Croatia is a land of juxtapositions. At once a glorious hot spot for 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 known travelers many Westerners have yet to discover and explore the charms of the 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 top 10 reasons to visit Croatia right now!
10. Game Of Throne:
For those of us who have spent years arduously following the convoluted plot lines, 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. The Game of Thrones world wasn’t created in a movie studio, in fact it’s capital King’s Landing the setting of much of the shows plot line is almost entirely filmed in the very real 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 shows inception.
Can you pick out the scenes featuring the city walls? Go early in the morning to beat the heat and crowds and for a small fee you can climb the stone steps and walk the entire circumference of the city 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. Dominka Street. After purchasing your very own “Shame Bell” and counting the months until the show returns you can head out 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 throughly explored the main 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:
Croatia was settled by both the Ancient Greeks and Romans and subsequently defended against Venetians and Ottomans. From the Istrian Peninsula to Dalmatia visitors will find over 2,000 years of tumultuous and often brutal history.
The most easily accessible and famous site is Diocletian’s Palace, located in Split and built around 300 ACE. Here, walking through historic ruins in its main square of Peristil you will be transported back in time as you pass relics brought in throughout the centuries and preserved in various stages as the city grew and evolved. Some interesting sights include an ancient Egyptian sphinx from Luxor, the Temple of Jupiter and Diocletian’s mausoleum which was later transformed into the Split Cathedral. Perhaps the most fascinating part of your visit is the fact 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 may 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 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 country side and getting off the beaten path.
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 in the spring to see wild flowers blanketing the hillsides, in autumn for gorgeous foliage or in winter for snow covered crees and magical silence.
One of the most interesting Parks is the Korani Islands which are located just off the coast between Zadar and Sibenik, and are actually 140 separate islands. Although off the radar for most tourists they are actually quite 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 speed-boat tour.
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 on through the upper sections where wooden platforms have been set up to allow walking on over the rivers. End your day trip with a swim under the waterfalls in the gorgeously crystal clear water. Easily done as a relaxing day trip from Zadar .
Another gorgeous day trip can be made from Dubrovnik to Mljet National Park, which is 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 another National Park, but in our humble opinion Plitvice deserves its own 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 the way the light hits them. Spend a few hours walking on wooden pathways over the crystal water while being surrounded by waterfalls and large wild forests.
There are 2 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 all the way to the top of the northernmost upper lake. This is a spectacular hike but takes over 8 hours to complete, so plan to spend the night in the area if you are up for the challenge. 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 a visit to world wonder. Spend a night or take a day trip from Zagreb or Split.
Tours: This is one of the few times we will tell you that unless you are doing a day trip and do not have a car an organized tour is simply not necessary. The trails are extremely well marked and easily navigated and this park is ideal for strolling at leisure. https://np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/en/
5. The Food:
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 the centuries. Epicureans will be able to 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 Dalmatian coast, and on the islands, the cuisine is based heavily on the Mediterranean diet heavy in fish, salads and olive oil. If you venture closer to Zagreb the flavors change to central European countries with meat potatoes and cabbage. The Istrian peninsula has some one the more interesting 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 a wine vinegar for several days before being braised for hours, first in its own juice, and later with red wine, this amazingly popular Dalmatian dish is served with home made gnocchi.
Skampi na buzaru; A traditional seafood scampi with muscles, shrimp, or clams.
Strukli; Somewhat similar to a pirogi this is actually 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 simply 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. Around 1000 islands found off the coast in Croatia are adorned with canyons, reefs, underwater caverns and chilling shipwrecks. 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. Divers interested in exploring the Blue Cave head to Bisevo, which can only be entered by a small boat.
We just can’t get enough of the city, which is dubbed the “Pearl of the Adriatic”. If historical sites and filming locations did not entice you, the city offers a variety of cultural activities and festivals. Stroll the picturesque streets and alley ways, 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 and climb the steps to the city walls, then head over to the infamous, pedestrian only Pile Gate, which served as the main entrance point to the old city. Built in 1537 and formerly surrounded by a moat and complete with a drawbridge it is as scenic as it is historic. Afterwards take an easy strol 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, including “Virgin of the Chair” by Raphael from the early 1600s, a portion of the cross that Jesus is thought to have been crucified upon 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 which is lined with cafés and restaurants and pick a spot to rest and people watch over an espresso.
Ok, so there is a reason that the majority of tourists visit Croatia for the stunning coastline, clear waters, and plethora of islands. The most difficult task is choosing which of the 1000 islands to see and which ones to skip over. Although of course largely based on personal preferences these are the top 5 islands which would appease even the most discerning islands hopper.
Hvar; 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.
Brac; Although most people visit this island for it’s famous beach ‘Zlatni Rat’, on a 50 minutes ferry journey from Split, there is much to see and do in 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. There are several towns complete with romantic squares, fountains and cobble stone streets as well as phenomenal restaurants and fun bars.
Elaphiti Islands – 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 the Sipan Island, which boasts its own (rare) sandy beach and spend a day strolling the wonderfully traffic free Lopud.
Korcula – This historical island claims to be the birth place of Marco Polo and is reminiscent of a mini-Dubrovnik with a beautiful old town and amazing examples or gothic and romantic architecture. 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.
Mljet – The island you have already read about in the national park section, this one is for nature lovers, hikers and visitors searching for quiet seclusion. As the island is mainly visited on day trips evenings are usually crowd-free even in the peak season. Best experienced by multi-day sailing trips. Tip; This is where Odysseus spent 7 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.