Zagreb Full of Light: Festival of Lights, Glow Run Video, Photo, Magic

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Zagreb Tourist Board, Glow Run & Steve Tsntserensky

One thing I am realising about tourism in Croatia is that Zagreb knows how to grow a concept. The Croatian capital is not blessed with the sun-kissed beaches of the Adriatic or an endless coastline, but it has plenty of other resources in its arsenal to develop its own unique tourism story. 

I have watched Croatian tourism very closely over the last decade, and it has been instructive to see how Zagreb has progressed from a relatively disregarded destination to one which now not only has international recognition and branded events, but is also now very much on the cool capital city tour of Central Europe, proudly sitting alongside Vienna,  Prague and Budapest. 


The best example of this, of course, is Advent in Zagreb, an event which went from total obscurity to being the champion of Europe three years in a row. Not only did Advent in Zagreb make major inroads into developing the Croatian capital as a 12-month destination, but it has inspired the rest of the country as well, and seemingly every town in the country now has its own Advent event each year. Zagreb worked hard to keep the brand of Advent alive during the last two difficult years, and I have no doubt it will be back in style this December, assuming the world and its pandemics have calmed down. 

I see a lot of similarities between the growth of Advent and the gradual rise of another Zagreb festival which only began in 2017. Back then, the Festival of Lights had just 7 locations in the city, all located in Upper Town. But, just like Advent, it has spread its wings magnificently, and this year’s 5-day  event from March 16-20 was to be found in an impressive 31 locations, 16 in Upper Town and – for the first time – 15 in Lower Town.  


During these trying times, it is hard to explain what a joy it was to walk around the city during the Festival of Lights. Never having been before, I was not sure what to expect, but from walking through Gric Tunnel on the way to an evening meeting on the opening night, the mood of all around was lightened. Simply stunning. 


The Croatian National Theatre, which hosted the festival opening, looked particularly resplendent.


Magnificent in its own right, for me it symbolised the architectural magic of the event – combining Zagreb’s historic buildings with a modern and very colourful interpretation. 


But the highlight for me walking around was not seeing foreign tourists on the streets of the city, but local families. Seeing the faces of young kids in awe at the various light attractions was a wonderful thing. After two years of earthquake, pandemic and conflict in Ukraine, it felt like a return to an era of innocence, if only for a few days. I found it intoxicating, and taking in the faces, smiles, laughs and squeals of the little ones was as rewarding as appreciating the impressive light installations and displays.


The city was alive, and I am sure when COVID restrictions subside and budgets are once more increased that the Festival of Lights will add a gastro component, which will help it grow even more. 


I reached out to Zagreb Tourist Board CEO Martina Bienenfeld for her impressions of this year’s event: 

We are very pleased with the interest and wonderful comments on the organization of this year’s edition of the Festival of Lights Zagreb, as well as with the results achieved. According to the Zagreb Tourist Board, during the Festival of Lights, arrivals increased by 176 percent, while the number of overnight stays increased by 114 percent, compared to the same period last year. Thus, during the 4th edition of the Festival of Lights, in the period from 16 to 20 March, 10,742 arrivals and 22,759 overnight stays were registered.


“We also received preliminary results from our online promotional campaigns in the markets of Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Slovenia and Serbia, according to which the Festival’s ads had more than 43 million views. Our advertorials have been read more than 76,000 times, and the leading markets were Slovenia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. 


“Festival of Lights came into being in 2017 with 7 locations in the Upper Town and this year’s edition spread on 31 locations of, both, Upper and Lower town which was a huge milestone for us and the Festival itself. In these uncertain and difficult times, it was a real challenge to organize the Festival of Lights Zagreb, so I thank once again to all the partners and institutions that helped us in its realization.”


The other thing I have noticed over the years about the development of tourism in Zagreb is that good ideas tend to attract good ideas. The concept of Advent in Zagreb started small, but the bigger it became, the bigger the sense of ownership among private tourism businesses, who came up with their own suggestions and concepts to add yet more content to the event. 


A good example of this from Advent was the Zagreb Digital Nomad Jolly Wrap Up event in December, which connected the city’s fantastic digital nomad year with Advent.

And the architects of that idea, Swanky Travel, lost no time in adding a warm glow to the concept of this year’s Festival of Lights. 


Just three weeks before the start of the festival, the Glow Run organisers (Swanky Travel, Urban Entertainment, and Run Croatia – who have organised an impressive 64 races in Croatia in the last 8 years) approached the Zagreb Tourist Board with a concept to add another dimension to the festival – the Zagreb Glow Run, a 5 km race through the streets of Zagreb, with participants invited to wear glowing objects on themselves and their pets, as they raced through the streets of Zagreb past all the illuminated buildings.  


Three weeks is not a long time when it comes to organise a race in a capital city. There are a lot of permissions to be obtained, plenty of planning required. 


But, as I have learned in my time in Zagreb, if Iva Perokovic from Swanky Travel wants it to happen, it will happen. It helps to be a little crazy, I guess, and she can be very persuasive in her glowing goggles. 

And what an evening it was! Check out the video of the run, and see just how magnificent Zagreb was as a backdrop to the race. 

Despite the relatively late announcement of the Glow Run, an impressive 380 runners signed up for the 22:00 start, adding a little more glow and colour to the Croatian capital, which was already shining. 

A few more photos from the Glow Run below, but watch out for Festival of Lights Zagreb 2023 and its Glow Run – it is the festival which will keep on growing. And glowing. 

Learn more about the city in the Total Croatia Zagreb in a Page guide






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