While you may think Croatia is only a summer destination, the inland capital of Zagreb is one of the most underrated winter destinations in Europe. The annual Advent Zagreb draws thousands of Croatians from around the country, as it is the largest Croatia Christmas market. the capital city also brought home the title of Best Christmas Market in Europe by European Best Destinations for three years in a row. However, this winter city break is still vastly undiscovered compared to other Christmas markets like Berlin and Prague.
However, the annual Zagreb Christmas market will look different this year due to the on-going pandemic. There are still plenty of activities to enjoy while social distancing, though some of the events with larger crowds will be canceled. Read on to learn more about what advent in Zagreb will look like this year, or get some inspiration for a future trip.
- Advent Zagreb 2020 dates and information
- Zagreb Christmas Market Attractions
- Advent Zagreb 2020 Map
- Where to stay in Zagreb during Advent
- Other things to do in Zagreb in winter
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Advent Zagreb 2020 dates and information
Zagreb Advent, also known as the Zagreb Christmas market, takes place annually from the end of November through the end of January. This year the festival will run from the last weekend in November to New Year’s Day (January 1st) 2021.
However, Croatia is currently on a strict lockdown until December 21 due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. Public gatherings are limited to 25 people, and must end at 10 p.m. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Protective masks or face-coverings must also be worn when inside a public place. Also, sadly all bars and restaurants are closed until December 21st as well.
So, unfortunately this means that the usual advent activities will be limited this year. This includes the closure of the iconic ice-skating rink in Ledeni Park, closure of several food and drink vendors, and limits on crowds outdoors.
However, there are still several events for Zagreb advent that you can enjoy while social distancing. Here are some of the unique virtual and cultural events taking place:
- Virtual Christmas windows: Explore Zagreb through virtual reality with these this augmented reality exhibition that takes you through the city.
- Up to 25 percent off Zagreb museums in December: The Museum of Broken Relationships, The Museum of Hangovers, The Museum of Chocolate, and the Museum of Illusions are all perfect for exploring the funky, playful side of the city.
- Music and concerts schedule: despite the lockdown, there are several outdoor concerts taking place throughout the city. Some of the events are indoors and others are outdoors (though it’s not clear how they will be enforcing the limit on the number of people.
- Cultural events schedule: There are a number of cultural events taking place in Zagreb, such as a live nativity scene, Nutcracker playing at the Croatian National Theatre, and the mini train Museum, which is perfect for kids.
You can find out more information about further events when they are released here.
Zagreb Christmas Market Attractions
Every year, the Zagreb Advent has a particular theme for the Christmas festival. In years past, these themes were A Christmas Carole and the Nutcracker. These themes were displayed throughout the various Christmas Market locations, especially the main square and the Gric tunnel.
This year, the theme will be “feel the light”, bringing emphasis on the holiday lights that bring the Austro-Hungarian architecture to life. Even with the stricter Covid-19 measures, you can still explore Zagreb attractions and feel the magical atmosphere in the capital city.
Zagreb is divided into Upper and Lower Town, with the main Ban Jelacic Square in the epicenter of the city. Upper Town provides the best panoramic views of the city and the best retro decorations that the Christmas Market is known for. Lower Town has the largest attractions, such as the ice skating rinks, larger parks with live music, and many more vendors selling trinkets.
You can easily see the main attractions in Zagreb’s advent within one day. However, two days will allow you to split up your time with ease, making the city an ideal winter weekend city break in Europe!
Ban Jelacic Square
In the heart of Zagreb you’ll find yourself at Ban Jelacic Square, one of the main Christmas markets spots at Zagreb’s Advent. During the holidays this area features a massive Christmas tree and tons of other festive decorations. There are tons of wooden huts selling hot drinks and food, plus local vendors selling trinkets. Many of the main live music performances are in this main square as well.
Alternatively, there are a couple other less crowded areas on the side streets surrounding Ban Jelacic square. If you’d rather sit under an outdoor heater at a coffee bar, check out some of the cafe bars along the smaller roads. There are options going into both lower and upper town!
