Many travellers planning to visit Croatia will include the capital city of Zagreb on their Croatia itinerary solely as a jumping-off point, a place that is convenient to fly in and out of but not really worth exploring, especially when places like the Dalmatian coast or Plitvice Lakes await. However, those who rush to leave the Croatian capital are sorely missing out on one of the country’s most interesting and dynamic cities. Though small in size, spending just one day in Zagreb is enough to give you a good feel of this vibrant city and a different perspective on Croatia than you would get in the coastal towns.
While the capital doesn’t boast a warm Adriatic coastline or any jaw-dropping natural sites, it does combine a certain Central European charm with an artistic and hip culture that is sure to intrigue visitors no matter their interests. So if you’ve only got a short amount of time and are wondering what to do in Zagreb in one day or are struggling to piece together the ideal Zagreb itinerary, then look no further. Though compact, the Croatian capital is one of the best cities to visit in Europe and you can pack a lot into a short period of time.
When to Visit Zagreb
Before I dive headfirst into what to see in Zagreb in one day, we need to discuss what time of year is best to visit Zagreb. Because, like all destinations throughout the world, each season has its pros and cons for tourists.
The most popular time to visit Zagreb and all of Croatia, in general, is in the summer months of June-August. This is when the small city will be at it’s most crowded, accommodation prices will be at their peak, and temperatures will be at their height. While you can expect long days and plenty of open-air cafes, it is worth noting that Zagreb can get very hot and it doesn’t have the added benefit of a coastline to take the edge off. If you are planning to head to the Croatian capital in the summer, prepare for high temperatures of over 30°C (86°F) on many days.
On the other side, winters in Zagreb can get quite cold and snowy and if you plan to visit between the months of November-February, it is best that you bring a warm jacket and proper clothes in order to stay warm. While the temperatures can be freezing, visiting during the holiday season from mid-November through New Year’s Day is an appealing option for many travellers as Zagreb boasts one of Europe’s best Christmas markets and the entire city goes all out with lights, trees, and overall holiday cheer.
High temperatures during the winter months will hover somewhere around freezing and you can expect a fair amount of snow and rain, as well. Outside of the Christmas and New Year season, however, accommodation prices will likely be at their lowest of the year. On the flip side, you can also expect some reduced hours for tourist attractions and even some closures due to a lack of people.
If you don’t want to visit Zagreb in the hot summer or cold winter, your best bet (and my personal favourite time of year to visit most anywhere in Europe) is to head to Croatia’s capital in the shoulder seasons of September-October and March-May. Here is where you will see the mildest of temperatures (nights and mornings may still be chilly, but afternoons will likely be warm and lovely), ample affordable accommodation options, and fewer tourist crowds than in the high season but enough to justify increased hours.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit Zagreb, however, you are sure to enjoy your time in this dynamic capital city.
How Many Days in Zagreb?
Now that you have decided that you want to include Zagreb on your trip, it’s time to discuss how many days you want to spend in the city. While many people tend to skip Zagreb altogether (and we’ve already determined that it is absolutely worth visiting!), you also don’t need to allocate a significant portion of your time to this compact city. Therefore, I would even say that if you are only able to dedicate one full day to exploring Croatia’s capital, you’d still be able to see and do quite a bit!
If you have 2 days in Zagreb or even 3 days in Zagreb, you will be able to see a bit more of the city, visit some more museums, or just explore places a bit further off the beaten tourist path. Alternatively, you could use it as a base in order to head off on some various day trips from Zagreb — to places like Plitvice Lakes National Park or even to Slovenia’s nearby capital of Ljublijana.
The longer you choose to spend in Zagreb, the more you will be able to dig deep in the city and get to know it, or the more day trips you will be able to go on. However, if you just want to see some tourist sites, are short on time and want to make sure you dedicate enough of it to see more of Croatia, then planning to spend one day in Zagreb itself is enough to be able to get to know the city.
Getting To and Around Zagreb
You know what time of year to visit Zagreb and how long you should spend there, now it’s time to discuss how you should plan to get there and how you should get around. Luckily, all of this is relatively straightforward.
Zagreb is quite well-connected to other major cities in its vicinity and you can easily reach it via public transit. Getting from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Zagreb, for instance, can be done by bus or train in a little bit over two hours. Zagreb is also well-connected by bus and train in about four hours to Budapest, Hungary and by bus to neighbouring Belgrade, Serbia. You can view the latest schedules for many routes here.
Zagreb is also home to Croatia’s largest international airport and there are numerous connections to various destinations within Europe and further afield daily. It is located about 15 kilometres outside of the centre and can be easily reached by bus or taxi.
