Why You Should Travel to Croatia
Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline is considered the Central European Riviera. Thousands of people travel to Croatia spurred on by their love of the Game of Thrones and in the process of falling in love with this beautiful country and its rich culture and history.
Tourism in Croatia has grown in leaps and bounds since the Game of Thrones premiered and showcased the country’s incredible seascapes with miles of Adriatic seafront and over a thousand beautiful islands.
Game of Thrones highlighted the old cities and their ancient architecture but there is also a more recent war as well as a move away from the era of socialism. History is everywhere evident in the culture, cuisines, hilltop and fishing villages.
It’s a toss-up – are the views out to sea the most beautiful? Or are the ancient buildings and winding laneways into the lavender fields, forests, and ruined churches most beautiful? One thing is for sure, you will never forget the history and beauty of Croatia and the deep warmth of the Croatian people!
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You can travel to Croatia for beach and sun escapes with dozens of pebble decorated beaches and warm sunny weather. You can hike in the dramatic Dinaric Alps with over 6000km of hiking trails, kayak in the pristine Adriatic, visit the Plitvice Lakes and take in Croatian life in the Capital of Zagreb.
Croatia’s recovery from years of internal strife has allowed the restoration and discovery of ancient sites from Venetian bell towers, to Byzantine mosaics to Dubrovnik the “Pearl of the Adriatic” with its medieval walls and stunning views.
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Getting to Croatia
Croatia has five main international airports: Zagreb, Pula, Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik airports, and flights arrive from Europe and North America. There are direct flights from most areas in Europe and N. America, from Australia and the Far east there is usually a layover and change of flights.
When is the best time to visit Croatia?
The most popular time to visit Croatia is from April to October. At the height of the summer, you will find many tourists visiting to enjoy the sunshine and beaches. All attractions and sites will be open during this period and flights are easy to obtain from all over the world.
Getting around Croatia
Public transport in Croatia is dominantly by bus and ferry and the connections are extensive and very good, trains are however quite limited. You can easily rent a car in Croatia and the roads and driving are pretty easy. If you decide to rent a car keep in mind that many of Croatia’s Old towns are car-free and parking can be expensive.
Due to Croatia’s coastline, you will probably find yourself on a ferry or two. Jadrolinija ferries take both foot and car passengers and travel throughout Croatia’s islands and mainland ports. The ferries are very comfortable and have ensuite cabins available. There are cafes and bars onboard most of the ferries.
Sailing Croatia’s coastline
Croatia hosts an annual yacht week every year and is a popular destination for sailors who want to experience the Adriatic. There are many types of sailing vacations from luxury sailboats with a Capitan and crew to sail it yourself catamarans. You can find a sailing holiday that is either manned by experienced sailors or you can sail your own rented boat.
What to see in Croatia
The 10 Must-See Destinations in Croatia:
- Dalmatian Coast
- Pakleni islands
- Stari Grad
- Plitvice Lakes
The Dalmatian Coast
Many tourists come to Croatia specifically to travel to the Dalmatian Coast and its most famous city, Dubrovnik. This coast is over 3600 miles and the most popular stretch is the southernmost area. Soaring limestone cliffs rise from the Adriatic and there are over 1000 islands stretched out before you. The most popular of these are Lokrum, Hvar, and Korcula.
The coast gets its name from the ancient Illyrian tribe called the Dalmatae who lived here in from the 1st to the 10th century.
Dubrovnik is famous, not only for its Game of Thrones locations but also for its medieval pedestrian-only walled Old Town. You can walk the ancient walls to see panoramic views of the city and sea.
Take in some fascinating museums include a modern Red History Museum dedicated to revealing Croatia’s communist past. Visit Franciscan and Dominican monasteries, admire some incredible baroque architecture and still head to the beach for a swim. Take a ferry over to Hvar and enjoy some of Croatia’s finest luxury escapes or head to Korčula where there’s a relaxed don’t worry vibe.
A small island of the coast near Dubrovnik that you can either take a ferry to or a sea kayak. The island is uninhabited and in 1858 the Austrian Archduke Maximillian purchased the island and created an incredible garden full of botanicals from around the world that still survive today.
Hvar is known as the “island of lavender” and wine. Hvar’s Mediterranean Diet recently became UNESCO’s intangible heritage and you can take some incredible tours of the famous wine and lavender fields with Hvar’s local food tours that include a delicious meal.
A gorgeous chain of wooded islands including the clothing-optional Jerolim Island. Crystal clear waters bring partying tourists and locals to Marinkovac with its beach club on Stipanska bay. At the opposite end of Marinkovac are pretty Ždrilca and Mlini.
The largest island is Sveti Klement which has three villages the most popular of which is Palmižana with its stunning horseshoe bay and small but a perfect sandy beach. This is one of the most popular islands for sailors to moor at.
Stari Grad is the ideal location to escape the tourists throughout Croatia. A UNESCO World Heritage site Stari Grad is rich in baroque and renaissance architecture with a historic town center. You can visit the Tvrdalj fortress, which was the summer home of Petar Hektorović, one of Croatia’s most famous writers of the Renaissance. The Fortress walls hide a beautiful park and fishpond and stunning grounds.
There are stunning churches including the Saint Roko and Saint Stjepan both of which are of baroque construction and filled with ancient liturgical treasures and paintings. There’s an early Church of Saint Ivan, the Saint Lucija Church which was a convent and the Church of Saint Nikola with its gilded altar dating to 1612.
Stari Grad also has two beaches that are popular with the families of the city. There’s Pebble Beach known as Banj on the north side of the Bay and Lanterna beach. Many of Stari Grad’s hidden coves and beaches can only be reached by sailboat and most are rocky beaches.
