We already planned out our visit to Zagreb Christmas markets, when I noticed the special Nutcracker exhibition will be opening the very same day. Of course, we extended our visit to the city center and headed straight to the Zagreb’s Museum of Arts and Crafts first.
From November 26, 2016, until February 27, 2017, the Museum of Arts and Crafts is the venue to visit in the city. Unique and never seen before, the Nutcracker Christmas exhibition in Zagreb will capture your heart easily, no matter if you are a fan or not.
Read more: When did Zagreb Christmas market become this awesome?!
The Nutcracker Christmas Fairy Tale
Following the story of the most popular Christmas ballet in the world, the Nutcracker exhibition will draw you into a magical story of Clara and her toy. Even the story is based on “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” written by E. T. A. Hoffman, today’s ballet is a bit different. However, the basics remain the same – it follows the story of young Clara, a German girl who dreams of a fierce Nutcracker Prince battling the scary Mouse King with seven heads.
It all starts with Clara’s family hosting their annual Christmas party where her Christmas present, a beautiful Nutcracker toy, becomes a hit. Her jealous brother breaks it and the family tries to repair it. They did the best they could but Clara, worried about him, sneaks back to the tree and falls asleep with the toy in her arms.
Read more: Forget Advent in Vienna, head to Zagreb instead!
As the clock strikes midnight, the toys around the tree come to life and the Mouse King attacks them with his army. After the grand victory and thanks to Clara’s love, the Nutcracker turns into a prince and takes her on a magical journey through the Snow Forest and the Kingdom of sweets where they dance and celebrate. Unfortunately, every dream comes to its end – Clara wakes up underneath the tree still holding her beloved Nutcracker.
The Enchanting Nutcracker Christmas Exhibition in Zagreb
You do not need to know the story, or see the ballet to love this exhibition. It will enchant you with its fairy tale scenography, details from behind the scene and those wonderful costumes which were worn by some famous ensembles.
You can see the material from Saint Petersburg 1892 premiere, costumes worn in Milan’s Scala and Zagreb National theater as well as some items from Jelko Yuresha’s (Željko Jureša) private collection. He was Croatian / British artist who traveled the world with his wife Belinda Wright in order to promote the ballet. They were both regulars in the Nutcracker ensemble since late 1940-is and together they staged many choreographies and designed costumes, jewelry, and sets.
As the Nutcracker is the most frequently performed classical ballet, many theaters around the world made their own adaptations. This exhibition shows several costumes designed by a famous costume designer Nicholas Georgiadis, designed for performances in Milan’s Scala during 1960-is. They are amazing, aren’t they?
In Zagreb, the Nutcracker has been performing since 1931. However, in the spirit of the former socialist Yugoslavia, the story did not take place on a Christmas Eve (Christmas was not celebrated back then), but on Clara’s birthday and, since then, several versions of the ballet were performed over the years.
Read more: Croatian winter comfort food you should try
Ticket for this wonderful exhibition will cost you 40 kn per person (around 5,5€), just make sure to come before February 27 when the fairy tale ends. Museum is located in Zagreb, Croatia, just across the National Theatre in the city center, so you can’t miss it. If you have some time free, in the basement there is also an excellent restaurant and cafe (a place where we had our wedding celebration, actually!).
Besides those spectacular Nutcracker toys exhibited, the youngsters will enjoy Santa’s workshop house in the museum’s lobby, music listening corner and dreamy toys they can bring home as a souvenir.
In total, the exhibition about the ballet performed in the most beautiful time of the year is very well organized, attractive and interesting. I would call it being extremely successful since it made us want to see the ballet performance again. Too bad all the tickets were already sold out. But, if you have an opportunity, make sure to visit the Nutcracker Christmas Exhibition in Zagreb! Also, it is a great place to warm up while going around the city and trying all those delicious winter comfort food.
Museum of Arts and Crafts
Trg maršala Tita
Entrance fee: 40 kn
If you or your little ones are fans of the Nutcracker, you might consider treating yourself with this precious souvenirs.