Once in the city, you will likely want to know how to get around. While many of Zagreb’s main attractions are within easy walking distance of each other and the city centre is relatively compact, you may find that you’re staying somewhere further afield or your feet are tired and want to use the public transit system.
Fortunately for you, Zagreb is connected by an extensive and easy-t0-use tram system. You can purchase tickets to the tram from newsstands that are located close to stops and throughout the city. Tickets with a 30-minute validity cost 4 HRK each and must be validated on the machines once entering the tram. You are also able to use these tickets on Zagreb’s buses should you end up taking one.
If you want to take a taxi while in Zagreb rather than relying on public transit, then I would advise to use a ride-hailing app rather than hailing one off the street. This is a failsafe way to avoid being ripped off. Uber operates in Zagreb or, if you want an alternative, you can also use the Bolt app. Both have extensive drivers and you should be able to find an affordable ride with limited wait times most times of the day.
One Day in Zagreb Itinerary
As mentioned earlier, Zagreb is a compact city that can easily be explored in the span of a day, however, it can still be a good idea to figure out how best to maximise your time there. The Zagreb city centre is divided into two areas: the upper town and the lower town.
There are places of interest for tourists in both of these areas and they are easy to reach on foot from each other. However, in order to get the most out of your one day in Zagreb itinerary, I would recommend breaking up your day between the upper and lower towns. This itinerary has you exploring the older upper town in the morning before venturing to the lower town in the afternoon.
Ban Jelacic Trg
The most obvious place to begin any one day in Zagreb itinerary is in the city’s central square Ban Jelacic Trg. A hub for many tramlines and a major meeting area, this square is also home to an open-air market where you can purchase local food products and handicrafts direct from the seller.
The square has been in existence since the 17th century and was made car-free n 1975. It is named after Josip Jelacic, who was the Ban of Croatia from 1848 to 1859. During the time when Zagreb was part of Yugoslavia, the square was renamed to Republic Square before its original name was restored upon Croatia’s independence in the 1990s.
A short walk from the main square into the upper town is the Stone Gate, which is both a major tourist attraction and sacred sight in Zagreb. The gate was originally built in the 13th century, however, it’s current form stands from the 18th century. Home to a painting of the Virgin Mary, it was one of the only things that survived the Great Fire of Zagreb in 1731 when all other paintings and the gate itself were all damaged.
Because of this, the painting has some holy significance to Catholic Croatians and has become a holy oath site to light candles and pray to the Virgin Mary.
St Mark’s Church
A couple hundred metres from the Stone Gate lies one of the most iconic buildings in Zagreb, St Mark’s Church. Though this isn’t the biggest church in the city nor is it the main cathedral, it is one of the most photographed sights in the Croatian capital, largely due to its elaborate and beautiful tiled roof.
Originally built in the 13th century but almost completely reconstructed in the second half of the 14th century, St Marks Church boasts both late Gothic and Romanesque-style architecture. You can enter the church free of charge, however, many are happy to stay outside and admire the lovely tile roof that depicts the coat of arms of Zagreb and the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia all on the iconic Croatian red and white checkboard background.
Just a stone’s throw away from St Mark’s Church is Catherine’s Square. Home to yet another church — the Baroque-style St Catherine’s Church — that is actually not the main draw of this upper town square. In fact, if you walk around the back of the church you will find a wonderful viewpoint that gives you an excellent vista of Zagreb below — perfect for some great photos!
Museum of Broken Relationships
On the other side of Catherine’s Square lies one of Zagreb’s most unique and popular museums, the Museum of Broken Relationships. Dreamed up in 2003, this museum showcases items left behind from past relationships — both romantic and otherwise. The concept has since taken off with various exhibitions of the museum touring different cities throughout the world, however, it’s permanent home is in Zagreb.
Here you can find various artefacts and memories showcased with the story behind them. Some will make you laugh out loud at the utter absurdity of some short-lived romances and some will likely bring you close tears over relationships and lives torn apart by cruel and unexpected circumstances. Though not a museum of the history of Zagreb, if you go to no others in the Croatian capital, go to the unique Museum of Broken Relationships. You will not be disappointed.
Entry costs 40 HRK for adults and 30 HRK for students, seniors, and those with disabilities. Descriptions are listed in Croatian and English and booklets are available with many other languages.
After laughing and crying at the Museum of Broken Relationships, head down the hill to the Zagreb Cathedral, the main church in the Croatian capital. This Roman Catholic church is the tallest building in Zagreb and is also the most monumental religious building in the Gothic style located southeast of the Alps.
Though as of late 2019 the Cathedral is being partially restored, the imposing dual Gothic spires are truly beautiful and majestic and no visit to Croatia’s capital is complete without seeing this beautiful building. Admission to the cathedral is free of charge.
