Untold Stories

Zagreb Has What it Takes for the Season to Be Jolly

November is coming to its end, and the anticipation in the city is rising. Many of us can’t wait for the 27 November - the start of the Christmas festivities in Zagreb.

After several years of being known as the best Christmas Market in Europe, last year's lockdown interrupted all the fun. We are certain this year’s Advent Zagreb will not disappoint, even with the strict pandemic prevention measures. 

This year, the program will be a bit more modest than back in those forgotten normal times. Still, outdoor locations and innovative additions to the program have been announced. Concerts, exhibitions, Christmas-themed tours, street food and drinks, and the Christmas mingling... Now simply add some cinnamon and (c)love, and there you go! The perfect Christmas market recipe is ready.

Many small businesses contribute to the atmosphere. This shop window by a famous florist Saša Šekoranja in Dežmanov prolaz passage never disappoints.

What do you associate with the Christmas season in Croatia? It turns out that the most Christmassy symbols of Zagreb and its surroundings are, at the same time, the most distinguished symbols of the region all year round.

For example, one of the must-tries when in Zagreb, is a dish called purica s mlincima - roasted turkey with a special kind of dough called mlinci. This combination is a typical local special-occasion lunch. No wonder it also happens to be the traditional Christmas lunch. For dessert, try orehnjača, or makovnjača, a sweet swirl bread filled with walnuts (orehnjača) or poppy seed (makovnjača). You can get them in bakeries all over the town.

This old-school Christmas dinner was one of the cozy installations in the Upper Town back in 2020

Back in the day, it was almost inevitable to have purica s mlincima on Christmas. There even used to be a turkey market a few days before Christmas. It was a big fair set up in front of the cathedral. The poor turkeys came hiking from the other side of our mount Medvednica and waited for their new owners to pick and choose the perfect one. People took one or two home on a leash. Oh, boy! All of this sounds so hard to imagine these days, for anyone who lives in a city at least. Still, just a few decades ago, this was a very normal sight. Imagine the whole town echoing with a gobble!

Kaptol square, where Zagrebers used to get their Christmas lunch some decades ago. 

As you walk around Zagreb, you might spot a lot of souvenirs and images of a red heart with a small mirror and some pretty decorations. That's the licitar heart, one of the symbols of Zagreb and entire north Croatia. Theoretically, licitar is also edible, but I promise you it’s not tasty. I recommend you resist the urge to try it, and simply keep it as a souvenir. 

Bright red colour of licitar hearts and the dark shade of evergreen branches are a perfect Christmas match.

Licitar is made of dough, dipped into shiny colors, and traditionally decorated. It is impossible to imagine Christmases in this region of Croatia, without licitar hearts. They come in other shapes, too, and make perfect Christmas tree ornaments.

2020 Christmas tree at St Mark square was full of replicas of various Zagreb symbols. If you look at the photo carefully, you will notice some figurines shaped as licitar hearts.

As you can see, with its typical dishes and souvenirs, Zagreb is always ready for Christmas. No wonder it's famous for its Christmas markets!

Do you plan to visit Zagreb this Christmas season? Check out the official Advent Zagreb websiteand you won’t miss a thing. See you around! 

Zrinjevac park is a must-visit Christmas market in Zagreb.

Photos by: Iva Silla

Author: Iva Silla