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Last year Jaime experienced his first real winter ever and since he was always cold, we skipped advent manifestations around the Europe and visited the Christmas market in Zagreb only. Even we had a great time, this year I wanted to show him how advent looked like in other, more famous cities.
Vienna was an obvious choice – it was close, reachable with the car, and well known as an advent destination. I visited several times before, but it seemed to be a perfect destination for Jaime to explore. Two days later, we realized we might be wrong. Vienna is probably the most popular city in the terms of Christmas markets, but we actually liked Zagreb better, and here is why.
Read more: Tips & trick for a day trip to Vienna
Crowds vs. moderate crowds
Wherever you go in Vienna, it is crowded. If there are no people – then it sucks. Weekends are the worst, buses and buses full of tourists are coming to the city and you can see groups of 40 – 50 people following their guides everywhere.
Visiting Christmas markets during the peak hours is a nightmare. Long wait lines for food stalls (which was obviously not enough), walking around surrounded by a bunch of people stopping and taking photos all the time, … I’m not going to lie and say there are no crowds in Zagreb. There are, of course, but a number of people in Vienna and Zagreb cannot be compared at all. Do not forget, the popularity is not always a good thing!
No music vs. music everywhere
We decided on Vienna because we expected it to be more fun than Zagreb, but we got unpleasantly surprised. During our visit to Rathaus Christmas market on Friday evening, we realized there was no music at all. I’m not sure if something was wrong with their sound system or it is always like that.
I remember having a better time in Vienna past years when there was an ice skating ring next to Karl’s church and Christmas songs were blaring from the speakers. This year, it was awfully quiet. In contrary, Zagreb is full of music wherever you go. If there no a live performance, there is some kind of music.
Expensive vs. affordable
Austria is generally more expensive than Croatia (of course), but prices in Vienna went up high. For example, the same cup of mulled wine will cost you 4€ or more in Vienna and only 12 – 15 kuna (2€ or even less) in Zagreb. The same goes for sausages, coffee and basically anything you wish to buy or try. Everything in Zagreb is approximately half priced than in Vienna.
Read more: Where to eat in Vienna – Here are the best cakes in Vienna
Shop till you drop vs. having fun
After walking around the whole Viennese city center, we realized there is nothing really going on in the city. The markets were all about the shopping, 80% of the stalls were selling souvenirs and other goodies (even products from Venice – not sure why would you want to buy a Venetian mask during the advent in Vienna?), while the rest were reserved for food and drinks.
There is so many different happenings, performances, concerts and workshops going on in Zagreb that we could not believe we did not notice any in Vienna. Being one of the most popular winter destinations, Vienna was surprisingly boring for us, who did not come to shop but to have fun. At the same time, in Zagreb, we saw the concert, checked out kids workshop and went to ice skate.
Already seen vs. new and innovative
As I mentioned before, markets in Vienna were all about the shopping and less about new experiences, trying out different food and enjoying street activities with your friends and family. At the end of our stay, when I asked Jaime if he would like to visit another market, he answered “What for? They are all the same and I am not interested in buying the souvenirs.”. I guess that reflects the best how we felt about Vienna.
Read more: When did Zagreb Christmas market become that awesome?!
In Zagreb, we did not know where to go first. Should we go to ice skate in the biggest ring or should we choose the one in the museum’s atrium? Are we going to try traditional food like sarma, sausages, and fritule or modern Christmas burgers and all kinds of international food? Should we check out the designer district or ride a funicular to reach the new markets in the Upper town? I think you got the point.
These are some of the reasons why we liked Zagreb so much better. We found Vienna to be too crowded, too expensive and too boring. I am looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen in the years to come. Could the “little Vienna”, as Zagreb is often called, actually surpass it’s *big brother* and become known for it’s Christmas markets all around the Europe? Until then, forget Advent in Vienna and head to Zagreb instead!
Did you visit any Christmas market this year? Which one was your favorite?
Thanks for sharing.
Not so long ago, Christmas markets in Vienna and all around Germany were the most popular places to visit during the advent. Then appeared Budapest, Bratislava, Ljubljana… and Zagreb. Since I was a child, there was a small market in the city center, where you could buy Christmas ornaments and winter clothes of all kinds. It was the only place where you could feel the Christmas spirit in the city, besides seeing the lights on the main square and surrounding streets.
