15 Free or Cheap Things to do in Zagreb
You are planning on coming to Zagreb, but you are still not sure what exactly to do there? Or how much money do you need? Or is it actually even worth it coming to the capital of Croatia when you just want to party on the coast?
Yes, you do want to come to Zagreb. And we will offer you 15 cool and cheap reasons why.
Croatia is one of the hottest destinations at the moment, with festivals and parties happening all over the beautiful coast, but it’s important to make sure that Zagreb is also on your map. With its rich culture and history, the city is a must-see when visiting Croatia. There are many reasons for you to visit, from affordable prices and fantastic cafes, to the best European Christmas market, as votes by tourists.
Zagreb is often being compared to some of the most beautiful cities in Europe, like Budapest and Vienna, because a huge Austro-Hungarian influence can be seen on its architecture. It is also Croatia’s biggest city, and a home to the Croatian Parliament, Government and President. Because of it’s geographical location, the city has been influenced by many different cultures, and that has only enriched its culture. It’s location is second to none: on two lakes, close to the sea, even closer to the mountains. So in one day you can actually swim in the lakes or the sea, and go hiking. Or skiing during the winter on the slopes of Zagreb’s mountain Medvednica (or Sljeme if you see that name, because here people refer to Medvednica as Sljeme most of the time).
We found some local secrets, events and places so you can start exploring this beautiful city.
1. Museum of Broken Relationships
Open during the whole year
Probably the most unique museum in Croatia – exibits are actually things left from previous relationships of many Croatians. You’ll see an ax, a dildo, a bra or sneakers, in fact loads of small displays about people’s relationships gone wrong with some pretty graphic descriptions that may even upset you. Some of the stories are funny, some make you wanna cry, some are really short. You can go on an emotional journey by empathizing with other’s stories of heartbreak, and if you want some extra therapeutic experience you can contribute to the museum by yourself.
The museum is located in the Upper Town, in the baroque Kulmer palace, and there are plenty of tourist attractions around it.
The museum won the EMYA Kenneth Hudson Award as the most innovative and daring museum project in Europe, so you should take a risk on the museum that is different from anything you’ve seen before.
The entrance ticket is about 30-40 kunas.
2. The Courtyards
Event takes place in several courtyards in the Upper Town
13th of July – 22nd of July 2018
If you ever want to find out what’s hiding behind all those doors in the very heart of Zagreb Upper Town, the oldest and most charming part of the capital, be sure not to miss The Courtyrads- event that takes place once a year when house owners open their yard’s door and let people in. Every yard has a theme, some even host smaller events like book readings, concerts or workshops, but you can go there just for a drink and a local feeling.
There is booze, foods and music for everyone’s taste, and most importantly, the entrance to all the courtyards, or as locals call it „Dvorišta“, is FREE.
It’s not that old, but in this few years that it is being held, it has been constantly growing and becoming more popular.
Make sure you are in Zagreb during those 10 days in July when this event takes place in different courtyards in the Upper Town.
This event has won few awards for the most innovative and creative project in Croatian tourism, so you should give it a chance, and we promise those antique courtyards will win you over as well.
3. Zagreb Marathon
If you want some sport activities and feel as a part of the local community, then the best event for you to join is the Zagreb marathon which is held in October. You can choose between the half-marathon, the marathon and citizen race, just make sure you know your limits.
Last year more than 10,000 participants from over 40 countries of the world are expected in the marathon and 3000 more in the half marathon race.
City’s traffic is regulated during the marathon, so you don’t have to worry about the annoyed drivers.
Apply on their website, and if you have the necessary speed and stamina, there is a chance of coming back home with a really cool souvenir – heavy medal around your neck.
4. Scrolling down the Tkalčićeva Street
Tkalčićeva street or just „Tkalča“ as Croatians call it, is considered the most charming and vibrant street in Zagreb, famous for its bars and restaurants. It is located just above the main square.
In Tkalča (pronunced as tkalcha) there is something for everyone, from underground clubs and cafes, to creperie, burger bars and high-end restaurants. There is a big choice of restaurants, from Sri Lankan, Greek and Italian to traditional Croatian restaurants.
During the weekend „Tkalča“ is the most crowded street in Zagreb. Go here for a coffee during the day and in the evening grab a local rakija or a craft beer.
Be aware that Croatians drink their coffee for hours, even a small Italian espresso with a glass of water takes at least 30 minutes to be consumed properly. As a lot of Croatians say „there’s no hurry, just relax“.
