Last updated on September 14, 2021
Chances are you’ve heard a bit about Croatia, either as friends consider a honeymoon here, or as a stop on the Adriatic cruises. Croatia’s tourism industry has grown exponentially since I first visited in 2009. It’s an “it” spot on the European travel scene, mostly because of the affordable prices, gorgeous national parks, cobbled streets, and miles of coastline. Added to that is a hotspot of music culture, with festivals throughout the year and across many musical styles. This dynamic—interesting things to do across a range of varied interests—has created a bit of a year-round party scene too (many backpackers I met in the region raved about the party scene). All of the buzz over the past decade, however, has impacted the cost of traveling Croatia—it’s more expensive than it used to be, while still a bargain compared to other places in Western Europe.
Croatia has a bit of something for every style of traveler. I backpacked through here with two female friends and we all agree it was one of the prettiest places we visited. Croatia’s enormous coastline gives travelers heaps of water-based activity options—island hopping either via ferries, rental yachts, or sail boats is hugely popular with those traveling Croatia. And the inner region of Croatia also boasts a UNESCO World Heritage site, Plitvice Lakes National Park, as well as the heart of the country’s culture and tradition. Consider these responsible travel tips. And read on for more on what to know before you go to Croatia, the best things to do in each region, and more.
Things to Know Before Traveling to Croatia
Croatia has a complex history dating back centuries; archaeological evidence takes it back to the stone age, in fact. With five bordering countries, as well as a huge sea coast, Croatia’s culture has been influenced by a range of cultures and peoples over the centuries. Croatia edged out on the other influences around the seventh century, aligned with Hungary at points, and lost ground to the Ottoman Empire around the 15th century. These range of influences are important as they form the bedrock of the country’s culture, cuisine, traditions, and architecture.
In 1918, Croatia became a part of Kingdom of Yugoslavia, eventually shifting into the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia alongside neighboring countries. Regional turmoil and political instability began in 1980. That turmoil escalated until Croatia voted for independence in 1991. The dissolution of Yugoslavia created an imbalance in the region, and as the former Yugoslavian countries created independent states it led to the Balkans War. This war lasted until 1995, when operation Storm gave Croatia a decisive victory. This war is a major point in Croatia’s history. Part of the issue was inter-ethnic tensions created by the countries formed as Yugoslavia dissolved. Many people from nearby countries were displaced into Croatia, and the entire country was affected, not only the border regions.
Given this recent history, it’s a delicate subject in Croatia, as well as throughout the neighboring Balkan states. Though some locals will open up about the war, most are keen to let the past lie in the past (meaning it’s not something you should broach with a stranger in a pub). Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, and the country is on a quick march toward continued peace, stability, and tourism.
The Fast Facts About Croatia Travel
Currency: Croatian Kuna (HRK) (current exchange rate)
Electricity: 230V/50hz. European 2-pin (Type C & Type F). Americans will need an adaptor.
Primary Airports: Zagreb International Airport (ZAG), Dubrovnik International Airport (DBV), Split International Airport (SPU)
Water: Safe. Tap water is chlorinated and locals drink it; this region also has some of the best natural springs in the world. But if you’re trekking, consider the merits of a SteriPen or LifeStraw for your trip.
Internet Situation: Internet access is pretty well established throughout the tourist network of Croatia. Back in 2009, it was rare, but WiFi is accessible, and travelers in need of constant access can find solid 4G speeds on mobile data as well. Consider buying a plan and hotspotting yourself if you need internet, or if you are navigating the country by rental car.
Local SIM: Data speeds are fast and data is cheap in Croatia. Travelers visiting for a while can easily get a SIM card. Having a local SIM card makes it easy to book hotels either through an app, or by calling ahead as you travel. T-Hrvatski Telecom is the largest network, and you can secure a SIM card at the operator’s store (the only place to get nano SIMs) as well as newsstands, service stations, supermarkets and kiosks.
