Zagreb Christmas Carol – Selfguided

Quick intro to our selection of seasonal Zagreb tales

This page works as a short self-guided tour that will give you an insight into the fun stories we share on the face-to-face Zagreb Christmas Carol tour. Simply scroll down to the first location – the map will help you understand where to go. The tour showcases five spots, accompanied by a curious story with several fun facts related to the end-of-the year traditions. 

Duration: cca 40 min.

Starting and ending point: Trg bana Josipa Jelačića (central city square).

This tour is created for the winter holiday season 2023/24.

Cover illustration: Igor Ivanović – Brainless Studio

1st stop: Jelačić Square

Christmas wreath

The place to be for the holiday season

This is the main city square with history that goes back to middle ages. At the time, it was just a marketplace. It became a proper square in the 1800s, and the statue of governer Jelačić was placed here in December 1866.

Yes, December has been an exciting month on this square for centuries. We chose it as a starting point for this selfguided christmas-themed tour, because this is where, back in the day, the St Nicholas fair took place. St Nicholas feast day (6th December) is a start of true Christmas festivities connected with children’s joy and gift-bringing.

We could call St Nicholas Day an overture to Christmas. Small gifts, children’s anticipation, seasonal magic, even a saint (so that the religious side of Christmas doesn’t slide through). On St Nicholas Eve, children will clean their boots and put them in their windows. In the morning, they will find a present inside!

However, there’s a downside to that date, too. Even now, if you come here in the days just before St Nicholas’ feast day, you will notice street vendors selling golden twigs. If you’re getting really curious now, and would like to know what this is all about, let us invite you to read or listen to the full story about that day on our sister project Croatia Underrated podcast.

When you’re at the central square during the holiday season, you might be attracted to the beautiful decoration of the Manduševac well close to the visitors center.

The fountain’s round shape inspired the Christmas wreath decoration. A similar decoration is often found in households all over Croatia. The wreath holds 4 candles – each one gets lit on one of the four Sundays up to Christmas.

It’s time to move on to the next location. Pay attention, as it is hidden in the busy Ilica street. But don’t forget to come back here for the New Year’s Eve celebration, as this is the place of the largest celebration in the entire country.

2nd stop: Oktogon passage

Oktogon passage in Zagreb

Your voice in gramophone

First things first – when you get to the middle of this passage, look up and enjoy the wonderful glass ceiling. The central part has eight sides, and that’s why the entire building goes by Oktogon.

This passage from the edge of the 19th and 20th centuries was imagined to be a luxury shopping zone. Zagreb Christmas Carol tour shares some fun stories about Zagreb winter records. Here, we’d like to present one of those tales – it’s a record created through recording!

A famous Zagreb inventor and a serial entrepreneur Slavoljub Penkala owned, among other businesses, a factory called Edison Bell Penkala that produced gramophones and records. He was the first person to record Croatian voices, and he organized the first public recording in Europe. It happened on the 4th December 1927, almost 100 years ago. He published an ad in the local newspaper, inviting everyone to join the church choir in the Zagreb cathedral. The ad promised “Your voice in gramophone!” Hundreds of people gathered, and together they sang two Croatian Christmas carols. Those are Narodi nam se and Tebe Boga hvalimo. If you wish to hear the recording, no problem at all! They are published as a part of the digital archives of Croatian National and University Library.

If you’d like to get more ideas for the hidden passages around Ilica street, continue to this post we wrote for Love Zagreb blog. Or stay on the route and continue to the funicular.

3rd stop: Funicular - Uspinjača

A visionary ride

Now is the time to reach the Upper Town, and is there a better way, than taking a funicular? Some claim that it’s the shortest one in the world. The tracks are only 66 m long, and the cost of the ride is only 66 cents. There is a stairway next to it if you prefer to walk. The funicular was quite a visionary project, as it was built by an entrepreneur. Mr Klein believed it would be a good opportunity to build an elevator that connected the Lower and the Upper Town. Both areas are considered to be a part of the historical city. However, the Upper Town goes all the way back to Middle Ages. The Lower Town was only being built in the 1800s. The Oktogon passage, where you just came from, is almost a decade younger than the funicular, believe it or not.

