Zagreb is often passed over by visitors to Croatia intent on heading for the sparkling Croatian coast. But Croatia’s capital city has much to offer the discerning traveler, even if you have just one day to spare. Read on to discover the best things to do in Zagreb in one day!
Zagreb is located in northwest Croatia, on the slope of the Medvednica mountain. Settled since Roman times, Zagreb’s period of greatest growth came after the earthquake of 1880. Beautiful buildings were built in the Lower Town, and monuments, parks, museums, and theaters came into being.
Today Zagreb is a vibrant European capital city, inviting exploration by travelers that pause to enjoy its strollworthy center and slew of historical sights.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN ZAGREB IN ONE DAY
Medieval Zagreb was a tale of two hilltop settlements. Kaptol and Gradec, separated by the Medveščak stream, were eventually unified into Gornji Grad, today’s Upper Town. The Lower Town, Donji Grad, used to be farmland but began to be developed in the 18th century.
Together, the Upper Town and the Lower Town offer an eclectic mix of sights and attractions. Whether you love history and culture, art and architecture, or great views, you’ll find a lot to keep you busy in Zagreb’s city center. And if you enjoy just wandering the streets, sipping coffee and savoring the ambiance, you’ll love the Croatian capital!
Here, then, are the best things to do in Zagreb in one day:
#1 Walk around Jelačić Square
The Ban Josip Jelačić Square is the perfect place to begin your Zagreb one day itinerary. The central square of the city, Jelacic Square feels like the beating heart of the city.
Walk over to view the equestrian statue of Count Josip Jelačić. The nobleman general was not just known for his military campaigns. He is also the person that is credited with doing away with serfdom in Croatia.
From pigeons pecking at crumbs to street performers plying their trades, and tour groups posing for selfies to locals chatting, there’s lots to enjoy at Jelačić Square. It’s one of the best places in Zagreb for people watching!
Admire the beautiful buildings around the square. You’ll see several architectural styles represented. Many of the facades are gorgeously ornate. There’s also a fountain in the square, the Manduševac fountain.
Unless you visit super early in the day, you’ll find the square incredibly busy. Many of the city’s tram lines include the square, so you’ll see colorful blue trams passing by all the time.
A guided walking tour is a great way to get an overview of the best sights in a city in a short time. Check out this highly rated 2.5 hour walking tour that also includes a ride on the funicular!
#2 Visit the Zagreb Cathedral
Just a short walk from Jelacic Square is the Zagreb Cathedral. The cathedral is located on Kaptol, one of two settlements that form Zagreb’s Upper Town.
You’ll have to crane your neck to see the top of the cathedral: it is the tallest building in Croatia. You’ll also see remnants of fortifications near the cathedral. They were built as protection against Ottoman invasions.
The cathedral originally had one tower, which was significantly damaged in an earthquake in 1880. When the cathedral was restored, the two current towers were built.
In front of the cathedral is the slender Mary column. The facade of the cathedral is gorgeous, even if one of the two towers is under scaffolding. The detail around the entrance is simply stunning.
The interior of the cathedral is also beautiful, with lovely stained glass windows, and an incredibly detailed relief just below the altar. Visiting the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary is definitely a must-do on your one day in Zagreb!
#3 Browse Dolac, Zagreb’s famous farmers’ market
The Dolac Market is not the only farmers’ market in Zagreb, but it is the most famous, and very convenient to visit. Dolac is just behind the Jelacic Square and a very short walk from the Zagreb Cathedral.
Under colorful red umbrellas, you’ll find lots of stalls, with farmers from surrounding villages selling fruits and vegetables, and cheese and bread. You’ll also see stalls with souvenirs and other household products.
There’s also a covered market at Dolac, where meat, fish, and dairy are sold. I also saw stalls with lovely fresh flowers. Visit in the morning: the open market generally closes in the early afternoon.
Dolac is delightful to browse. We picked up some local cheese and fruit for a snack. The cheese was delicious!
#4 Learn about the legend of the Stone Gate
The Stone Gate is the eastern entrance to Gradec, one of medieval Zagreb’s two settlements. It is the only surviving gate of the original four. Just before the gate is a statue of Saint George and the Dragon. The work depicts the saint after he has slain the beast.
The Stone Gate is now more a shrine than a gate, and you’ll see lit candles and perhaps people praying when you visit. According to the legend, the non-stone components of the gate were totally destroyed in a fire in 1731, but miraculously, one painting survived the fire intact: a painting of the Virgin and Child.