Why visit Zagreb in December?
Slowly, year by year Zagreb was getting more and more facilities and it turned into one of the most attractive winter destinations. Last year, Zagreb Christmas market was voted to be the best one in Europe, leaving many much more popular and traditional cities behind. The story of the rise of Advent in Zagreb is quite impressive and the fact it became the most important event in the city says a lot.
You need to experience the special atmosphere Zagreb offers in the time of Advent. It’s streets and squares invite you explore local traditions, sample traditional delicacies and enjoy fun activities everywhere in the city. The city looks classy and elegant, it is lively and joyful.
Read more: Winter activities for couples
When to visit Zagreb Christmas Market?
This winter, Zagreb Christmas Market is going to be the best one and the biggest one yet. From November 26 until January 8, in more than 20 locations around the city, you can enjoy everything Christmas brings: comfort food like sausages and fritule, drink hot mulled wine, heat up dancing and see few concerts and performances, all accompanied by your dear family and friends. This year, Zagreb Christmas Market is so wide and diverse that everybody can find something for themselves.
What is the best way to visit?
Being spread all around the city center, a walking tour around Christmas markets will give you the chance to see many popular locations in Zagreb as well. Last weekend we visited most of the locations in five hours and, even it is doable, I would recommend spreading it in two or three days for the first time visitors. If you are not sure how to plan your visit, what to wear and how long to stay, check out this amazing How to plan your Christmas market trip.
When the most of the events happen?
The most of the concert and performances are happening during the weekends or in the evenings, so the best time to visit is after 7 pm. However, keep in mind the city gets pretty crowded (especially on weekends) and it is hard to find a parking space (extra tip: parking is free on Saturday after 3 pm and Sundays). For most of the popular food stalls, you will need to wait in line too. If you wish to skip the crowds, we advise you to come a bit earlier.
We started our stroll around 4:30 pm, right after it started to get dark. By 8 pm city was already full. We had an opportunity to visit some of the markets, browse their offer and take pictures without many people around. Of course, more people means more fun so make sure to attend some event later on as well.
Read more: Christmas traditions in Croatia
Zagreb Christmas Market Walking Tour
Our walking tour started at the Museum of Arts and Crafts, where we check out the new Nutcracker exhibition. It served as a perfect intro to the Christmas fairy tale and we decided to see the ballet, showing in the nearby National Theatre, soon.
Christmas in the Tunnel
From the Museum we walked up on Frankopanska and Mesnicka street until we reached the newly opened Grič Tunnel. They say there are many tunnels under Zagreb’s Upper Town and this one is the first and only opened for public. It is the newest addition to the Christmas market as well! From December 16 it will be decorated with lights and a perfect venue for creative concerts.
Advent on Stross
A little brother of Summer on Stross, the Christmas market in Zagreb’s most beautiful promenade has a special charm. White wooden chalets decorated with Christmas ornaments, selling traditional foods and drinks as well as souvenirs and music in combination with the best views on Zagreb cannot go wrong.
Concerts on the Gric Meadow
Right behind the Strossmayer promenade and Lotrscak Tower, you can find a small market on Vranycyzany meadow. Being one of the newest additions to the Christmas offer, those two places are ideal for the ones who would like to escape the crowds – at least until the people discovers them. And it will – because some great concerts will be performed right here. It is also said to be the most romantic advent location!
St Mark’s Christmas Tree
The least popular square (a reference to the government buildings) in the city got one of the biggest trees this year. Stop by and take photos of Saint Mark’s church in the even more beautiful setting.
The Courtyards – Winter Edition
One of the most popular summer events got its winter edition! The Upper Town magical courtyards are always a fun place to visit and this advent they became even more magical. It is a unique experience because most of them are normally not open for public – some of the courtyards you can visit this winter are Palace Balbi, Zagreb City Museum, and Palace Amade.
