I’ve been to Croatia twice now and while both encounters were relatively brief, I do presume a certain level of knowledge about the country. Almost immediately I fell in love with it, like a prepubescent boy with a naughty magazine, Croatia was my travel porn. But it’s so much more than just a pretty face and I think that, among other things, is what people misunderstand about traveling here. Even after visiting I don’t think they really get it, so I wanted to share a few things to consider on your next visit to this amazing country.
1. Dubrovnik is great but… – I’ve written about this before, but any tourist to Croatia needs to of course include Dubrovnik on their itinerary, but they also have to promise to leave it. Don’t get me wrong; I love Dubrovnik in a way unlike most other cities. But having seen much of the rest of Croatia, I understand how very important it is to also leave this star city. Nearly every tourist to Croatia will visit Dubrovnik, yet a shockingly low percentage of them will leave the former city-state! Yeah, I know, I’m surprised too. Dubrovnik is but an exemplar of what the rest of the country holds. From quiet villages to medieval towns and some of the best national parks in the world, to really understand Croatia is to 1) yes, see Dubrovnik but also 2) to leave it.
2. Understand the history – I guess I stay up on current events more than the average person, but even I was shocked with how many people asked me if it is safe to travel in Croatia because of, you know, the war. The one in the 1990s. The one that ended in 1995. At first I jokingly asked them if Germany was safe after the events of WWII and if Belgium should be skipped due to those nasty WWI trenches. So, for the record, CROATIA IS SAFE. The war ended quite a long time ago and everything is fine now. At the same time, I think you should take the time to learn about the history of Croatia. Not just about their war of independence in the 1990s, but for the past few decades. While it’s not cheery reading, it will absolutely help you better understand the people you meet and the influences that, over time, formed the modern Croatian state.
3. Eat all the food – For some reason I thought I was visiting a depressing, former Soviet satellite nation on my first visit to Croatia. While they may have spent decades under an oppressive Communist regime, Croatia is anything but boring and the food more than shows that. I personally think that the best and fastest way to learn about any people is through their culinary culture, and the vibrant Croatian foodie scene is one of the best in the world to investigate. Outsiders don’t realize the various influences that have taken place over the centuries. In the countryside, it’s all about the great game and cattle that are cultivated, while on the coast Italian influence reigns supreme. The best Italian food I’ve ever had wasn’t in Italy, but in Croatia. Thanks to being part of first the Roman Empire and then the Venetian city-state, there is a centuries long tradition of amazing Italian food.
4. Live life there – I made a mistake. I traveled through Croatia far too quickly. Watching from the lens of a friend who decided to rent an apartment for a couple of weeks I could see the difference in experiences between he and I. While most of us don’t have the luxury of spending weeks in a new place, it certainly is possible to spend at least one week living like a local. My recommendation is to fly into Zagreb, spend a day, and then drive down to Zadar and spend a week there. Zadar is an amazing city in its own right, but it’s also close to everything. If you have a rental car you can explore huge swaths of the country while calling Zadar home. There are few cities I love more than Zadar and to spend time living there, experiencing life as a local –wow! I can’t think of anything better.
Have you been to Croatia? What did you think?
This campaign was created and sponsored by Croatian National Tourist Board in partnership with iambassador. LandLopers retains all editorial control of what is published and as you know, I never shy away from honest commentary.
18 thoughts on “What Everyone Is Missing About Croatia”
Good article. Croatia is a wonderful place. I think all of Dalmatia is great. So much history. I spent some time in the Balkans and my favorite experience was taking public buses up the coast from Albania to Istia, stopping off in some of the towns located there. It was surprisingly inexpensive.
I love love love Croatia! The Explore Croatia campaign is so great — it’s like reliving my 2012 trip there. My favorite city was Split (though Trogir and Zadar are up there too) because it’s an amazing example of how much history is crammed into that small region. I remember one time wandering around and seeing a building with three different levels — all from different architectural time periods. It was so cool!
Great article, Matt. I haven’t been to Croatia yet, but it is on my list. It’s a cheap destination if you travel from Denmark (around $35), but most Danes only go there for an extended weekend. You’ve given me reason to believe that there is more to see in Croatia, though. Thanks!
I like your point about the history and wars. It’s true about most places though. Thats the great part about exploring the world though you get to see the things that don’t ever make it to the news and hang around forever. Like that food. That picture made me hungry and I’m not a sweets kinda guy.
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if going to Croatia was safe…my brother even sent me a map of land mines so I wouldn’t accidentally step on any. I think many Americans are even more out of the loop on many Slavic countries, because once the war died down we stopped hearing about them, and people were left with the impressions the media gave them way back in the 1990s. I spent a week living in Lapad (outside of Dubrovnik) with my partner, and it was a wonderful experience. Honestly, even that week (plus one day in Zagreb and one at Plitvice) felt far too short. Croatia is a country full of wonderful experiences — we’re hoping to get back to explore the Istria region in the near future.
