Karlovac, “City on Four Rivers”, “City of Parks and greenery”, “The city of encounters” are just some of the nicknames that adorn this small town.
Most know it only as a transit point to other parts of Croatia, and in fact, know very little about its history, but although small, Karlovac preserves the priceless historical and cultural heritage, architecture and unprecedented natural beauties. Karlovac is rich with museums,
churches, castles, rivers and baths, beautiful parks and promenades, hiking trails and plenty of sports and recreational facilities.
The city of Karlovac is located in central Croatia, 56 km southwest of Zagreb and 130 km northeast of the city of Rijeka, and is the administrative center of Karlovac County.
Karlovac is the city where the most important railway and road routes connect the capital Zagreb with Rijeka, Split and other parts of Croatia. In fact, Karlovac has always been a city center that connects Europe with the Adriatic ports, as evidenced by the old historic roads of Karolina, Jozefina, and Lujzijana, thanks to which Karlovac has developed into an important commercial and transport center.
The excellent geo-traffic position is also evidenced by the distance of Karlovac from some of the major European cities. The distance from Karlovac to Ljubljana is 104 km air distance, from Karlovac to Sarajevo 386 km, to Budapest 400 km and to the Austrian capital, Vienna – 410 km. The city of Karlovac is the administrative, political, cultural and sports center of Karlovac County which is divided into 5 major cities (Karlovac, Duga Resa, Ogulin, Slunj, and Ozalj), and a total of 17 municipalities. The city of Karlovac itself consists of 18 neighborhoods, the most prominent of which are: Stari Centar – which is the oldest gentlemanly city district and the seat of the leaders who built the town of Karlovac. Borlin is the district where Karlovac brewery is located and which is one of the most beautiful districts in Karlovac. In addition to being the most beautiful, it is known as the district with the cleanest water which the brewery uses to make beer. The neighborhood of Dubovac is located along with the old town of Dubovac, which was ruled by princes Zrinski and Frankopans in the 15th and 16th centuries. A neighborhood called “The Star” is a settlement of a specific appearance in the form of a six-pointed star. Inside the Star is the Church of the Holy Trinity, which is also the oldest building in the city.
Natural sights in Karlovac
The most prominent natural sights in Karlovac are its four rivers Kupa, Mrežnica, Dobra, and Korana.
The Kupa river that springs into the Risnjak National Park is the longest of the four rivers that flow through Karlovac. What makes the Kupa stand out is the fact that, although it springs only 30 km from the Adriatic Sea, its course goes inland, which is not characteristic of any other river in the world. In 1908. the Ozalj-Munjara hydroelectric power station was built on the Kupa River in Ozalj, which contributed to the development of the Karlovac economy.
Mrežnica river is a beautiful river, rich in waterfalls and cascades. With its cleanliness and temperature suitable for swimming, it is a favorite holiday spot for many visitors from Zagreb and the Karlovac area.
The Dobra River has two sources and is characterized by underground and above-ground flows. It is 107 km long. Dobra disappears underground in Ogulin, in the Djulin abyss and resumes its above-ground flow at the village of Gojak, where the Gojak hydroelectric power plant is.
Throughout history, the first parks, baths, and hotels were created along the Korana, and today the Korana is a place where Karlovac citizens gather for swimming, sports, and entertainment.
The historian Radovinovic described his experience of Karlovac as “a city in a park”, and Karlovac is indeed a city rich in parks, promenades and generally greenery. The construction of parks began at the time of the construction of the city fortress, and to this day the Karlovac people pay great attention to environmental care.
Karlovac ranks first in Croatia by the number of parks, relative to its urban area. The natural beauty and environment of Karlovac were also recognized by the Croatian National Tourist Board, which in 2010. presented the “Green Flower Award” to Karlovac for the most decorated city of continental Croatia. If you want to spend the day outdoors and enjoy a walk in some of the most beautiful parks and promenades in Karlovac, you definitely have to visit the Marmont Plane Alley located in Dubovac, which is characterized by the 200-year-old plane tree avenue planted in 1809. – by the order of August Marmont, Napoleon’s marshal.
