So you’ve got a couple days to spend exploring the Croatian capital, eh? Though of course you could find ways to fill multiple days, 48 hours in Zagreb, if well-plotted, is a decent amount of time to get a feel for the city and the local history.
I’m a big advocate for packing as much into an itinerary as humanly possible, but I got lucky with my brief 48 hours in Zagreb because many of the things I wanted to see (in the list below) are concentrated in a pretty, compact walkable area.
Everything is in a map below (that you can just have – I’ll leave the “how to” notes at the end by the map!) in addition to links to a Google map
Ban Jelačić Square
Ban Jelačić Square is a main hub right near many of the tourist destinations. The square was named for Josip Jelačić, a notable general during the 1800s. There are so many interesting things about the statue of Jelačić that sits at the center of the square, but my favorite was the story of the crest on the back side. While it may just look like a standard, confusing family coat of arms, if you look very closely, you’ll see three disembodied heads on the center tile (one at the top and two near the bottom). Though when Jelačić lived, the relationship with the Turks was very friendly, when his family’s crest was created… that’ was not the case. The crest bears three heads of slain Turks, so when he went to visit his pals in Turkey, the ye olde graphic designers resized the center tile to be so small that the heads were merely little red dots.
Also, after you’re done taking in the imagery on the crest, turn 180 degrees and look at the yellow building behind you. It’s a nice building, so take a few pictures and then walk and stand at the center of the passageway that leads under the building. Once you’re stopped and blocking foot traffic, look up. The stairs are a super cool double-helix design. You can go up and take a peek, but just be respectful of the fact that they’re not exactly a tourist attraction so be quiet and be brief (I think there were business offices on each level).
Pro tip: Don’t get hit by a tram
The cathedral was built in the 1300s and has had a weird, unfortunate history. It was intended to be the tallest building in the world but unfortunately by the time it was completed, the tower at Pisa had it beat by a few feet (though the building was heavily damaged in an earthquake in the 1800s and the spires were added during reconstruction, making it much taller than the original structure). While I might make a quip about “well we know how the Pisa tower turned out!” and congratulate the Croatian architects for at least getting the cathedral towers to stand at a 90 degree angle to the ground…. that would be a premature pat on the back.
As it turns out, when industrialization and cars made their way to Zagreb, that caused the rain to become just acidic enough to mess with the really weak limestone that was used to build the cathedral. And the problem goes beyond just being topical – once it started to seep into the stone, the damage was irreparable and self-perpetuating. I was with a guide when I visited the cathedral, and he called it “stone cancer.” They’re working on making repairs.
Of course, also go inside! I grew up going to church, so the inside wasn’t totally surprising for me- but it is a beautiful cathedral.
Good to know: Please keep in mind that Zagreb Cathedral is still an active place of worship and there will be people inside praying. I opted to not use my actual camera to take photos because the shutter sound is super loud, but phone photos seemed fine. Entry is free, but they do have a box at the entry for donations to go to the restoration project, so if you have some spare kuna, throw them in the box by the door!
Every day there is a big open market by the Cathedral. I find it fascinating to walk through the open air markets and see if there is any unique regional produce and other local specialties. I only found out about this market on my second-to-last day in Zagreb, which is a shame because I was having one hell of a hard time finding vegetables before that.
Good to know: The market is only open from 7am to 2pm daily, so stop in before you start exploring for the day so you don’t miss out!
St. Marc’s Square
St. Marc’s Church is one of the more iconic buildings in Zagreb (and most likely the one you’ve seen the most of in other blog posts about the city!) – and is a must-see during your 48 hours in Zagreb. The tiled roof is stunning and the fairly bland buildings that surround the church make it pop all that much more. The two shields seen on the side are the coat of arms of Zagreb (right) and the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slovonia and Dalmatia (left). One super interesting thing about the roof is that it was created while Croatia was still under Austro-Hungarian control, and to appease the monarchy, they included the royal colors of yellow and green (they can be seen on the border and the other side of the building).
Pro tip: Walk around the back side of the church to get a better view of the yellow and green tiles.
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I admit that I was pretty surprised that this popped up on my radar. Before I go somewhere new, I’ll usually browse hashtags, location tags, and regional tags on Instagram – and I found it very interesting that a cemetery would be one of the most frequently tagged points of interest for a tourist city.
The images of the cemetery were beautiful, and having picked up an interest in “death culture” while living in Asia in Indonesia I’m always a little curious about how different regions and religions bury and/or memorialize their dead.
Mirogoj Cemetery (built in the 19th century by Hermann Bollé) is unique in that it is owned by the city, thus making is a secular cemetery, versus having an association with a particular church or faith. The whole place was beautifully kept, and I even noticed that some of the plots that appeared to be full and quite old (like, the last internment being 20+ years prior) still looked well-kept and some even had fresh flowers. The way the trees lined the very narrow paths was really nice.
The main building of the cemetery was more ornate and it appeared that those plots were more like a mausoleum than a multi-person grave (like the ones in te “yard”).
Good to know: If you choose to take pictures here, be respectful and cognizant that there are other people walking around visiting their loved ones. Also, in the larger mausoleum building, the actual plots are under the floor (there are big rectangles that looked like they were the ”doors”), so once I realized that’s what they were, I stepped around them.