Advent in Klovicevi dvori & Plato Gradec
The free concerts, ice sculptures, and the most attractive selfie location in the whole city. Come and visit the coolest skate rink, workshops and performances for the whole family and stand behind the photo frame. Don’t forget to press the button for the snow to start 🙂
Fuliranje in Tomiceva Street
After having a great time in the Upper Town, we took a funicular back to the downtown. During the advent period, the rides are completely free! After stepping out from the oldest vehicle in town, you will find yourself in Tomiceva street. A few years ago, “fuliranje in Tomiceva” (often wrongly translated like “fooling around” – actually means “flirting” in old city slang) became one of the most popular locations during the advent. Lots of fun and food – this winter in Tomiceva the Croatian celebrity chefs are cooking for you.
Christmas Fairy Tale in the Main Square
City’s main square is a home to the main Christmas tree, a concert venue (the biggest New Year’s concert is hosted here as well), small Christmas market in the western part and various food stalls on the east. Last year, they set up a magical forest decorated with snow, which looked very attractive and it soon became people’s favorite.
The Nativity Scene and Cathedral
In front of the Cathedral, you can experience the real, live nativity scene. If you have some spare time, make sure to pay a visit to the beautiful Cathedral as well.
A Food Heaven in European Square
When you get hungry, you should head to the European square, the only square in the world decorated with the million hearts. In the square filled with more than 30 wooden houses, you will find something for yourself for sure. Many fun concerts, art expositions, and hot mulled wine will heat up your heart in no moment.
Fuliranje in Kurelceva Street
Fuliranje in Tomiceva got a younger brother – disco manifestation in Kurelceva, right next to the European square. We tried some tasty sausages here – Jaime the spicy one and I had a Debrecener sausage. If you are in the mood for other kinds of food, here you can visit our favorite Submarine and try their new Christmas burger.
Zrinjevac is the central point of Christmas market, where everything started and the most visited part of the market. The musical pavilion is a true symbol of Advent, hosting various performances and concerts almost every evening. Here you will take some of the most magical photos of Zagreb Christmas market for sure.
Visit Rudolph in Strossmayer Square
In Zagreb, there is something for every age. Strossmayer’s Square is turned into the North Pole for kids, with interactive workshops, music and stage shows for different ages.
Ice park in Tomislav Square
The biggest hit of Zagreb Christmas Market is for sure the ice park! This huge skate park is probably one of the biggest ones you have ever seen – and certainly the most stunning to skate on. Located right in front of the beautiful Art Pavillion, surrounded by cute wooden houses and the fountain, the skating here definitely will be memorable.
Read more: Salaj’s Family Christmas Fairy Tale
Christmas Markets in Gajeva and Bogoviceva
The markets in the city center are the perfect place to finish your walking tour. Buy handmade Christmas ornaments with Zagreb details and grab the last portion of fritule with sugar before heading home.
If you still have some energy left, you can head to Novi Zagreb. This year’s newest locations are in a new part of the town: the New Advent in the Museum of Contemporary Art and Santa Claus’ Frozen Fairytale in Zagreb Fair are just some of the newest additions.
So, if you have always thought about Croatia like of a country of sea and sun, you might change your mind. Croatia is so much more and the great way to start exploring it is to visit the best Christmas market in Europe – Zagreb Christmas market.
Thanks for sharing.
Close your eyes and think about Christmas. Do you see a Christmas tree, family and friends gathering, good food and Christmas lights blinking everywhere? If so, you would love Salaj’s Family Christmas Fairy Tale!
Every year in December, small village Grabovnica in Croatia becomes one of the most visited destinations in Croatia. Back in December 2002, family Salaj started to decorate their estate with Christmas lights. Even though we are talking about several thousands of lights, comparing with today, the number was quite modest. Couple of years back, they broke the magical number of one million Christmas lights and this year there is already 1,85 million of them! Can you imagine your yard being decorated with almost 2 millions of lights? You just did? Now open your eyes and walk into the real Christmas fairy tale.
