Christmas is a wonderful time to be in Zagreb. Festivities have always been enthusiastically observed in the capital, but the recently revamped advent programme has given proceedings an exciting modern edge - which means that you can follow up a carol concert with a DJ set, and a craft beer with a mulled wine. Draped in twinkly fairylights, the city looks like it was dreamed up for the front of a Christmas card, and all you really need to do to feel festive is stroll through the markets. Follow our Christmas guide, and we guarantee you'll be bubbling with Christmas cheer.
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An art and crafts fair organised by the Croatian Artists’ Association (HDLU) and held over the course of a pre-Christmas week in the HDLU’s impressive, doughnut-shaped headquarters on Trg žrtava fašizma. Deliberately pitched towards the alternative side of Christmas shopping, it’s a great place to browse for unique jewellery, alternative-designer fashion, one-off accessories and a host of genuine artworks
Celebrations go subterranean as the recently reopened Gric tunnel, which runs underneath the centre of the city, gets made over for Christmas. Multimedia events during the week-long programme include concerts and video displays, while sculptures and 3D light installations transform it into a strange, underground Narnia.
Pitched as the young person's advent, the programme at European Square is decidedly more modern than traditional advent happenings, with concerts or DJ sets every night at 8pm. Just by the main square, this little corner tends to attract young, creative types, and there's always a real buzz. Check in with their Facebook page for daily updates.
The leafy Park Zrinjevac, one of Zagreb's prettiest spots, looks wonderful all dressed up in fairy lights. Advent here consists of market stalls selling warm food, with a particular emphasis on traditional Croatian dishes - here you can try goulash, sour cabbage rolls, smoked leg of pig or braised cabbage with home-made pasta, and a sweet strukli for dessert. Zrinjevac's centrepiecce is a circular stage, which will host live musicians and children's entertainers.
The tree-lined Strossmartre parade, which looks out over the city, is a romantic spot at any time of year, but it's all the more magical in winter. Advent here is gingerbread themed, which means that you can enjoy it by the truckload, while enjoying Craft beer and mulled wine from fairy-tale styled kiosks. Musical guests include DJs Remmi, Mario Kovač and Robert Mareković.
Marticeva, an area in Zagreb’s east, was recently declared the city’s official ‘design district’ owing to the flurry of creative studios and pop-up shops taking over its quiet streets. So it’s little surprise that advent here is done differently, with artisan treats replacing traditional sweets and craftspeople running arty workshops. Stop by the Croatian Design Superstore - the holy house of the Croatian design scene - for some unusual Christmas gifts.
The idea behind 'New Advent' - based in Novi Zagreb (new town) - is to do Christmas with a modern spin. And what better place to do that than the incredibly modern Museum of Contemporary Art? The huge platform outside its entrance will serve as a stage for alternative-leaning DJs and musicians, while up-and-coming designers will be showcasing their work.
Ban Josip Jelacic, Zagreb's opulent central square, is the heart of the city's Christmas events. Kitted out in lights, it looks like the front of a Christmas card. With happy crowds milling between mulled wine stalls, huge christmas trees all aglow, and choirs singing carols, you'll struggle not to feel a warm festive buzz.
The cobbled streets tucked beneath the funicular entrance turn playful for advent. Fuliranje, which translates as 'fooling around', encourages passerbys to do just that. It's split between two streets - Tomićeva becomes 'chef street', where leading chefs will present their culinary expertise, while Kurelčeva becomes 'disco street'. DJs will stick to classics from the likes of Donna Summer, Marvin Gaye, Bee Gees, Kulušić, Saloon and Studio 54, with the aim of getting you all to drop your Christmas shopping and dance in the street.
Uniquely, a city break in Zagreb can double up as a skiing holiday. Mountain Medvednica is just a twenty minute drive from the city, and its Sjleme ski resort is never overcrowded. If skiing terrifies you even more than ice-skating, you should still take a day to walk up Sjleme. Arguably, it's at its most beautiful under a thick covering of snow - brilliantly white and magnificently silent. Eat at a cosy mountain-top tavern before catching the bus back down to town.