Varaždin is the cultural, economic and administrative centre of Hrvatsko Zagorje. It’s a pretty, Baroque city, its skyline punctured by church towers, its centre lined with parks and gardens. It celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2009, renovating its National Theatre, hosting the world handball championships and increasing the profile of its many cultural festivals. In 2008 its Radar Festival played host to Bob Dylan. In 2009 the star was Santana.
Historically, Varaždin was a fortress town, a stronghold against Turkish raids. It passed through the hands of several owners, including the aristocratic Erdõdy family, until 1925. For a brief time in the 18th century, it was the capital of Croatia, hosting the Parliament (Sabor).
The city’s pedestrianised Baroque centre has a noble feel about it. The 14th-century Castle (042 658 754, www.gmv.hr; summer 9am-5pm Tue-Sat, winter 10am-5pm Tue-Fri; 10am-1pm Sat, Sun; 20kn) houses the City Museum, with displays of arms, local crafts and furniture. Varaždin Cathedral (Pavlinska 4), built in 1647, is distinguished by its Baroque entrance and 18th-century altar. In between the castle and cathedral, the Town Hall, built in 1523, hosts the changing of the guard every Saturday at 11am.