The alley is 850 m long and there was originally planted 112 maple leaf trees. In 1968. the plane tree alley was entered in the register of specially protected natural objects. Another unforgettable and beautiful promenade is the Grand promenade (today the promenade of Dr. Franjo Tudjman), which is located around the Star of Karlovac and is one of the most important centers of social life in Karlovac today.
During the rebuilding from 1886. to 1888. trees were planted on the promenade in five rows, the scene which still stands out today. The large promenade extends along with the 11 most famous civic houses and villas from the second half of the 19th century – from “Kavana” to “Zorin dom”. Other green areas ideal for walking include: Renaissance park along the University of Karlovac, the avenue of linden trees at the remains of the fortification ramparts, the Black Promenade between the street of Draskovic and the road of D. Trstenjaka, the Arboretum at the Forestry School, Modrusanov Park and the unique Vrbanic park, which was opened to the public in 1896. The idea for the park was accepted by the then-mayor and pharmacist Josip Vrbanic, at the initiative of the Society for the Beautification of the City, and it was conceived as a small botanical garden in the open. The Vrbanic park is located in the south-east part of the town, between the river Korana and the famous Karlovac “Star”, and it consists of three parts: the English part of the park, the French part and the third part where coniferous spruce and fir trees predominate. Korzo, or in Italian, “Corso” represents the main city street or promenade. The Karlovac korzo is considered to be Petar Zrinski Street, which extends from the river Kupa to the green promenade near the Star of Karlovac.
History of Karlovac
The town of Karlovac was built in the 16th century in the area where four rivers flow, at the foot of the old town of Dubovac. It was founded as a fortress in the shape of a six-pointed star and its main task was the defense against the Turkish invaders. The exact date of the construction of Karlovac was the 13th of July in 1579. and the name Karlovac was given in honor of its founder – the Austrian archduke Karl Habsburg.
The last Turkish siege of Karlovac was in 1672. Throughout history, the city has experienced many disasters, from floods and fires to plague. The largest fire occurred in 1594. when the entire city was burned. The plague epidemic in 1773. was extremely severe and almost half of the population died as a result.
At the time, during the 16th and 17th centuries, Karlovac was under military rule. The citizens of Karlovac believed that the military administration was hampering the development of Karlovac’s economy and trade, and they fought to declare Karlovac a “Free Royal City”.
At its session of the 25th of February in 1770. the Croatian parliament demanded that the Croatian coast must be returned to Croatia and that the city of Karlovac is declared a “Free Royal City” and annexed to Civil Croatia. After seven years, Queen Mary Theresa, by her writing on August 9th, 1776. determined that the city of Karlovac should be given the position of a free city.
In the 18th and 19th century Karlovac experienced its first “Golden age” and became the main trading center between the Adriatic Sea and the Podunavlje region. At that time, the most famous roads were Karolina (connecting Karlovac and Rijeka), Jozefina (connecting Karlovac and Senj) and Lujzijana (Karlovac-Rijeka). The Lujzijana road was the shortest link between Karlovac and the city of Rijeka, and one of the most modern roads in the entire monarchy. With the development of shipbuilding on the river Kupa during the 19th century, Karlovac experienced its second “Golden age”.
Karlovac slowly grew and grew, so that in the early 20th century it was the third city in Croatia in terms of population and economy. During World War 2, from 1941. to 1945. the city experienced one of the most difficult periods of its history. During the 20th century, Karlovac changed a lot, so that it grew from a former industrial city into a true political, cultural and social center. More recently, during the Homeland War, Karlovac was a key point in Croatia’s defense. There were many casualties in the attacks on the city and the city itself suffered tremendous economic damage.
Education in Karlovac
The city of Karlovac is not only a city of rivers and parks, but it also boasts a rich educational tradition. Few people know that Karlovac has the oldest music school in Croatia. Founded in 1804. it is the cradle of formal music education in this part of Europe. The music school is located at the entrance to the old city center – the so-called Star.
