Croatia Guide, Europe

The Old Town of Dubrovnik, Croatia Pictures

Dubrovnik Old Town, Croatia guide. Photo by Bracodbk.

Croatia guide: why visit?

Joining the European Union in 2013, Croatia has been independent for only two decades and shares borders with Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro, while facing Italy across the Adriatic Sea.

It has been a low-cost, sun-trap destination for neighbours such as Austria, Italy and Germany for a hundred years with its splendid beaches and sailing along 1, 800 km of dramatic coastline with crystal-clear water, steady winds and endless little undiscovered islands.

Croatia encompasses many national parks with unspoilt lakes and dramatic mountains as well as striking historic towns with a rich cultural heritage such as Dubrovnik, Split, and the new capital of Zagreb, with no shortage of interesting, relaxing, holidays to Croatia!

Croatia Upsides

Positioning itself as ‘the new Riviera’, Croatia tourism is one of the hottest European trends, offering a rich culture, ancient walled towns and castles, lush mountains, dazzling beaches with 1, 200 islands to visit, a classic sunny Mediterranean climate, agreeable and relatively unspoilt people, good seafood and wines and all at a relatively low price compared to most of Europe. The local currency is the Kuna, not yet the costly euro, but it will be replaced by euro in the near future).

Croatia Downsides

With 10 million visitors a year currently, (2. 7 million visitors in July alone), Croatia suffers a shortage of facilities at peak times – despite its fast developing tourist infrastructure, so book necessities well ahead.

Furthermore some short-sighted locals see the tourist boom as a chance to fleece any naive tourist within grasping range, so treat Croatia like the third world as far as money is concerned, checking bills carefully and negotiating taxis and other services with care.

Croatia guide: Activities

Hiking the Premuzic trail through the Velebit Mountains, Croatia pictures

Hiking on the Premuzic trail, a 50km path through the North and Middle Velebit Mountains.

Beaches: Croatia’s coast and islands offer some great beaches, most water sports ranging from swimming or skinny dipping thru scuba diving, windsurfing and sailing.

Hikers, nature lovers and climbers: have wide wilderness opportunities in the Velebit Range which includes Paklenica National Park, the canyons of Velika, Mala Paklenicathe and UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site of Plitvice Lakes, with its 16 turquoise lakes, numerous waterfalls, and spectacular karst (shapes and caves, but not peaks! ) landscape.

Parks: Croatia also has ten Nature Parks (smaller and more individual than national parks) throughout the country such as Biokovo Mountain, Papuk Mountain and the unique wildlife area of Kopacki Rit, near Osijek, is worth visiting.

Serious Climbing: For magnificent coastal mountains, try climbing Mt. Ilija (961m), or Sveti Jure (1762m) from Makarska.

Cycling: Croatia is also a fine cycling country with numerous bike routes and easy rentals. There are many mountain biking tour specialists that organise both long and short tours around the country on the best routes.

Food and wine

Croatian cuisine varies according to the region but the coastal area has historically been influenced by Greeks, Romans and Balkan dishes but today is dominated by Mediterranean styles, particularly Italian, with excellent pizzas, and fresh seafood.

Inland has more of a typically heavy Hungarian, Viennese or Turkish flavour, spicy meat dishes served with roast potatoes or baked noodles, heavy soup and various home-made cheese.

Croatian wine is not yet world-class, but is coming along nicely. Red wines such as Kastelet, Babic, Plavac and Istrian Merlot are worth trying.
Prosek traditional desert wine and Sljivovica plum brandy are well-known.

Main Attractions


Zagreb city, Croatia pictures

Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city.

The capital city of modern Croatia, Zagreb has in fact been a political and cultural centre since medieval times and underrated by the majority of European tourists who tend to head for the south directly. Although Zagreb is not a love-at-first-sight urban space, it deserves more attention.

Zagreb’s star sights

– grand neo-Renaissance architecture.
– a controversial but massive art collection in the Mimara Museum.
– the neo-Baroque Croatian National Theatre with Ivan Mestrovic’s masterly sculpture The Well of Life standing in front.
– the charming Baroque quarter of Gradec and Kaptol.
– lively and bohemian Tkalciceva ulica (street), a pedestrianazed walkway lined with cafés and bars, great for dining, shopping and people-watching, especially in the evening. Cafe culture is big in Zagreb, like Vienna or Budapest.
– majestic Mirogoj Cemetery, designed by Croatia’s most celebrated architect Herman Bolle, including a meditative sculpture garden.
– magnificent Medvedgrad, a medieval fortress on nearby Mount Medvednica, just north of the city with some superb walks.
– Zagreb’s annual International Folklore Festival in July is worth checking out if you are ethnic music fan, or party animal, or preferably both.


