Croatian Traditional Handmade Toys

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

Ever wondered what to buy in Croatia? I highly recommend these traditional handmade wooden toys made by locals in the Zagorije region.

Handmade in Croatia, in the north of Zagreb in Hrvatsko Zagorje, you’ll find toymakers producing the sweetest wooden toys. They were carved by the men (and a few machines) from locally grown willow beech and lime trees in the village. Once carved, the local women paint them in bright, colorful designs.

Buying souvenirs to bring back from Croatia is so easy; there are so many to choose from, and these wooden toys make such a suitable gift for children – I know my 2-year-old loves his handmade wooden plane and train.

What to Buy in Croatia Traditional Handmade Toys_Playing

Wooden Toys With A Long History

Few things stay the same over time. However, the traditional wooden toys made by villagers in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region of northern Croatia have remained almost unchanged for centuries. The reason for this is that the technique has been handed down through the generations. Some of the time-consuming woodworking techniques of the past have been made easy by the introduction of modern machinery, but that has not meant the loss of the art.

Last fall, we were staying in Marija Bistrica, in the Hrvatsko Zagorje area, and I simply just had to see this time-honored tradition for myself. Visiting the home of one of the local artisans ranks highly as one of my best experiences of being a travel blogger yet. Arranged by the kind staff of 4-star Hotel Bluesun Kaj, we were taken to meet one of the very few people still practicing the toy-making craft.

Watching the widening smile on the face of my 2-year-old develop as we got closer and closer to the table of pre-made toys was priceless.

What to Buy in Croatia_Handmade Toys
Just Some Of The Many Wooden Toys In His Collection

After giving the Little Donkey some instructions on playing nice with the display, I sat down to chat to the local artisan about his family’s wooden toy-making traditions, which were inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009.

I was fascinated to learn that typically the materials are sourced from the beach, lime, maple, and soft willow trees indigenous to the area and that he often goes and cuts down the trees himself.

Traditional Handmade Toys_Wood

After the wood has been cut and dried, it is then cut and carved using a mix of traditional woodworking tools and modern machinery to become the most delightful children’s toys eventually.

What to buy in Croatia_Wooden Toys pin


We were invited from his display room into his workshop to learn more about the toy-making process – which I took all of three seconds to agree to go to.

I had been secretly hoping that we would be invited to the workshop to see the process in action. The only person not happy about the idea was the Little Donkey; the poor little guy wanted to stay and play with the display toys.

What to buy in Croatia_Wooden Toy Plane
My Little Donkey enjoying the wooden toy display

Where Can You Buy Wooden Toys In Croatia?

What to buy in Croatia_How to makeMany crafts stores and souvenir stores in and around Zagorje and Zagreb have incredible displays of these toys. You may also be lucky enough to find these colorful creations in stores along the Dalmatian Coast.

So popular are these creations; they can be found in fairs, markets, and souvenir shops the world over. Although your absolute best place to buy souvenirs of the wooden kind is in the charming town of Marija Bistrica at the Sunday fair.


How Are The Wooden Toys Made?

What to buy in Croatia-Wooden Toy WhistlesThe craftsman explained that once the toys have been shaped and glued into the cheerful planes, trains, doll furniture, and a multitude of other toys, the women then apply paint. In years gone by, the paint was made using pigments and dyes from local vegetation; however, now, non-toxic kid-friendly paint is used.

The colors of each toy are unique and really bring the toys to life. Jumping horses, tiny furniture, cars, whistles, and flapping birds are some of the other great wooden toys these precious townspeople manufacture. The villagers even make tiny wooden instruments for local children that are used as part of music education.



The Biggest Wooden Horse You Have Ever Seen

What to buy in Croatia-Wooden Toy Souvenirs

After listening to how such wooden toys are made and purchasing a few items for the Little Donkey, we asked if we would

be interested in seeing his biggest wooden toy creation. Intrigued, I followed him to his storage area, and under a few layers of dust, was one of the largest wooden horses I have ever, and I bet I’ll ever see.  He dusted off the horse’s main and rolled it out into the garden area. All I could think was what a waste  – what a shame that such a creation was not on display in the main town.

My little Donkey was too apprehensive about sitting on the carriage, but I am sure many other children would squeal with delight if this were on show.

What to buy in Croatia_Giant Wooden Horse

So, now you know exactly what to buy in Croatia for the little ones in your family. These traditional folk instruments and children’s wooden toys bring great joy to both children and adults, so be sure to purchase one on your vacation to Croatia this year.

Which one of these wooden toys would you rush to buy first?

Comments (27)

  1. 2 years ago there was a toy exhibition in Zagreb called World of Toys. It was really nicely done. We loved it!

  2. Just checking in to see what you’ve been up to. And very happy to discover that you’ve been playing with some beautiful toys. :)

  3. These toys are great! I love how colorful and durable they look. Thanks for including all the useful information on how these were made. My kids are little old for some of these toys but they would love those wooden instruments. I hope that giant horse gets displayed somewhere soon.

  4. Isn’t it great that these old skills and crafts continue? There’s something very special about wooden toys.

  5. lol @ “my little donkey”….

    I remember your post from last year and really enjoyed it. I think that buying traditional toys and items while on vacation is a great way to remember a trip ESPECIALLY if it is some thing that can be used and not just put on display. Kids love wooden toys because they are so durable with a nice real weight to them as opposed to light plastic toys.

    Angie from reasons to dress

  6. To me, it is always interesting to take a look at the crafts of different regions or countries. You post brings to memory other places where I have seen artisans working wooden crafts (Oaxaca, Thailand). It is a time consuming process and requires skill. I have to admire the patience and perseverance of those who create them.

  7. Hi I recently found your blog through expat bloggers Europe on Facebook. I’m currently living and blogging on a Greek island, I’d love to join in the #SundayTraveller linky but where are the hosts?

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