When we picture Croatia, we immediately think of its picturesque cities, sunny beaches, breathtaking natural parks and more generally a destination for summer. You could be mistaken… Croatia is also a great destination for winter vacations. One of the main attractions during this period are the Christmas markets, especially the one in Zagreb.
You walk through the illuminated streets on the heights of Zagreb and watch people rush to the ice rink from the view of the cable car. Smiling faces pass between the warm lights, “Stretan Bozic” (Merry Christmas) are shouted from all sides, mulled wine stands are crowded, and snowflakes dance to the sound of Christmas songs. Like in a fairy tale, the city center is dressed in its winter coat. Windows are shining, Christmas trees are out, lights are twinkling and lovers are kissing under the mistletoe. This is the real magic of a Christmas in Zagreb.
Europe's favorite Christmas market
This year, the Zagreb Christmas market will be even more exceptional as it could unfortunately not take place last year. The theme of this year’s market will also be a magical one, taking us back in time to our childhood best friends: toys! Who doesn’t remember the excitement of opening their presents and discovering the highly coveted toy under the shiny paper? So the tone is set, and the mood is one of remembrance, sharing, goodwill and fun.
The Advent period in the Croatian capital has gradually become a destination of choice, and for good reason! Zagreb has received the award for the best Christmas market in Europe three years in a row in 2016, 2017 and 2018. With such a sense of festivities and hospitality, this edition, despite the health situation, will undoubtedly still amaze young and old alike.
All about the Zagreb Christmas market
This year, the market will be set up in both the upper and lower town, in no less than 12 locations!
The festivities will start on Saturday, November 27 with the lighting of the candle on the Mandusevac fountain, in the center of Ban Jelacic square, and will end on January 7.
In the heart of Donji Grad, in the lower town, is the romantic Zrinjevac Park. This green park, dotted with statues and various buildings, is simply magical at this time of year. The music hall will be set up here, where you can listen to and hum Christmas carols with 13 concerts by local musicians. Unfortunately, the King Tomislav Square in front of the Zagreb Central Station will not be dressed with its splendid open-air ice rink this year. As a consolation, the Zrinjevac park will offer various shows, animations, concerts and plays, as well as wine and hot chestnut stands to feast on!
In the center of the city, the famous Ban Josip Jelacic square and its eponymous statue will not be left out. A huge illuminated fir tree will proudly stand in its center, and the Mandusevac fountain will be decorated with toy-themed decorations in the manner of an Advent wreath, enough to fill passers-by with wonder throughout the winter. A “Christmas fairy tale” scenography will also be organized, as well as local and seasonal specialties will be offered in a large heated tent set up on the square and in the small chalets or stands nearby.
More generally, the magic of Christmas will reign throughout the city, with installations such as stalls and numerous activities in the Ice Park, J. J. Strossmayer Square, the Octagon Passage, the Croatian National Theater, Mazuranic Square and European Square.
Thanks to the “Light of Advent” project initiated by the Zagreb Tourist Board, shoppers strolling through the picturesque Upper Town will be able to enjoy Christmas stories and carols told by local institutions and residents. In a festive spirit, the entire neighborhood will be illuminated, including charming installations in St. Mark’s Square, Bela IV Park, Strossmayer West Promenade and Gradec Plateau.
What to do at the Christmas market?
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Christmas market is obviously the food! This winter in Zagreb, you will be able to taste real delights: to drink or to eat, sometimes cold and often hot, there is plenty for everyone. The inevitable fritule or “uštipci” will of course be present in many stands. Try the Medenjaci, a Croatian Christmas gingerbread specialty that will not leave you indifferent, or opt for a strudel with local cheese and delicately browned in the oven. To quench your thirst, we recommend the traditional mulled wines and hot chocolates, but you can also be tempted by hot gin!
The Zagreb Christmas market is also world-famous for its decorations and atypical places specially prepared for the event. The toys installed throughout the city, ranging from Disney characters made at the Biserka factory, to stuffed animals from the Vavra workshop (always made from sustainable materials and in a responsible manner), will be accompanied by an augmented reality application to dive head first into the past.
You can also venture into the Gric Tunnel (health conditions permitting), a former bomb shelter 360 meters long now used as a tunnel under the old city, and transformed for the occasion into a Christmas wonderland with an underground 3D show: a change of scenery and enchantment guaranteed!
And what would Christmas be without its music, songs and culture? Advent in Zagreb is also about that. Note that there will be up to 14 musical programs with a total of 129 concerts. Wherever you go, the melodies of winter will follow you. Between traditional songs, operas, film melodies and open-air concerts, let yourself be carried like a snowflake among the stands and illuminations to experience a magical moment. For the more curious, go to the city’s churches, where you can enjoy the most beautiful Christmas songs performed by soloists and orchestras. When it comes to culture, there is plenty to choose from! Between Zagreb’s many historical sites, museums (the chocolate museum fits the theme perfectly), exhibitions, workshops and theaters, you are sure to find the perfect activity.
The little extras to know
Don’t forget to visit the Matica Hrvatskih Obrtnika passage at 49 Ilica street, the perfect place to have fun and learn a little more about local traditions, or even leave with a little souvenir! There will also be many workshops and activities for children.
The hotels and restaurants will not be left out either. Richly decorated with warm colors and lights, traditional festive food and drinks will be served, to enjoy in a unique atmosphere.
For more information about Advent in Zagreb, visit www.adventzagreb.hr