Hey! Hey, you! Are you planning a trip to Croatia? If you want to check out the raddest of the rad spots and have a blast, skim though this list to find the coolest, dopest destinations in Croatia.
After a city break? Snack on these towns!
Rovinj is a dream. Every little street is like a picture-perfect postcard: cobbled streets and sheets hanging between buildings evoke an image of a town from the past. Wherever I turned, this little town took my breath away. It was the place where I realized I was in love with Croatia. Easy to reach from Pula, a day trip to this town should definitely be added to your Istria itinerary!
(Staying in the town might prove difficult, though – there is only one hostel in town, and holiday rentals can be expensive for a solo traveller.)
Make sure you climb the precarious steps up the clock tower for amazing views over the whole town!
Everyone I talked to seems to agree about Zagreb: it was a positive surprise. Being the economic and financial capital of Croatia -well, as well as the actual capital – I was expecting faceless skyscrapers and busy business people, something along the lines of Frankfurt or London’s Liverpool street. How wrong was I. Zagreb has a vibrant café culture and some awesome small breweries, in addition to great food and a flourishing art scene. What’s there not to love?
Top tip: I had the best cheesecake of my (Balkan) life in Vincek on the high street. Apparently their ice cream is also the best in Croatia but don’t quote me on that (I was too full on cake to try it myself. No regrets.).
I fell in love with Sibenik in minutes. Sibenik is the oldest seaside town in Dalmatia and located just half an hour’s drive from the Krka national park – aka baby Plitvice – but for some reason it is still relatively unknown to foreigners and devoid of the crowds that plague some of the more popular cities. In Sibenik, you can explore four ancient forts around the city – St. Michael’s sitting on top of the town is the easiest to reach and has awesome sunset views; hang out on the city beach with a view over the old town; or trace the steps of Daenyrys and Arya. Yep, some scenes from Game of Thrones were also filmed here.
Into the wild? Into it, then!
Velebit hiking trail
Easy to follow and populated by comfortable hiker’s huts, the Velebit trail is a great choice for anyone wanting to explore some of Croatia’s natural landscape. The trail runs along the Dinaric alps accompanied by impressive views over the Adriatic Sea. My favourite part was the southern part of the Northern Velebit trail, Dabri and Dabarski region, where the trail is surrounded by impressive karst formations and beautiful deep canyons.
There are eight national parks in Croatia, and many locals as well as tourists name Mljet their favourite. Often tourists take a day trip there to see the famous island monastery (plus you get to say you went to an island on a lake on an island) but it’s worth spending a night or two on the island to explore all it has to offer.
Mljet is possibly the greenest, lushest Croatian island, and it has some great options for avid hikers. For those that would rather spend their day by the sea, a visit down to Odysseys’ cave is highly recommended. A legend has it that Odysseys himself shipwrecked on this island. You can jump in the water from 7, 10 or 21 metres and swim into the mythical cave to chase the legend.
Orebic is a town on the Peljesak peninsula on the opposite side of the bay from Korcula and just a 20-minute ferry ride away. While the town itself isn’t much to look at, the hills behind it offer some excellent hiking as well as beautiful sunset views over the Dalmatian islands. If you’re stopping off in Korcula, a day trip or an overnight stay in Orebic is very much recommended.
But parties, you cry, who will think about the parties??
I will! These are some great spots for nightlife (although to be honest, I rarely had a boring night out anywhere in Croatia).
Nestled conveniently between tourist hot spots Split and Dubrovnik, Makarska is still overlooked by many regular backpackers. Those on yacht week might be familiar with it, though: Makarska is home to the famous cave bar. Join the dance floor built inside a cave, and when it gets to be too much, go cool off on the beach right outside of it. The cave party was one of the best party venues I found in Croatia.
Makarska also has some awesome beaches, and for the more athletic, you can hike up the Biokovo mountain for some great views over the sea.