If you are in Zagreb during the time any Croatian national sport team is playing, make sure to have the right jersey and huge tolerance for alcohol.
5. Street festival C'est is the Best
End of May and the beginning of June
For the last 20+ years, Zagreb succumbs to the vibe of this street festival. During five days of the festival that takes places in various locations across the town, you’ll see bands, dancers, street painters, fire ninjas, acrobats, clowns, magicians and many different artists that paint the town in cheerful colours. Hundreds of performers from all over the globe are coming to Zagreb just for this, so there is always a chance of you running into some cool and bohemian fellow countryman.
It’s the oldest street festival in Croatia which holds huge importance for the urban and art scene in Zagreb.
Besides the art program, there is also a program for kids and a sports program.
6. Sea of Books
Beginning of July
Free library + amazing drinks?! It sounds perfect to us, but add the fact that the event is held at the Park Zrinjevac in the middle of Zagreb, and it takes everything to another level.
One of the most beautiful parks in the whole city, Zrinjevac is centrally located – just a few minutes from the main square and just a street away from our HI hostel Zagreb.
Sea of Books is festival for book lovers. You’ll find books to read in sunshades and deckchairs. So you can just chill with the book in one hand and a cocktail in the other. It feels like you’re on the Croatian coast, except there is no sea, but we do have a huge fountain there. Have we mentioned that the event is free?
7. Advent in Zagreb - Best Christmas Market in Europe
From the beginning of December to the beginning of January
If you heard of Zagreb and love Christmas time, there is a huge chance that you’ve heard of the best European Christmas market happening in the Croatian capital. Voted the best for the four consecutive years, this market is a magnet for tourists from all over Europe.
You will find small stands with traditional Croatian food and drinks everywhere, so it can be an opportunity for you to try as many traditional dishes as possible and dive deeper into the country’s culture. The event is spread all over the city center with several main points (Bogovićeva street, Zrinjeva, Upper Town, etc) and make sure to check them all out. We suggest going up to the Old Town to get a perfect view of the whole city while listening to some cool music and eating some of the best Croatian streetfood.
Grab a glass of mulled wine and try fritule, Croatian festive dessert resembling little round doughnuts, but better in taste.
You just have to be in Zagreb during Christmas time and experience it, it will be the best Christmas gift you’ve ever give to yourself.
8. INmusic Festival
End of June
IN music festival always brings the best music to Zagreb for 3 days every June. The city becomes home to many young people from all over the world . You can listen to popular bands and singers on the three beautiful islands (Isle of Youth, Trešnjevka Island and Univerzijada Island) located on the lake Jarun, in the west part of Zagreb, where the festival takes place.
INmusic’s lineup over the last few years has been packed with international stars like: Florence + The Machine, Arctic Monkeys, Nick Cave, Kings of Leon, Rudimental, The Black Keys, Lily Allen, Arcade Fire, and numerous other amazing artists. The festival ticket is pretty affordable compared with other European music festivals.
If you want „the full“ INmusic experience, you can camp on two islands – Trešnjevka and Univerzijada. There are showers, wi-fi and organized trips to Plitvice lake, a world famous National park protected by UNESCO.
9. Cinema Europa
Open during the whole year
„Kino“ Europa is a vintage cinema and a protected cultural heritage site that still operates as a cinema and a bar. No wonder that Kino Europa is a meeting point of young and urban people, mostly hipsters. It is located just next to the Cvjetni trg (Flower square) in the centre.
Their movie programme is somewhat unique, featuring many festival movies from all around the world. And the cinema also hosts important Croatian movie festivals like Zagreb Film Festival and Subversive Festival every year.
Do not go there and expect to see Avengers. Go there only if you want to see those small gems, indie movies that you can’t even find online. By going there, you are supporting a part of the movie industry that is telling stories of real people, from all over the world. On „Subtitled Tuesdays“ they are screening movies from all over the world and obviously, they are subtitled.
So if you happen to be in Zagreb on Tuesday, go there. And if you don’t like the movie (it’s fine, not everyone has a great taste), remember to take your eyes off the screen, look around the hall, and enjoy the wonderful architecture.
10. The Technical Museum of Nikola Tesla
Open during the whole year
You have probably heard of Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest scientist mankind has ever seen, born in Croatia in the village Smiljan. Naturally, the technical museum in Zagreb is named after him.
The museum is separated into themed displays, one is devoted to transformation of energy, the other to geology and mining, and there are few more sectors, like the aeronautics section, for you to see.
