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  • Writer's pictureIvanally Travel and More

A Winter's Tale: Advent in Zagreb brings Christmas Magic to the city

Updated: Mar 1

Festive collage about advent in Zagreb with photos of the post

When winter graces the charming landscapes of Croatia, it bestows upon this Mediterranean gem an enchanting allure that is as elegant as it is picturesque. While coastal Croatia shimmers with summer's memories, it's the capital, Zagreb, that takes center stage during the colder months, casting a spell of sophistication and warmth across its historic streets.


Zagreb, a city where history and modernity intertwine seamlessly, becomes a true winter wonderland.

The city's Upper Town, with its cobbled streets and medieval architecture, transforms into a fairy tale setting as snowflakes delicately blanket the rooftops. St. Mark's Church, an iconic symbol of Zagreb, stands resplendent amidst the winter's embrace, its vibrant tiled roof a testament to the city's artistic heritage.


Advent in Zagreb, voted the best Christmas market in Europe multiple times, is a beacon of festivity. The aroma of mulled wine, cinnamon-spiced pastries, and roasted chestnuts wafts through the air as visitors meander through stalls adorned with handmade crafts and twinkling lights. The main square, Ban Jelačić Square, becomes the epicenter of celebration, resonating with the joyous notes of live music and the laughter of families skating on the ice rink.



But it's not just the exterior beauty that defines Zagreb's winter; it's the city's soul-warming cuisine that truly elevates the season. Duck, lamb, and hearty stews grace the menus of local restaurants, offering a taste of Croatia's rich culinary heritage. And, of course, a visit to one of the city's traditional kavana coffeehouses is a must. Sip a strong cup of kava and savor a slice of delicate kremsnita, allowing the city's warmth to permeate your soul.


As night falls and the city lights twinkle against the dark winter sky, Zagreb's elegant charm truly comes alive. The city's theaters, galleries, and concert halls offer cultural experiences that enrich the spirit, while the radiant glow of the streets and squares provides a sense of belonging and togetherness.



In winter, Zagreb embodies the perfect blend of elegance, tradition, and festivity. It is a place where the cold season is not endured but embraced, where the city's inherent grace shines brightly amidst the frosty air. Zagreb in winter is a symphony of elegance, inviting you to become part of its enchanting melody, a timeless composition that will linger in your heart long after the snow has melted.


Christmas Magic in Zagreb: A Proposal Underneath the Twinkling Lights

I woke up early on Christmas Eve in the charming city of Zagreb, my excitement bubbling as I envisioned the magical day ahead. The crisp winter air tingled with anticipation as I set out to explore the best Advent attractions, determined to make this Christmas unforgettable for my sister and her soon-to-be fiancé.

As the sun began to peek over the historic rooftops, I strolled through the cobbled streets, guided by the warmth of the first stalls opening in the morning with warm fritule and mulled wine leading me towards the heart of the city.

Around the bustling market square, I stumbled upon a few small stalls adorned with traditional Christmas decorations. Intricate ornament bright poinsettias, and handcrafted trinkets filled every surface, each telling a story of Zagreb's rich holiday traditions. Without hesitation, I selected the perfect pieces to transform my AirBnB into a cozy Christmas haven, ensuring my sister and her partner would feel the festive spirit even miles away from home.

With my bag of treasures in tow, I returned to the snug AirBnB, adorning every corner with the newfound Christmas magic. The twinkling lights and festive decorations transformed the space into a winter wonderland, a surprise awaiting my sister and her soon-to-be fiancé when they returned from their day of exploration.

Feeling satisfied with my festive touches, I set out once more, wandering through the city's captivating streets.

As I explored, I couldn't help but stumble upon the perfect spot for the upcoming proposal. The charming main square, bathed in the warm glow of Christmas lights, seemed like it was tailor-made for this magical moment. I imagined my sister's delighted surprise as her partner popped the question against the backdrop of Zagreb's winter charm.

That evening, surrounded by the city's festive aura, my sister received the most heartwarming proposal. The soft flicker of fairy lights dancing in the air added an extra layer of enchantment to the moment, making it a Christmas memory to cherish forever. As they celebrated their love under the twinkling lights of Zagreb, I couldn't help but marvel at the extraordinary magic this city had woven into their Christmas tale.



