As the cultural heart and capital of Croatia, Zagreb, unsurprisingly, presents a variety of attractions to keep travellers busy. If you’re only able to spend one day in Zagreb, make sure that you stretch your legs: This is a fantastic walking city with miles of stone streets leading you past centuries-old buildings. The city also has a lively nightlife scene in the Lower Town.
Despite the growing popularity of the country’s coastal cities, Zagreb is still one of the top destinations in Croatia for travellers; it’s a shame to spend just 24 hours in the city. Luckily, this still gives you enough time to hit some of the best attractions!
Don’t know which sites to visit first? Start planning your trip with this complete 1-day Zagreb itinerary…
What to do in Zagreb in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
Your Zagreb itinerary should include some of the most famous landmarks in the city, such as Zagreb Cathedral, along with time spent in the modern lower town.
The older upper town is full of hills, winding streets, and historic buildings. It has a lot of small-town charm, while the more modern lower town is always bustling with energy and excitement. That’s where you’ll find eccentric museums and loud beats coming from the area’s numerous nightclubs.
The following city travel plans will take you through the best attractions in both parts of the city.
Start your day in the centre of the city at Ban Jelacic
When planning your Croatia itinerary, it’s a good idea to start in the centre of the city. Ban Jelacic is the main city square and the heart of Zagreb.
All the major roads extend from this square, which also makes it the perfect spot to gather your bearings. If you end up getting lost later in your journey, you can always follow one of the main roads back to this square.
There are two sites to check out before you leave. First, search out the large statue of Ban Jelacic. It’s an impressive statue standing in the centre of the square. On the other end of the square, you’ll find the Mandusevac Fountain.
PRO TIP: Get the lowdown on Zagreb’s rich history alongside a professional guide by joining in on a Zagreb Walking Tour! This 2.5-hour tour checks out many of the city’s top attractions and includes a ride on the funicular to Gradec.
Watch traditional folk dancers outside of Zagreb Cathedral
The square will quickly become crowded, so you may want to avoid spending too long here before heading north toward Zagreb Cathedral.
A visit to the cathedral is considered one of the top things to do & see in Zagreb. It’s an early 12th-century Neo-Gothic cathedral with an intricately carved façade. While the cathedral has undergone major renovations over the years, it’s still an imposing sight.
The inside is just as impressive. It contains numerous statues and detailed columns. People often consider it one of the world’s most stunning churches.
The area outside of the cathedral may also provide some entertainment. The square often fills up with vendors and traditional folk dancers. It’s a great way to experience the culture of Zagreb while standing outside of the historic church.
Enjoy delicious food at Dolac Market
With 24 hours in Zagreb, you’re going to need to eat at some point. While the vendors in the square outside the cathedral often have tasty treats, your next destination should have a larger selection.
Dolac Market is just around the corner from the cathedral and contains rows of merchants selling all types of fresh produce, meat, and other foods. If you prefer fish, there is a fish market right next door. There is even a meat and dairy market underneath Dolac Market square.
The market may be your last chance to fill up until the end of the journey. Make sure that you grab a bite before continuing to explore Zagreb.
PRO TIP: If you’re interested in Zagreb’s food scene, indulge your tastebuds by hopping onto the Zagreb Food Tour! The tour includes stops at several restaurants and a market where you’ll get to try Croatian favourites like sir i vrhnje (cottage cheese), burek (stuffed pastry), and štrukli (a local dessert).
Take a ride to Upper Town on the Funicular Railway
The market is still in the lower part of the city. While the remaining attractions are just a short walk away, they are up a steep hill. To get to the Upper Town, take the Funicular Railway.
As you climb the slope, you’ll start to see Lotrscak Tower. Hopefully, you should be arriving just in time to see a cannon fired. This ritual is performed every day at noon to (allegedly) commemorate the city’s victory over Turkish invaders.
Besides the tower, you’ll also get a great view of the Lower Town and the rest of the city. You can see all the buildings featuring different shades of pastel colours and Zagreb’s signature bright orange rooftops.
PRO TIP: Combine a ride on the funicular with a 2.5-hour walking tour through Zagreb’s history with a professional guide on a Zagreb Walking Tour!
Listen for cannon fire at Lotrscak Tower
When you need to experience Zagreb in 24 hours, Lotrscak Tower is a must-see destination. It’s the next stop after getting off the railway. The tower is one of the oldest landmarks in the city.
You can take a tour of the tower and go to the top to get another sweeping view of Zagreb. Be careful when climbing the steps; they are steep, but getting to the top is the best part of visiting the tower.
While the tower is tall, the architecture is not very impressive. Besides catching the firing of the cannon at midday, the main reason to visit is to get a better view of Zagreb. In fact, this is the perfect spot to snap photos to show your friends and family back home.
PRO TIP: Catch the firing of the cannon at Lotrscak Tower and wander about Lower and Upper Town alongside a professional local guide on the Zagreb Guided Walking Tour!
Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships
Zagreb has a unique reputation. It is home to some of the strangest museums, including the Museum of Broken Relationships. When you leave the tower, it’s just around the corner.