Visas: Croatia is a part of the European Schengen zone. North Americans and Europeans do not need a visa to visit Croatia for up to 90 days. Most of Central and South America is covered under that same policy. Check the latest visa requirements here.
Festivals of Note: Dubrovnik Summer Festival, (Summer), INmusic Festival (June), Eurokaz Theatre Festival (June), International Folklore Festival (July), Hartera Electronica Festival (September),
Safety: Croatia has a very large party scene (and intense music festivals), it’s only around this aspect that travelers face issues. Use common sense when out at bars, and completely avoid visiting strip clubs—this is a well-known scam and a serious threat. Solo women should take precautions when out at bars and clubs and keep in mind general solo safety travel advice like staying aware and sober. Anything can happen on the road. I am a firm advocate of broad coverage travel insurance like World Nomads; these are my key tips to pick a good travel insurance.
Best Time to Visit Croatia: July and August are peak season for the miles of gorgeous Croatian coastline—everything is expensive and you will need to book ahead. Shoulder seasons are still lovely and very warm (May – October). Winter is also pretty, but cold and can get snowy.
Budget: Croatia is a growing international tourist destination, and that means prices are on the rise. Summer, particularly August, is peak season and expect to pay a premium to experience the best of Croatia at this time. That being said, it’s still a good deal in comparison to Western Europe. It’s not as budget as nearby Bosnia & Herzegovina, but it can be visited on a budget.
Food Considerations: Croatia has a very international menu in most tourist hot-spots. But, the meat culture of the Baltic States is present in Croatia as well. This is harder to navigate in places like Bosnia, but in Croatia, I found restaurants always offered vegetarian fare. Take into consideration, however, that while there are options, this is one of those countries you’ll want to carry fruit and snacks as a backup, just in case it’s pasta for the sixth night in a row. Also, consider these food safety principles when picking where to eat.
Accommodation: Apartment accommodation is very popular in Croatia. Many locals rent out rooms in their houses, or attached apartments—even before the rise of Airbnb and others. There are, of course, also a wide range of hotels for every budget, and hostels when you need a very budget option. The links in city guides below go to Booking.com, my favorite booking site. That said, also consider using Airbnb. Also, if you buy a local SIM (which you should), you can easily call ahead and directly reserve spots en route. If none of these will do, check out my detailed guide to finding good places to stay.
Transportation: Croatia is well connected to many places throughout Europe. Trains run into all neighboring countries, as well as between Croatia’s smaller cities. If the train doesn’t go where you’re heading, there is an extensive bus network as well. Many people rent cars as well, to better explore from the beaches to the National Parks. It’s easy to get around Croatia, so there should be no worries no matter which travel style you’re after. Ferries to smaller islands can run just a couple times a day, so check timetables or you could spend an extra night if you don’t catch the early morning ferry! Ferries also run to Ancona in Italy if you’re keen to enter Croatia via split.
Possible Issues: Landmines are still a concern if you’re very far off the tourist route. If you are hiking in remote areas, be extremely cautious and consult local guides before you set out. It’s recommended to stay on paved roads and existing hiking routes. Only buy your tickets to National Parks and such from the official ticket offices, sometimes scammers will offer you tickets before you reach the official office. Solo travelers of both sexes should be aware alert and cautious when getting intoxicated at the party-hub cities.
Pre-Trip Reading Inspiration: Books About Croatia
Fiction & Nonfiction Books About Croatia
- April Fool’s Day: This novel makes a compelling read about the Yugoslavian War with biting, dark humor and political commentary. If you’re into story-based history, this is a good way to learn more about the region’s history.
- Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History: Fascinating travelogue and history of the Balkan region as the author delves into the roots of some of the Balkan conflicts and how they are manifested in the modern Balkan states.
- Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: Beautiful and lyrical book that combines the author’s travelogue with a history of the region and insights from the region right as World War II began. A compelling way to read about Balkan history though it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction throughout.
Podcasts, Films, and Online Reads About Croatia
- No Man’s Land (FILM): This black comedy satires the Balkan war and it is set in the trenches of the Bosnian-Serb conflict, set off by a compelling storyline of three soldiers trapped in the conflict.