Speaking of visions, December is the perfect time of the year for some end-of-the year folk wisdom that includes divination and looking into the future. The most magical day is St Lucy’s Feast Day (13th December).

Just like St Nicholas, Lucy is a gift-bringer. It’s another one of those days of joy for Croatian children. Joy with a twist. Luckily enough, usually, it’s not the same parts of Croatia that give gifts for St Nicholas and St Lucy’s. Because the kids certainly wouldn’t survive the terror of both. What exactly are we talking about, you can read and listen to if you hop over to Croatia Underrated again. You’ll find a whole story about St Lucy’s Feast day divinations and traditions. It will keep you entertained during the funicular ride.

Now is the time to walk through the old Upper Town. Let’s head straight to the colourful St Mark’s Square.

4th stop: St Mark's Square

st mark square zagreb

The heart of the old town

St Mark’s Square is one of the most iconic sights of Zagreb. The attention-grabbing church with its recognisable rooftop is the city’s top attraction. Throughout history, this was one of the most visited churches for a Midnight Service on Christmas Eve.

This square used to be the heart of the old town since the Middle Ages, and now has an upgraded title – it’s the heart of the entire country with Croatian Government and Parliament around the church.

Speaking of hearts, did you know that one of the most typical Christmas tree ornaments of the region are little red hearts? Another story at Croatia Underrated will explain the value of the centuries-old tradition.

And now, off to our last stop – straight through the exit from this old part of town. If you were a kid who grew up in this neighbourhood several decades ago, as soon as it would start snowing, there was no chance you would walk down the hill. You would instantly head towards the main square, through the Stone Gate –  sledding!

5th stop: Stone Gate - Kamenita vrata

kamenita vrata stone gate zagreb

Ending at the exit

This curious place is known as the Stone Gate. It looks like a small tunnel with a chapel within. Back in the day, this was a medieval town gate that guarded the Upper Town area. As you step into the Stone Gate passage, the scent of candles and a respectful silence take over and you simply have to stop for a second and ask yourself: what is this place?

Although everyone in a big part of the world simply loves Christmas festivities (don’t they?), the period is especially meaningful for Christians. This place is meaningful for them, too. The Stone Gate passage is a Marian shrine. The city was severely damaged in the great 1731 fire. According to the famous local legend, on this spot, they discovered a painting of the Mother of God and baby Jesus. The painting was intact.

The painting had belonged to a woman who lived by the Stone Gate. She had it in her apartment and even had built a wooden altar for the painting. All of that burnt in the big fire, even the frames of the painting turned into ashes. But as the flames reached the very painting, they stopped and left it complete. The painting was discovered on 31 May and that date is now celebrated as the day of the city of Zagreb.

Just like with Christmas, no matter if people are Christians or not, they feel this place is magical and wonderous. Can you feel it, too?

There is a certain word written on the walls of the Stone Gate passage over and over again. We would like to say the same to you for joining this tour. The word is: hvala!

What does that mean? Find out by reading this post that we wrote for Love Zagreb blog.

If you pass through the Stone Gate and head down the street, you will be back where we started from – at the Ban Jelačić Square.

Hvala for joining and hope to see you on one of our guided tours, too!

Are you enjoying the Secret Zagreb exploration? Try these activities next:

Zagreb Christmas Carol

If you enjoyed this self-guided teaser, try out our full tour in the company of a passionate storyteller, and dozens of curiosities.

Contact us to make reservations.

Join the full Zagreb Christmas Carol tour

13 Nights photo tour

You prefer to continue exploring on your own? We have more ideas! Have you seen our downloadable photo tour? This one is about Zagreb after dark.

Photo by Branko Nađ

Happy holidays!