Christmas magic is in the air

Zagreb's Christmas market is a gastronomic delight, offering a variety of delicious Croatian and international treats to warm you up during the festive season. Here's a list of foods and drinks you should definitely try at the Zagreb Christmas market:

  • Kuhano Vino (Mulled Wine): Warm yourself up with a cup of aromatic mulled wine, usually made with red wine, spices, and a touch of fruit. It's the quintessential Christmas market drink.

  • Fritule: These small, fluffy doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar are a Croatian Christmas tradition. They're soft, sweet, and utterly delightful.

  • Kobasice (Sausages): Savor juicy sausages served in fresh bread rolls. They come in various flavors, including classic pork and spicy varieties.

  • Štrukli: A Croatian specialty, štrukli are thin pastry rolls filled with cottage cheese and sour cream. They are often baked until golden brown and served warm.

  • Medenjaci (Gingerbread Cookies): Adorned with intricate icing, gingerbread cookies make for delightful souvenirs or sweet treats to enjoy on the spot.

  • Sarma: Cabbage rolls filled with a mixture of ground meat and rice, cooked in a flavorful tomato sauce. It's a comforting and filling dish.

  • Rakija: For those looking for a warming alcoholic beverage, try a shot of rakija, a strong fruit brandy often offered in various fruit flavors.

  • Hot Chocolate: If you prefer something non-alcoholic, warm up with a rich cup of hot chocolate, sometimes topped with whipped cream.



Zagreb's Christmas market is a food lover's paradise, offering a wide range of culinary delights to enjoy while you soak in the festive atmosphere and explore the beautifully decorated stalls. Be sure to try a little bit of everything to fully experience the flavors of Croatia during the holiday season.


Ivankally having hot chocolate at Kras, on the main square

Culinary Delights in Zagreb: A Diverse Palette of High-End, Middle Range, and Budget-Friendly Options

For an upscale dining experience in Zagreb, Noel and Dubravkin Put stand out. Noel offers a refined atmosphere with a modern twist on Croatian cuisine, while Dubravkin Put boasts an elegant setting with a focus on Mediterranean flavors.


In the middle range, Vinodol and Takenoko are notable choices. Vinodol combines traditional Croatian dishes with a cozy ambiance, while Takenoko excels in Japanese cuisine, providing a diverse menu in a welcoming environment.


For more budget-friendly options, Gostionica Ficlek and Pizzeria Karijola offer delicious meals without breaking the bank. Ficlek is known for its hearty regional dishes, while Pizzeria Karijola serves up satisfying pizzas in a casual setting. Keep in mind that the restaurant scene can evolve, so it's advisable to check recent reviews for the latest information.


My personal favourites:

  • Le Bistro (One of Esplanade's restaurants): An elegant dining experience at Le Bistro unfolds with a blend of refined flavors and a sophisticated ambiance, making it a top choice for those seeking culinary excellence in Zagreb.

  • Uspinjaca: Uspinjaca stands out with its contemporary twist on traditional Croatian dishes, offering a delightful journey through local flavors with a modern touch, all within a vibrant and inviting setting.

  • La Šturk: La Štruk captivates diners with its charming atmosphere and a focus on the beloved Croatian dish, štrukli. This cozy eatery showcases a variety of creative štrukli options, delivering a unique and authentic taste of Zagreb's culinary heritage.




Accomodation

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  • Hostel Central is situated in the heart of Zagreb, just a short walk away from the city's main square, Ban Jelačić Square. The hostel is known for its friendly and helpful staff who can provide local recommendations, tips on things to do in Zagreb, and assistance with travel arrangements.

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  • Timeout Heritage Hotel is a boutique hotel that combines historic charm with modern comfort. Nestled in the heart of the city, it offers an intimate and unique accommodation experience. With its central location, the Time Out Heritage Hotel provides easy access to Zagreb's cultural attractions, making it a perfect choice for travelers seeking a blend of heritage and contemporary hospitality in Croatia's capital.

