Zagreb is not only about stately institutions of Habsburg grandeur, although for the first-time visitor wandering around the façades and gardens of the Lower Town it might feel that way. Across the Sava, there’s a striking Museum of Contemporary Art and Croatia’s capital has a thriving gallery scene, part of an ever-broadening cultural agenda.
St Mark’s stands out as an iconic attraction because of its chequered-tile roof displaying the coats of arms of Zagreb and Croatia, brightening the focal square named after it. Other external features reflect its lengthy construction, such as its Romanesque windows, Gothic portals and particularly the 15 effigies over the south portal.
St Mark’s Church, Trg Svetog Marka 5, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4851 611
The National Theatre is a cultural landmark and a work of art in its own right. Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef attended the unveiling of this architectural masterpiece, created by the Viennese design team of Ferdinand Fellner and Herman Helmer. Ivan Meštrović later sculpted the fountain outside, The Source of Life.
National Theatre, Trg maršala Tita 15, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4888 488
The Art Pavilion dominates the landscaped square of Tomislav trg. Created for Hungary’s Millennial Exhibition of 1896 then transported from Budapest, this formerly iron structure was made a permanent feature by architects Fellner and Helmer. Now a prestigious art space, it stages major temporary exhibitions, such as the Giacometti show in 2017.
Art Pavilion, Trg kralja Tomislava 22, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4841 070
Zagreb’s finest art collection was bequeathed to the nation by controversial war-time cultural consultant Ante Topić Mimara. How Mimara came by his outstanding collection of Goyas, Canalettos and Van Dycks isn’t clear but for the tourist, such treasure housed in a beautiful former school from the 19th century is worth a day’s visit.
Mimara Museum, Rooseveltov trg 5, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4828 100
Created by Cathedral architect Hermann Bollé, Mirogoj is the main cemetery for both Zagreb and the nation. Croatia’s great writers, artists and politicians lie here in what was a summerhouse and vineyard. Bollé’s grandiose main entrance lends the right tone to any visit.
Mirogoj, Aleja Hermanna Bollea 27, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4696 700
Created for the World Student Games of 1987, Jarun is Zagreb’s main area for recreation. Cycle paths and a skateboard park surround a man-made lake where sailboats glide, dotted with the islands that stage June’s major INmusic festival. Nightclubs, including the seminal Aquarius, fringe the shoreline.
An unusual work created by renowned sculptor Ivan Meštrović, the Meštrovićev paviljon houses the Croatian Associations of Artists. Opened as a circular arts hall before World War II, it was later converted into mosque, then a museum. Today the building hosts events and exhibitions of national cultural importance.
Meštrovićev paviljon, Trg žrtava fašizma 16, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4611 818
Zagreb’s largest park was created in the 1790s by Bishop Maksimiljan Vrhovac. Its rolling hills and sprawling oak trees represent the English style, rustic and less constrained than its French counterpart, with lakes and footpaths. Today you’ll also find Zagreb Zoo and nearby the national football stadium, also called Maksimir.
A Baroque creation of the 1600s, St Catherine’s lends its name to the pretty square in the Upper Town that also houses the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery in the adjoining monastery. The church displays the coat of arms of the noble families who contributed to its reconstruction later in the 17th century.
St Catherine’s Church, Katarinin trg, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4851 950
The recently opened Grič tunnel beneath the Upper Town fortifications was created as an air-raid shelter during World War II. Unused then abandoned, it was taken over by DJs and ravers in the 1990s. Now renovated, it stages fashion shows and exhibitions and is slated to host a Museum of the Senses.
Housed in the Habsburg-era Vranyczany Palace, the Modern Gallery holds some 10,000 domestic works from the 1800s to the present day. At any given time, some 750 are on display, from Impressionist paintings by Vlaho Bukovac to cutting-edge video art, along with sculptures and installations.
Modern Gallery, Andrije Hebranga 1, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 6041 040
Donated to the nation in 1868 by the eminent bishop of the same name, the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters contains the 256 paintings of his private collection. Concentrating mainly on the Italian Renaissance, these works also include pieces by El Greco, Jean-Antoine Gros and Jan Wallensz de Cock.
Opened in the 1890s, the Botanical Gardens operate from April 1 to November 1. Along with the many glasshouses containing some 10,000 species of plants, you’ll find large garden ponds, winding paths and many benches, allowing for quiet contemplation away from the busy city.
Botanical Garden, Trg Marka Marulića 9A, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4844 002
Workplace of Croatia’s most renowned sculptor, the Atelijer Meštrović occupies the 17th-century properties that he himself restored over 20 years until his arrest in 1941 and subsequent exile. Works in marble, stone, wood and bronze, and drawings and graphics cover two floors, an atrium and the atelier off the ivy-clad courtyard.
Atelijer Meštrović, Mletačka 8, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4851 123
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