St. Mark’s Church
From Ban Jelacic Square, make your way into Upper Town to experience the iconic St. Mark’s Church, known for its detailed tile work representing the colors and symbols of Croatia. This Church dates back to the 13th century, and displays the “Coat of Arms” that represent distinct regions of Croatia. On the left represents Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia, and on the right is the city of Zagreb.
While there aren’t any on the wooden houses in this area, it is beautiful to see the Christmas tree and lights with the colorful church as a backdrop. There are often horse buggies and vintage cars driving around this area, and it makes it feel all the more out of a Christmas storybook!
Klovicevim Dvorima is known for having the best view of the Zagreb Cathedral. Naturally during the Zagreb Advent festival, this area turns into a winter wonder land. Every year the festival sets up a photo display, something similar to the above, surrounded by faux snow and pine trees. Usually there is a couple other festival backdrops in this area as well, which definitely makes it an ideal spot for the ‘gram!
You’ll also find wooden houses selling drinks and a couple of food trucks. At night there is live music here, with plenty of tables with sitting or standing options, while taking in one of the best views in the city!
Caffe De Matos
Just down the stairs from Klovicevim Dvorima you’ll land in the heart of Caffe de Matos, the most eclectic area of the Advent in Zagreb. Trees are draped with a string of light bulbs and vintage ice skates. Paisley rugs and juxtaposed next to vintage bikes and decorated coca cola bottles. And of course, the entire area is full of wooden huts selling hot wine and local sausages from the Slavonia region of Croatia.
I have to say that this was my favorite area of Zagreb Advent, because you can really feel Zagreb’s character and retro charm. The atmosphere is always chill and laidback, and it feels so cozy and romantic with live music playing at night. Not to mention, you’ll find more panoramic views of the city from here!
If you walk a little bit down from Klovicevim Dvorima you’ll find yourself at the Straossu area of the Advent. This has more areas to sit and sip hot wine, and quiet spots along the walkway looking over the city. There are usually interaction Christmas displays here for children, such as a giant Santa Sleigh and play areas for children to run around.
You can also look over the city by climbing the Lotrscak Tower nearby, or take the cable car down to Illica, the main street running through Zagreb’s City Center.
The Gric Tunnel
The Gric Tunnel in Zagreb takes the cake for being the most unique attraction within the Advent in Zagreb. The tunnel goes underneath the historic Gric neighborhood, and was used as a bomb shelter during WWI. Today, it’s used as a walking tunnel, and it’s decorated each year with the Zagreb Advent theme.
In year’s past, the tunnel’s themes were A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker. As a die-hard Nutcracker fan, I was so impressed with the tunnel. While only a portion of the tunnel is decorated, it’s still fun to walk through. It’s also a great activity to do with kids!
It’s easy to miss this spot if you aren’t looking for it. However, as you make your way from the main square into lower town, you’ll want to turn onto the street next to the A1 Centar Mall. Then, right in between the Znjanje Bookshop and the Boban Cafe, you’ll find this illuminated passageway that takes you to a secret square.
While the tunnel itself isn’t that long, it is a magical, hidden gem of the Zagreb Advent. It makes for a great shot for the ‘gram, or just a romantic moment with your partner as you explore the city.
If you follow the road of twinkling trees, you’ll find yourself in the best place for live music in Zagreb. While the music around Ban Jelacic square is usually more upbeat for a younger crowd ready to party, music in Zrinjevac Park is more in the genre of acoustic covers of holiday classics.
The area also sells a lot of souvenirs, and of course, more wooden houses with hot wine, drinks and food. This is definitely an ideal romantic date-night spot, and It’s truly 10 times more beautiful in person.
Unfortunately, the ice rink will be closed in 2020.
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 in Ledeni Park. The area has an ice rink and then an entire ice skating circle around the perimeter of the park. For only 40 kunas each (about $5), you can rent ice skates for one hour.
Advent Zagreb 2020 Map
Above you can see that each of the attractions mentioned above are on this Google map. You can share or download this offline so you always know where to find these spots. You can also create your own self-guided walking tour with this! Enjoy 🙂
Where to stay in Zagreb during Advent
While there are flights and buses at the moment, I don’t recommend traveling internationally to Zagreb at the moment. Currently the Covid-19 cases are quite high, and I don’t think it would be worth the risk.
