Why is Zagreb the #1 destination for Christmas?
If you’re still in doubt about whether to offer tourists a trip to Zagreb or send them to the usual Prague or Dresden, here are three strong arguments for:
- Croatia uses the local currency – kunas, so prices will be lower than in the rest of Europe;
- all of Zagreb these days is one big Christmas fairy tale;
- The holiday in Zagreb will not end on December 25 (as in most European cities), but will last until January 10.
Who decided that Zagreb has the best Christmas fairs?
European Best Destinations is a prestigious award, given by the European association to promote culture and tourism in Europe. The award attracts the cooperation of tourist offices of different countries.
In 2017, based on the vote, Zagreb defended the title of the city with the best Christmas fairs . 38,830 travelers voted for it. Second place went to Colmar, France, with almost 1.5 times as many votes. And the honorable third place went to the capital of Austria – Vienna.
Zagreb becomes the best for the third year in a row: travelers gave it first place in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Zagreb’s high rating is confirmed by the growth rate of the tourist flow: compared to the same period last year, this year almost a third more tourists came to Zagreb for Christmas. The length of stay is also increasing: almost a quarter more nights are booked in hotels.
Why do tourists from all over the world flock to Zagreb in winter? Here’s why.
Advent is one of the best times to visit Europe, when everyone is in the excitement of Christmas and the holiday spirit already reigns everywhere. Zagreb during Advent is the sound of Christmas bells, the smell of gingerbread, mulled wine and a variety of delicacies, lots of fun and pleasant surprises.
To begin with, unlike many European cities, where there is one central fair, and all the rest are similar to it, but smaller, in Zagreb there are seven full-scale Christmas fairs. Each has its own flavor and its own unique holiday offerings.
And what is important, fairs in Zagreb begin working earlier than in other cities – as early as the end of November, and finish later – in the 10th of January. So if tourists couldn’t make it to Europe in December, they can still catch the Christmas spirit in Zagreb in January.
Most of the streets in downtown Zagreb are pedestrian, so tourists can wander through the Christmas markets all day and discover more and more shops and stalls.
An overview of fairs – where and what awaits tourists?
- The Ban Josip Jelačić square is the central square of the capital where a large-scale fair is set up. There is a stage on which ensembles of Croatian folk music perform. Numerous stalls with hot wine, street food and souvenirs, as well as a mini-forest are waiting for tourists. There is also a photo booth, where tourists can take pictures for free.
- King Tomislav Square – in addition to the fair there is a huge ice rink (we will tell you about it next), so it is ideal for those who want to combine an active holiday on skates with a stroll through the shops for souvenirs.
- Zrinjevac Park is another Christmas bazaar, its difference from the others is the emphasis on designer handmade things. Here you can not only find beautiful handmade toys and souvenirs, but also talk to the craftsmen who made them, hear interesting stories about creativity and Zagreb. There is also a stage in the park where local bands perform in the evenings.
- European Square is one of the favorite meeting places for young people. Concerts and exhibitions constantly take place here, so if tourists want to feel the “urban flair” – they should go here for a cup of mulled wine and souvenirs.
- Strossmajer Square – located in the heart of Zagreb, between Zrinjevac Square and King Tomislav Square. This square has a real magical world: tourists can immerse themselves in circus life, see clowns, fire-eaters, stilt-walkers and many other colorful characters.
- Fair streets: Ulica Ljudevita Gaja (here you should pay attention to national food and meat snacks), Tomićeva and Kuraličeva streets and Tkalčićeva ulica. The latter is notable for the fact that previously it was a bohemian quarter, and now in addition to the fair it hosts classical music concerts. The bars on the street serve special Christmas beers that are only brewed during Advent.
What to try in Zagreb and what souvenirs to buy for family and friends
Tasty things to try in Zagreb
- Fritule, doughnuts in a glass, sprinkled with powdered sugar or dipped in chocolate
- Apples, fried in batter
- Strukli – sweet pastry rolls with fillings
- Sausages, from gluten-free to tofu cooked (for vegetarians).
- Mulled wine, of course – it’s made with local red and white wine, heated and with a little sugar added. No other spices are usually available.
