Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Croatia

 zadar sunset

A few months ago I traveled to Croatia for the first time, a place I had long wanted to see. While some things were expected, many more surprised me including a few things that I wish I knew before my first visit.

1. Cities I had never heard of – I’d like to think I’m fairly well versed in geography and that I’ve at least heard of most major cities, even if I don’t know anything about them. Apparently I was very mistaken. Cities like Zadar and Split sounded like entries from a fantasy novel instead of real places on the map, but even though I wasn’t familiar with them prior to my trip, I ended up falling deeply in love with their beauty and romance. Zadar was a particular favorite, its strange name gave me the chance to believe I was walking through a Game of Thrones scene instead of a beautiful city on the Adriatic Sea. Croatia taught me that I certainly don’t know as much as I think I do and reignited that thrilling feeling of discovery that makes travel so much fun.

2. Food is excellent – I was bad, I made certain assumptions before visiting Croatia and I shouldn’t have. One of those assumptions was that the food would be bland, as in a post-communist, boiled potatoes kind of way. I was wrong, very wrong. Croatia has a long and proud culinary history that not even decades of oppressive, Communist rule could destroy and which is on proud display today around the country. From the hearty stews and meat dishes of the inland regions to the seafood and Italian influenced cuisines found along the coast, the food was varied, fresh and delicious. In fact rather than just necessary sustenance, the foodie aspect of my trip around Croatia quickly became a very important part of the experience. My favorite delicacy was Pag cheese, the best in Croatia and made on the small island of Pag near Zadar. There a unique set of weather conditions produces one of the best sheep’s milk cheeses you’ll ever try; especially great when paired with prosciutto and some Croatian wine, or in the risotto pictured above.

 Plitvice Croatia

3. Plitvice was nice but… – If people know anything about Croatia, it usually includes the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park. An undeniable natural wonder, images of these cascading lakes are the stuff of travel dreams for millions. So I was understandably excited when I arrived at the park early in the morning, ready for a day of hiking and exploration. And it was fun, but the experience didn’t provide the moment of emotional intensity that I had anticipated. I mean, the lakes were nice, very pretty, but they didn’t take my breath away and the sheer crush of tourists really did eliminate from any chance of quiet introspection as I had hoped. Don’t get me wrong, the lakes are great and you should go, but it’s not the only natural wonder in Croatia, indeed there are many other beautiful natural sights around the country that may be just as pretty and which do provide the oneness with nature that Plitvice just cannot guarantee.

 Dubrovnik Old Port Croatia

4. Dubrovnik is indeed amazing – Dubrovnik is Croatia’s number one tourist attraction, a rare example of a medieval walled city and one that is visited by millions of people every year. I knew it would be nice, but before I first stepped through the city gates I had no idea just how nice it really is. Turns out all of those tourists are on to something; Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. If I thought Zadar evoked images of Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik went even further since several scenes from the series were actually filmed there. Aside from the familiar scenery, the city is beautiful in every way. The best way to really see Dubrovnik is by walking along the city walls, affording a bird’s eye view of the labyrinthine alleys and streets of the old city. So if you were thinking of skipping Dubrovnik because it’s too touristy, don’t! You must see it; you must live it in order to truly understand what makes it so very special.

 Dubrovnik cafe

5. Needs more time – This is a common refrain, but I needed much more than the ten days allotted to explore Croatia. Even with this generous amount of time, I was only able to skim the best parts of the nation, not even visiting entire regions. The trip though was a great introduction, a travel first date as it were and left me with a deep desire to return. I’m not alone either, most people I talk to who have visited share a similar sentiment, there’s just something about Croatia that grabs on dearly and refuses to let go.

Have you been to Croatia? What surprised you?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

141 thoughts on “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Croatia”

  1. My son is spending 3 weeks in Croatia in July and will be traveling solo. He wants to stay in Hostels to save on costs and to share the experience with other travelers, but would appreciate suggestions for how to avoid the crazy party crowd that invades Croatia (and its Hostels) during the summer month. He flies into Dubrovnik and it’s all open from there. Definitely wants to go to some of the lesser known/crowded islands. Can you recommend an itinerary where he makes a base in a max of 3 cities/towns/islands?

    1. Hi, I am from Croatia, and I can recommend you to go from Dubrovnik to the island Korčula (they call it “Small Dubrovnik”), to Hvar or Mljet. They are relatively near to Dubrovnik and worth of seeing and with definitely less people. Also, 3 hours driving from Dubrovnik is Split, beautiful ancient city, but also crowded.

      1. I read and heard that Croatia is a country of beautiful landscape, artistic infrastructure and buildings. Peoples with their fascinating and simple way of life with worm smile made the country peace and attractive. I have a plan to visit Croatia therefore I need to have updated information.

