Popular among today’s travelers and sun-seekers for its balmy beach diversions and shimmering, cerulean seas, Croatia is the stuff of Mediterranean dreams. Situated at the intersection of Central and Southeast Europe along the Balkan Peninsula, it is a veritable playground in the summer months, beckoning visitors with a myriad of warm-weather pursuits, by land and by sea. But as the seasons change, this beauty has quite a few tricks up her sleeves—particularly in the capital city of Zagreb to the northwest, where savvy travelers will find a wealth of activities to suit just about every interest, all year long. From theatrical performances and outdoor concerts to special museum exhibitions and vibrant holiday markets, Zagreb is a stage for unforgettable experiences, no matter the season.
Fall is indeed in the air, and in Zagreb, that’s cause for celebration. During the season, you'll see many locals out and about enjoying brisker days and a myriad of outdoor festivals and events. With temperatures hovering around 60 degrees during the day, October is an ideal time to explore Zagreb's 20-plus farmers' markets. Chief among them is the Dolac Market, located just outside the main city square. In operation for more than 80 years and open seven days a week, it is steeped in tradition. Wander beneath the market's iconic red umbrellas past stalls selling everything from fresh cheese to flowers, local crafts and handmade pasta—and be sure to sample freshly baked corn bread, a market specialty. Come November, the Zagreb Film Festival is the talk of the town. This year, the festival will showcase more than 100 films by up-and-coming filmmakers from around the world in theaters, museums and cultural centers across the city. Catch a film screening, attend a lecture by esteemed film professionals such as Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin, or sign up for a workshop to learn about everything from screenwriting to virtual reality production.
While Europe suffers no shortage of vibrant Christmas markets, Zagreb holds claim to one of the very best, known here as Advent in Zagreb. This perennial crowd favorite boasts the impressive designation of Best Christmas Market for the last three years running, according to popular votes cast in the respected European Best Destinations online poll. Kicking off November 30 and extending through January 7, 2020, the market is home to an ice skating rink, live musical performances, festive decorations and a slew of market stalls, offering handmade wares, warm Croatian pastries, mulled wine and other savory treats. Don’t miss the towering holiday tree at the market’s centerpiece for a festive photo opp after dark. With temperatures spanning 30 to 40 degrees in December and January, just be sure to bring a warm jacket—or maybe swig an extra glass of that tasty mulled wine to keep you extra toasty. Zagreb also offers plenty of opportunities to escape the cold. Head to the breweries on Opatovina Street to explore Zagreb's emerging craft beer scene, then grab a bite in the city’s Old Town before winding your way through the historic streets on foot.
If you aren’t quite convinced by temperatures climbing into the 50s and 60s, you’ll know that spring is truly in the air when the Festival of Lights kicks off. From March 18-22, 2020, the city streets become the canvas for a unique exhibition of light art. Colorful projections and installations invite you to see a different and more whimsical side of the city by night. As spring progresses, take to the streets once again for the convivial C’est is d’Best, a multimedia street fest that kicks off on May 29, 2020 and runs through June 2. We’ll spare you the detailed directions; as long as you’re in the city center, you'll encounter one of C'est is d'Best's many installations. The festival takes over seemingly every street, storefront, nook and cranny, infusing the area with music, dancing, one-of-a-kind street performances, and a tangible spirit of celebration. For something that appeals a bit more to the olfactory senses, don’t miss Floraart—the international flower exhibition now in its 54th year. Slated for May 16-21 in Bundek Park, it boasts over 74 acres of outdoor floral exhibits and a variety of special events. Of course, this season also affords ample opportunities to explore all of Zagreb’s many spoils on foot. Take a twilight stroll along Tkalciceva Street, which runs along the border of the medieval towns of Kaptol and Gradec, affording an up-close look at the city’s rich history juxtaposed with an array of bustling cafés and storefronts.
It’s tough to beat the summer months in Zagreb, when you’re likely to enjoy temperatures ranging from the low 60s to the high 70s just about every day of the week. If your dates align, visit one of the open-air concerts as featured in the Zagreb Classic, taking place at the gorgeous King Tomislav Square and featuring a range of talents from various local orchestras, such as the Jazz and Zagreb Philharmonics, as well as the Croatian National Theater Opera company. For something a little more uptempo, don’t miss the INmusic Festival, this year slated for June 22-24 and featuring artists including The Cure, Foals, Thievery Corporation, Frank Turner and more. Beyond the music scene, July brings a unique opportunity to experience a true slice of life in Zagreb with The Courtyards, essentially opening the doors to historical buildings and spaces within the city’s Upper Town that are now privately owned and are otherwise, outside of the event dates of July 12-21, off limits to visitors. Now in its sixth year, the event opens new courtyards to the public with each iteration, so every year is sure to surprise. For the literary-inclined among us, Sea of Books affords a welcome way to slow down for a bit amid the bustling city center, with over 500 books in both Croatian and English available for visitors of Zrinjevac Park to enjoy al fresco. With countless other diversions, from the International Folklore Festival to Summer on Stross—a playful 100-day event that reimagines a popular city promenade as a more eastern version of Montmartre—the summer months are truly alive in Zagreb, and you’ll be spoiled for choice with outdoor activities.
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With so much to see and do year-round, Zagreb truly is a stage where your most decadent travel fantasties can play out, no matter the season. And thanks to its enviable location and diverse history, Croatia is home to a rich and varied gastronomic culture that provides the perfect pairing to its many outdoor activities. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Zagreb, where you can taste and sip your way through the city’s many acclaimed restaurants, market stalls, local wineries and craft breweries as your appetite allows. What is the best month to visit Zagreb? We can think of 12.