'We Have a Problem': Looking for Accommodation During Advent in Zagreb

By 9 January 2018

With Advent in Zagreb finally coming to a close on January 7, we look back on the challenging feat of finding an apartment in the Croatian capital in December

The success of this year's Advent in Zagreb wasn't only reflected in its third consecutive title of the Best European Christmas market. The numbers speak for themselves: in the month of December, the popular manifestation recorded a 23% increase in visitors compared with 2016, with an increase in overnight stays to match. Let's not forget that last year's Advent saw a 36% increase in traffic compared with 2015; with such an astounding growth rate and an estimated revenue of half a billion kuna in last month alone, the project is arguably the most successful initiative of Zagreb's Tourist Board thus far.

Keeping in mind it has only been three years so far, it will be interesting to observe things moving forward from this point on. Will there be any significant changes to the format and content, or will the Tourist Board stick with the classic approach - if it ain't broke, don't fix it? Is there a plateau to hit? And, to cite a factor I've been thinking about lately... Imagine the next Advent marking an additional spike of 30% - where will all those people sleep?

See, this past month, scoring accommodation in Zagreb has been a mission impossible. Most tourists were probably smart enough to book a place or a hotel room at least a month in advance, the earlier the better. Some of us locals, however, forgot about the ongoing frenzy and went about their visits to Zagreb just like it was any other time of year. A grave mistake. The same applies to transport; I can't speak of air travel, but most bus lines were selling out like someone was handing out free candy. Failing to buy a ticket a week in advance meant having to settle with the most expensive service provider and/or questionable departure times. You live and learn.


Zrinjevac Park / Advent in Zagreb

I've been to Zagreb on three occasions during the Advent craze, and I kept track of private accommodation on offer as I was curious to see how things would develop. Official data aside, here's a rundown of events solely based on personal experience.

Before December rolled around, I travelled to Zagreb on the weekend on November 17-18 to see a music gig. I checked available listings on Airbnb, and the city turned out to be a playground at my disposal; I could afford to be picky regarding the location and the price, and I settled on a lovely apartment in the centre which cost me 230 kuna with all fees included.

Cue Advent: three weeks later, we had a TCN Christmas dinner planned for December 9 (read more here). I always have the option of staying with friends, but seeing that I had a fabulous colleague tagging along for the weekend, I decided to get us an apartment instead of disturbing said friends by coming home in ungodly hours of the night. I logged into Airbnb on December 1, set the date and a reasonable price range, and was met with... nothing. Every single place in Zagreb was booked, the only remaining options being located in the suburbs or smaller towns in Zagreb County. Sesvete, Zaprešić, Velika Gorica, Zagreb airport. Even further: Gornja Pačetina, a village in Krapina-Zagorje County whose name roughly translates to 'upper duck'. Not the best scenario when you're planning a night on the town.

I upped the price range, but save for a couple of apartments with a €300 price tag, no luck.


A visual representation of the accommodation market in December.

We ended up finding a place by sheer miracle; after I refreshed the site for a hundredth time, a new listing mysteriously appeared, allowing us to book an apartment in the centre. The relief was short-lived, as I got a call from the owner a couple of days prior to our trip. 'We have a problem' are not the words you want to hear in the Advent-in-Zagreb season.

'I have an elderly couple staying at the place you booked, and the gentleman is recovering from a medical procedure. They were supposed to leave on Saturday morning, but he was just called to come for a check-up on Monday so they want to stay through the weekend...'


Is it Advent we're visiting? Could we maybe come next weekend instead? No. So, no chance to reschedule? No. Could I maybe look for another apartment? Where, in Upper Duck? No. But she doesn't have the heart to kick out an old couple, half of whom is recovering from surgery... Okay, I get that, and I wouldn't insist on it anyway - sounds like a magnet for bad karma. But is there an alternative she could provide?

Well, she said, there is one other option. We could stay at her son's place on Saturday, but I'm free to look into available listings and book another apartment in the meantime. As there were none, I was quick to accept the offer. This wasn't a time to be picky. I bit my tongue when I saw the replacement for our one-bedroom apartment with two double beds was a small bachelor's pad with an ancient pull-out sofa. I bit my tongue when I saw the scorpion-themed paraphernalia on the shelves. I didn't even ask for a partial refund. We were just happy to have a place to crash.

Oh, and I checked some of the listings I've looked at in November. That first lovely apartment of mine was booked every single day of the month, with the price going up from 230 to 472 kuna in December. 'Twas the season to be jolly, indeed - people on the continent finally got a taste of the accommodation business on the coast in summer months. Who could blame them for trying to cash in?

Three more weeks passed, and I returned for New Year's Eve. This time I did stay with a friend, but out of curiosity, I checked the accommodation situation once again. Same thing, everything booked. In days leading to December 31, the cups of Airbnb and were overflowing, madness spilling onto social media. I've seen a dozen of desperate appeals on Facebook: groups of friends, young couples, various people who were begging college students to sublet their rooms while they were home for the holidays. I wonder if they all got their lucky ending.

I just got back from Zagreb once again, having spent a weekend in the capital; January 6-7, the last two days of the manifestation. The hype was slowly dying down, and I didn't even bother to check what's on offer online. Some of the Advent locations have already closed, with souvenirs packed up and booths taken down; the festivities were over, after all, and the spirit wasn't as merry as before. It was time to sober up and get on with our lives. The last remaining visitors took some selfies in front of winter-wonderland setups, twirled around at the Ice Park and sipped on mulled wine on the main square. A couple of hours later, a tangible silence descended on the city, save for the fact you could almost hear the residents dwelling in the centre let out a collective sigh of relief. It really did get crowded for a while.