Visiting Varazdin should be high on your list for inland Croatia. Located not too far from Zagreb, Varazdin, known as “Little Vienna,” offers beautiful Baroque architecture, a rich sense of history, and charming cobblestone streets made for wandering.
Built on the Drava River, Varazdin is an old settlement. It became the capital of Croatia in the mid 18th century, and many churches and other beautiful buildings were constructed here.
But sadly, in 1776, a fire destroyed much of Varazdin, causing the administrative structures to be moved back to Zagreb.
By the 19th century, Varazdin had been rebuilt, and became a center of trade and industry. It became an important industrial center in the 20th century, but the historical core retains much of its beauty and charm, making it one of the best places to visit in Croatia.
Today, Varazdin is a popular tourist destination in northeastern Croatia, and one of the top day trips from Zagreb. If you enjoy history, culture, art, and architecture, you will love visiting Varazdin.
And don’t forget your camera: the town is full of Instagram-worthy photo spots!
Things to Do in Varazdin
Things to Do Near Varazdin
Getting to Varazdin
Getting Around in Varazdin
Where to Stay in Varazdin
The Best Time to Visit Varazdin, Croatia
Things to Do in Varazdin
Explore Stari Grad
Varazdin’s beautiful castle is known as Stari Grad, or Old Town, because at one time it contained the entire town within its sturdy defensive walls.
The stone structure dates to the 12th century, but in the 16th century it was transformed into a Wasserburg, with walls and a moat and drawbridge.
Still later, the fortress became a noble residence, a beautiful Baroque castle. The castle is superbly preserved, and today houses the Varaždin City Museum. It is located in the northwest corner of the town.
Inside you will find collections of weapons, clocks, glass, and ceramics, a chapel, and several rooms designed to reflect different periods, such as Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo.
When we visited in the spring, the castle looked enchanting, with its bright red roof and white walls the perfect foil for the surrounding lush greenery and flowering shrubs. You will want to take lots of photos of the picturesque structure!
Stroll the Varazdin Cemetery
The Varazdin Cemetery is located a good 15-minute walk from the castle and the historical center. But it is a pleasant walk along a quiet part of the city, and the beautiful cemetery is definitely worth the effort.
With thoughtfully designed gardens, including mature trees, flowering shrubs, and topiary, and numerous niches and arbors holding sculptures, the cemetery is a pleasure to stroll. It is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe.
Although the cemetery has been in existence since the 18th century, the garden was not created until several decades later.
In the beginning of the 20th century, then caretaker Herman Haller wanted to rid the cemetery of its “heavy” feeling and planted several types of trees, shaping them as they grew, to integrate the graves into the design.
The result is a lush green oasis with a serene ambience that is restful to the heart and soul. A must-experience when you visit Varazdin!
Admire Sermage Palace
Arguably the most striking facade in all of Varazdin is the Rococo exterior of the Sermage Palace, adorned with bright orange medallions against a white background. Located in Trg Miljenko Stančić, quite near the castle, the palace houses an art museum.
Originally built in the 17th century, the palace came into the possession of the Sermage family in the middle of the 18th century. They were responsible for the current Rococo style of the palace.
Inside, art lovers can enjoy two permanent exhibitions, of Old and Contemporary Masters, on the first floor of the palace. One of the oldest works is a Madonna of Corn, one of about 80 paintings in Europe that depict the Virgin is a dress made of a corn cob.
Wander the Streets of Varazdin Historic Center
As in other European historical centers, one of the most pleasurable activities for any visitor to Varazdin is simply to wander the streets of the historical core.
We had occasional thunderstorms on the day we visited, and we had to take shelter off and on, but we still managed to cover quite a bit of the town.
Enjoy the colorful facades, the beautiful architecture, and the historical buildings as you walk the streets. The Croatian National Theatre building is gorgeous. It was built in the late 19th century and designed by Fellner & Helmer, a pair of Viennese architects.
