I have been going to Croatia for years. Actually since I was born. After all, we used to be in the same country, Yugoslavia. Sometimes we would go to Istria in the north, sometimes to Dalmatian coast, sometimes just a quick trip to Zagreb and sometimes on a real road trip through the country. Those months long camping trips with my family during the summer holidays are my best childhood memories. I have by far not seen it all and even though my travel goals mostly include rather far-away countries, I (we) continue to visit Croatia every year in the summer, even if just for a week or two. Why? Well because it´s simply beautiful, we can really relax there and in a way, it always feels like home. Especially since we live in Germany. So, I took the time and made a post about why we love Croatia so much. I hope to inspire some of you too.
1. CLEAR SEA, HIDDEN BAYS & SECRET BEACHES OF CROATIA
I always say that the Croatian Adriatic sea is one of the best for swimming and believe me, I have swam in many places around the world. Here, the temperature is perfect in the summer, not too cold but still refreshing. Apart from stepping on a sea urchin (which is not poisonous, it just hurts), dangerous/ poisonous animals are very unlikely to be found in the sea. Also, there are no big waves unless there is a storm and many beaches are surrounded with pine tree forests where you can hide in the shade, which makes them perfect for kids too. In the south, the sea is very clear. But you need to know one thing – in general, Croatia is not famous for long sandy beaches, dotted with palm trees. Sure, you can also find sandy bays as well, but the coastline is mostly rocky with pebble stones bays. I know this is not everyone´s cup of tea, but I actually love it this way. On the picture: our hidden bay on Pag island.
For me, the BEST BEACH SPOTS ARE IN DALMATIA, preferably on the islands. Here, you can find hidden pebble stones bays pretty much everywhere. You might need to hike a bit to get to them, it´s also great if you have a small boat. But if you are looking for SANDY BEACHES here are some places: BIJECA (Medulin near Pula), MANESTRA (Crikvenica), MELINE (Krk), SAKARUN (Dugi otok), SAPLUNARA (Mljet), MLASKA (Hvar), VELA PRZINA (Korčula), STONČICA (Vis) RAJSKA PLAZA (Rab), NINSKA LAGUNA (Nin near Zadar), SLANICA (Murter), BACVICE (Split), UVALA LAPAD (Dubrovnik), TRSTENICA (Peljesac peninsula).
2. DELICIOUS CROATIAN FOOD
This is a rather complexed topic as there are many differences between the country´s regions, especially the coastal parts of the country and the other continental parts. THE COASTAL CROATIA reflects Roman, Venetian and Greek influences, using lots of olive oil and herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano and marjoram. Seafood of course is a big part of everyday life here. CONTINENTAL PARTS parts of the country were more influenced by Slavic, Hungarian and Turkish cuisine so here we find more meat dishes, stews and such.
We absolutely love the food over there. SOME OF THE DELICACIES I WOULD SUGGEST TRYING OUT IN CROATIA ARE the BLACK RISOTTO (a seafood risotto made with ink from a cuttlefish), OCTOPUS SALAD (usually eaten as a starter), PEKA (meat or octopus with vegetables slowly cooked in a special terracotta or iron lid, covered with hot coal), TRUFFLES (Istria is the home of Croatian truffles, don´t miss Mirna valley), „BUZARA” (it is a way of preparation and it can be made with scampi, shrimps or musselss), ROASTED LAMB or SUCKLING PIG (you might see lambs and / or suckling pigs on a stick, roasting in small stands and restaurants along the main road), BALKAN BBQ (this includes traditional Yugoslav dishes such as čevapčići, pleskavica, ražnjiči, „šopska“ salad, „kajmak“ cheese, „lepinja“ bread, pickled res peppers, „ajvar“ pepper spread and more), BUREK (it is a good and filling breakfast dish, cna be filed with meat, spinach or cheese), BRUDET (fish stew), FRESH FISH (the best is to ask what the daily catch was, you can also buy fresh fish early in the mornings in the harbour). VEGETABLES and FRUITS are easy to get and are sold along the roads in the summer.
3. THERE ARE OVER 1000 ISLANDS & ISLETS IN CROATIA
Believe it or not, Croatia has well over 1000 islands, almost 50 of them are inhabited. Some of them are of course just barren rocky islets, some of them have little chapels, old ruins or lighthouses on them and some are bigger, with facilities for tourists. Coastal Croatia is divided into the following regions: ISTRIA (northern coastal region with less islands, but therefore beautiful villages and many known touristic spots around Pula, Rovinj and Umag), KVARNER (some beautiful islands are found here. For exapmple Krk, Rab, Cres, Lošinj and Pag), DALMATIA (soooo many islands here and the region is quite big, therefore often subdivided into 4 areas, from north to south: ZADAR area, ŠIBENIK area, SPLIT area and DUBROVNIK area).
