So! Right now we’re in Trieste (a spot of Italy in between Slovenian stops) but the first stop on our 5 month journey from London back home to Melbourne was wonderful Croatia. With islands, national parks, excellent swimming, friendly people, cheap and tasty food and drink, Croatia has it all. We first visited and fell in love with the country on our big 2010 trip and wanted to return before leaving this part of the world, this time in summer so we could take advantage of swimming in the amazingly clear Adriatic Sea.
The first time we visited it was late autumn, which was not as conducive to swimming but the whole country is a lot quieter (and cooler, obviously – it gets very hot in summer) as well as cheaper and less touristy because it’s off peak. I think both are great times to go though – it depends on what you want out of your visit.
Places to go and things to see
- Zagreb. The grand but unpretentious Austro-Hungarian capital is not as popular as Croatia’s coastal cities but if you have time it’s worth visiting for a day or two. Zagreb is home to all sorts of interesting and creative museums such as The Museum of Broken Relationships and the Typhlological Museum. Pivnica Mali Medo is a fantastic place to eat cheap, hearty Croatian food and they sell their own brewed beer.
- Plitvice Lakes National Park. You could visit Plitvice (pronnounced like plit-vih-se) in any season and it would be spectacular. 16 lakes feed sequentially into each other via a series of increasingly magnificent waterfalls, each lake a different shade of green or blue. It can be done as a stopover on the way from Zagreb to Zadar (or in the other direction), or you can spend a couple of nights in the area. If you do, it’s cheaper to stay in a guesthouse in Mukinje than one of the three hotels in Plitvice itself. Mukinje is in easy walking distance from Plitvice and the walk between the two through the forest is beautiful in itself.
- Zadar. Zadar boasts a beautiful old town right on the sea. There are lots of islands off the coast which you can visit by ferry – I particularly recommend Preko on the island of Uglijan (a 25 min journey, less than £4 return). You can see one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world from Zadar’s seaside promenade and if you walk all the way to the end you can listen to the soothing sounds of the Sea Organ and watch the Salute to the Sun do its thing after dark. I highly recommend staying at Kolega Guesthouse in Zadar!
- Split. Quiet in autumn, Split gets pretty busy in summer. But it’s still lovely: the old town is housed within the walls of an ancient Roman palace! Split also has islands you can visit but they’re a bit further out (it takes 2 hours to reach the biggest one, Hvar) – we found it easier to go with a tour company that took us straight to some of the best spots.
- Trogir. Only about 40 minutes by local bus from Split and yet another beautiful seaside town. It’s historic center is contained within an island dwarfed by the next landmass out to sea. You can easily wander around in a day or you may like to base yourself here rather than in Split. (Both are roughly the same distance in opposite directions from Split’s airport.)
- Dubrovnik. Ever popular, and for good reason. Its historic old town is surrounded by a fortified wall you can walk on top of and there are yet more islands you can visit off the coast. Look for the hole in the wall which leads down to a tiny bar called Buža clinging to the outside rock – drinks cost twice as much as anywhere else in town but the view, particularly at sunset, is worth it. You can see all the sights of Dubrovnik in two days – if you wanted to prolong a leisurely stay in Croatia you might be better off doing so in Zadar or Split which are cheaper for both accommodation and food. Two options that are great for cheap eats in Dubrovnik are Bosnian restaurant Taj Mahal and seafood restaurant Lokanda Peskarija.
- There’s also the peninsula of Istria which we’ve never had the pleasure of visiting but have only heard good things. Pula sounds nice and Hum is official the smallest town in the world!
While you’re in the area
- Kotor, Montenegro. If you’re near Dubrovnik and you have time it’s well worth popping next door into Montenegro to see Kotor. It’s 3 hours by road and a stunning trip – the bay of Kotor is not dissimilar to a Norwegian fjord. (Sit on the right hand side of the bus from Dubrovnik-Kotor and the left Kotor-Dubrovnik for the best view.) Kotor’s old town is tiny and very cute. While you’re there you can climb the old crumbling city wall all the way up the part of the mountain the city nestles against. There isn’t much choice in the way of hostels in Kotor so we stayed at the simply named Montenegro Hostel which is right in the middle of the tiny old town. Their fantastic “Big Montenegro Tour” is a must – you get to see the highlights of the country in a single day! Including views such as this one:
- Bosnia & Herzegovina. We had a very memorable time in Mostar and Sarajevo which I think was largely down to where we stayed: Majdas in Mostar and Residence Rooms in Sarajevo. Half the fun we had in Mostar was hanging out and meeting people at Majdas, and if you go it is COMPULSORY to do Bata’s world famous, life changing tour. Hinden Han is a great place to eat in Mostar and Buregdzinica Bosna in Sarajevo serves the best burek… in the world. :D
A note on transport
If you hire a car you will of course have more freedom but not having done this myself I can’t comment on cost or what the roads are like, but note that most of these old towns are pedestrian only so parking may be an issue. As far as I’m concerned, bus travel is the way to go in the Balkans. It’s cheap (£10-12 for Split-Zadar and Zadar-Zagreb, for example), efficient and well air-conditioned (a godsend in summer). You’ll pay a nominal fee to stow luggage in the storage compartment underneath – it might vary per bus company but seems to be pretty consistent at 7kn (about 70p) per bag. There are some train links as well but I’ve only used these to get out of the region (eg from Zagreb to Budapest or Ljubljana). There’s no rail connection to Dubrovnik at all so you’ll have to drive or bus it in or out of there.