The 12 best things to do in Zagreb for backpackers
When you think of Croatia, turquoise seas, sunny islands and green national parks come to mind way before city breaks. But backpackers travelling Croatia who head straight for the famous destinations down south are making a big mistake by overlooking its charming capital city. Sure, it may not have a beach, but what it lacks in sea and sand it more than makes up for in character and culture. Plus, there are so many awesome things to do in Zagreb that you wouldn’t have time for sunbathing anyway! Here are 15 of the best, to show you why Zagreb needs a space on your Croatia backpacking itinerary.
Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships
This unusual museum might sound like a joke, but it’s actually one of the most interesting Zagreb attractions. It’s full of random items donated from relationships gone wrong, from wedding dresses to a thirty-year-old scab – no, seriously. Each artefact comes with a story from the heartbroken lover it belongs to, which range from the heart-breaking to the hilarious and completely bizarre. It gives a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of normal people and makes a refreshing change from traditional history museums which, less face it, you’ve probably seen enough of on your travels around Europe!
- Opening times: 9am-9pm
- Price: 40 kuna (about £4.50)
Ride the world’s shortest funicular to the Upper Town
The Upper Town is the oldest part of Zagreb, made up of winding, cobbled streets, full of historic buildings and, most impressively, offering killer views over the sun-kissed red roofs of the city. The Upper Town seems like it was made for just strolling around on foot, soaking up the chilled vibes and stopping for coffee or an ice cream at a café with an epic lookout point. You can of course walk to the Upper Town, but why not hop on board a piece of history and ride the bright blue funicular for the whopping 66 metre journey? It’s been running for over 120 years and the locals still love it to this day!
- Opening times: The funicular runs every ten minutes from 6:30am to midnight
- Price: 4 kuna (£0.50) – so worth it for the novelty
Visit a totally adorable church
The colourful tiled roof of St. Mark’s Church is one of the most famous sights in Zagreb. This quaint little church looks like something out of a story book, with its red, white and blue rooftop featuring mosaics of the Croatian, Dalmatian and Slavonian medieval coats of arms. It makes for an excellent photo spot, especially when the sky is blue (which is most of the time in this sunny city). It’s not open to the public to explore inside – that is, unless you follow our travel hack. Attending mass (daily at 7:30am and 6pm) is free, an interesting local experience AND the only way to get inside and see the impressive sculptures and paintings that most travellers miss out on. No brainer!
- Opening times: 7:30am and 6pm daily for mass (10:30am on Sundays)
- Price: Free!
And then explore an epic cathedral
Dominating Zagreb’s skyline is Croatia’s tallest building, and certainly one of its most important, the seriously impressive Zagreb Cathedral. It’s the city’s proudest landmark and holds a special place in the resident’s hearts, as it’s the resting place of many of Croatia’s heroes. You must pay a visit to admire its Gothic architecture and intricate details – it’s free to wander around and the total silence inside makes for a peaceful break from the lively city. You might notice that the clock on the wall doesn’t work, but no, it doesn’t need a battery change. It’s permanently stopped on 7:03, the exact time that an earthquake hit it in 1880.
- Opening times: Daily from 10:00-17:00, or from 13:00 on Sundays
- Price: Free!
Browse for goodies at Dolac Market
This daily farmers’ market is nicknamed ‘the belly of Zagreb’, so do we really need to say any more? It’s a busy hub full of locals who come to shop for fresh fruit, meats and cheeses from the dozens of wooden stands that pop up every morning. There are lots more backpacker-friendly items to browse too, with some vendors selling souvenirs in the form of Croatia’s signature red heart, plus street snacks, second-hand books and flowers. The atmosphere is buzzing, especially early in the morning, and it’s one of the best things to do in Zagreb for an authentic experience of the city.
- Opening times: 7am-2pm
- Price: Free to browse
Make like the locals and take a coffee break
Café culture is huge in Zagreb, and the favourite pastime of the city’s residents is to hole up in a coffee shop for a few hours, chatting and watching the world go by. If you visit in spring or summer, you’ll see tables and chairs full of people spilling across every street in the city centre. The vibe in Zagreb is super social and laid-back – it’s one of the reasons we love it so much! If you’re serious about your coffee then you’ll love Quahwa. Hidden away off of UI. Nikole Tesle, it’s an independent roastery that makes the best quality brew in the city, with cool interiors and even cooler clientele.
