Is Zagreb worth visiting? A common question since Zagreb often gets overlooked. Get my take on the city, why I enjoyed it, plus plenty of photos!
Zagreb...the city that is often overlooked and forgotten when creating a Croatia itinerary. Tourists typically head straight to the coastal towns of Dubrovnik and Split, the Istrian Peninsula, and the islands. Understandably so. Croatia's coastline is insanely beautiful. It actually reminds me of Greece.
On a tight timeline I agree with deciding to save Zagreb for another time. But if you have extra time or this is a return trip to Croatia, I highly recommend considering Zagreb.
I really wasn't sure what to expect with this city. I didn't know anyone who had been and had heard/seen very little of it online and on social media. After reading Rick Steve's section on Zagreb in his Croatia guidebook (he highly recommends it), I decided it was high time I check this city out.
I am so glad I did and I'll take you through all the reasons why the answer is yes to "is Zagreb worth visiting?"
Zagreb is completely different from the islands and coastal towns
One reason I decided to include Zagreb on my last Croatia itinerary was because I was basing myself in Croatia for my entire trip. Usually, I'll hop around countries, but because of COVID, I learned it's best to stick with one country and one set of rules.
Though every coastal town and island has something unique to offer, after a while it all seems to blend together and feel very similar.
Zagreb on the other hand will remind you more of Vienna and Prague with its architecture, squares, and parks. If you didn't already know, it's the capital of Croatia and a bustling urban city.
In places like Dubrovnik, you're primarily surrounded by fellow tourists. In Zagreb, it's mostly locals with a sprinkling of visitors.
Dubrovnik and the islands can become insanely crowded during high season. Not so with Zagreb. The streets will feel blissfully quiet after you've braved the crowds in the more touristed cities.
Zagreb is by no means empty, it just has a different "urban bustle" type vibe. Where people are headed to work, squares are filled with friends catching up over coffee, and bars and sidewalk cafes are packed for an after work drink.
A big reason why I answer "yes" to "is Zagreb worth visiting" is because this is a city where you feel like you're experiencing the culture and witnessing a "real-life" Croatian city. Whereas the islands and coastal towns cater to tourists and are overrun by visitors.
Zagreb is a working city that caters to those who LIVE there...not just tourists. This not only means a more authentic experience, but also cheaper prices...because locals aren't going to pay the same price tourists will cough up.
Zagreb is cheap
Zagreb is extremely affordable. I could easily eat dinner every night for around $10. If I ate at one of the top fancy/expensive restaurants, my bill was usually $30 to $35 with a glass of wine.
The one thing that was not cheap was craft coffee. I typically paid $3.00 to $3.50 for a flat white. I will note that I was visiting the top coffee shops known for their atmosphere and quality...I'm sure I could have found cheaper coffee elsewhere.
And speaking of coffee, if you're a coffee snob you'll be delighted with Zagreb's selection of coffee shops and cafes.
One day I decided to indulge in an afternoon tea at Hotel Esplanade (a 5-star hotel) for a mere €21.
There are also markets like the Dolac market offering fresh fruits, veggies, and other items for next to nothing. I purchased a fresh carton of strawberries for $0.60!
The hotels are also very affordable. I stayed at the brand new Canopy by Hilton Zagreb for $78 a night. The hotel was fantastic! It was just as good, if not better, than the Canopy in Scottsdale, AZ which goes for $300 to $450 a night!
If you want to visit a city where you can get by on the cheap, Zagreb won't disappoint.
Is Zagreb safe? Yes! and it's clean
Is Zagreb safe? Another question you may find yourself asking, especially if you're a solo traveler. I spent six nights in Zagreb as a solo female traveler and not once did I feel unsafe. Granted, when I travel solo I don't stay out late and wander around after dark.
The safety of Zagreb seemed to be something locals were very proud of. It was often mentioned by my Uber drivers, tour guides, and hotel staff.
The city was also very clean. Yes, you'll see some graffiti and there are some buildings and areas that could use some restoration work...but all in all, the city felt clean. The parks were well manicured and you didn't see sidewalks covered in trash or overflowing rubbish bins.
Zagreb is walkable
I love a walkable city! Since the weather was perfect while I was in Zagreb, I decided to walk everywhere. The city is small and many areas and streets are pedestrianized, so it's really enjoyable to explore the city by foot.
There's also a convenient tram system and Uber is readily available if your feet need a break.
The cafe culture is on point
One thing I immediately noticed is how the city seems to revolve around coffee breaks. Squares and sidewalk cafes were continually filled with locals chatting over a beer or coffee. There are several pedestrianized streets filled with restaurants, cafes, and bars.
Tkalčićeva ulica is a popular one and a great spot to take a seat and people watch.
Zagreb has great day trip options
Zagreb is well situated for some memorable day trips. The two best options are Plitvice Lakes National Park and Slovenia/Lake Bled.
I recommend joining a tour. That way you can relax to and from and learn about where you're going and what you're seeing from the guide.
Recommended day trips from Zagreb:
- Plitvice Lakes with Ticket & Rastoke Small Group Tour from Zagreb
- Ljubljana and Bled Lake - small group - day tour from Zagreb
- Private eclectic experience of Rastoke and Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Private Tour: Ljubljana and Lake Bled Day Trip from Zagreb
- Istria 'called original Tuscany' (Rovinj, Pula,Porec) - Private Tour from Zagreb - this is a bit of a drive (about 3 hours), but if you want something different, it's a great option!
Is Zagreb worth visiting? My answer is yes! Including Zagreb will not only give your wallet a much needed break but will also round out your experience in Croatia. It's completely different than the islands and coastal towns.
As I mentioned earlier, if you have limited time and it's your first trip to Croatia, I wouldn't take days away from places like Dubrovnik, Hvar Island, or the Istria peninsula just to squeeze Zagreb in.
These areas are beautiful, naturally stunning, and unique. Zagreb is a landlocked urban capital more similar to Vienna than other places in Croatia.
If you do end up having a few spare days, I highly recommend including Zagreb on your Croatia itinerary to experience an authentic, working, Croatian city.