My travel bucket list is constantly changing. I have been knocking off dream destinations at a pace the surprises even me. However, Croatia has been on the top of that list for a long time. Getting to Croatia can be very tough, as flights to Croatia can be extremely expensive. So it was a no brainer to take advantage of an error fare for flights to Croatia for as low as $275 from Seattle. Unfortunately, between my busy travel schedule and limited vacation time at work, I only had time for a long weekend. Still, with those prices it even for a weekend it was an amazing deal. That is how I ended with this two day guide to Zagreb.
When people think about Croatia, their mind immediately goes straight to either Split or Dubrovnik. While I have not been to either, the allure of these coastal cities is legendary, and this is for good reason. However, Zagreb’s shouldn’t be overlooked. Zagreb is the capital and largest city in Croatia. With a population of 1.2 million people almost 1/4 of the entire population of Croatia live in Zagreb or the surrounding area. Zagreb was originally made up of two towns, on top of two different hills. The first was the church down, Kaptol, the seat of the Roman Catholic faith in region. The other was Gradec, the free royal city. In 1851, Ban Josep Jelacic, whom the main square in the city is named after, united Gradec and Kaptol. It has since become the economic capital and cultural heart of Croatia.
Is 2 days enough time to see Zagreb?
With so much history, great food, and beauty you should not not skip Zagreb while you are in Croatia. But at the same time, Croatia is a lovely country and you don’t want to linger in one spot for too long. For a city of about 800,000, Zagreb feels very small. Well, at least for tourists. Almost everything you will do (especially if it is a guided tour) will center Ben Josep Jelacic square. This square serves as the heart of Zagreb, and especially its tourist industry. Almost everything you will want to see is within a 15 minute walk of this square. Given this, 48 hours is enough time to see the major sites and get a really good feel for Zagreb. Most importantly, if you follow this two day guide to Zagreb, you will fall in love with this city in 48 hours.
Two Day Guide to Zagreb — Day One
Start 2 your days in Zagreb off at a Market
This two day guide to Zagreb starts in a market. I love markets. Whether it is food or flea, a market is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the Culture of a new city. I suggest a push into the deep end, and jump right into the markets of Zagreb first thing on day one. Depending on the days of the week you are visiting I suggest visiting both the British Square Flea Market and the Dolac Market
British Square Flea Market
6 out of 7 days of the week British Square (or Britanski Trg in Croatian) is home to a local farmers market. Smaller and lesser known than the Dolac Market, this is where you will find local chefs searching for the ingredients for the days menu, but on Sundays the real magic happens. On Sunday the British Square farmers market turns into a flea market. This flea market hosts well over 100 stands and is home to all sorts of antique treasures. Whether it is paintings, jewelry, books, antiques, or even old passports, you will find a one of a kind souvenir that will catch your eye. Heck, even if your not looking buy, just looking at what’s for sale at the market will introduce you to the Croatian culture, past and present.
Being a travel geek, things like passports dating back to the 1800s, old maps, and antique currencies really caught my eye, but there is truly something for everyone.
Hours: Generally Opens between 6:00am and 7:00am – Closes around 3:00 PM
Time Needed: <1 hour (Unless you are really into shopping)
Once you have had your fill of history, go check out something fresh at the Dolac Market. About a 12 minute walk from British Square (or a $5 Uber ride, don’t worry I won’t judge you for Ubering as we will be doing a lot of walking today), you will find Dolac Market. Dolac market is Zagreb’s main open air farmers market and has been in business for over 80 years. While the British Square Flea Market gave you a sense of culture and history, Dolac market is the perfect place for your first taste of Zagreb. As a foodie, I feel a city’s food tells you as much about its culture as a history museum.
The Dolac Market is separated into two parts, upper and lower. The upper part of the market is where you will find the fresh, locally grown produce. This part of the market is a figurative sea of produce. You will see stall after stall of perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables. You will find locally grown nuts, blooming flowers, and some locally crafted souvenirs. If you want a healthy pre/post breakfast snack this is the right area for you.
However, don’t forget to head down the stairs and directly underneath the upper market. This is where the lower Dolac Market is located. This part of the market is home to bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, fresh pasta, and cheeses. This lower part of the market is definitely less healthy, but no less delicious than the top of the market.