Souvenirs and gifts
- Watches, vases and other things made of Croatian white stone, limestone from the island of Brac.
- Tableware made of olive wood, soaked in olive oil
- Natural cosmetics, especially homemade soaps with Christmas scents
- The majority of these decorations are handmade, so it’s easy to find an interesting designer toy. There are iconic toys, like gingerbread in the shape of the heart, which is the symbol of Zagreb, Christmas wreaths with four candles (which, by the way, are not put on the door, but on the table).
Must-visit in Christmas Zagreb
However, the festive Zagreb does not end at the fairs. For example, tourists can walk around and take the most beautiful photos in Marić Passage, a tunnel of intertwined white branches decorated with festive illumination. What else is worth visiting?
The Ice Park appears in winter on King Tomislav Square, and it is one of the largest ice rinks in Europe. Here tourists and citizens can skate and perform brilliant pirouettes surrounded by Christmas lights and decorations. For those who are not sure how to skate, there are skating instructors at the rink who can help them master the basics.
Moreover, during Advent in the Ice Park there are constantly held entertainment programs.
The rink is open from ten in the morning until ten in the evening, tickets are sold for an hour of skating (the price of the admission ticket is 20 kuna, rent of skates – 10 kuna per pair).
The park is next to the Ice Park ice rink and it is one of the most popular and most beautiful symbols of Zagreb. This is where the Christmas bazaar with designer decorations and toys is located, but the park is also an ideal place to stroll in a fairy-tale atmosphere along the avenue with 220 plane trees. In the center there is a music pavilion, which with its Christmas classical music and waltz melodies attracts fans of dancing.
In addition, it is in the park you can taste the specialties of Zagreb – krpice sa zeljem (pasta with cabbage) and of course strudels.
Croatian Railway Museum
This unique museum with a fabulous atmosphere about the history of the Croatian railroad. A part of the railway exposition is open-air, and there is also a thematic exhibition of the Orient Express trains and steam locomotives.
Tourists of different ages can visit the museum with rich educational and entertaining programs. There are also held master classes and excursions with a professional guide. Also visitors of the museum at the weekend can take a ride on a special model of a real locomotive.
Buildings and gardens of Villa Prekrižje
This year tourists have a unique opportunity to visit the buildings and gardens of Villa Prekrižje, which has been closed to the public for decades.
This rustic villa in Gornje Prekrižje is an example of architectural style, and its special feature is the use of elements of traditional Croatian architecture in both the general design and in the decoration.
The villa hosted official receptions and events of the administration of the President of the Republic of Croatia.
The Klović Palace is an art gallery where tourists can enjoy free concerts, a variety of treats and many attractions.
Here you can take bright Christmas pictures: there is a special festive frame, inside which a snowball can go.
During Advent the gallery is longer on Fridays and Saturdays – until 10 pm. From 7 to 10 p.m., tickets to all exhibitions are available at a discounted price.
In winter in Zagreb there is a rich calendar of events, so tourists will not get bored. What can you recommend?
Fulirania on Strossmayer Square
Fuliranija (Fuliranje – to play, have fun) is the most original pre-Christmas event in Zagreb. For 6 years, more than 6 million visitors enjoy more than 500 concerts, street performances of artists and exhibitions. Fulirania was the first event presenting the best Croatian restaurants and wineries, and now every year the program expands to include more and more original exhibitors.
The magical world of Fulirania opens its doors at 11:00 a.m. and closes at 1:00 a.m.
The event runs through January 1, 2018.
Free concerts in Ban Jelacic Square
This year’s main stage on Ban Jelačić Square will feature many popular music performers, well-known folk ensembles and numerous amateur choirs and performers. All performances and entertainment programs are free for visitors to the capital.
In Kaptol Square tourists can experience a real nativity scene: a deeply moving performance by young people from the Cenacolo Community about the birth of Jesus. A unique theatrical experience!
Multimedia project “Nikola Tesla – The Mind from the Future”
The Meshtrovic Pavilion is hosting a play about Tesla and his discoveries. The event is organized with the assistance of the Croatian Association of Artists, and it is one of the main theatrical events of the year in Zagreb.
New Year and Christmas in Croatia
Croatia is a Catholic country and the main holiday is Christmas, not New Year. Christmas is Božić (Božić) and they celebrate it in a big way!
