Croatia Tours and Travel Guide
Croatia Attractions & Landmarks Guide
If any country has played a role as a crossroad of history, it’s present-day Croatia. Because of its key location spanning Eastern and Western cultures, this West Virginia-size nation, along with neighbors which comprised the former Yugoslavia, provided a bridge and melting pot of peoples over the centuries. Among those who came, went and left their influences were ancient Greeks, Romans and Venetians.
This rich kaleidoscope of cultures, ethnicities and religions, along with its storied history, natural beauty and other attractions, has elevated Croatia into a major magnet for travelers seeking an authentic experience. The result: While the country ranks only 127th in size, it’s the world’s 18th most popular tourist destination.
Croatia’s cities, towns and villages serve as living history museums that immerse visitors in centuries past.
Dubrovnik, “Pearl of the Adriatic”
Dubrovnik, a World Heritage Site, was a major city-state and maritime trade center from the 14th through 18th centuries. Its reach and power throughout the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas rivaled that of Venice.
The intact fortress walls that surround the old city, its wealth of stunning architecture, historic monuments and maze of narrow streets transport visitors back to those heady times -- one of the main reasons it has served as a shooting location for the HBO TV series Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik suffered heavy damage in the early 1990s, when Croatia sought to become a sovereign country following the breakup of Yugoslavia but was opposed and attacked by local Serb forces and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People's Army.
Since then, the historic core of the city has been restored to its former splendor. The city walls, accentuated by three forts, 16 towers and other fortifications, are among the best-preserved and most beautiful in Europe. Built over a span of 600 years beginning in the 12th century, they create a 1-1/4-mile long defensive ring around the old city, and a “walk on the walls” is a favorite activity for visitors.
Zagreb, Split, and Beyond
Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, claims architectural treasures that echo the charms of Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and other great European cities. Many historic monuments grace the Lower Town and Baroque Upper Town. More contemporary touches include the seemingly wall-to-wall cafes and coffee houses that are packed with people throughout the days and evenings.
Split boasts Roman ruins – the 4th century Emperor Diocletian’s Palace -- built right into the center of the city. (Remnants of Roman structures are grouped along the coastline, dotted throughout the countryside and preserved in cities.) A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Split also contains medieval and Renaissance architecture. Tiny Trogir, another World Heritage Site along with coast, is a medieval gem.
The defensive walls that encircle the medieval hill hamlet of Hum (pronounced Hoom) are distinctive because houses were built into them. Tiny Hum consists of just two short streets, has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest town in the world, and locals claim a current population of 17, 18 or “about 20.”
The adjacent seaside resorts of Lovran and Opatija (oh-pah-tee-uh) have a history of tourism dating back to Roman times, when both were popular with patrician families who built impressive villas. At the end of the 19th century, the towns once again became fashionable vacation destinations for aristocratic families, whose elegant homes still grace the setting.
Visiting Croatia on Land vs. on a Cruise
Croatia is one of the few countries in Europe that is a top destination to visit by land or sea. Croatia’s history is intertwined with its landscape and no matter which way you see this amazing country, it will be unforgettable.
Visiting Croatia on a cruise is one of the best ways to see the country’s historic old towns. The Dalmatian Coast, or the central and southern portion of Croatia’s coastline, is full of ancient cities and stunning beaches.
Traveling Croatia by boat allows you to easily explore these cities and quickly transfer between destinations. Additionally, if you are on a cruise, stops on the outer islands of the coast are usually included.
If you visit Croatia by a land tour, you will be able to explore the inland sites, such as Plitvice National Park and Zagreb. Many of the Croatia tours by land include stops on the coast, but transportation will be by bus, allowing you to see more views of the country. Additionally, these tours also include more opportunities to do adventurous activities, like hiking or ziplining.
However, you can combine both types of tours. There are many tours to Croatia that combine seeing the country by cruise ship, but also by taking day trips inland to see more. Additionally, land tours have itineraries that include taking catamarans out to the smaller islands.
Mother Nature at Her Best
The main natural attraction is Plitvice Lakes National Park, which encompasses a series of 16 lakes linked by waterfalls and rivulets that cascade from one to another. The lakes themselves reflect the colors of their surroundings, from emerald green and turquoise to blue and gray.
Another popular setting is the line of beaches strung out along Croatia’s long coastline on the Adriatic Sea. While most are pebble beaches, there also are inviting sandy stretches – and 97 of them have Blue Flag status, an international award based upon water quality and other standards.
The Croatian coast is also lined with a thousand little islands like Korcula and Hvar, which combine medieval architecture and natural beauty. Small ship cruises often stop there.
