Despite spending the last decade as Europe’s fastest-rising holiday destination, Croatia still doesn’t feel overrun with tourists. With new developments kept on a human scale and businesses retaining a pronounced local flavour, the Adriatic coast emphatically retains a unique character. Whether you’re interested in unspoiled Mediterranean islands, edgy urban culture, Game of Thrones location tours or simply splashing around in the Adriatic’s famously clear waters, Croatia is a place to discover many different landscapes and experiences.
Croatia boasts almost 2000km of rocky shore and more than a thousand islands, many blanketed in luxuriant vegetation. Off-the-beaten-track islands, quiet coves and stone-built fishing villages make you feel as if you’re visiting Europe at its most unspoiled. But travel to Croatia and you’ll find the country also has a cool and contemporary sheen – evidenced in its arts attractions and galleries, its swanky hotels and cocktail bars, and flashy yacht-filled harbours. The country also has a growing reputation for niche festivals – not just in the party-the-weekend-away music events held on beaches and in ancient forts up and down the coast, but also in the mushrooming number of arts festivals and small-town cultural shindigs.
A renewed respect for natural ingredients has become the watchword of Croatian Cuisine, with locally sourced foodstuffs, wines and olive oils finding their way into some great regional cooking and speciality dishes.
The country has come a long way since the early 1990s, when within the space of half a decade – almost uniquely in contemporary Europe – it experienced the collapse of communism, a war of national survival and the securing of independence. Nearly twenty-five years on, visitors will be struck by the tangible sense of pride that independent statehood has brought. National culture is a far from one-dimensional affair, however, and much of the country’s individuality is due to its geographical position, straddling the point at which the sober Central European virtues of hard work and order collide with the spontaneity and vivacity that characterize the countries of southern Europe. Not only that, but the country also stands on one of the great fault lines of European civilization, where the Catholicism of Central Europe meets the Islam and Orthodox Christianity of the East. Though Croats traditionally see themselves as a Western people, many of the hallmarks of Balkan culture – patriarchal families, hospitality towards strangers and a fondness for grilled food – are as common in Croatia as in any other part of southeastern Europe.
CROATIA TRAVEL FACTS
Spoken language: Croatian is the official language (spoken by around 95 percent of the population)
Currency: kuna (Kn)
Population: around four million
Tourist numbers: around 20 million in 2018
Politics: a single-chamber parliamentary democracy with a directly elected – though largely ceremonial – president as head of state
Sport: Croatia reached the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup championships in July 2018, the smallest country by population to do so since Uruguay in 1950
Hours of sunshine: 2715 (more than Sydney)
Coffee consumption: over 5kg of coffee a year on average (almost twice as much as the average Brit)
WHERE TO GO IN CROATIA
Choosing where to visit in Croatia can be a tough one, as this is a country that offers it all: crumbling palaces, idyllic islands and beaches, and the best nightlife in the Adriatic.
Croatia’s big cities
If it’s history and culture you’re after, Croatia certainly ticks the boxes. You’ll find medieval remains, Baroque grandeur and Byzantine monuments in towns and cities, such as Poreč, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Šibenik and Spilt, Venetian architecture in Rovinj, and a two-thousand-year-old Roman amphitheatre at Pula.
But Croatia’s towns and cities aren’t just about ancient monuments. The country’s capital, Zagreb, has a distinctly modern vibe, with its quirky art and alternative music scene. Dubrovnik offers a plethora of eccentric bars, and Hvar Town on the beautiful island of Hvar, a touch of glamour. Several cities also host summer festivals showcasing top-class drama and music.
Croatia’s national parks
If it’s the untamed great outdoors you’re after, Croatia provides an abundance of staggeringly beautiful national parks – such as Paklenica, with its karst wilderness and fir-clad slopes, the breathtaking forest-fringed lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes, and Northern Velebit, a hiker’s paradise.
The Croatian islands
Undeniably though, its Croatia’s beaches and islands that are the country’s top draw. The Elephant Islands of Kolcep, Lopud and Sipan are among the most beautiful and unspoiled in the Adriatic, and beaches on the Pelješac Peninsula, and on the Dalmatian coast – such as those on the islands of Brac and Susak, are surely the most irresistible.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL CROATIA
Figuring out the best time to travel to Croatia largely depends on what you plan to do during your trip. If it’s sun and sea you’re after, the summer months are the obvious time to hit the coast, although if you can skirt around school holidays and go in May, June or September, you’ll avoid the crowds on the beaches and seaside towns, and miss the fiercest of temperatures. You’ll also get a greater choice when it comes to accomodation and can dodge the spike in prices. You’re better off sightseeing when it’s somewhat cooler too, as traipsing around cultural and historical sites in the mid-summer heat can be exhausting. However, if you do travel to Croatia in high season you can expect more outdoor cultural events and can indulge in the lively café society. For outdoor adventures, especially if you intend to go hiking or biking, it makes sense to visit Croatia out of high season, spring being ideal, while autumn can be particularly beautiful in the national parks.