There are small shops and galleries to browse along the way. The center was not crowded when we visited, with just locals going about their day for the most part.
Apart from the buildings, you will find beautiful manhole covers and other interesting sights to photograph on your wanderings around Varazdin!
Stroll the Main Square
One of the most spectacular parts of Varazdin, in terms of ornate architecture, is the main square in the historical core. The official name of the square is King Tomislav Square, but locals call it Korzo. It is impressive in size and there are several buildings to appreciate along its periphery.
Varazdin’s Town Hall takes up much of one entire side of the square. On the opposite side is the Varazdin Cathedral. Along both long sides are a number of Baroque and Rococo palaces with lovely detail.
The square itself has many restaurants and cafes with covered seating, and shops along the sides. Definitely stop by Kavana Grofica Marica, a replica of a Vienna coffee house: their cakes and coffee are both yum!
Snap a Photo of Town Hall
One of the most photogenic buildings in Varazdin is its beautiful Town Hall, one of the oldest in Europe. Built by Margrave Georg of Brandenburg in 1523, the late Baroque building has a lovely tower that features the Varaždin coat of arms at the bottom.
The building continues to function as the town hall, and if you visit on a Saturday between the middle of May and the middle of October, you can watch the changing of the guard ceremony at 11 a.m.
The Varazdin Civil Guards, called Purgari, are listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list and they look stunning in their traditional blue attire. But even if you aren’t able to view the ceremony, the Town Hall is still worthy of many photos!
Visit the Charming Varazdin Cathedral
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, also known as the Varazdin Cathedral, is a Baroque structure with a pale pink exterior. Located on the main square, the cathedral was built by the Jesuits in the mid-17th century. The graceful bell tower was added thirty years later.
The single nave church is neither large nor ornate on the exterior, but it is nevertheless charming. The interior of the church is light and bright, with pale walls. The altar is richly ornamented, with lots of gilt and marble.
The cathedral hosts a Baroque music festival every September, called Varaždin Baroque Evenings: other venues in town also host performances during the festival. If you visit during the festival, be sure to enjoy the music in the beautiful Baroque interior of the cathedral.
Discover the Other Churches of Varazdin
Varazdin’s Cathedral is only one among many beautiful churches you will see in the historic center as you walk the streets.
The Franciscan Church and Monastery of Saint John the Baptist is from the mid-17th century. It has a restrained Baroque exterior with an elegant bell tower (the tallest in the town) and a beautiful sun clock on the side facade. The interior is ornate, but it isn’t generally open except for mass. There is an old pharmacy inside!
The Church of St. George is the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was built in the late 19th century, and is small, with a pretty exterior. The Ursuline Church of the Birth of Christ has a lovely pale pink Baroque facade and was built in the early 18th century.
Step Inside the World of Insects
If you like quirky museums, Varazdin has a museum of insects. The World of Insects, located in the Herzer Palace, is home to the extensive collection of entomologist Franjo Košćec.
The collection is well presented, although there is no English signage. There are 4,500 insects in the collection, organized by habitat, with over 1,000 species represented.
Or Visit the Museum of Angels
One of Varazdin’s unique museums, the Museum of Angels showcases the work of artist Željko Prstec, who spent many years painting motifs of Baroque angels. The museum is located on Silvija Strahimira Kranjčevića Ulica, near the Miljenko Stancic Square.
The museum is small, with objects shaped to look like angels. You can also see the angel motifs as you walk around town, but a good place to see them is the Franciscan Church.
Admire the Statue of Grgur Ninski
You will find statues of Bishop Grgur Ninski in many places in Croatia. The original gigantic bronze statue by sculptor Ivan Meštrović can be found in Split. The one in Varazdin is a replica.
Gregory of Nin was a Croatian bishop that fiercely opposed the Pope and introduced services in Croatian rather than Latin. Rubbing the big toe of the statue is said to bring good luck, so you will find it shiny and different from the rest of the sculpture in appearance!
