King Bella III. mentions Garestin (Varaždin) for the first time in 1181 in a legal document  and in 1209 the Hungarian king Andrew II.  declares Varaždin a free royal borough.

The town starts to develop around the old fortress in a shape of a medieval Wasserburg, which helps in Turkish raids. Important owners of the fortress were Counts of Celje, Beatrice Frankopan, Margrave Georg of Brandenburg, and Baron Ivan Ungnad and Count Thomas Erdödy. In 1756, Varaždin the official residence of Ban Francis Nadasdy, becomes the capital of all Croatia. Maria Theresa founded the Royal Croatian Council and it hosts the Croatian Parliament; it becomes the Croatian administrative centre and the seat of many Croatian noblemen.

On the 25th April 1776 the big fire destroyed almost 80% of all buildings and houses in Varaždin, so the administration moves back to Zagreb.  The story behind the fire is about a boy, whose tobacco burned the hay and the fire soon spread outside the city walls.  The fire harried for three days and demolished the town.  It is rebuild and expanded by the 19th century.

Due to the compromise of 1867 the town was ruled by the Kingdom of Hungary. The manufacture of silk and bricks thrives, theatre and music school were built, crafts and trade are developing.