If you like urban travel with a bit of urban nature and a very relaxed atmosphere, Zagreb has a lot to offer.
Zagreb is a great city with a very laid-back vibe. In this guide to alternative things to do in Zagreb I’ll share what I discovered in two different visits to the city.
This post features the more unusual things to do in Zagreb, alongside some of its more famous attractions.
I also looked into different places to stay in Zagreb and towards the end of this post recommend some of the best accommodation options for any budget.
Here are my tips for cool things to do in Zagreb, most of them free, including some quirky museums, cool cafes and bars, excellent street art and plenty of places to chill.
Art Park – A unique place in Zagreb
Wondering what to do in Zagreb on a fine weather day? Head to art park!
Somewhat hidden, but just moments form the Zagreb funicular, this little park in the city centre is a beautiful project initiated by a group of street artists.
In the past it used to be a junkie park, today it’s one of the coolest places to hang out in the city.
Open all day long in the summer months, and in the evening up to 11 pm, it’s full of people hanging out, drinking and chatting.
There are a couple of bars in the park to serve your drinking needs.
The park is full of cool street art creations everywhere you look and new pieces are added from time to time.
Don’t miss this unique spot when you visit Zagreb.
The Museum of Illusions in Zagreb
I promised some quirky museums, and this is the first one. Visiting this museum is one of the best things to do in Zagreb.
It’s a very original and interactive museum featuring all sorts of optical illusions, holograms, clever brain teasers and the like.
Everything in the museum of illusions has clear explanations in English telling you how the trick works, but it may still leave you puzzled.
It’s a truly fun place to visit in Zagreb and what makes it even more fun is that you’re allowed to take pictures of all the illusions.
It may sound like a children’s museum, but in fact there were more adults than children when I visited.
The museum has two floors full of intriguing items, pictures, games and even three different rooms you can enter and lose touch with reality for a moment or two…
Free Spirit Zagreb walking tour
I like to take guided walking tours on my first or second day in a new city. It’s the fastest, easiest way to get to know the place and meet some people at the same time.
In Zagreb I took the Free Spirit Tour, which focuses on the Upper Town.
The downtown is the area you’re more likely to see as a visitor when you first arrive, but the Upper Town has plenty to see as well.
After a long historical introduction by our eloquent guide (which I found fascinating), we went up the hill and our guide introduced us to all the important sights.
I discovered many things I didn’t know about Zagreb and Croatia. It was a very good introduction to the city
If you’re looking for free things to do in Zagreb, this is a tip-based tour (pay what you like).
More Zagreb guided tours
Zagreb BIG tour – A comprehensive tour of Zagreb
Zagreb Photo Tour – Photography tour led by a professional local photographer
Ancient Zagreb bike tour – An entertaining bike tour of the city highlights.
Unusual things to do in Zagreb: The Botanical Garden
Surprisingly, Zagreb can get even more relaxed than it already is.
If you ever need to unwind in Zagreb, the botanical garden is the place to go.
This is a little gem right next to the train station and it’s one of the best free things to do in Zagreb.
As you walk around the garden, you’ll see the names of the trees and other plants are displayed next to each.
I liked the flower beds sorted by colour, with explanations in English.
There are some vegetable beds and many types of succulents, but my personal favourite spot was the pond 🙂
Cool places in Zagreb: Booksa
An alternative guide to Zagreb has to include Booksa. This is a cool cafe, bookshop and book club, just a short walk from the main square.
Plenty of sofas amongst the books and you can order your coffee or a soft drink at the bar and chill.
It’s also a laptop-friendly cafe, you’ll see quite a few people working on their laptops there.
In the evenings, you might come across a reading night or an unplugged concert.
Cool things to do in Zagreb: Zagreb street art tour
Zagreb’s street art scene is blooming and well worth discovering. It’s got some of the most beautiful street art I’ve seen on my travels.
The murals around the city, both downtown and in the Upper Town are particularly impressive.
There’s also a unique project of painted water pumps all over the city that you may spot as you walk around.
It’s a whole world of alternative art and lifestyle in Zagreb that’s there to be discovered.
When I realised that I might be missing out on some cool pieces of art, I decided to take the Zagrebee Street Art Tour and have a local guide show me around.
That was a wise decision. You will learn a lot by taking this tour.
I definitely recommend taking this street art tour, it’s one of the best things to do in Zagreb and there’s nothing like seeing the local culture through local eyes.