Winter in coastal areas is mild, so it can be a good time to tour the sights, especially as you can probably bag a bargain on flights and accommodation – although it’s worth mentioning that many places shut down for the winter. And Christmas can be a wonderful time to visit, with most towns and cities enjoying festivities. Note that inland Croatia tends to be colder in winter, often experiencing snow. It’s also worth bearing in mind that when it comes to transport, there are fewer flights to Croatia outside of summer months and many ferries from other European countries offer a reduced service.
GETTING TO CROATIA
Travel to Croatia during the summer months and there is no shortage of direct flights from European countries’ major hubs; travel off season and you may have to fly indirectly. High season naturally means high prices, although budget airlines serve many of Croatia’s cities, and grabbing a package deal can often reduce the cost significantly. If you’re coming from North America flying directly isn’t yet an option; you’ll have to take one- or two-stop flight via a main European city. From New Zealand and Australia flights usually involve two stops and are expensive. A cheaper option would be to fly to an alternative European city and then flying to Croatia via a budget airline. Take a look at Skycanner for options. If, however, you plan to visit other European countries on your trip, it could be worth continuing your journey by train instead – and buying a Eurail Global pass for the train travel around Europe. Travelling by train is also an option if you’re coming from the UK or other parts of Europe; buying an Inter-Rail pass can be cost effective if you make your trip to Croatia part of a more extensive trip around Europe. Ferries from Italy operate regularly during the summer season.
GETTING AROUND CROATIA
The quickest way to travel long distances within Croatia is by taking a domestic flight, although bear in mind that the cost varies considerably, depending on the time of year and how far in advance you book. Croatia’s coastal and mountainous terrain can make overland travel rather time consuming. Although the growing toll motorway system means getting around is getting easier and quicker than before, once you’re off the beaten track roads tend to be poorly maintained, and coastal roads tend to be jammed during the summer season.
Croatia’s train network is useful for travelling around the north and east of the country, while buses are best for travelling along the coast. Bus services operating between cities are air-conditioned and comfortable, and there are few places you can’t get to in Croatia by bus, although services in rural areas tend to be infrequent.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT IN CROATIA
Park Plaza Belvedere Medulin
Renovated in 2014, Park Plaza Belvedere is located just steps away from the beach and a short walk from the town of Medulin. It boasts stylized interiors with free Wi-Fi access available throughout the property. The hotel also offers a restaurant with a terrace, as well as 2 outdoor pools and a spa and wellness centre. All the rooms are air-conditioned and come with an LCD satellite TV, a minibar and a safe. Featuring a shower, private bathrooms also come with a hairdryer and free toiletries. Some rooms come with balconies with sea views. The main restaurant serves food buffet-style and features a spacious terrace that overlooks the sea. There is an aperitif bar in the lobby and a pool bar and an a-la carte restaurant Lungomare. The hotel's beach and the outdoor pools are fitted with sun loungers and parasols, available at a surcharge. The spa and wellness centre comprises an indoor swimming pool with heated seawater, as well as whirlpools, saunas and a fitness centre. The sports centre is well-equipped and features 6 football grounds as well as tennis courts. Guests can also play handball, volleyball or table tennis and a variety of other sports facilities. The business centre of the Plaza offers 3 medium-sized halls and 1 cinema hall equipped with the latest technology. Medulin can be reached with a 10-minute walk, and a bus station in front of the hotel offers lines to surrounding towns and villages. The centre of Pula with its unique Roman Amphitheatre is 10 km away. Free private parking is available on site.
Located in Zagreb, 3.9 km from Technical Museum in Zagreb and 4.2 km from Cvjetni Square, Apartment OOPS provides air-conditioned accommodation with a balcony and free WiFi. The property has city views and is 5 km from Botanical Garden Zagreb and 5 km from Archaeological Museum Zagreb. The apartment features 1 bedroom, a flat-screen TV, an equipped kitchen with a dishwasher and a microwave, a washing machine, and 1 bathroom with a shower. The apartment offers a terrace. Museum of Broken Relationships Zagreb is 5 km from Apartment OOPS, while Croatian Museum of Naive Art is 5 km away.
