24 hours in: Zagreb

October 01, 2017
Urban Adventures

Even if you’ve only got 24 hours in Zagreb, you’ve still got enough time to make the most of this city. Try to stay awake all hours and you’ll fit in an early morning farmers’ market plus a nightcap that goes until the sun comes up (who needs sleep when you’ve got travel?!).

Early morning: 7 – 9am

Every morning, before 7am, local farmers and produce vendors set up in Zagreb’s open-air market, Dolac. You’ll find a mix of souvenirs stalls and snack spots, plus regular market fare like meats, fish, nuts, oils and vegetables. If you want to taste what locals commonly eat for breakfast, then grab some sir i vrhnje — cottage cheese and sour cream. Have your breakfast while strolling around the stalls and watching vendors shout out to potential customers.

Alternately, if you’re after something more hearty to fill your belly, we suggest you start your day at local bistro Otto & Frank, which serves classics like bacon and eggs, oatmeal with apples and cinnamon, and French toast topped with Nutella and bananas. But our pick is their signature dish, which is a take on the modern Zagreb breakfast: poached eggs with grilled ham, horseradish cottage cheese, sour cream, radicchio and spring onions.

fountain and park in Zagreb

The art pavilion is a pretty spot to take a rest from sightseeing | Photo by Zagreb Urban Adventures

Morning: 9am – 12pm

To spend the morning as locals do, we recommend a sip of hot coffee. You should know that Croats are obsessed with coffee and if you are a coffee freak yourself, you will enjoy the coffee culture of Zagreb.

The ritual of sipping coffee in cafés while chatting about politics, gossiping or simply reading the newspaper is a very Croatian thing to do. If you enjoy people-watching (a very much practiced activity here), sit among the locals in Cvjetni trg (Flower Square) and just soak up the atmosphere. Get the vibe of the city and drink your coffee as slowly as possible (the Croatian way). #localsknow tip: To blend in with the locals, sunglasses are mandatory!

Before noon, head west from the city centre and take the funicular to Upper Town, the medieval part of the city. But be prepared — this is no ordinary ride. It only takes 64 seconds to reach the top, making it the shortest public transport line in the world! For the best panoramic view of Zagreb, visit the Lotrscak Twer and climb to the top floor, where there’s an amazing lookout.

Exactly at noon, make sure you’re under the Lotrscak Tower, as they shoot a cannon off daily. For extra fun, bring along someone unaware of this tradition, and watch them jump.

Midday: 12 – 2pm

On your way back down to Lower Town, pass through the Stone Gate, which honours the famous painting of the Holy Mother that remained untouched after a catastrophic fire. From there, it’s very easy to find Zagreb Cathedral, widely considered the symbol of the city and by far the highest building in Croatia; it’s visible from almost every point of the city.

After sightseeing, you’re probably hungry, so grab some lunch in the nearby restaurant Kaptolska klet, where you can taste traditional Croatian cuisine. Try a local dish called purica s mlincima, roasted turkey with a homemade flatbread (this classic meal is a must-try, as it was served at both Viennese and English courts long ago). For dessert, order stukli, a traditional Zagreb delicacy of boiled dough filled with cottage cheese — it’s the kind of dish that every grandmother prepares for her grandchildren. Another good restaurant located in Lower Town is Vinodol, offering traditional local food.

St Mark's Church in Zagreb

St. Mark’s Church is a must-see site | Photo by Zagreb Urban Adventures

Afternoon: 2 – 6pm

With so much food in your belly, perhaps you’d like to rest a bit, but don’t feel like going back to your hotel? No problem, just head to Zrinjevac Park near the main square and lay down on the grass in the shade of the trees.

If you’d rather keep exploring, head to the funky Museum of Broken Relationships, featuring weird and wonderful things people left behind after a break-up — from pink fluffy handcuffs, to an axe, to a cellphone (“he gave me his, so I couldn’t call him anymore”), or the toaster of vindication (“when I moved out…I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”). And if you are emotionally exhausted after a trip through other people’s relationships, in the museum’s bar you can enjoy beer “as cold as your ex’s heart.” The craft beer scene has been exploding in Zagreb over the last 10 years, and if you can’t wait until evening, why not start now?!

From the Museum of Broken Relationships, head to St. Mark’s Square, home of the Croatian Parliament. This is also where you’ll find, of course, St. Mark’s Church, which dates back to the 13th century and features a fantastic tiled roof.

Romantic souls will appreciate watching the sunset on Strossmayer Promenade. If you are visiting Zagreb in the summer, don’t miss Summer on Stross; a festival held from June until September. During the summer months, Stross becomes one of the most visited places in Zagreb. Concerts, art workshops, parties, theatre shows and plenty of other exciting events take place here.

But, even in winter, this spot is amazing. Covered with snow, it’s very romantic, and in December it hosts one of the city’s 30 Christmas markets (#localsknow fact: Zagreb has been awarded the title of best Christmas market destination in Europe for two years in a row).

Evening: 6pm until late!

If you are someone who loves the nightlife, Zagreb has lots for you! The city’s nightlife centre is Tkalciceva Street; there you will find bars open all day and night, as well as cafés, microbreweries and restaurants that offer traditional delicacies. It’s a great place to sample the authentic flavours of Zagreb — like cafés serving local brandy, a strong grappa-like drink. Have a coffee/wine/beer and relish the atmosphere. You can go to the History Village Bar, which is open until 4am, or Alcatraz on Tkalciceva Street. Another alternative place is Vintage Industrial Bar, which offers variety of good live music. If you want a special dinner, combined with the best Croatian wines, we suggest you make a reservation at Pod zidom.

#localsknow tip: Zagreb is a very safe city, so you can stay out late for a few drinks and enjoy the night without worrying.

locals on a pub patio in Zagreb

Day or night, Tkalciceva is a great place to hang out with locals | Photo by Zagreb Urban Adventures

Shorter stays

Even if you don’t have a full day in Zagreb, you’ve still got time to see some of the sites. Transportation from the airport to the city centre takes about 30 minutes by shuttle bus, taxi or Uber. You’ll need a minimum of three or four hours to see the sites and get back to the airport.

If you’re in Zagreb on a morning or afternoon layover, go grab a coffee on Flower Square, then head to Ilica Street and Tomiceva Street, where there’s a funicular. Take it to the old town and check out St. Mark’s Church, pass through Kamenita vrata (the Stone Gate), then visit the Dolac farmers’ market. You also should be sure not to miss the biggest attraction in Zagreb: the Cathedral. If you have time, stop into the Museum of Broken Relationships (just after the funicular and before you reach St. Mark’s). You’ll need about 1.5 hours for this walk, and another hour if you decide to explore the museum.

If you’re in Zagreb on an evening or nighttime layover, go for a stroll with locals along Tkalciceva Street. This pedestrian-only avenue is lined with restaurants and bars — perfect for whiling away a few hours of your stopover. Some of our picks along here are Melin Café, a jazz lounge with a multi-level outdoor terrace and a distinct retro vibe; Booze and Blues at the end of Tkalciceva, which features live music and a great atmosphere; and Medvedgrad Brewery, a Croatian-style pub serving family-produced craft beer. For the full experience, expect to spend at least two hours hanging around at a local bar.