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  • Hotel Esplanade is definitely one of the dreamiest locations in the city. The Hotel is an iconic and luxurious establishment that exudes timeless elegance. Built in 1925 to accommodate passengers of the Orient Express, it has retained its grandeur and historic charm. Located near the city's central railway station, this 5-star hotel offers opulent accommodations, fine dining at Zinfandel's Restaurant, and at Le Bistro. With its Art Deco architecture and impeccable service, the Hotel Esplanade is a true gem in the heart of Zagreb, welcoming travelers to a world of sophistication and luxury.


Hotels, apartments and youth hostels are available in every part of the city. If you're coming for Advent in Zagreb I'd suggest staying between the main train station and upper town.

Enchanting Moments: Winter Wonders at Hotel Esplanade, Zagreb

In the heart of Zagreb, beneath the starlit sky, there exists a place where history whispers through the corridors and warmth emanates from every corner. The Hotel Esplanade stands as a timeless testament to elegance, a haven where tradition dances harmoniously with modernity.

As winter blankets the city in a soft embrace, the hotel's terrace transforms into a magical Christmas market, a symphony of lights and laughter echoing against the backdrop of the historic building. The air is filled with the fragrance of cinnamon and mulled wine, creating an enchanting atmosphere that beckons guests and locals alike to partake in the festive spirit.


What truly sets the Hotel Esplanade apart is not only its architectural grandeur but the genuine warmth exuded by its staff. A cadre of individuals whose dedication transcends mere hospitality, they possess an innate ability to make every guest feel like an old friend returning home. It was on one such occasion, as I conversed with them in Croatian, that their eyes lit up in delightful surprise, and a secret bond was formed. In the hushed tones of camaraderie and a kind smile, while having breakfast, they extended an invitation that transcended mere politeness—a question wrapped in kindness, "Želite li palačinke?" Who could resist the allure of palačinke, those delicate Croatian pancakes that carry the essence of homemade comfort? And so, beneath the festive lights of the terrace, I found myself indulging in the irresistible warmth of palačinke, a gesture that etched itself into the tapestry of my memory.


Speaking of palačinke - check out my recipe to enjoy a warm and tasty treat at home!

The Hotel Esplanade stands as a guardian of stories, its walls echoing with the names of artists and literary giants who have sought solace within its embrace. One can't help but wonder how many dreams have unfolded within these rooms, how many verses and strokes of brilliance have been born under its roof. It is a living canvas that breathes life into the tales of the past, connecting the threads of time with an enduring elegance.


To step into the Hotel Esplanade is to step into a world where history and hospitality intertwine, where the spirit of Christmas converges with the soulful notes of a timeless city. It is a place where one discovers not just a hotel but an experience, a symphony of moments that linger in the heart, inviting you to be a part of its rich narrative—a narrative that continues to unfold with every guest, every season, and every whispered secret shared within its walls.

Year after year, like a cherished tradition, I find myself drawn to the enchanting embrace of the Hotel Esplanade in Zagreb. It has become a pilgrimage of the heart, a journey back to a place that feels more like home than any other. Without fail, at least once a year, I make my way to this haven of history and hospitality, where time stands still, and memories weave seamlessly into the fabric of its storied walls.


Insider tips for your Advent in Zagreb

  • Explore the Old Town (Gornji Grad): Begin your visit by exploring the historic Upper Town (Gornji Grad). Wander through cobblestone streets, visit St. Mark's Church with its iconic tiled roof, and take in the charming atmosphere of this medieval district.

  • Visit the Museums: Zagreb boasts numerous museums and galleries. Don't miss the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art, among others.

  • Explore Dolac Market: Dolac Market is the city's main open-air market. It's a great place to shop for fresh produce, local products, and traditional Croatian souvenirs.

  • Take a Day Trip: Consider taking a day trip from Zagreb to nearby attractions like Plitvice Lakes National Park, Trakoscan Castle, or the town of Samobor. These destinations offer beautiful natural scenery and cultural experiences.

  • Learn Some Croatian Phrases: While many people in Zagreb speak English, learning a few basic Croatian phrases like "hello" (zdravo), "thank you" (hvala), and "please" (molim) can go a long way and show your appreciation for the local culture.

