14 Best Things to Do in Zagreb, Croatia: Not Just Another Generic List!
It may not have quite the charm of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea, but there are many top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia. From street food to fine dining, multiple museums, charming historic sights, and an interesting art scene, you are bound to find something that sparks your interest in Croatia’s capital. It also serves as an ideal jumping-off point to visit the nearby spectacular Plitvice Lakes National Park. Discover the 14 best experiences you do not want to miss!
In This Guide
08- Prepare for an emotional ride at Museum of Broken Relationships
- Final thoughts
Gotta Try the Cheesy, Gooey Strukli
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: try the piping hot strukli with truffles
If you are in Zagreb, you must try the iconic Zagorski strukli. This classic dish originates from the Zagorje region right outside of Zagreb. Locals serve it as an appetizer, a main dish, or as a dessert.
There are a lot of ways to prepare this traditional Croatian dish. You can order it baked or boiled or sweet or savory. It is similar to struklji, which is a Slovenian dish we had while dining at the world-renowned 2-Michelin starred restaurant, Hisa Franko.
The savory variety of strukli is like a baked cheese dumpling. Some describe it as a lasagna because of the alternating layers of dough and filling. It is made of very thinly rolled phyllo dough that is filled with a stuffing of cottage cheese, sour cream, egg, and salt. The key to making a delicious strukli? FRESH cottage cheese, which you can try from one of the many Croatian grandmas who sell it at the Dolac market.
Where to try this delicious dish? La Struk in Zagreb. This adorable bistro only makes strukli, so you know it is going to be good. Expect to wait a minimum of 20 minutes because they make it fresh to order. We sat indoors, but I found out later you can also dine in the hidden garden to the side.
La Struk entrance in Zagreb
La Struk Menu
When you receive the menu, you have two options: kuhani strukli (cooked/boiled) or zapeceni (baked) strukli. If you choose the baked strukli, you then have two more choices: savory (salty or sweet cheese) or sweet (lots of options- walnuts/honey, apple, cinnamon, blueberries, etc). Prices are incredibly affordable and range from 35-40 kn (~ $5.50 – $6.25 USD).
We chose the baked strukli with truffles. It comes out piping hot straight from the oven with the cheese literally bubbling at the top! Ah, so delicious, creamy, and gooey! As a heads up, this comfort-food dish is like a whole meal for two people. I was hoping the strukli was going to be more appetizer-sized, so I could try the sweet version too. There was no room in my stomach though, so next time!
TRAVEL TIP: Throughout our travels, my husband and I have found the best places are the ones that serve ONLY one item! La Struk is one of them. Other 1-dish restaurants we absolutely loved were the roasted lamb at Pedro’s House of Lamb in New Zealand, the banh cuon at Ba-Hanh in Saigon, Vietnam, and the fish cutter sandwich at Cuz’s Fish Stand in Barbados!
Sip Coffee in One of the WORLD'S Best Coffee Bars
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: sip on a coffee at Eliscaffe
Over the past few years, we have started to seek out some of the best coffee shops in the countries we visit. Some of our favorites have been Truth Coffee in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Espresso Station in Hoi An, Vietnam. The intimate, dimly-lit Eliscaffe in Zagreb, Croatia is another one of our top picks!
Where do the coffee connoisseurs drink their coffee? You will find out by reading Where to Drink Coffee. This book is a compilation of the 600 top spots in the world to drink coffee as recommended by the best 150 coffee experts and baristas. Eliscaffe makes that list!
Pretty impressive and you can easily see why. Both a coffee shop and a coffee roastery, Eliscaffe serves some of the best coffee we have ever tasted. They only use single-origin coffees (no blends), and they try to offer two different monovarieties at a time with different tasting profiles.
The coffee beans are roasted every week. Your fresh cup of coffee is never older than ten days after the roasting date.
By the way, Eliscaffe ONLY serves coffee. No pastries here. They do one thing, and they do it amazingly well!
And … they are smoke-free! Smoking is not for me, so this was a huge plus.
Latte at Eliscaffe. Simply luxury coffee.
The owner of Eliscaffe, Nik Orosi, has been awarded as Croatia’s Barista Champion multiple years in a row and has been on numerous “Best of” lists. He established the shop in 2005 and named it after his eldest son, Eli.
Oh, and Nik also makes cool hip electronic music on the side. Check out “Ill Give You My Love” on his album Underline. Interesting guy.
Wander Around Dolac Market & Buy Cornbread
Street level entrance of Dolac Market in Zagreb
Dolac Market is one of the most popular open-air farmer’s markets in Zagreb. We love to go to other countries’ food markets to check out the local seasonal ingredients. Known as the “Belly of Zagreb,” this market has a lot to offer from homemade cheese, fish from the Adriatic Sea, fresh produce and vegetables, baked goods, local meat, and dairy products.