Lion's Beach Apartments
Located in Podstrana in the Split-Dalmatia County region and Plaža Stobreč Jug reachable within 1.5 km, Lion's Beach Apartments provides accommodation with free WiFi, BBQ facilities, a garden and free private parking. Each unit comes with a patio, a fully equipped kitchen with a dishwasher, a seating area with a sofa, a flat-screen TV, a washing machine, and a private bathroom with shower and a hairdryer. A fridge, an oven and stovetop are also featured, as well as a kettle. Guests at the apartment can enjoy hiking nearby, or benefit from the sun terrace. Popular points of interest near Lion's Beach Apartments include Cindro House, Strozanac Port and Tourist Board Podstrana. The nearest airport is Split, 26 km from the accommodation, and the property offers a paid airport shuttle service.
Noa Glamping Resort
Noa Glamping Resort is set a few steps from Zrće Beach with daily beach parties and rich nightlife programme. The resort offers wooden villas with private garden and luxury amenities. VIP transports and airport shuttles are available upon previous requests. Each villa comes with elegantly decorated interiors featuring free WiFi, air conditioning and a flat-screen TV. There is a well-equipped kitchen with a dining area and a living room with a sofa. A private bathroom comes with a shower, a hairdryer and free toiletries. Some villas feature a private outdoor pool, sea view or barbecue area. Guests have access to the fitness centre and a bar. Among other facilities at the resort are an ATM, luggage storage space and a 24-hour front desk. Room service is available upon request. Novalja is less than a 10-minute drive from the Noa Glamping Resort. Popular points of interest include Caska Beach and Gajac Beach.
Studio Apartment Matan in Pula
Featuring city views, Studio Apartment Matan in Pula offers accommodation with a garden and a patio, around 1.5 km from Valsaline Beach. The Gortan Cove Beach Pula and the Valkane Beach are within 1.6 km and 1.7 km of the apartment, and free WiFi is provided. This air-conditioned apartment comes with 1 bedroom, a flat-screen TV, a dining area, and a kitchen with a fridge and an oven. The apartment offers a children's playground. Popular points of interest near Studio Apartment Matan in Pula include Pula Arena, MEMO Museum and Archaeological Museum of Istria. The nearest airport is Pula Airport, 9 km from the accommodation.
Family Friendly Apartments Island RAB
Situated in Kampor, 250 m from Mel Beach and 2.5 km from Uvala Cifnata Beach, Family Friendly Apartments Island RAB features accommodation with free WiFi, air conditioning, a restaurant and a garden. The units come with tiled floors and feature a fully equipped kitchen with a fridge, a dining area, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, and a private bathroom with shower and a hairdryer. A stovetop is also available, as well as a kettle and a coffee machine. The apartment offers a sun terrace. There is a children's playground and a barbecue at this property and guests can go hiking nearby. Gožinka Beach is 2.8 km from Family Friendly Apartments Island RAB.
Located right by a sandy beach, Apartments Jakić offers air-conditioned accommodation with LCD TVs, free parking and a shared terrace where you can use free Wi-Fi. There is a restaurant and beach bar next to the property. The nearest grocery shop and bus stop are 500 m away. A small aqua park and some water sports facilities can be found on the beach. Jet ski and pedal boat rental is possible as well. Tennis courts and a children’s playground are 200 m from Jakić Apartments. Medulin centre is 2 km away, same as the Vizula archaeological site with remains from the Roman period. The city of Pula with its famous Arena Amphitheatre and the international airport is about 10 km away.
Featuring garden views, Apartment Twins provides accommodation with a balcony and a kettle, around 1.4 km from Prosika Beach. This apartment features a garden, barbecue facilities, free WiFi and free private parking. The air-conditioned apartment consists of 1 bedroom, a kitchen with dining area, and 1 bathroom with shower. A TV is provided. The apartment offers a terrace. A bicycle rental service is available at Apartment Twins.
Apartment Barbara 1661
Apartment Barbara 1661 is set in Poreč, 2.3 km from Borik Beach, 2.8 km from Porec City Beach, and 2.9 km from The Euphrasian Basilica. This apartment features a garden, barbecue facilities, free WiFi and free private parking. Poreč Main Square is 3.9 km from the apartment, while Aquapark Aquacolours Poreč is 5 km away. The nearest airport is Pula Airport, 56 km from Apartment arbara 1661.
