As much as I love the old walled cities of Croatia, there is often little green space. One of the fabulous things about the capital city, Zagreb, is that the region is lush with nature parks. What separates Zagreb from other areas in Croatia is its proximity to nature — it’s blessed with many forest parks, all reachable on foot or by tram.
Locals say Zagreb is a big town disguised as a small city. Its laid-back rhythm and leafy charm are apparent from the first moment visitors set out to explore this land-locked Croatian capital.
First off, you’ll discover Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe. It’s not actually one park; the entire lower town is a tapestry of seven parks woven into a horseshoe. The U-shaped green space provides walking paths dotted with historic squares, monuments, and many grand buildings in the Neo-Baroque, Neo-Classical and Secessionist styles. It was conceived in 1882 by Croatian urbanist Milan Lenuci as a park system aligned on three straight lines flanked with gardens and profusions of flowers.
I visited Zagreb in June and was charmed by its green spaces. Here are 11 Zagreb parks that sated my craving for nature.
Note: The Zagreb Tourist Board hosted my visit to Zagreb, but all opinions are my own.
1. King Tomislav Square
King Tomislav Square is the central plaza of Zagreb’s Lower Town, right in front of the main Railway Station. The public square is lined with trees and flower beds, including beautifully landscaped areas that are considered the centerpiece of Lunuci’s Green Horseshoe.
This vibrant square is home to the Zagreb Classic, anticipated for its heavenly sounds under open skies. Visitors and locals enjoy first-class musicians from Croatia and worldwide and perform the finest classical music, having a cult-like status among artists and music lovers.
Pro Tip: Get a city map. It’s the best way to explore the parks in the lower town and the treasure trove of statues, galleries, and attractions.
2. Botanical Garden
I always visit botanical gardens when I visit a new city, and Zagreb is no exception. The Zagreb Botanical Garden is an oasis in the heart of the town that was founded in 1889. Sandwiched between the main thoroughfares of Zagreb, its initial design has been meticulously preserved. Meandering through its winding garden pathways makes you forget you’re in the middle of the city. The arboretum is the most significant part of the garden, styled as an English landscape garden.
I loved the idyllic pond with floating aquatic plants and the scenic arched red bridge. Open from April to November, there is no entrance fee.
3. Zrinjevac Park
Zrinjevac Park is a relaxing spot in the middle of the city. Buzzing with activity all year round, you can find groups of students studying, children playing, and dog walkers enjoying nature surrounded by majestic plane trees.
The centerpiece is the 19th-century music pavilion which serves as an open-air concert stage. It is home to Zagreb’s first fountain, a 130-year-old weather monitoring station, and monuments to famous Croatians. A few hours of daydreaming under a towering tree can go by in a second — only a distant tram squeal will lure you from your reverie.
I was lucky to wander upon one of the orchestra concerts in the park this summer on a warm June night. Locals and visitors gathered around in lawn chairs and lying on the grass, soaking it all in.
4. Strossmayer Promenade
The Strossmayer Promenade is the best place for spectacular views of Zagreb. The tree-lined alley ran along the former southern defensive wall and was built toward the end of the 19th century. It originates underneath Lotrščak Tower, one of the last of Zagreb’s fortifications.
It’s a great place to take a short break from exploring the city. Walking along, you’ll come upon a sculpture of Antun Gustav Matoš, a Croatian poet and writer, sitting on a bench forever overlooking Zagreb. Concerts, events, and performances are hosted here most of the year.
5. Art Park
Art Park is a newly rejuvenated park where you can take a pause in the city center while participating in many free events at the green oasis. This beautiful but once-derelict small park is near the bottom station of the Zagreb Funicular and under the Strossmayer Promenade in the city’s center.
Considered an outdoor gallery with a vibrant atmosphere, it offers a place to relax, cool down, and enjoy good company and creativity. The park has steps, and some of the grassy areas are sloped. Croatia’s first street art park offers great vibes, cold drinks, art, and music programs throughout the summer.