- Looking for Yugoslavia: An interview about the book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon covers why this book remains a classic and iconic look at a bygone era for this region of the world.
- Welcome to Liberland, the World’s Newest Country (Maybe): A quirky read about a tiny piece of land between Croatia and Serbia that neither country has claimed… yet.
Rick Steves’ Croatia Guide is the best guidebook for an interesting history and neat activities in Croatia—it’s perfect if you are planning a mid-range trip or luxury. Rick Steves’ guides for Europe are usually spot on. That being said, backpackers might want to stick with Lonely Planet Croatia. This guide has a better list handle on the nuts and bolt—train times, hostels, and budget travel to get you to and fro.
Socially Responsible Travel in Croatia
The tourism brochures sell one side of the Croatian tourism industry, but there is a lot more to the country that cruise ship ports and pretty beaches. If you’re interested in cultural travel, consider heading inland to the country’s gorgeous national parks, wetlands, and wineries. The northeast of Croatia is little visited and holds the heart of existing traditions—I highly recommended travelers interested in experiencing multiple sides of Croatia head to a wide range of places from north to south. Responsible travelers should also consider that local-level travel usually has the most positive impact on a country. Consider using local transportation around the country, learn a few phrases in Croatian to get you buy. And if you’re heading into the less touristy areas in particular, read up on Croatia’s history so you don’t hit on any cultural taboos related to the war. In general, don’t talk too much about the country’s history, and be sensitive when talking about your travels to neighboring countries. Consider these additional ideas for socially responsible tourism in Croatia.
Support Local Artisans
Buying your souvenirs from local craftsmen is a positive way to support traditional artisans techniques and handicrafts. It’s also an excellent way to experience the region, and to later remember that special part of the local culture. Some of the local crafts you might find along the way include: embroidered linens, gorgeous lace from Pag island, handmade soaps and cosmetics, as well artisan dolls. When buying jewelry, steer clear of cheap red coral as harvesting of red coral is protected and regulated in Croatia. Spending money with local businesses is one of the best ways to ensure your travels have a strong and last impact on the local economy.
Book Local Accommodation
Croatia’s tourism surge over the past decade created a bit of a land rush. Foreign investors are not supposed to buy up local properties, but it has been known to happen. And while there are plenty of big resort style hotels, booking local is always preferred as this helps keep cash infused in the local economy.
Limit Cruise Ship Travel
This is a tricky area as cruise ship tourism floats a huge part of the Croatian economy. That being said, it has a huge impact on the port city of Dubrovnik, and not all of it is positive. During the morning and early afternoon hours, cruise shippers flood the Old Town’s streets and overwhelm local shops and restaurants. As the numbers swell in summer months, this is best avoided if you are traveling the region by land (which is the most interesting way to explore Croatia). If you’re in Dubrovnik, venture out after 3pm to avoid the hordes of cruise ship passengers. I also recommend you shop for souvenirs and such in other areas as this is mostly kitsch for the temporary visitors.
Leave No Trace Behind
Many travelers visiting Croatia head to the national parks, or to kayak, and generally are there to experience nature on their visit. Consider bringing a reusable water bottle to limit your use of plastic water bottles—you can easily refill. And when hiking, skiing, or participating in outdoors activities, carry your trash back with you. And for women, use a menstrual cup for not only easy of travel, but it’s eco-friendly, too.
Consider these responsible travel tips to lessen your impact on the places you visit.
Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip—a great policy provides coverage in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen gear, adventure sports riders, and more. I used World Nomads for this trip (and since 2008!) and highly recommend it! It also covers COVID—a very important consideration for travel in 2021 and beyond.