Top tip: Stay in Hostel Mimika. While it is quite a walk from the old town, it is cheap, clean and very friendly. It was very recently opened, but Josip – the owner – has some backpacking experience of his own and he knows how to create a welcoming atmosphere for solo travellers.
Hvar island (Stari grad town)
Hvar is the place to party in Croatia – ask anyone. The island can be summed up in two words: beautiful but expensive. Still, it is well worth a visit, even if you don’t plan on wasting the night away until the small hours of the morning. Spend the day lounging by the crystal clear Adriatic sea (and jealously gazing at the million-dollar yachts docked in the harbor – who even has that much money??) or hike up the hill for fantastic views over the harbor, or just wander around the UNESCO listed old town streets – which, might I add, are surprisingly quiet during the day as people flock to beaches and bars, or stay home nursing their hangovers.
One little tip, though: while Carpe Diem might be the most famous bar on the island, the 200 kuna entrance fee seems excessive. Places like Seven and Jazz Bar have free entrance and can hold up a party just as well.
On the other hand, the places that left me very much underwhelmed…
Just to note: I travelled Croatia in June and July, which are the busiest tourist months, so bitching about crowds seems like a very petty thing to do. Like, what did you expect?? However, I feel like in these cases it’s justified. These places were not only crowded, they were over capacity.
Krka National Park
Krka was described to me as ‘like Plitvice lakes but smaller, and you can swim there’. What they failed to do was really put an emphasis on the small part. While Krka photographs well, the waterfalls are tiny, and the designated swimming area – as expected – fills up fast. I arrived in the park as soon as it opened in the morning, and even then it was already filling up. At midday, the first viewpoint was so crammed with people that moving through was nearly impossible.
The loop walk around the park area took me maybe an hour and a half, and that was sauntering at an extremely slow pace, taking sit-down breaks just for the heck of it. And maybe everything else could be forgiven, but the entrance fee to the park is TWO HUNDRED KUNAS. That’s about 25 euros. For what you get for the price, it’s almost not worth it.
Almost everyone I know LOVED this little town. But that’s where my issue with it lies, too: it’s little. While Trogir’s old town’s narrow little streets are cute (and I had the best cheesecake ice cream of my life there!), they are also crammed with tourists. Trogir is too small to be able to hold as many people as who visit it in the busier months. To make matters worse, it is a stop off for yacht week, which just adds to the crowds. Trogir might be beautiful, but for the introverted Finn in me it’s just too much.
To end with…
I want to say a few words of the three most popular attractions of the country: Dubrovnik, Split and Plitvice lake. They are the places that most tourists in Croatia visit; they are also the ones that seem to catch the most flak.
Dubrovnik – the pearl of the Adriatic Sea, as called so by Lord Byron – is a beautiful seaside town, and since acting as a primary shooting location for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, has seen a massive surge in tourism. The old town of Dubrovnik seems to be too small to accommodate all the tourists that wish to visit it. I was even warned against going there. Split is much the same, albeit a little less claustrophobic.
However, I would never advice anyone to skip these towns. Yes, they’re crowded; if it bothers you, go out late at night or early in the morning, or steer clear off the main streets and take to the little alleyways around the centre. Yes, they’re also expensive; but it is to be expected. Prepare for Dubrovnik and Split for what they are, and you will have a good time there.
Plitvice lakes was my last stop in Croatia and one that I had very much been looking forward to. When I got there, though, I felt… not much anything, really. I wasn’t disappointed, but I also wasn’t impressed. While the place was beautiful, I felt like I had already seen so any pictures of it that nothing there could surprise me.
And of course you have to go at 7 a.m. when the national park opens – otherwise you will get caught up in a massive influx of people. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
All in all, Croatia is an amazing country, and while its popularity (and prices!) have reached the heights of likes of Italy or Spain, there are still some less explored nooks of the country that should not be overlooked in favour of the most ‘in’ spots.
Have you ever been to Croatia or are you planning to go? What was your favourite place there if you went?