I have visited lots of islands, many of them more times. We are lucky to return every year, but if you are only visiting once, the choice which island to choose is really hard. MY FAVOURITE ONES ARE IN THE SOUTHERN PARTS OF DALMATIA. It is really difficult to choose, but I really like VIS, MLJET, LASTOVO and DUGI OTOK, because they are more peceful and quiet. If you have time I would suggest combining a few. I have full blog posts about many of them, you can find them up in the menu under “Destinations” – “Croatia”.
4. CHARMING CROATIAN VILLAGES
The beach is far from everything you can see in Croatia. We really love the old, smaller vilages, scattered around hills and tucked away between vineyards. They can be found everywhere in the country, but we mostly know and like the ones in ISTRIA. They are a great WEEK END GETAWAY and you can find many nicely renovated houses (with pools) to rent and explore from there. Many of these villages have very GOOD RESTAURANTS, ART SHOPS, GALLERIES, some organize different FESTIVALS.
If you are exploring ISTRIA, you should not miss MOTOVUN, GROŽNJAN, HUM (it is actually the smallest city in the world!), LABIN and BALE. If you are exploring the rest of the country, don´t miss KUMROVEC (the birth place of J.B. TITO, the fmaous Yugoslav president), SKRADIN at Krka NP, RASTOKE (famous for its waterfalls and old wooden bridges), ČIGOĆ (a famous village of storks) and of course all the smaller towns and villages at the seaside and on the islands. I really recommend having your own car on the islands and explore around. The interior is often very charming.
5. WONDERFUL CROATIAN SEASIDE TOWNS
One of the best things during a proper summer holiday in Croatia is also aimlessly strolling down the streets of the closest seaside towns. And there are so many beautiful ones! We usually rent houses or apartments in Croatia and cook on our own, but here and there we also eat out and enjoy the lively atmosphere.
SOME OF MY FAVOURITE SEASIDE TOWNS IN ISTRIA are Umag, Poreč, Vrsar, Pula, Rovinj and Rabac. IN KVARNER the charming Opatija, also Rijeka has surprisingly cool spots, Mali Lošinj and Rab. Further down south IN DALMATIA Zadar (really one of my favourites with great history, but also very modern parts), Tisno, Šibenik, Primošten, Trogir, Split, Korčula, Komiža, Bol, Brela, Hvar, Ston, Dubrovnik and Cavtat.
6. NATIONAL PARKS IN CROATIA
Another thing we love are the country´s national parks. There are 8 NATIONAL PARKS IN CROATIA, with PLITVICE NP (amazing area under UNESCO, rich with waterfalls, cascades, 16 lakes and wooden walkways) and KRKA NP (close to Zadar, features stunning waterfalls, lakes and natural pools, with hiking trails for the visitors) probably being the most known ones.
The other ones are MLJET NP (covering a large part of Dalmatian Mljet island which is also Croatia´s greenest island and featuring cycling paths, swimming areas, islands, a monastery and more), SJEVERNI VELEBIT NP (the place to be for cycling and hiking, but don´t miss the amazing botanical gardens as well), PAKLENICA NP (also in the Velebit mountains and close to Zadar, with many hiking trails and climbing opportunities), KORNATI NP (this archipelago of 89 islands & islets is such a stunning national park in Zadar area, perfect for sailing as well), BRIJUNI NP (off the shore in Istria, this archipelago of 14 islands was once former Yugoslav leader Tito´s home – besides historical buildings you can cycle, check out dinosaur footprints and enter a “safari park” on Veliki Brijun island) and last but not least RISNJAK NP (a lesser known park just above Rijeka, with beautiful limestone valleys and mountains, great for hiking & rock climbing).
7. CROATIA IS PERFECT FOR SAILING, YACHTING & BOAT TRIPS
With so many islands and such a long coastline, Croatia is perfect and also very popular for sailing. The harbours can get quite full in the high season though, so make sure you plan ahead. The best months are from May to October and if you do not have your own boat, there are many companies chartering sailing and yachts. And even if you are staying in a hotel, apartments or camp sites you can still do day cruises and boat trips, we almost always do that too while in Croatia.
The best ports to start your journey would be SPLIT (for Dalmatian islands), DUBROVNIK (for southern Dalmatian islands and if you wish to continue to Montenegro) or ZADAR (for exploring Kornati NP islands). You can also check out the famous YACHT WEEK FESTIVAL, which takes place in Croatia as well.