      2. I’m planning to go on a bicycle touring from south to north and then into Italy.
        Can I get around with speaking English ?
        How are the roads ?
        What about free/wild camping ?
        What about safety ?
        Is it easy to find free WiFi spots ?
        Are there laundry places (as I need to do my laundry regularly when traveling) ?

      3. Ana, is it easy to go from Dubrovnik to this islands? Do you recommend to go and stay in each (1 or 2 days?) or is it better just to spend a day and return to sleep in Dubrovinik? Thank you!

      4. hi Ana, i am from India and plan to visit your beautiful country in September. My list is Dubrovnik , Korcula, Zadar, Hvar. i want a nice break from the hustling city life and enjoy the cute streets, beaches ,natural beauty, shopping, etc. do you recommend any other exotic islands? i have 12 days. so can you recommend how many days can i allot to each place,how to route out my plan as far as the internal traveling is concerned, any suggestions for a different experience and how the weather might be in September.

        thank you:)

  2. Croatia (when it was part of Yugoslavia) never experienced decades of ‘oppressive, Communist rule’ – Yugoslavia was not part of Iron Curtain / USSR even though people now often think it was. It was ‘non-aligned’ and life for an average Yugoslav was much freer.

    1. Emily, freer for who, the privileged communist party members maybe ? What about millions of Croatians who had to migrate to western countries to have a decent life?
      The children of those who were privileged during the worst period of Croatian history are now leading Croatia into an abyss she may never recover from.

    2. No. Old Yugoslavia was not communist controlled by Moscow. Worst. Yugoslav Croatia was communist controlled by Communist Serbia.

    3. I would also add Porec (just north of Pula) to your list.

      Emily – I was born in Yogoslavia and you are absolutely right.
      Jozefina – I believe you have your timeline wrong. Your statement sounds like you’re speaking about the war that started in ’92. During the time of Tito, the middle class knew nothing of this ‘oppressive, Communist rule’ the article mentions.

      1. Lina and Emily Yugoslav communism was good enough only for privileged people like children of statesman, communists, partisans, in general for all people which obey the regime. If you weren’t child of respected communist statesman, partisan or member of Communist party you didn’t have much chance to find job, to gain any better position in firm etc. Not to forget oppression over freedom of speech and religion, the brutal camps like “Goli otok” where brutal Titoist regime killed any disident of regime. Also not to forget secret police which had files about almost every citizen of Croatia and infamous murders by its agents all over the world.

    4. Emily though Yugoslavia indeed wasn’t behing “Iron curtain” of Soviets it is gravely wrong to say it never experienced oppression. It was communist regime of dictator Tito, who murdered at least 70.000 people at it’s very beginning 1945. Yugoslavia also never faced freedom of speech and religion, brutal secret police tapped almost everything and if you said anything against regime soon you would be send to brutal camps or in same cases you would even loose your life, in most cases it would destroy your career, your job, your family. There were lists of families which are some kind of state enemies and if u were child coming from such family u would have slim chance to gain good education, job, position, career. So we are talking about very gravely oppression not as Soviet but oppression.

  3. @Carol Sperry re your question about a day trip from Dubrovnik to Mostar and Medjugorje.
    You’ll find numerous tour agencies advertised throughout Dubrovnik which do this trip. I did it two years ago and it was superb – lunch on a terrace overlooking ‘Stari Most’! Nothing at all to be ‘concerned’ about, trust me.
    And a few km north of Dubrovnik is a really nice arboretum and garden, at Trsteno. Well worth a couple of hours wandering round.
    Have a great time :)

  4. Wonderful post … helped me a lot with my itinerary, specially for cutting of Plitvice from it.
    I was so frustrated about this decision and I am glad I read this post, a relief :)

  5. I’m traveling to Croatia in April. I’m wondering will there be water tour we can partake In i. That time of season or would it be too cold

  6. Traveling to Zagreb from canada dec 16-31 with my 16 yr old. What should we bring. Key essentials?? Thanks

  7. I am planning my honeymoon! We are visiting Prague, Budapest and Vienna and would like to end in Croatia for 4 days. Where would you recommend visiting in such a short amount of time?

  8. Im travelling the 20th of March to Split and Dubrovnik, I dont know if from Split I should try to go to Krka Park or if the weather isnt ideal and could be better spent in the city.

  9. Well, me and my girlfriend are going for the 3rd year to explore Croatia, and I can tell you 3 weeks is not enough, what an amazing country. For know we explored Zagreb, the nature in the midle, around Gospic ( as rural as you can get in Croatia), to the less known islands around Rijeka and from there north. This year we will start in zadar and go south.
    It`s one of our favourite countries in Europe, the food, the people, the nature.. awesome stuff.

