Tourism in Zagreb in 2022: A Year in Review

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(Photo credit: Boska i Kreso)
(Photo credit: Boska i Kreso)

For more than the first half of my 20 years in Croatia, Zagreb was a complete unknown to me. The bus station, the train station, the walk to Ban Jelacic Square for meetings, that was about the sum of my interaction with the Croatian capital from my island base on idyllic Hvar. 

And then things changed, slowly at first, but with a steady pace, as my knowledge of Zagreb increased at about the same rate as the city got cooler. Where once the only exotic food on offer was Chinese and Indian, suddenly a plethora of diverse cuisines popped up, a symbol of the growing international flavour of the city, particularly in its status as an EU capital from July, 2013. 


(Photo S.Kastelan)

Others noticed, and when Lonely Planet named Zagreb as its best destination for 2017, it seemed that the city had truly arrived as a tourist destination, now giving Croatia an extra dimension in tourism away from the coast. I, like many others, still did not regard Zagreb as a major tourist destination, but slowly, but surely, the city began to change my – and many other – minds. 

The catalyst for many, of course, was the arrival of Advent in Zagreb on the global stage, seemingly from nowhere. Zagreb was voted Best Christmas Market in Europe, not once, not twice, but three times in a row from 2016-18. In an era where the tourism gurus talk about year-round tourism, here was a destination which brought an entirely new product onto the Croatian tourism market in one of the deadest months of the year. 

Advent may have put Zagreb on the map, but it was certainly not the only thing happening in the tourism calendar in the capital. As my visits to the city grew with work, so did the realisation that Zagreb was actually a pretty cool place to be, that despite being slowed down by the devastating earthquake and pandemic. So much so, in fact, that we decided to move to Zagreb 18 months ago to get a slice of city life after our Dalmatian island origins via Varazdin. 


(Photo M. Mihaljevic)

And so to 2022, the first full year of me living in the city – a year that began with those COVID masks (remember them?) and a chance to see tourism in Zagreb up close and personal, 12 months a year. 

And what a year it proved to be, as we all returned to a semblance of the old normal. The COVID masks dispersed, how was the 12-month tourism in Zagreb experience?

The first thing to note about tourism in Zagreb is its seasonality. Unlike the coast, where things seem to go from summer to winter, the season to the off-season, Zagreb has the classic four seasons, and with a flagship showcase event to mark each one. 

Since 2017, the Festival of Light in March has been a magical addition to the city’s tourism calendar, one of the first events heralding the new tourist season, enticing guests outside to enjoy a spring night in the city and to witness innovative art and the joy of light.

Summer in Zagreb was this year’s big discovery, having traditionally spent it on the coast. The city empties of much of the population, and the whole city becomes a stage, one whose parks, streets and squares are filled with the sound of music and entertainment. The pivotal summer event is Zagreb Classic, which is cementing Zagreb as a significant cultural destination, with its array of fantastic open air concerts featuring world-class artists. 

Autumn is magical, and there seems to be a continued focus on art and culture. The main event is art’s medicinal answer to acupuncture – Artupunktura, Zagreb Art Therapy. You can read more in the TCN article Artupunktura: Transforming Zagreb into Autumn Art & Culture Hub.

And finally, of course, the arrival of Winter Wonderland in the form of Advent in Zagreb. This year’s Advent has had a double feel-good factor, for me at least.  Firstly, it was the first proper Advent since the pandemic, and the programme has been as rich as back in 2019, with popular features such as the ice skating rink on Tomislav Square a reminder of Advent as it once was (Pandemic Who? Advent in Zagreb Returns to 2019 Glory). But this year’s Advent also coincided with the timeline of Croatia’s incredible run in the World Cup in Qatar, a journey which ended on Sunday with the returning heroes being welcomed home on the main square. Mingling with the thousands of fans as they made their way through Advent highlights such as Zrinjevac was one of the highlights of the year for me. Croatia, Full of Life indeed! 

Wherever I looked during my first full year here, there was an air of quality, diversity and entertainment in the musical offer. After Zagreb had allowed me to finally see some of the icons of my youth live in previous years – Leonard Cohen, Johnny Rotten, and Morrissey, my musical odyssey was complete when I finally got to see The Cure at Zagreb Arena in October. Franz Ferdinand, Skunk Anansie, Placebo, Simple Minds, and Whitesnake all graced the concert halls of Zagreb with their own concerts, while The Killers headlined Zagreb’s signature rock festival, InMusic one of several music festivals in the city this year, with Lake Jarun a popular festival destination. 

The World Cup may have been the global sporting event of the year, and it certainly lit up Zagreb, but there was plenty of other action to enjoy locally. April saw the city transformed into a motor sports Mecca, as the WRC Rally came to Croatia, an event followed by some 350,000 people. 

Before that, however, a reminder of the diversity of Zagreb’s sporting credentials, as one of the few European cities with immediate proximity to skiing. The Snow Queen Trophy, an accredited Alpine World Cup skiing race, held in early January each year, and won once again by Petra Vlhova.


(Photo J.Duval)

The opening of the Sljeme cable car this year has made skiing and the winter (and all other seasons) much more accessible to Zagreb citizens and its visitors. Other sporting events which highlighted the city’s athletic tradition include the annual Zagreb Marathon and the Boris Hanžeković Memorial meeting, a Zagreb regular since 1951. 

There were food festivals, so many food festivals, with relative newcomers such as the Zagreb Burger Fest now firmly established as a regional leader, and quaint little events such as Little Picnic, allowing people to mix and chill in a relaxed atmosphere. Where there is food, wine is never far away in Croatia, and VINOcom once again led the way, with another splendid 4-day event in November.  


(Photo credit: Sanjin Kastelan)

But, for me, this new foreign local in his first full year in the city, the thing that stuck me the most was just how much diversity and effort is put in to celebrating art,culture and heritage in Zagreb, 12 months a year. I lost count of the number of times I found myself passing a courtyard, street or square and was seduced by the sound of music. Zagreb is a wonderful city to walk in, and it seems that wherever you go, there is SOMETHING happening. The fact that they have an annual event called Courtyards, which celebrates the various courtyards of the city through art, sums it up for me. Street art, street festivals such as Project Ilica Q’Art when the city’s longest street gives way to art, culture and performance is the epitome of that. 

And let’s not forget film, an area in which the city excels in festivals in the shape of the Zagreb Film Festival, Zagreb Tourfilm Festival and Zagreb Dox, to name but three. 

12 months, and never a day the same. The four distinct seasons in this most walkable city offers so much more than meets the eye, something I only truly appreciated when actually living here. And, as it the city did not offer enough, the breathtaking offer Around Zagreb helps to make Zagreb a complete destination. 

It is a great city. When are you coming to visit?



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