Things to Do in Croatia: City & Regional Guides
Before planning your trip to Croatia, there are likely a few standout images you’ve seen on social media or in travel blogs—the most iconic spots across the country that form the bedrock of things to do in Croatia. The two most prominent mainland experiences include exploring the old city of Dubrovnik and visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park. Fortunately for travelers, there is so much more to do in Croatia than just these two things! With miles upon miles of coastline, it’s no wonder that island-hopping is a top activity. Other things activities you might not suspect are Croatian highlights, however, include a visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, hiking in Risnjak National Park, and standing in awe of St. James’ Cathedral in Sibenik and the Krka Monastery near Skradin.
Favorite Travel Experiences in Croatia:
- Navigating the walkways and blue waters of Plitvice Lakes National Park.
- Biking with friends out to Bribirska Glavica near Skradin.
- Wandering through Krka National Park to see the waterfalls.
- Relaxing on Milna near split, a small island filled with friendly locals.
- Visiting the country’s many gorgeous islands.
You can spend an entire week enjoying Dubrovnik, it’s a gorgeous city in its own right, but it’s also a hub for day trips into nearby hotspots and countries. Many travelers cut their time short in Dubrovnik because of the overflow of cruise ship passengers—it’s true, they are overwhelming. But it’s hasty to assume that you won’t still love spending time in this city. First off, it’s the filming location for King’s Landing in the uber-popular Game of Thrones series. This is a growing business now, to find the locations and vistas featured in the show. Even for non-fans, it’s a gorgeous spot. If you have a kitchen, take advantage of the locally-grown organic fruit and veggies for at least one meal, they’re a real treat. Sample the famed local wines while you’re in town, and buy rakija, homemade alcohol. Let’s take a look at what you should see in Dubrovnik, and then in the next section a close look at the best day trips nearby.
Top Things To Do in Dubrovnik
- View the City Walls. Dubrovnik is known for the city walls, among the finest in the world. You have to hike the city walls at least once—plus you’ll have stunning photos of the orange tiled rooftops set against the twinkling blue of the Adriatic. The Pile Gate is always busy, my recommendation is to enter from the Ploče Gate. Bring water or you’ll regret it.
- Explore Old Town. After hiking the walls, get lost among the streets of the old city. Plan your route so you can stop at Gundulić Square Market inside Old Town—if you make it there for noon there is a neat custom of feeding the birds in the Square that makes a neat photo-op. The Square is also an easy spot to buy souvenirs if you are short on time as they have a huge selection.
- Visit the fish market. This visit is easy to combine with your walking tour of Old Town. If you have the stamina (or fortify with a hearty lunch and wine), then take an Uber or a bus to Gruz Harbor to visit the produce and fish market located just outside the city walls.
- Hike to Mt Srd. This is a gorgeous hike and it’s usually brisk and cool even in the hot season if you start in the early morning. There is a cable car that starts just north of the city walls. You could hike in one direction and use the cable car. This is not to be missed, it has stunning views over Dubrovnik.
- Rent a car. Many of the most affordable hotels and restaurants are located outside of the city walls. The nearby towns are filled with options. While bus transport is easy, renting a car will give you more mobility to explore not only Dubrovnik, but also the many gorgeous day trips on offer. Prices can be incredibly reasonable during shoulder- and off-season.
Places to Eat and Sleep
Food inside the city walls is pricey. Croatia has the standard mediterranean fare, so you could easily find delicious seafood and fresh foods. If you have an apartment rental (I recommend Airbnb, or Meshtrip is a pretty good aggregator of the various vacation rentals), then consider shopping and cooking some meals at home. If you are vegetarian, then the advice to cook at home runs double true—Croatia is not vegetarian friendly. For all travelers, if you plan very full days, then it might be nice to pack snacks. Because Dubrovnik is a cruise ship port, eating or touring anywhere during the docking times is busy.
- Eat at Nishta in Old Town. This vegetarian spot is so create and tasty that it’s a local favorite even with non-vegetarians. Visit a bit off of peak hours or you will queue for ages.
- Sample traditional eats at Amfora. This spot has some of the iconic Dalmatian favorites for the seafood and meat eaters.
