Maybe you will be surprised, as I was, that in little old Croatia, with its 4.5 million population at best, the Zagreb Christmas market was awarded the best Christmas market in Europe? Ho, ho, ho!
Christmas is over – but Winter is still here! It’s not too late to explore and check out the city as well as the legendary January sales. I wanted to let you in on this marvelous little secret! We really enjoyed the Advent festivities and plan to return next year, as well! As we live in the south where the weather is a bit warmer and a little un-Christmasy, it took just one weekend of Northern chillier air to get us in the Holiday mood.
Although it’s the third year in a row, we honestly had no idea, until we got here, that little old Zagreb, with its scanty one million population, took the #1 prize (again) this winter. Beating out towns like Brno, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria and the cute little German towns just a bit further down the road…
Why? Because the Croatian capital city is known for being safe, clean, centrally located and very motivated to receive guests year round, particularly during WINTER.
Winter activities can include dance, theatre and Vatroslav Lisinski Hall for arguably the best cultural events in Croatia. It was a mixed visit but we primarily came for Advent. Since most of the activities take place in Zrinjevac, a car would be more of a hindrance than a help. We used UBER to get around town in a hurry and Grad Zagreb public transportation when we had time to linger. During Advent, trams are free of charge during the weekend. The weather was warm, we didn’t need to wear hats and gloves and the whole experience was *very* user friendly.
Here are a few photos to give you an idea:
Croatia really did a great job in the hospitality department. Ever street was whimsically decorated, some with ornaments, other times an array of shoes dangling from a wire – including ice skates – mistletoe was seen in various locations – and other ideas from a fresh new breed of young marketing students. The experience was very creative and full of surprises –
After years of waiting, I finally encountered Santa Claus in real life! Sorry – no photo – but – he was sitting in his sleigh drawn by two white horses! (I knew that Santa was for real!) A spirit of joy and magic was in the air. We tasted the spicy mulled wine….
GOOD FOOD at GOOD PRICES
and eventually bought high quality burgers and salad at Good Food (which lives up to its name) near the city center. I had an excellent Caesar salad and the kids had authentic American style hamburgers with a side of fries – it came to 134 kunas (fair). Jam packed – and delightful.
Furthermore, everyone we encountered along the way spoke excellent ENGLISH. This city is the kind of place that people on the street will almost always tell you which tram you need to take to get downtown. They are usually smiling when they hear your trying to pronounce the Croatian words, and offer to explain it to you in your native tongue. I also must say, to the credit of Zagrepcani (those living in Zagreb) it is first of all, a very attractive population. I must also mention well dressed, and most usually trim and fit. In conclusion, I am more thankful every day for the lovely place I have chosen to live in.
Those who plan to take advantage of this opportunity next year may want to reserve in advance. We were fortunately able to rent a place at the last moment (on December 16) when the town (according to Booking.com) was 99% full! (yikes!)
LET IT SNOW
Another surprise along the way. I personally prefer bus travel – so I can text with friends, read and unwind – and right in the midpoint of Croatia, around Sveti Rok (Saint Rocco) tunnel there is a big climatic change. On one side it can be 10-15 degrees higher than the other, since the tunnel is several kilometers long and pierces the mountain thus saving a lot of travel time. So, when we got to the other side of the tunnel, the entire bus gasped gleefully – SNOW!
As a former Californian, I like looking at snow much more than living in it, so playing in snow at the rest stop was just enough for me 🙂
The next morning on Ban Jelačić square (the Trg – pronounced TERG) we met friends at Johann Franck coffee house – the former “uppity” library for the Zagreb elite, a place to see and be seen 🙂 with a dance floor on the top level and lots of books. There is a winding, spiral staircase between the floors, with a smoking and non-smoking section. Ambiance, ambiance!
After our visit, eventually we jumped on tram #2 which led us directly to our destination: The autobus kolodvor (Zagreb bus station) for our express bus back to Zadar (it takes about 4 hours, on the Superhighway A1).
INEXPENSIVE (AND RELIABLE) BUS TRAVEL – TICKETS
The lowest prices I have found (at time of writing) are APP (150 kunas for a round trip ticket – or 108 for one way) but you’ll first need to make a discount ID card, which is free of charge, with a passport-sized photo – information here) and Čazmatrans is also reasonable. The general bus transportation link is buscroatia – Flix bus is good too – but generally more expensive.
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YOUR ZAGREB TRIP – BOOKING
There are many ways to go. Some phone or visit the tourist bureau. Others find private offerings by word of mouth or even people holding signs at the bus station. I usually book online by mobile ap. Njuskalo is an online want ad forum. This may seem like an unusal place to look, but when all else fails, I look under the Real estate rentals section. A few places do offer night to night accommodations (see below in the Links).
Wishing you a Happy New Year in 2018, filled with promise and hope!