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Croatia Travel Guide

Our recommendations for the perfect Croatian road trip

THE TRIP: - Dubrovnik- Hvar- Split- Krka National Park- Plitvice Lakes- Zagreb
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DubrovnikHvarSplitKrka National ParkPlitvice LakesZagreb
Croatia is an extraordinary country and one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. Whether you’re looking for rugged mountains, charming seaside towns, crystal clear waters, shopping and nightlife or stunning natural features, Croatia has it all.
So to celebrate this wonderful country, we’ve planned out the perfect Croatian road trip.
Dubrovnik
Croatia’s southernmost town, Dubrovnik is one of the most popular destinations in the country and home to a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. A popular destination for tourists, Dubrovnik has become a must-visit location for anyone visiting Croatia. Here are some of the top attractions in the famous old city
Undoubtedly the most popular attraction in Dubrovnik is the pedestrian-only Old Town and the stunning city walls that surround it. We would recommend visiting the city walls and town gates after dinner or early in the day, when the streets are quieter and you can take your time enjoying this world-famous destination.
The city walls span almost 2,000m, and consists of four fortresses, two round towers, fifteen square towers, two forts and five bastions. You’ll want to take at least a day to visit them all, as well as exploring what else the stunning Old Town has to offer. Although Old Town is filled with fountains, art, restaurants and monasteries, we’d thoroughly recommend a visit to the Gornji Ugao Tower, a beautifully preserved 15th Century industrial zone. You should also take the time to visit the old harbor, and the Maritime Museum that sites next to it. Dedicated to the naval history of the city, this museum features a host of fascinating seafaring exhibits – a must for anyone visiting Dubrovnik.
If you fancy a walk along the sea, Sveti Jakov Beach is just a 15-minute walk from Old Town and is a hugely popular spot among the locals. Or, if you’re looking to take to the water, a short boat trip from Old Town will take you to the island of Lokrum – a stunning nature park and popular swimming spot.
Lastly, any Game of Thrones fans will want to take a trip to Lovrijenac Fortress, the set for King’s Landing. A 14th Century fortress sitting atop a 37m high sea rock, it’s an absolute must-see for any visitors, and admission is included within the fee for entering the city walls.
Hvar
One of Croatia’s most famous islands, Hvar is renowned all over the world for its gorgeous waters, incredible sunshine and much-touted nightlife. But Croatia’s fourth largest island has more to offer than just sun, sea and hangovers – Hvar also delivers wonderful countryside, stunning lavender fields, incredible food and fascinating history and culture.
If you’re heading to Hvar for the nightlife and to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, you’ll definitely want to head to Hvar Town. The largest and best-known town on the island, Hvar boasts an enviable selection of restaurants, bars, hotels, beaches and nightlife options. Be warned though, Hvar Town is by far the most expensive place to stay, so keep that in mind when picking your accommodation.
If you’re looking to take in some of the history and culture of the island however, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The island’s oldest settlement, Stari Grad Hvar, is a good place to start, with a wealth of churches, traditional houses and cobblestone streets, as well as the 16th Century Tvrdalj Castle. You’ll also want to check out Stari Grad Plains, an UNESCO World Heritage site.
There is so much history on Hvar Island that simply exploring will grant you a wealth of cultural and historical areas. The island has been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Croatians, Venetians, Austrians, French, Italians and Byzantines during its history, and all left their mark on the architecture, food and culture. If you want a tip however, we’d thoroughly recommend Hvar Theatre, which is one of Europe’s oldest.
You’ll also want to spend some time enjoying the island’s natural beauty. You’ll find lavender fields, wild oregano and 250km of sea coast, giving you a huge range of beaches (including sand, rock and pebble).
Split
Croatia’s second-largest town after Zagreb, Split has grown into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Located on a small peninsula on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Split’s popularity has increased due to its vibrant atmosphere, incredible history and culture and surprising affordability. The village exists within a palace on the Dalmation coast, and the building is described by UNESCO as ‘one of the most famous and integral architectural and cultural buildings on the Croatian Adriatic coast’.
Split is also superbly located if you want to explore Dalmatia, with easy connections to Hvar, Brac, Solta, Vis and the Krka and Plitvice National Parks.
The most obvious destination for visitors is Split’s historic old town, located within the 1,700-year-old Diocletian Palace. The Palace’s town gates are a great place to start, there are four in total – Golden Gate, Silver Gate, Iron Gate and Bras Gate.
You’ll also want to visit the Peristyle – a public square at the heart of the Palace. Here you’ll find a wealth of historic points of interest, including the stunning Cathedral, the Temple of Jupiter, ancient Roman columns and even an Egyptian sphinx.
From here you’ll definitely want to visit the bell tower of St. Dominus church, construction of which started in the 13th Century. You’ll get incredible views from the top of the tower, well worth the admission fee and the climb.
