Some travellers like to jet off to warm and sunny destinations as Christmas approaches, while others like to embrace the holiday season. If you’re one of the latter, Croatia offers a wide range of winter festivities that are perfect for kids and adults alike.

While Christmas is certainly the centerpiece of holiday celebrations, the advent period leading up to December 25 is well worth flying to the country for. Traditions include serving mulled wine and punch as well as fritule doughnuts and germknödel, so be prepared to bring your appetite.

If you plan to visit Croatia during the holidays, here are five cities that go over the top:

Zagreb

The Advent Zagreb Christmas market has been named the best Christmas Market in Europe three years in a row, not just because of the food and numerous concerts, but also the warm hospitality of the locals who go out of their way to make visitors feel like family. Nativity scenes appear in the city’s churches, and the decorations in cobblestoned areas like Upper Town look magical.

Stroll through the many squares and parks, locations for charming, romantic winter walks. Enjoy concerts of the most beautiful Christmas songs performed by local soloists, ensembles, and orchestras. Try some of the classics of local gastronomy on the numerous terraces of Zagreb restaurants, as well as the catering stands, and see why love passes through the stomach. From carefully designed holiday menus with indigenous traditional food and local wines, to appropriately decorated facades and interiors, the Christmas story lives on in every corner of this historic city.

Opatija

With its cinematic seaside landscape, the charming city of Opatija boasts the “most beautiful Advent by the Sea” program that runs from December 1 through January . It has won thousands of hearts and is a must-visit destination this winter if you are travelling to Croatia. And even though it’s a coastal town, that doesn’t mean snowflakes don’t fall here. This well-known seaside health resort located at the foot of Mount Učka (a popular hiking destination), boasts giant Nutcracker figures with their signature red guard uniforms, as well as age-old cypress trees framing the landscape for perfect photographs and romantic walks. It doesn’t get more winter wonderland than the city of Opatija during the holidays. From the town market to the picturesque fishing village of Volosko and the famed Lungomare coastal promenade, this city should be on everyone’s itinerary during their Croatian winter journey. This beautiful city is often compared to Nice in France.

Dubrovnik

The city’s winter festival, now in its tenth year, makes this coastal town a sparkling spectacle. From the New Year’s Eve concert with local music legend, Zdravko Čolić, the festival offers visitors 20 concerts against various city backdrops. Explore Dubrovnik’s famous cobblestoned pedestrian-only avenue, Stradun, created in the 11th century, at your own leisurely pace (it runs through the Old Town, surrounded by the Walls of Dubrovnik). It becomes the backdrop for some of the finest musical performances of the season, culminating in a grand finale on January 6. Kids can enjoy winter wonderland-themed programs including the North Pole station in Lazareti, the Colourful Winter in the Bay of Lapad complete with a train and ice-skating rink, and several activities in Mokošica, the city’s largest settlement. And the best treat is the visit of the real Santa Claus from the Finnish city of Rovaniemi in Lapland—Dubrovnik marks his first stop around the world.

Motovun

If you have dreamed of experiencing a hilltop Christmas, the Istrian medieval town of Motovun is the best and perhaps most enchanting winter escape you could imagine. The bell tower stands next to a parish church, St. Stephen, from the 17th century and the nearby forest of Motovun is a preserved type of lowlands (Iongozas) that are excellent escapes for the nature buff, filled with oak, narrow-leaf ash, and elm trees. An ideal place to call home for the winter is Hotel Kaštel situated in the restored palace of the Polesini family, which is decked to sparkling levels during the holiday season. The “Magic on the Hill” advent season runs through the end of the year when Old Town is decked in thousands of illuminated lights and lavish decorations. Kids can revel in a special Christmas Garden, and Santa’s House that is great for photos.

Slunj

Slunj, a picturesque village nestled in the heart of Croatia, has been recently recognized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as one of the top tourist villages in the world. The accolade solidifies the village’s reputation as a must-visit destination for travellers who want a truly authentic journey to Croatia. During the winter months, visitors will fall in love with this enchanting village that is illuminated by hundreds of lights, while enjoying its wonderful walks in nature, crossing the bridges in Rastoke, and culinary delicacies.

Source: Croatian National Tourist Board

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