Plush hotels, elegant restaurants, trendy bars, and a booming café culture. What’s not to like, when you’re debating where to stay in Zagreb? The city isn’t just the country’s capital, but the scientific, cultural, economic, and political centre of Croatia, as well as home to the Croatian Government, Parliament, and President.
Zagreb’s turbulent history, both old and modern, can be seen in the different architectural styles around the city, in its museums, and in its varied cultural activities.
Its young, energetic population contributes to an atmospheric buzzing street scene, that is enticing increasing numbers of city-break enthusiasts to come visit.
To look a little deeper into what drives this enchanting old city, stay with us, as we shortlist the best areas to stay in Zagreb.
Where to stay in Zagreb: 8 Best Areas
1. Upper Town, where to stay in Zagreb for first time visitors
Nestling between the hill of Kaptol and slopes of Gradec, Upper Town is the oldest area with a history dating back to the 11th century.
Immigrants arriving from the Mediterranean and countries across southern Europe, have provided the city a rich, multicultural heritage that is evident in the architecture and lifestyles in Upper Town, and other areas of the metropolis.
The Upper Town area is one of pretty 17th and 18th century pastel coloured homes and businesses, that line the twisting narrow streets, enticing you through to the main square.
From the main square (Trg Jelacica), a gentle uphill stroll toward Kaptol will bring you to the daily food market at Dolac. The market is open from 7am to 1pm every day.
Attracting locals from across the area, the market provides an interesting insight into day to day Croatian life, as you enjoy a coffee on the terrace of a local café.
Approaching the market, you will be able to pick out the twin spires of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dating back to the 13th century. Much of the cathedral was later damaged in an earthquake, and rebuilt in the early 20th century.
If you fancy a little bohemian living Croatian style, wandering east will get you to Tkalciceva. A narrow, colourful street full of small independent cafes, coffee-shops, restaurants, and bars.
With tables spread out along the walkway, it is one of Upper Town’s main social hubs, and a big part of the local street scene both day and night.
If you feel the need to spend a little time underground, head toward Radiceva and Mesnica streets. Here you will find the Gric tunnel, a one-time air raid and bomb shelter, and later storage area, it is now Zagreb’s latest tourist attraction, and can be walked through from 9am to 9pm.
Upper Town also boasts a few excellent museums including the City Museum, charting the city’s history using arts and crafts and, an interesting one, The Museum of Broken Relationships. A must visit, even if it’s just to find out how they got broken in the first place.
Ivan Mestrovic is one of Croatia’s most famous sculptors, and the Mestrovic Studio exhibiting a selection of his work can be found in Upper Town.
One of Zagreb’s most photographed attractions is the 13th century St Marks Church, with much of its interior dating from the 14th century.
Its colourful roof was designed in the late 1800s, and displays the ancient coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia on one side, and the Zagreb coat of arms on the other.
Close by you will also find the Croatian Parliament, the presidential palace, and the Gallery of Naïve Art.
There is an active and varied night scene in Upper Town, with local and international restaurants, bars to suit all tastes, and clubs such as Confusion, E11 Club, and City Rhythm, where you can party through the night.
Upper Town is a popular area to stay in Zagreb, but hotel accommodation is at a premium, with private lets making up the balance.
2. Kaptol, a pretty area to stay for exploring Zagreb
Considered by many a part of Upper Town, and by others a separate area, Kaptol skirts the top of the Upper Town border, with areas of the two districts often overlapping.
The history of Kaptol was first documented in 1094, when it became an ecclesiastical settlement, and the Zagreb diocese was located at Kaptol, along with a bishop’s residence and Zagreb Cathedral.
In the early days of Zagreb; Gradec and Kaptol were two separate towns, split by the River Medveščak, before eventually merging in the 19th century to become a part of the expanding city.
From the Dolac market, which borders the two areas, Kaptol’s main claim to fame is its majestic Gothic Cathedral, and 25 diocese manors built between the Middle Ages and 19th century.
Although a mainly residential area, Kaptol has increasing numbers of souvenir shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants to cater for growing visitor numbers.
It also has a large modern shopping mall in the Nova Ves district, and three large parks for those relaxing picnic times.
Pleasant evenings can be spent in the café/bars and restaurants around Kaptol. If you want a little more, a short stroll downhill will get you to the Upper Town area and Tkalciceva Street, where you are never far from the nightclubs.
Although there are limited hotels in Kaptol, hostels and private lets from studios to villas are available to take up the slack.
