The former Croatian capital and an exquisite Baroque town of Varaždin is located only an hour and a half from Zagreb, which makes it an excellent day trip option.
The town has a population of around 47,000 and according to various archaeological findings, it was inhabited during the Roman Times, even though it was first mentioned in writing in the 12th ct. The town started growing around the fortress which had existed from the 12th ct, but was rebuilt for fending off Ottoman raids in the 16th ct. The ownership of the fortress changed throughout history, with each owner changing the fortress’ appearance or adding something new to the town. The Erdödy family holds the record of longest ownership of the fortress: their family members were town’s prefects from the end of the 16th ct until 1925.
The most important thing for Croatian history happened in 1756 when Ban (a historic title in Croatia, corresponding that of viceroy or governor) Francis Nadásdy chose the town as his official residence, making Varaždin the capital of Croatia, which belonged to the Habsburg Monarchy at the time. This lasted for 20 years, during which time Baroque churches and other buildings were added. In 1776 there was a big fire which lasted for 3 days and destroyed 80% of the buildings in Varaždin, causing all administrative institutions to move to Zagreb. The town was completely rebuilt in the 19th ct.
The most noteworthy buildings are the fortress, which now houses the Town Museum, and is known as The Old Town; Sermage Palace (which houses the Old and Contemporary Masters Gallery), Town Hall, Cathedral, and the Croatian National Theatre.
The most important event in town, Špancirfest, is a 10 day festival taking place from the end of August until the beginning of September. The entire town turns into a stage for various artists to perform, and shopping and eating stands line the streets. You can find out why 100,000 people visit this festival on their official website. You can see the atmosphere at the festival in 2015 below:
You can find more info on the town here and see what this charming town looks like below:
This fairytale castle on top of a hill is located 40 km southwest of Varaždin. It was built in the 13th ct. The castle was owned by various noble families throughout history, the most prominent one being the Drašković family, but it was abandoned in the late 18th ct. Neglected, it started deteriorating rapidly, but the Drašković family took to returning it to its former glory and renovated it in the second half of the 19th ct, transforming the surrounding park into a romantic garden. The castle was nationalized in 1944 and a museum with a permanent exhibition opened here in 1954. It now belongs to the Republic of Croatia and it’s open for visitors. You can witness the magic below:
1 Apr - 31 Oct: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
1 Nov – 31 Mar: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Adults: 30 kn
Children: 15 kn (groups of preschool children: 10 kn)
Phone: +385(0)42 796 281
There are more than 10 buses a day connecting Zagreb and Varaždin, starting at 60 kn (one way), and it takes an hour and a half to get there. You can find the timetable here. It takes another hour to get to Trakošćan from Varaždin, click here for the buses (36 kn one way).
You can find accommodation in Varaždin here.
Zagreb Tours has a great day trip option starting at €90, and it includes entrance tickets to Trakošćan and a coffee break in Varaždin, so it might be a more relaxed alternative if you want to avoid endless googling and waiting for buses.