- Book an apartment for your stay. Nearly all of the rentals are privately owned apartments, or many homeowners rent rooms in their house. The best deals are outside the Old Town, it would make a great place to stay if you are there for a special occasion, but it’s incredibly expensive to stay in that area. Lapland is the most common spot to stay, but these hostels and hotels book up quickly.
- Stay somewhere nice. Boutique Hotel Stari Grad is a charming spot in the Old Town and is a great choice if you are in looking for a nice spot right in the thick of things.
- Go budget with a hostel. The two best options for convenience, price, and amenities are the Cocoon Hostel and My Way Hostel. Both are walking distance to Old Town and are fantastic affordable spots from which you can explore Dubrovnik.
Best Day Trips Near Dubrovnik
Sometimes I prefer to have a guidebook for day trips and long drives. The guides, like the Lonely Planet or Rick Steves, offer a description of the highlights among the tiny towns you could visit. That said, here is a starting point for day trips into the nearby beaches, countries, and the best coastal drives around Dubrovnik.
Lokrum Island and the Beaches
Lokrum Island makes for a great day just spent relaxing and enjoying the beauty. The island is covered with wild peacocks and there is a salt water lake in the middle. You can easily take a boat over from either Dubrovnik Old Town Harbor, or usually any of the nearby towns where you might be staying. But because it’s so close to the Old Harbor port, it’s often crowded. Also, the beaches in Lokrum are often rocky, so keep that in mind if you are hoping to relax in warm sand. You could also make it a beach day by visiting Mlini, Srebreno, or Kupari. There are neat abandoned hotels in Kupari that make for a good wander. There are so many beaches near Dubrovnik, but these are the best for quality and convenience. If you’re keen to sunbathe and explore, take a ferry to Mljet National Park—the views are gorgeous and the beaches are nice too.
Mostar & Kravice Falls in Bosnia and Herzegovina
From Dubrovnik, it’s easiest to rent a car and make a full day of your trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. With a car, you can get an early start and avoid some of the tourist crowds that come in waves by mid-day. But if renting isn’t feasible, then there are plenty of tour buses from Dubrovnik running there as well. Enjoy the gorgeous drive through the green mountains and then spend a few hours eating lunch in Mostar while watching people jump off Stari Most, an iconic bridge that was damaged during the war and rebuilt. Bosnia isn’t very vegetarian friendly, but a burek is always a good snack. Meat-eaters will enjoy the cevapi, a local sausage-like specialty. The cobbled streets of Mostar are quite lovely, and it’s a great spot to relax. You could also enter the Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque, it has gorgeous aerial views of the cityscape. Mostar is a good spot to buy honey if you’re keen.
Then, it’s an easy drive to the truly spectacular Kravice Falls. It’s 40 kms outside of Mostar, and there is a cafe on site where you can grab lunch and coffee if you didn’t eat in Mostar. Bring your swimsuit as it’s a gorgeous spot to swim and cool off.
I happen to love Bosnia and have an entire travel guide for that country, too—it’s worth spending longer. If you have time, you could easily sleep in Mostar for the night and see a couple of other sites nearby. Budget backpackers will enjoy Guesthouse “Taso”, and Hotel-Restaurant Kriva Cuprija is a great mid-range spot from which to organize travels.
If you are a wine lover then this makes an easy day trip from Dubrovnik. You could arrange a tour as well if you are concerned about driving back—or if you’re in a large group consider renting a driver for the day and you can all have a good time at the wineries. My recommendation is to stop by the Korta Katarina Winery in Orebić if you’re a wine lover.
Pop across the border into Montenegro and hike to the fortress above Kotor. This is one of the most idyllic spots in the world. Not only are the views from the fortress gorgeous, but the down is charming too. It’s just a wonderful place to hike and spend the day. And behind the fortress is a “secret” hole in the wall that makes for fun explorations.
