Croatia. There are many reasons I call this jewel of a country my happy place. Lets start with the first and quite frankly, the most important reason. This is where my partner was born and subsequently where I fell in love with him. Our second date was in Croatia two years ago and I just knew from that moment on, he’s going nowhere! Two years later we now have a beautiful baby girl who is half English and half Croatian. Since she was born it’s been incredibly important that she has a connection with both of her homes. This means as her mother, I also need to immerse myself in her Croatian heritage.
Moving on from why I have the connection I do with Croatia. I want to talk honestly about this wonderful country and share all I have learnt from our travels and experiences over the last couple of years. We have travelled as a couple, as a family with a young baby, squeezed a lot into four days and immersed ourselves in a month-long coastal road trip. You could say we’ve done a bit of it all. And so can you! If you only have a long weekend or you’re looking for a longer more in-depth trip, you will find this guide helpful. Croatia will offer it all for you. It’s truly worth the visit.
Where to start.
Croatia is full to the brim of beautiful, post card, worthy places to visit. To some it could seem overwhelming. Croatia has thousands (literally thousands) of islands. It has hundreds of national parks, mountain ranges, miles and miles of coastal roads. So where do you start? My solution to this is simple, you can’t go wrong with anywhere you choose! We have a very ‘wing it’ style of travel (even with a baby) and I fully understand that this isn’t always the most useful way of travel for most. So I’m going to whittle it down for you with a list of some of my absolute favourite places we have visited and some helpful tips too.
Dubrovnik – The most well-known place for tourists to embark upon is Dubrovnik. The city is a bustling tourist hub especially at peak season. With thousands of cruise ships descending into the city. It’s not hard to see why so many people want to visit Dubrovnik. The history, the food, liveliness, beauty. It has it all. It’s also a fantastic base to fly into and then, if you have more time, explore the surrounding areas and islands. Because of everything Dubrovnik has to offer (with more tourists flocking due to a certain television show) you do pay the price tag for it. It is without a doubt the most expensive place to visit in Croatia. What you pay in Dubrovnik will not be what you pay anywhere else in Croatia. Think of it like ‘London prices’. We like to be a frugal travellers at times so to combat the high prices for accommodation and parking etc we stayed in a town just outside of Dubrovnik called Kupari. We loved it there. So much so that if you are staying by the Dubrovnik walls then I recommend taking a trip into Kupari, especially Kupari beach which was a massive highlight for me, a very unique place that will offer something completely different to your time in Dubrovnik.
Ston – Ston is a town 1 hour outside of Dubrovnik. This place captured both mine and my partners heart. It’s truly breathtaking and full of history but not full of thousands of tourists which is a huge bonus for us. We stayed a night in ‘Mali Ston’ Ston’s counterpart, which is simply translated to ‘little Ston’. It is right on the coast and is the most renowned oyster bay in Croatia. For me, the main reason I wanted to visit Ston was to see its world famous defensive walls built-in 1333.
The site is incredibly impressive stretching over three miles. You can pay a small fee to climb the walls; which I highly recommend. (Wear trainers and bring a lot of water with you). The dramatic views are one to capture! The main reason we fell in love with Ston wasn’t just the awe-inspiring history. It was the charm of the people, the friends you could make just by talking to the owner of the restaurant you were eating in. It’s a very old, laid back fishing town, with beautiful little homes, tiny streets, crumbling churches and olive groves. We loved it. and I know you’ll love it too.
Korcula – Korcula (pronounced korCHula) is an island set between Dubrovnik and Split. We drove from Ston to Orebic and caught a quick ferry over. You could then, if you wanted to do some island hopping, go from Korcula to Vis, Hvar and Brac and have a pretty epic trip doing that alone! (like I said, you can’t wrong in Croatia). Back to Korcula and why I loved this place so much.
The beaches are something out of a highly filtered Instagram picture. perfection! I recommend Pupnatska beach, wake up early, grab a towel and snorkel and be prepared to spend all day there. The old town is full of ancient beauty. Similar to Dubrovnik but on a smaller, more laid back scale. Teaming with restaurants, quaint cocktail bars, street sellers and palm tree-lined streets. It’s just pure Mediterranean bliss. Thank me later!
Split – Another tourist haven (even more so with thanks to that little known television show) Split has so much to offer outside of seeing a few ‘GOT’ filming locations. I assure you, it is a brilliant, captivating city:
One I have grown very fond of. I love its thriving streets and ancient history, every corner has something special to offer. This a city where I would recommend ditching any plans and get lost for a while. You have thousands of restaurants at your finger tips. A little tip, Croatian pizza is something to behold so I would find a proper pizzeria and fuel up for a day of exploring. The very centre of the old town can get incredibly busy, tour groups and selfie sticks galore. If it all gets a bit much, I recommend going to Znjan beach to finish the day, have a couple of local beers from one of the bars and enjoy the famous Croatian sunset.
Omis – Omis (pronounced Omish) One of my absolute favourite places to visit in Croatia and it isn’t difficult to see why. Located where the Cetina River meets the Adriatic Sea. The town encapsulates everything I love about Croatia. From the beating heart of the old town, where traditional Croatian Klapa groups perform in the streets, to the tranquil river that unearths a sense of adventure in you. Omis is the perfect place to stay for a week or so.
You can do rafting, canyoning, diving, hiking, water sports all in Omis. If you have the energy you can hike up to the mountain peak to ‘Fortress Starigrad’ that overlooks the town for a very special experience.