6. Ribnjak Park
Ribnjak Park is located behind the Zagreb Cathedral. It has been a part of the city’s fortification since the 15th century. Thought to be the most beautiful Upper Town park, it stretches along the east walls of the city only 5 minutes from Ban Josip Jelačić Square.
Ribnjak means “fishpond,” so the park is named after the fishponds that existed here until the 19th century. It is a popular spot for children to enjoy the playground, has plentiful shade, and is wheelchair accessible. It allows dogs, so it’s a great place to walk your dog in the city center.
7. Park Bundek
Bundek is one of the largest parks in Zagreb. The lovely park and accompanying two lakes are located near the Sava River. Its beautiful trails and lakes with swans offer a peaceful and quiet respite in the very heart of the city. It’s an ideal place to gather for picnics, barbeques, and swimming. I enjoyed watching a doting grandfather help his small granddaughter feed the swans at the lake’s edge.
Pro Tip: Bring along your bug spray; this park was formerly a neglected jungle.
8. Mirogoj Cemetery
Mirogoj Cemetery is not only a burial place but also a beautiful park. Its majestic arcade is topped by a string of cupolas, resembling a fortress from the outside.
Intertwined with lush vegetation, it’s not far from the city center on the slopes of the Medvednica mountain. Its pavilions and tombs are monuments to fallen soldiers from many wars. The cemetery is crisscrossed by paths, sculptures, and artfully designed crypts. The tall ivy-covered walls lead to a fascinating area that includes many famous artists, politicians, and writers.
Pro Tip: There is a free electromobility service for anyone who has trouble walking.
9. Tuškanac Park
Tuškanac Forest Park is a small oasis of greenery in the city. Once, there was a natural Tuškanac forest stretching from Medvednica to the city’s heart. It enjoys being the “lungs” of the community, a favorite for hikers, runners, and biking enthusiasts. This spectacular scenic spot is Zagreb’s forgotten wilderness, featuring winding trails and woods just as nature intended.
Once you enter the Tuškanac Forest, you could spend hours roaming the stately rustling trees. Located on the lowest slope of Mount Medvednica, even the power walkers will work up a sweat.
Pro Tip: Dubravkin Put is an almost 3-mile out-and-back trail within the park. Open year-round, it takes an average of one hour to complete. Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.
10. Maksimir Park
One of the oldest public parks in Zagreb, Maksimir dates to 1794. This stunning green parkland has dense hundred-year-old oak forests and beautiful meadows, lakes, and streams.
The landscaped park was initially modeled after open green spaces in the English countryside. An outstanding example of garden architecture, it boasts tree-lined avenues, five lakes, numerous sculptures from all periods of the park’s history, a children’s playground, and a café.
The park, which houses the Zagreb City Zoo, is located east of the city. Free to enter, it is also home to more than 100 bird species, including the spotted woodpecker, a European endangered species.
11. Medvednica Nature Park
The heavily forested Mount Medvednica is a favorite with locals for a weekend hike north of the city. With more than 150 paths, there are leisurely walking trails with benches and more strenuous mountain biking routes.
In the winter, it offers skiing and sledding on the north slope. It entices walkers or cyclers throughout the year to traverse through the beautiful woods. The lush forests are covered with beech and oak trees, including rare species like linden and yew. It’s also home to an 800-year-old medieval castle, Medvedgrad. At the top of the mountain are incredible views over Zagreb and Slovenia.
Pro Tip: The trams have routes that pass near Medcednica Nature Park. The Mootvit App helps you find the best way to get there with step-by-step directions from the nearest public transit station.
Zagreb possesses dazzling green spaces that take the edge off the urban bustle. The proliferation of parks, gardens, and leafy hills dominate Zagreb’s landscape, coming into spectacular bloom in spring and hosting festivals year-round. They are a refreshing oasis in the summer and magical during wintertime when Christmas market festivities abound.
With its great outdoor natural surroundings, Zagreb is an under-the-radar destination for many North American travelers.
Visit the Zagreb Tourist Board for more information.