Drive the Coastline
Wear a swimsuit under your clothes and pack a spare set of clothes as this is a gorgeous coastal drive and you’ll want to cool off along the way. Give yourself a fair bit of time to stop in the little towns and wander. Head north along the coast from Dubrovnik, and make sure to stop by Trsteno, which has a pretty arboretum and a unique vibe.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Travelers visit this area for Plitvice just for the National Park. Book two nights accommodation—arrive via bus by evening (the owner of your accommodation should pick you up), explore Plitvice Lakes all day, and stay one more night (you’ll be tired). Then leave on an early morning bus the next day! If you’re driving, you might be able to drive in from your previous destination and still have a full day. Be warned that there are sometimes ticket scammers nearby trying to sell you overpriced (and sometimes invalid) tickets.
How to Enjoy Plitvice Lakes
- Plitvice Lakes National Park: A gorgeous UNESCO site in the center of Croatia. The stacked lakes take hours to explore and if you’re a nature lover you’ll enjoy it. The park has been designed for tourism though and there are a lot of tourists. Don’t expect to commune with nature, but it is a beautiful couple of hours as you follow the boardwalks for miles through the various levels of lakes. I visited in the summer, but it’s equally stunning in the winter when covered with snow.
Where to Eat and Sleep
- House Jezerka: This hostel is run like a B&B and comes recommend. It had free wifi, was impeccably clean, and featured gorgeous gardens. Laundry access too. The owner is great, he brought me a free drink on arrival and drives visitors one-way to the park; then it’s only a 20-minute walk back to his place. The bus stop to leave this area is walkable from here.
- Stay in a nice spot. Consider Guest House Korita for midrange, and Plitvica Lodge for a nice place from which to organize your search. Hotel Jerezo is also a nice place for groups as they offer triples.
- Pizza Place: There is a nearby restaurant with great to-go pizzas that you pass on the walk back to the guesthouse, starts with a “G” and the guesthouse owner will recommend it. That was the easiest option since there isn’t a lot walkable nearby—we ordered a pizza on our way back then relaxed back at the guesthouse after the full day of walking.
Krka National Park
Skradin is roughly 20 km from Šibenik and the town borders the entrance to the Krka National Park. The buses and trains stop in Šibenik. If you arrive late in the day, you will have no choice but to cab it into Skradin (Euro 40+). Krka is not on the beaten path and tourists only visit for the Krka Waterfalls—plan just one full day here to do the waterfalls. Wear a swimsuit and bring a picnic lunch to the falls with you since you’ll be there most of the day!
Things to Do in Skradin and the Krka Waterfalls
- Krka Waterfalls: The main attraction in the Skradin area, and normally the only reason tourists visit this area of Croatia. Boats leave the docks and ferry tourists to the entrance to the park. This is, by far, the easiest way to see Krka. It drops you off right at the entrance and boats leave all day long (check times so you catch the last one!). You can also visit the monastery on Lake Visovac, it’s dated to the 14th Century and is gorgeous.
- Biking to Bribirska Glavica: Not a “must-see” by any means, but a great way to pass the time if you’ve done Krka and you’re in Skradin for an extra day. Rent a bike from the bike shop on the riverfront and head West out of town. Bring snacks and water because there is nothing but houses along the way.
Places to Eat and Sleep
- Try Skradinski Rizot. This local risotto is crazy popular now because of Anthony Bourdain and as such it’s pretty easy to find in Skradin.
- Villa Marija. This is a well-run budget spot that makes an ideal place to visit the town. Highly recommended if you’re visiting the waterfalls at Krka National Park. It’s a great location, more of a hotel than a hostel but still very reasonably priced. Gorgeous patio off of our room and a great breakfast included! Friendly staff and free wifi included.
- Stay somewhere gorgeous. If you’re feeling spendy, then the Hotel Panorama has stunning views over Krka Canyon and is really a special spot to stay.
- Cantinetta. Skradinskih Svilara 7. This is pricier than a backpacker budget but delicious seafood according to my travel buddies. This is considered one of the best kept local secrets.
- Zlatne Skoljke. Grgura Ninskog 9. This is a solid choice on all fronts. Lots of good options and I enjoyed it.