8. HISTORIC SITES IN CROATIA
Croatia has such rich and long history, influenced by ANCIENT GREECE, the ROMANS and later on the VENETIANS and OTTOMANS and most of it is well preserved and free for us to visit, while some is held in museums all around the country. Pula, Šibenik, Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik have some amazing sites, from palaces, churches, basilicas, chapels, city walls, amphitheatres and more.
Here are some sights we love to visit and you should not miss in my opinion: THE ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE IN PULA (the stone ring is still intact, there are sometimes concerts – I went to see Jack Johnson a few years ago, it was awesome! It is also hosting Pula film festival), THE WALLS OF STON (the tiny towns Mali Ston & Veliki Ston share the most amazing once 7km now 5,5km long wall built in the 14th Century for defence reasons), ROMAN FORUM IN ZADAR (Zadar was a Roman colony for around 500 years and there are so many great sights – amphitheatre, city walls, baths, aqueduct and a Forum, the main square with columns. Many of these are still as they were, nowadays there is also a great museum just next to this site), SALONA (one of the largest Roman settlements, now called Solin, where you can see the base of the amphitheatre, remains of columns and more in the archaeological park), DIOCLETIAN´S PALACE IN SPLIT (the once retirement home of the Emperor Diocletian is an amazing site in the centre of Split with lots of historical remains. Today, bars, restaurants and homes are located in parts the former palace), POREČ BASILICA (a great example of Byzantine architecture and art from the 6th Century), DUBROVNIK CITY WALLS (well-known especially since the GOT series, these walls have been there for centuries and are open to the public to walk on. Amazing views!). Also the CATHEDRALS in TROGIR, ŠIBENIK, ZADAR, ZAGREB, SPLIT and elsewhere.
9. ZAGREB, CROATIA´S CAPITAL CITY
People mostly visit Croatia for its coastline, but if you have a little bit more time, I believe a visit to the country´s capital city should not be missed out. Zagreb is quite a big town with lots to do, but the city centre is easy to discover on foot. Besides, it´s a vibrant city in any time of the year. I do prefer it in the summer or December though.
It is impossible to squeeze in everything about Zagreb in just a few sentences, so I´ll just name A FEW OF THE “MUST SEE” SPOTS IN ZAGREB: Zagreb Cathedral in Kaptol area, St. Mark´s church, Gradec medieval area with its restautrants, bars & nice shops, Tkalciceva street (lots of great breweries here for beer lovers), Maksimir park, B. Jelacic square, King Tomislav sqare, Dolac open air market, Ilica street (lots of shops & restaurants), museums and galleries and more.
10. CROATIAN CHRISTMAS MARKETS
There are many reasons to visit Croatia in the winter time too. And one of them are the Christmas markets, held in many towns around the country. In Zagreb you can isit one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. In fact, it is so great that it has been voted as THE BEST CHRISTMAS MARKET IN EUROPE in 2016, 2017 and 2018. There are many many squares, parks, streets and markets, each with their own style, topic and vibe. There is really something for everybody, for the kids, for the young and old. We´ll definitely be back, it really is one of the best December short trips in Europe.
We finally visited it for the first time, on its opening day in November 30th 2019, and we were not dissapointed. So many locations, delicious food (and really a big variety of it), great atmosphere and to round our perfect day trip – a massive fieworks show. We did a day trip with the train from Ljubljana which is very convenient. Zagreb´s central train station is right in the centre and it´s easy to walk anywhere from there.
11. FESTIVALS IN CROATIA
There are many many festivals in any time of the year throughout the country. From music to art, food, film & more. The festivals scene has exploded in the last decade and there is really so much to choose from. I admit, I had no clue about many of them just until a couple of years ago, when I too went to a couple of them. Sadly (or luckily?) I have not much picture material of them, so I´m sharing just one :).
To name just a few. For MUSIC FESTIVALS check out Love international, Ultra Europe, Seasplash, INMusic, Sea Star and Goulash disko. For FILM FESTIVALS: Motovun, Pula, Kastav, Vukovar, Zagreb & Split festivals, Animafest in Zagreb, DORF festival and others. For FOOD FESTIVALS: Day of truffles, Marunada, Kestenijada, Restaurant week, Good Food festival, Gastro Turopolje, Bučijada, Festiwine, Vinistra and many more. There are many more festivals going on mostly in the summer, as well as sports and other events.
I´m sure there are some more awesome things you can see and do in Croatia, so I will be updating this post as we go. One thing I didn´t mention here is skiing – I hope we can try it out in Croatia one time as well! What about you, what´s your favourite place and thing to do in Croatia? Let me know in the comments below.
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