During the winter holiday season, Europe becomes a popular destination for Christmas markets, which feature hundreds of stalls and stations serving up mulled wine, specialty food items and Christmas decor, usually congregating in parks and city squares. Vienna and Berlin are the big daddies of the lot, but in 2016 a little-known Balkan city snuck up and grabbed the award for best Christmas Market in Europe. It did it again in 2017. And 2018. And here we were, already in the Balkans. It would be such a shame to miss it. So in early December, we did what we do best. Loaded up the car and hit the road for Croatia’s Zagreb Advent Market.
Now I had visions of how this market thing would go down: me, skipping between stalls and stalls of beautiful, homemade, one-of-a-kind Christmas decor, snatching up armfuls of goodies begging to be lugged back to Sarajevo. I came ready to SHOP. But my artisan sleigh and Pinterest-worthy Santa dreams were dashed. There may be holiday decor somewhere in this city, but I never found it. Big sigh. But once I accepted it I was able to get right back on the excitement horse and enjoy the market’s main attractions: food and drinks.
The Zagreb Advent Market is packed. And not just with the thousands and thousands of locals and tourists who flood the city center every year – so much so the streets are closed to traffic. Its packed full of local cuisine and fusion dishes, mulled wine and draft beer, and, yes, even the occasional Christmas ornament stand. It even boasts an ice skating park. Not a circular rink, but a full park with ice skating paths that roam around the interior. And the entire city lights up at night, with each neighborhood sponsoring its own version mini-version of the Market.
So we wandered, and each day saw new pockets of this fantastic city.
Some of its best parts were narrow alleyways and underground tunnels that connected different neighborhoods.
Tiny parks and public squares presented themselves around almost every corner.
And the weather cooperated perfectly! Dry and sunny all day. The nights were absolutely freezing, but the trade-off was worth it.
We also found a ton of little photo-op stations everywhere (it’s so nice how the organizers do all the photo-finding work for you!)
It was an excellent introduction to the Balkan and European holiday season. Next year: Berlin!