The Best Time to Visit Croatia
With Croatia’s location, you can visit at all times of the year. The coast of Croatia has a typical Mediterranean climate with very warm summers and cool winters making visiting during the spring, summer, and fall ideal.
However, Croatia is also a perfect winter destination. The capital city of Zagreb is known for its Advent Festival during December with its twinkling lights and there are many ski resorts throughout the Dinaric Alps that make up central Croatia
Croatia Cuisine is unique in the Balkans because of its combination of different cooking styles. You can see influences from traditional Croatian dishes, Turkey, Italy, and Austria depending on what part of the country you are visiting.
If you are visiting the Dalmatian Coast, you will find many seafood dishes and Mediterranean ingredients like olives and feta. But if you travel farther inland, towards Zagreb for example, the fare becomes more meat heavy and reflects Austrian or Turkish cuisine.
One of the top items on a Croatian menu is stuffed anything. Stuffed meats, peppers, or pastries are staples in Croatian kitchens. Additionally, hearty stews and gnocchi are found throughout the country. No matter what part of Croatia you are in, you will learn about the country’s history through its food.
Wine Tasting in Croatia
Croatia is one of the top wine destinations in Europe. Birthplace of zinfandel, Croatia has a long history of making and producing wine and grapes on the Dalmatian Coast. The best place to taste the wine is in the central and southern regions of the coast between Split and Dubrovnik.
Most Croatian tour itineraries include activities of either visiting a winery or including a wine and food tasting. These tours give you an opportunity to see the countryside and experience one of Croatia’s oldest industries.
Mainland Croatia isn’t the only place to taste wine. Some of the top wine experiences in Croatia are on the islands. Hvar and Korcula are known for having some of the best wineries and in fact, most of the islands are made up of sprawling fields of grape vines.
Top Things to See in Croatia
Croatia is full of places to see and experience, but there are a few destinations that are top attractions in Croatian itineraries.
Dubrovnik is a must see when visiting Croatia. This historic, walled city is the crown jewel of the Dalmatian Coast with its towering walls, romantic streets, and lively food scene. Don’t be afraid to go outside of the walls to kayak the bay or lay out on the sandy beaches.
The most important Roman ruin in Croatia, Diocletian’s Palace was once the estate for the Roman Emperor Diocletian and today makes up most of the old town in Split.
Plitvice National Park
Plitvice is Croatia’s oldest national park. The sprawling park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features aquamarine lakes, waterfalls, and trails. The park’s goal is to preserve the local landscape and teach visitors about protecting the environment.
Zadar is the home of the largest old town in Croatia. This massive old town features modern cafes, large plazas, and two unique architecture pieces. The Sea Organ and Monument to the Sun are examples of how art and nature can combine to make something special.
Zagreb’s Upper Town
Zagreb’s Upper Town was once two former villages, but is now the oldest area in the city. This part of the city includes some of the city’s top attractions -- St. Mark’s Church, Cathedral of Zagreb, and Dolac Market.
Game of Thrones Locations in Croatia
Croatia was one of the countries the TV show Game of Thrones filmed at. When you visit, you can go on specific Game of Thrones tours taking you to each specific site that was used or influenced an episode of the show.
Most of the filming of the TV show took place in and around Dubrovnik. There are many sites in the city, like Pile Gate, Rector’s Palace, and the Jesuit Staircase, that were used in filming. The show also used sites outside of the old town as well. Bokar Fortress and Lokrum island were both used in the shooting of the show.
Another top Game of Thrones destination in Croatia is Split. Spots throughout Diocletian’s Palace can be seen throughout the city of Mereen in the show. Also, Klis Fortress outside of Split was used as the inspiration and shooting for Mereen.
Adventure Travel in Croatia
While Croatia is an ideal place to visit to relax, it is also a place to go on an adventure. Croatia has some of the most stunning and diverse landscapes in Europe. Visitors can kayak through the bay around Dubrovnik or hike through the numerous mountain ranges, like Velebit Range.
One of the most popular adventure activities in Croatia is sailing. Travelers can rent sail boats out of the busy ports of Split, Dubrovnik, or Zadar and spend a few days sailing the Dalmatian Coast islands and relaxing in the Adriatic Sea.
If you want to go farther inland, you can visit the many mountains and national parks, like Krka and Plitvice, to see some of the best untouched landscapes in the Balkans.
Most Popular Cities in Croatia
- Split - The center for the Dalmatian Coast, Split is a sprawling combination of Croatia’s past and present. This bustling port is where many Croatian cruises and tours start, but don’t forget to check out the historic Diocletian’s Palace or Marjan Park before you leave.
