Središnja Hrvatska (Central Croatia) is the central and most significant economic region of Croatia. The Slavic influence on this heart of a very oddly shaped country begins with the great migration into southeastern Europe during the first millennium AD, as Slavs and other groups pushed westward the Germanic tribes who had attempted to control the territory of the fallen Roman Empire. From the 5th to 7th century AD, different tribes of South Slavs settled in the Balkans. Over the centuries these groups populated and developed, but also experienced conflicts, rule, and slavery at the hands of various invaders—all of which is reflected in the diversity of language, food, and culture among the different regions of Croatia today.
You will likely enter Croatia by Zagreb. It is the capital of both the region and the country, and contains Croatia’s main airport, dominant commercial center, and more than half of the country’s population. It is Croatia’s premier cultural destination, offering museums, theaters, galleries, and educational institutions—including the University of Zagreb, which has been in continuous operation since 1669.
Zagreb is worth your time exploring, and architecture fans will love the various, sometimes opulent, styles. The Gothic Zagreb Cathedral, first completed in the 13th century and since renovated, is the tallest building in Croatia. The iconic St. Mark’s Church is Romanesque, also from the 13th century. In walking distance you will also discover Baroque, Art Nouveau, Socialist, and Modern styles.
But don’t rush off to the coast once you’ve seen the city—Central Croatia is a region packed with history, recreation, and contrasts. Fairytale villages and well-preserved castles dot lush forests and hills. Hikers and bikers can explore rural landscapes or enjoy challenging trails through portions of the Dinaric Alps. In the winter there is skiing and snowboarding. At popular Plitvice Lakes National Park, you can wander among stunning lakes and waterfalls. Visit Ščitarjevo’s Roman ruins, the Renaissance star of Karlovac, and Veliki Tabor castle in Zagorje. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be in time for one of the cultural festivals in Lepoglava, Kumrovec, or Čakovec—and see history come alive.