One of “the things to buy” is sir i vrhnje, which is fresh cottage cheese mixed with sour cream. Sprinkle it with a little salt, paprika, or diced onions to dress it up.
Dolac Market started in 1930 and is made up of two sections. The bottom street level is sheltered and houses all the dairy, fish, and meat products. The main part is located on an elevated square and has all the produce, vegetables, and local handicrafts. You cannot miss it due to its bright red umbrellas that are similar in style to Zagreb’s folk costumes.
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: stroll around in Dolac Market
They are open year-round Monday-Saturday 7 am – 3 pm and Sunday from 7 am – 1 pm. Go early to get the best stuff. We slept in and arrived around 12:30 pm on a Sunday, and most of the stands had already closed for the day.
What to buy at the market?
Fresh homemade cornbread from one of the Croatian grandmas! Find them in the dairy section on the street level. So delicious!
I refer to these hardworking ladies as “Croatian grandmas,” but the official name for an older market lady is a “kumica.” It translates to “godmother.” Every shopper has their own favorite kumica.
In honor of these women, a bronze sculpture of the “kumica” was erected at the top of the stairs on the left leading to the main upper part of Dolac Market. Although this is not done now, the kumica used to carry her goods from a huge basket on top of her head and walk from her family farm to the market.
Kumica Barica sculpture at Dolac Market
Eating homemade cornbread from Dolac Market while taking in the view on the balcony at Hotel Capital
Order Burek, Most Popular Street Food
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: taste the cheese burek at Burek
After checking out Dolac Market, you must walk over next door to try the freshly-made street food burek at Burek. An appropriate name, huh?
What is this calorie-laden dish of deliciousness? Burek is made of layers of thin phyllo dough stuffed with cheese, meat, potato, spinach, apple, etc. and is usually consumed with yogurt. Burek in Bosnia though is only made with meat.
Love the menu! There are three items to choose from: meat, cheese, or apple. We ordered one meat and one cheese, all for the steep price of 30 kn (~$4.69 USD). There are no chairs or tables, just a counter to eat it. It was delicious but heavy! I understand you can consume burek any time of the day, but I feel this comfort food would be best after a night of several cocktails.
Burek entrance next to Dolac Market
Visit the Iconic Zagreb Cathedral
Towering over the city, the historic Zagreb Cathedral is the tallest building in all of Croatia. It was damaged in the 1880 earthquake and then restored in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture. It has one of the top ten organs in the world.
We did not go inside, but we found a lovely viewpoint behind St. Catherine’s Church that overlooks the city with the cathedral in the background. The viewpoint contains a fence, where locals and tourists can add a love lock. Kinda like the Butcher’s Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: find the panoramic viewpoint of Zagreb Cathedral
Overlooking the city and Zagreb Cathedral
Wander Through the Pedestrian-Only Gric Tunnel
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: stroll through the Gric Tunnel
The mysterious Gric Tunnel is a very unique attraction in Zagreb. It was initially built in 1943 to function as a bomb shelter during World War II and then later for the Croatian War of Independence. The tunnel became famous when it was used for the first underground rave party during the Croatian War of Independence in 1993.
It fell into disrepair after the war and was then renovated in 2016. Now it serves as a tourist attraction and to host various cultural events. Eventually, the city may turn the tunnel into a Museum of the Senses.
It is open daily from 9 am to 9 pm. You can access it through several different entrances, and it only takes 5 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The tunnel connects Mesnicka and Radiceva Streets. We accessed it from the Mesnicka Street entrance, which is adjacent to the steps to the Strossmayer Promenade.
Artistic entrance to Gric tunnel
Another artistic entrance to Gric tunnel
We did not go in December, but apparently the grey and dark tunnel turns into a beautiful, colorful Christmas exhibition space during Advent in Zagreb (Christmas markets). By the way, Zagreb was actually voted as having the Best European Christmas Market for 2016, 2017, and 2018!
Admire the Lego-Like Tiled Roof of St. Mark's Church
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: admire the St. Mark’s Church
Another iconic building is St. Mark’s Church. It is easily recognized by its beautiful red, white, and blue-tiled roof that has the coat of arms of Zagreb on the right and the coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia on the left. The church is one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb.
If you face St. Mark’s Church, you will notice the coat of arms of Zagreb on the right side of the roof has a white castle with three entrances. Below the ground, one additional hidden entrance is noted.
Legend has it that this hidden entrance gave access to all the covert underground tunnels interweaving under the city. The story goes that most of these passages were destroyed though in the big earthquake in 1880. Keep this in mind as you walk through the Gric Tunnel.
Is it true? I don’t know but definitely interesting.