Try the Local Cream Cake
Many cities and towns in Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary have their own versions of the cream cake: a concoction of layered puff pastry and custard cream. Bled in Slovenia has a famous version, as does Samobor in Croatia.
The Varazdin version of the kremšnita has a thin layer of chocolate on top, and chocolate sauce drizzled over it. It is similar to the Zagreb cream cake.
Browse the Square of Traditional Crafts
If you are looking for a souvenir from Varazdin, stop by the Square of Traditional Crafts, right opposite the pink Ursuline Church. Here you will find local crafts, made by artisans and craftsmen in their workshops on the square.
From a milliner to a blacksmith and a potter, a shoemaker, and a weaver, you will find fascinating workshops to browse here. We bought a small jar of local honey and it was delicious!
Enjoy a Drink at Trg Miljenko Stančić
While the Main Square is a great place to wander, we enjoyed a sit-down break at Miljenko Stančić Square. The square offers beautiful views everywhere you look: with the castle in one direction and the Sermage Palace in the other. Milijenko Stancic was a Croatian artist.
It is quieter than the main square, perfect for a break to rest your feet and enjoy coffee or a cold drink as you people-watch and enjoy the views of the town.
Many locals were enjoying a break with friends or family in the square when we visited, with kids playing and the sound of laughter.
What’s Near Varazdin?
If you have your own car, you may want to also visit two castles that are located not too far away: Trakošćan Castle, and Veliki Tabor. Both castles are picturesque, and have rich histories to boot.
Trakoscan Castle dates back to the 13th century. It changed hands many times, and in the 16th century, it was gifted to Juraj Drašković, a Croatian noble.
The castle was neglected for many decades and fell into disrepair before being restored in the mid-19th century. The family used it as a holiday home until it was taken over by the government in 1944.
Veliki Tabor Castle dates from the mid-15th century, and comes with an interesting history. The castle was owned by the Count of Celje, whose son fell in love with a girl from a poor family.
The Count had her drowned, and her body was reportedly interred in the walls of the castle. According to some visitors, her crying can still be heard in the castle.
Getting to Varazdin from Zagreb
If you have a car, you can drive to Varazdin by the E65 highway. The distance from Zagreb to Varazdin is about 54 miles, and you can expect to drive it in about an hour in normal traffic.
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If you wish to visit Varazdin using public transport, you can take the bus from the main bus station in Zagreb. There are multiple departures in both directions everyday. Expect the journey to take between one hour and 15 minutes to one hour and 45 minutes.
It is about a 10-minute walk from the bus station in Varazdin to Stari Grad.
Getting Around in Varazdin
You can walk everywhere in the historic center of Varazdin, or rent a bike. We walked all over town and also walked to the cemetery, which is about 15 minutes on foot from the castle in Varazdin.
Where to Stay in Varazdin
We visited Varazdin on a day trip from Zagreb, but there is plenty to see and do and we would have loved to spend a night in the town and enjoy the squares in the late evening and night.
Arbia Dorka Heritage Palace is a 4-star bed and breakfast. The location is right by a park, and close to the historic center. Rooms are spacious and come with air-conditioning. The breakfast is highly rated. Book a stay here!
The Best Time to Visit Varazdin
The shoulder season months of May and September are ideal for a visit to Varazdin. You’ll encounter fewer crowds and nice weather for the most part. We visited in late May and found the town pleasantly uncrowded, except for a couple of school groups.
Summer offers the warmest weather, but it is also the time when the historic center sees the largest influx of visitors.
Winters are cold, and you may see rain or snow. However, expect the historic center to be magical around Christmas, with holiday music, lights, and a festive atmosphere.
So there you have it: the ultimate guide to the best things to do in Varazdin, Croatia! If you have not yet visited this Croatian gem, I hope I have inspired you to consider adding it to your itinerary for Croatia! Varazdin is definitely one of the top day trips from Zagreb you can do.
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