A chapel was built inside the Stone Gate to house the painting, where you can still see it. Citizens of Zagreb come to the chapel to light candles in gratitude for prayers being answered.
Plans to demolish the gate were initiated several times in the 19th and 20th centuries, since the gate no longer served a function. But luckily, the plans were never carried through, and today the Stone Gate is one of Zagreb’s most visited tourist attractions.
Nearby you’ll see the statue of Dora, the heroine of “The Goldsmith’s Gold,” a famous Croatian novel. Also nearby, you’ll see the oldest pharmacy in Zagreb, operating since 1355!
#5 Admire the roof of St. Mark’s Church
One of the prettiest medieval squares in the Upper Town is St. Mark’s Square, and here you’ll find the eponymous church with the famous tiled roof.
The roof of St. Mark’s Church was built in the late 19th century, although the church dates from the 13th century. On the left of the roof, you’ll see the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia. On the right is the emblem of Zagreb.
The church is not open for tourist visits, and you can only view the interior if you visit during mass. The church contains works by famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.
Admire the other buildings around the square as well. To the left of the church is the Banski dvori, the seat of the Croatian government. To the right is the Croatian Parliament. In this square you’ll also see the Old City Hall.
#6 Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships
With just one day in Zagreb, I’d normally not recommend museum visits. But this little museum in the Upper Town is worth a quick visit, since it’s so quirky and unusual and also along your route.
The Brokenships Museum is a crowdsourced collection, and there is one in Los Angeles, USA, as well as the one in Zagreb. The Zagreb museum is housed in an old Baroque palace.
The recipient of an award for the most innovative and daring museum concept in Europe, the Museum of Broken Relationships houses objects symbolizing ended relationships sent in by people, with anonymous accompanying stories.
Many of the exhibits are poignant, some gently humorous, but all are deeply interesting. You’ll be moved, for sure, as you tour the museum.
The gift shop at the museum is not to be missed, and the cafe is a great place for a drink and a snack.
#7 Climb the Lotrščak Tower for city views!
Just a few steps from the Museum of Broken Relationships is the Upper Town viewpoint, from where you get great views of the signature orange rooftops of Zagreb. Take a peek at St. Catherine’s Church along the way.
Near the viewpoint you’ll also find the Lotrščak Tower, which you can climb for even better, 360-degree views. Built in the 13th century to guard the southern gate to Gradec, the tower is well-preserved.
In medieval times, a bell would toll to signal an attack on the city, but the bell was lost at some point. Since the late 1800s, a cannon is fired each day at noon as a nod to history but also to allow local churches to synchronize their clocks.
A narrow circular staircase leads to the viewing area at the top. If you are claustrophobic, you might want to pass. There are informational exhibits at each level, and seats if you wish to take a breather.
There is a funicular between the Lower Town and the tower. It is the shortest funicular ride in the world, so you may wish to ride it going up or down to check that off your list!
#8 Wander the streets of Lower Town
Walking Tkalčićeva Street is de rigueur on your Zagreb 1-day itinerary. The lively street is full of cafes, bars, and restaurants, and the facades are beautiful.
After you’ve done that, though, allow for some time for aimless wandering. Most of the streets in the city center are great for strolling. Ilica Street is great for window shopping: it’s a long street and contains all kinds of stores, from brands to boutique.
Every few steps, no matter the street, you’ll see a cafe. Coffee is revered in Croatia as a means to connect with other people: family, friends, coworkers, and folks with whom you do business. Stop to relax over a cup of kava (or tea, if you prefer!) and watch life happen all around you.
As you stroll, you may see entrances to the Tunel Gric. Built as a bomb shelter during World War II, the tunnel is now a tourist attraction. Take a quick peek inside the tunnel if you have a few minutes!
#9 Admire the architecture in Donji Grad
As you walk around the Lower Town (Donji Grad), admire the architecture! While there are specific architectural marvels to view, even just the regular buildings that line the streets have beautiful facades, sometimes with nice detail as well. Much of it dates back to the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
About a 10-minute walk from Jelačić Square is the neo-Baroque Croatian National Theater, on Marshall Tito Square. The walk to the theater makes for a nice stroll, and the building is one of the most gorgeous in Zagreb. Along the way to the theater, stop to view Kallina House. It’s a fabulous Art Nouveau building in pastel blue and gold.
And about a 5-minute walk from the theater is the majestic Mimara Museum, with its beautifully landscaped gardens. Also nearby, you’ll find the stunning facade of the Museum of Arts and Crafts.
