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Croatia has been identified as the fastest-growing Mediterranean travel destination. Combining Central European charm and Mediterranean sensuality, the country rides a growing wave of international tourism. There’s nothing but positive news coming out of Croatia these days, which is a marked change from the political turmoil that marked the 1990s. Out of that struggle has arisen a nation bright and beautiful, one eminently hospitable and welcoming.
The lush natural beauty and excellent weather in Croatia accommodate a range of outdoor pursuits. Biking and hiking are always popular. Indeed, coastal Croatia is considered one of the world’s finest bike tours. Swimming, diving, and sunbathing on the seaside locales are all excellent. Inland, discover rambling forestlands, azure lakes, and stunning nature preserves teeming with birds and butterflies. The cities offer every convenience, as well as a diverse arts scene that includes live music and stage performances, theater, and visual arts.
A sense of history is strong here. Thousand-year-old olive trees and dinosaur footprints bear witness to Croatia’s significance in the annals of history, as do Roman and Greek ruins. Cities marry an Old World feel to vibrant, modern culture. The presence of outdoor markets and pedestrian-only cities hearken back to simpler times. To visit is to immerse oneself in olden days. You’ll experience quaint roadside shrines and village parades, lighthouse hotels and ancient palaces. At the same time, fantastic cuisine, great music, and a thriving festival schedule are all hallmarks of the Croatian experience. You’ll be enchanted by the old and new alike.
Top Croatia Sights
The capital and largest city in Croatia, Zagreb is imbued with “old world” charm comparable to Budapest and Prague. Medieval architecture and cobbled streets lend an air of antiquity to Zagreb, but the current of life is vibrant. All major roads begin or end here, and the large, efficient public transportation system ensures that you will get where you want to go. At the old town gate is a shrine to the Virgin Mary, to whom Croatians are deeply devoted. It’s said that the Lady grants the deepest wishes of those who appeal to her, and silence is normally observed entering under the gate. Maksimir Park and Zoo is a beloved gathering place for locals and visitors alike, and is ideal for checking out with dogs or children. Sunny lunches and late-night drinks alike are found at Lake Jarun, where the moneyed go to hang out and have a good time. Paintings by renowned European masters like Goya, Holbein, and Degas can be viewed at the Mimara Museum. There are also a wide array of cinemas, cafes, juice bars, and clubs, as well as a thriving street performance scene.
Although its recent history is marked by strife, Dubrovnik is a tranquil city riddled with natural beauty. Writer George Bernard Shaw called it “paradise on earth,” and with good reason: to see pictures of this cultured and historic jewel of the Dalmatia region is to fall in love at first sight. It has been called “the pearl of the Adriatic,” and in Middle Ages was the only city whose arts, learning, and maritime trade could rival that of Venice. The pedestrian-only Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and full of winding, steep streets surrounded by tall, stout walls. Walking atop the walls is a favorite activity of visitors! The coastal beaches of Lapad and Banje boast clear, blue waters and pebbled beaches accommodating of volleyball, sunbathing, and swimming. On a clear, warm day, hikes to the old fortress atop Mount Srđ offer stunning views and a peak into the city’s past.
The Roman emperor Diocletian was so entranced by Split that he made his home here. Today, the palace constructed in 305 AD is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Split is known for Roman ruins, a legacy of its status as the oldest city in Croatia. Locals and visitors flock to the Pazar Market, a high-energy gathering place abounding with the season’s finest produce and treasures. From fresh-cut flowers to honeys and oils, wild vegetables and fruits to cheese and other dairy offerings, you’ll find all the fundamentals of a delicious meal here! Split is a compact city and very walkable, which lends itself nicely to wandering the cozy bars upon an evening and sipping on some of Croatia’s delicious domestic wines. Snorkeling and diving in the harbor are significant draws for visitors, as is sailing the sunny inlets of the “Mediterranean flower.”
Plitvice National Park
The lakes of Plitvice National Park flow through travertine rock formations, which leaves mineral deposits in the water. Consequently, the sunlight has the power to turn the water bright blue and green. Hike the lake on one of several paths around the 16 interconnected lakes and spy on hundreds of bird, frog, and fish species in their natural environment. You’ll trek wooden footbridges and explore hidden caves! Flocks of butterflies drift through the air, and foxes can be seen darting through the underbrush of the forests. Boat tours crisscrossing the lakes are plentiful. You can camp overnight in nearby Korana and take a bus to the park, or drive in from one of the bigger cities.
