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.
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.
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 Split, 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.
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.
Undeniably though, its Croatia’s beaches and islands that are the country’s top draw. The Elaphite 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.
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 accommodation 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. See here in our Croatia travel guide on more about when to travel 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 Skyscanner 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. For more information on getting to Croatia see here.
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.
Croatia boasts more than a thousand islands, surrounded by impossibly clear waters, and it’s easy to visit several of them via the frequent ferry services or catamarans which operate year round – although the frequency of crossings varies according to the season. See here for more on island hopping.
Find out more on how to travel in Croatia.
This walled city is one of the most perfectly preserved in Europe. A walk along the battlements gives the ideal vantage point of its medieval and Baroque splendours, and across the canopy of orange-tiled rooftops to the Adriatic sea. Wander the narrow alleys and cobbled streets and absorb Dubrovnik’s timeless quality.
If you travel to Croatia you must visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park. This is Croatia’s most popular natural attraction – and it’s easy to see why. The stunning scenery is made up of sixteen sapphire lakes and gushing waterfalls, the weaving wooden walkways allowing you to get up close. And the surrounding densely wooded hills are home to deer, bears, wolves and wild boar.
This magnificent arena in Pula is one of only six remaining Roman amphitheatres in the world and, with its outer wall still complete, is the best preserved of Croatia’s historical sites. Built in the first century AD, it had space for 22,000 spectators, who came to watch gory gladiator contests. Nowadays, people come for the annual film festival and summer concerts, or to just appreciate the grand architecture and to explore the underground corridors.
To experience an unforgettable landscape hike up the Velika Paklenica gorge. The climb takes you through lush elm and beech forest, and between rocky precipitous peaks, and you can visit the extraordinary stalactite-filled chambers of the Manita péc cave en route. If you’re reasonably fit set off early for the highest peaks. You’ll be rewarded at the top of Vaganski vrh with spectacular views.
Hvar is a magnet for celebs, the chi chi and those wanting to party. But as well as swanky bars and restaurants, and flashy yachts glinting in the harbour, the island offers a wealth of secluded coves and beautiful and pristine beaches, lapped by magically crystal clear waters. Add to this a landscape of picturesque lavender fields, olive groves and vineyards, dotted with stonehouse villages, where you can feast on traditional Dalmatian cuisine, and you’re onto a winner.
Rovinj is Istria’s most characterful and atmospheric coastal town, with a distinctly Italian feel. The old town’s mesh of steep narrow streets and alleys, and small, refined piazzas, are flanked by Venetian style houses in various muted pastel hues, and are a delight to explore. Climb the bell tower of St Euphemia’s Church for wonderful views over the town to nearby vineyards and small forested islands. Take a stroll around the pretty harbour and then sample some of the best seafood and Istrian cuisine.
Ditch the crowds and ferry the short hop over to the lush, unspoiled, and pretty much car-free, Elaphite Islands. Only three of the islands are inhabited – Koločep, Lopud and Šipan, and you can visit all three in a day on a tour from Dubrovnik, although, if you have the time, it pays to stay overnight to make the most of the beautiful scenery and tranquillity. Enjoy gentle hikes or bike rides around delightful Šipan, taking in the scenery of olive groves and vineyards, or on Mljet, with its series of bike trails and footpaths in its national park. The clear turquoise waters of the park’s two lakes make for a wonderful dip.
Rab is a strong contender for the most gorgeous, and greenest of the Kvarner Gulf islands, with its fragrant pine forests and lovely sandy beaches. Its long-standing status as a naturist centre – was popularized by the visit of British King Edward VIII (accompanied by future wife Wallis Simpson) in the summer of 1936. Whether Edward actually got the royal tackle out or not is debatable, but holidaymakers continue to bare their bottoms on the island’s glorious sandy beaches, particularly on the Lopar peninsular. Exploring the narrow streets and alleys of the characterful, medieval Rab Town, with its sand-coloured stone buildings, is a delight, and in the summer months the town really comes to life.
It’s no wonder that the photogenic island of Vis provided the location for the film, Mama Mia! Here We Go Again. A Yugoslave military base until 1989, the island was off limits to tourists, which means it has remained delightfully low key and unspoiled – helped by the fact that it’s the farthest inhabited island from mainland Croatia. Visitors are captivated by the island’s gorgeous beaches and bays, surrounded by breathtakingly clear waters, while the two main small towns, Komiža and Vis Town are both charming.Colourful fishing boats bob about in the harbour at Komiža, backed by pretty Venetian-style houses and palm trees, and Vis Town’s jumble of limestone passageways and 17th-century buildings make for a great leisurely wander – as does the lovely, long seafront. Add to this fantastic food made from locally sourced produce, and local wine, and you won’t want to leave this piece of paradise.