The Zagreb train station, Glavni Kolodvor, is a lovely building as well. Neo-classical in style, it faces out on to the impressive King Tomislav Square. In the square, the massive equestrian statue of the king is the focal point.
The hotel where we stayed in Zagreb is a handsome building very close to the railway station. Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express, has a photogenic facade and a majestic front entrance. There are other beautiful buildings along the street as well!
#10 Stroll through the Zrinjevac Park
Zrinjevac Park is the perfect green break on your one day in Zagreb. Conveniently located, the park makes for a beautiful walk when the weather is nice. It is one of a string of three parks between the train station and the city center. We walked all of them!
Part of the Zagreb Lenuci horseshoe of green spaces, Zrinjevac Park is both beautiful and historic. It was the first of Donji Grad’s public parks and its design has remained unchanged for over a century.
In the park you will see the 19th century music pavilion, where performances are sometimes staged. You’ll also see the “mushroom fountain,” the first fountain built in Zagreb, in the late 19th century. There are other fountains as well, a meteorological column, and monuments to famous Croatians.
The other two parks, Strossmeyer Square and King Tomislav Square, are beautiful as well. There are beautiful buildings to admire and statues to view.
With more time…
If you have just 24 hours in Zagreb, your time is best spent in the city center. But if you are planning to spend more than one day in Zagreb, you have more options for things to do in (and around) the Croatian capital.
With more time, you can venture beyond the core city center. You can also pick from some of Zagreb’s museums and galleries, or do day trips to one or two charming little Croatian towns nearby.
Visit the Mirogoj Cemetery
Mirogoj is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. It is about a 15-minute drive from the Zagreb train station. You can take a bus (number 106) from the Zagreb Cathedral to the cemetery. Buy return bus tickets at the kiosk near the bus stop before you board. The bus runs about every 20 minutes.
Mirogoj Cemetery was designed by architect Hermann Bollé (who also designed the Zagreb Cathedral) and opened in 1876. Bollé is one of the notable Croatians buried in the cemetery.
The arched facade and the central teal dome are stunning. You’ll see ivy climbing up the walls, blanketing the front of the building. Inside, you’ll see beautiful tombstones, extravagant cloisters with tiled floors and sculptures in niches, and tranquil tree-lined pathways.
If you have a second day in Zagreb, plan a visit to Mirogoj Cemetery!
Take a stroll at Jarun Lake
If you enjoy the water, Jarun Lake is the place to go for a few hours of fun! About a 20-minute drive from Glavni Kolvodor, Jarun Lake is a large artificial body of water on the western side of town.
If you want to visit using public transport, catch tram number 17 at Jelacic Square going towards Precko. Alight at the Rudeska stop and walk to the lake.
You can walk along the shore of the lake, swim in the lake in the summer, or just laze at one of the cafes along the edge, enjoying the view of the water.
Enjoy the art at Atelier Meštrović
Meštrović is considered one of Croatia’s most famous sculptors. The museum is located in the house where he lived and worked for about 20 years, until he left Croatia in 1942. Eventually, Meštrović emigrated to the USA.
We had seen Meštrović’s huge Gregory of Nin statue in Split, so I was eager to see more of his work. You can see many of Meštrović’s works in the house and the garden. They are mainly human figures in bronze and marble. The mother and child statue is a must see!
Do a day trip to Samobor
Samobor is a charming little town about a 30-minute drive from Zagreb. We took the bus to Samobor from the Autobusni Kolvodor (Bus Station) in Zagreb. The bus takes about 30 minutes as well, and there are frequent departures in both directions.
The medieval town is extremely picturesque, with colorful facades and pretty church steeples. Take a leisurely stroll from one end of town to the other. Peep into side streets and take lots of photos.
Taste the Samoborska kremšnita, which consists of custard cream sandwiched between two thin crusty layers of pastry. We had it at Slastičarnica U Prolazu, located in Samobor’s main square.
If you enjoy hiking, walk to the ruins of the 13th century castle on the edge of town. It’s about a 20 to 30 minute walk one way, and you get nice views of the medieval town from the castle.
Do a day trip to Varaždin
Although I enjoyed our day trip to Samobor, I loved Varaždin, which is about a one hour drive from Zagreb. We took the bus from the Zagreb Bus Station and back. There are multiple departures in both directions.You can also do a guided tour!
Varaždin is located on the Drava River, and is home to some stunning Baroque and Rococo architecture. Every street is a joy to stroll and every square a pleasure to view.
At the edge of town, the white Varaždin Castle with its pretty red roof looks like it stepped out of a story book. And a good 20-minute walk from town is the beautiful cemetery, with its park-like design and gorgeous tombstones.
If you enjoy sweet treats, Varaždin‘s version of the kremšnita is topped with a layer of chocolate and drizzled with a rich chocolate sauce.
Getting into Zagreb
You can of course drive into Zagreb if you are doing a road trip. Croatia is a great country for a road trip: the highways were in great shape when we visited.
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The Franjo Tuđman Zagreb International Airport is located about 6 miles from Glavni Kolvodor, the train station. You can fly into Zagreb from most major European cities and many other international cities.
You can take a bus from the airport into the city, or a taxi if you have a lot of baggage. Email your hotel ahead of time and get cab fare estimates. We found that taxis at the train and bus stations quoted exorbitant fares without regard for the meter.
You can travel to Zagreb by train from neighboring countries, or from Split, Croatia. Buses tend to be faster, though, and there are more bus departures each day.
Glavni Kolvodor is the main train station in Zagreb. It is about a 15-minute walk from the station to Jelacic Square. Taxis are plentiful in front of the station.
Zagreb is connected by international bus service to many other cities within Croatia as well as to other countries. In fact, the bus is the most convenient form of public transport to use in Croatia. You can buy bus tickets online in advance at Omio. They charge a small service fee but I found the buying experience easy and hassle-free.
Buses connect Zagreb with Ljubljana in Slovenia, Vienna in Austria, Budapest in Hungary, Trieste in Italy, and Belgrade in Serbia. You can even travel by bus from Paris to Zagreb!
In Zagreb, you’ll arrive at Autobusni Kolvodor Zagreb, the main bus terminal. From here, you can take a tram to the city center, or a taxi.
Getting around in Zagreb
If you are in Zagreb for one day, and decide to spend the day in the core city center, you can walk everywhere. We had fun walking around in Zagreb, even though the weather gods decided to be unkind the entire time we were in the city.
You can get taxis or ride the local bus or tram if you want to get somewhere specific and don’t wish to walk, and you can take the funicular to the Upper Town if you do not wish to walk uphill.
Where to stay in Zagreb
We stayed at the historic Esplanade Zagreb. With a convenient location right near the train station and a gorgeous Art Nouveau building, the 5-star Esplanade is a fabulous place to stay in Zagreb. Our room was luxuriously appointed and the marble bathroom with the gigantic soaking tub to die for.
The hotel is about a 15-minute walk to the main square. The hotel’s restaurants are among the best in the city. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast at Le Bistro, the casual eatery.
Check prices and availability!
Located in the heart of the city center, Hotel Amadria Park Capital Heritage Zagreb is a highly rated mix of early 20th century Art Nouveau architecture and elegant modern furnishings. The hotel is known for excellent service and a sumptuous breakfast buffet.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here
Where to eat in Zagreb
Zagreb is heaven for foodies, with eateries running the gamut from exclusive fine dining places to cheap eats that are both good value and delicious. If you are in Zagreb for more than the one day, consider a food tour. It’s a great way to learn more about the city while tasting some great local eats!
Pod Zidom Bistro and Wine Bar is a great place for lunch. Located right next to the Dolac Market, the menu features items bought that day at the market. Get a table on the terrace so you can eat whilst enjoying the view of the Zagreb Cathedral.
Zinfandel’s is the restaurant in the Esplanade Hotel. With an extensive fine dining menu crafted by Ana Grgic, you can go either à la carte or opt for the tasting menu. This restaurant is definitely a splurge.
The Zrno Bio Bistro is a vegan restaurant with an amazing variety of bowls and plates. The ingredients were flavorful and fresh, and the preparations we tried were delicious. My omnivore husband ate his lunch here without complaints!
The best time to visit Zagreb
The best time to visit Zagreb is in the late spring or early fall. Daytime temperatures are pleasant during these times, while accommodation prices are lower than in the peak season months of July and August.
Although Zagreb doesn’t get as crowded during the peak of summer as do the coastal towns in Croatia, you will still run into more tour groups in the summer months at popular attractions.
If you enjoy summer music festivals, though, you might want to consider visiting in July, when nightly concerts are held at venues around the city.
So there you have it: my suggestions for touring the best of Zagreb in one day! Have you visited the Croatian capital? If so, I would love to know your thoughts: are there any attractions I missed in my one day itinerary for Zagreb? Comment below to respond!
If you haven’t visited yet, I hope I have inspired you to add Zagreb to your itinerary for Croatia. It really is a fun European capital and compact enough that you can enjoy the major sights in just one day.
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