- Dubrovnik - A top destination in Croatia, Dubrovnik is famous for its walled city and vibrant old town that has been featured in many films and TV shows, such as Game of Thrones. You can get lost in the staired side streets or local shops in the windy streets of the city.
- Zadar - The northern point for the Dalmatian Coast, Zadar is quickly becoming one of the top sites in Croatia. With its sprawling old town and vibrant cafe scene, Zadar is drawing in visitors with a huge seaside promenade and modern architecture pieces.
- Zagreb - Croatia’s capital is distinct from the country’s coastal cities. Reminiscent more of Austria than Italy, Zagreb features stunning architecture, food streets, and some of the best off-the-beaten path sites in all of Croatia.
- Rovinj - Rovinj is one of the most photographed cities in all of Croatia. This small village islet is characterized by sheer cliffs, colorful buildings, and a famous church. There isn’t a bad angle in this city if you are looking to capture the Croatia coast way of life.
Sailing in Croatia
One of the most popular ways of seeing Croatia’s coastline is by sailing. While taking cruise ships can provide you views and stops at historic cities, sailing allows you the chance to further explore the area. Many of the smaller group tours use sailing ships to visit destinations on the coast.
Travelers can book small sailing vessels or catamarans from the popular port cities of Dubrovnik or Split to visit the islands off of the coast. You can rent these boats for a day or longer, depending on how long you wish to island hop.
Traveling by sailboat means you can visit the less visited or smaller islands large cruise ships don’t stop at. Also, you can pull into port at many of the smaller villages that are up and down the coast.
Things to Know Before You Go
Why Visit Croatia on a Tour?
Where else can you get stunning coastlines, teal waterfalls, historic old towns, and delicious food. Croatia is a top destination in Europe because of its affordability and rich culture. However, getting around Croatia can be a little bit difficult with transportation and a growing tourism scene.
Croatia is in the rebuilding process after the Croatia War of Independence and the most common mode of transportation is by local or charter bus, not train. If you are traveling through the busy areas, many of those buses are fully booked and could delay your travels.
Visiting Croatia on a tour allows you the comfort of pre-booked travel and inside access to top destinations. There are specialized tours to Croatia providing behind the scenes access and allowing you to skip the long lines.
Additionally, Croatia is a great place for a road trip, but parking isn’t always easy. Many of the top attractions in Croatia are the old towns on the coast. Many of these towns you cannot park in or do not have easily accessible parking.
Another way to visit Croatia is by cruises. Croatia is a top country for those looking to enjoy a cruise vacation. Up and down the Croatian coastline you can find stunning old towns and sheer white cliffs. Also, Croatia has over 1,000 islands you can visit on your cruise.
Cruises to Croatia have a variety of boat types and tour lengths. There are some tours that use the large cruise ships and dock in main ports like Split, Dubrovnik, and Hvar, and there are tours that use smaller, sailing ships.
If you are visiting Croatia by a land tour, you can also book day or week cruises to the islands. These tours are typically on smaller boats and you can rent them for however long you wish. This is a great way to visit the smaller or farther out islands that can’t be reached by the large cruise ships.
Who Will Enjoy Visiting Croatia?
Croatia has something to offer every type of traveler. Those interested in history will really enjoy the old towns on the Dalmatian Coast. Many of these cities are centuries old and are some of the most picturesque villages in Europe.
Speaking of pictures, photographers will love the views of Croatia by both land and sea. Croatia’s coastline is characterized by towering white cliffs and green forests. If you venture inland, you will come across teal lakes, green mountains, and hill villages.
Travelers who are looking to visit Europe on a budget will also enjoy traveling to Croatia. Croatia is one of the more expensive countries in the Balkans; however, compared to Western Europe and the United Kingdom, it is very affordable.
Croatia does use its own currency. Croatia began using the Kuna in 1994 when Croatia gained its independence after the fall of Yugoslavia. Even though Croatia is part of the European Union, they currently still use the Kuna.
You can exchange your money before you leave your home country, but it’s recommended you do in smaller amounts. There are plenty of places throughout Croatia where you can exchange or take out money from ATMs. But make sure to switch back to your own currency before leaving, you may get a better rate in Croatia then in the U.S.
There are some places in Croatia, like Dubrovnik and Split, that may take Euros. Since these are top tourist destinations, some shops and restaurants will accept them. However, it’s best to use the Kuna for easier conversion.
Is Croatia Safe?
