What to do on a winter city break in Croatia's capital Zagreb

December’s Advent festival transforms the Croatian capital into a winter wonderland, making it the ideal place to cosy up and enjoy the festive atmosphere.Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Zagreb's Christmas market in the central Ben Jelacic Square, pictured here, as well as European Square and Zrinjevac Park, has been named best Christmas market in Europe three years running.
Zagreb's Christmas market in the central Ben Jelacic Square, pictured here, as well as European Square and Zrinjevac Park, has been named best Christmas market in Europe three years running.
photo by Getty

Various destinations around Europe turn sparklingly festive as winter rolls around, with Christmas markets and ice rinks drawing in travellers looking for a seasonal city break. Zagreb puts on one of the finest wintery shows: its Christmas market has been voted the best in Europe three times in a public vote, and the city is illuminated by fantastical lights and festooned with fabulous decorations. Visitors can enjoy live music, local food and a programme of open-air entertainment in the centre before heading back to a stylish city hotel - the Sheraton Zagreb is ideally situated for those who want to be in the heart of the action. Here's our pick of the best winter activities in the city.

Explore the Christmas markets
The city scene turns cinematically festive as the winter months draw in, with its Christmas markets as the sparkling centrepiece. Stalls lining Ban Josip Jelačić Square, Zrinjevac Park and European Square come alive with decorations, crafts and confections, where visitors follow the delicious aroma of mulled wine and cinnamon pretzels, and choirs sing festive songs. The market has been named as Europe’s best Christmas market several times.

Hit the ice rink
Layer up and glide across King Tomislav Square; Zagreb’s open-air ice rink is framed by the Art Pavilion and trees twinkling with fairy lights. Instructors are on hand for the uninitiated and steaming mugs of hot chocolate available for refuelling. Looking for something smaller? The hidden ice rink inside the palatial Klovićevi Dvori courtyard offers a captivating setting and atmosphere.

Head out to Sljeme to ski
This ski resort on Mount Medvednica is just 20 minutes from Zagreb and a top spot for crowd-free winter sports. Escape up here for a hike to its summit (it only takes around two hours), stopping at one of the mountain-top lodges where stews and beers are dished up to tired travellers before they catch the bus back to the city.

Discover the Marticeva neighbourhood
Head over to this hip eastern neighbourhood — the city’s design district, with a host of pop-ups and shops set in former warehouses. Where hardware stores once stood, there are galleries, bistros and architectural studios. Check out A Shoo, where designer Anita Zannotti Štulec crafts custom-made shoes; test out the sofas at Protoria; and hole up in bookshop-cum-cafe Booksa.

Catch a show at the Croatian National Theatre
This neo-baroque building sets the scene for a swish night out, with its grand facade framed by immaculate gardens, and plush interiors of red velvet chairs and a gilded ceiling. On stage is a rotating programme of opera, drama and ballet, with very reasonable ticket prices even for high-tier seating.

The glass-fronted edifice of the central Sheraton Zagreb hotel which has sweeping city views from its modern suites and is located in the historic centre of Zagreb, 15 minutes walk from Josip Jelačić square and near the main railway station and tram stops.
The glass-fronted edifice of the central Sheraton Zagreb hotel which has sweeping city views from its modern suites and is located in the historic centre of Zagreb, 15 minutes walk from Josip Jelačić square and near the main railway station and tram stops.
photo by Sheraton

Where to stay
Stay central at the impeccably sleek Sheraton Zagreb to dip in and out of the Christmassy action. The medieval Lotršcak Tower, Zagreb Upper Town and the Contemporary Art Museum are all on the doorstep. But step through the glass doors and this urban retreat is a calming and luxurious proposition after a day navigating Zagreb’s festivities. Crisp white linen, sweeping city views, and rain showers set the standard in all rooms. There’s also a swimming pool and fitness centre, while the seasonal and playful menu at wood-panelled King Tomislav Restaurant is reason enough to stay.
Rooms: From €115 (£102), room only. marriott.com/ZAGSI

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