A small historic city on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, hosts some of Croatia’s most important religious monuments including the 6th-century Euphrasian Basilica with exquisite mosaics, regarded as one of world finest examples of Byzantine art. The Episcopal complex of the Basilica is a UNESCO’s Heritage site and is in the old part of city.

***The Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia pictures

‘Devil’s Garden’, The Plitvice Lakes National Park

One of Croatia’s biggest tourists attractions and the most visited national park. It lies roughly halfway between Zagreb and Zadar in an ancient and the enchanted woodland known as the ‘Devil’s Garden’ (photo above), scattered with lakes, streams, natural dams, waterfalls, caves, and meadows.

The park is home to brown bears, wolves, wild cats and many rare birds, as well as wide variety of Alpine and Mediterranean plants.

There are hiking trails throughout the park, with well-organised wooden walkways and footbridges allowing travellers to explore widely, sometimes through the water for up to 18 km; but there is NO swimming in the lakes. The Plitvice Lakes are easily accessible by public transport from Zagreb, Split and Karlovac and tourists can also find varied accommodation – including camp sites – in and around the Park.

** Sjeverni Velebit National Park

It contains the largest mountain in the country, Velebit. The park offers several different length of hikes including a thrilling 57 km hike along the Premuzic Trail, with magnificent views of the peaks. The trail was built in the 1930’s and is today regarded as a masterpiece of trail building.

Dalmatia and islands

Dalmatia is a ‘Mediterranean’ type region located on the far south of Croatia. It includes hundreds of Croatian islands as well as the mountains of Velebit, Biokovo and Sveti Ilija on the Peljesac peninsula and mainland cities including Dubrovnik, Split, Trogir, Sibenik and Zadar.

***The old town of Dubrovnik

Aka the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, is a captivating walled city remarkably managing to preserve its charm as well as much of its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture despite war and earthquake damage. Now it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s Croatia’s prime attraction and one of Europe’s finest ancient towns.
The best way to appreciate the town’s beauty is to take a walk along the top of the wall (almost 2kms long and 25 m high in places) and enjoy the several fortresses along the way and panoramic views of red-tiled roofs backed by azure sea.

Dubrovnik’s old town attractions

– the architectural delight of the Franciscan Monastery in Romanesque-Gothic style, rebuilt after an earthquake in 1667 and containing many interesting sculptures and other ancient artefacts.
– the Pile Gate, a stone bridge guarded by two Gothic arches, built in 1471.
– Stradun, the Old Town’s main street, also known as Placa, a 300 m pedestrian precinct from the Pile to Ploce gates, built 12thC.
– St Blaise Church, in Baroque style, 1717.
– Luza Square.
– tourists like to swim on the beach outside the western wall.
– take a trip to scenic Lopud Island, one of the Elafiti Islands, a 50-minutes boat trip away – or half an hour in summertime.


Croatia’s second largest city with a mass of historic monuments.

Split city, cathedral and palace, Croatia pictures

Split city, Croatia, with part of Diocletian’s palace and the iconic Cathedral of Saint Domnius visible. Photo by Dani Tic.

Croatia’s second largest city hosts plenty of historic monuments, most of them inside the must-see 1, 700 year-old Palace of Diocletian, a UNESCO site built in the latter part of the Roman Empire. In fact the palace was built first, then the town evolved around it.

In addition travellers have been known to spend alcoholic evenings in the Bacavica area in search of the reputedly beautiful local women for which Split is apparently famous.

Split waterfront at night, Croatia

Split ‘Riva’ waterfront.


Trogir waterfront, Croatia pictures

Trogir, a stunning medieval town in Dalmatia, the far south of mainland Croatia. Photo by Rgrrbbt.

Ignored by most tourists, Trogir is a living-museum listed by UNESCO as one of the best preserved Romanesque-Gothic complexes in Central Europe and one of Croatia’s most cherished attractions. It is located on an island 27 km west of Split, with scenic Mediterranean-ish surroundings, fine beaches and a calm and sultry air. And not too many tourists! Yet!

