Advent in Zagreb: Europe’s Best Christmas Market Returns Bigger than Ever

Total Croatia News

It was voted the most popular Christmas market destination in 2016, and this year Advent in Zagreb returns with more awards and an expanded programme. There is literally something for everyone, and it all starts on November 26, 2016. Your step by step guide. 

Where is the most popular tourist destination in Croatia? The answer might surprise you…

Forgot those blissful images of the Adriatic, of Dubrovnik, Split or Rovinj, for according to official statistics, the only destination which had more than a million arrivals in 2015 (excluding cruisers) was far from the coast – the capital Zagreb. Surprised? Dig a little deeper and the story gets more interesting. While Croatian tourism has always been centred on the coast and the summer (understandably given the gorgeous coastline, islands and unending sunshine), Zagreb has quietly been developing its tourism away from the spotlight, and the official numbers speak for themselves – 603,000 tourists to the capital in 2006, 1,078,000 in 2015. 

And no part of the Zagreb tourism story is as impressive as the rise of Advent in Zagreb, now described by the city tourist board as ‘the most important event in our capital’, and an event which captured European attention last year when it was voted the Best Christmas Market Destination in Europe on the  European Best Destations website. Move over Vienna, Nuremberg and the rest… 

At a time when Croatia is looking to break free of its stereotype of a summer beach destination and expand its season to twelve months a year, the rise of Advent in Zagreb has been nothing short of remarkable. It first took place in 2002 in a much more humble format, largely centred around the main square, Trg Ban Jelacica, before starting to expand into its current format in 2010. In those six short years, Advent in Zagreb has succeeding in attracting more tourists than many medium sized coastal destinations manage in a year, and over the last two years alone, the numbers have increased more than 50%. According to the Zagreb Tourist Board, in 2013 there were 45,393 arrivals and 82,284 overnight stays, while last year in December there were 70,550 arrivals and 123,734 overnight stays.

So successful was Advent in Zagreb that it was named the best tourism event at the prestigious Days of Croatian Tourism awards recently, and it has also once again been nominated as the best Christmas Market Destination Destination by European Best Destinations, who had this to say about Advent in Zagreb:

“Come and see for yourself why is the Croatian capital visited by an increasing numbers of tourists during the time of Advent; get to know its idyllic side and partake in themed programmes which take place on the streets and squares around the city centre.

During the time of Advent, Zagreb offers a special atmosphere which simply must be experienced. An ever growing number of tourists choose the capital of Croatia as their destination at that time of year as good fun is had by all literally every step of the way. The city streets and squares invite you to let your hair down and partake in singing, dancing, and other kinds of entertainment with family and friends. You can also sample traditional delicacies alfresco or enjoy themed programmes which take you down memory lane.”

This year’s Advent in Zagreb kicks off tomorrow and will run until January 8, a total of 44 days. Having lived in Croatia for 14 years, I know all about the glorious summers and (especially on the coast), the very long winters, and events such as these have a significant morale boosting impact on the local population, offering them excellent entertainment options when in previous years there was almost nothing. I was driving through the centre of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina the other night on a windswept evening, a little depressed at my surroundings and the lack of light generally, when I came across a shiny new shopping mall and –  in front of it – a billboard; Advent in Zagreb. Given the gloomy surroundings, it was probably the most uplifting and welcoming billboard I had ever seen, and I was not surprised when I checked on Google to find that there were organised tours from Mostar to Advent in Zagreb on offer. The level of professionalism and quality promotion has been a key element of the rapid rise of this winter warming spectacle. 

Enough of the hype! What is it that makes Advent in Zagreb so special? Well, quite simply, there is something for everyone, a creative selection of events, exhibitions and manifestations using Zagreb’s potential to the full, which allows visitors to truly explore the city and take advantage of the considerable offers around. With year round flights (unlike the more fashionable coastal neighbours) and short driving times from numerous major Euroepean cities, Zagreb is well placed to attract tourists from a large catchment area. As Advent in Zagreb has grown, so too has the cooperation of the hospitality industry, and this year sees a wide variety of special offers which you can check out here. Several of the city’s tour provides have also provided specialist tours to compliment the Advent season, an overview of which can be found here

An introduction from the official press release:

“On Saturday, there will be the official openings of Advent on Zrinjevac, Advent on the European Square, the Ice Park at Tomislav Square, Fooling around, Zagreb’s Christmas Fairytale, and others.

