The beautiful city on the Sava River is much more than just the Croatian capital; it is an often and mistakenly bypassed hub of historic European significance. With a quaint but impressive old district (where you’ll undoubtedly spend most of your exploratory hours) full of cool architecture, winding streets, great cafes, various museums and open-air parks, there’s a palpable and distinct sense of culture that pervades both “Upper” and “Lower” towns. And because Zagreb is directly connected by rail to more recognizable metropolises like Zurich, Budapest, Vienna and Munich, it plays an important role in the country’s contemporary goings-on as well. Here’s a quick snapshot to get your cultural bearings straight.
To the north between Kaptol and Gradec hills you’ll discover Upper Town, which encompasses many of the city’s restaurants, cafes and bars. Of particular interest is the lively Tkalciceva Street, which just about everyone will direct you towards at one point or another and which serves as a perfect introduction to the classic Croatian pastime of café-sitting. But aside from just eating and drinking, this area is also home to unique sites like Kamenita Vrata (Zagreb’s last remaining medieval stone gate), the Cathedral of the Assumption and the can’t-miss Jelacic Square, which blends seamlessly into Zagreb’s vibrant Dolac farmer’s market. Mosey on southward just a little and “Lower Town” will impress you with its array of incredible buildings and well-manicured green spaces, including the jaw-dropping Croatian National Theater and the aptly named Zagreb Park. Here you’ll also encounter many of the city’s most prominent galleries like the famous Mimara Art Museum and the world renowned archeological exhibits of the Arheološki Muzej.
If you’re in the mood for something a little more tranquil, head north to the none-too-macabre Mirogoj Cemetery. Seriously. Even if you don’t have much of an interest in cool architecture mixed with a variety of unique and varied religious gravesites, it’s simply an impressive place to check out. On the opposite side of both the spectrum and the map, Lake Jarun (southwest Zagreb) is a lively center of activity both day and night, with runners, bikers and boaters giving way to clubbers and bar-hoppers after the sun goes down. Whatever your preferences are (culturally speaking), chances are this beautiful and underestimated European capital has something to pique your interest, with a distinctly more authentic vibe than you’re ever likely to find on Croatia’s crowded coastline. Don’t miss the opportunity to check it out.