Yes, Croatia is very safe. Conflict ended in Croatia in 1995 and violent crime is very rare. However, visitors are advised to always safeguard your possessions. Like most top tourist destinations, petty crime like pickpocketing can be common.
Sailing in Croatia
If you love being on the water, and are a bona fide skipper, a nautical tour of Croatia may be your dream come true. It is not only possible to sail Croatia -- jumping from island to island on the calm, sapphire Adriatic aboard a gorgeous sailboat -- this is one popular form of guided tour.
Whether you restrict yourself to Croatia, or decide to explore all of the Balkans, traveling by sailboat is a relaxing and intimate experience, the ideal aquatic version of a Croatia vacation.
Croatia Cycling and Bike Tours
If you want access to some of the most beautiful, scenic bike trails on the planet, consider going on a cycling tour of Croatia’s Dalmation Coast. Your guide will be able to save you the hassle of meticulously planning your routes, packing food, maps, and foreign dictionaries, and allow you to focus on the physical activity and your breathtaking surroundings. Not only this, but on a multi-day escorted bike tour, your guide is likely to take you off of the mainland to enjoy some island views.
What to Know Before Going on A Croatia Bike Tour
- Weather: Croatia has a typical Mediterranean climate. This means, in the summer, expect weather in the high 70’s. Luckily, Croatia is not prone to rain, although you may want to pack a small waterproof jacket just in case it does, or the wind leaves you a little chillier in the early morning -- you will spend a lot of time outdoors on a bike tour!
- How should I be? This largely depends on what level of tour you embark on. Stride can help you look for easier cycling tours, but make sure to reach out to tour providers for more information about what kind of endurance you need.
- Croatia roads: The roads in Croatia are usually well paved, and as you will be traveling on the scenic routes, you should not encounter much vehicular traffic.
- What’s the difference between guided and self guided tours? Guided tours usually include a lot more than a self-guided tour. You will not only have a person with you to help or answer any questions, but you will often benefit from services such as various included meals, transfers to and from the airport, and van support.
Best Times to Visit Croatia
While there really is not a bad time to visit Croatia, each season comes with its own significance. When you are planning your vacation, it’s important to take into consideration certain seasonal associations like weather, festivities and limitations.
Winter in Croatia varies by region. At its coastline, the region has a mediterranean climate and remains relatively warm. Dubrovnik is perfect for those who love celebrating the holidays but cannot stand the cold. Dubrovnik’s Christmas Fair celebrates with live music, local foods, and performances. For those looking for something sweet, Opatija hosts their annual Chocolate Festival every December.
Moving inland, the weather gets much colder. Croatia’s central and northern regions usually have snow by the end of December. Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, also has a Christmas Fair in Ban Josip Jelačić Square where you can celebrate with live performance and music.
Plitvice National Park can be visited in the winter, but it should be noted that bad weather conditions can sometimes cause the rangers to close off certain parts of it. Before you make the journey out to the park, make sure you check its official website for any weather related updates. When the conditions are mild and pleasant, the park truly looks like a winter wonderland.
Spring time weather throughout Croatia is relatively mild and warm. It is also far less busy with tourist. In central Croatia, the weather varies slightly between warm and cool temperatures. This is largely due to frequent winds that blow prominently during this time of the year. At its coastline, there are also frequent winds, but the weather is much warmer.
Throughout Croatia, there are numerous festivals that celebrate the blooming vegetation. In April, Dubrovnik’s FestiWine has become a popular activity for locals and visitors alike. Zagreb has the Floraart International Garden Show and International Street Festival every May. And the Flower Fair of Zadar every April is a must-see.
With the recently melted snow, Croatia’s national parks are in prime conditions. Its waterfalls are in full force, the landscape has an endless array of shrubbery, and the wildlife is full of mothers raising their young.
Croatia is mostly warm and sunny during its summer months. However, occasional rain is common, especially in central and northern Croatia. The height of Croatia’s tourism season is also within these months. If you want to miss the crowds, then go in late May or early June. By July and August, it is at peak season for tourism.
But, there are some pros to traveling during tourism high season. The weather is usually constantly warm. This means that nothing will be closed off at any of the national parks. It is also good for getting around. Because of the influx of visitors, most bus and boat routes add more times to their schedule.
Fall in Croatia gets the tail end of the summer craziness. The weather is warm, but it isn’t unbearably hot. Most destinations and attractions are slightly less crowded.
Plus, most cities are celebrating the autumn season in some festive way. By the coastline, the water is still warm and there is plenty of sunshine. The national parks are just as lovely and transportation is still easily accessible.
If you are looking for a quieter and more relaxing trip, then Croatia in the fall is a good idea.
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