Let me tell you about the celebrations in the Croatian capital of Zagreb.
Zagreb is beautiful at any time of year, but at Christmas it transforms and in festive attire becomes like a fairy kingdom.
It all begins exactly four weeks before Catholic Christmas with Advent, the pre-Christmas period when everyone prepares for Christmas. Advent 2015, 2016, 2017 in Zagreb was officially recognized as the best in Europe!
On December 13, 2016, europeanbestdestinations.com recognized Zagreb for the second year in a row as
Europe’s Best Christmas Market 2017.
Zagreb competed with Vienna and Prague, Strassburg and Colmar, Manchester and Dresden, Tallinn and Budapest, Brussels and Graz, Cologne and Madeira, Leipzig and Nuremberg, Lille and Helsinki and won.
Opinion of more than one hundred and eighty thousand people confirm that Zagreb is the best place to celebrate Christmas in Europe.
I advise to come to Zagreb next year and immerse yourself in the holiday atmosphere with many guests from around the world.
It is worth taking care of your accommodation in advance, as already two months before the New Year all rooms in hotels and apartments are booked.
This year, Advent began on November 26, 2016, and will continue until December 25, 2016.
Christmas fairs run through January 7, 2017.
The main celebrations take place in the center of Zagreb in Banja Jelačić square, nearby squares and in the Upper Town, near St. Mark’s Church.
The city is beautifully decorated, with many illuminations in the streets and artists performing in the central squares.
Cute little houses appear in the streets selling souvenirs, making mulled wine (kuhano vino), roasting frituls (doughnuts), sausages, and treating you to goodies.
Store windows wink coquettishly with Christmas lights, flower markets sell Christmas wreaths and winter bouquets, and the Christmas star, poinsettia, blooms.
Since snow is rare in Zagreb, Christmas trees are decorated with artificial snow.
On King Tomislav Square there is the largest open skating rink in Europe.
The square in front of the Art Pavilion is beautifully decorated and shimmering with millions of lights of garlands. People are walking, having fun, smiling, listening to music and dancing.
Exactly four weeks before Christmas, a Christmas wreath of spruce branches with four candles is placed in churches and homes and the first candle is lit. Another week later, a second candle is lit, then a third, and on Christmas Day, the fourth.
In the Croatian capital of Zagreb, the Christmas wreath is placed in Ban Jelačić square or in front of the cathedral.
On December 7, a little Australian girl living in Croatia has a birthday.
And when we were choosing a gift, we found a colorful book about Christmas traditions.
The book turned out to be interesting not only for the little girl, but for me as well.
I translated a few pages of the book for this article.
The tradition of lighting candles on a wreath was invented by Johann Friedrich Wicherna, a man who cared for children from poor families.
The children kept asking, “How many days until Christmas?”
So he took a large wooden ring, decorated it with pine branches, and placed 24 small candles and four large candles on the wreath.
Every evening the children sang songs, told stories, and lit one candle.
And on Sundays, one of the four big candles was lit.
And so it was until Christmas, when all the candles were burned.
On December 6, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated.
On this day, St. Nicholas gives gifts to children. And if the children misbehave, Krampus (devil, devil with horns and hooves) comes and gives them rods or charcoal.
In the streets of Zagreb, I met St. Nicholas. He was carrying a bag of gifts and a suitcase.
St. Nicholas, like me, turned out to be a lover of travel.
The prototype of Santa Claus was St. Nicholas, a bishop who long ago lived in the Turkish city of Mira (now Demre).
A red coat, a hat, a staff – that’s how St. Nicholas was dressed.
And he became famous for the fact that in the pre-Christmas period, he secretly gave gifts to poor people.
The story from a children’s book says that next door to Nicholas lived a man with three daughters.
And they were so poor that the daughters had to beg on the street.
Nicholas took pity on the girls and one night he secretly put three pieces of gold on their window.
The tradition of putting a boot (the modern version of a Christmas sock) outside the door or on the window on the eve of December 6 and finding tangerines, nuts, sweets and chocolate figurines in it in the morning came from those early days, and now people are happy to give and receive gifts during this magical period.