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Enjoy the 12 days of Christmas in Zagreb

As December dawns, the Advent festival transforms the Croatian capital into an all-singing, all-dancing winter wonderland. Here’s the lowdown on 12 unmissable things to do in Zagreb at Christmas.

Published 4 Jan 2021, 11:54 GMT
Zagreb's Christmas markets are renowned for being some of the most spectacular.

Zagreb's Christmas markets are renowned for being some of the most spectacular. 

Photograph by Zagreb Tourist Board

1. Christmas markets

Look around the twinkly stalls at Zagreb’s acclaimed Christmas markets, which are reason enough for a Yuletide escape here. It’s been voted best Christmas market in Europe by European Best Destinations' online poll three times in a row, and it’s easy to see why, with its dinky wooden huts and scents of cinnamon swirling around Ban Josip Jelačić Square, Zrinjevac Park and European Square.

2. Romantic views

Head up to Strossmayer Promenade, which runs along the remains of the city’s medieval walls. This atmospheric walkway draws travellers with its killer views over the city. During winter, hundreds of its streetlamps are hand-lit at 6pm and it’s a captivating spot to wander under the shadows of chestnut trees and nibble on gingerbread men from nearby stalls.

3. Music and mulled wine

While you're strolling around the Upper Town, head over to Caffe de Matoš, where live bands spring up during Advent and street performers entertain crowds enjoying steaming cups of mulled wine. It gives a taste of the Zagreb of times gone by, conjuring up the spirit of old coffee houses and drawing in passers-by with a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

4. Festive lights

As if things couldn’t get any more Christmassy, check out Salajland, a festive amusement park in Grabovnica with beautiful light displays just an hour from Zagreb. It's a proper winter wonderland, with over four million Christmas lights sparkling over gardens with lakes, bridges and streams and by paths leading visitors through the advent village to the ice rink.

5. On the ice

The open-air ice rink at King Tomislav Square is framed by the Art Pavilion and trees strung with fairy lights. There are instructors on hand for the uninitiated, but for those who just want to watch there's also a food and live music tent, where you can watch the skaters with a drink in hand. For those looking for something more intimate, head to the hidden ice rink inside the palatial Klovićevi Dvori courtyard.

6. Snowy excursions

For a rosy-cheeked adventure, try the crowd-free ski resort of Sljeme on Mount Medvednica, just 20 minutes from the city. It has five ski runs, two ski lifts and a triple chairlift. Winter sports are the main draw, although there are hiking routes all the way to its summit (around two hours), with mountain-top lodges serving as pit stops for bubbling stews and cold beers. 

7. Boutique shopping

Take care of Christmas gift lists in the hip eastern neighbourhood of Martićeva, with its tempting pop-ups, galleries and independent stores. Cool bookshop Booksa is a literary club, cafe and live music venue and there's a small selection of books in English to peruse if your Croatian isn't quite up to scratch. Stop at one of the trendy bars and restaurants dotted around the area, such as vegan bistro Veganspek.

8. Premier entertainment

Book in advance to bag good-value tickets at the Croatian National Theatre, a neo-baroque building with a grand — and eye-catchingly bright yellow — facade and a rotating programme of opera, drama and ballet, both classical and contemporary. It's a striking building from the outside and on the inside is a proper chocolate-box beauty of a theatre, with plenty of plush red velvet and architectural detail to admire before the show begins.

9. Sweet treats

It wouldn't be Christmas without a little sweet something every now and and again and Zagreb has plenty of seasonal delicacies to discover. Sugary fritule doughnuts are a proper festive treat, doused in chocolate syrup and washed down with a nip of walnut brandy. They're traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Croatia but you'll find them for sale around the city all through advent and beyond. 

10. Over the rooftops

To gaze at the cinematic scene from on high, wander along to Katarinin Trg, the square behind the Jesuit Church of St Catherine, where icy fog unfurls over the distinctive red-tiled roofs and thousands of Christmas lights illuminating the city. The view towards the cathedral is one of the loveliest in Zagreb, making this a great place to start or end a wander around the Upper Town.  

11. Brewing up fun

Craft beer is serious business in Zagreb and there are several stalwart micro-breweries to hunt down. Try the Garden brewery, churning out its own brews to discerning locals with live music on the bill when the weekend hits. Or head for Medvedgrad, which has been brewing its own beer since 2004 in its signature restaurant on beautiful Tkalčićeva street.

12. A Christmas story

Take time to contemplate the live nativity scene on the Kaptol in the shadow of the cathedral. Every year, costumed actors recreate the scene of Jesus' birth, with the manger on display surrounded by the people of Bethlehem, shepherds, wise men and even real farm animals. It's a lovely and evocative sight and shouldn't be missed.

The bar and restaurant at the Sheraton Zagreb will leave diners feeling satisfied and merry.

Where to stay 
The centrally located Sheraton Zagreb has perfected the art of a feel-good-festive break. All the Christmassy action is on your doorstep, along with medieval Lotršcak Tower, Zagreb Upper Town and the Contemporary Art Museum; the swimming pool and fitness centre are an enticing proposition on a blustery day and seasonal plates at the King Tomislav Restaurant will leave diners feeling satisfied and merry.

Essentials

Both British Airways and Croatia Airlines fly direct from Heathrow to Zagreb. KLM flies to Zagreb via Amsterdam from a number of UK hubs including Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol and London City.
Average flight time: 2h 20min

Advent activities in Zagreb are operating under current local Covid-19 rules and regulations. More information on this and what do in Zagreb over the festive season is available here.

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