- Opening times: Quahwa is open from 9am-10pm Monday to Saturday and 10am-6pm on Sundays
Have a picnic on the ‘Green Horseshoe’
If you arrive to Zagreb by train, the first thing you’ll see when you step out of the station is a beautifully groomed green garden, filled with all sorts of flowers, fountains and grand buildings. This is the beginning of the ‘Green Horseshoe’, eight public parks that are linked together, bringing colour and life to the city centre. On a sunny day they’re full of people hanging out, reading and playing games, plus there’s a bandstand in the middle of King Tomislav Square that’s been known to host impromptu performances. For a budget-friendly meal, you can’t beat grabbing a picnic and people-watching on the grass!
- Opening times: Always open
- Price: Free!
Take a stroll around Mirogoj Cemetery
You might think we’re a bit creepy for suggesting you visit a graveyard for fun, but actually the Mirogoj Cemetery is one of the most beautiful things to see in Zagreb. For starters, it was designed by famous Croatian architect Herman Bolle – the same guy who created the colourful roof of St. Mark’s Church – so you know it’s gonna be special. He’s even buried here, alongside other Croatian greats such as poets and sporting heroes. Mirogoj is a vast maze comprising leafy archways, tiled paths and grand domes, and is so huge that you might not bump into another person on your wander. Plus, it isn’t on most traveller’s radars (even though it really should be!)
- Opening times: 6am-8pm during summer, 7:30am-6pm during winter
- Price: Free!
Have a drink (or several) on Tkal?i?eva Street
Tkal?i?eva Street might be the liveliest area in Zagreb, a pedestrianised street that’s completely lined with bars, pubs and restaurants. It’s the hub of nightlife in the city, but it isn’t lairy or OTT. In true Zagreb style it’s casual, chilled and has a bohemian vibe, with plenty of al fresco drinking and dining and street performers providing a soundtrack to the evening. A night of bar hopping on Tkal?i?eva could involve local bars, live music, Irish pubs, Croatian craft beer or fancy cocktails. Or all of the above! Just make sure to stop at Otto & Frank when you need to refuel – amazing burgers for backpacker prices. Thank us later!
- Opening times: Most bars stay open until around 2 – if you want to go later, downtown spots like Alcatraz are open till the early hours
- Price: That depends on you! But most bars have no cover charge, and drinks are nice and cheap
Hike Medvednica Mountain
This might not be the best choice the morning after a night out, but if you’ve got a bit of time in Zagreb and want to explore the surrounding areas, this is a great place to start. The Medvednica Nature Park, home to the mountain of the same name, is located just north of the city. Its highest peak stands at 1,035 metres, which makes for a moderate two hour hike, with the opportunity to spot local wildlife on the way like birds of prey, bats and salamander lizards – yep, this close to the city! There are some pretty amazing landmarks to stop at too, like the tiny Sljeme Chapel that hosts midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and Medvedgrad Castle that offers views of the entire city. There are even mountain huts serving local food – you’ll need it when you get to the top!
- Price: It’s free to hike the trails and they’re clearly mapped out
Take a trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park
Another brilliant thing about Zagreb is that it’s only a 2 hour bus ride away from one of Croatia’s most beautiful spots, the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s made up of 16 turquoise lakes with the clearest water you’ve ever seen, joined together by dozens of tumbling waterfalls. There’s a series of wooden footpaths that snake around the lakes, so you can walk across the most incredible vantage points and get up close and personal with the crashing falls. It takes around 6-8 hours to walk around the whole thing! You can easily take a day trip here from Zagreb, but there are also hostels around the park if you’d rather stay in this dreamy destination for a few days.
- Opening times: 7am-7pm daily
- Price: It varies by season. From November to March it’s 60 kuna (£7), in May and October it costs 100 kuna (£11.50) and in the summer peak from June-September it’s 250 kuna (£28)
Stay at an awesome hostel
After you’ve checked off all the best things to do in Zagreb, you’re gonna need somewhere equally amazing to lay your head. Luckily for you, Zagreb is full of fab hostels, and they start from £7 a night! Chillout Hostel is one of our faves – just look at those funky dorms! It’s a super social party hostel with a buzzing bar, featuring daily happy hours, live DJs and karaoke nights. Plus there are two friendly resident dogs! Swanky Mint is another top pick, an old factory that’s been converted into an ultra-stylish hostel with all the amenities – including a pool and garden bar! They offer a welcome shot of traditional Rakija on arrival to introduce guests to the taste of Croatia.
So, now you know about all these amazing things to do in Zagreb, are you ready to add the Croatian capital to your backpacking itinerary? We’re sure you’ll love all the little quirks this charming city has to offer. Got any more Zagreb tips out readers need to know about? Let us know in the comments!
Don’t forget to check out all the incredible hostels in Zagreb that’ll make your trip even more unforgettable.
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