Featuring outdoor swimming pools and a restaurant with a terrace offering views of the sea, Apartments Belvedere is located on a gentle slope 1 km from the centre of Vrsar and just steps away from the Adriatic Sea. Free WiFi is provided in all areas. All apartments are air-conditioned and feature a furnished balcony or terrace, as well as an equipped kitchen and a seating area with a sofa and a flat-screen satellite TV. Private bathrooms include a shower and a hairdryer. Guests staying at Apartments Belvedere can enjoy a drink at the bar or rent a bike. A sauna and fitness centre, as well as various massages are available at a surcharge. Guests can go Nordic walking, play table tennis or mini golf at the nearby Porto Sole Sport Centre. Vrsar Marina can be reached in 800 metres, while the seaside promenade is just steps away. Poreč is 11 km away, while Rovinj is 28 km from the property. Pula Airport is at a distance of 53 km. Free public parking is provided on site.
Arena Hotel Holiday
Located 200 m from a pebbly beach in Medulin, Hotel Holiday boasts 2 outdoor saltwater pools and a sun terrace with sun loungers and parasols. It offers air-conditioned accommodation with free WiFi access, as well as a sports centre with athletic tracks and 6 grass soccer fields. Featuring a marble-tiled foyer with a spacious lounge, the hotel offers rooms with satellite TV and a safe. The private bathrooms are fitted with showers and provide a hairdryer and free toiletries. Hotel Holiday provides a café bar with a terrace set within the hotel's garden. An a la carte and a buffet restaurant cater to the guests' appetites. The dinner menu includes draft beer, local wines on tap, mineral water and juices. There are tennis, minigolf, handball and volleyball courts nearby. Windsurfing, diving and snorkelling can also be enjoyed in the vicinity. The Medulin Seaside Promenade is only 300 m from the hotel. The historic centre of Pula, featuring the well-known Pula Amphitheatre and Temple of Augustus, is 11 km away. Pula Airport is located at a 12.5 km distance. Free parking is available on site.
THINGS TO DO & PLACES TO VISIT IN CROATIA
Montenegro Trip from Dubrovnik
Head south to diminutive coastal Montenegro on this day trip from Dubrovnik. Take a scenic drive on the southern Dalmatian Coast and experience small Adriatic villages and towns, including the UNESCO-listed Kotor, situated in Europe’s southernmost fjord. Finish with an optional ferry ride across the Bay of Kotor and then enjoy a final scenic drive on your way back to Dubrovnik. Montenegro full-day trip from Dubrovnik Take a guided tour of the charming town of Kotor Admire views of the Adriatic Sea, the Bay of Kotor and the lush valleys of Župa Dubrovacka and Konavle Take an optional boat trip to Our Lady of the Rocks island.
Cathedral of St Domnius
Split’s octagonal cathedral is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings still standing. It was built as a mausoleum for Diocletian, the last famous persecutor of the Christians, who was interred here in AD 311. In the 5th century the Christians got the last laugh, destroying the emperor's sarcophagus and converting his tomb into a church dedicated to one of his victims. Note that a ticket for the cathedral includes admission to its crypt, treasury and baptistery (Temple of Jupiter).
City Walls & Forts
No visit to Dubrovnik would be complete without a walk around the spectacular city walls, the finest in the world and the city's main claim to fame. From the top, the view over the old town and the shimmering Adriatic is sublime. You can get a good handle on the extent of the shelling damage in the 1990s by gazing over the rooftops: those sporting bright new terracotta suffered damage and had to be replaced. The first set of walls to enclose the city was built in the 9th century. In the middle of the 14th century the 1.5m-thick defences were fortified with 15 square forts. The threat of attacks from the Turks in the 15th century prompted the city to strengthen the existing forts and add new ones, so that the entire old town was contained within a stone barrier 2km long and up to 25m high. The walls are thicker on the land side – up to 6m – and range from 1.5m to 3m on the sea side.
Taking up a prime harbourside position, this extraordinary complex is one of the most imposing ancient Roman structures in existence today, and it's where you’ll spend most of your time while in Split. Don’t expect a palace, though, nor a museum – this is the city's living heart, its labyrinthine streets packed with people, bars, shops and restaurants. Built as a military fortress, imperial residence and fortified town, the palace measures 215m from north to south and 180m east to west.