Croatia Travel Guide

With its magnificent Adriatic coastline, more than 1,000 offshore islands and a mild Mediterranean climate, Croatia’s tourist industry, which was interrupted by the 1990s Bosnian War, has made a booming comeback. Off the beaten track rolling terrain, ornate hilltop towns, good domestic wine and an abundance of black and white truffles has earned it flattering comparisons with Tuscany. Oh yes, and the locals will keep proudly reminding you this plucky little nation once came third in the World Cup Football and took home the Golden Boot award.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: Zagreb’s historic monuments, vineyards of Zagorje, plum brandy, lots of UNESCO World Heritage sites, sailing among unspoilt Adriatic islands, 16 turquoise lakes, cheap ice-cream, hiking or climbing in Risnjak National Park and the country’s croissant shape.

What’s Not: Mortar holes on buildings, spiky sea urchins, nude islands, road quality, the reaction you get if you mention the war, menu prices by the kilo, boring ‘boat picnics’, beaches with no sand, black market money changers and leftover landmines.

When to Go

Croatia has a continental climate in the north and Mediterranean weather on the Adriatic coast.
Spring and autumn are mild along the coast, and the best time to visit is in May and September.
Summer (June to August) is hot, crowded and expensive.
Winter (December to February) is cold and snowy in central and northern regions.

Getting There & Away

Zagreb is the main air hub and departure point for key domestic routes. The bus network is extensive and good value, while trains are slower, except for the high-speed link between Zagreb and Split. Ferries connecting the coastal towns and islands, and are comfortable and the scenery is free. Zagreb and Dubrovnik’s city centers are made for walking, but trams and buses are on-hand for the weary.

Health & Safety

Generally a safe country to visit, unexploded landmines left over from the war pose a risk in remote areas. Do not stray from roads and paved areas without an experienced guide. Be aware of rabid dogs, ticks and tick-carrying diseases such as encephalitis and Lyme-disease.

Food & Hospitality

Eating out is a national pastime and the range of cuisine will appeal to all tastes, but not necessarily all budgets. Whether you opt for a traditional Croatian meat dish or one of the superb pizzas, you’re sure to be offered a plum brandy for digestion. The quality of accommodation continues to increase and private lodging is widely available and often a good alternative to standard hotels.

Itineraries

One week is the least you can get away with to enjoy some of the highlights.
Two or three days to see the capital’s highlights and the vineyards of Zagorje, just north of Zagreb.
Two or three days visiting Dubrovnik’s World Heritage listed Old City, which overlooks the Adriatic.
Three or four days on the Adriatic coast for sun, sea and not much sand, and not forgetting the nightlife.

Extra time
Two days to see Split’s historic center, which was founded in the 3rd century by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Two days in Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage tree-shrouded fairyland of 16 turquoise lakes and waterfalls.
A week sailing around Brijuni National Park’s 14 unspoilt islands. The largest island, Veli Brijun, has tourist facilities on hand.

Highlights

Gornji Grad: in Zagreb contains several historic monuments such as cathedrals.

Dubrovnik: has a UNESCO World Heritage listed Old City, surrounded by 13th century walls.

Split: is the cultural capital of Central Dalmatia and home to Diocletian’s Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Trogir: was founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC and features stunning Venetian Gothic stone buildings. Yes, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Brijuni National Park: is an archipelago of 14 well-preserved islands located off the west coast of Istria.

Zadar: in Northern Dalmatia has narrow cobbled streets, ruins of the Roman Forum and classical concerts in the 9th century Church of St Donats.

Plitvice National Park: a gobsmackingly beautiful park of turquoise lakes, waterfalls and pristine forest, another World Heritage Site.

Activities

Cultural sightseeing: is a must, with all the lovely churches and landmarks, beautiful scenery and turbulent history.

Dining: in the culinary enclave of Volosko, just outside Opatija, while taking in striking Adriatic Sea views.

Hiking and climbing: in the many scenic and untouched national parks.

Sailing: between the mostly traffic-free Elaphite Islands of Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan, with their quiet and sometimes sandy beaches and inexpensive restaurants.

Cycling: around Mljet National Park, boasting lush forests and two interconnected saltwater lakes.

Jet-setting: on the ever more elite island of Hvar, celebrated for its rocky coastline, superb wines and lavender fields.

Festivals & Events

July is a popular month for festivals. Croatia seems to be running out after that. Here are some of the highlights.

April: Zagreb’s International Festival of Contemporary Music features over 30 events.
July: Dubrovnik Summer Festival is a musical, stage and dance celebration in this historic town.
July: Fjera Medieval Fair on the island of Rab features people dressed up in historical costumes and open-air workshops related to medieval life.
July: Zagreb International Folklore Festival is a meeting point for people of different nations and cultures performing their music, dance and other heritage.

Onward Travel