This past summer, Andrew and I joined a few friends and spent a couple weeks in Croatia! I can honestly say it was one of my absolute favorite vacations to date! Recently, I’ve had a lot of friends reaching out to me asking about our Croatia trip – what to see and do. So, here ya go!
Croatia may be a small country, but it is packed full of beautiful landscapes and people! It is also a trip that you can definitely do on a budget. Croatia still uses the Kuna currency (not the Euro) which makes the USD very strong. We opted to save some money and use AirBnB for our stay. This ended up being a particularly awesome option in Croatia because there are a lot of highly rated and reviewed AirBnB’s in the country, and most of them were in more ideal locations than some of the major hotel chains (particularly in Dubrovnik). All of our hosts were incredibly friendly, welcoming, and helpful. If you want to know specifics, leave a comment below and I’d be happy to provide you the names of our hosts! We also opted to rent a car and drive down the coast between locations. While this provided some beautiful, cliff-side views, I would definitely recommend renting a tiny car. Because of the size of our group, we ended up with a giant van and, let me tell you, these ancient coastal cities were not built to handle that type of traffic! If you choose not to drive and you don’t get seasick, there are ferries that make daily trips between Croatia’s coastal cities. Croatia is also small enough to see a lot of different sites within the country in a relatively short amount of time. We visited three cities during our two-week stay: Dubrovnik, Split, and Zadar. Here are some of our suggestions for what to do, see, and eat (and what to skip).
This is the most popular tourist destination in Croatia, and once you see it, it’s no surprise why. The historical city buts up against the pristine, blue sea and it is breathtaking to behold. I really don’t think I ever grew sick of the view.
What to Do:
The Wall: Dubrovnik’s number one tourist attraction is to walk the city walls, and honestly, I wouldn’t miss this opportunity if I were you. While it can be crowded up there, it is an excellent and unique way to see every inch of the ancient city. You’ll get some awesome views of the walled city as well as the Adriatic Sea. I suggest getting out early one morning to beat the crowds and the heat. (Afternoons in Croatia during the summer can be veryyyy sweaty.)
Lokrum Island: If you go to the harbor in Old Town Dubrovnik, you can easily get a cheap, 10 minute ferry to Lokrum Island. The island has hiking trails, but we really enjoyed just getting out of the city and hanging out on a “beach” all day. I say “beach” because, like most beaches in Croatia, it is not sandy like the Lake Michigan beaches we know and love, but more like large, flat stones good for sunbathing and cliff jumping. We spent a relaxing day on Lokrum jumping and swimming in the Adriatic, and it ended up being one of my favorite days from our whole trip!
Sea Kayaking: If you’re looking for a little more adventure, sea kayaking in Dubrovnik is a must. There are several companies that offer kayaking tours, but we opted for Adventure Dalmatia. The tour meets in the small harbor between the Pile gate to the city and Fort Lovrijenac. You will paddle onto the Adriatic, around Lokrum, into a couple caves on the island’s cost, and to a specific cave where you’ll enjoy lunch and snorkeling! I really wanted to snorkel, so this tour that combined snorkeling with one of my favorite activities – kayaking – was perfect for us. Being on the water also provided a really unique view of the city and its fantastic walls. You can find more information about the tour here: http://adventuredalmatia.com/one-day-activities/sea-kayaking-dubrovnik/.
Where to Eat:
Pizzeria Mirakul: It might sound funny to recommend a pizza place in a city with plenty of fancy seafood restaurants, but if you’re looking for a cheaper, faster, yet still delicious option, this place is great. The pizza is made in a very Italian style, and I highly recommend the truffle pizza. We visited this place multiple times during our stay! Check it out here: http://www.pizzeriamirakul.hr/.
What to Skip:
Buza Bar: This place gets a lot of hype on social media, but we were quite underwhelmed. The bar itself (while a brilliant tourist trap) is basically just some refrigerators full of average beer and wine that you order at a counter and eat at card tables haphazardly placed on the cliffs outside the city walls. While it was a bit entertaining to watch the cliff jumpers, I think Lokrum island is a better option for both cliff jumping and grabbing a drink or bite to eat.
