The Croatian capital is a veritable hotbed of incredibly rich history, architecture and culture that wonderfully manifests itself in the form of charming cobblestone streets, bustling markets and Baroque cathedrals.
The quintessentially historic city offers fascinating sights and UNESCO-listed attractions, but some of the best kept secrets in the area lie outside the city limits.
The pockets of natural beauty dotted around the capital include everything from lakes, waterfalls and beautiful sweeping forests to majestic castles nestled among the rural countryside.
The variety of attractions around Zagreb is stunning, and visitors are usually spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding what type of day trip to embark on.
Here are some of the best ones to get you started.
1. Plitvice Lakes
Home to 16 of the most breathtakingly stunning lakes in Croatia, meticulously preserved by the government to maintain their pristine natural beauty, the Plitvice Lakes make a phenomenal day trip for those looking to escape the landlocked capital.
In a few hours you’ll reach the crystal-clear waters, complete with waterfalls that cascade all year round.
Noticeably more popular during summer, the lakes form a natural playground for those looking to relax in the sun and explore the national park.
Some of the lakes offer gorgeous forest walks that fringe their shores and others provide excellent views of turquoise falls; the Plitvice Lakes have something for every nature lover.
Recommended tour: Rastoke & Plitvice Lakes National Park Tour from Zagreb
Almost straddling the Slovenian border in northern Croatia, Kumrovec is a classic day trip for visitors and locals who want to gain a fascinating insight into what life was like on a traditional village in the Zagorje region.
Surrounded by charming vineyards and thriving farms, the village’s center is an open-air ethnographic museum known as Kumrovec’s Old Village Museum.
Here you’ll find a mixture of political history with a focus on the communist leader, Tito, numerous quaint displays depicting life for the traditional peasant farmer, and some stalls selling truly delicious fresh produce.
Suggested tour: Kumrovec, Trakoscan Castle and Varazdin Tour from Zagreb
Home of hiking and hearty eating, Samobor is an incredibly pretty traditional Croatian town that is widely recognized as one of the most popular day trips to take from Zagreb, for both locals from the capital and visitors too.
Here you’ll find inviting cobbled streets flanked by brightly painted Baroque buildings and a multitude of truly excellent restaurants specialising in locally caught game.
Those who want to work up an appetite or simply want to escape into nature can enjoy the ideal hiking conditions in the wooded hills surrounding Samobor.
Whatever you decide, it’s almost criminal to leave the town without trying their famous cream cake delicacy known as samoborska kremšnita.
Close to the Serbian border, the city of Osijek has been growing in popularity thanks to its unparalleled and characteristic Baroque architecture, which is easily some of the most impressive outside of the capital.
Found in the far east of the country, Osijek is home to neat, paved roads, grand squares and some truly impressive buildings.
The central citadel of Tvrda overlooking the River Drava is one of the must-see sights in the city, whilst the Church of St Peter and St Paul is an unforgettable combination of Gothic opulence and numerous striking spires.
5. Lake Bled
Slovenia’s most popular mountain getaway is easily reachable from the Croatian capital in the space of a day, and is a beautiful combination of alpine peaks, gorgeous lakes, castles and churches.
The nation’s beloved Lake Bled can be found in the Julian Alps.
It is a picture-perfect destination not just for those looking for romantic scenery, but also for those in search of outdoor adventure.
Between the canyons, lakes, and mountains, there are endless opportunities for hiking, canoeing and climbing surrounding Lake Bled, attracting all manner of travellers – locals and backpackers alike.
Available tour: From Zagreb: Ljubljana and Lake Bled Tour
The peaceful Croatian town of Dakovo is characterised by the vast expanses of cornfields surrounding it.
One can easily spend the day exploring these before even setting foot among the pretty buildings that populate Dakovo.
However, the main reason people visit is the gorgeous landmark in the center known as Dakovo Cathedral, complete with soaring towers and attractive red brick masonry.
Here, you’ll find several folkloric events held throughout the year, which make for a perfect small-town getaway in contrast with the busy city of Zagreb.
7. Lonjsko Polje
The enormous natural preserve known as Lonjsko Polje is a vast strip of marshland that follows the course of the Sava River.
It contains a series of traditional villages in the confines of its 50,000 acres that are representative of traditional rural Croatia.
