Three Days of Zagreb and Surroundings for History Lovers
The city of Zagreb has officially been counting its history since the year 1094, even though many interesting things in this area had also been happening centuries before. If you like stories about history and can easily find your way through the tunnels of European past, you will have plenty of research material in Zagreb. But of course, you shouldn't just keep your nose stuck in dusty historical sources and visit only ancient sites – you also need to appreciate and enjoy the present, so this itinerary suggests a bit of both.
Use the first day in Zagreb to get acquainted with the city, starting from a relaxed morning coffee somewhere around Cvjetni trg (Flower Square) and a stroll through the Lower Town. If it's Saturday or Sunday, go to Britanski trg (British Square) and browse through the lively antique fair. Surprises await at this exhibit of rare and bizarre objects from bygone times. However, the real history is hidden in the old core of Zagreb, the Upper Town. You can reach it by the famous Funicular, but before going up, don't forget to take a peek at Grič Tunnel that’s running underneath, built during the Second World War as a shelter in case of air raids. Climb the Lotrščak Tower, take a walk all over the Upper Town, because every street and building exudes history and abounds in interesting stories. Visit Zagreb City Museum, where everything you have found out so far will sink in even deeper. Go back to the main square through the old Stone Gate and reward yourself with local specialties in one of the downtown restaurants.
Use the morning to visit the magnificent Zagreb Cathedral, and then go Mirogoj, the central cemetery. This masterpiece of historicist architecture is sometimes called the Croatian Pantheon, because many great historical persons are buried here. Enjoy a peaceful walk as if you were in a big outdoor gallery. If you look up towards Medvednica Mountain, you will surely spot the impressive medieval fortification under the summit. Medvedgrad has been watching over Zagreb since the 13th century. The old castle is quite well preserved, and even though it is not yet open for visits due to reconstruction works, just walking around and admiring its glory is quite an experience. You can reach Medvedgrad with a car or a combination of public transport and hiking, so the visit can become an adventure in a protected nature park. Keep in mind that the mountain huts and traditional restaurants on and around Medvednica provide an excellent opportunity to explore the local cuisine.
Towns and villages in Zagreb surroundings are seemingly quiet and arcadian, but there have often been turbulent times in the history of this area inhabited since the Palaeolithic. The Ancient Romans left their mark, too, because this territory was part of their Pannonia province. A remnant of these times is the Andautonia Archaeological Park, not far from the Zagreb Airport, where an old Roman settlement once stood. Even though it’s in ruins today, it is a lasting reminder of the prosperous days of the great empire and its achievements. While you are on the threshold of Turopolje region, stop by in Velika Mlaka and visit the Chapel of St. Barbara from the 17th century, the most famous of around a dozen preserved examples of wooden church architecture typical for this area.
If you continue along the Zagreb ring road towards west, you will reach the historical town of Samobor, a free royal market town since the year 1242. A real urban gem with a preserved old core and numerous cultural sites attracts day-trippers not only with its charm but also with its beautiful green surroundings. But first, stop at the main square to try some kremšnita, a popular local dessert. In one of the bakeries you can grab a slice of rudarska greblica to have on the go, a traditional savoury pie with a protected designation of origin. Follow the walking trail along the Gradna stream and you can get to the ruins of the medieval Old Town on Tepec Hill. From there it’s an easy stroll through Anindol park-forest back to the centre. The area of Samobor is known for rich gastronomy so you shouldn’t miss a visit to a typical local restaurant. If this excursion takes longer than planned, you can spend the night in one of small hotels or B&Bs in the centre of Samobor.