Zagreb’s Award-Winning Christmas Festival Proves Croatia is More Than a Summer Destination

Huddling for warmth in wooden huts, sipping hot wine, indulging in sausages on a stick, while singing holiday classics with crowds from all corners of the globe: it’s no surprise why Europe is a hub of holiday festivities. Yet, one lesser-known European destinations is taking this season as an opportunity to show the world it’s magic.

This year I made it a point to visit the Advent Christmas festival in Zagreb, after seeing it won Europe’s Best Christmas market in 2016. From each park filled with live music and twinkling trees, to the various carefully crafted outdoor displays and attractions, Croatia’s capital city has clearly put in the effort to earn its title. Zagreb’s advent Christmas festival is helping pave the way for Croatia to become a year-round vacation destination.

The Best Time to Visit Zagreb

My recent trip to Zagreb was actually my third time visiting, and it has easily become one of my favorite places in the entire world. In contrast to the coast of Croatia, Zagreb’s Austro-Hungarian architecture looks strikingly similar to Prague, Vienna, and Bratislava. Filled with funky coffee shops at every corner, plenty of museums, and excellent public transportation, Zagreb is truly a metropolitan city you can’t miss.dsc06994dsc06981dsc06961

Ask any Croatian, and they will easily tell you the holidays is “best time of the year” to visit Zagreb. Even without the advent festival, it seems that the entire town comes to life during the season. This is partly because many Croatian students return to Zagreb in the winter to study, so there are all sorts of happenings around the city.

This is also because the city seems to take on a new energy during the winter months, with Zagreb’s authentic character shining through each cobble-stoned side street. You’ll also find many locals dressed to the nines in the latest fashion trends, included faux fur jackets, knee-high boots, chunky sweaters over slip dresses. Walking the streets of Zagreb often feels like a winter fashion show in a living museum.dsc07040dsc06951dsc07020

Perhaps winter is also one of the best times to experience coffee culture in Zagreb. While many café bars close their doors in coastal Croatia during the winter, Zagreb adapts to the season by putting out heated lamps and a blanket hung over every chair. Even several café bars serve unique hot chocolate, lattes, and deserts, sure to keep you warm enough from a winter chill.

Zagreb Advent Winter Events

The advent festival in Zagreb is much more than drinking hot wine and eating sausages (although that’s part of it). Partly why Zagreb received the award, besides the town’s beauty,  is because the city has various interactive attractions and events scattered throughout the city.

At the center of the Advent Festival is the main square, which features a large Christmas tree, a concert stage, and dozens of Christmas houses selling souvenirs, food and drinks. If you wander down any of the side streets, you’ll also find several other wooden huts with crowds of people drinking beer and hot wine.dsc06892dsc07042dsc06898

Some of the most unique Advent attractions are found in upper town. The most obvious is yet another large Christmas tree in front of St. Mark’s Church, and there’s also another winter display, called Klovicevi Dvori, which overlooks the monumental Zagreb Cathedral.

New this year, the city also created “Advent in the Tunnel” telling the story of A Christmas Carol with a modern twist. This multimedia attraction features 3D installations and video projections coupled with live music and performances.

If you follow the sound of live music, you’ll find yourself in the middle of Zrinjevac Park, perhaps my favorite part of the advent festival. Each night they have live music with more Christmas huts, engulfed by trees wrapped in Christmas lights from trunk to tip. It’s truly 10 times more beautiful in person.

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Photo credit: Advent Zagreb

dsc07044dsc06922If you follow the sound of live music, you’ll find yourself in the middle of Zrinjevac Park, perhaps my favorite part of the advent festival. Each night they have live music with more Christmas huts, engulfed by trees wrapped in Christmas lights from trunk to tip. It’s truly 10 times more beautiful in person.

Scattered throughout lower town, there’s several other advent hotspots along the side streets, such as the Advent in European Square. However, if you follow the crowds you’ll see that most people are making way for the Ice Park outside the Croatian National Theatre in lower town. This is without a doubt the most epic part of the advent in Zagreb, and I truly felt like I was walking in winter wonderland.dsc06910dsc06906

During the winter months, there’s also several Arts and Historical events, such as the showing of the Nutcracker at the Croatian National Theatre and Zagreb Orchestra’s New Year’s concert.

Unfortunately, I arrived to Zagreb a bit early, shortly after thanksgiving, while many of the attractions were still being set up. I ended up missing seeing the Zagreb Christmas train and the Advent in the Tunnel, and had my heart set on finding a way to see the sold-out Nutcracker show. It seems the best time to see the festival in its glory is mid-December to early January.dsc06925

Despite this, it was well worth the visit, and I only have great things to say about Zagreb’s Advent. Though a visit to Zagreb during the holidays is a no-brainer for Croatians, the festival is still often overshined by other more populous European cities. The Advent in Zagreb is the not only an authentic way to experience the holidays, it also shows that Croatia has much more to offer beyond being simply a summer getaway.

You can learn more about the Advent festival in Zagreb here.zagreb-advent-christmas-festival

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