During summer, the Flutist academy is being held in Karlovac, and it brings together the best flutists and educators from all over the world. In addition to the Karlovac Music School, there are 11 elementary schools, which are: Švarča Primary School, Banija Primary School, Braće Seljan Primary School, Dragojla Jarnević Primary School, Dubovac Primary School, Grabrik Primary School, Recica Primary School, Skakavac Primary School, Turanj Primary School and the Center for upbringing and education for children and youth.
Among the secondary schools in Karlovac, there are Gymnasium Karlovac, Medical School, School of Economics and Tourism, Trade and Hospitality School, Forestry and Woodworking School, Technical School. Mixed Industrial-Crafts School and School of Natural Sciences.
Karlovac University stands out from the institutions of higher education in Karlovac, where several courses can be studied. The study programs implemented by Karlovac University are Hunting and Nature Protection, Mechatronics, Food Technology, Nursing, Security and Protection, Mechanical Engineering, Textile, Hospitality, Business Management, Security and Protection, and Mechanical Engineering.
Cultural and historical sites in Karlovac
As a true cultural and historical center, Karlovac is rich in landmarks – museums, theaters, churches, monuments and events of a fun character.
Dubovac is an old town for whom it is not known when exactly it was created. It is believed to date from the 13th century and long before Karlovac is mentioned in books. It is located above Karlovac, on the hill above the river Kupa and represents the oldest Karlovac monument.
Dubovac was named after the dub (oak) and the oak forest that surrounded it. From the Dubovac viewpoint, there is a beautiful view of the whole Karlovac.
The historical and cultural core of the Old Town of Karlovac was built in the form of a six-pointed star, which is why it was named the Karlovac Star. The Star consists of a central square and streets intersecting at right angles. As Karlovac was built as a fortress, the star shape was perfect for defending against enemies.
For lovers of culture and theater, it will be interesting to visit the Zorin dom City Theater or one of the city’s galleries. The Zorin dom Theater was opened in 1892. after which Karlovac slowly became one of the strongest centers of the art and theater scene. Until the opening of the hall, improvisations and performances were held throughout the inns, cafes and home stages.
The Karlovac Theater or the National City Theater Karlovac has been operating professionally since 1948. The Ivan Goran Kovačić City Library is the oldest and largest cultural institution in Karlovac, and the entire Karlovac County and is also one of the five largest public libraries in Croatia. The city library was created during the Illyrian movement following the decision of the then prominent and powerful men of the city. Her first name was “Illyrian Reading Society”. From that time until today it has remained as a center of culture, history, and literacy in the town of Karlovac.
Lovers of architecture and historical and cultural heritage will be delighted to see that Karlovac and its surroundings guard several well-preserved medieval castles. They were built for practical reasons at a time when the threat of the Turks was real, but they still stand firm today and attract attention. Castles in Karlovac and its surroundings are a great choice for a day trip.
The oldest historical monument in Karlovac is the Old Town of Dubovac. It is located on a hill above Karlovac and has historically been owned by several noble families. From Dubovac, there is a beautiful view of the surroundings and Karlovac itself and the interior keeps a permanent museum display. Ticket price is 10 Kunas for adults and 5 Kunas for children.
The Novigrad on Dobra was located only 8 km from Karlovac and is free for visitors. The castle was reportedly built in 1193., and in the 15th century, it was occupied by the Frankopans. The castle was burnt down by the partisans in 1944. but several years ago the rebuilding process began.
Ozalj is an old medieval fort that was turned into a castle in the 18th century. Today, the Ozalj Castle is a local museum where you can enjoy exhibits of weapons from the time of Zrinski and Frankopan’s and also a collection of works by the painter Slava Raškaj. Ozalj Castle is located 25 km from Karlovac.
Another interesting building from the Middle Ages is the Ribnik. It is located 25 km from Karlovac and once was a water burg. Even to this day, you can see the remains of history in Ribnik – secret rooms, dungeons and armory. Fort Bosiljevo is located 30 km from Karlovac and is accompanied by a legend as “never conquered” by Turkish invaders. After the Zrinsko-Frankopan conspiracy in 1671. the fort was looted. Today, the fort is deserted and is located in a forest that has been declared a protected monument of horticultural architecture.