3. Lower Town, the place to stay in Zagreb for the arts and history buffs
Known locally as Donji Grad, Lower Town is one of Zagreb’s 17 local districts, and also the city centre. It stretches from Trg Jelacica Square on the edge of Upper Town, to the city’s main rail station.
In contrast to Upper Town with its winding narrow streets, Lower Town boasts almost boulevard style wide streets, flanked by impressive architecture from the Austria-Hungarian era, and frontages from the secession style of the early 20th century.
This whole area, stretching from the train station to Trg Marsala Tita and the National Theatre, is called the Green Horseshoe, and includes immaculately kept gardens and tree lined streets.
Lower Town is also heaven for the museum lovers, with no less than seven to be found around the area. Mimara museum (art museum) is located in Roosevelt Square, and one of the city’s most popular with over 3,750 exhibits.
The Ethnographic Museum is the place to learn all about Croatian culture, lifestyle and costumes. The Archaeological Museum has artifacts from prehistoric times through to the medieval period, and includes the largest coin collection in Europe.
The Museum of Arts and Crafts covers everything you can think of. Over 100,000 items from furniture to glass and metal, ceramics and sculpture to graphic arts, paintings, design, and photography, through to fabrics, fashion, and musical instruments. Whatever your crafting interests, this museum covers it.
The Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters is housed in a beautiful 19th century building in Trg (Square) Nikole Zrinskog 11, and covers art works from the 14th to 19th centuries.
Overlooking Zrinjevac Park, in Andrije Hebranga 1 street, The National Museum of Modern Art highlights the work of Croatian artists and sculptors from the 19th to the 21st centuries.
Finally, The Art Pavilion of Zagreb can be found just south of Nikola Subić Zrinski Square, and has regularly changing exhibitions of modern art from the 20th century.
The Lower Town area also has some excellent parks to enjoy including the seven squares of the Green Horseshoe, and Maksimir Park, one of the oldest in Europe, and home to Zagreb’s zoo with over 275 different wildlife species.
For a city of less than a million people, the nightlife in Zagreb is remarkably varied, with the most popular late bars and nightclubs focussed around Lower Town, Upper Town, and Lake Jarun.
There are excellent café/bars and restaurants in Lower Town to suit most tastes and palates.
Hotel accommodation is also good, with a varied selection of 4-star and 5-star hotels, as well as hostels and self-catering apartments.
4. British Square, a must visit for open-air market lovers and the curious
Not an area, but a large square on Ilica Street, west of Ban Jelačić Square in Zagreb’s Lower Town.
What makes this square deserving of its own slice of the article, is its popularity with both locals and visitors, who travel from far and wide to enjoy the sociability, and purchase fresh produce from one of the few remaining genuine farmers markets in Croatia.
If you’re an early bird, the daily market starts around 6am, and you will see chefs from hotels and restaurants all over the city bartering for the best cheeses, cream, vegetables, and fruits.
All of which will end up on hungry diners plates the same evening. As the morning progresses, local housewives arrive, to buy their own share of the fresh produce, before the market closes around 1pm.
But British Square is far more than just a farmers market. Both bus and tram routes from across the area start and end at the square’s terminus. And its surrounding cafes and coffee shops are a focal point for refreshment with locals, travellers, and those exploring the city.
On a Sunday, the square hosts a popular collectibles, antiques, and flea market, and is a great place to seek out those genuine mementos of your time in Zagreb. Who knows, you may even pick up a genuine Croatian antique.
On a Thursday evening, (although that can change) look out for the square’s ‘Old School Night’. Organised by the local ‘Tom Tom’ club, it is a gathering of old classic and vintage cars, vans, cycles, and motorbikes, and includes videos of the history of traffic growth in Zagreb.
To make things easier, there are plenty of good hotels and apartments just a couple of minutes walk from the square.
5. Novi Zagreb, where to stay in Zagreb on a budget
If you’re backpacking, touring on a budget, or just prefer to stay away from the tourist hot-spots, Novi Zagreb could be the place to do it.
At the end of WWII, Croatia was a part of socialist Yugoslavia, and the city fathers decided to expand Zagreb across the River Sava, with grand plans to provide housing for the masses.
Large apartment tower blocks were built, many of which still stand today, and locals and newcomers from other areas of Yugoslavia, began to populate the area.
Now, Novi Zagreb has matured into a popular residential area, with modern shopping malls, hotels, shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants.
So too has much of the architecture. From bland concrete high-rises to modern construction, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The first significant museum built in Zagreb for over 100 years.
The MCA is over 14,500 square-metres, housing modern art dating from the 1920s, and works from many of Croatia’s abstract-geometric artists from the 1950s.