Getting there: Taking bus 106 took me about 15 minutes and was very easy. Tickets can be purchased at a nearby vendor (usually in the form of a small manned convenience stand) – just mention you need a round-trip!
Promenade + Funicular
There is a great promenade that overlooks part of the city. Zadar is kinda built into a hill, with the promenade being at a steep drop. When I was there, the weather was quite hazy, so I wasn’t able to get any super clear images, but the view was pretty nonetheless.
The older part of Zadar is on the top of the hill (as apparently has remained largely unchanged since medieval times?). Historically, the wealthy would live up the hill and instead of having to trudge up and down the hill, a funicular was built in— to take the wealthy the 60(?) meters between the top and bottom.
As I was told, when it was built they were super proud of their funicular, but then some out-of-towners burst their collective bubble and let the locals down with the “sorry, but that’s one tiny lift.” The locals have the last laugh though, as the Zadar Funicular is the shortest in the world – which is still a fun superlative to have!
Good to know: It’s super cheap (4kuna / .5euro / .62usd) and super quick. There are also stairs, and when you consider buying the fare, boarding, the ride, and alighting – taking the stairs is probably just as fast (but less fun #ihatecardio)
The old town has been in a similar condition since —– and is somewhere where I could’ve roamed for an infinite amount of time. I adored all the little pathways that cut between buildings – and it feels old without looking old. The area is super well-kept.
One of my favorite things I saw in the Old Town was this building that had a row of windows on the bottom and then one window on the top, with the rest of the top row being painted onto the building. I know it’s not what happened, but it the narrative I desperately wanted it to have was: “the builder got lazy and thought to himself “I bet nobody will notice’ and just painted the rest.” That would’ve been a troll job I could totally get on board with. More likely, it was a nunnery or jail (but as my guide said a handful of times, a lot of the local history wasn’t entirely known and was partially left up to guesswork.
This is nestled into a pretty busy area – not far odd Ban Jelačić Square. It’s a teeny orthodox church with a very traditional and ornate interior. Given the plain exterior, the design inside feels a little surprising. This would just be a super quick stop, but it’s a neat “whoa, I would’ve never guessed that this would be here” moment.
Good to know: Facing the church, there is an alley with a side door to the left where you can pop in for a peek.
Stone Gate / Shrine
There is an area by the old town (I think it technically leads from the lower part to the upper part) where there is an shrine to Mary. You might miss it if you’re not paying attention, as it is situated in an underpass with a lot of foot traffic. This is a place where you want to exercise a lot of restraint and respect. As I was told, this is a place where you go to pray if you’ve reached your last resort. Because this is a place where people are praying because they’re in a lot of pain or going through an intensely difficult time, that is why it’s so important to be quiet when passing through. If someone is praying, don’t take their photo.
Good to know: Don’t act up.
Practical information for visiting Zagreb
If you’re flying in, the airport is quite small and passport control wasn’t terribly busy. There are a few luggage carousels, so you luckily won’t have to struggle to figure out which one has your stuff.
The arrivals hall is pretty scant with just a few places to grab a bite, a tourist desk, and ATMs and currency exchange. The tourist info desk can point you towards the shuttle to the city. Facing the exits, you’ll go all the way to the right, and them walk a diagonal line across the street towards a coach bus that says “Croatia Air.” There will likely be a few others gathered there and one or two men in driver’s uniforms.
The ride to the city is roughly 30 minutes and will cost 30kuna. You’ll be dropped at the main bus terminal.
There are a few trams that run past the bus terminal, but I was easily able to walk to/from my accommodation by Ban Jelačić Square (which is near a lot of the tourist accommodations). The walk was 15-20 minutes and straightforward.
The bus terminal itself was a little complicated. When departing, I felt like a pinball, constantly bouncing between ticket counters to find the one I needed and then the boarding gate for the bus).
Bathrooms are not free.
Finding a public hotspot was a little difficult. I didn’t buy a SIM card, nor did I want to pay the $10/day fee by my wireless provider, so I took screen shots of the maps I needed.
There are bakeries everywhere. I mean that so very literally. It was super cheap to grab a baguette, pastry, or sandwich from the bakeries – which really helped keep things budget-friendly! I did, however, hit a point during my trip where I realized that I hadn’t seen a vegetable in a multiple consecutive days and I became worried about coming down with scurvy.
Carry cash and don’t assume places will take cards. Zagreb was a bit more flexible with card payments, but some places were strictly cash-only. Everywhere else on the trip, I was basically unable to find places to take my card.
Markets for vegetables
If you’re in need of some produce, find an open-air market – every city I visited had some sort of produce/local food market. The only catch was that they we’re open early and closed early-afternoon.
Here is the map I created for my 48 hours in Zagreb. I find that organizing the things I want to do in a Google map lets me see where all the sites are in relation to one another, which helps me map out efficient walking routes.
To get this map you can click the little share button and email it to yourself. When I want to save someone else’s curated map, I click the little star to make sure I’ll be able to easily find it again (in my Google Maps > Your Places > Maps).
- Have you been to Zagreb? How about Croatia?
- What tips do you have for visiting Zagreb in 48 hours (or general tips for quick city visits)?
- Which other places do you know of that have a cash-only culture?