The best—and in some cases the only—way to see Zagreb is on foot, with the occasional tram or bus ride. Almost everything in the city center is pedestrian-accessible, as are some of the sites farther afield. Gornji Grad (Upper Town) is flush with historical buildings and churches, restaurants, boutiques, monuments, and entertainment venues. Donji Grad (Lower Town) is strong on museums, parks, historic architecture, and shopping. Other attractions are a short ride from the center of town. Anton Dominik Fernkorn’s statue of Ban Josip Jelačić is the centerpiece of Trg Bana Jelačić (Jelačić Square). The statue was installed on the square in 1866 and it stood there until World War II, when the square was renamed Republic Square. The statue was removed and stored in pieces because the powers-that-be determined it had become a rallying point for Croatian nationalists, who were seen as a threat to the ruling Communist Party. It wasn’t until 1990 that the statue was restored to its original home, and the square to its original name. Today Jelačić Square is ringed by cafés and shops; other smaller plazas radiate out from it.
Marija Juric Zagorka -- The bronze statue of a woman in 19th-century dress carrying an umbrella is a showstopper for pedestrians on busy Tkalciceva Street. The sculpture was created by artist Stejepan Gracan and commemorates Zagorka, who was Croatia's first female journalist. Zagorka was born to a wealthy family in 1873 and was well-educated, but she still had a difficult time breaking into journalism. On the recommendation of Bishop J. J. Strossmayer, she was given a job on a local Zagreb paper, where she started on the editorial board and introduced the first Croatian publication exclusively for women. Zagorka also penned several well-received novels that still are read today. She died in 1957.
Gradec is the second arm of central Zagreb’s civic neighborhood triumvirate. Less commercial than Kaptol, Gradec is packed with some of the city’s most interesting museums and monuments.
Heart of the Matter
The shiny red hearts on display in nearly every Zagreb souvenir shop are actually licitar, a honey dough similar to gingerbread that is shaped in wooden molds, hardened, coated with edible red lacquer, and decorated with trim, flowers, and swirls. Young men traditionally gave the colorful hearts to their girlfriends as an expression of love. Today, the decorated cookies are still given as a sign of affection, but they also are used as special occasion gifts or as remembrances. Personalized hearts are sometimes wedding favors, toys, or Christmas ornaments. The hearts have even been immortalized in a ballet, “Licitarsko Srce” (“Gingerbread Hearts”), by Croatian composer Krešimir Baranović. Today, these gingerbread hearts are used as hospitality tokens by the Croatia National Tourist Board—they are rarely eaten, but instead saved and displayed as instantly recognizable symbols of Croatia.
The U-shaped block of parks and gardens that runs from Trg Bana Josip Jelačić to the main train station and back is known as Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe, a flowing, tree-lined series of grassy areas, fountains, flower beds, monuments, and pavilions dotted with museums and galleries. According to Lenuci’s 19th-century plan, the green strips and stately cultural palaces are strategically placed to break up the visual monotony of the blocks and blocks of gray apartments and office buildings that characterize this part of town. The horseshoe cuts a green pattern through Lower Town and is home to such landmarks as the neo-Renaissance Academy of Sciences and Art, the neo-Baroque Croatian National Theater, and the Botanical Gardens.
Especially for Kids
Exploring Zagreb with children in tow can be challenging on a number of fronts. Ushering little ones across the open tram tracks, up and down steep cobbled streets, and through churches and museums that appeal mainly to adults can put a strain on parents and kids alike. Most of Zagreb’s hotels and sights don’t have any special extras for kids, though many do offer rate reductions for the younger set. Unlike hotels in Croatia’s resort towns, Zagreb hotels have no all-day programs to keep kids entertained. Very few restaurants have children’s menus or highchairs, though most will do what they can for customers with children.
One of the best bets for keeping kids amused in Zagreb is Jarun Lake, south of the center. Besides a beach, Jarun has paddle boats, playground equipment, and often sports competitions like beach volleyball to keep kids entertained. Children might also enjoy Zagreb’s cinemas—most show films in their original versions (usually English) with Croatian subtitles, so kids won’t have any trouble understanding what’s going on. Out of town, a day exploring Mount Medvednica, walking the hiking trails and stopping for a picnic, should appeal to most kids, and also result in a good night’s sleep for all.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.