This fashionable island paradise has become a playground for the Central European jetset. Fragrant with the scents of lavender and rosemary for which it is known, Hvar is full of the beauty of nature. The Greeks designed the city around a grid architectural plan, the ingenuity of which distinguishes Hvar as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Powdery beaches, swaying palms, and coral reefs straight out of picture postcards crown the beaches. When the heather is in bloom, a riotous purple carpet drapes the hills. Little wonder, then, that Hvar has ranked predominantly among the world’s sexiest travel destinations. It works hard on living up to that reputation, too: opulent private villas open to balconies overlooking the sea, streetside cafes come alive with the sounds of jazz standards, and the overall flavor of life is very sweet here. Boating, swimming, sunbathing, and people-watching are quintessential pastimes.
There is no better way to explore the breathtaking beauty of the Adriatic Sea than by boat. Croatia is a land of twelve hundred islands, and many residents keep small boats to shuttle from place to place. Cruise ships are a frequent sight in the harbors. Chartering a private yacht has become a very popular add-on to any Croatian getaway. You’ll have the chance to visit several city and island destinations while experiencing the romance and excitement of sailing one of the most scenic coastlines on the continent. The most luxurious options feature gourmet chefs and private five-star accommodations. If you’ve never learned to sail, you can take lessons from the pros while basking in the radiant Mediterranean sun.
|Primary Airports: Zagreb Airport (ZAG), Split Airport (SPU)|
|Government: Parliamentary Democracy|
|Currency: Kuna (HRK)|
|Population: 4,267,000 (2011 est.)|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC + 1|
Croatia Travel Reviews
Dubrovnik is beautiful and very hot in the summer so dress appropriately. If you are on an escorted tour try and spend a few days in Dubrovnik at the beginning or end of your trip as there are so many things to do there that you won't get them all in if you stick to the tour's itinerary.
A Welcoming Place to Relax and Enjoy
I traveled to Zagreb with my husband and sons in August for a late summer trip. The city of Zagreb is a hospitable and intriguing place to visit. We stayed at a newly built hotel outside the city center. We rented a car, but didn't use it often. We used the metro which was convenient, clean and safe. The weather was hot, but it also rained a bit. We enjoyed visiting Old Town and relaxing at the outdoor cafes. It was nice to have dinner and then sit to enjoy drinks and people watch. Be sure to try ćevapi, beef sausages served over fries. Sladoled is a great treat, from either an ice cream shop or street vendor. Stands on the street corners serve delicious breads and pastries for snacks. In Zagreb, you learn to slow down and not rush. Ojusko, the local beer, was delicious. Croatia also has great wines. In summer, everyone seems to get out as much as possible. We were able to enjoy watching the professional soccer team, Dinamo, practice and play a game. Croatia takes soccer very seriously. The city is family friendly with many parks, interesting museums and a nice zoo. Croatians are particular about money and receipts. When making purchases, lay your money on the counter and your change is returned the same way. Fines can be given for not providing a receipt, or for not keeping a receipt after leaving a store. Tipping is generally frowned upon.
A Backpacker's Tour of Cultural and Scenic Croatia
I arrived in Split, Croatia via the BlueLine Ferry service from Italy and was immediately taken by the turquoise water of the bay and pristine shoreline. Like many European towns, Split has a beautiful, walled "old city" worth exploring. There is a touristy area just inside the gates, peppered with cafes, boutiques, and gelato shops, but once you move beyond all of that it is like stepping back in time. As a budget backpacker, I took advantage of the One Penny walking tour around the city, a great choice for anyone interested in local history. Along the shoreline you will find beaches, parks and cliff sides. The cliffs, just a short walk from town, are only about 15-20 feet high and are perfect for jumping or diving into the crystal clear water below. A short ferry ride will take you to the posh island of Hvar or the scenic island of Brac, with its famed Bol Beach. From Split I traveled by train North, to the capital city of Zagreb. Two days and a tour will show you everything there is to see in the city. Be sure to see Saint Mark's church, with its gorgeously tiled roof. From Zagreb, catch a bus roughly 2 1/2 hours to Plitvice National Park, a natural wonderland of waterfalls and walking trails. Plitvice Lakes is both the oldest and the largest national park in Croatia, and an absolute must see if you are visiting the country. It will take your breath away.
