Discovering Varaždin on a Walking Tour

The town of Varaždin is becoming more and more popular among the visitors from around the world. The average-sized (approx 50k people) Croatian town of Varaždin has seen a rise in tourism in the past few decades, however it has still remained a hidden gem of the North of the country. How can it be that it is a hidden gem and yet is seeing a rise in tourism, you might ask yourself… The reason for this is that the coast of Croatia and bigger cities like Zagreb and Split is what attracts the most visitors, and Varaždin still remains fairly unknown (relatively speaking). However, for most visitors who look for culture and history, this makes this town even more charming!

On the walking tour of Varaždin one sees mostly locals moving about their business, and occasional visitors that enjoy their time in the quietude and the relaxing atmosphere of this town. Although the town’s historical area is not too big, there is much to explore.

Varaždin is probably most well known for its history, architecture, culture, art, food, and of course – the bicycles! Everyone has a bicycle with which they move around, and are happy that the compact size of the town allows them to do their daily errands using their bicycle as an important mean of transportation.

The first mention of Varaždin dates back to late 12th century, and already in the early 13th century the town gained the status of the first royal town in Northern Croatia. This means it answered directly to the king, and thus had many merchants and judicial privileges (unlike towns that dependent on the whim of the feudal lords). Its great strategic location in a valley and on the crossroads of important historical routes, as well as the vicinity to Austria, Slovenia and Hungary, Varaždin thrived economically and socially. The beautiful nature and the Arcadian life-style attracted aristocracy to invest and acquire estates to enjoy their years. In the 17th and 18th century a lot of them moved to Varaždin and started building palaces, which made Varaždin a luxurious town known for entertainment, horse carriages arriving from places like Vienna and Paris. At that time, Varaždin was also the capital of Croatia.

However, we all know how that pompous century has ended, and Varaždin has not escaped such a fate when fire struck the city in 1776. Since then, Zagreb is the capital of the country. Varaždin eventually recovered from destruction and  once again became a quiet and pleasant town with rich cultural and historic heritage.

On the walking tour through Varaždin, the visitors foremost enjoy its charming streets and the overall layout of the old town. The old houses and palaces only add up to the overall experience, and the green area and streets dotted with trees and plants only make one desire to sit on the bench, relax, and take in such a relaxing energy.

A quiet summer afternoon in Varaždin
Approaching the main square of Varaždin

There are many interesting squares, such as the Freedom square, the Kapucin square, the Franciscan square,  the Stančić square, the King Tomislav square etc., all of them having something unique to offer, from quaint shops and bars to lovely museums and the displays of color, culture and symbolism of the architectural styles of palaces, houses and churches. It is a perfect place for anyone who enjoys visiting old cultural towns.

This cultural aspect culminated in the creation of the biggest street festival in Croatia that is now running annually in August/September for over two decades, known as the Špancir fest – a ten-day festival where street artists, performers and creators of all kind occupy the streets of the entire historical center and have thousands of people from all over Croatia and abroad to come and experience this unique atmosphere of culture, craft, art, and music.

Varaždin during the Špancir fest in late August.

Varaždin is also known as a town of baroque, because many of its building and churches are built in this style, and as the baroque style incorporates a lot of statues and frescoes of cherub angels, Varaždin also became known as the town of angels. The baroque aspect is why an event called The Baroque Nights of Varaždin is being held for over half a century every year in October, attracting great musicians of classical music to come and perform.

While discovering Varaždin on the walking tour, the visitors can also visit some of its three main museums, such as The Gallery of Old and New Masters that exhibit paintings from the 15th to 19th century in Sermage palace, The Entomological museum (local collection of insects) in the Hertzer palace, and the most interesting museum – the Old Town castle. Having a castle in the city center is a great feature of any town, and this 14th century renaissance castle is no exception in this regard! After being the home to various royal and aristocratic families, eventually it came to possession of a prominent Hungarian noble family known as the Erdody, and stayed in their charge until the 20th century. Today it is a museum with display of life and artifacts of an aristocratic family through the centuries.

The Varaždin Old Town castle

On the walking tour of Varaždin, it is also possible to include a visit to its cemetery, which is enlisted on the List of the Significant Cemeteries of Europe, mostly because of its park-like design and architectural contributions.

Varaždin is a truly unique town. Most people that visit it come for only an afternoon, but those who stay for a couple of days get to know it better. It all depends on time of course, but from my experience with guiding the walking tours in Varaždin, most people that visit it are very happy that they’ve made this choice, and keep the memory of it dearly in their hearts. It is a great contrast to the coast of Croatia, and visiting it provides with a much more holistic view of what the country is all about.

Besides the historical center and the cemetery, Varaždin also has a gorgeous natural area with a significant 700 kilometers Drava river passing through it, which makes it for diverse flora and fauna, and a great place to explore and sit down by the river.

At the Drava river in the Park Forest Drava, on the outskirts of Varaždin.
Sunset by the Drava river.

If you are interested to explore Varaždin on a walking tour, feel free to book the tour with us:

Varaždin Walking Tour

About Author

Hrvoje Dario Papić is a tour guide, trip organizer and a writer with long experience in tourism industry. He is an expert for Croatia and surrounding regions, and in his free time he explores other countries and cultures, particularly the more exotic and culturally enriching ones. This interest has so far taken him over four continents and almost forty countries.


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