If murals are your thing, take a stroll through the Dugave neighbourhood, and take a look at Zagreb’s version of street art, and the Street Art Museum.
If you’re looking to rest those weary legs, enjoy a couple of relaxing hours at Bundek Park with its pretty lake, or The Park of the Newlyweds, with its children’s playground.
For a little window shopping or retail therapy, head for the Arena shopping centre, or Avenue Mall. While on a Sunday, pay a visit to the Hrelić flea market, for some serious souvenir hunting.
Like most city suburbs, Novi Zagreb has a varied selection of restaurants and bars for night time entertainment. Quiet and laid-back for older couples and families, or busy and lively aimed at the 18 to 30s, the choice is yours.
A good selection of hotels and apartments are available, and generally cheaper than the city centre, like for like.
6. Jarun, a middle-class area great for families
If you’re considering where to stay in Zagreb with the children, Jarun may fit the bill. A couple of days wandering around museums, churches, shops, and markets might seem like bliss to mum and dad.
But boredom all too often sets in with the kids, and begins to spoil what is otherwise a pleasant few days exploring. A stay in Jarun may just solve that problem.
In the 1970s, still part of the socialist Eastern-Bloc, Jarun was a small village on the southern edge of the city. As part of Zagreb’s expansion in 1972, a number of high-rise apartment blocks were constructed in the village.
However, in the early 1980s things were about to change, and would propel Jarun into being one of the most popular areas of the city. Zagreb was picked to host the 1987 Universiade, a student version of the Olympic Games.
As part of the preparation for the games, a large man-made lake over two-kilometres in length and with five artificial islands, was constructed, to hold the rowing and water sports events. It was the birth of Lake Jarun.
Today, nearly 35 years later, Lake Jarun is a large public park where all can enjoy the numerous activities. With a man-made shingle beach, sunbeds, parasols, shops, and cafes, you could be enjoying a day at the seaside.
There are water-sports of all kinds including swimming, windsurfing, yachting, rowing, pedalos, and kayaking. Around the lake are over six-kilometres of horse riding, cycling, jogging, and hiking trails.
Lake Jarun’s activities don’t end when the sun goes down. On the north-east corner of the lake are numerous bars and nightclubs, including the famous Aquarius, where you can party the night away. It is also the venue for the annual three day music festival INmusic.
There is a good selection of shops, bars, hotels, apartments, and eateries around the Jarun neighbourhood.
Being just a 15-minute tram ride from the centre, you can do a little sightseeing in the morning, and the kids can burn off that pent-up energy in the afternoon.
7. Maksimir, a pleasant district for all visitors
Maksimir is located centrally within the city boundaries. Primarily a residential and business area, it stretches from Kvaternik Square in the south-west, to the main road junctions for Maksimirska Street, Bukovacka Street, and Svetice Street.
It is also home to the campus of the University Hospital of Zagreb, the national football stadium, (home to NK Dinamo), and Maksimir Park.
The park is a big draw locally. Opened to the public in 1794, it is one of the oldest public parks in the world.
With its 780 acres of 100-years old oaks, five lakes, streams, meadows, and trails, it makes for a tranquil environment away from the city hustle and bustle. Somewhere the kids can burn off some of that extra energy, and you can enjoy a little down time.
In the park you will also find the Bellevue Pavilion, circa 1843, The Lantern Temple, known as Echo Pavilion, a Swiss style cottage, St Juraj Chapel, and numerous sculptures.
Zagreb Zoo is also at the southern end of the park, and houses over 275 species of aquatics and animals.
Being just a short tram ride from the city centre, the area has a good selection of accommodation, bars, restaurants, cafes and shops, to keep you busy both day and night.
If you prefer your stay in Zagreb to be a little off the beaten track, take a closer look at Maksimir.
8. Zagreb Airport, the gateway to your long weekend
While searching through your hotel preferences for where to stay in Zagreb, it would be a mistake to just flick past airport hotels. In many instances, airport hotels are cheaper than city centre hotels, to keep themselves competitive.
Not only can you save money, but Zagreb’s airport has a number of hotels just minutes away, meaning you can be dropping your bags in your room 20 minutes after landing, grabbing a cab, and enjoying that first drink in less than an hour.
Choosing to stay in a hotel close to the airport also means no more worrying about that last drink on your last night, because you have to be up earlier to get to the airport.
20 minutes after getting up, you can be leaving your hotel, checking in at departures, and enjoying breakfast before boarding your flight.
Transfer time from the airport to Zagreb is around 20 minutes, with a choice of shuttles, cabs, buses or trams.