Zagreb is a mix of florid Austro-Hungarian architecture and rough-around-the-edges socialist structures. The cobbled centre is made for walking around, with art galleries to explore and plenty of cafés for pit stops. In summer, residents hop on the tram and decamp to scenic Jarun Lake to boat, swim or windsurf.
Housed in a building designed by local architect Igor Franić, the Museum of Contemporary Art puts on shows by Croatian and international artists. There is also a busy theatre and film schedule (00 38 51 605 2700; msu.hr; Avenija Dubrovnik 17; 11am-7pm Tue-Sun, 11am-8pm Sat; £3.50).
Traders from all over Croatia have been coming to Dolac Market since the 1930s. Indoor stalls sell meat and dairy products while the stalls at the northern end are packed with locally produced honey and handmade ornaments (Trg Bana J Jelacica; 6am-3pm Mon-Sat, 6am-1pm Sun).
Just north of the city is Mirogoj, one of Europe's most beautiful cemeteries, at the base of Mount Medvednica. The majestic arcade was designed in 1876 by Herman Bollé. The cemetery is dotted with sculptures and artfully designed tombs (Mirogojska Road; 6am-8pm Apr-Sep, 7.30am-6pm Oct-Mar).
The medieval Upper Town centres on Kaptol Square, where most of the buildings date from the 17th century. The Stone Gate, the eastern gate to medieval Gradec Town, is now a shrine. According to legend, a fire in 1731 destroyed all of the gate except for the painting of the Virgin and Child.
Jarun Lake, 4½ miles from the city centre, is great for swimming. At the lake, head left to Malo Jerezo for canoeing or pedal-boat rental, or right to Veliko Jezero, where there’s a beach and windsurfing. Take tram 5 or 17 to Jarun and follow signs to the jezero (lake).
Eat and drink
The beer hall of Stari Fijaker 900 was once the height of dining out in Zagreb, and its décor of banquettes and white linen has a staid sobriety. Try the homemade sausages and bean stews plus the great range of local beers (00 38 51 483 3829; starifijaker.hr; Mesnicˇka 6; closed for dinner Sun in summer; mains from £3.50).
We love seafood specialists Tip Top and their staff, who sport old socialist uniforms and scowls that eventually turn to smiles. But we mostly love the food. Every day has its own menu; try Thursday's octopus goulash (00 38 51 483 0349; Gundulic´eva 18; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; mains from £6.50).
Kerempuh overlooks Dolac Market and is a great place to taste well-prepared Croatian cuisine. Chef Dino Galvagno designs the daily menu around what he finds at the market, such as fresh sea bass served with Swiss chard (00 38 51 481 9000; kerempuh.hr; Kaptol 3; lunch and dinner Mon-Sun; mains from £8).
On warm days, eat on the covered patio at Vinodol, and in winter, in the vaulted dining hall. Dine on veal cooked under a peka (domed baking lid) and sip quality Croatian wines (00 38 51 481 1427; vinodol-zg.hr; Teslina 10; lunch and dinner; mains from £8.50).
Mano is a high-end steak restaurant with exposed stone walls and steel pillars. The innovative menu includes dishes such as breaded deer with chestnuts (00 38 51 466 9432; mano.hr; Medvedgradska 2; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; mains from £12).
Located steps from Britanski Trg and its Sunday antique market, Hotel Ilica and its suites look as though they’ve been furnished from the very same market. Standard rooms are simple and adequate, and the suites are over-the-top kitsch with gilded mirrors and red colour schemes (00 38 51 377 7522; hotel-ilica.hr; Ilica 102; from £45).
Founded in 1827, Pansion Jägerhorn is Zagreb’s oldest hotel and has the feel of a charming hunting lodge. The rooms have simple, modern furnishings and many have lovely views over leafy Gradec. The downstairs restaurant is known for its traditional dishes of wild game (00 38 51 483 3877; jaegerhorn.hr; Ilica 14; from £80).
Arcotel Allegra is Zagreb’s first designer hotel. Rooms are contemporary in style with beds draped in throws printed with the faces of Kafka, Kahlo and Sigmund Freud. On the top floor is a fitness spa; there’s also a Latin bar on site (00 38 51 469 6000; arcotel.at/allegra; Branimirova 29; from £95).
Palace Hotel is housed in a grand Viennese secessionist-style mansion built in 1891. The modernised rooms are bland but comfortable. Try to get a front room for fantastic views over the park and don’t miss the frescoes in the ground-floor café (00 38 51 489 9600; palace.hr; Strossmayera trg 10; from £100).
Built in 1925 to welcome passengers on the Orient Express, The Regent Esplanade has played host to kings, artists and politicians ever since. The art deco masterpiece is replete with immense staircases and walls of swirling marble (00 38 51 456 6666; regenthotels.com; Mihanovic´eva 1; from £115).
Zagreb is easy to get around on foot, but the tram system is cheap and efficient. Tickets are sold at newspaper kiosks (£1; zet.hr). The tram is free to ride two stations in each direction of the main square. Call 060 800 800 to reserve a taxi.
EasyJet serves Zagreb from Gatwick (from £70; easyjet.com), while Croatia Airlines goes from Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham (from £220; croatiaairlines. com). A shuttle bus runs from the airport to the main bus station (£5.50), or a taxi will cost £25 (radio-taksi-zagreb.hr).
The article 'Mini guide to Zagreb, Croatia' was published in partnership with Lonley Planet Magazine.