Christmas Fairy Tale in Croatia © Mexatia
Located only one hour drive from capital Zagreb, Christmas Fairy Tale in Grabovnica is an ideal place for a short visit. In past 13 years, it has grown from zero to 70 000 visitors (and, trust me, for a small village in a continental part of Croatia that number is huge!). It takes around three months to put all the decorations and they decorate everything – trees, plants, paths, lakes. You can walk around, enjoy different shapes and decorations, buy some souvenirs and enjoy some food and mulled wine. This year there is a special surprise – a whole new part called Smurf city! Yes, they made Smurfs and their village out of Christmas lights!
Christmas Fairy Tale in Croatia © Mexatia
This was my third visit to the estate. The first time was maybe 6-7 years ago when a number of lights was significantly lower. Two years ago I came with my parents and Frida (they allow well-behaved dog visitors) and I sent a couple of photos to Jaime as well. He loved how it looks, but I knew the photos cannot evoke the same feelings. We must visit the place the first time we would be in Croatia for holidays. The first time is a charm! As soon they opened I started to check the weather forecast. I was hoping for snow because I believed it would be amazing for him to visit when it would be all white and wonderful. Unfortunately, there was no sign of snow anytime soon, so one evening we just sat in the car and drove ourselves there.
Christmas Fairy Tale in Croatia © Mexatia
From the far, we saw sky has different color over the estate. I told him “Imagine how does it look if you can see there are lights from this far!”. The moment he saw it, he shouted “No mames!” (in this case, it would be something between OMG and no shit in English). He had no idea it was that big! It was magnificent! We bought the tickets (30 kn each ~ approx. 3,9€) and entered the fairy tale. There are no proper words to describe it. We were walking down the paths, surrounded by thousands of lights. Different colors, different shapes, some of them even play music. Decoration varies from “only” decorated trees to Gargamel and Azriel lurking over the fence to the Smurfs. It is a truly magical place.
Christmas Fairy Tale in Croatia © Mexatia
There is no better introduction into holidays than feeling a real Christmas spirit in a place like this! If you find yourself in Croatia during December or first days of January, you should definitely add this place to your list of winter activities for couples.
Božićna bajka obitelji Salaj
Grabovnica (near Čazma), Croatia
web (only in Croatian) | Facebook
opening hours 16 – 21 h, Christmas period only
entrance fee 30 kn
Check out the gallery bellow.
Did you ever visit a place like this?
Merry Christmas everyone!
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Christmas is only a couple of days away! After Maja shared how they are spending holidays in Croatia, I will tell you something about Christmas traditions in Mexico and how my family celebrates this holidays in Oaxaca, Mexican state in the south of the country.
Holidays officially start on December 1 when we start to decorate the house. We buy the prettiest pine on the local market and start with putting the decorations up. In my house, we have the custom to decorate it with golden ornaments and many white lights placed around it. Underneath the tree we place a tablecloth, next to it a small Christmas village and behind it the nativity scene.
Christmas Tree © Mexatia
Days before Christmas in Mexico are full of festivities. From 16 to 24 of December we hold traditional parties called “Las Posadas”. These nine days represent nine months of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus. Traditionally, during the posada, the whole family gets together and perform the biblical journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We are walking around the block while singing Christmas songs and lighting sparklers and candles. When we reach the house, we split into two groups (the hosts and the guests) and we recreate the moment when Mary and Joseph were looking for a shelter (in Spanish posada means inn).
The special song called “pedir posada” is sung, asking the hosts to open the door of the house. The doors are opened and celebrations can start with breaking a piñata (or few of them) and serving traditional food and drinks. We usually eat Mexican snacks as medias tortas with beans and cheese, tostadas, atole, ponche de frutas, and candies. Between friends is common to have skipped the peregrination and go directly to food and drinks.
During the whole month, you can try traditional “buñuelos” which are like a big sweet tortilla. You can eat it with honey or special pinky sugar. If that is not enough sugar for you, you can accompany it with a cup of hot artisanal chocolate, atole or champurrado.
Read more: Christmas traditions in Croatia
You might ask why piñatas for Christmas? Well, the original piñata was shaped like a star with seven points. Each point represented one of seven deadly sins. Piñatas are always made in bright colors and they look very attractive, which was a symbol of temptation and sins. Kids are usually hitting piñatas blindfolded which represent the will to overcome the sin.
