Croatia, Going Out With Style in Zagreb

Being naive westerners, Zagreb wasn’t exactly what we were expecting from a Balkan capital city. However, after how impressed we were with the rest of Croatia, it’s no surprise that Zagreb completely blew us away.

Zagreb architecture

Some of the gorgeous architecture found throughout the historic core

Involved to a minor extent in the Croatian War of Independence, Zagreb seems more impacted by a lack of post-war funding than the war itself. Most of the apartment buildings surrounding the centre core date back to the 1970s and 1980s and clearly show their age, with mismatched awnings and laundry drying in the sun only exaggerating the worn appearance; but, look closer and you quickly realize the streets and sidewalks are open with an abundance of green space, and modern glass buildings are slowly taking over the landscape. Oddly juxtaposed between worn apartment buildings and sparkling glass shopping malls is the ornate historic centre, Croatia’s best kept secret and the focus of our visit to Zagreb.

State Archives

The Croatian State Archives

Street view

A pretty street view during the summer


The Art Pavilion, reassembled here after the 1896 Budapest Exhibition

Crossing under the main bus station, the historic part of the capital unfolds before you. Divided into two parts, Gornji grad (the Upper Town and medieval core of the city) and Donji grad (the Lower Town) and connected via funicular (a short and very steep train type of transportation) the historic core offers wonderfully preserved and maintained heritage homes, large expanses of park, cobblestone streets, statues, fountains, churches, and museums to explore.

One of our favorite elements of this area were the brightly painted buildings that line almost every street and feature intricately carved moldings and decorative elements. Each doorway, window frame, and eave is an individual piece of artwork, making it possible to become swept up in the intricacies of just one building for hours at a time.


The wonderfully lush Nikola Subic Zrinski Square


One of the prettiest churches I’ve ever seen, Franciscan Church Zagreb


Produce for sale at the Dolac market

Both upper and lower towns also offer numerous tree lined parks, making it easy to find a quiet place to sit and take in the beauty of the area. Each park also has its own unique historical connection – a natural spring water fountain that supplied drinking water to the town; a meteorological post that’s been recording the weather here since 1884; a statue in honor of Croatia’s first king – making their exploration not only enjoyable but a must in any guidebook.


The Cathedral’s neo-gothic facade


Spire restoration – the Cathedral went into decay during the Communist reign


The Cathedral’s clock stopped during the 1880 earthquake

Finally, a tour of Zagreb’s historic core would be incomplete without some time dedicated to exploring the countless museums, palaces of a bygone aristocracy, and intricately designed churches and cathedrals. It’s nearly impossible to choose favorites and luckily you shouldn’t have to as most of the area can be explored in a day (although we found it a bit short and would have preferred two).

It’s easy to see why the people of Zagreb flock to the area in summer – the atmosphere is wonderfully youthful among the beautiful architecture and historical sites. Overall, a wonderful gem is hidden away in Zagreb and reason enough to make the city more than a stop over on your way to the coast.

St. Mark's Church with amazing roof tiles

St. Mark’s Church with amazing roof tiles

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