Croatia is a land of juxtapositions. At once, a glorious hot spot for the jet-set, yachting celebrities, island hopping, and partying into the night at some of the hottest clubs in Europe and yet simultaneously a historical time capsule of unspoiled fishing villages, Roman ruins, and spectacular national parks. Although the “secret” about Croatia has been out for some time with in-the-know travelers, many Westerners have yet to explore this incredible country. So whether you are still working through your first Pinterest photos or have been sailing the Adriatic for years, here is our list of the top 10 reasons to visit Croatia right now!
10. Game Of Throne:
For those of us who have spent years arduously following the convoluted plotlines, dragon tales, white walker attacks, unexpected births, deaths, and marriages of one of the most popular TV shows ever created, Croatia is a fan mecca. But, of course, the Game of Thrones world wasn’t made in a movie studio.
King’s Landing, the setting of much of the show’s plotline, is almost entirely filmed in the genuine UNESCO World Heritage city of Dubrovnik.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that it has drawn thousands of anxious fans to its borders since the show’s inception. But can you pick out the scenes featuring the city walls? First, go early in the morning to beat the heat and crowds. Then, you can climb the stone steps for a small fee and walk the entire city’s circumference, which offers a spectacular view of the historic rooftops and the Adriatic Sea glistening in the background. You may even spot Tyrion broodingly contemplating his allegiances in the distance.
For those of you looking to connect with the character’s plights a bit more closely, follow the path of Cersei’s atonement walk along the Jesuit Stairs located off of St. Dominika Street. After purchasing your very own “Shame Bell,” you can head out to the Tresteno Arboretum and walk the gardens of the Red Keep. Can you name the alliances forged and broken amidst the flowering trees and romantic paths?
After you have thoroughly explored the central filming locations, head out to find the holy grail of the show, you guessed it, the Iron throne! Located on the island of Lokrum, the most important symbol of the show can be seen in a small museum, a short 15-minute ferry ride from the Old City’s main port.
9. Historical Sights:
Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans settled Croatia and subsequently defended against Venetians and Ottomans. From the Istrian Peninsula to Dalmatia, visitors will find over 2,000 years of the tumultuous and often brutal history.
The most easily accessible and famous sight is Diocletian’s Palace, located in Split and built around 300 ACE. Walk through historical ruins in the main square of Peristil and find yourself transported back in time. Pass relics that were brought in throughout the centuries and preserved in various stages as the city grew and evolved. Some exciting sights include an ancient Egyptian sphinx from Luxor, the Temple of Jupiter, and Diocletian’s mausoleum, which was later transformed into the Split Cathedral. However, perhaps the most fascinating thing is that Diocletian’s Palace is still home to a community of residents who own shops, hotels, and restaurants within the palace walls.
If you skipped over the Game of Thrones facts, you might have missed the part about Dubrovnik’s City Walls. These beautifully preserved and incredibly symbolic architectural masterpieces were built in the mid-1300s after liberation from the Venetians as a necessity for protection from further attacks. They were created to withstand time but also represent wealth and beauty.
Some other incredible sights include the well-preserved Roman-era Pula Amphitheater, the 13th century Trogir Cathedral and the walls of Ston.
Although the city doesn’t make most people’s radar aside from a place to fly in and out of, it’s worthy of a couple of days of your time. This large yet quaint and safe city offers unlimited possibilities for music and theatre events, art exhibitions, museums, dining, and quintessential European strolling in the spacious pedestrian zones and over 30 parks. A perfect base for exploring the surrounding countryside and getting off the beaten path. Zagreb certainly qualifies as one of the top 10 reasons to visit Croatia.
7. National Parks:
While it’s true that most visitors come to Croatia for the infamous beaches and islands, in the know travelers recognized that this country also offers a cornucopia of outdoor adventures with stunning mountains, waterfalls, rivers, and wild forests.
The countries’ eight national parks are hugely popular with European travelers in Summer but largely quiet the rest of the year.
Visit during the spring to see wildflowers blanketing the hillsides. Come in autumn for gorgeous foliage. Or venture out to explore snow-covered trees and the magical silence of winter.
Kornati Islands Natioanl Park
One of the most interesting Parks is the Kornati Islands, located just off the coast between Zadar and Sibenik and are 140 separate islands. Although off the radar for most tourists, they are pretty famous in the yachting world for being one of the best sailing destinations in Europe with calm waters and relaxing winds. Sail from Zadar or take a speedboat tour.
