Zagreb: A Forgotten European Gem

Zagreb

Updated On: November 10, 2023 by   Aya RadwanAya Radwan

Nestled between the Sava River and Medvednica Mountain, Zagreb is a beautiful hidden gem. The Croatian capital’s history goes back to Roman times, but the first records of the name Zagreb date back to the early 12th century. Zagreb’s diverse landscape; some of the city is at a lower elevation than the rest, which distinguishes it from other Croatian cities.

We see Zagreb as a cosy and warm city that needs more promotion as a great tourist destination. For this, we bring you a little of the city’s history, its exciting landmarks and what you can enjoy during your stay there.

Zagreb: History Snippet

Just outside today’s Zagreb, there’s the old Roman town of Andautonia, from the 1st century AD. After Zagreb earned its current name, it consisted of two parts: the Gornji Grad or the Upper Town and the Donji Grad or the Lower Town. The nearby settlement of Kaptol was the home and administrative centre of the Hungarian King Ladislaus, who had economic and political ties with the Upper Town

After Zagreb became the Croatian capital in the mid-16th century, the city witnessed an economic and cultural boom. The city suffered greatly in the following two centuries due to fires and the plague. Zagreb had just recovered when it was hit by a powerful earthquake in 1880, recovered until the hit of WWI. After the tram entered the city, its two towns began merging together, and the city began to thrive as a unified entity.

During WWII, Zagreb and Croatia suffered greatly; thousands lost their lives and the country mourned. The country remained a part of former Yugoslavia until the beginning of the 1990s and the Croatian War of Independence. After the war ended in 1995, Croatia earned her victory and the Republic of Croatia was born.

Today, Zagreb is a vibrant cultural, historical and artistic hub and has become a lively tourist destination, attracting visitors from neighbouring countries and numerous countries around the world.

Unforgettable places to visit in Zagreb

Zagreb is full of unforgettable places to visit, from cultural and historical museums and religious monuments to eccentric and even unusual museums. This city will certainly grab your attention.

Unusual Museums in Zagreb

Communities founded museums to house valuable belongings, antiques and physical pieces of history. However, this concept changed drastically, and interesting types of museums emerged, not only in Croatia but worldwide. From the Noodles Museum in Japan to the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, USA. We also found some interesting museums for you to visit in Zagreb, and get prepared to be shocked.

Museum of Broken Relationships

Zagreb

What started as a joke between two lovers was the seed that birthed this unusual museum. When two artists living in the city, a film producer and a sculptor broke up in 2003, they joked about starting a museum to display the leftover items from their relationship. Three years later, the idea came to life, and the collection was born from the previous couple’s belongings and those of their families and friends.

The museum exhibitions caught the community’s attention, and in the following years, the collection toured the world, where they visited more than ten countries, including the US and the UK. The museum founders rented a private space to showcase the collection after it returned home to Zagreb again. The Museum of Broken Relationships received two awards for its originality and innovation. In 2016, there were two Museums of Broken Relationships in the world, the original one in Zagreb and its ancestor in Los Angeles, USA.

Museum of Illusions

“What you see, is not what is real.”

This is how the Museum of Illusions describes itself. The idea of the museum was to challenge how humans perceive anything and that it’s all about perception; it depends on how you see things. To accomplish this, there are more than 70 illusions in the museum, all challenging one or more of your senses and encouraging you to think outside the box. The museum is ideal for all visitors, families, kids, couples and students.

The Museum of Illusions aims to show us that not everything our eyes can see is something our brains can understand. Through the changing illusions from one exhibition room to the other, you will begin to question everything you see. While there are puzzles and interesting shape-shifting illusions, there are also colour and shape illusions. This illusive nature of the exhibitions might be bewildering, but it teaches us a valuable question: is what we see truly the truth?

Museum of Hangovers

Do you have a drunken story to share? Have you ever felt a wee bit embarrassed by the funny things that happen to you when you’re drunk? Fear not; here in the Museum of Hangovers, you are among friends. When Rino Duboković was listening to his friend’s drunken story, an idea sparkled in his head. Why wasn’t there a place where people could freely and without judgement share their drunken or hungover stories? And the museum was born.