Once seen pretty much as just a springboard for trips to the Dalmatian islands, Croatia’s lively second city, with its abundance of waterfront cafés, noisy street vendors, and ancient cobbled streets and fascinating history, is compelling visitors to stick around. At its vibrant heart is Diocletian’s former palace, with its unique tangle of Roman and medieval remains, containing cafés, shops and flats, to which visitors gravitate. Dive in to Split’s jumping nightlife, if that’s your bag, and chill out on the city’s nearby sun-kissed sands by day.
See here for more top places and things not to miss.
The carefully-curated travel itineraries in our Croatia travel guide will inspire and help you make the most of your trip. Covering Croatia’s fascinating historic cities, glorious coastline and secluded islands, along with delicious regional cuisines, there’s an itinerary for your interests and time frame.
Our Foodie’s tour gives you the opportunity to sample traditional mouth-watering regional cuisines, delicious seafood and outstanding local wines; you can cover this in ten days, although if you have longer, all the better.
Combining pristine, tucked away beaches, national parks and quiet villages, with lively bars and restaurants, the Idyllic Islands itinerary can also be covered in ten days, although you’ll wish you had more time.
If you have two weeks or longer, and want a bit of everything, from the historical to the contemporary, stunning national parks and beaches, as well as vibrant nightlife, our Grand Tour could be the itinerary for you.
Here is a sample itinerary, ideal for the first-time visitor to Croatia with ten days to a fortnight to play with. But you can see all the itineraries in our Croatia travel guide here.
This Dalmatian island has it covered: café culture and buzzing nightlife, unspoiled beaches, sleepy villages, and pretty lavender fields and vineyards.
If you were one of the millions who tuned into HBO’s hit show, Game of Thrones, we have a Croatia itinerary that will be right up your street. It’s hardly surprising that much of the show was filmed in Croatia: its stunning scenery and intriguing historical heritage – with its castles, fortifications and ancient architecture, provide the perfect backdrop to this epic fantasy saga.
Our eight-day trip takes you from the bustling city of Zagreb, to Dubrovnik, one of the best preserved walled cities in the world, via several other historical towns, cities and sights. You’ll visit beautiful national parks and witness breathtaking coastal views, get to relax in luxury accommodation, and sample delicious regional food and local wine.
Highlights of the trip:
Dubrovnik is the setting for King’s Landing, and the arboretum in the Trsteno district stands in for King’s Landing palace gardens.
The narrow streets and 15th-century houses of Šibenik on the Adriatic coast will be familiar as the city of Braavos.
Trogir, with its mix of Roman, Renaissance and Baroque architecture is transformed into the harbour town of Qarth.
In the lively city of Split, the Roman and medieval remains of The Diocletian’s Palace will be familiar from several scenes.
Krka National Park, an otherworldly landscape of gushing waterfalls and lakes, provides the backdrop for Game of Thrones’ Seven Kingdoms.
Lokrum Island is a setting for the town of Qarth.
Find out how to book this itinerary here.
Before you visit Croatia, make sure you have up-to-date travel advice. From insurance information to shop opening hours, tipping etiquette to advice on travelling with kids – our Croatia travel guide offers tips and advice to cover all you need to know.
Croatia’s unit of currency is the kuna (Kn), which is divided into 100 lipa.
Accommodation will be your biggest single expense, comparative with Western Europe, and costs shoot upwards in July and August, whereas eating and drinking remain reasonably good value, especially if you’re shopping in markets and only eating out once a day.
The best place to change money is at a bank (banka), or exchange bureau (mjenjačnica), and you’ll find ATMs in all Croatian town centres.
Shops in Croatia are usually open Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm, and on Saturdays from 8am to 2 or 3pm. See here for more information on opening times for shops, banks, post offices, supermarkets, museums and galleries, etc.
Standards of public health are good, and tap water is safe everywhere. For more information on health, including inoculations, obtaining medicine, and emergency care, check here.
It is essential to have a good travel insurance policy to cover against theft, loss and illness or injury.