Hours: 7:00am – 3:00pm Monday – Saturday (but you really should go before one as people start shutting down around 1) Sunday 7:00 – 1:00pm
Time Needed: <1 hour (Unless you are really into shopping)
Have yourself a Morning Burek
While in Zagreb you should try as much of the local cuisine as possible. The food in Zagreb is carb heavy comfort food at its finest, but we all know that vacation carbs do not count the same as regular carbs. The best place for burek, according to a local my wife is friends with, is Burek. If you are going to sell one dish and name your entire restaurant after it, you better be damn good at making it. Burek is. Located halfway up the stairs between the upper and lower level of the Dolac Market, it is not out of the way to eat there at any point of time at the market.
While I can’t make you eat breakfast here, I will be very disappointed if you pass up the chance to eat here by opting for a continental breakfast at your hotel!
Hours: 7:00am – 9:00am
Average Cost: 15 KN ($2.23)
Take the Free Tour of Zagreb
As I travel more, I am realizing the value of guided tours. While they can sometimes run up the bill on your vacation, there is nothing like seeing the sites and learning more about the history, culture, and every day life of place. This is were free tours come in handy. You will find these tip-based free guided tours in most cities in Europe and they are spreading all over the world. My initial concern about this type of tour was the quality. Would the quality of the tour drop between free and paid tours? My experience in Denmark taught me that these free tours are just as good as any paid tour. So I decided to check it out in Zagreb, and was not disappointed.
Free Spirit Tours Zagreb is THE place to go for a free walking tour of Zagreb. Their free tour is meant to be an introduction to the City. It hits all of the major sites in Zagreb and gives you both a history lesson and allows you to learn about modern culture. Additionally, as you go on the tour, the guide will recommend places to go, things to do, and where to eat and drink. All tour guides are locals who are licensed and are extremely knowledgeable about the city. Most importantly, they are passionate, and that is what really makes for a great tour.
The tour itself starts at 11am by the statue in Ban Jelacic Square, which you are already at if you are wandering the Dolac Market. It starts off with a brief history of Zagreb. Explaining the founding of both Kaptol and Gradec and who the heck Ban Jelicic was. This was not a boring history lesson by any means. Even with a relatively large group (about 25 people) our tour guide, Luca, was able to make the history extremely interesting (well it was interesting to begin with, but you know how some people can be), but most important he was able to make everyone feel involved.
From there, we took a walk to the upper town of Zagreb. It is called upper town for a reason. It is a bit of a hike up the hill that was originally Gradec, and is home to some of the most iconic Sites in Zagreb.
The tour itself was great, and our tour guide made it amazing. In about 2- 2 1/2 hours we were able to hit most of the major sites, and get a great history of a fascinating city.
Times: Daily 11:00 am (year round); 5:00 pm (May 1-Oct 31)
Cost: Free (but the guides make their money on tips so please tip what you think is reasonable I generally tip the equivalent of $10-$15)
Have Yourself Some Lunch and Take A Break
At this point you are likely pooped and it is only about 1:30. You have also likely worked up an appetite. So it’s time for lunch! I provide some other lunch recommendations down below, but I had my first lunch at Plac Kitchen and Grill. Plac is known for its ćevapi. A local Croatian delicacy of pastry stuffed with meats and cheese. Again more amazing carbful comfort food (gah! I hope my doctor doesn’t read this). Croatia loves their carbs and so do I! They also had other options, but they are centered around grilled meats, but do have a couple vegetarian options.
I am not trying to wear you out with this two day guide to Zagreb. So, after lunch you could head back to your hotel and rest, or better yet, hit up one of Zagreb’s beautiful parks for a rest. My Hotel was on a street lined with parks. On a beautiful day in early April with the flowers blooming, it seemed like the perfect place for a break. It turns out that street of parks was actually three different parks. Park Zrinjevac, Park Josipa Juria Strossmayera, and Ledeni Park. I relaxed at the park with a good book.
Check out a Museum in the Afternoon
Zagreb is famous for its museums. While you will not hit all of the museums during your two days in Zagreb, you should visit a couple of that appeal to you. Among the many museums are:
- Zagreb City Museum
- Museum of Contemporary Art
- Archeological Museum
- Nikola Tesla Technical Museum
- Museum of Broken Relationships
- Museum of Arts & Crafts
- Ethnographic Museum
- Mimara Museum
- Croatian History Museum
- Mestrovic Gallery
- Museum of Illusions
- Croatian Museum of Naive Art
- Zagreb city Museum
Like I said there are a lot. This isn’t even an exhaustive list, but it is a start. I was in the mood for something new and strange, so I checked out the Museum of Broken Relationships. This museum, located in the Upper Town (not far from St. Marks), is one of a kind. Errrmmm…. well technically two of a kind now that they have opened one in Los Angeles, but Zagreb was the original. Take that LA hipsters! The Museum of Broken Relationships is exactly what it sounds like. It is a global, crowd-sourced museum where people have sent in mementos of their past relationships, and the stories behind them.