Also, there is a cabinet devoted to Nikola Tesla which demonstrate his inventions and life, so that the visitors get a better knowledge about this world-changing genius.
Go there on Saturday morning to have a tour and see how the Tesla Faraday cage works in front of your eyes. Maybe they’ll even pick you to be the one to enter the cage (don’t worry, you won’t die).
So if you are a science and technology fan, or just want to have a good time, go and educate yourself! It’s reachable by tram or even by foot (15 min walk from the Zagreb main square).
11. Museum of Torture - TORTUREUM
Open during the whole year
As contradictory as it sounds , if you go to Tortureum expect to be shocked. Nothing can really prepare you for over 70 displayed items that were used for torturing people and super creepy multimedia guides. There are also some surprises that we’ll leave for you to discover. Some of the oldest instruments of torture are displayed there, like guillotine and scold’s bride, an instrument that was used to torture women accused of gossiping.
There is also a dungeon which the bravest museum guests can try out. You’ll be locked in there for a minute in a complete darkness, and that’s all we are going to say about it.
The museum is aiming to educate its visitors through displayed items and multimedia, that our history of violence is born out of a fear of what we consider unknown and foreign.
It’s a great reminder of what humans are capable of doing and why should violence be avoided in any form. It shows us that we are not so different, even though we like to think that we are, from the people that used guillotine. The means are the same, the only things that have changed are the instruments we use.
Museum is within reach from the main square, located in Radićeva street. Entrance tickets for the museum are around 4-5 euros.
12. Skiing on Sljeme and Snow Queen Trophy
Skiing season starts in December and ends in April
Snow Queen Trophy is in January
Sljeme is the highest peak of mountain Medvednica just above Zagreb. During the winter you’ll be able to go skiing and have a blast on the highest point above Zagreb. It will take you about 20-30 minutes to get there from the city center using the public transport, which is a great opportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful nature.
Snow Queen Trophy competition is held there every year. The winners are pronounced Snow Queen and Snow King, and they get crowned. The biggest names in skiing love to come here to skii, because of its unique location (just above the capital of Croatia) and the wonderful view.
You’ll probably see one of the most victorious woman in skiiing of all times Janica Kostelic somewhere around the slopes. Zagreb is her hometown.
13. Museum of Illusions
Open during the whole year
If you want to have fun and see something really mind-blowing, go to the Museum of Illusion, located in Ilica street, just a 100 metres away from the main square.
Over 70 exhibitions in this museum make you question your perception, and the way you see things around you. The chair illusion, holograms, head on the platter, and the rotated room, are only some of the things that will challenge your perception.
The museum also has a Smart Playroom and it’s perfectly fine for you as an adult to use it.
The games offered there stimulate your cognitive abilities. Basically it’s a gym for your brain.
Please make sure you have a CHARGED phone or a camera with you, because you will regret not posting the most amazing photos on your Instagram profile.
14. Swimming in Jarun and Bundek lakes
During the summer
Two lakes make up for the lack of the sea during the summer and help Zagrebians to reduce their envy of the beach destinations on the coast.
If you are into sports, there are running and cyciling tracks, and the lazier ones can enjoy bars and restaurants + there is plenty of space to barbecue. The lakes are also great places to go for a swimm of just enjoy people watching.
While Jarun is located in the west part of the city and can bea reachable by tram, Bundek is located more centrally. Quality of water is measured frequently and during the high season there are lifeguards on the spot. Because of their popularity, there are many cultural and sports events taking place on the grounds around the lakes during the summer.
In the evening, go there to have fun in one of the clubs playing electro or domestic music.
Maybe you don’t really have to go to the coast after all, Zagreb is actually perfect.
15. HI Hostel Zagreb
Open during the whole year
And lastly, if you are looking for a really cheap place centrally located to stay during your visit in Zagreb, this low-budget hostel is the perfect choice for you.
The hostel, previously known under the name Youth hostel Zagreb) is located in Petrinjska street, in the very center of the city, near the Central railway station and the main bus terminal, and 5-min walk from the Jelačić square, Zagreb’s main square.
Zagreb is one of those European cities whose atmosphere is not ruined by the flood of tourists. You can still feel the city’s original vibe, you can feel the roughness that is left from the socialism, and you can see the „put togetherness“ from the Austro-Hungarian times.
Zagreb is like that cool lady that you want to be, or want to be with, beautiful and put together, but also always ready to surprise you. Maybe you still have the opportunity to be with her. But not for that long. Tourists from all over the world are on their way to take her from you, so HURRY. UP.