The Karlovac City Museum was founded in 1904. to protect the memories and antiquities of the city of Karlovac. In the beginning, the museum fund consisted of gifts and donations, and after the Second World War the museum was renovated, and the Gallery added. Today, the Karlovac City Museum is located in the Baroque Palace on Strossmayer’s Square and is an important cultural center of the city. Today’s museum exhibit is divided into six collections. These are the Archaeological Collection, Historical Collection, Cultural History Collection, Ethnological Collection, and Gallery Collection.
The town of Karlovac has been repeatedly engulfed by large fires several times throughout history, and one of them even burned it to the ground. As a token of appreciation and commemoration of the tradition of fire-fighting in the Karlovac area, the Museum of Karlovac Fire-fighting was opened. The first voluntary fire brigade “Karlovac” was founded on May 5th, 1871. when a stronger development of fire-fighting in the area began. The museum opened its doors to the public in 2009.
The settlement of Turanj in Karlovac is a symbol of the attack on Croatia in the Homeland War and has suffered enormous material and human losses. But Turanj is also a symbol of the beginning of the organized defense of Karlovac, and also a symbol of victory.
At the site of the former Austrian barracks “Turanj” today there is a Museum Collection of Homeland War Weapons.
Croatia is one of the countries in Europe with the richest river flora and fauna, and the city of Karlovac as the “city on four rivers” is the best place to present the richness and the beauty of Croatian freshwater. Aquatika is a freshwater aquarium that contains exhibits of more than 100 species of freshwater fish, over 40 endemic species, 26 aquariums and about 5000 different individual water species. Today it is an important tourist and economic object in the city of Karlovac.
For all lovers of concerts and festivals, the Karlovac “Beer Days” are inevitable. They are traditionally held in Karlovac and organized by the City of Karlovac. The main guidelines of “Beer Day” are of course beer, music, and gastronomy, when the whole city is turning into a big stage with many music events and many daily events. Beer days in Karlovac attract many local and foreign visitors every year.
If you are interested in buildings of sacral architecture, in Karlovac you can visit the Pauline monastery in Kamensko near Karlovac, founded by Countess Katarina Frankopan. During the Homeland War, the monastery was in the occupied territory and suffered severe damage after which the reconstruction process began. Today, four Paulines live there and run the parish.
The Church of the Holy Trinity and the Franciscan Monastery are located at Ban Josip Jelačić Square in the heart of the old town center – the Star. The church was built at the same time as the fortress and the Franciscan monastery was erected a little later in the 17th century. There is also a museum where you can see a rich inventory consisting of a monastery collection of paintings, a monastery treasury and a collection on Franciscan education in Karlovac.
Nightlife in Karlovac
Nightlife in Karlovac is not as rich as in some other major cities, because Karlovac is still a smaller town. But for those looking for fun and a night out, several places in Karlovac are considered to be a favorite among locals.
The nightclubs in Karlovac are the Monaco Club, The River Pub, Podroom, and Astralis. Of the quieter pubs and fine dining bars, the best are Papa’s Bar, SuSu Pub, and Catalpa Lounge Bar. Among the fun events, we have to mention the “Karlovac’s Ivanjski krijesovi” which gather thousands of visitors every year. The June bonfire or Ivanjski krijesovi is mentioned in the records 230 years ago and was held on both banks of the river Kupa in Karlovac. This also represents a friendly rivalry between the settlements in Karlovac, and the event is accompanied by music, song, dance and sports competitions.
Activities in Karlovac
The culture of sports and recreation has always been strong in Karlovac. All visitors who are looking for recreational tourism have a rich offer of activities – from rafting, cycling, hiking and swimming at one of the Karlovac beaches.
As a city on four rivers, Karlovac is ideal for rafting and canoeing. Very popular with domestic and foreign tourists is rafting on the Mrežnica, which enchants with the beauty of her nature, waterfalls, and canyons.
