Having lived in Croatia for over a year, one of the big questions I hear is “is it worth visiting Zagreb?”
I know most people associate Croatia with the stunning Adriatic Coast and are probably considering a holiday to Croatia for the beaches and coastal attractions. But if you have longer or perhaps you’re visiting out of season (or maybe you’re just not a beach person!) then you might be wondering, is Zagreb worth seeing?
Having been to Zagreb at least 6 times now (I’ve lost count), I’ve come to love the city so much and really do encourage you to visit if you’re able to. It’s walkable, the Old Town is beautiful, it’s well connected and there’s plenty to do.
Read on to find out why I recommend visiting Zagreb.
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Where is Zagreb?
Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia and despite Croatia being known for its coastline, the capital city is located inland, in the north of the country.
Is Zagreb expensive to visit?
Is Zagreb worth a visit if you’re on a budget? I think being able to stick to a budget is more doable when you visit Zagreb compared to the coast of Croatia where the prices can fluctuate extensively during the summer.
Being the capital city, prices are of course higher than a rural location, but they aren’t as high as Dubrovnik or Split and the “tourist tax” doesn’t seem to exist in the same way as it does on the coast - or at least not noticeably.
I definitely spent less on a weekend in Zagreb vs. a weekend in Dubrovnik!
But as always it depends on your choice of accommodation, what activities and Zagreb attractions you want to see and the time of year you visit.
Is Zagreb worth visiting?
Here are 5 reasons why I think Zagreb is worth a visit:
1. There’s so much to do there
There’s no shortage of things to do in Zagreb, places to visit range from historical and architectural attractions to the shortest funicular tram in the world and the must-see Museum of Broken Relationships.
There are plenty of unique things to do and being a more progressive capital city means there’s something for everyone from the traditional and the completely unique. Don’t miss the Badass Women of Zagreb tour by Secret Zagreb or the Museum of Hangovers.
Or how about the World War II Gric evacuation tunnel or the beautiful Mirogoj Cemetery that’s being restored from the 2020 earthquake.
2. The architecture is unique and completely different from the coast
Croatia has a real mix of architecture due to its complex and varied history. If you visit the coast, you’ll see the Venetian influences, with everything built from the nearby sandstone and the almost palatial influences of the Diocletian Palace in Split. Or the colourful, compact houses of Rovinj, reminiscent of Venice and Burano.
Go down to Dubrovnik and you’ll see more Gothic and Renaissance influences.
But in Zagreb, you can see the inland influences of nearby Austria, Germany, Slovenia and Hungary in the streets and buildings - they’re colourful and compact but you really feel like you’re closer to western Europe with mountains and wooden houses more common.
3. It’s more diverse
Of course this is the case with most capital cities but we were very surprised at the lack of diversity in Split and other coastal cities. Zagreb feels more multicultural and more like a thriving city, rather than the tourist-focused towns of the coast.
4. The food scene is great
Again it’s to be expected that there’s a more diverse food scene in the capital, but as two people who LOVE Asian cuisines, especially Korean and Japanese, we really missed having a good choice of restaurants in Split with those cuisines.
The food choice in Zagreb is epic. Don’t miss traditional Strukle from La Struk in the old town. Get epic Asian street food at Kai Street Food. Or try Croatian street food from Heritage. We also love Torikaya Ramen Bar and Byblos Lebanese Restaurant.
They also have a great drinks scene, as someone who loves craft beer, I’ve visited the Garden Brewery every time we’ve visited Zagreb!
5. It’s got a great vibe all year round
Unlike the coastal cities which are incredibly seasonal, Zagreb is open and thriving all year round.
We were so surprised how much Split changes in the winter, cafes, bars and restaurants just shut for half the year and while the locals seem to reclaim the city after tourist season is over, it’s definitely not as easy to book a trip to Split or Dubrovnik in the winter.
However Zagreb is open and ready for visitors all year round, Zagreb places to visit are open all year round with plenty of hotels and its popular Christmas market means it’s just as much a winter destination as it is a summer one.
6. It’s safe
Is Zagreb safe? In a word, yes.
This is applicable to the whole of Croatia but the country is so incredibly safe with low crime rates, even in the capital city where you would expect there to be more crime, I’ve found it welcoming, comfortable and safe to visit all year round, both solo, with girlfriends and with my partner.
So if you’re wondering, is Zagreb a good place to visit from a safety perspective, I think definitely! Of course take all the usual precautions as you would when visiting anywhere.
7. Great connections both nationally and internationally
Zagreb’s airport is open and running all year round with connections all over the world. But Zagreb train station is also incredibly well connected, being on one of the main rail routes in Europe and one that’s popular on Interrail routes.
In fact, the first time I came to Zagreb was 2015 on an interrail trip when I took the train from Budapest to Zagreb and then onwards to Belgrade in Serbia.
You can also take easy day trips by train to Ljubljana or overnight trains even to Paris!
8. Great day trip options
Speaking of day trips, there are loads of places to visit on a day trip from Zagreb because it’s centrally located and well-connected.
Easily take a day trip to the famous Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb. Or take a day trip to Ljubljana from Zagreb and even see Lake Bled in Slovenia too.
You can also take day trips to Bosnia and Herzegovina or go hiking in Medvednica Park.
9. You can visit very cheaply in the winter (and see snow!)
Another epic day trip for skiers and snow lovers is to the mountains and ski resorts close to Zagreb.
But even if you’re not a skier, you can see snow in Zagreb during winter, or head to Plitvice Lakes in winter to see a truly magical scene - I’ve never seen so much snow in my life! But interestingly it’s not that cold, we didn’t see much below -5C so it was very easy to keep warm with the right clothes - hiking and taking the boat in Plitvice in the snow was magical.
The whole northern inland area of Croatia, above the Velebit Mountain range gets a substantial amount of snow each winter - something I had no idea about until we visited Croatia, but we definitely loved the snowy contrast with the fair weather on the coast!
10. It has one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe
Zagreb Christmas Market was voted the best Christmas Market in Europe three years in a row and it’s easy to see why.
Visiting Zagreb Christmas Market is magical and the market areas are extensive. From the HUGE ice rink in front of the theatre, with two levels and a figure-8 layout, to the huge screens showing performances, football matches or Christmas shows in the pop up food stall areas on Strossmayer’s Promenade. And don’t miss the market stalls themselves in People’s Square, Trg Bana Josipa Jelacica, Park Zrinjevac and more locations around the city.
Summary: is Zagreb Croatia worth visiting?
So is Zagreb worth a visit? Absolutely!
Unlike a lot of Croatia, Zagreb is not seasonal and you’ll find so much to see and do in Zagreb all year round. It’s a beautiful city with a very unique and interesting old town as well as plenty of intriguing attractions.
If you’re able to add it to your Croatia itinerary, perhaps fly into Zagreb and make your way to the coast with a stop at Plitvice on the way, then you can really see the variety of places and culture that Croatia has to offer.
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