The highlight of these is the village of Krapje, where you can observe typically designed wooden houses built along the riverbanks.
Not only is it a cultural phenomenon for this reason, but the park also contains an astonishing diversity of bird, plant, mammal and fish species, thanks to its nourishing environment.
You can marvel at the ecological diversity on various well-marked hiking and cycling routes.
Zagreb’s very own prime skiing destination is frequented by world-class athletes, and Sljeme also doubles up as a beautiful green getaway during the summer when the snow melts.
As part of the Medvednica National Park, this hilly region populated by lush pine forests is home to various chalets and eateries, providing welcome rest stops for hikers exploring the crisp slopes.
The skiing opportunities are accessible for all skill levels, making it the perfect day trip for amateur skiers or travellers who simply wish to discover this slice of alpine Croatia.
The capital city of Slovenia is only a couple of hours away from Zagreb and offers a wealth of cultural and historical attractions that are well worth the cross-border journey.
Ljubljana is densely packed with seemingly endless gorgeous Baroque buildings, a great number of which are UNESCO-listed and most of which can be found in the captivating Old City center.
The Art Nouveau atmosphere is enough to keep any visitor wandering wide-eyed through the streets, and beautiful attractions like the majestic Triple Bridge are close to one another and easy to find.
Available tour: Full-Day Ljubljana & Postojna Cave Tour
A rural area in the hilly region near the Slovenian border, Krapina is famed far and wide for its density of mansions belonging to the past aristocracies, as well as several beautiful cathedrals and castles.
However, aside from wandering the pretty streets of the town of Krapina, visitors will want to also turn their attention to the Krapina Neanderthal Museum.
This museum is dedicated to the groundbreaking discovery of the remains of an early human community in the surrounding area, and attracts fascinated visitors each year to gain insight into their lives.
11. Kopački rit
Nestled in the countryside of Slavonia, you’ll find the gorgeous waters of the wetlands of the Kopački rit nature park which sees the merging of the Danube and Drava rivers.
Here you can marvel at the pristine condition the park has remained in because of its relative difficulty to access.
This untouched natural perfection comes in the form of herds of majestic deer and wild boar, not to mention an incredible diversity of bird species.
Though it’s possible to visit the park by car, the preferred and far more rewarding method is via boat.
The old capital of Croatia more than two centuries ago is a proudly Baroque city that lies close to the country’s border with neighbouring Slovenia and Hungary.
The architecture is arguably the city’s main attraction, and its opulent style can be seen in castles, churches and other impressive sites almost everywhere.
These ornate buildings also play host throughout the year to numerous music events and cultural festivals that celebrate the Baroque theme, making Varaždin one of the most culturally rich day trips to take from the capital.
Suggested tour: From Zagreb: Varazdin Baroque Town & Trakoscan Castle
Less than two hours from Zagreb, but seemingly a world away, lies the quintessentially alpine and gorgeously untouched mountainous region of Gorski kotar.
Here you’ll find the Risnjak National Park, a huge expanse of forested slopes that plays home to a great number of wild animals, from bears to lynx.
It goes without saying that the hiking here is phenomenal, with many areas of the park reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, including everything from snow-capped peaks to pine carpeted foothills.
The northern region of Zagorje, though close to Zagreb, feels completely detached from the pace of life found in the city, and contains some of the nation’s most beautiful and beloved national parks within its mountainous snowscapes.
Other than the incredible hiking that can be found in Zagorje, thanks to its pristine, natural preserves, there are also a multitude of cultural attractions to be found in the region.
It has the highest density of castles in Croatia – an impressive feat considering the amount found throughout the country – and some are truly breath taking.
Highlights include Veliki Tabor and Trakošćan, two of the largest in the entire nation.
Suggested tour: From Zagreb: Varazdin and Zagorje Castles Private Tour
The road leading to the Plitvice Lakes hides a hidden gem unknown to many visitors, but a firm favourite amongst locals looking for a picturesque getaway from the city – the impossibly beautiful watermill village of Rastoke.
The 300-year-old village sits on the water’s edge at a point where the Slunjčica braches out into various small cascades.
It makes for an incredibly scenic combination of nature and human ingenuity.
You can spend hours wandering around and snapping photos of the typical, traditional mills, some dating as far back as the 1600’s.