Advent in Zagreb 2020: a Comprehensive Overview

By 26 November 2020

November 26, 2020 - Advent in Zagreb 2020 is scheduled to kick off on Saturday. A comprehensive look at a largely online event with a festive Croatian background. 

As the craziest year in the history of tourism enters its final weeks, there is one major event in the Croatian calendar to go - Advent. 

Advent tourism in Croatia is a relatively new thing. Until relatively recently, apart from a few stalls in some cities, it was not really celebrated as a tourism spectacle. That all changed several years ago, when Zagreb decided to expand its Advent offer from a small event on the main square to a more comprehensive offer all over the city. 

The results were spectacular. Rather than hibernating for the winter months, Zagreb locals delighted in the lively spirit of Advent in Zagreb, welcoming hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over Europe and beyond. So successful was the initiative that Zagreb was voted best Christmas market in Europe three years in a row. The Advent promotion has helped the Croatian capital emerge from the shadows of more famous capital city neighbours such as Vienna, Prague and Budapest, to become a desirable destination in its own right. Lonely Planet even named Zagreb the best destination in Europe in 2017. 

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So what of Advent in Zagreb 2020? Would it go ahead?

With such an unpredictable situation regarding the pandemic, any decision to proceed would have to include flexibility, and it is clear that Advent in Zagreb 2020 would look a LOT different to previous years.

And so it will. Advent in Zagreb 2020 will go ahead from Saturday until New Year's Day, but if you are expecting to huddle around mulled wine watching the ice skating or sampling local sausages from the wooden stalls usually dotted around the centre, you will be disappointed. 

Instead, the authorities have decided on a strategy which brings out the beauty of festive Zagreb, while using technology to promote the art and cultural treasures of the festive season, while providing enticing content to allow visitors to enjoy the city. With a close eye on the epidemiological situation, this year's event has several novelties and is expected to attract a considerable participation all over the globe through its online streaming. By preserving the magic of the city at this special time of year, the memories of Advent in Zagreb will be fresh, with the sincere hope that it will be close to business as usual for Advent in Zagreb 2021. 

The airlines seem to expect Advent visitors. As TCN has reported in recent days, several airlines have announced a resumption or increase in flights to Zagreb during the festive period, with Turkish Airlines alone selling 5,700 seats. Qatar and Austrian have also announced plans, making the Croatian capital quite accessible for those who want to visit. 

So how will Advent in Zagreb 2020 look like, and what is there to look forward to?

"Every year we try to enrich our Advent with novelties and we have decided that this year, which is extraordinary by all parameters, will not be an exception," explained Zagreb Tourist Board Director, Martina Bienenfeld. "So we prepared the Light of Advent project where we, with 10 institutions in the Upper Town, will decorate their windows in the holiday spirit, and we invite tenants and everyone else to become part of this initiative. Namely, with this project we want to begin a warm story, bring positive emotions, create a sense of community and, ultimately, encourage our fellow citizens to get involved and thus give their contribution to Advent.

"Another novelty is the Zagreb Nativity Scene, more precisely the online exhibition of photographs of Christmas nativity scenes taken from 2007 to 2020, and there is also an interactive augmented reality exhibition Virtual Christmas Windows. This exhibition will bring a touch of Christmas atmosphere using animated motifs of this year's Advent in Zagreb, and will be set in 20 locations in the city in parks, squares, and large open spaces."

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Music will be a core theme of Advent in Zagreb 2020, with no less than 9 separate music programmes and 95 concerts in all. These will take place in concert halls and outdoors, with the appropriate measures adhered to, as well as streamed online. The 9 programmes offer a diverse cultural choice - Evenings with Brahms; The Festival of Advent and Christmas Songs; Advent Classic Fest; Advent concerts of Zagreb Soloists; Advent concerts of the Zagreb Chamber Orchestra; Zagreb Harp Festival; Advent under the Lantern; Concert from the Christmas Balconies; and Advent Postcards from Zagreb. You can check out the full musical programme here

There will also be plenty of cultural attractions, with something for all the family. These include the Ilica Project: Q'ART Community Festival, bringing the best from local craftsmen, exhibitors, music and other programmes.  The 10th exhibition of the Association of Friends of Croatian Nativity Scene at the Ethnographic Museum presents 42 nativity scenes from Zagreb and all over Croatia. 

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Zagreb is a city of museums, and Advent at the Museum will see some special prices and offers from some of its best-known museums. Santa Claus will be putting in appearances at the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Museum of Illusions and the Zagreb Chocolate Museum. Perhaps the most intriguing museum travel experience is to be had at the recently-opened Museum of Hangovers, where one can take an alcoholic tour of Advent drinks around the world, while those yearning for memories of a pre-pandemic world should check out the Zagreb 80s Museum, which will be offering both a holiday atmosphere akin to that bygone era, including mulled wine prepared to a recipe of the time.  If you manage to visit all five museums (all of which are at a discounted price), you will go into a prize draw. 

The Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall will be holding a number of concerts, while the Theatre Mala Scena will be providing entertainment from the stage, pending the epidemiological situation. 

There is also lots to enjoy for the little ones, One of the most intriguing is called Fairytale to Go: Little Red Riding Hood, Wolf and Grandma, which will take place weekly in the forest close to Ribnjak Park. The classic fairytale is told through headphones as participants walk through the woods, hearing the perspectives of each character in the story.  But this is a very active enactment of the famous fairytale, and it comes with karate practice with the wolf, flower painting with Little Red Riding Hood, and helping Grandma tell the story of the long-nosed princess and the dragon. And when the kids are finished with that, head to the Mini Train Museum and the Backo Mini Express, the fifth-largest model railway in Europe. More details on all these programmes here.  

Advent in the Croatian capital has had a very active element to it for a number of years now - the Zagreb Advent Run. This year's race will necessarily be different due to the situation, but that does not mean any less fun. Indeed, this year's race will be run over three days, with participants able to choose the route they want, finishing at the Westin Hotel, dressed as usual in the seasonal costumes of Santa,  fairies, elves and other Xmas superstars. Run as much as you feel - more details here

Due to the current situation, the usual crowds will be absent, which will make Advent in Zagreb 2020 all the more special. The city will be festively decorated, adding a little more romance to a quiet stroll through its parks and squares. A great new addition to this year's event is the introduction of AR, with some 20 squares and parks brought to life with engaging content using augmented reality via a specialist app. Learn more about the Virtual Christmas Windows app from Equinox XR.

A responsible approach to the current situation means that the traditional little wooden stalls serving mulled wine and culinary specialities will not be on show this year, and the gastronomic choices in general are very dependent on the latest COVID-19 situation. Currently, it has been announced that bars and restaurants will be closed until December 21 - TCN will bring you the latest changes.   

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Zagreb's hotels are open and waiting for your visit. Several have prepared seasonally-themed offers, details of which you can find here.

Advent in Zagreb 2020 will be unlike any other before or after. Not everything will go according to plan for sure, but one thing is certain - the city will once again look magical with its unique atmosphere. Come and enjoy it, either online on in person, before normal Advent service is restored next year. 

For the full Advent in Zagreb 2020 programme and further information, visit the official website.

For the latest news on the coronavirus situation, follow the dedicated section

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