Since its establishment, the museum has seen visitors all year round. Tourists love to visit the museum to wind down and share their most embarrassing hangover adventures and stories. This museum reminds us of the hilarious trilogy The Hangover. The museum is entirely family-friendly, and kids are also allowed to enter, so there’s no fear there might be something inappropriate to see or hear.

Zagreb 80’s Museum

Croatia was part of former Yugoslavia, and this nostalgic museum showcases how Croatia used to be during that time in the 1980s. It is on the first floor of one of the old town’s historical buildings. The exhibitions remind us that despite the technological advances, life was much simpler in the 1980s. There are numerous interactive exhibitions in which you can interact and possibly travel back in time a few decades back. The 1980s witnessed many technological advances such as personal computers, mobile phones and, our favourite, computer games. All these items and more await you at Zagreb 80’s Museum.

Religious Landmarks

Zagreb’s religious landmarks express the city’s rich history since the Roman times and showcase the city’s diverse architectural style. Some of Zagreb’s beautiful religious landmarks include:

Cathedral of Zagreb

Zagreb

Zagreb Cathedral is an exquisite Gothic structure that dates back to the mid-13th century. The cathedral suffered damage numerous times during its life, from destruction by the Mongols to the Ottoman invasion and destructive earthquakes. Following the 1880 earthquake, the cathedral’s two famous spires were added during the restoration process. The 2020 earthquake caused the breakage of the tip of the southern spire while it caused the northern spire to lean dangerously, which prompted the authorities to remove it. The cathedral’s famous spires were a wonder on their own; you could see them wherever you stood in the city, which isn’t a common phenomenon.

The Cathedral of Zagreb is currently temporarily closed for restoration works.

St Mark’s Church

Zagreb

With deities and saints in picturesque Gothic style, St Mark’s Church is another 13th-century church in the city. Although historians date the church’s building near the end of the 14th century, the Romanesque window on the south façade dates to the 13th century. The Gothic style of the church dates to the 14th century and kept its signature simplistic interior. Depicted on the south portal are statues of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph as well as the Twelve Apostles and Saint Mark and the lion.

Mirogoj Cemetery

Zagreb

If there’s one place on earth where you’d find people together irrespective of their religious beliefs, it is Mirogoj Cemetery. Ljudevit Gaj, a Croatian writer and linguist, built the cemetery on his land in the last quarter of the 19th century before his death, after which the city council bought it from his successors. The cemetery accepted burials from all religious or non-religious backgrounds which makes it a must-visit during your trip to Zagreb. All the other constructions on the location, including the church, date to 1879, seven years after it was purchased by the city.

Cultural Landmarks

As the Croatian capital, Zagreb is the country’s main cultural and artistic hub. The numerous cultural landmarks in the city reflect the diversity of its cultural scene.

Croatian National Theatre

Zagreb

The history of Croatia’s National Theatre, a theatre, opera house and ballet house, differs from that of the building housing it. The theatre’s origins date back to 1834, during which it was located at the current Old City Hall building. While the current building housing the theatre was purposely built in 1895. There are five more Croatian National Theatres in other Croatian cities, such as Split and Rijeka.

Lotrščak Tower

Zagreb

The 13th-century watchtower in the city’s Upper Town stood to guard the town hall’s southern gate. The fortified tower has a famous bell that rang when the town gates were closing. The latest additions to the tower took place in the 19th century when a fourth floor was added, and a canon was placed on top. The watchers fired the canon every day at midday since January 1st 1877, to signify midday for the church bell-ringers.

Stone Gate

Zagreb

Zagreb’s Stone Gate is the last standing gate from the city’s 13th-century fortifications. The gate takes you to a shrine and numerous praises to Mary protected behind iron fences. The remaining gate currently is the old town’s eastern gate. When you’re walking through the gate, you are in transport between the city’s Upper and Lower Towns. You can stop and light a candle and stand in a moment of tranquillity between the two worlds.

Zagreb City Museum

You can visit the Zagreb City Museum to take a step back to the prehistory of Zagreb until you reach the modern-day city. The Brethren of the Croatian Dragons established the museum in 1907 to collect all the artefacts, antiquities, documents, furniture and all items pertaining to the city’s rich history. There are more than 75,000 items chronically arranged in the museum to tell the city’s full story.