Some of these stories are extremely personal and heart wrenching, others are silly, and some are disgusting. It was not just romantic relationships, there are relationships with parents, hobbies, lost body parts, or even gluten. I was not sure what to expect when I entered, but I found myself fascinated by the objects and stories. Generally, I am not someone who reads every placard at a museum, but here I did. I found myself enraptured by this eclectic collection of stories; it was like no museum I had ever been to before.
Times: Summer: 9:00 AM – 10:30 PM; Winter 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM
Cost: Adults: 40 KN ($5.96); Students: 30 KN ($4.47)
Time for Dinner!
Depending on how long you spent at your museum of choice or if you decided to hit a second spot, it is likely getting late. At this point you are likely getting hungry again. Or at least I was… maybe I am just always hungry? Regardless, time for dinner. There are a lot of great options for dinner in Zagreb, rather than giving you a recommendation for where to eat this meal, I will give you a list of places I tried or at least wanted to try. Prices of all of these restaurants will be max $10/person. $10 can take you really far in Zagreb:
- La Struk
- Plac Kitchen and Grill (if you didn’t go there for lunch)
- Heritage: Croatian Street Food
- Bistro Capuciner
- Curry Bowl
- Duska Pizza
Head to Tkalciceva Street
I did not hit Tkalcivea Street until the second day. By the time I got done with dinner it was close to 10 PM, and I had to catch an extremely early bus the next morning, so I decided to get some sleep. However, if you do have energy, Tkalciceva Street is the best way to kick off a night in Zagreb. However, even if you are not into nightlife, Tkalciceva Street is a street not to miss in Zagreb even by day.
This street has one of the most interesting histories in Zagreb. Just north of Ban Jelacic Square, this is where Medvescak Creek once ran through the city. However, as population grew, industrialization caused this creek to become overly polluted, and in 1898 it was paved over. Then, this street became the home of the red-light district of Zagreb growing to the point where almost half the buildings were bordellos.
Now that prostitution is no longer legal in Zagreb, the bordellos transformed into charming cafes, boutique shops, restaurants, and bars. It has grown into one of the most vibrant streets in Zagreb; with a unique energy all its own. This street is busy both day and night, but It does really come alive at night. Locals and tourists alike start their evenings out here. Lured in by the sounds of live music coming from many of the local bars, it is the perfect location for a nightcap!
Two Day Guide to Zagreb — Day Two
My day two did not really start of as planned. My initial plan was to take the first bus from Zagreb out to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. I pre-purchased a bus ticket leaving Zagreb at 5:45am and arriving at the lakes at 8am. This was the only bus I could take as I needed to be back by 5 PM to work a full day after my adventures. I got to the bus station at about 5:00am ready to rock and roll. As my bus ticket did not have a platform listed I went straight to the ticketing counter to find out where to wait for my bus. The lady at the counter wrote down 504.
With about 5 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave I started to worry. No one else was waiting and the bus was not here. I started looking around. By the time I found out that my bus actually left from platform 405, it was too late. The bus left a couple minutes early, and I was not going to the lakes. The next bus was in two hours which would not leave me much, if any, time to explore the lakes, and devastation sank in. In hindsight, this was a good thing. I badly sprained my ankle on day one (which ended up bugging me for 2 months afterwards) so a day of hiking would have been terrible. Time to improvise.
Grab some breakfast
Hopefully, my two day guide to Zagreb will allow you to not start your day two you sitting at a bus station at 5:45am, checked out of your hotel room with nowhere to go, and your plans ruined. But shit happens when you travel. I should know this better than anyone (I have had my passport stolen while at Heathrow Airport and found myself with no way to board a plane, but also no way to leave the airport). I snapped out of it real quick. With my whole day open to me, I started my day off with some breakfast. At this point, before 7 AM, my options were limited. However, you won’t have this problem. Here are some of my breakfast recommendations (again, you should be able to escape for under $10):
- Burek — Sure, if you followed my recommendations you ate here yesterday, but why not go back? It is delicious and under $3
- Otto & Frank
Take a Morning Tour or Go on a Walkabout
While I was eating breakfast, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I found several tours that looked like exciting and fun options. However, most of these tours required more than 24 hours advance reservations, and last minute on a Monday, I couldn’t get one. Either the offices were closed on Monday or the tour was full. I guess I could have gone to the meeting point and ambushed them to see if the guide would let me in, but in my current state, I didn’t think of that. Some interesting morning tours I would consider for day two:
- Zagreb Food Tour — Departs at 10am
- Zagreb War Tour — Departs 11am (Sundays) 3pm Monday-Saturday
- Daily Bike Tour Zagreb — Departs 10am
Let Yourself Get Lost
Without a tour to my name, I just decided to do one of my favorite things in a new city… wander. Sometimes I wander aimlessly, but day 2 for me was only semi-aimless. There were several places I walked past on my walking tour that I really wanted to explore more of. There were also a couple other places that the tour missed. Even with a list of a things to see, the best thing about a walkabout is if something looks interesting, there is no reason not to explore. See a shop that has something interesting in the window, go in…that bakery looks fantastic, get a snack.