  10. Beautiful Dawn

    Istria is lovely, lush with beautiful towns on the coast and the interior. Enjoy biking or driving on wine roads, eat truffles and gorgeous views.
    Then, of course, Dalmatia, islands. It all looks Roman and Renaissance, very different from other countries in the region that once formed Yugoslavia. Jewel in the rough!

  11. Not feeling your sentiment regarding Plitvice. I was there on a rainy October day and despite the combo of weather and crowds, still found it to be breathtaking. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Well worth spending an entire day. I plan on returning again this Autumn. The area surrounding the lakes are just as special. Many over looked off the beaten path villages and treasures scattered all around this region. Guess to each their own.

  12. Planning a trip to Croatia in April 2017.
    It’s my initial phase and I am researching on the best way to cover up the best not to be missed places in Croatia in 10 days. Planning to drive from Zagreb to Dubrovnik and back to catch a flight from Zagreb back to Dubai. All suggestions are welcomed and would love to know in detail about the place. We are going to be two couple with two kids in total. Adventure, Nature Beauty, Good Food, Stay with view are what we are looking for. Different experiences at different places. Area there any towns where we can stay and enjoy more than staying in the cities?

    1. Ishmeen, you can count 2 days gone for travel from Zagreb to Dubronvik and then back to Zagreb for your return. That leaves you 8 days really to explore. I would recommend spending one night in Zagreb after your arrival. Recoup and re-energize for the drive ;) I’d suggest hitting Plitvice Lakes on your way to Dubrovnik. You probably will want to spend the night somewhere close by to Plitvice as it really is a full day adventure and it would be nice to have a hotel/place close by to end the day. From there, make your way to Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik can be done in one day. I would recommend spending the night in the Dubrovnik area. The following day drive up the coast. If you are up for an adventure (not sure how old your kids are or if you are afraid of heights) try ziplining in Omis. ( Truly an indescribable experience! So very worth it! Make your way to Split and spend the night there. It’s a lovely city. (maybe 2 nights to allow you some time to relax) From there continue on to Zadar. Spend another night in the area. It can be exhausting doing all the driving and sightseeing. Make sure you leave a day or two to just relax and explore as you see fit. There are lots of quaint little towns and sites worth seeing in all of Croatia. Just have fun exploring. I would suggest trying to make your way up to the Istria region as well but with 10 days, it really isn’t enough time to do it all. Consider it a reason to go back :)

  13. Is it worth a three hour each way bus ride to see Plitvice lakes for 3 hours when we are already going to Krka national park?

  14. Hi there,
    We are planning on going end of Aug2017 and wondering if Split is a nice city to go first so that we can visit Plitvice (day trip) then go to Dubrovnik for 3-4 days. We are only planning on going for a week total as we want to stop over in Germany to visit my cousin. We are from Toronto.

  15. My husband and I are planning a
    2-week trip to Croatia. The above posts have been most helpful.
    I would like to incorporate the island experiences with snorkeling , sailing and Kyaking with cultural , wine and cuisine experience and natural wonders.
    We are planning to arrive in May and also wonder if renting a car is the best way for us to travel? Flying into Zagreb and out of Dubrovnik.
    Appreciate any travel tips!

  16. Two couples planning a one week trip to Croatia. What are the recommendations? Should we fly into Zagreb or Dubrovnik? We were thinking of flying in to Zagreb stay a night, then rent a car and drive down to Novalja for two nights, then Split for a night and Hvar for another two nights skipping Dubrovnik altogether. Is that recommended or not? we are looking a mix of Adventure/Sightseeing/Partying.

  17. We went to Croatia with plain and arrived at Split airport mid-evening. Everything was great, there was no crowd, no long wait for luggage, people were very polite and calm, the airport was very clean, even the toilets. When it comes to shopping, it is nothing special, but you can find some nice thing. There are bars where you can drink or eat something. We wanted to get from Split airport to Split center as fast as possible so we got a taxi from Split airport. The driver was cool and we got there fast. Riva is beautiful, food is amazing, wine is delicious and people are awesome. It doesn’t matter if you are young or older, if you are with your family or friends Split definitely has a lot to offer. You should check it out! All in all it was a pleasant experience, everything went really smooth and we fell in love in Croatia.

  18. We are planning to drive from Zagreb to Zadar in late April. Will we be driving through mountains? Will there be a concern with snow?

  19. Just go to Greece, or Sicily. Better hotels, better beaches, more relevant history and culture, better food. Croatia is small country with underdeveloped sense for tourism, hospitality is not as expected, and you just won’t get enough for your money. I can t tell whether it is socialism to blame, but they certainly need to do much more effort if they want to compete on global scene.

  20. hi our Cruise line (Princess Cruise) will dock in Croatia in October this year, what can you recommend or what kind of tour that we will choose that is “A MUST TO SEE”? Thanks you so much!

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