The beautiful tiled roof of St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb
Emotional Ride at Museum of Broken Relationships
Entrance at Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb
The Museum of Broken Relationships is the brainchild of former Croatian lovers, Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic. It is intended to take people on an “empathetic journey around the world, challenging our ideas about heritage.” The idea came to them after their own personal breakup.
The original location is in Zagreb, but they also help organize temporary satellite exhibitions all around the world.
As you walk through the Museum of Broken Relationships, you will read some anonymous heartbreaking stories about the ways we both love and lose those we cherish. Each story is accompanied by a tangible item that serves as an intimate symbol of a past relationship. The museum serves as a way for individuals to try to overcome their loss and seek closure while still preserving the good memories.
Parachute rig story
One interesting item I found while visiting the exhibits was a parachute rig from Finland. The caption next to the parachute rig read as follows:
“I met him on my first parachute jump. I was really scared but this handsome man, who was my tandem jump instructor, ‘saved’ me. Later, he helped teach me to jump solo. We loved to play in the sky and we loved each other. Then he died in a parachute accident.”
27-year-old scab at the Museum of Broken Relationships
27-year-old scab story
Another exhibit that stood out was the very unusual “27-year-old scab” from Austria. I know, a little gross, but I work in dermatology and love this kind of stuff.
This scab represents the story of a lady’s first love, who had a bad motorcycle accident. He had developed several large scabs from his injuries. She was scared she might lose him, so she kept one of his scabs in case she needed to clone him in the future. Her constant fear of losing him ultimately lead to their breakup.
I am not a museum person, but there are a few that I have come across in my travels that are worth a visit. This is one of them. Check the official Museum of Broken Relationships website for current hours.
Check Out the Croatian Inventor Murals
You can find these cool murals dedicated to famous Croatian inventors on a staircase that takes you from Strossmayerovo to Katarinin trg.
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: check out the Nikola Tesla mural
Croatian Nikola Tesla was a brilliant physicist and engineer, who was most well known for inventing the first alternating current (AC) motor and the Tesla coil. He was also responsible for furthering the technology in radios, X-rays, hydroelectric power, and neon signs.
Slavoljub Penkala mural in Zagreb
Slavoljub Penkala was born in Slovakia but then became a naturalized Croatian after moving to Zagreb. He is the famous inventor of the mechanical pencil, the first sold-ink fountain pen, and the first Croatian aircraft. Croatians still call a pen a “penkala.”
Ivan Vucetic mural in Zagreb
Croatian Ivan Vucetic is known as the father of the fingerprint identification method. He was born on the island of Hvar in Croatia but then moved to Argentina in his 20s. He took on a job with the police department and felt there must be better ways to identify criminals.
The work of British Sir Francis Galton showed that there were no two identical fingerprints in the world. Vucetic applied this knowledge and created a fingerprint device to take and catalog fingerprints, which helped to successfully solve several cases. The Forensic Science Centre in Zagreb is named after him in honor of his achievement.
David Schwarz mural in Zagreb
David Schwarz was born in Hungary but spent the majority of his life in Zagreb. He is famous for the creation of a rigid airship made of metal. He very sadly passed away before he could see it fly.
Stroll the Tree-lined Strossmayer Promenade
Walking along Strossmayer Promenade in Zagreb
Sculpture of writer and poet Anton Gustav Matos
We enjoyed a wonderful walk along the Strossmayer Promenade and took in all the scenic viewpoints overlooking the Lower Town. Its existence is due to money donated by private citizens. One notable landmark is the sculpture of Croatian writer and poet Anton Gustav Matos hanging out on a bench. It is a nice way to take a break from the bustling city.
Strossmayer Promenade is host to many festivals and concerts in the summer and becomes a magical winterland for Christmas during Advent on Stross.
Enjoy Local Dingac Wine at La Bodega Wine Bar
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: enjoy local wine at La Bodega wine bar
La Bodega is located in the heart of Zagreb and has a hip, relaxed vibe with interesting decor. The illuminated walls are lined with an impressive selection of 250 exceptional bottles of local wine. Hocks of prosciutto can be seen hanging above the bar. Cool vibe.
Try the local Dingac wine! When we were in Dubrovnik years ago, we first had this unique Croatian wine at Matusko Winery on a tour of the Peljesac Peninsula.
Upon the recommendation of our waiter, we ordered a bottle of Vina Skaramuca Dingac Plavac Mali.
Vina Skaramuca Dingac Plavac Mali at La Bodega wine bar
Local wine list at La Bodega wine bar
What is all the fuss about? The native Plavac Mali varietal is the child of Zinfandel. The best Plavac Mali comes from the Dingac and Postup regions on the Peljesac Peninsula. What makes these wine regions so special is the extreme conditions in which the grapes are grown.