That being said, I do think you could visit safely you’re driving from within Croatia or a bordering country. Or even those that want to book a staycation within Zagreb. Here are some hotels that are still open in Zagreb in December 2020.
If you’re looking for accommodation in the heart of Zagreb, then you’ll love Hotel Jagerhorn. I stayed here on one of our past Croatia group tours, and the location right off of Zagreb’s main Illica street made exploring the city so convenient. Everything is in walking distance! Not to mention, the staff is so friendly, the breakfast is great, and the rooms are clean and spacious! Checkout the prices here.
Esplanade Zagreb Hotel
If you’re looking to splurge, you’ll want to stay in this luxury 5 star hotel. Located in Zagreb’s lower town, Esplanade Zagreb Hotel is situated next to the Railway station and not far from Ledeni Park. The Art-noveau rooms are spacious and stylish, and the hotel is also home to one of the most popular restaurants in the city, Zinfandel. Most of all, this hotel is taking extra measures to sanitize and ensure the safety of the staff and guests during the holiday season. Check out the prices here.
This boutique hotel truly embraces Zagreb’s eclectic identity. Art Hotel is a 3-star hotel within 5 minutes walking of the main Ban Jelacic Square and around the corner from the Zagreb Cathedral. It is definitely the most affordable hotel you’ll find in the area, and even includes a breakfast buffet. You can take a look at the prices here.
Rental apartments in Zagreb
You can find plenty of rental apartments in Zagreb, either on Airbnb or Booking.com. I seem to prefer booking.com in Croatia as I find the prices and selection is better. Typically a 1 bedroom or studio apartment rental will start at about 50 euros a night in Zagreb. Currently prices are a bit cheaper due to less bookings. Checkout apartments in Zagreb here.
Other things to do in Zagreb in winter
For full disclosure, Zagreb is my favorite capital city in Europe. The city’s quirky yet elegant character is vastly underrated. The modest prices make most budget-friendly European cities seem expensive, and is a more affordable alternative to Vienna.
And if you ask any Croatian, they will also attest that December and early January are the best time to visit Zagreb. The growing Advent Festival draws in a larger crowd of foreigners each year. However, there are plenty of other things in do in Zagreb in winter if you decide to come in January-March as well!
Relish in the Coffee Culture
Winter is also one of the best times to experience the “coffee culture” in Zagreb. Unlike other fast-paced capital cities in Europe, Zagreb moves at a slower pace. Locals sip lattes at funky cafe bars with friends, usually no laptops or smart phones in sight.
While many café bars in coastal Croatia close their doors during the winter, Zagreb adapts to the season. People gather under heat lamps, or sip hot chocolate in faux fur blankets. You could spend a week in Zagreb finding the cutest coffee shops around the city alone. Some of my favorites are Sjedi 5, Velvet, and Vis a Vis.
Visit the Lotrscak Tower
If you’re looking for the by far the best view looking over the city, you’ve got to be willing to take the climb! Head to the top of the Lotrscak Tower for a 360, panoramic view overlooking all of Zagreb. The Tower dates back to the 13th century, where it helped guard the city gate overlooking the town. It is considered to be one of the best preserved buildings of Zagreb’s defense systems.
The “canon” goes off every day here exactly at noon, which has been a tradition for over 110 years! The entrance to climb the tower is around 30 Kunas, and is well worth the price to see the views from up top.
See a movie at the Boutique Cinema
One indoor attraction you have to experience during winter in Zagreb is the Kaptol Boutique Cinema. This boutique movie theatre is equipped with a cafe bar and restaurant, with eclectic decorations and chill music. The cinema plays many movies in English, and the seats are spacious enough so that you can spread out. In fact, some of the cinemas actually have small sofas that you can spread out on.
Even if you don’t want to see a movie, head to the cafe bar inside for a tropical atmosphere on a cold day. The lush foliage and checkered tiles makes you feel like you’re somewhere in Bali!
For other recommendations, check out more on things to do in Zagreb.
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