What was it that got me obsessed with adding Croatia to my travel bucket list? It was photo after photo of gorgeous turquoise water. It was the impressive back drops of abundant greenery. It was tale after tale of the mesmerizing charm crammed into 22,000 square miles. I would have done anything to see the grandeur with my own two eyes. And then, after saving and planning, I was able to book a trip to the country that had captivated me for years.
After hours of flying and playing War on airport floors, I arrived in an enchanting medieval fairy tale. I quickly came to the realization of what I needed to survive; a bathing suit, my camera gear, and some quality SPF. Immediately, Croatia had exceeded my expectations, and I expect it will do the same for you. So, as you plan your adventure in Croatia, here are 8 things that you can do to make sure your Croatian getaway is an unforgettable one.
Walk the Wall
The first stop was the infamous city of Dubrovnik. One side of the city is bound by a sailors paradise, the Adriatic Sea. Sitting on the opposing side is rugged high desert mountains. Every angle offers a picturesque panorama. As Croatia’s most popular city for tourism, it is not lacking in the entertainment department. For someone who typically refrains from touristy activities, I thoroughly enjoyed taking a walk on the Old Town city walls. I recommend arriving later in the day. Doing this will kill two birds with one stone. While escaping the early crowds, you will also get front row seats to watch another sensational day come to an end. If you are really lucky, you may also get the “bird’s eye view” of a Game of Thrones production in the bay below. This worthwhile experience is a 120 Kuna HRK ($16 USD) to digest decades of history, music, colors, and culture with a slightly different perspective.
Get Lost in Old Town
Inside the city walls, you’ll find glossy cobblestone walkways winding through ancient buildings occupied by lively restaurants and charming shops. The sound of live music resonates throughout the streets while street vendors display their individual craftsmanship. You will find yourself lost amongst the countless intriguing alleyways. It’s easy to wallow in the tranquility of scattered vibrant flower pots and friendly stray cats lounging in the sun. Take a stumble into some of Dubrovnik’s captivating shops filled with keepsakes. You will be sure to fondly remember your days in charming Dubrovnik.
An Eastern European vacation is not a vacation without at least one trip to the beach. However, if your itinerary permits, I suggest more than one day. Dubrovnik, conveniently, has magnificent beaches surrounding its outskirts as well as one located right in the heart town. Banje Beach is just steps away from all the Old Town action. I suggest always wearing your bathing suit on account that the turquoise water is quite tempting on a hot summer day. Banje is excellent for those wanting the convenience of quickly escaping to the beach. However, it is by far the most popular beach in Dubrovnik, so, finding a spot to drop your towel might be rather complicated. If you are up for it, I recommend either driving a rented car or catching a cheap 10-minute taxi to Sveti Jakov Beach. It is slightly more out of reach, but well worth the endeavor. Here, you will without a doubt escape the fast-paced crowds and can even grab a bite to eat and drink right on the water. Sveti Jakov is a rocky beach, like most Croatian beaches, however, there are lounge chairs for hire and plenty of inviting Adriatic water to cool down in.
Drive Up North
From Dubrovnik rent a car and head up the coast to the northern part of the country. The drive is an experience in itself. The road will wind you through high desert, low desert, mountains, farmland, and along the sea. The road travels through several small villages where you can get an up close and personal view of the country’s way of life. Locals work diligently in the fields while roadside vendors sell their produce and other goods. After several days in the midst of exciting Dubrovnik, this drive is a perfect break from the hustle and a great time to reflect on all you have experienced.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
If I had to guess as to how Heaven looks, I would assume it’s similar to Plitvice Lakes National Park. This region of the country is quite different than Dubrovnik. With lush sceneries and continuous landscapes, this UNESCO World Heritage site is an iconic destination for a variety of travelers, but not a surprising one. Boardwalks navigate you through endless cascading waterfalls spilling into pools of unbelievably blue water. Varying wildlife make brief appearances while fish happily call this place home. Around every corner is another reason to reach for the camera. The park has two loops available to the public. Although, I think it would be possible to do both loops in one day, I recommend splitting it up into two. To beat the crowds, arrive at the park at opening. Spend a few hours exploring one of the loops until the boardwalk is overcrowded. Take a lunch and siesta break and head back a couple hours before the park closes. This will allow you to easily complete a good chunk of both loops and give you a chance to enjoy the park with peace. Note: the second loop does require a short and free boat ride back to the parking area so be sure to check the departure times and make it to the dock before the final boat leaves. A two day and a one day pass are available for purchase. If you plan to do two days at the park, the two-day pass is the better deal. The park also offers student discounts (with a valid student ID) as well as senior citizen discounts. No matter the route you choose, you will not be disappointed.
Experience Plitvice Traditional Cuisine
After a day of trekking through a plush Coratian forest, you are guaranteed to be rather hungry. Make your way to the conveniently located Restoran Lička kuća. With easy access from entrance 1 of the park and open fireside cooking of “grandma’s recipes,” you are certain to bask in the rich history and culture that Croatia has to offer. Lička dishes consist primarily of large portioned meat products and homemade cheese spreads, all while not breaking the bank. In addition to the mouth-watering food and affordable prices, you will receive excellent service and sincerity from the wait staff. Before leaving, I was gifted with a recipe book full of traditional recipes as well as a little extra delicious homemade cheese spread in my to-go box. Your dining experience at Restoran Lička kuća will be close to perfect.
Lodging in Smoljanac
There is no shortage of lodging surrounding Plitvice Lakes National Park. Due to the high demand, it is common for residents to convert their homes into B&B’s and rent rooms out during high seasons. There are many areas that offer lodging for park visitors as well as hotels located within the park. Smoljanac is one region, 10 miles north of the park, that offered numerous houses and rooms for rent. I found it to be the perfect distance away from the hustle of the park but close enough for convenience. This area has the charming sense of being in the Alps with a twist of Eastern European vibes. The properties are large yet surrounded by dense forest and the turquoise blue Korana River, which flows from Plitvice Lakes, winds its way through the grassland offering numerous swimming holes. Make yourself comfortable in one of the many Bavarian styled homes and enjoy all that Smoljanac has to offer.
Nature’s Music in Zadar
Make sure to visit Zadar, located on the Dalmatian coast. Roman and Venetian ruins are abundant, and on the west side of town, an architect and several colleagues constructed a musical instrument that would be played with the help of the sea. This 70 meter stair like feature can play multiple euphonic tones as the tide collides with the pier. This area is a common place for travelers as well as locals to hang out and dive into the sea. There is no better place to relax while nature plays you a never-ending tune. Not only is this a great hang out during the day, but the best place to watch the sun set behind the horizon. Boats line the bay while people sit along the jetty watching as another perfect day in Croatia comes to an end.
So whether you are planning a trip to Croatia or on the fence about adding it to your bucket list, I think these 8 reasons to visit this beautiful country should help fuel your wanderlust. And believe me when I say, this is just the beginning of the adventure.