Make sure it covers you for ‘dangerous sports’ if you’re planning on going scuba diving, whitewater rafting, windsurfing and trekking. If you need to make a claim, keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment, and in the event you have anything stolen, obtain an official statement from the police.
Wall sockets in Croatia operate at 220 volts and take round, two-pin plugs.
Most hostels, hotels and cafés offer free wi-fi access to their customers.
For unlimited Wi-Fi on the go whilst travelling Croatia, buy a Skyroam Solis, which works in 130+ countries at one flat daily rate, paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis. You can connect up to five devices at once. Prices start from as little as €5 a day.
Although legal, homosexuality is still not widely accepted. However, same sex couples may feel comfortable at certain beach resorts. See here for more on LGBTQ travellers.
Many towns and regions have tourist offices where staff usually speak English, often German and Italian as well. See here for information on opening hours and the services they provide.
Many public places in Croatia are wheelchair accessible, especially in larger cities, though using public transport and accessing tourist sites can be a challenge. There are a growing number of wheelchair-accessible hotels, though these tend to be in the more expensive price brackets and they are not spread evenly through-out the country.
Croatia is generally a family-friendly country, although hotels and restaurants may not necessarily be equipped with things you need, such as high chairs, cots, children’s beds, etc.
See here for more on travelling with children, such as facilities, getting around, and travel and accommodation costs.
The best destination for shopping in Croatia is Zagreb, which offers a range of retail experiences you won’t find along the Adriatic coast. The capital has regular flea and collectors’ markets, second-hand clothes shops and plenty of stores selling old books, records and CDs.
Zagreb also has more in the way of boutiques selling household goods and fashion accessories by Croatian designers, although these crop up in Rovinj, Dubrovnik and Split as well.
Many of Croatia’s best souvenir ideas involve food and drink. Top Croatian wines can generally be picked up at high-street supermarkets, although a specialist wine shop (vinoteka) will stock a broader choice. Bottles of herb-flavoured rakija, often featuring fragments of herb in the bottle, also make good gifts. Widely available delicatessen products include truffle-based sauces and pâtés, pršut, figs in honey and other fruit-based preserves. Extra-virgin olive oil is as good as any in Europe. Soaps made from olive oil and fragranced with local herbs are also a good buy, as are bags of lavender, harvested on the island of Hvar.
Intricate embroidery featuring folk motifs is still produced in many areas of inland Croatia, and in the Konavle region south of Dubrovnik. Even the smallest pieces make gorgeous souvenirs, but can be very expensive. Finally, lacemaking is still a traditional occupation in the Adriatic town of Pag, where lacemakers are frequently encountered selling their wares from doorways and living-room windows.
There are self-contained naturist holiday villages in Istria (the biggest are just outside Poreč, Rovinj and Vrsar), and naturist campsites in Istria and the island of Krk. Throughout Croatia, you’ll find isolated coves or stretches of beach where it is OK to be nude, providing it is at a discreet distance from the main family-oriented sections.
Citizens of EU countries need only a valid passport to enter Croatia. Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are allowed to enter Croatia without a visa for stays of up to ninety days. Citizens of other countries should check visa regulations with the nearest Croatian embassy or consulate before leaving home.
Visitors to Croatia are required by law to register with the local police within 24 hours of arrival. If you’re staying in a hotel, hostel or campsite, or if you’ve booked a private room through a recognized agency, the job of registration will be done for you. If you’re staying with friends or in a room arranged privately, your hosts are supposed to register you. Failure to get registered only becomes a problem if the police have reason to question you about where you’re staying, which is very rare. Even if they do, official attitudes to registration are flexible: the police often turn a blind eye to tourists and hosts alike if you’re merely enjoying a short holiday on the coast, but can throw you out of the country if you’ve been staying in Croatia unregistered for a long period of time.
Croatia is a pretty safe country for visitors, even at night. And women travelling alone are generally safe in Croatia. Avoid petty theft by taking common-sense precautions: don’t display expensive jewellery or watches, keep separate copies of important documents, wear a money belt containing your passport or driving licence (especially as police routinely do identity card checks), and make sure you’re insured – just in case! Croatian police are usually helpful and most speak English.
The wide range of food and drink on offer in Croatia naturally reflects the country’s geographical position, the influences of central Europe colliding with those of the Mediterranean. So while you’ll find every kind of seafood dominating menus up and down the coast, you’ll also find schnitzel, other meat and sauce-heavy dishes, pastries, and various riffs on pasta and noodles.