** Zadar

Another fortified city with a 3, 000 year history and many impressive historic buildings is also ideal base for exploring the country’s five national parks; Plitvice Lakes, Paklenica, Kornati, Krka Waterfalls and Northern Velebit, which are no more than one or two hours away by car or boat.
The star sights are pre-Romanesque and Romanesque churches including 9th century, circular St. Donatus, a landmark of the city. Check out the ‘Sound and Light’ show of the Sea Organ art installation which is built into the Riva seafront promenade, especially at sunset. In fact the city was once declared to have the world’s best sunset according to Alfred Hitchcock.
If you would like to see the world’s smallest cathedral, the 9th century Little Church of St. Kriz, is located in the nearby town of Nin.

** Mljet Island and its National Park

The park, covers about 30 sq km of the west side, is an Adriatic jewel with untouched nature, great for outdoor lovers and those looking for peace and quiet. It has two salt lakes, which are actually bays, connected by a channel and surrounded with dense vegetation, an excellent place for a swim after a hike. Saplunara Beach on the southeast end of the island is a delightful.


Hvar town, Croatia pictures

Hvar town, the ‘St. Tropez of Croatia’. Photo by Schorle.

The picturesque and affluent harbour town of Hvar, on the seductive resort island of the same name, offers Croatia’s sunniest weather, highest life and best chance of bumping into the rich and famous in one of the narrow stone alleys or waterfront night clubs.
Hvar is a short ferry ride from Split or the two Italian ports of Ancona and Pescara and a favourite European watering hole for big-time yachts.


One and a half hours from Split by train, is not commonly visited but its World Heritage Cathedral of St. Jacob is a good reason to visit, if you like church art. The Cathedral building is in Gothic and Renaissance forms and has distinguished sculptural decoration, including 71 human heads.

Sibenik is also a brilliant base for exploring two excellent national parks, the Krka Waterfalls NP and the Kornati Islands NP – the latter makes a great boat trip.

Five Best Croatian Islands

Sveti Klement

A green island with amazing inlets and white pebble beaches. In one of them, Palmizana, the botanist Eugen Meneghello planted an arboretum and built a collection of villas, available to rent. Waterskiing, swimming and windsurfing mean it’s good for families, and tranquillity is easily found around the rest of the island. Ferries from nearby Hvar take 20 minutes.


Just down the coast from Dubrovnik, Sipan was a chic retreat for the city’s rich families in the 15th century. It’s covered with orange, lemon and fig plantations and the local wine is very gluggable. You can stay in Hotel Sipan, a converted olive oil factory.


One of the less visited islands of the Dalmatian archipelago, Lastovo is coated with pine forest and is known for its excellent seafood. There are 46 even smaller islands nearby, reached by boats from the harbour, and you can choose from a range of apartments.


A quiet car-free island in north Dalmatia criss-crossed with paths linking beaches, olive groves, pine forests and a 15th-century monastery. The only hotel is the Maestral, in the old village schoolhouse.


The only permanent inhabitants of this pretty islet, near Lastovo island, are the goats and mouflon sheep. Accommodation is limited to Pension Lastovo, a hunter’s lodge with three four-bedroom cottages run by a free-spirited couple, but the lack of development means you’ll be free to enjoy crayfishing and boating … as well as their delicious food, in near isolation. (00345 915 696 559, lastovo-mrcara. com)

Croatia Guide: Getting around

Croatia operates several good bus services but many of star attractions are along the coast so the best way to travel around is by ferry. Several shipping companies operate between coastal towns, islands and international ports. Ferries are easy, frequent, and online booking is available. Alternatively if you’re in the mood to be pampered cruises in Croatia are popular and a great way to explore the islands.
Roads and motorways are decent quality and major car rental companies are available.
If you are fit and a cyclist then biking tours are an excellent option, especially for on islands.
Although there is no rail system along the coast, Croatian Railways covers the north and east and run a decent service, though less frequent than buses.

Croatia Guide: Getting there

Flights are fast and frequent from many European cities to airports at: Zagreb; Split; Dubrovnik; Pula; Rijeka (Krk Island); Zadar; Bol (Brac Island) and Osijek.
You can also take ferries from Italy to Croatia from the ports of Venice, Rimini, Civitanova, Ancona, Pescara and Bari.
All international trains – for example from Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Serbia – run daily to Zagreb.
Domestic trains run from Zagreb to larger northern towns, and Split in the south, but not to Dubrovnik at the moment.

Croatia guide: Best seasons

The best time to holiday in Croatia is (as usual in Europe) May, June and September when there is plenty of sunshine, less heat and less visitors, though April and October are also fine if your main interest is sightseeing, not beaches, but be prepared for some damp days.
July and August are best avoided because it gets uncomfortably hot, pricy and crowded. From October to April the coast is very quiet as many hotels and tourist attractions close for winter.