Visiting Koprivnica, Croatia: Renaissance city of bikes and nettles
The cozy city of Koprivnica is the perfect location to start exploring the northern parts of Continental Croatia. While it is not too small nor too big, it is quite unusual and well-connected to Croatia’s capital city – Zagreb.
Koprivnica connects its history, local nettle food, rock music, and naive art into a tasty bowl of soup seasoned by Auntie Vegeta, the mother of Vegeta spice, which you’ve probably used in your culinary adventures.
This number one Croatian town in bike usage takes you along its memory lane with a boy named Koprivko, a children’s book character from the 14th century. Take him by the hand and discover the town’s abundant history and connection to the nettle plant.
Hop off the bike to warm up with nettle soup or cool down with nettle beer before heading for a local jazz festival or a punk concert. Watch the musketeers bathing in an open-air jacuzzi at Koprivnica’s Medieval Christmas Fair.
Let us take you through Koprivnica’s soul, brimming with Renaissance culture, and enjoy the ride.
In this post, we cover:
- Koprivnica’s location
- Connection to nettles
- Bicycle infrastructure
- Soup tradition
- Naive art
- Music scene
- Renaissance festival
The facts are these…
Getting to know Koprivnica: Croatian nettle town
Koprivnica is located in the northwest of Continental Croatia. It is the center of Podravina region, 90 km or just an hour and a half drive or a train ride from Croatia’s main city, Zagreb.
From Koprivnica, you can reach Rijeka, Osijek, Ljubljana, or Budapest in less than three hours by car. The nearest airport is Franjo Tuđman Airport in Zagreb.
The town of Koprivnica got its name after a stream that flows through the city. Both the stream and the city are said to be named after the stinging nettle plant called kopriva in Croatian.
A legend about the name dates to the 13th century. Bela IV. (Bela the Fourth), the king of Hungary and Croatia, was fleeing from the Mongols to the fortress town Kalnik across the stream running through a town now called Koprivnica. His horse threw him off, and the king fell into a large bush of stinging nettles growing along the stream. Bela was so angry at nettles that he decided the place of his accident would be called “Koprivnica”.
Koprivko, a children’s book character coming straight from the 14th-century Koprivnica, is the one to tell you stories about the town as well as legends and myths surrounding other parts of Croatia. Koprivko’s character was also made into a play where he educates kids about ecology and recycling.
Koprivnica is now known for delicious meals and drinks made from the nettle plant. When visiting the town, take a stroll through koprivnički plac. Plac means market in the Kajkavian dialect, while in the standard Croatian language it is called tržnica. View our local guide to buying food at Croatia’s farmer’s market here.
Next to the plac entrance, there is Smutek. At Smutek, you can have a smoothie or a breakfast to-go made from local products sold at the market. They often have a nettle dish or beverage to try.
Go to Pivnica Kraluš for a traditional lunch – nettle soup, gnocchi, or pie! Visit the town during the Renaissance festival in August to try the nettle beer. If you are into food souvenirs, you can buy healthy homemade green pasta like mlinci (traditional Croatian pasta) or kopriva tea made in Koprivnica.
Koprivnica is known as Grad bicikla (Bicycle Town) since it is the number one Croatian town in bike usage and bicycle infrastructure. Koprivnica has the most kilometers of bicycle roads per capita in Croatia.
The city also has an open-air bike museum. In the center, you can find eight bicycle monuments. The first is made by Croatian sculptor Alem Korkut, known for setting his work in public spaces. His bicycle sculpture is right in front of the city hall.
Other sculptures are replicas showing the history of bicycle development. They are scattered around the city center thanks to the oldtimer club Biciklin. Biciklin means bicycle in the Kajkavian dialect, while bicikl is what the rest of Croatia calls bicycle. Once a year, the club organizes a recreational manifestation where their members ride oldtimer bikes.
Koprivnica is also an industry town. Three large factories are situated there: a beer factory Carlsberg, the second largest pharmaceutical producer in Croatia – Belupo and the one Koprivnica is famous for – a food factory Podravka.