Krka National Park
If swimming through waterfalls is your idea of a perfect day, then a visit to Krka National Park, whose claim to fame is the multi-tiered wedding cake waterfall of Skradinski Buk, is a must. Spend the first part of the trip taking the trail uphill, which heads to the top of the waterfall for gorgeous photo-ops, then through the upper sections where wooden platforms have been set up to allow walking over the rivers. Finally, end your day trip with a swim under the waterfalls in the beautiful crystal clear water. Visit Krka on a relaxing day trip from Zadar.
Mljet National Park
Dubrovnik to Mljet National Park offers another fantastic day tip option. Located in the northwestern section of Mljet Island, the park includes two salt lakes, with the larger Veliko Jezero showcasing a Benedictine monastery. Spend a quiet day kayaking, cycling, hiking, and swimming. As motor vehicles are forbidden anywhere in the national park, it retains its sense of solitude and romance even in peak season.
6. Plitvice Lakes National Park:
Yes, we recognize that this is another National Park. However, Plitvice Lakes deserves its section. This mountain wonderland is a spectacular feat of nature, showcasing 16 interconnected lakes linked by rivers and waterfalls.
High in minerals, the lakes are constantly changing colors, appearing emerald green one moment, cobalt, aquamarine, or cerulean the next depending on how the light hits them.
Spend a few hours walking on wooden pathways over the crystal water while being surrounded by waterfalls and extensive wild forests. There are two main trails in the park. Trail A circles the two lower lakes, descending from the cliff tops down and crossing one of the lakes on a wooden platform before climbing up again. Trail B follows the same path but also reaches Kozjak lake, the largest lake in Plitvice. A boat will take you across the lake for a short scenic ride, and a small train will take you back towards entrance 1 to complete the visit.
Note: Trail K, which is over 18 km long, can take you to the top of the northernmost upper lake. This is a spectacular hike that takes around 8 hours to complete. Plan to spend the night in the area if you are hiking Trail K. Check the official Plitvice site for more information.
Although definitely “out of the way” from most main tourist hubs, a visit to Croatia would be incomplete without visiting a world wonder. Spend a night or take a day trip from Zagreb or Split. The trails are extremely well marked and easily navigated, and this park is ideal for strolling at leisure. Plitvice Lakes is absolutely one of the top 10 reasons to visit Croatia.
Traditional Croatian cuisine is wide and varied, yet thoroughly infused with Mediterranean flavors influenced by neighboring countries and nations which have ruled the territories over the centuries.
Epicureans will note similarities with Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, and even Turkish cuisine. Yet, Croatian dishes have their own unique and distinct flavors, which vary from region to region.
Along the Dalmatian coast and islands, the cuisine is based heavily on the Mediterranean diet, heavy in fish, salads, and olive oil. However, if you venture closer to Zagreb, the flavors change to central European countries with meat, potatoes, and cabbage. The Istrian peninsula has more exciting and varied dishes like manestra, a bean soup prepared only in Istria, or fuzi, a hand-rolled pasta.
Traditional dishes which will tantalize your taste buds:
Crni rizot: Found in nearly every seafood restaurant in Croatia, this black squid risotto typically contains mussels, clams, and other shellfish. This is a must-try!
Pasticada: Baby beef fillet, marinated in wine vinegar for several days before being braised for hours, first in its juice, and later with red wine, this prevalent Dalmatian dish is served with homemade gnocchi.
Skampi na buzaru: A traditional seafood scampi with muscles, shrimp, or clams.
Strukli: Somewhat similar to a pirogi this is a pastry filled with cottage cheese and sour cream. Served mainly in the region around Zagreb.
Punjene paprike: More common in Turkish cuisine the Croatian variation of stuffed peppers includes minced meat, rice, and spices, cooked with tomato sauce.
Fritule: Another favorite dessert these dough balls are made with flour, raisins, lemon zest, and schnapps, and of course, deep-fried
Arancini: These are traditional Croatian desserts made of candied orange peels.
Krostule: This delicious deep-fried dough is sprinkled with powder sugar and melts in your mouth.
4. Scuba Diving:
Blessed with an entire coastline of crystal clear Adriatic water, it should come as no surprise that Croatia offers divers a plethora of diving opportunities. In addition, around 1000 islands found off the coast in Croatia are adorned with canyons, reefs, underwater caverns, and chilling shipwrecks. So spend a day, a week, or a lifetime island hopping in search of your hidden corner of underwater paradise.