Croatian’s tend to eat their main meal at lunchtime, although eating establishments also cater for tourists who usually dine out in the evenings. Restaurants often have meat and fish brunch snacks on offer in the mornings, which make for a great affordable lunch.
While Croatia is a relatively small country, it boasts eight national parks, each showcasing different aspects of its diverse and beautiful landscape – from spartan rocky islands, dramatic mountain gorges, dense forests and foaming waterfalls. Any visit to Croatia warrants an exploration of at least one.
Here are the great eight, in no particular order.
The Brijuni Islands are an archipelago off the coast of Istria, made up of fourteen islands. Only two of them, Mali Brijun and Veli Brijun – the larger of the two, and the main attraction, are open to visitors. You can take a tourist train around the island, consisting of forests, landscaped parks, roman remains – and dinosaur footprints. There is also a safari park of zebras, elephants and llamas – the menagerie inherited from the zoo of Maršal Tito, former president of Yugoslavia, who made the island one of his residences. To see the island at your own pace, hop on a bike (for hire at the harbour) and follow the 13-kilometre cycle route, which takes in all the main sights.
This stark chain of sparsely inhabited islands in northern Dalmatia is a deservedly popular target for boat trips. The allure lies in the beauty of it sparse landscape: its craggy coastline with dramatic cliffs and unusual rock formations gives way to an interior of resilient grass and sage, dotted here and there with stone cottages. And the islands’ wonderfully rich marine life is a magnet for scuba divers. Restaurants along the shoreline serve exquisite seafood.
Paklenica National Park in the southern edge of the Velebit massif stretches down to the Adriatic coast, making it easy to combine some mountain action with vital beach time, without having to venture far. The big attractions are the rocky duo, the Velika and Mala Paklenica canyons, offering fantastic hiking and rock-climbing opportunities. There are 200km of hiking trails through the forested slopes and karst wilderness, and climbs to suit all abilities.
The Northern Velebit National Park tempts trekkers with its varied landscape, rustic villages, and spectacular views of the coast. The 57km Premužić Trail offers gentle hiking, alternating between lush forests and rocky terrain, with easy day-walks possible. The main peak, Zavižan, is 1676m high, and you don’t even have to break a sweat to see the jaw-dropping views of the Kvarner Gulf below: it’s easily accessible from the car park at the end of the road.
Plitvice Lakes National Park’s status as the most popular natural attraction in Croatia is well deserved. Its terraced system of sixteen lakes and cascading waterfalls are a dazzling sight, encompassed by deep forested hills in which deer, wild boar, wolves and bears roam. Paths wind between the lakes, but to get a sense of the wilderness, explore the edges of the park where fewer visitors venture.
Myth has it that Odysseus was so entranced with the island of Mljet that he stayed for seven years. You can certainly see his point. Although a mere 32km long and 3km at its widest, it’s a slither of forested paradise, with the Mljet National Park occupying a third of the island. Within the national park are two salt-water lakes, Malo jezero (Small Lake) and Veliko jezero (Big Lake), which you can cycle or walk around, and the deliciously clear waters are a must for a dip. The two villages within the park, Pomena and Polače are delightfully low key and peaceful.
You may not want to stay for seven years, but you might stay overnight to really unwind. Otherwise, you can easily arrange day trips via ferry or catamaran from Dubrovnik.
Krka National Park, inland of Šibenik, is a bewitching landscape of lakes, waterfalls and canyons, through which runs the River Krka, down to the sea. The majority of visitors – and there are millions each year – make a bee line for the immensely impressive Skradinski buk, the largest of the park’s terraced waterfalls. The furious rush of water meets a gentle lagoon, its clear turquoise waters perfect for swimming. It’s easy to leave the crowds behind, and a boat tour is one way to see more of the park’s stunning scenery, including the lesser visited falls at Roški slap, and a couple of historic monasteries.
Risnjak National Park in the northern region of Gorski kotar, seduces cyclists, hikers and climbers with its beautiful mountain scenery. Gentle hiking trails wind through sunny glades and forested slopes of beech and fir, home to bears, wolves and lynx. More challenging hikes, such as to the summit of Veliki Risnjak, the park’s highest point, or it’s slightly smaller sister, Snježnik, await those who can handle the thigh burn. Cyclists have ample routes of various lengths to explore, which are well marked.
Top image: View of Dubrovnik © Guilleont/Shutterstock