Exploring Croatia’s Very Own Riviera: Cavtat and Dubrovnik
In 2004, a group of us departed Gatwick Airport for Croatia. Arriving at Dubrovnik, we made Cavtat our base, staying at the Supetar Hotel.
Cavtat is a pretty and elegant little town perfectly made for unwinding. Palm trees framed whitewashed houses with terracotta roof tiles that basked in the August sunshine. The pace was unhurried, and the marina and waterfront cafes were charming. The beaches were nice, and less pebbly than other Croatian beaches. The locals were friendly, and we enjoyed Croatian lamb dishes as well as international cuisine. Italian food was readily available. Cavtat is the ideal destination if you like day cruises. For hikers, comfortable shoes are a must for climbing the steep steps to gain stunning panoramic views of the mountains and the Adriatic Sea.
Ferries/water taxis link Cavtat to the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik tended toward crowds, but is well worth a visit to see baroque towers, cobbled streets, churches and famous works of art. We were entertained by street musicians and painters. The natural harbors are gorgeous. The single most popular activity in Dubrovnik is the walk along the city walls. We undertook the walk in late afternoon to avoid the noon-day sun, and we took plenty of fluids with us. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the city below. We bought lovely fresh fruit at the daily market on Gundulic Square.
If you wish to travel further afield to explore this beautiful country, overnight foot ferries take travelers to Split, the second largest city in Croatia. Cultural attractions include museums and galleries, cathedrals and palaces.
Summer Trip to Croatia
I traveled to Croatia in June with a group of friends through a program at my church. We were there to help paint an elementary school, learn about local history, and meet the people. When we arrived in the capital, Zagreb, we were welcomed with sunshine and warmth, both weather-wise and from our local hosts.
We didn't have more than a day in Zagreb, but we did get to explore the architecture of Upper Town (much history - it is worth a leisurely stroll just to see the Medieval-era structures!) We also had a tasty coffee at Palinovka, a popular Upper Town hotspot. Coffee is a huge part of local social culture in Croatia!
Our destination still lay ahead - Old Town Dubrovnik, a small seaside village full of charm, history, and a newly launched elementary school designed to bring together Serbian and Croatian families. In between painting sessions, we explored the local countryside and visited a cattle farm (cattle is a big industry for milk and meat). We also took a full day to explore Old Town Dubrovnik, strolling through the Mediterranean-esque streets and popping into fun little art galleries and shops.
A note - not to be missed is Croatia's ice cream! The cool, sweet dessert is so popular some shops display "no ice cream" decals (an ice cream cone with a slash through it) at their entrances. All locally made, in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins - any cafe is fair game to find the treat.
An Adventure Through Croatia
Traveling from the capital of Zagreb to the Adriatic Sea towns from Opatija to Zadar was a highlight of my past summer adventures.
The historical city of Zagreb hosts many examples of beautiful architecture such as the Zagreb Cathedral and the Croatian National Theatre. My friends and I were lucky enough to see a play in the neo-baroque theater, which made me feel like 19th century royalty. The Archaeological Museum was an interesting walk through ancient times. Caffe-Restoran Boban serves delicious Italian (similar to Croatian) food accompanied by local and foreign wines.
On the drive to Zadar we stopped at the breathtaking Plitvice Lakes National Park for a picnic. Hiking through the numerous waterfalls surrounded by turquoise blue lakes was refreshing and re-energizing.
When we arrived in the old city center of Zadar we immediately indulged in fresh seafood and local wine. Restaurant Tamaris served traditional Dalmatian Coast cuisine with seafood and meat specialties. We then took a tour of The Church of St. Donatus among other historical sites. Local guides were happy to give information about the ancient city.
We drove up the Adriatic Coast to Opatija where we reveled in more delicious seafood and homemade brandy. We rested our tired bodies on the beach during the day, as the nightlife in Opatija is comparable to many major European cities. The sea is a bit chilly, but the crystal clear waters are excellent for snorkeling.
The culinary delights, historical treasures, and pristine nature provided a perfect adventure through Croatia.
Stay in private apartments near the towns for a wonderful walking adventure with sights & locals,
Go everywhere by boat/ferries
Great seafood every place
Private drivers for excursions affordable & knowledgeable
October weather was delightful
There are 1000 islands to this country