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Zagreb | © David Holt/Flickr
Zagreb | © David Holt/Flickr
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The Most Impressive Buildings in Zagreb, Croatia

Picture of Peterjon Cresswell
Updated: 10 August 2017
Much of what you see around Zagreb today was created in the Habsburg days of grandeur. The Lower Town is lined with Green Horseshoe of public gardens, interspersed with stately buildings similar to Budapest or Vienna. For modernity, cross the River Sava for the Museum of Contemporary Art, as distinctive as it is groundbreaking.
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Glavni kolodvor

Significantly, the decision to build a main train station, Glavni kolodvor, in Zagreb was taken in Budapest, when Croatia was part of the Habsburg Empire. Ferenc Pfaff, who also designed stations in some 20 cities in modern-day Hungary, as well as Osijek and Rijeka in Croatia, was responsible for this neo-classical pile that fringes Tomislav trg.

Glavni kolodvor, Trg kralja Tomislava 12, Zagreb, Croatia

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Hotel Esplanade

It is no coincidence that the most prestigious hotel in Zagreb stands alongside the train station. The Esplanade served the Orient Express when Zagreb was part of the Grand Tour in the 1920s. Opened in 1925 and restored to its stately glory in the early 2000s, the Esplanade has accommodated Queen Elizabeth II, Leonid Brezhnev, Ella Fitzgerald and Sophia Loren.

Hotel Esplanade, Mihanovićeva 1, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4566 666

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Art Pavilion

Created as an iron structure for Hungary’s Millennial Exhibition of 1896 and shipped up to Budapest, the Art Pavilion dominates the beautifully landscaped square of Tomislav trg facing the main train station. On its return to Zagreb, the building was made a permanent feature by Viennese architects Fellner and Helmer, also responsible for the National Theatre. Now a prestigious art space, it stages temporary exhibitions of international prominence.

Art Pavilion, Trg kralja Tomislava 22, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4841 070

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National Theatre

Created by the Viennese design team of Ferdinand Fellner and Herman Helmer, whose works stretch across central Europe, the National Theatre was unveiled in the presence of Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef in 1895. Ten years later, notable Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović created a fountain by the entrance, called The Source of Life. Referred to by its Croatian acronym of HNK Zagreb, the theatre has been the alma mater of some of the country’s most renowned actors and directors.

National Theatre, Trg maršala Tita 15, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4888 488

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Zagreb Cathedral

Dominating the horizon of Croatia’s capital, the neo-Gothic spires of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary top this late 19th-century rebuild by German architect Hermann Bollé. It stands on the site of the former cathedral completed in the early 1200s, significantly damaged after an earthquake in 1880. Still undergoing restoration, the Cathedral is known for its relief of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac by renowned Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, that marks the final resting place of the controversial cleric.

Zagreb Cathedral, Zagreb, Croatia

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Mimara Museum

The conversion of one of Zagreb’s main secondary schools into a museum in the mid 1980s was not universally popular. Built in 1895, with its blueish-grey façade, this was considered one of the finest buildings in the city. But equally controversial art collector Ante Topić Mimara, who had gained many of his Goyas, Canalettos and Van Dycks during World War II, needed grand surroundings where he could bequeath his holdings to the nation. The result is today’s Mimara Museum, unrivaled throughout Croatia for its wealth of art treasures.

Mimara Museum, Rooseveltov trg 5, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4828 100

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St Mark’s

The parish church for the old town of Zagreb, St Mark’s is best known for its distinctive roof of red-white-and-blue chequered tiles displaying the coats of arms of Zagreb and Croatia. Other external features reflect its lengthy construction, the Romanesque windows of the 1200s and the Gothic portals of the late 1300s and 1400s. Of particular interest are the 15 effigies by the Parler sculptors from Prague, spread over the south portal.

St Mark’s Church, Trg Svetog Marka 5, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4851 611

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Museum of Contemporary Art

The most eagerly anticipated cultural opening of recent times, the Museum of Contemporary Art replaced its predecessor that was housed in a nobleman’s mansion on Katarinin trg in the Upper Town. The architect who won the tender to create a suitable home for some 10,000-plus objects was Igor Franić, whose signature theme is the meandering line. Within a somewhat functionalist shell, the flexible, twisting interior reflects this caprice on the part of the designer.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Avenija Dubrovnik 17, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 6052 700

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Meštrovićev paviljon

One of the more unusual works by renowned sculptor Ivan Meštrović, the originally named House of Visual Artists is now known as the Meštrović Pavilion, or Meštrovićev paviljon. Today the home of the Croatian Associations of Artists, it was opened as a circular arts hall on the eve of World War II. The conflict led to Meštrović abandoning his homeland and the building being donated to Bosnian Muslims for use as a mosque. Then it was converted into a museum to celebrate the triumphs of Tito’s Partisans and today, the building hosts exhibitions and events organised by Croatia’s artistic community.

Meštrovićev paviljon, Trg žrtava fašizma 16, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4611 818

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St Catherine’s Church

Created in classic Baroque style in 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 former adjoining monastery. The church displays a number of coats-of-arms, belonging to local noble families who contributed to its reconstruction later in the 17th century.

St Catherine’s Church, Katarinin trg, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4851 950

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Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum began life as the National Museum, housing the historic treasures of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia – hence its rather grandiose façade and vast, echoing exhibition rooms. A stand-alone institution since the mid 20th century, the Archaeological Museum has a huge permanent collection of Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian finds.

Archaeological Museum, Trg Nikole Šubića Zrinskog 19, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4873 101

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Created by the man who redesigned Zagreb Cathedral, Hermann Bollé, Mirogoj is the city’s main cemetery. Zagreb being Croatia’s capital, this is the resting place of the nation’s great writers, artists and politicians. Once a summer house and vineyard, it’s a suitably tranquil spot, Bollé’s grandiose main entrance lending the appropriate gravitas.

Mirogoj, Aleja Hermanna Bollea 27, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4696 700