Rafting on the Mrežnica River consists of two currents – the upper one and the lower one. Upstream rafting consists of a raft ride or a mini raft boat, during which you can enjoy many waterfalls, water slides, and high rock jumps. The best time for rafting on Mrežnica is in spring or late autumn, because of the most favorable river water levels
Cycling lovers will be delighted by the fact that Karlovac County is full of as many as 7 bike trails with a total length of 150 km, which will take you through some of the most beautiful small towns and villages. The cycling route “Via the roads of Frankopan Princes” is a circular route of 27 km in length, starting at the New Center of Karlovac and continuing through the towns of Zagrad, Dubovac, Kalvarija, Vučjak, Tropčić, Katušin, Čohani, Babići, Skupica, Župčići, the Old Town of Novigrad, Kipljanci, Kozjača and it ends at the starting point.
The cycling route “Along the travertine waterfalls” is the starting point for the excursion site in Mrežnica Brig, with the Slapić campsite, which in the summer is an excellent beach on the Mrežnica River. The route “From the Heart of Nature” takes you along the path through the small villages of Piščetke, Kolenovac, and Mali Modruš Potok and is known for its beautiful scenery and views. The cycling route “Along the course of the Mrežnica River” starts at the “Slapić” picnic area in Mrežnica, which is an ideal location for summer swimming, playing tennis or beach volleyball. The “Between the Green Rivers” route is a circular path that lies between the rivers Mrežnica and Dobra and will guide you through the picturesque forests, meadows, and valleys. The bicycle route “Through Meadows and Orchards” extends from the hamlet of Gršćaki to the town of Duga Resa. The path of the “Winding Lujzijana” stretches from Netretić, across Vinski vrh to Novigrad on the Dobra, and in part will lead you along the historic Lujzijana road.
As far as hiking and hiking trails go, Karlovac does not lag behind in its offer. The beginnings of mountaineering in Croatia date back to Karlovac County. The best hiking trails in Karlovac are Dubovac Mountaineering Trail, Ozalj-Vodenice, Vodenice-Hrasce, Hrasce-Grdun, Grdun-Zavisje, Zavisje-Kalvarija, Kalvarija-Dubovac Calvary-Vinica, and Vinica-Martinscak.
In addition to the abundance of rivers in Karlovac, there are also plenty of beaches that attract thousands of swimmers in the summer. The most famous swimming pool in Karlovac is on the Korana, but other rivers Kupa, Dobra, and Mrežnica are also gladly visited. Fogin’s bathing area on Korana is the most famous swimming pool in Karlovac and it won the “Green Flower” and “Tourist Flower” awards. The bathing area was arranged by Dragutin Fogin back in 1928. and at that time he arranged for a train ride from Zagreb for all those who wanted to swim.
In addition to swimming, visitors to Fogin’s Swimming Pool are offered a variety of free sports and recreational facilities – from basketball, beach volleyball, cycling, running and Zumba training. There are also other beaches on Korana outside Karlovac and the most famous are the beaches in Slunj, the waterfalls near Rakovica, Veljun and Barilović. The best bathing areas on the Dobra River are the waterfalls near Lipa, Jarce Polje, Novigrad, and Grdunac. The favorite bathing areas on the river Kupa are waterfalls in Pribanjci, Vukova Gorica, Priliće and Ozalj.
Mrežnica is a beautiful blue-green river, great for summer cooling. The most beautiful beaches are in Generalski Stol, Zvecaj, Galovic, Mihalic village, Brig, Sv. Petri and Dugi Rat. Another interesting tourist activity is the boat trip to the village of Brođani. There is the old “Zora” grain ship, which sailed the Kupa in the 18th century to transport grain. During the 90-minute boat ride, you will learn all about the history of boatbuilding, the history of Pokupje and sunken boats, and you can also enjoy local specialties – liqueurs, brandy, and jam.
Excursions from Karlovac
With its geographical location, Karlovac is an ideal starting point for excursions and shorter trips. Whatever direction you take, there is plenty of interesting historical and natural attractions just an hour away from Karlovac.
Some of the places you must visit are Zagreb, Duga Resa, Ogulin, the Old Town of Ozalj, Slunj, Rakovica, and the unforgettable Plitvice Lakes.