Parks, Gardens and Water Surfaces

Like its neighbouring Croatian and European cities, Zagreb has a magnificent green carpet with parks, gardens and an incredible zoo to welcome visitors all year round.

Maksimir Park

Zagreb

Maksimir Park isn’t only the oldest in Zagreb but is also the oldest of most of Europe’s public parks. The public park in the heart of the Croatian capital is home to unique species of plants and animals, which form the Zagreb Zoo. At the time of its foundation in 1787, the park was mainly a forest of oaks and hornbeams, which dwindled to form a girdle.

Zagreb Zoo

As part of the Maksimir Park, Zagreb Zoo is one of three in the country. The zoo was established after the opening of Maksimir Park in 1925. Including at the time part of the original forest space from the park, the zoo underwent several restoration projects. Zagreb Zoo is home to more than 2,200 animals, which represent 275 species. In the zoo, you can see animals such as the snow leopard and California sea lions.

Jarun Lake

Zagreb

The Sava River shaped Lake Jarun in southwestern Zagreb and the neighbourhood took its name from the lake. The magnificent recreational lake consists of two lakes. You can swim in the smaller lake, and you’ll find the Jarun Sports Centre there, which helps people row, surf and paddle. The Walk of fame around the lake includes names and pictures of Croatian athletes.

Medvednica Mountain

Zagreb

Northern Zagreb is the Medvednica Mountain, a wondrous natural park that welcomes visitors all year round. The mountain’s highest peak is Sljeme and on the road up the peak, there’s a winter sports centre. The centre has an artificial snow machine which extends the skiing season, hence accepting more visitors around the year.

Places Around the City

Zagreb is an interesting city to explore, and while we can’t get enough of its landmarks, we’re showing you these two locations in the city we think are worth visiting.

Market Dolac

Zagreb

Zagreb’s most famous farmers market is also a tourist hub. The market attracts locals and foreigners to buy their needs from different protein sources to fresh fruits, vegetables, and even flowers and lace products. Located in the city’s upper part, the market has a unique design that combines the aspects of an open farmers market and a covered one.

Funicular Railway

Zagreb

Are you interested in taking one of the shortest funicular rides in the world? Head to the Zagreb Funicular, which is only 66 metres long. The funicular was constructed and operated in the last 20 years of the 19th century. Since then, the funicular underwent several replacement and reparation processes where its steam power system was replaced with an electric one and, later, the electric wiring was replaced.

Answering some of the internet’s FAQs about Zagreb

We’re trying to answer most of your frequently asked questions about Zagreb; if there’s anything we’ve missed, please drop us a question.

Is Zagreb cheap or expensive?

Zagreb is more on the affordable side; the city’s hotels, restaurants and attractions are not as expensive as other Croatian cities along the coast. Of course, there are always luxurious options for everything, and it’s up to you to choose.

What is Zagreb famous for?

Zagreb is famous for its medieval architecture, rich history and diverse artistic scene.

Is Zagreb good for tourists?

Zagreb is great for tourists. The city isn’t only friendly and safe, but is also ideal to escape the hustling of metropolis.

How many days do you need to explore Zagreb?

Ideally, we think four or five days are enough to experience everything Zagreb has to offer. If you take a day trip to any close by cities, we recommend adding another day to your trip.

When is the best time to visit Zagreb?

The best time to enjoy Zagreb is from April to September; when the weather begins to warm up, there’s less rain, and the days are longer, so you can fully enjoy your time outside.

What is the most beautiful part of Zagreb?

Tourists agreed the most beautiful part of Zagreb is the Lower Town. This part of the city boasts magnificent architecture that dates back to the Habsburg Empire.

Is Zagreb good for couples?

Zagreb is a quiet and charming getaway for couples. The city’s historical streets and homey feel are perfect for a quick getaway. Zagreb and other Croatian cities are among our recommendations for the best honeymoon destinations.

Does Zagreb have nightlife?

Yes, Zagreb has a thriving nightlife. The city is famous for its almost daily live music shows, and the where and when of Zagreb’s nightlife depends on the availability of these shows.

We’ve loved exploring Zagreb’s diverse and beautiful cultural and historical landmarks. We certainly did laugh many times, and we hope you did too, as you plan to visit this fantastic European city for your next vacation.

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