The museum includes mementos from failed relationships. Each item also includes a story, letting you know what went wrong and why the item was so important to the relationship. Some of the stories are funny, but most of them are a little sad.
If you’re in the mood for more quirky museums, there are many more to explore. Unfortunately, you may not have time when exploring Zagreb in one day. During your next trip, make sure that you check out the Museum of Naïve Art and the Museum of Torture.
PRO TIP: Save time and money by combining a visit to the quirky Museum of Broken Relationships with a two-hour walking tour of central Zagreb with this Zagreb Tour & Museum Combo!
Appreciate the sculptures at St. Mark’s Church
The museums are just a stone’s throw from historic St. Mark’s Church. This medieval-style church is a major contrast to Zagreb Cathedral. While the cathedral features beautiful carvings and statues, St. Mark’s Church is a plain-looking medieval church with a bright roof.
While the church seems a little plain from a visual perspective, it’s an important cultural landmark for the people of Zagreb. It also features the coat of arms of Croatia, Slovenia, and Dalmatia, along with the city’s emblem on the tiled roof.
Every Saturday and Sunday between April and October, there is a changing of the guard ceremony outside the church. Unfortunately, this occurs at noon, when you’ll hopefully be visiting Lotrscak Tower.
If you arrive during mass, you may be allowed inside where you can check out a large collection of sculptures from Ivan Mestrovic. Mestrovic is considered the most famous sculptor in Croatia. Some of his work is surreal, erotic, and whimsical, which makes them interesting objects to find in a church.
PRO TIP: Zagreb’s full of interesting significant historical & cultural sites. Learn more about some of the best, including St. Mark’s Church, by joining a professional guide on the 2-hour Zagreb Guided Walking Tour!
Pass through Zagreb’s ancient Stone Gate
When you finish touring the church, head east toward where you started your excursion. The final landmark to explore is the Stone Gate.
The gate is the last of four gates that guarded the entrance to the city. It’s a medieval stone gate that has become a religious shrine.
In 1773, a massive fire burned every wooden part of the gate. The only non-stone item remaining was a painting of the Virgin Mary with Child. People, believing this to be a miracle, regularly come to pray at the painting and leave flowers. There is also a small chapel near the gate.
PRO TIP: Interested in Zagreb’s coolest historical sites like the Stone Gate? Join in on a Zagreb Guided Walking Tour to get the most out of your visit!
Catch a late lunch or early dinner on Tkalciceva Street
After spending a little bit of time at the gate, it should be getting late in the day. Just a couple of blocks north is Food Street, which sounds like a great place to find some lunch or an early dinner.
The street is really named Tkalciceva Street and is home to numerous bars, restaurants, and pubs. You can enjoy beer, meat, or even pizza.
The area also includes several bakeries, including the Cookie Factory. There is no shortage of places to fill your stomach, but if you have trouble finding anything that looks good, head one street over to Radiceva Street.
The adjacent street also includes some of the best small eateries in the city, including a few tapas bars and a Mexican restaurant.
After you eat, stroll over to Opatovina Park. It’s right next to the food streets and includes some interesting artwork, including a large mural. It’s also part of Ban Jelacic, which is the square where you started your journey.
PRO TIP: Although Croatia food isn’t exactly the most famous in Europe, its best dishes are quite delicious and filling. Savour Zagreb’s best cuisine by booking yourself onto the comprehensive 4-hour Zagreb Food Tour, include food tastings at six different foodie hotspots!
If it’s already getting late, some of the clubs should start opening on Tkalciceva Street. Besides offering endless dining options during the day, it’s the centre of the nightlife in the city.
If you’re lucky enough to still have some time left in the day, consider taking a stroll south, back to the main square and the adjacent Zrinjevac park.
You’ve now walked a circle around the centre of Zagreb. During your next trip, consider taking the time to explore some of the outer areas.
PRO TIP: Although Zagreb’s well-known for its nightlife, one of the best ways to spend the evening is with a quiet glass of local Croatian wine! Join in on the 4.5-hour Wine & Dine Evening Wine Lovers Tour to sample some of the country’s most-prized wines and local appetizers at some of Zagreb’s most popular wine bars.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Zagreb
Even with its capital city status, choosing where to stay in Zagreb isn’t as challenging as other larger Central European cities. Most of the top attractions are located in & around the city centre where there are plenty of good accommodation options. The two best areas for travellers are Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and Donji Grad (Lower Town).
Start your accommodations search with these top hotels in Zagreb…
- Hotel Jadran: This comfortable hotel in Donji Grad is the perfect choice for travellers on a tighter budget who don’t want to compromise location.
- Best Western Premier Hotel Astoria: This mid-range hotel features both clean rooms and an enviable location that’s just 5-10 minutes away from the central train station and main square.
- Esplanade Zagreb Hotel: One of the top luxury hotels in the city, this 5-star occupies a palatial historic building with elegant rooms to match. Add on the hotel’s luxurious amenities, including a spa, fitness centre, massage service, and two classy on-site restaurants, and you’ll see why this is top choice for travellers looking for a little dash of style during a Zagreb layover.