I had a broken foot so regrettably couldn’t do this so as a compromise we drove as far as we could to capture some of the views which didn’t disappoint. One recommendation I’d love to share is hiring a boat for the day. This gives you absolute freedom to explore the river on your own. We took the boat along the river for about 4 hours and then went from there into the adjoining sea, where we swam for another hour or so. Simple days like this are my favourite and you can have plenty of them in Omis! Trust me, go!
Zadar – I love everything about Zadar. Most people tend to hunt for flights to Dubrovnik when they think of Croatia. Have you thought about going to Zadar? The city is dubbed Croatia’s ‘coolest’ city. If you’re in search of music festivals, history, food, culture, beaches, waterfalls, national parks, then it’s all found in Zadar!
Zadar is the gateway to some of Croatia’s most beautiful beaches. I recommend Sakarun, where you will find the most stunning cove, located on Dugi Otok, an island that is a short ferry ride over from Zadar’s large ferry port. Inside the Roman and Venetian walls of the city, which is a world heritage site. You will be greeted by an abundance of incredible restaurants, bars, shops and liveliness. You can also visit the famous Sea organ and ‘The greeting to the sun’ solar powered dance floor. I also recommend taking a visit inside some of the many churches, especially Church of St Donatus built-in the 9th century. I promise you now, it will impress you! If you stay in Zadar you are a short drive away from a wealth of national parks.
Krka national park, with its very famous series of waterfalls is a must see. You can swim at the base of the waterfalls, however at high season they have had to stop people swimming due to protecting it’s natural state (Us humans wear a lot on our skin, sun cream, fake tan, make up, perfume, all of this contaminates the water. So if they have closed the path to swim in the water, don’t ignore it and respect the nature you’re in) I must also warn you, that in high season Krka Waterfalls can get busier than a Disney Parade. So go early. Another national park I would go to for some breathtaking hikes is Paklenica. This park is famous amongst climbers and mountaineers and will offer some of the most vast, ‘on top of the world’ views in Croatia. Zadar has my heart forever, I love this city and the many things you can do here. It is somewhere you can truly capture the essence of Croatia.
Must see places to add into your trip
Here is a list of some more must see places to add to your trip if you have time.
Jablanac German WWII shipwreck –
A WWII shipwreck. A 40 minute walk from Jablanac port in Zavratnica bay. You can see the shipwreck through the crystal clear waters. I advise bringing your snorkel gear to have a much closer look. This is a place that in a few years time will be swarming with tourists, I really recommend going sooner rather than later. It’s incredible!
Bacina Lake –
A series of picturesque lakes surrounded by mountains. You will find this located close to the city of Ploce, in between Split and Dubrovnik. I personally had one of my favourite days here. Again, this is an area not yet fully discovered by thousands of tourists! We swam all day here and enjoyed the local feel of the area. With one local farmer trying to sell us his newly born puppies! It’s a stunning place and an area not to be ignored.
Mali Losinj – If you want to enjoy a couple of days of island life. This island has it all. Known for being one of the best places in Europe to see dolphins. It is a paradise island full of stunning beaches, hikes and small town island life. I have spent a lot of time on this island and every time i found myself not wanting to leave. We spent one day hiking and discovering our own private beach. It’s a two-hour catamaran ride from Zadar, costing around £10.00. It’s perfect, a true getaway.
Nin – A short drive from Zadar, known as the ‘Queens beach’ you will find Nin, a tiny town, the oldest Croatian Royal town in fact. It has tones of history to explore. It is also the home to Zadar’s largest sandy beach, which is well worth a visit. We spent all day here swimming and taking in the beauty of the area. It is very popular with tourists, but this shouldn’t deter you away from this beautiful, very unique beach.
Baska Voda –
Another area that is well worth your time, Baska Voda. Located in the infamously beautiful Makarska Riviera. The main attraction to Baska Voda is undoubtedly the beaches, with several on offer! It’s a busy place especially in high season but I loved it. It’s full of wonderful bars and restaurants with a thriving nightlife too. We went to a beach called Basko Polje. If you fancied something different you can camp here as well. I also must add, if you do go to Baska Voda not to overlook a trip into Makarska, a port town that is full of more wonderful restaurants, nightlife and scenery.
Some helpful phrases and tips.
Here are some helpful words to get you by and some helpful tips to make your trip run smoothly.
Thank you – Hvala
Okay/Good – Dobro
Love you (because we must spread the love!!) – Volim Te
We always hire a car when travelling in Croatia. The cheapest way is to do it fairly well in advanced, look on comparison sites and collect it from your destination airport.
You have to pay to use the Croatian motorways. It isn’t expensive but always make sure you have some change on you if you’re planning on using them.
Croatian beaches are known for their beauty. However they are all pretty much pebbly beaches. I advise getting some rock shoes, which you can find at many shops surrounding the beach, or in town. Take these with you if you visit any of the waterfalls as well.
Croatia is a Catholic country. If you plan on visiting any of the churches during your trip, remember to have your hem line over your knees and cover your shoulders. They will not let you enter otherwise.
Accommodation. We’ve tried it all. From hostels to luxury apartments to even sleeping in our car for nearly a week. You will find something to fit any kind of budget.
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful. I want to leave you with this. Croatia is a very new country. It has a population of only 4 million people. These people are incredibly kind, hospitable and warm. They hold great pride in their beautiful country. And rightly so. The country still holds it’s scars that you can visibly see as you look up to the buildings that still stand strong. It holds a great deal of strength and beauty around every corner. Croatia will capture your heart like it did mine. Enjoy your adventure around this truly remarkable country.