Jarun Lake – Nature & Chill
Zagreb is a very green city. I admire all the parks and gardens you see everywhere you go.
If you feel the need for some more urban nature, a little bit outside the city centre, you’ll find a marvellous artificial lake called Jarun.
Surrounded by a beautiful park, that’s where the locals hang out at weekends.
The day I went to Jarun was a sunny one and it was wonderful to walk around the lake and sit by the water with friends, have a drink and relax.
There was a free music festival by the water that day as well, and I’ve been told it’s a popular spot for festivals in summer.
Jarun Lake is great for walking, jogging, cycling or sitting on the beach and it’s just a short tram ride from the centre of Zagreb.
The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb
This is a unique museum, conceived by a couple when their relationship ended.
As the name suggests – it is dedicated to stories of break ups, broken hearts and ex-lovers.
The stories are told through a collection of people’s personal belongings.
These were assembled from people from different countries, and you can even contribute your own items, if you’ve just ended a relationship and need to let go of something.
The tiny museum shop is full of cynical gifts. It’s dark humour that you may find very funny, or perhaps not, depending on the state of your love life…
It may sound like one of the more unusual things to do in Zagreb, but in fact it’s very popular. If you’re visiting Zagreb in high season, I strongly suggest you book a ticket in advance for this museum, because it’s really popular!
I went with a friend and we didn’t book in advance and so had to wait a long, long time to get in.
Strossmayer Promenade: Free things to do in Zagreb
A lovely spot in the Upper Town, with a view of the city from above.
It is located right at the top of the hill, where the Zagreb funicular ends its one minute ride.
During the summer, Strossmayer hosts the Summer Stross festival. It gets very lively, especially at weekends.
It’s a cool place to go for free music concerts that are held every night at 9 pm by local bands. I saw some great Jazz and Balkan music shows.
Apart from the free music gigs, there are cool art installations, theatrical performances, food stalls and people chilling with a drink on a summer evening.
Alternative Zagreb: Program Bar
This is a beautifully designed cafe and bar. It’s very close to the central square and next to another cool cafe, Booksa.
You can sit outdoors or indoors, with plenty of natural light. I admired the interior design.
It’s also a laptop friendly place, with fast wifi and soft music in the background.
Where to stay in Zagreb – Options for every budget
Accommodation is Zagreb is quite affordable and it has a good selection of vacation rentals and highly rated hostels.
When you choose where to stay in Zagreb, first decide if you want to stay in the Upper Town (Old Town), or in the lower town, the modern part of the city.
Budget-friendly accommodation in Zagreb
Backpackers and budget travellers have some good options in Zagreb.
Chillout Hostel Zagreb
In a good location for nightlife in the Upper Town, this hostel gets wonderful reviews and features funky decor. Find a room here.
Taban Hostel by Buzz Backpackers
A recently refurbished hostel in the Upper Town, close to Zagrb’s attractions. Book your bed.
Main Square Hostel Zagreb
A highly rated hostel, and as the name implies, very centrally located. Find out more.
Hostel Shappy Zagreb
A hostel in a central location loved by budget travellers. Book a bed.
Mid-range accommodation in Zagreb
Zagreb has some exceptionally good mid-range hotels and apartments.
Flowers Zagreb Downtown
This 4-star guest house offers a shared kitchen, a terrace and a swimming pool in a central location in Zagreb. Book a room.
Rooms Zagreb 17
A 4-star guest house in the centre of Zagreb with stylish rooms. One of the best rated places to stay in Zagreb. Book here.
Dolac One Apartments, Zagreb
Close to the main square, these highly rated apartments are at a perfect location to explore Zagreb. Book an apartment.
Luxury hotels and apartments in Zagreb
Even if you’re looking to splurge on your accommodation in Zagreb, you will still find it affordable compared to other big cities.
Esplanade Zagreb Hotel
A luxurious 5-star hotel with a relaxing atmosphere, a rooftop terrace and a sauna. Find a room here.
Centroom Apartments Zagreb
Beautiful and modern 4-star apartments, close to Zagreb’s attractions in a historic building, A good choice if you need self-catering accommodation. Book an apartment here.
Lonely Planet Guide to Croatia
For detailed itineraries, maps and insider tips, get a Lonely Planet guide before your trip to Croatia.
You can get this travel guide as a book or an ebook,or you can get specific chapters only.