With ample time in Zagreb, we connected with the Croatian Tourist Board to obtain more information than our Zagreb-in-a-Day guidebook provided. Our eyes were opened to places we hadn’t even heard of and, in addition to seeing the sights of Gradec and Kaptol, we quickly filled our remaining calendar with nearby parks, a quick trip to Samobor and a full day trip to Krapina and Varazdin in northern Croatia.
The town of Krapina – named for the abundant carp that swim in the river – is best known for the ancient Neanderthal remains discovered on the hillside and the museum detailing the findings. However, we were introduced to many other points of interest on our day trip to Krapina, including three churches, a gallery and wonderful history.
Day trip to Krapina from Zagreb
Our early morning train (well, early for us, at least) chugged out of Zagreb and past factories, small farms and fields layered with dense fog. The little bit of sun shining illuminated thousands of spider webs in the shrubs and it was clear we were leaving the city life behind.
Krapina: Town and History
We were met at the train station by Ms. Nedjeljka, our personal guide from the local tourist office. We set off on our tour of the town heading first into the tight and busy main square. Unlike many of the pedestrian-only, café sipping squares we’ve seen, this one was busy with cars and people. The small size of the town became evident as Ms. Nedjeljka greeted several people, pointing out certain ones, saying ‘that is my friend’ and ‘she is my sister-in-law’ as we crossed through.
From there, we walked a short distance to the city and town halls – located directly across the street from each other. City Hall once housed the town ‘jail’ on the ground level. We were told that long ago the city would issue a sort of dubious badge of honor to citizens who met three requirements: 1) they were wealthy, 2) they owned land and 3) they had spent one night in the town jail. Citizens meeting the first two requirements would be tossed in jail, often after a night of drinks, and be released in the morning to a playing band and the awarding of their certificate. Certainly, a fantastic sense of humor.
Until 25 years ago, the Town Hall was a private residence of the Majcen family. The 19th century building was donated to the city to be used as an art gallery, which opened in 1993. The collections change monthly and follow the holidays and seasons. As we were visiting close to Easter, the creative displays focused on an array of colorful and artistically decorated Easter eggs.
The three churches in town – St. Nicholas, St. Catherine’s and Our Lady of Jerusalem – sit proudly on the sloping hills, each with bell towers that can be seen and heard throughout the valley.
St. Nicholas is Krapina’s parish church and is named for its patron saint. The church that stands now is the newest of the three, built in the 20th century, but the parish dates back to 1193.
St. Catherine’s Church was built on the site of a previous church dating to 1547. The current church and Franciscan monastery was built in 1657 and the baroque interior features beautiful altars. The Franciscans have been a contributing part of Krapina’s society since their arrival in 1641.
Church of Our Lady of Jerusalem
To get to the Church of Our Lady of Jerusalem, we huffed and puffed to the top of the hill. It is one of the churches on the Marian Pilgrimage, which is an international route (Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia) that connects churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Surrounded by an exterior wall, from the outside, the church looks rather basic. When we entered our jaws dropped. The colorful, Baroque interior has to be one of the most beautiful churches we’ve ever visited (and we’ve visited a lot of churches!). The paintings covering the walls and ceiling and multitude of statues nearly overshadows the small gold statue of Mary enshrined behind the altar. The small statue was brought from Jerusalem and is said to have miraculous powers.
Krapina Neanderthal Museum
In complete juxtaposition to the historic churches is the sleek and modern Krapina Neanderthal Museum detailing the 130,000 year old findings of Neanderthals and the history of evolution. The informative, yet attention-holding, museum focuses on paleontologist Kramberger’s discovery of early man in a nearby cave in 1899. Exhibits also feature explanations of life from the Big Bang Theory to current times.
Outside the museum, a short path extends to Kramberger’s excavation site. The displays, accompanied by explanations in English (as well as a fantastic audio guide) provided a useful explanation that aided in our understanding. We would have loved to spend the entire day in the fascinating museum and surrounding parks.
Beyond the tourist sights of Krapina, we were smitten with the scenery. The entire town is spread across the valley, with hillside vineyards and cottages evoking thoughts of a simpler life. For a town that wasn’t even on our radar, it far surpassed our expectations. It provided a glimpse into real-working, small-town life in Croatia – with a splash of extraordinary churches, a magnificent museum and flavored history.
Our day trip to Krapina was just the beginning of our adventure ~ Continue reading about our afternoon in Varazdin.
We want to know: Is a day trip to Krapina on your itinerary? Have you visited Krapina? What were your impressions? Tell us in the comments!
A special thanks to the Croatian Tourist Board and the Krapina Tourist Board for arranging our personal tour guide, Ms. Nedjeljka, and our entrance to the Krapina Neanderthal Museum. As always, the opinions of this post are completely our own.