The vineyards are arranged on steep south-facing slopes facing the Adriatic Sea and receive what is called the “3 suns.” They receive the direct sun, the sun reflected from the sea, and the sun reflected from the rocks. Harvesting used to be done with donkeys to navigate the 45-degree slopes. Thus, the donkey has become a symbol for Croatian winemaking.
The roots really have to dig deep to survive these extreme conditions. The result is a rich concentrated red wine that is high in alcohol and has strong tannins. Dry figs, dark berries, and spice are typically used to describe its flavor.
Another wine bar we would have loved to check out but ran out of time is Vinoteka Bornstein. You can do local cheese and wine tastings in its 200-year-old brick cellar. They also have a wine shop, where you can purchase truffles and olive oil.
Ride One of the Shortest Funiculars in the World
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: ride the funicular
Take the 55-second ride on Zagreb’s oldest means of transportation if you need to get from Lower Town to Upper Town. We passed by it but did not ride it because we needed the exercise to walk off all those calories from chowing down on burek and strukli!
It operates year-round from 6:30 am to 10 pm and leaves every 10 minutes.
Dine at the Only Zagreb Michelin-Starred Restaurant
The Croatians are generous with their truffles!
We had an amazing 7-course tasting menu at Noel, one of the hottest restaurants in Zagreb. Inspired by his mother’s and grandmothers’ cooking, the talented young Head Chef Bruno Vokal creates some beautiful modern Croatian dishes using local, fresh ingredients. He has an impressive resume and has worked at some of the top restaurants in the world.
Although this was not on the menu when we went, his signature dish is the deconstructed strukli.
You have the option of a 4 or 7-course tasting menu. We had just come back from hiking around Plitvice Lakes National Park, so we had worked up quite an appetite and ordered the 7-course tasting menu.
Local ingredients were of course included in this lovely meal including the famous Croatian tuna and Istrian truffles. I was in heaven!
Enjoying the famous Croatian tuna at Noel in Zagreb
It is kind of a big thing! Tuna thrive in the Adriatic Sea, which some believe is the best area for harvesting tuna. Croatia even has an annual festival in Zadar called Tuna, Sushi & Wine celebrating this beautifully-tasting fish.
Also, you know Croatian tuna must be amazing when even the Japanese take notice and actually buy the largest tuna factory in Croatia.
Hike the Spectacular Plitvice Lakes National Park
Top things to do in Zagreb, Croatia: hike at Plitvice Lakes National Park
With 16 lakes that fall one into another, cascading waterfalls, and beautiful lush forests, this park should definitely be on the “Things I Must See Before I Die.” Please put this masterpiece of nature on your bucket list.
The park is roughly 2.5 hours by bus from Zagreb and makes for a great day trip. Get there at opening time to help avoid the bulk of the crowds. If interested, check out my full guide below on planning your trip to Plitvice Lakes.
Upper Lakes at Plitvice Lakes National Park
Quick Rundown on Zagreb
WHERE TO STAY IN ZAGREB
I am not even going to give you a list. Just book Hotel Capital. This elegant hotel opened in 2018 and is characterized by Art Deco and Nouveau architecture with a beautiful modern interior. It is located in the heart of Zagreb and used to be a bank. The original vault is still housed in the basement.
The friendly, super helpful staff made our stay truly exceptional.
ROOM TIP: Book the “City View Room with Small Balcony.” This room has a beautiful view overlooking the city and the Zagreb Cathedral
Gorgeous bar at Hotel Capital
WHEN TO VISIT ZAGREB
The answer depends on what else is on your itinerary. If you are looking to also include hanging out at the beaches on the Adriatic Coast and attending one of the numerous festivals, the summer months June-August are ideal.
If you are looking for mild temperatures and enjoy fewer crowds, the shoulder seasons of April/May and September/October are great. We went in May. Although we did experience some rain, it did not detract from our experiences.
December is a great time to go if you enjoy the Christmas Market. Zagreb hosts some beautiful exhibitions during this time of year.
HOW MUCH TIME TO SPEND IN ZAGREB
2 days. You will only need 1 day to explore all the top sights in Zagreb. Use the second day and do a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park
HOW TO GET TO ZAGREB
By train or plane. We flew into Zagreb Airport and took an Uber to get to our hotel. I am not aware of any direct flights to Zagreb from the United States. We had a layover in London before flying into Zagreb.
HOW TO GET AROUND ZAGREB
Walk! All the main sights are within easy walking distance of each other. We never used a taxi/Uber besides getting to and from the airport.
You can also use the city tram if you do not feel like walking.
City tram in Zagreb
Zagreb was an interesting city and certainly offered some beautiful historic and artistic sights. We feel it was worth exploring for a day, but the main reason we visited was to use it as a base for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Any other fun things to do in Zagreb?
Let me know in the comments below!