So you’re heading to Croatia for your next vacation? Great choice! Croatia is an incredible blend of everything you could want in a destination; beautiful natural spaces, rich history, turquoise water, tranquil islands, lively cities, I could go on and on. The list of places you could visit is almost endless, so I’ll simply start you off with a few of my favourites!
We fell in LOVE with Split from the minute we stepped off the ferry from Hvar. How could you not? The sun was shining, the stone was warm and glowing, and the city itself is this amazing blend of modern and antique. Diocletian’s Palace is probably one of the best Roman ruins you’re likely to visit, a combination of a fortified town, palace, and a military fortress that is thrumming with everyday activity. The streets are filled with restaurants, bars, shops, and the populace of Split. You can picnic on the steps of the Peristyle, climb to the top of the bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius for a spectacular view, take a step back in time at the Temple of Jupiter, and so much more. Eating gelato and strolling along the sprawling harbour front walkways you can make your way towards Marjan, a forested hill made into a park. Besides being a nice place for a walk, Marjan hill is also home to the Hermitage caves. Built into the side of Marjan in the 15th century, these are often overlooked by tourists but well-worth a visit. St. Jerome Church with its beautifully painted ceiling is an easy one to find along the path, but don’t forget to look up at the hillside itself! You may see some adventurous climbers scrambling alongside an easily overlooked hermitage.
Croatia has no shortage of islands to run away to, over a thousand in fact! We managed to visit a few of the more popular destinations, including Hvar, Korčula, and Krk, but our couch-surfing hosts were quick to point out that some of the best islands are outside the tourist pamphlets. Sometimes the less well-known islands can be a bit trickier to get to, but looking at pictures of islands like Vis and Lastovo, I’d say they’re worth the extra effort 😉 That being said, there is a very good reason why islands like Hvar and Korčula are popular spots. Sunny, easy-to-ferry-to, and postcard-perfect Dalmatian charm, these islands are an incredible getaway. We were lucky to visit in the off-season, so we shared the streets with the locals who live on the island year-round (a much smaller group than one would think). In the heart of summer the streets are lively and packed with throngs of vacationers, so plan that Croatian vacation of yours with that in mind!
The peninsula of Istria is actually shared by three countries, Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy, with Croatia controlling the lion’s share. The Adriatic coast of the heart-shaped peninsula is extremely tourist-friendly and dotted with romantic harbour towns. Meandering up the Istrian coastline we stopped in at Pula (famous for its Roman amphitheatre built from local limestone), the harbour of Rovinj, and Poreč, featuring a tiled mosaic Euphrasian Basilica. Venturing into Istria’s lush, quieter interior you can find yourself hunting for the region’s signature truffles, sipping local wines, and exploring enchanting hilltop villages like Motovun. While we only had time for just of a few of Istria’s treasures (read about it here), you can easily spend your entire vacation just dreamily wandering between the regions valleys and villages.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is probably my favourite park in Europe. A UNESCO heritage site chosen for its geological and ecological value, Plitvice Lakes is a forested park known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes connected via crystalline streams and waterfalls. The lakes are separated by delicate, travertine (a form of limestone slowly deposited by the action of moss, algae and bacteria) dams that build at a rate of about 1 cm a year. The end result is a stunning, natural wonder of cascading, crystal-clear water framed by lush greenery. Walkways wind up the cliffs and over the surface of the lakes, giving visitors hours of dreamlike views and photo-ops. To top things off, they have shuttles and ferries for when your aching feet can’t show you any more wonders without some help! Believe me, this jewel of Croatia is well-worth the time and sore feet.
Hey, no traveller’s top picks of Croatia list is complete without mentioning Dubrovnik, because how could you not? Again, we visited in the off-season which probably gave a very different impression of Dubrovnik compared to the packed-to-the-walls experience of the high-season. But oh man, we LOVED Dubrovnik. It’s just incredible, beyond description. The marble streets and ancient city walls looking of the shimmering Adriatic will leave you spell-bound. We lost hours just walking around taking it all in, climbing back alley stairways, and finding secret cliff bars. We spotted a few film crews trying to capture the magic too (not Game of Thrones, unfortunately, but cool nonetheless). Regardless of the time of year you visit, it’s impossible not to fall in love while enjoying well-earned gelato and watching the sunset over the sea from Dubrovnik’s walls.