Famous for its white wines Korčula is a laid back island with lush landscapes and dense forests. The Greeks named it Kerkyra melaina or Black Korcula because of the density of the trees.
Korcula town is often called “Little Dubrovnik” because of its medieval squares, churches, palaces, and houses.
Istria is a coastal area with Roman ruins, picturesque hill towns, miles of vineyards and enough outdoor activities to keep you busy for weeks.
Rovinj is said to be the most Italian style town in Istria. From the harbor, you can watch the fishing boats go out daily and see the fresh catch brought in for the restaurants and shops within the town. The ancient houses set throughout the twisting streets allow plenty of room for just roaming and getting lost.
Istria is famous for its olive oil, truffles, seafood, and wineries all of which can be appreciated within its stunning landscapes. If you are a committed foodie and want to see more of Istria than the usual tourist spots look into the agro-tourism offerings in Istria. You can spend a few days on a working farm and get involved in olive picking, truffle hunting, and more. You will get to experience rural life in Croatia and enjoy some traditional Istrian cuisine right at the farm table.
Split is a bustling city with its roots firmly anchored in its shipbuilding past. Not the prettiest place in Croatia (which just shows you how beautiful this country is!), but it has some interesting ancient sites. These include an Old Town built into the ruins of Emperor Diocletian’s 4th-century palace which is the only one of its kind built outside of Rome.
Split is a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes 220 buildings within the Palace’s boundaries. These old buildings have been converted into homes, cafes, and businesses for the citizens and tourists.
Split’s architectural heritage may be Roman in origin but after centuries it has become an eclectic mix of Baroque, Renaissance, and modern.
Zagreb is Croatia’s capital city, perfect for sightseeing with its plethora of historical sites. St. Mark’s Square, Lotrščak Tower, Zagreb Cathedral, and St. Catherine’s Church are a few of the most well known.
Take a few hours to explore the Dolac Market with its noisy bustle and vendors vying for your trade. A quirky spot to visit is The Museum of Broken Relationships which is both a physical museum and a virtual one that shares and treasures heartbreak stories.
Plitvice National park There are 8 national parks in Croatia. They are Risnjak, Brijuni, Plitvice Lakes, Sjeverni Velebit, Paklenica, Krka, Kornati, and Mljet. The most popular ones are Plitvice and Krka.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is probably the most breathtaking, a deeply wooded canyon that has easy to hike trails with boardwalks, and 16 crystal blue lakes connected by breathtaking waterfalls.
What to eat and drink in Croatia
Croatian food has many influences that include Italian, Hungarian, and Turkish which are Croatia’s neighboring countries. Food in Croatia does vary depending on what region you are visiting for example in Istria you will find both black and white truffles and you can even take a food tour to truffle hunt.
Istria is famous for its version of prosciutto which is dry-cured with local sea salt and other spices and then air-dried instead of being smoke like Italian prosciutto. Istria’s olive oils are ranked as high as Italy’s and Istria is renowned for its white wine.
Along the shoreline of the Adriatic, you will find every kind of seafood you could wish for. Fresh squid, octopus, prawns, and fish are pulled from the sea daily. If you are an oyster lover you must visit Ston (near Dubrovnik) on the tip of the Pelješac Peninsula which not only serves up some of the best oysters in the med but is also home to the oldest salt pans in the world with over 4000 years of harvesting.
In the mountains of Croatia, polenta and porcini are traditional dishes. A specialty of this region is frogs legs and scampi from the Gulf of Kvarner.
On the island of Pag, they create a hard cheese found throughout Croatia called Paski Sir which is made from a special breed of sheep’s milk. The sheep are said to produce the saltiest milk which produces a fine cheese.
Must-try foods in Croatia
Cevapcici is a must-try dish in Croatia. They are small sausages with a texture similar to meatballs and are made from a combination of beef and pork without skins. They are most often served with a pepper relish called ajvar and chopped raw onions on a flatbread.
Crni rižot is a black risotto made with cuttlefish, squid, and squid ink. Topped with grated parmesan which contrasts against the black rice this is very filling.
An appetizer of pršut i sir or ham and cheese this is the Istrian version of prosciutto. Unlike other areas of Croatia, the meat is not smoked but air-cured.
Fritule is similar to a doughnut. These pastries can vary from region to region. Traditionally served during holidays they can be flavored with rum, citrus fruits like lemon and orange, and raisins are often included in the dough.
Fuži and pljukanci are the Croatian pasta. Fuzi is made by wrapping a square of pasta dough around the handle of a wooden spoon which gives it a traditional quill shape. Served with a truffle cream sauce or a red meat sauce that can include game, chicken, or beef. Pljukanci is another version that resembles a green bean in shape.
Zagorski Štrukli is a truly traditional Croatian dish and is part of Croatia’s intangible cultural heritage. It is layers of pastry filled with soft cheese and can be served either as a savory or sweet dish.
Boškarin is a particular type of ox from Istria whose meat can be served as steak, salami, carpaccio, or even tail soup.
Peka is a dish that combines meat or fish with potatoes, vegetables, herbs and spices, and sometimes wine. Peka gets its name from the dish it is prepared in which is bell-shaped with a lid. Peka is cooked over an open fireplace with the coals placed on top of the lid.
Traveling to Croatia may be out of the ordinary for tourists outside Europe but to see truly authentic medieval towns and their historic buildings and experience the culture, the natural beauty, and the food is a worthwhile experience.
Further Links and Information
- There are so many things to do in Croatia. See all of the best things to do in Croatia from Get Your Guide here
- Are you planning a trip to Italy? Perhaps to the Cinque Terre? See my detailed travel guides to the Cinque Terre here
- If you’re on a lovers trip to Europe, consider that other iconic destination, Santorini. Read my Athens and Santorini posts here
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