The capital of Croatia, Zagreb has a population of over 800,000 people and is situated at the extreme edge of the Pannonian Basin. The city straddles the north and south banks of the Sava River and is nestled below Mount Medvednica. The area's Stone Age history has not yet yielded signs of any settlements, but archeologists have found serpentine tools that point to the region first being an area of transit. Archeological finds have confirmed that the area was definitely settled from the Neolithic Age on, also being home to the intriguing Vučedol and Vinkovci cultures of the Bronze Age. The largest Neanderthal settlement in the world is located in Krapina; today, you can learn all about it at the on-site museum.
During the first millenium BC, the region saw a number of different inhabitants. First came the Hallstatt Culture (proto-Illyrian tribes) and the La Tène Culture (proto-Celtic tribes). The ancient Roman government captured much of present-day Croatia in the second century BC. Fourteen km (8½ miles) from the Zagreb center, you can visit Andautonia, an old Roman town that left well-preserved ruins. Slavic tribes descended into the area from the north, inhabiting it starting around the 7th century AD. In 925 AD, King Tomislav became Croatia's first monarch.
One of central Europe’s oldest towns, the area of Zagreb was first documented as an official diocese in 1094 AD. Two separate but adjacent towns once stood on the area of the city, Gradec (today the Upper Town) and Kaptol (today the Lower Town). Gradec was designated a free royal city by Croatian-Hungarian King Bela IV following Tatar attacks in 1242.
The capital and ruling seat of Croatia changed throughout the centuries. Zagreb was first mentioned as being the capital in 1557, but Varaždin served as the main city from 1767 to 1776 until a fire moved the government seat from Varaždin back to Zagreb. Kaptol and Gradec were put under a single city administration in 1850, officially becoming the city of Zagreb. The legendary Orient Express flourished during the late 1800s and early 1900s, with Zagreb being a main stop for passengers on the Paris-Venice-Istanbul line. Beautiful public buildings began popping up across the city, including the National Theater, the university, and various museums. Built in a grand style and interspersed by wide, tree-lined boulevards, parks, and gardens, these old buildings adorn the entire city center today.
Throughout the 20th century, Zagreb saw increasing industrialization coupled with urban expansion, and the high-rise suburb of Novi Zagreb was constructed south of the Sava. Today, Novi Zagreb is a bustling residential area home to Bundek Park and and the Museum of Contemporary Art. From 1990 to 2000, Zagreb was, like the rest of the country, suffering and then recovering from the War of Independence. That also included a transition period from the communist government of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to a free market economy and the parliamentary constitutional government of the Republic of Croatia.
Over the past couple decades, Zagreb has undergone an economic bloom, highlighted by Croatia’s ascension to the European Union in 2013. Today, Zagreb is home to several international companies and an exciting local entrepeneurial scene.
Modern Zagreb is divided into 17 city districts which span almost 700 square km (270 square miles). Each has a number of neat attractions; for example, Novi Zagreb encompasses Bundek Park and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Trešnjevka is home to Jarun Lake and the Technical Museum Nikola Tesla, and Podsljeme includes the Mirogoj, often called the most beautiful cemetery in Europe. Zagreb's historic city center is divided into two distinct districts: Gornji grad (Upper Town) and Donji grad (Lower Town). Upper Gornji grad is made up of winding cobbled streets and terra-cotta rooftops among which are some of the city's most famous sites such as St. Mark's Church and Square, the Strossmayer Promenade, and the Stone Gate. Lower Donji grad is where you'll find some of the city's most important 19th-century cultural institutions, including the National Theater and a number of museums, all in a fairly walkable (or tramable) distance. Anywhere in the city, you’ll find top-notch restaurants and cafés.