“Zagreb Tourist Board with its partners prepared new programs for its visitors and citizens which include Advent in the Upper Town with the Zagreb’s Courtyards – Advent style, Advent on the Vranyczany Plateau, Advent on Stross and Advent at the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery. Also, this year Advent events come to New Zagreb where will be: New Advent and Ice tale of Santa Claus. There are other novelties such as Fashion Advent, Advent in the Design District, At Rudolph’s and Advent in the Tunnel; and there are traditional programs such as: Live nativity scene, ArtOmat, Concerts from Zagreb Christmas balconies, festive programs in MUO, Croatian National Theatre and Ethnographic Museum and, of course, Advent and the New Year on the main square.”

Looking in a little more detail, some of the highlights to visit include:

King Tomislav Square and the Ice Park –  ice skating in Zagreb is an integral part of the Advent experience, and skaters should head to King Tomislav Square, where a park is completely given over to skating, surrounded by wooden huts where parents can enjoy a glass of mulled wine, or something stronger, while the little ones slip gracefully by. 

Zrinjevac –  a focal point of the whole Advent experience, the central park at Zrinjevac is a magnet for those in search of some winter cheer, a romantic spot just a few minutes from Trg Ban Jelacica, whose central musical pavilion is one of the symbols of Advent, hosting nightly concerts, and surrounded by numerous hospitality and souvenir wooden houses. 

Trg Ban Jelacica –  as is to be expected from the city’s main square, a hive of activity, and home to the main Christmas tree, concert venue and a sprawling Christmas market, there are probably few places in the city were so many selfies will be taken this Christmas. 

Advent in the Tunnel – a new addition to the event, one of Zagreb’s recently opened tunnels has been transformed into a stylish and tasteful winter wonderland under the city, features include video presentations and 3D installations. 

Christmas Fair on Bogoniceva and Gajeva –  For a unique experience of street life in Zagreb, mixing with locals, and enjoy local crafts and products, the Christmas Fair on Bogoniceva and Gajeva is hard to beat.  The air is filled with the enticing smells of roasting chestnuts, cooking sausages and the omnipresent mulled wine, to go with the laughter and chat of a city in fully relaxed mode. If you are looking for one of Croatia’s excellent hand-made souvenirs, here is probably your best bet. 

Fuliranje –  translated as ‘fooling around’, Fuliranje means just that – get out there and mingle, let your hair down and have a great time. Sing, dance, chat, indulge in street food, and get to know complete strangers, and watch the atmosphere of Zagreb’s streets get more intimate. 

Music – music is a key theme of the entire Advent spectacle, with a particular emphasis put on the latter part with the beginning of Croatia Music Week on December 31, as the legendary Armin van Buuren and special guest Sander van Doorn bring in the New Year. For a full low-down on the rest of the week’s events, check out Croatia Music Week

Art –  Zagreb is of course a city of great culture, and it is said that it has the most museums of any city in the world. What is for sure is that there will be an outstanding artistic offer for Zagreb’s visitors, with several Advent-themed exhbitions.

And what would Advent be without the children? –  while adults enjoy the magic of Advent, it is nothing compared to that of the little ones, and this year’s Advent in Zagreb has an outstanding range of entertainment to grab the attention of young minds. Highlights include the live nativity at Zagreb Cathedral, Zagreb’s Christmas Fairytale at Johann Franck, the Christmas Story in Cazma, Santa’s Castle at Zagreb Velesajam, plays and activities in the Mala Scena Theatre, Zagreb’s temporary version of the North Pole, as Strossmayer Street is transformed into Rudolf’s playground, and fun, games and stories in the ‘Tale from Gric’.

With all that going on, it is easy to forget that Croatia is best known as a summer destination…

Advent in Zagreb 2017 promises to be the biggest and best ever. The fun starts tomorrow, and you are highly encouraged to visit.

For more detailed information, check out the dedicated Advent in Zagreb website, and watch the video below to get you into the Zagreb Christmas mood. See you there! 


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment