Thanks to its excellent location, Zagreb is a great jumping off point for exploring Croatia and some of its neighbors. After thoroughly traversing Zagreb, consider visiting one of the following places.
Nature Park Medvednica
Many tourists who come to Zagreb aren’t aware of the nature park at its doorstep. The lush green hills above the city offer a perfect escape, stunning scenery, and amazing panoramic views. The park is the number one weekend destination for hikers, with several rest stops and mountain huts offering refreshments and opportunities to mingle. You can hike all the way up to Sljeme, the highest point of the mountain. On the way down, we suggest visiting the medieval Medvedgrad fortress, which overlooks the city from the middle of a pine forest.
Alternatively, you can drive or take the bus no. 140 from Mihaljevac to Sljeme (a one-hour ride). To get to Mihaljevac from the city center, you hop on tram 14 (running every twelve minutes, it’s a 20-minute ride).
Samobor is a small postcard-perfect town just 12 miles west from the capital, where people from the city come to de-stress. Something is soothing about this medieval town, with its cobblestone streets, the ruins of a 13th-century castle perched on the hill above it, and the cascading water of Gradna Creek.
The bridges over the stream give it a special charm and provide many photo spots. The wooded hills around the town are perfect for hiking: you can hike up to the castle or just walk the beautiful forest park beneath it.
Besides beautiful nature and architecture, the residents pride themselves on their gastronomy and several excellent restaurants serve traditional dishes centered around veal, wild boar, trout, and mushrooms. You can’t go wrong with traditional restaurants such as Samoborska Klet or Gabreku 1929. Also, you must try samoborska kremsnita, a cream cake made of vanilla cream between layers of golden flaky crust. The best ones are sold at the U Prolazu pastry shop.
To get to Samobor, you can either drive or take the bus. Buses depart Zagreb Bus Terminal every half hour and the journey only takes 30 minutes.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is the most beautiful national park in Croatia and has been a UNESCO site since 1979. There are sixteen cascading lakes, varying in color from emerald green to turquoise to deep blue, with boardwalks suspended over the water, stunning viewpoints, lush greenery, and most importantly, some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
Although there are a few restaurants in and around the park, mostly offering fast-food, we suggest bringing your own food and drinks. Lines can be huge (we are talking about at least an hour of waiting), especially in summer, and you don’t want to spend your time waiting in line instead of enjoying the lakes.
The best and the least stressful way to get to Plitvice is by car, but there are also numerous buses departing Zagreb Bus Terminal (tickets can be bought online). The journey time is around two hours. Before going to the lakes, you have to buy tickets in advance, at least one day prior to your arrival. The tickets can be purchased on the Plitvice Lakes National Park official website. Two-day tickets are also available, and we can offer several nice accommodations around the lakes.
The capital city of Slovenia, just a couple of hours away from Zagreb, is one of Europe’s greenest and most beautiful cities. Although it’s the largest city in Slovenia, it still seems wonderfully small, and the banks of the emerald-green Ljubljanica River, packed with cafes, restaurants, and bars, connect the old and the new districts.
Ljubljana is colorful and lively, yet relaxing. There’s no reason to rush, and it’s easy to get from one place to another just by strolling around. Its gorgeous Baroque buildings are extremely photogenic, and the medieval hilltop castle offers amazing views of the city and the countryside. In summer, the city hosts many cultural, recreational, and entertainment activities and events, attracting both locals and tourists.
In the last couple of years, Ljubljana’s culinary scene has flourished, and it’s very difficult to choose among so many great restaurants. For traditional Slovenian food, try Slovenska Hiša and one of our favorites, TaBar, a Slovenian tapas and wine bar, both in the heart of the city.
If you want to avoid driving across the border and paying for a costly vignette (highway pass), you can take a bus departing Zagreb Bus Terminal (for more information check Flixbus) or a GoOpti shared transfer.
Perhaps less familiar and touristy than the rest, but equally interesting and worth a visit, this moderately-sized city in the east of Croatia has a lot to offer. Its proximity to Hungary and Serbia shaped its history, and grandiose Baroque architecture bears witness to once a major Habsburg military base. The city has changed a lot since and Tvrda, the 18th century star-shaped Habsburg fortress overlooking the Drava River, now houses cafes, bars, night clubs, and restaurants. If you choose to stay for a few days, there’s a nice boutique hotel in the middle of the fortifications, also conveniently named Boutique Hotel Tvrda, and the restaurant Kod Ruze will make sure your taste buds always remember Osijek.
Hungarian influences are easily recognizable in the local cuisine, with spicy peppers generously added to traditional fiš (fish stew) and čobanac (meat stew). My favorite place in Osijek is the promenade along the river, perfect for walking, biking, or roller skating. There are several cafes where you can have a cup of coffee while enjoying breezes coming from the river. On the left bank, you will find the city zoo and public swimming pools, popularly known as Copacabana.
Many buses to Osijek depart Zagreb Bus Terminal, and tickets can be bought online.
Another Baroque city close to the country’s borders, this time with Slovenia and Hungary, Varazdin is 56 miles north of Zagreb. Its charming cobbled streets are dotted with churches, parks, 18th-century houses, and villas. Be sure to stop by the town hall (one of Europe’s oldest) and its 13th century castle. Besides stunning historic heritage and Baroque charm, Varazdin offers a vibrant cultural scene. It’s home to Spancirfest, one of the most popular and largest open-air festivals in Croatia, taking place in August, and Varazdin Baroque Evenings, which celebrate the splendor of this “Little Vienna”.
The best way to get to Varazdin is by bus. There are many daily buses, tickets can be bought online, and the journey takes around one and a half hours.