The beer factory used to produce its own beer Podravka, but now they fill Tuborg, Carlsberg, and a Croatian beer Pan. In 2014, the Danish queen Margareta II and her husband, Prince Henrik, visited the factory. A special royal Pan beer was made for the occasion.
But why is Koprivnica called a soup town? One of the first products Podravka launched in 1957 was dehydrated soups in a bag. Only a year later, a chemistry engineer Zlata Bartl, today called Teta Vegeta (Auntie Vegeta), created the worldwide popular food seasoning Vegeta. Learn more about Zlata in this post.
One could also call Koprivnica a Čokolino town. When passing by the Podravka factory, you can often smell Čokolino, a food that every single Croatian ate as a kid.
For more exciting facts about the history of Podravka, visit the Food Museum Podravka located in the renovated building of the old city slaughterhouse. This building is also the oldest example of industrial architecture in Koprivnica.
The region of Podravina, together with Koprivnica and the surrounding villages, is known for a specific type of art called naivna umjetnost (naive art). Naive art is an oil-on-glass technique artform rooted in Podravina’s kajkavian tradition of living.
Motives from everyday rural life and forces of nature are often used as symbols of the spiritual. As the rural culture of Northern Croatia is inseparable from soil and nature and filled with spirituality and folk tales, these are the predominant themes.
The village Hlebine, 15 minutes away from Koprivnica, is the birthplace of naive art, so it has a Gallery of Naive Art. You can admire the work of Ivan Večenaj, Ivan Generalić, Mirko Virius, and other significant Croatian artists.
Koprivnica also has a Mijo Kovačić Gallery. Mijo Kovačić was a member of the second generation of the Hlebine School of Naive Art. His works resemble the works of Peter Breugel the Elder.
Although it’s a small town of less than 30.000 inhabitants, Koprivnica has many talented musicians with an interesting music history. Jazz, ethno, blues, punk-rock, classical music, hip-hop – name a genre, and this city has a history with it.
If you are interested in Croatian punk-rock phenomena, Rijeka and Koprivnica are cities whose music history you should explore. There’s a chance you have heard of Koprivnica’s band called Overflow since they are the first Croatian band to be aired on MTV International. If not, check out the documentary about Koprivnica’s punk-rock music scene called Koprivnica pleše pogo (Koprivnica dances pogo), available here.
Koprivnica’s bookstore, publishing house, and a record label called Šareni dućan has also tried to note the vast musical talent by recording KC Rock cassettes, CDs, or LPs every few years to preserve the record of musicians present at a specific moment. The last edition of KC Rock consists of twenty recordings made by Šareni dućan in 2022 on a double LP.
If you are a music lover, July is the month to visit Koprivnica. The beginning of the month is reserved for an open-air jazz festival called Fest Jazza Koprivnica, and the end for the Rocklive music festival. Lastly, check out the cultural center FUNK which has an outstanding music program almost every weekend.
If you are not into nettle food, long bicycle roads, or music festivals, you’ll for sure be amazed by the historical mega spectacle – the Renaissance festival! Koprivnica organizes the biggest Renaissance festival in Croatia and one of the most significant cultural and medieval historical events, enabling you to travel to the 15th and 16th centuries.
Koprivnica’s fortress walls, the remnants of what used to be an anti-Turkish Renaissance fortress, come alive at the end of every August by telling a story of the town’s feudals. Staged scenes of medieval life, chivalry, music, fire breathers, nettle dishes, venison and wild boar dishes, nettle beer, and mead beverages from town-made ceramic mugs, the staged attack on the town’s fortress as well as musketeers, knights, crafts, and medieval musical groups from nearly ten European countries all in one place – a small city of Koprivnica, warming hearts of visitors and locals.
Tiny tip: To warm you up during cold winter days in the Croatian north, there’s a Christmas Renaissance treat. Visit Srednjovjekovni Božićni sajam (Mediaeval Christmas Fair), which takes place every weekend in December, and enjoy an alternative Advent.
View our other Croatian city articles
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- Sinjska alka – Croatia’s annual knightly competition in Sinj
- UNESCO monuments of culture and nature in Croatia
- Visiting Croatia’s remote Lastovo Islands Nature Park
- Visiting Omiš, Croatia: Where adventure meets pirate history
Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.