Know Before You Go
Why You'll Love
Close your eyes and think of Croatia. You’re seeing medieval coastal cities, aren’t you? As glorious as Croatia’s coastline truly is, there’s more to Croatia and Dubrovnik and Split. Venture inland and experience a different side of the country in its capital city, Zagreb.
Grand squares, a charming walled old town, and breathtaking nineteenth-century architecture await you. Unlike much of the coast, Zagreb reflects Austro-Hungarian influences. It moves faster. Zagreb boasts a world-class café culture, vibrant festivals, and a very cool street-art scene. Oh, and the cutest funicular you’ll ever ride.
I spent a month in Zagreb, at the end of a three-month trip in the region, and I grew to love this city because it was so different from the coast. I’d missed “real” city life, and, while Zagreb still retains a bit of a town feel, it’s definitely buzzier than life on the coast.
Zagreb is recovering from a big earthquake in 2020, so there’s construction, but what city isn’t undergoing some kind of construction project or another?
Here’s a quick guide on what to expect. Looking for more? Check out the posts and the travel guide for subscribers!
Zagreb has so much to offer that it’s hard to narrow down a few highlights. One of my favorite things to do was just go exploring, taking one of Upper Town’s staircases and seeing where it led me. And then sitting in a café for hours. And then finding some street art, or discovering a bit about Zagreb’s creepy side. Or ducking into one of the city’s unique museums. It’s a cool place, you’ll find.
From antique markets on a Sunday morning to the daily bustle of the Dolac public market, Zagreb boasts some great open-air markets. I lucked out and was in the city for Advent Zagreb, and, if you haven’t been to a European Christmas market before, they are not to be missed.
Solo Travel Experience
You’ll love Zagreb as a solo traveler. Because Zagreb is relatively safe, it’s a wanderer’s dream. It’s a decent-sized city with lots of activity, so there’s always something to do. Restaurants are accustomed to solo travelers, and Zagreb’s great café culture is perfect for the solo traveler.
Zagreb has a thriving street art scene, as well as a lot of public art. What’s your favorite? I didn’t get out to see every planet, but there’s a scale model of the solar system scattered around Zagreb.
Food & Drink
If coastal Croatia is known for its Mediterranean food, Zagreb is known for heartier fare. Don’t miss trying štruckli, a delicious dish of cheese and dough that comes to you piping hot and glorious, or Zagrebački odrezak, a cutlet with cheese that’s breaded and fried. In other words, wear loose-fitting clothing.
The Dolac market is perfect for fresh produce, with farmers and producers from all over the region filling the stalls every day except for Sunday (Saturday is the best day).
Zagreb’s café culture is one of Europe’s best, and the city is also known for its craft beer.
Getting There & Getting Around
Airport: Franjo Tuđman Airport (ZAG)
Train: Glavni kolodvor
Bus: Autobusni Kolodvor Zagreb
Zagreb has excellent public transportation (ZET), with tram lines and buses. It’s clean and efficient and made this former Boston gal very jealous. Zagreb’s funicular, one of the shortest in the world, is part of the public transportation system, as is the Sljeme cable car (Žičara Sljeme).
Zagreb is a great city for walking and supported by public transport if you found that you walked so far that you’re tired out. Getting up to Upper Town is a steep hill, but otherwise, it’s pretty flat. There are pedestrian zones that invite you to stroll at leisure.
As with the rest of Croatia, drivers are aggressive, so take care when crossing streets. In Upper Town, drivers whip through the tiny streets, and you’ll want to pay attention!
Zagreb’s tourism board indicates that it is working toward becoming more accessible, but it acknowledges that it is not there yet. Public transport is accessible. As with other European old towns, not everyplace is wheelchair friendly, and there are a lot of stairs and uneven surfaces. However, there is more accommodation in Zagreb than in other Croatian cities I visited.
The link includes attractions that can accommodate wheelchairs, but, as they have also advised, I would suggest visiting a website or getting in touch before going.
You can buy metro tickets at a Tisak (tobacco stand). You can buy multi-day tickets, but one-way fares are so cheap that I found it easier to just buy one when I needed it.
Note that to validate your ticket, you will need to enter by the first car and get it stamped. The other doors have transport card readers, which you likely wouldn’t have as a tourist. I never saw one, but there are inspectors, and, should you get caught, you can get a hefty fine. Generally, taking the bus can be a bit tricky if you don’t know where you’re going.
Uber runs in Zagreb, as does Wolt. I used it instead of taking the bus but took the tram lines at other times.
For a detailed map, see the main guide
Zagreb, like the rest of Croatia, is very affordable, however, you may find prices a bit higher than other destinations in the country. Day trips and excursions are more expensive than on the coast.
Credit Cards, Etc.
Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere in Zagreb, but it’s still a good idea to have some cash on you, especially for cafés and tips. ATMs are easy to find, but make sure that the bank is a reputable one (I used OTP bank, but there are plenty of others).
While not absolutely expected, tipping is certainly appreciated. Generally 10% will do. Tipping most always needs to be done with cash, so be sure to have some on hand.
Croatia uses type F sockets, as with the rest of continental Europe.
As of January 2023, Croatia is part of the Schengen Zone, meaning that stays in the country now count toward the 90-day limit for those visiting from outside the Zone.
When the ETIAS system rolls out (now expected mid-2025), travelers from the US will need to comply. Croatia has a visa that allows qualifying digital nomads to stay in Croatia for up to a year.
NOTE: Hotels and short-term rental hosts are required by law to register your presence. They will ask you for your passport in order to do this. If your hotel or host does not do this, ask about it, because it may not be a legal rental. Staying in an unregistered place could land you in some trouble when leaving the country. You can now register yourself. See the official information by clicking the link.
Climate & When to Go
Zagreb has a continental climate and four distinct seasons. Winters can get snow. The most rainfall happens in November, with heavy rains possible. July is the hottest month, but it is cooler than the coast.
When to go
I was in Zagreb in November, and while I had a great time, especially because I got to experience Advent Zagreb, you should know that it rains a lot in November. Summer is the high season, and, should you wish to avoid crowds, go during the shoulder seasons of spring or September.
Good to Know
Zagreb had a 5.3 earthquake in March 2020, and the city suffered significant damage. There’s construction going on everywhere, especially in the older parts of the city. While there’s a lot more open now, not everything may be operational. Make sure to confirm that an attraction is open ahead of time, as construction schedules can change.
As with the rest of the former Yugoslavia, while locals you meet may well bring up the wars of the 1990s, take care in what you say in return (and don’t bring it up). This remains a sensitive subject.
Health & Safety
Routine vaccinations suffice, and healthcare in Croatia is generally very good. As of this writing, no proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required for entry.
Croatia is one of the safest countries in the world, and Zagreb is generally very safe. Pickpocketing may be an issue in crowded areas. There is a known scam involving “gentlemen’s clubs” where a tourist is invited for a night of clubbing and is then stuck with an enormous bill. Standard street smarts and common-sense safety precautions should suffice.