The places I wanted to check out were:
- Ben Jelacic Sqaure
- Zagreb Cathedral
- Tkalciceva Street (as I didn’t go the night before as I was planning an early morning)
- The Worlds Smallest Funicular
- Upper Town (Gradec)
- The Church of the Holy Transfiguration (apparently has nothing to do with Professor Minerva McGonagall)
I spent a good 4 hours just wandering. My meandering took me into all sorts of different directions. I went into different shops, and decided to take a look at some nerdy stores as well. This walkabout really turned what initially felt like a lost day to one that was unexpectedly fun.
Grab Some Lunch and Check out a Museum
By the time I hit all of the sites and two cones of gelato later (there is no shame in my game), it was time for lunch. On my walking tour, Luca strongly recommended checking out Heritage: Croatian Street Food. This restaurant, owned by the winner of the only season of Croatia’s version of MasterChef, specializes in food from all regions of Croatia, not just Zagreb. It is a tapas style, small plates restaurant, but also has some sandwich options. This is a great stop for a two day guide to Zagreb, as it will allow you to taste the entire country in on meal. Not being crazy hungry (I had a lot of gelato) I decided to stick with a sandwich. It was, without a doubt, a good recommendation.
The Museum of Illusions
After lunch I decided to check out another museum. I narrowed it down to two options, the Nikola Tesla Museum and the Museum of Illusions. Ultimately, I felt the Museum of Illusions would be more fun. The museum is a “visual, sensory education experience… a social and entertaining tour into the world of illusions.” I am a big fan of optical illusions. I have visited a similar museum in Scotland and have stopped at many road side tourist attractions utilizing illusions, such as the Mystery Hole and Mystery House. So, unfortunately, I had seen most of the illusions contained in this museum already such as the Ames Room and Anti-Gravity Room. This made the museum of illusions a little disappointing to me. However, for those who have not visited similar places, it would likely be an amusing family-friendly visit.
Hours: 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM
Price: Adults 50 KN ($7.48); Students 40 KN ($5.98)
Pay a Visit to Spirits of Zagreb
One of my biggest regrets on my trip to Zagreb was that I made the decision not to check out the Mirogoj Cemetery. As it is about a 50 minute walk from Ben Jelacic square, I made the the incorrect decision to prioritize more central activities. However, this is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe. It is a combination of picturesque gardens, architecture, art, and Croatian History. It is absolutely a do not miss stop in Zagreb…and I missed it. Also it is free… so yeah, I am definitely beating myself up over this one.
Thus, I have included it in my two day guide to Zagreb. I have slotted this in the early evening (twilight, if you will) to add to the ambiance of visiting a cemetery. However, if you want to cut back on the spooky, go right after lunch. To save time, you can take either the 106, 203, or 226 bus (about 20 minutes from Ban Jelacic Square) or take an Uber (about 10 minutes and $3.44).
Hours: April 1st – September 30: 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Address: Aleja Hermanna Bollea 27, 10000, Zagreb
Have Some Dinner then Get Some Rest
At this point you have literally walked all over the city, and it would be getting late. Grab a table at another one of Zagreb’s amazing restaurants such as La Struk or Nokturno. Sit back, relax, drink a couple glasses of wine, and enjoy some of those amazing vacation carbs.
Two Day Guide to Zagreb Bonus: Day 3 — Get out of Town!
You can the full Zagreb experience in two days. However, the two day guide to Zagreb continues to day three! If you happen to be in the city for a third day, your best option is to head out of town. Heck, I wanted to do this on my day 2. The Plitvice Lakes are only a couple hours from Zagreb, and are breathtaking. Book a bus ride, rent a car, or book a day tour, and check out this Croatian National Park.
Zagreb is a charming city full of great people, amazing architecture, museums, art, and, of course, food. With this two day guide to Zagreb, you can literally and figuratively get a full taste of this City.