Once you break the piñata (or when your faith overcame the sin), you will receive the rewards of the heaven, or in this case toys and candies. Back in the time, piñata were used as an allegory to help to evangelize the native people of Mexico. Because of that relation with the church, piñatas are still used for Christmas. However, today people buy any shape they can find, it is not only the star anymore.
23rd of December in Oaxaca there is a contest called “Noche de Rábanos” (Night of the Radishes). It is an opportunity for craftsmen to create amazing figures or historic scenes from the radish. The locals and thousands of tourists come over in the evening to admire their work. This event has its origin in the colonial period when Spaniards introduced the radish to Mexican people.
Oaxaca has a long wood carving tradition and a long time ago farmers started to carve the radish as well in order to get customers’ attention during the Christmas period so they would buy their wood products as well. Since 1897 there is a formal competition. It looks amazing so that evening you can enjoy their creativity, fireworks and also you can buy some of the handicrafts. However, the radish gets dry pretty soon and they wilt so the exposition lasts only for few hours. Also, you can’t eat the radish afterward because, in order to grow fast and big for the contest, they are full of chemicals.
Christmas day is marked by preparations for Christmas dinner. In the evening the whole family arrives at my aunt’s house and we celebrate our last posada. This posada is different because that was the day when Jesus was born. By tradition, posada is supposed to be celebrated at midnight, be we always do it a bit earlier, around 10 or 11 pm.
Each family has a sculpture of baby Jesus and after the last posada women take the sculpture in their arms and they sign a lullaby for him, playing a role of Mary. This tradition is called “arrullo del niño Dios” (it’s time to sleep baby-God). After the song, they place the baby into nativity scene and it is time to have dinner. We serve lots of different dishes like turkey, lamb, cod, salads, pork and other. I always eat a turkey leg, as you can see in the photo. 🙂 Again we smash a couple of piñatas and enjoy fireworks.
Read more: Winter wonderland in Croatia – Salaj’s Family Winter Fairytale
Christmas Dinner © Mexatia
On Christmas day we have lunch at my parents’ house. Mom usually makes “romeritos“, southern Mexican dish. Again the family arrives and celebrations continue, but it is a bit quieter because everyone is tired from last night. Stores already start to offer big discounts, so sometimes we even go to the mall to buy some things, for example, cheap Christmas decorations for next year.
New Year is a little bit different than Christmas. Usually, we celebrate Christmas with mom’s side of the family and New Year with dad’s. We prepare dinner at home and how the night goes on, my father’s brothers and sisters join us. We dinner pasta, cod, and salad. At midnight, or to be more accurate – 12 seconds before midnight, we eat one grape each second. Each grape represents one month of the upcoming year and for each, we make a promise or we ask for a wish for this new year in front of us. It is very common to promise you will do exercise, lose some weight, eat healthily or wish to get a better job, be healthy or find the love of your life. When the clock strikes midnight, we make a toast, hug each other and congratulate. The dinner continues until 2 or 3 am. As you can see, it is not common to go out and party, we traditionally spend the evening with family.
Each grape represents one month of the upcoming year and for each, we make a promise or we ask for a wish for this new year in front of us. It is very common to promise you will do exercise, lose some weight, eat healthily or wish to get a better job, be healthy or find the love of your life. When the clock strikes midnight, we make a toast, hug each other and congratulate. The dinner continues until 2 or 3 am. As you can see, it is not common to go out and party, we traditionally spend the evening with family.
Holidays magic ends with January 6, “Día de los Reyes Magos”. It is a day when all good kids receive presents (like Santa Claus) and they are playing with them the whole day. In the evening we enjoy “Rosca de Reyes”. It is some kind of bread that looks like a big and very tasty donut. Inside of it are hidden 3 little toys. Each person cuts their piece of bread and if you get the toy you need to make tamales and atole on February 2, “Día de la Candelaria”. We usually eat this bread while drinking hot chocolate and after everyone says is time to start the diet 🙂
Which Mexican tradition do you like the most? How do you celebrate holidays in your country?
Thanks for sharing.