This former Roman seaport is just as fun to wander through as Dubrovnik, but with some fantastic options for excursions if you want to get out of the big city for a bit.
What to Do:
Diocletian’s Palace: The entire Old Town area of Split was once the palace of Roman emperor Diocletian! It is actually the best-preserved Roman palace in the world. When the empire declined, the palace was abandoned, and then people eventually began making their homes within the walls since it was such a strong, defensive location. Shops, restaurants, and family homes still exist within the ancient walls. For a history nerd like me, wandering around these streets had me geeking out! Check out the sphinx that the Romans brought from Egypt, the Cathedral of Saint Dominus (the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world) and the round vestibule, where you might be lucky enough to hear Dalmatian folk musicians, their songs echoing against the walls. Climb to the top of the bell tower if you’re feeling extra adventurous and want a good view of the city. There is an all-inclusive ticket you can purchase that will give you access to these sights and more within the palace walls.
Hvar Island: If we re-did this trip, the one major change we would make is extending our time on Hvar. As it was, we only spent one day on this picturesque island. From Split’s harbor, a ferry called the Krilo Star leaves daily at around 7 am. It is very reasonably priced, and actually goes all the way between Split and Dubrovnik (for those of you considering the ferry transportation option). Since we only had a day, we decided to head to the nearest beach to swim in the little bay called Pokonji Dol near a restaurant called Mustačo. Very relaxing, and the water is so clear you can see the brightly colored fish swimming near you even without goggles! We decided to walk back to the harbor, and it was worth it to see more of the island, including a Franciscan monastery.
Moped on Brač Island: The Krilo Star makes a stop at another island nearer to Split called Brač. The ferry drops you off in a small town called Milna, which doesn’t have much, but it does have one very important thing: moped rentals. Hop on and zip around the island! The rentals were relatively cheap and the island is small enough that you definitely won’t get lost on the roads. We rode all the way to Bol, the most famous of Brač’s beaches. The beach was nice, but the moped adventure turned out to be a trip highlight! The cliff side roads and quaint towns we drove through made for an unforgettable day.
Where to Eat:
Restaurant Sperun: This place is a bit off the beaten path, but if you want a wide variety of traditional Dalmatian food, and delicious seafood, this is the place!
What to Skip:
Split’s Beaches: If you want to enjoy the beach, go to the islands. It is far less crowded, and the beaches are much cleaner.
We originally booked our place in Zadar because it was a good central location to use as a base to visit various Croatian national parks. We were pleasantly surprised by the city of Zadar itself! More Roman ruins and medieval streets to wander around, a bit less crowded than other cities, and fun nightlife. Of course, we still visited all those national parks we planned on, too.
What to Do:
Plitvice Lakes National Park: This place is absolutely incredible. There are several hiking routes to choose from of varying lengths, but we opted for the longest one and were not disappointed. The waterfalls go on forever, and yet never get old! It is a gorgeous, surreal place. Don’t forget that the park is located in the mountains, so you might want to take a sweatshirt or jacket for the cooler weather!
Krka National Park: If you loved Plitvice but were dying to actually take a dip in the intoxicatingly blue, waterfall fed pools, visit Krka. More waterfalls, but this time, you are free to dive in!
Kornati National Park: This national park is so unique because it is actually an archipelago of 89 tiny islands off the coast of Zadar. We took a tour through a company called Kornati Excursions. The tour included a ride on a boat called the Plava Laguna among the unique islands and even stopped on a couple for snorkeling, cliff jumping, and an included lunch. You can find more information about the tour here: http://www.kornat-excursions.hr/.
Where to Eat:
Konoba Stomorica: Located on a street in the Old Town of Zadar, this place was recommended to us by our AirBnB host and had great food and service! Try the Florentine steak – it was so huge that Andrew and I split it!
What to Skip:
Nothing! We loved Zadar!