From the Zagreb Cathedral, you can catch a bus to the beautiful and haunting Mirogoj Cemetery, a massive graveyard where numerous notable Croatians are buried. Surrounded by imposing architecture and intricate headstones, this is actually one of the tops sites in Zagreb. One of the most notable things about this cemetery is that it is a burial ground for people of all religious faiths and you will see everything from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and even LDS headstones.
You can reach the cemetery by catching buses 106, 203 or 226 from the Zagreb Cathedral. The journey only takes about 10 minutes and you can either use the same tickets you would for the tram (make sure to validate!) or buy them directly from the driver. Entry into the cemetery is free.
After the cemetery, it’s time to head to the Lower Town where you can spend the rest of your day wandering leisurely through the Green Horseshoe, an aptly named park in the centre of Zagreb, notable for its U-shape. There are numerous fountains, gardens, benches, and trees to relax by and it is a peaceful place to wander through in order to escape the busyness of the rest of your day.
Designed in 1883 and finished in 1889, the Green Horseshoe has been an important part of Zagreb for some time now as it is a peaceful green heart in an otherwise hectic and busy city. Throughout the year, you will find that many open-air food festivals take place in the park system and it is also home to Zagreb’s legendary Christmas market, which is often considered to be one of the best in Europe.
Explore the Craft Beer Scene
If you’re trying to see Zagreb in a day it can end up being filled with historic sites and leave little room to explore is hip and artistic culture. However, if you want to easily experience the modern culture in Zagreb, like craft beer and are keen to sample some local brews in the Croatian capital, then you are in luck. There is a great craft beer scene in Zagreb and many brewpubs are within easy distance of the main tourist sites, making drinking some hoppy brews easily accessible for visitors.
One of the most popular places to drink at for both locals and tourists alike is at Mali Medo, which serves delicious beer from brewery Pivovara Medvedgrad. They also have a couple of other brewpubs scattered throughout the city, these include Fakin Craft Bar and Pivnica Medvedgrad Ilica.
If you’re keen to sample more, a quick Google search will open up countless brewpubs specialising in craft beer, with taps serving up both brews from local breweries and international ones. Many restaurants also include local microbrews on their menus and it can be a welcome change from the local mass-produced lagers.
There are a number of fantastic restaurants to eat at in Zagreb, however, it can be hard to sort out the great eats from the tourist traps. If you’re wondering where to eat now that you’ve figured out what to see in Zagreb in one day, have a look at these suggestions:
Lari & Penati — This trendy eatery in the lower town is a great place to grab lunch as they have an affordable menu that changes daily with the seasons. They also have a range of delicious Croatian wines available by the glass, including some experimental orange wines that are very much worth trying.
Trattoria Canzona — If you’re hungry and like Italian food, then this is an excellent place to visit. They have a range of dishes including hearty pasta and pizzas along with other Italian favourites. It does get busy for both lunch and dinner, so it might be best to book a table.
Submarine Burger — A great place to grab a quick bite to eat, this trendy burger chain is truly delicious. They have both a range of beef burgers and a delicious veggie burger for those of us who are less carnivorous. For a truly Croatian twist to this international favourite, make sure to order a plate of truffle fries, you won’t be sorry.
Curry Bowl — If you’re craving some spice in a sea of otherwise not-so-spicy food, the Cury Bowl is a fantastic option. A quick and affordable place for both lunch and dinner, they serve a range of Sri Lankan dishes and curries that are suitable for both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
Where to Stay in Zagreb
Zagreb has ample accommodation options available no matter kind of traveller you are and what kind of Croatia travel budget you’re contending with. So whether you’re on the hunt for a budget backpacker’s hostel or a boutique B&B, here are some of our top recommendations for where to stay in Zagreb:
Hostel Mali Mrak — This small backpacker hostel is a great option if you’re travelling solo or on a budget. They have a handful of dorm and private rooms available, clean facilities, friendly owners, and great common areas for meeting other travellers. Click here to see their availability
Casablanca Boutique B&B — A centrally-located boutique hotel, this is an excellent place to rest your head if you’re on the look for a little romance and your budget allows for more than a hostel. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and breakfast is included in the nightly rate. Click here to check their availability
Airbnb — If you want more of a local perspective during your Zagreb itinerary, then Airbnb is a great option for you. There are numerous properties available on the platform from a private room in a local’s home to full apartments (like this modern flat just outside of the city centre). If you’re new to Airbnb, you can click here to get up to $40 off your first stay!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Zagreb hotels!
Spending a day in Zagreb is a great way to get to know the Croatian capital even in a short period of time. Because of its compact nature, you can get a lot of out the city even if you only have time to see Zagreb in a day.
When travelling in Croatia, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you looking for things to do in Zagreb in one day? Have you been? Let us know in the comments!