Zagreb is a city with a rich cultural heritage and a welcoming atmosphere. Whether you're interested in history, art, food, or simply strolling through charming streets, there's something for everyone to enjoy in Croatia's capital.


🍴Zagreb has the perfect position, situated between the balkans and Austria, it's culinary offer is truly something special!


Croatian Christmas Chronicles: A Joyful Journey Through the Diverse Traditions from Yule Logs to Seaside Feasts

Ah, grab a glass of rakija and get ready to embark on a festive journey through the diverse holiday traditions of Croatia! From the snow-capped peaks of Gorski Kotar to the sun-soaked shores of Dalmatia, Christmas in Croatia is a kaleidoscope of customs that will make you want to shout "Sretan Božić" from the rooftops.

Christmas Eve - The Night of Abundance:

Picture this: you're in Zagreb, strolling through the twinkling lights of Advent, and the air is filled with the scent of sizzling sausages and mulled wine. Christmas Eve, known as Badnjak, is a night of anticipation and indulgence. Families gather around a yule log, called "badnjak," which is ceremoniously burned to bring warmth and light to the home.

Dalmatian Decadence:

Down in Dalmatia, where the sea breeze meets the melody of traditional klapa songs, Christmas is a celebration of simplicity and seafood. While many Croatians opt for meat, Dalmatians bring the Adriatic to the table with a feast of fish and shellfish.

Imagine feasting on black cuttlefish risotto, grilled sardines, and salted cod. And don't forget the vital ingredient – olive oil, affectionately called "Croatian liquid gold." The flickering lights of fishing boats in the distance add a touch of magic to the seaside festivities.

Continental Coziness:

Venture into the heart of Croatia, where the continental regions embrace the cold with open arms.

And when it's time to exchange gifts, Croatians don't just hand them over – they perform! In Slavonia, the eastern breadbasket of Croatia, it's customary to sing and dance before receiving your presents. It's like a festive talent show that ensures everyone gets into the holiday spirit.

Sweet Endings:

No Croatian Christmas would be complete without a sweet ending. Enter "fritule," bite-sized doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar. These delightful treats grace tables across the country, turning every bite into a sugary celebration.

So there you have it, a whirlwind tour of Croatia's Christmas traditions. Whether you're in the snowy north, the sun-soaked south, or somewhere in between, one thing is for certain – Croatians know how to make the Yuletide season merry and bright! Sretan Božić!


Getting to Zagreb

Getting to Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, is relatively straightforward as it is well-connected to other European cities. Here are some common ways to get to Zagreb:

By Plane

Zagreb Airport (ZAG): The most common way to reach Zagreb from abroad is by flying into Zagreb Airport, also known as Franjo Tuđman Airport (ZAG).

By Train

Zagreb has excellent rail connections to neighboring countries, including Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Serbia. The city's main train station, Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor, is centrally located and well-connected to other parts of Croatia and Europe.

By Bus

Zagreb's central bus station, Autobusni Kolodvor Zagreb, provides long-distance bus services to numerous European cities.

By Car

If you're traveling from nearby European countries, you can reach Zagreb by car via well-maintained highways and road networks.


🚋 Once you arrive in Zagreb, the city offers various transportation options, including trams, buses, and taxis, to help you get around and explore its attractions, historical sites, and vibrant culture.


Prices and tickets*

  • Single fare, daytime (validity 30 minutes)​ 0,53 €

  • Single fare, daytime (validity 60 minutes) 0,93 €

  • Single fare, daytime (validity 90 minutes) 1,33 €

  • Single fare, night time 1,99 €


Tickets purchased from the driver

  • Single fare, daytime (validity 30 minutes) 0,80 €

  • Single fare, daytime (validity 60 minutes) 1,33 €

  • Single fare, daytime (validity 90 minutes) 1,99 €

  • Single fare, night time1,99 €

  • Daily ticket 3,90 €


Funicular

One-way 0,66 €


Multi-day tickets

  • Daily ticket 3,98 €

  • 3 days 9,29 €

  • 7 days 19,91 €

  • 15 days 26,54 €

  • 30 days 53,09 €

*prices on 21.11.2023



Ciao ciao, e alla prossima!


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