Dives around the island of Vis offer WWI and WWII shipwrecks fallen in battle as well as a B-17 bomber. The gulf of Kvarner to the North is known for amazing wall dives and rocky reefs covered with beautiful gorgonians. If you are interested in exploring the Blue Cave, head to Bisevo. The cave is accessible only via small boats.
We simply can’t get enough of the city dubbed the “Pearl of the Adriatic.” If historical sites and filming locations did not entice you, the city offers various cultural activities and festivals. Stroll the picturesque streets and alleyways, admire the splendid cathedral and treasury, grab a bite to eat, and visit art galleries featuring both modern and traditional works of art.
Start your day early, climb the steps to the city walls, and head over to the infamous, pedestrian-only Pile Gate, which served as the main entry point to the old city. Built in 1537 and formerly surrounded by a moat and complete with a drawbridge, it is as scenic as historic.
Afterward, take a stroll over to the once Grandiose fountain of Onofrio. (Somewhat smaller today than the original due to damage in the earthquake of 1667). After lunch, make sure to visit the beautiful Dubrovnik Cathedral-also referred to as the Assumption Cathedral. The highlights here are paintings by Italian and Dalmatian artists from the 16th to 18th centuries.
One of the most prominent pieces in the Assumption Cathedral is the beautiful painting of the assumption of Mary, done by Titian around 1552. Other relics include a portion of Jesus’ crucifixion cross and the head, leg, and arm of St. Blaise from the 13th century.
After a day of touring, head to the spectacular Stradun, one of Europe’s most picturesque pedestrian thoroughfares. It is lined with cafés and restaurants, so pick a spot to rest and people watch over an espresso. Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and one of the top sights in Croatia.
2. Croatia’s Islands:
Ok, so there is a reason that most tourists visit Croatia for the stunning coastline, clear waters, and plethora of islands. However, the most challenging task is choosing which of the 1000 islands to see and which ones to skip over. Although primarily based on personal preferences, these are the top 5 islands that would appease even the most discerning islands hopper. Each of these islands qualifies as one of the top 10 reasons to visit Croatia, but you will have difficulty choosing just one.
A truly sophisticated place to see and be seen. This glamorous jewel is akin to St. Tropez, full of beautiful shops, streets, and people. While known as a celebrity and party-goer hot spot, it is also full of hidden coves, romantic vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields, and an incredibly preserved Španjola fortress. Hvar is undoubtedly one of the top sights in Croatia.
Consider taking a cruise that includes a stopover at Hvar to experience the region and get a taste of the different islands.
Most people visit Brac to spend time on its famous beach ‘Zlatni Rat.’ However, there is so much more to see and do. Take a 50-minute ferry journey from Split, and discover this low-key happy place. From beaches emerging like secret gifts from the pine forests to secluded bays and up to Vidova Gora, the highest peak in the Croatian islands, you can spend weeks exploring and relaxing. In addition, there are several towns complete with romantic squares, fountains, cobblestone streets, phenomenal restaurants, and fun bars.
These quiet and relaxing islands are well connected to Dubrovnik by ferries and can be reached in 30- 50 minutes. They make an ideal escape from the hustle of Dubrovnik and can be visited on day trips or for a weekend getaway. Make sure to visit Sipan Island, which boasts its own (rare) sandy beach, and spend a day strolling the wonderfully traffic-free Lopud.
This historical island claims to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. It is reminiscent of a mini-Dubrovnik with a beautiful old town and outstanding gothic and romantic architecture examples. Spend your days exploring the various beaches, kayaking along the shores, snorkeling in the clear warm water, or wine tasting with local sommeliers. Tip; Korcula is well known for its very own crisp white wine.
We have already covered Mljet in the national park section. This island is a favorite with nature lovers, hikers, and visitors searching for quiet seclusion. Most visitors come for day trips. Therefore evenings are usually crowd-free, even in the peak season. Best experienced by multi-day sailing trips.
Interesting Fact: This is where Odysseus spent seven years frolicking with his nymph Calypso.
1. The People:
A top 10 list for this country would not be complete without a nod to the people that have made it one of our favorite countries in Europe. Beautiful inside and out, Croatian’s are known for their warmth, hospitality, and friendliness. Whether spending a week island hopping, traveling with friends, family, or even on a solo journey, you will find that you leave with so much more love, appreciation, and friendships than you came with or could have ever hoped for.
Croatia is one of the most incredible destinations in Europe. While there is plenty to see and do, many visitors choose to combine their trip with a visit to other countries. If you want to explore the region in more depth, we recommend visiting Italy, Greece, or France.
Take a look at some of the other top guides for Europe.
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