We’ve been dreaming of travelling to Croatia for as long as we can remember, primarily to experience firsthand the fantastic emerald pools and waterfalls of Plitvice and enjoy the country’s unspoiled coastline host to 1246 islands.
With nearly 2000 kilometres of primarily rocky shoreline scattered with occasional white pebbly beaches, Croatia’s crystal clear water is renowned for having the most incredible fifty shades of blue.
Ever since the 1990’s wars that rocked the former Yugoslav republics, Croatia has emerged with a solid and contemporary infrastructure and a progressive attitude towards protecting the environment.
Occupying a unique position in the Balkans, sandwiched between Central and Southern Europe, right across Italy, Croatia is where Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Islam have converged. From Roman palaces found in the UNESCO World Heritage historical centre in Split to the Gothic and Renaissance influences in Dubrovnik (also UNESCO), the evidence of former empires has left a lasting legacy.
Croatia’s National Parks
Croatia is a nature lovers paradise. This environmentally friendly nation has 8 recognised national parks along with 7 other designations for protecting natural areas. With the Dinaric Alps rising quickly from the coast, Croatia’s geography ranges from gentle azure seascapes to powerful mountain landscapes. As pine forest backed beaches give way to karst mountain waterfalls and emerald green lakes, Croatia’s geography is spectacular.
In two weeks of travel, we squeezed in 3 National Parks; the UNESCO World Heritage Plitvice Lakes, travertine waterfall and karst phenomena of Krka, and the arid cone-shaped islands comprising the maritime Kornati National Park.
For those wishing more than relaxing days at the beach, Croatia offers wide-ranging outdoor sporting opportunities. From hiking to mountain biking and from sea kayaking to sailing, Croatia’s Mediterranean climate can keep you outside all year long.
One of the jewels in Croatia’s coastal cities, Dubronik’s UNESCO old town is surrounded by the pristine Adriatic Sea. With an endless amount of activities and tours, Dubrovnik can get a little crowded, but it’s absolutely worth your time.
Billed as Croatia’s second-largest city (after the capital Zagreb), Split is home to a magnificent historical centre and its UNESCO designated Palace of the Diocletian. The old town is full of shops and chic restaurants.
With its delightfully charming peninsular old town, Zadar is a lot more chilled out than either Split or Dubrovnik. Venetian era stone gates guard the entrance to the old town where ruins of the ancient Roman forum lie about, and Romanesque churches towers pierce the sky. As a result, Zadar boasts of having the best sunsets in the country (we agree). All summer long, crowds gather at the steps of the Sea Organ (a musical sculpture) for a fabulous natural light show.
The port town of Hvar has a magic all its own. As Croatia’s top glamour destination, Hvar’s seaside cafes, luxurious resorts, and disco beach bars are definitely the place to be seen and see it all. The entire beachfront is one big cocktail party where backpackers rub elbows with the yacht crowd by sunset. After exploring some nearby secluded beaches and the chilled-out Pakleni Islands, we stand to our conclusion that Hvar Island is Croatia’s most scenic coastline.
We stopped over in Rijeka mainly to break up an otherwise long bus journey to Venice. We discovered a refreshing slice of Croatian life unmarred by hordes of tourists. Rijeka is the central port city of Croatia and the country’s third-largest city. Enjoying the lack of crowds, we stayed on for 2 nights to experience the local vibe (and lower prices), shopping at the local outdoor market, dining at non-pretentious cafes along the Korzo, and climbing the stairs to Tsarat Castle for a fantastic sunset and city views.
Rijeka sort of sneaked up on us, and every day Croatian city minus all the tourist hustle. The morning fruit market in front of our apartment was a big bonus.
We’ll just come right out and say it, Croatia is not a budget destination. Prices are on par with Western Europe. You will be hemorrhaging cash, especially if you engage in activities and excursions (like the pricey national parks).
Croatia has become one of Europe’s glamour destinations and luxury resorts. The global yacht-set crowd is here in full force. For value accommodation, look for apartments farther from the city centre with full kitchen facilities for self-catering. Even during peak season, we scored some unbelievable deals on apartments.
We found little value in hostels, most of which were completely booked in places like Split, Hvar, and Dubrovnik during August. Although Croatia is host to many campgrounds, we looked into more of the European resort-like campsites, all-inclusive, with pools and other facilities adding to a higher price tag.
Food and Drink
Croatia is becoming a gastronomy destination popular for using regional ingredients like seafood, truffles and local wines. To keep our costs down, we dined in most of the time. Still, we did manage a couple of splurges and are happy to report we were delighted with our superficial scratches of Croatian cuisine.
We primarily used public buses to move from city to city, prices were reasonable, usually ranging from 70-120 HRK ($10-15 USD) one-way. To get around within cities, we utilised local buses costing 15 HRK one-way (in Dubrovnik) down to 10-12 HRK (Zadar and Split). In addition, coastal cities like Split and Dubrovnik have regular ferry services to offshore islands.
Best Time To Travel in Croatia
We think the best time to travel to your dream destination is always the present. In peak season (August), we found the main tourist sites (and National Parks) extremely crowded. The bonus to peak season in Croatia was the hot weather making for perfect beach weather.
Recommendations to avoid high season crowds and prices include the slower April-June and September and October shoulder seasons. But, of course, what’s best for you depends on your expectations. So, for no crowds, come out of season, for best weather and partying on Croatia’s famous beaches, think summertime along with everyone else.
You just start to get the feel of a place then you have to say goodbye.