We’d also thoroughly recommend visiting Varos, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Split. Established in the 17th Century, Varos is filled with history and culture, and the traditional stone houses are beautiful to see. It’s also a great place to find charming, affordable accommodation.
While you’re still in old town, you should also check out Pazar (the green market) and Parkerija (the fish market). Both are bustling and vibrant and give you a real sense of local life, as well as being a great place to pick up some fresh local delicacies.
If you’d like to spend some time by the sea, we’d recommend taking the 10-minute walk down to Bacvice Beach. It’s hugely popular among locals and tourists alike, many of whom you’ll find playing Picingin, a locally invented ball game where players attempt to keep a small ball from touching the glistening waters.
Krka National Park
Named after the Krka River, this stunning national park covers 142 square kilometres, including two thirds of its namesake river. You will need to buy a ticket for admission to the park, which can be done online or on arrival – keep in mind that if you’re buying in person, you may have to queue during busy times of the year.
The main attraction of the park is undoubtedly the incredible waterfalls, including the iconic Skradinski Buk falls – a collection of 17 waterfalls that range in height. You’ll also want to see Roski Slap, a series of 12 waterfalls in a space of 450 metres.
Another must-see location is the tiny island of Visovak, nestled in the Krka River. It features a stunning monastery and church, including a range of historical books and artefacts.
You’ll also enjoy the sheer beauty of the natural scenery, featuring over 800 species of plantlife, scores of different birds, amphibians and reptiles and even 18 different species of bat!
Without question, the best way to see the parks is via boat, with regular excursions leaving from Skradin. Boat trips are included in the admission price and give you a wonderful and relaxing view of the park, including regular stops and plenty of talks from the knowledgeable guides.
If you remember to bring your swimming costume, it’s also possible to swim in many of the locations around the park – a must-do for anyone visiting for the first time.
Plitvice Lakes
The oldest and largest of Croatia’s national parks, Plitvice Lakes was also the very first natural park in the country, given the title in April 1949. It is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List, making it a must-visit for anyone travelling to Croatia.
Covering an area of just under 300 square kilometres, the park is located between the Mala Kapela and Licka Plkesivica mountain ranges. Although it’s called the Plitvice Lakes, most of the park is covered in forest vegetation, with the lakes covering less than 1% of the total area.
Despite taking up such a small area of the park, the lake system is by far the most popular attraction. Made up of 16 named lakes and several smaller, unnamed bodies of water, the lakes all cascade into one another, giving incredible natural structures and views. You can tour the lake system via seven different routes, as well as across four different hiking trails.
While visitors are not allowed to swim in any of the lakes, the park does offer numerous opportunities for kayaking and rafting, as well as biking and hiking (and even skiing) through the trails. However you choose to enjoy the surroundings, there are strict rules for visitors, including keeping to marked trails at all times, leaving no traces of their visit, not swimming in the lakes or feeding any of the animals.
Speaking of animals, the national park is home to an abundance of wildlife, including deer, wolves, bears, wild boars and many different species of birds.
We recommend checking the weather forecast before heading to the park, and to ensure you take adequate footwear, rain and sun protection.
Zagreb
The capital and largest city in Croatia, Zagreb has grown in popularity as a tourist destination in recent years – in fact, Zagreb saw over 250,000 tourist visits in the first quarter of 2018 alone (an increase of 13% on the previous year).
While Zagreb many not offer the Adriatic coast, the city boasts a wide range of attractions and things to do, as well as a thriving and very friendly continental European culture. Whether you’re enjoying the Christmas markets, incredible food and drink, free attractions or renowned nightlife, Zagreb is a must-see destination for anyone travelling in the country.
Top of your list of things to do should be exploring the old town, known locally as Upper Town. You’ll find plenty of fascinating history and architecture, as well as historical characters strolling through the streets taking pictures with people. Be sure to check out Stone Gate while you’re there – the only remaining gate from the Old Town. If you visit between May and September, you can also take part in the Secrets of Gric – an interactive theatre night tour that lets visitors discover the historical side of the capital. Be sure to go on a Saturday rather than a Friday, when the show is in English.
While you’re in Upper Town, be sure to visit St Mark’s Church, one of Zagreb’s oldest buildings. You can also head down to the main square and see Zagreb Cathedral – the tallest building in Croatia.
You’ll also want to visit the famous Dolac Market, located right in the centre of the city. Selling fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, the market is vibrant and a great place to feel like a Zagreb local. Dolac is also the starting point for the Changing of the Guard, which happens every Saturday and Sunday from April through to October.
While it might sound a little macabre, we’d also thoroughly recommend a visit to Zagreb Cemetery. Many of Croatia’s famous figures are buried here, many of which have incredible tombs that are a big draw for tourists. The entire cemetery also has beautiful arcades and pavilions and is a must-visit for anyone touring the capital.
If you get tired of walking around the city, be sure to head over to Zrinjevac, the most popular park in Zagreb. As well as gorgeous, relaxing scenery, the park regularly hosts Promenade Concerts and a wide range of entertainment.
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