I couldn’t agree more with these points! I also totally fell I. Love with the place and feel I could go back for longer next time! I have written a couple of posts on my blog about what I got up to there as well as a perfect 10 day itinerary.
Great article! I would add that one of the biggest errors is to think you can know every corner of Croatia in a week.
Just in Istria (closest region to Italy) you can spend easily 5 days, Zagreb 2-3 days, and Dalmatia and islands you can be a couple of week.
I would suggest you guys to visit Croatia in June, less crowded and nice weather too.
Just like Matt I like to peel back the layers of each city and village in my travels. The older, the smaller, the ones with ancient history are my favorite. I traverse every cobblestone street, every alleyway. They all beckon to me & my camera.
I went to Croatia & Segovia by myself last October. I had no itinerary, no deadlines, no promises to be in one specific place. I formulated my travels each day as I explored. The main thing I did want to see was Plitvice National Park. A breathtaking place, if you take the time to hike through every inch of it, breathing the fresh air, enjoying the wide range of shades water colors, foliage & terrain. From waterfalls to tropical lagoons, it was amazing!
I was able to see Zagreb & Ljubljana, rain kept me from going further to Lake Bled.
The people were warm & friendly. I felt extremely safe by myself and had some beautiful experiences that brought tears to my eyes.
I am headed back to Croatia this October. Dubrovnik, & some of the smaller islands off of this area & down into Montenegro. Again no itinerary, suggestions are welcome.
Great timing, to go to Dubrovnik in October. You may well be able to move around freely as the cruise ship season is calming down – thank god! I went in May last year and visited two of the Elaphiti islands, Kolocep and Lopud as a day trip. Lopud is especially wonderful.
This May I visited Dalmatia, basing myself in Šibenik, Trogir and Zadar, all three of which I loved.
Off in a week to Montenegro (for the first time) and staying in Kotor and Bar (as I really want to visit the largely abandoned city of Stari Bar, a few km inland).
Plus a boat trip on lake Skadar, which borders Albania and is superb for wildlife, especially birds.
Here’s to both of us having a fantastic time!
Hi Ursula. If you are planning to do the coast I would recommend going in June or September. This way you will avoid the big crowds of July/August if that bothers you but it will still be warm enough to enjoy the island atmosphere as October can already be a little too cold. I myself love the peak season it as it just adds to the festive vibe of the country. I haven’t been to Dubrovnik at the same time as the Cruise Ships but I read a few weeks ago that the Croatian government is going to limit Cruise ship visits to 2 a day. In the past few years there would sometimes be 5 in a day. This will limit the unwanted one day tourist . The islands on the other hand are never too busy as they don’t have cruise ships like Dubrovnik thus visit in the warmer months- trust me I’m addicted to Croatia and have been seven times in the last 15 years. My secret island destinations just for you- Pucisca on the island of Brac, and Koniza on the island of Vis and Stiniva Cove beach(Google it) – you too Matt- you will wish you had gone here. Croatia is just too awesome
I totally agree about Dubrovnik! While beautiful and certainly worth seeing, it did feel very touristy which ate away into the authenticity of the town. We did love Lapad though! Spent 2 days there on their rocky cliff beaches. We found Split more enjoyable than Dubrovnik. Diocletian Palace and all the little streets are so picturesque. Getting lost in them is such a unique experience. Those houses are a huge contrast to what we know in North America. Vis island was our favorite one day excursion although I certainly wish we stayed there overnight.
PS. I just stumbled upon your site while searching for charming french villages and then started exploring and I want to say – great blog and beautiful photos! About to read some more :-)
All You said is true, but You’ve missed one imprortant historical city – Osijek! It’s important as Zagreb or Zadar, equally beautiful but it’s a whole new experience. If You get a chance wisit Osijek, I guarantee, You won’t regret it
Both my parents are Croation but I was born in Toronto. 8 years ago I went for the first time and spent 14 glorious days soaking up the amazing culture, food, beauty and friendliness of the people. I went everywhere from Zagreb to Pula, Karlovac to Plitvice, Trogir, Vir, Zadar, Split, Hvar and of course Dubrovnic. In there were even a couple of villages that I don’t remember their names. I could have spent the whole year there! I am excited to be planning a trip back for next fall and this time I get to share it with my other half. Super excited! I love your input and am enjoying reading all the travel posts. Thanks!
Thanks Liz and how lucky for you to have had that experience! It’s a country I’ve come to know and really love.
was it hard for you to communicate with locals?
No, not at all
We love Croatia so much…we bought a house there…and will retire there <3
I really enjoyed Croatia. I would totally recommend the continental Croatia over coastal since you might discover something new that only the locals know like: fairy tale city of Ozalj,Karlovac and Ogulin, Zagorje along with the Trakoscan castle and Medjimuje and of course the old villas and estates in Slavonia.Not to forget Lika too.
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