and Smaljic. The works of this style on display are sometimes referred to as “primitive” art. Another attraction of the city is the Museum of Unrequited Love, with its spectacular array of personal items donated by unhappy lovers after their breakup. Address: Cirila i Metoda 3 Sv, Gradient Gornji, Zagreb.
Zagreb Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden was originally created as a research area for the Zagreb University of Botany. Covering approximately 50,000 square meters, the Botanical Garden is one of a series of parks that form the city’s “Green Horseshoe”. It includes a tree nursery, two ponds with numerous aquatic plants, an ornamental bridge and approximately 10,000 different plant species. This is a great place to escape from the city, where you can relax and take a walk. Nearby is the Museum of Natural History, housed in one of the buildings of the Palazzo Amadeo from the early 1700s. The museum houses approximately two and a half million exhibits, including minerals from all over the world, an extensive zoological collection, and many plants and animals from Croatia. Address: Marulicev trg 9 A, Zagreb. If you want to add to this list of Zagreb attractions, add your comments below and participate in the discussion. Happy travels!