Visitors to the Croatian capital are often steered in the direction of Zagreb’s historic core. Locally known as Gornji Grad (Upper Town), the old town combines the twin settlements of Gradec and Kaptol and is located just a few minutes from the city’s main street, Illica. It is a throwback to another era, one marked by architectural brilliance and immortal legends.
Here’s my Must-do list while in Zagreb’s Old Town
Take the Funicular
Many European cities boast of a spectacular funicular system, but the one in Zagreb is probably a contender for most quirky! It covers a mere 66 meters (in 55 seconds), running (or rather chugging) from Zagreb’s main street, Illica in the Lower Town to the Upper Town. You can also walk the 15 minute distance or take the stairway to Gornji Grad, but the funicular is the quickest way up, and especially fun if you have kids.
Enjoy the View from Lotrscak Tower
The funicular stops at the foot of Zagreb’s former defence tower, Lotrscak. This 13th century white stone structure once protected the city from attacks and raids, and sounded the alarm (a ringing bell) in case of fires and floods. Today it is known for the Gric cannon that fires a shot into the city everyday at 12:00 pm. For a 10 Kuna ticket you can climb the four floors of the tower and enjoy a bird’s eye view of Zagreb.
Visit the Baroque St Catherine’s Church
Right opposite the Lotrscak Tower stands the 17th century Church of St. Catherine. It ranks amongst the most impressive Baroque structures in the city. The interior of the church includes a number of intricate and spectacular artworks including frescos, paintings and sculptures.
Photograph the Tiled Roof of St. Mark’s Church
With its unique, tiled roof that graces most local guidebooks and brochures, the 13th century St. Mark’s church stands proudly on St. Mark’s square. The colourful tiles form two sets of coat-of-arms – the one on the left represents Croatia, and the regions of Dalmatia and Slavonia, while the one on the right represents the city of Zagreb. The church is just as exquisite inside with sculptures created by Croat master Ivan Mestrovic.
Hobnob with Local Leaders
St. Mark’s Square is surrounded by the Croatian corridor of power. To the right is the Croatian Sabor (national assembly) and on the left is the Ban’s Palace (Presidential Palace). It holds several governmental offices and courtrooms. The entrance of the palace is protected by uniformed, armed sentrys and during the summer, visitors can witness the changing of the guard ceremony that takes place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday at noon.
Light a Candle at the Stone Gate
A few paces from the Sabor, you’ll encounter the Stone Gate, the last surviving medieval town gate in the city. It was converted into a Miriam Shrine after a picture of the Virgin Mary was recovered, undamaged, from the gate archway after a devastating fire in 1791. The archway now holds pews at one corner, plaques thanking Mary for her kindness along the stone walls, while locals and tourists light candles in front of the alter.
Visit the Museums & the Galleries
Zagreb is a city of museums and galleries and Gornji Grad is no exception. This area is home to some impressive museums including the very popular Zagreb City Museum , and a number of great galleries like the Croatian Museum of Naive Art , the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Ivan Mestrovic Museum.
Walk along the Strossmayer Promenade
Once you’ve covered the sites in Gradec, head towards Kaptol and the lower town along the Strossmayer Promenade. This is a winding, terraced walkway that offers the best views of Zagreb through a dense row of chestnut trees. On a hot day, there’s nothing as pleasant as taking a few minutes to view the city from one of the Promenade’s wooden benches.
Stop by the most Popular Spires in Zagreb
Heading toward the lower part of town, you’ll come face to face with the city’s most popular spires – those of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary. These spires are visible from all points across the city! The cathedral courtyard boasts of an eye-catching marble column that holds a golden statue of the Virgin Mary and four golden angels, a prelude to the many treasures inside.