Croatia is one of Europe’s most beautiful holiday destinations. Quintessentially Mediterranean: a paradise of olive trees, waterfalls, beaches, fresh fish and endless sunshine. I spent a couple of weeks in Croatia this past summer and although I had never been previously that lured by the idea of visiting, I was shocked and blown away at how much beauty I found there. However, it is an extremely popular tourist destination, especially for other Europeans. So here’s how to best hold on to your hats whilst travelling and navigate some of Croatia’s stranger quirks. Hopefully you don’t make some of mistakes that I did!
Croatia Travel Tips
Always have some change on you for the toilet.
When I was in Croatia, I didn’t come across one toilet that you didn’t have to pay for. It only costs a couple of Kuna, sure, but it was still strange for me considering most public toilets in England and France are free (other than London). Even in places that were less busy and touristy, they still expected you to pay to use the facilities. There were a couple of occasions when I had absolutely no change on me and was in a difficult situation because of it. (Like running mid-storm for ten minutes out of the bus station to find a concealed bushy area to pee… we had no change okay, and our long-ass coach to Slovenia was in half an hour IT WAS PANIC ZONE!)
Always pee before getting on a long bus ride.
Related to my last point… there will NOT be toilets on any bus in Croatia. I went on about ten different buses whilst there, pretty much all over the country. Yes, they did have the toilet facilities on board but for some reason, they were always locked. When asking the driver to use the toilets the answer would always be ‘toilets locked, cannot open.’ So I guess they just don’t use their toilets on board in Croatia?
Be patient with Croatian buses.
The fact that Croatia doesn’t have one monopolised bus company (like in London) means that the long-distance buses also serve as local buses. This means that long bus rides are very long bus rides. Where possible and if its not too expensive, try an tourist excursion bus to a specific place (like Krka National Park) so you don’t have to take the local route.
Be even more patient with Croatian bus stations.
The bus station in the capital, Zagreb, was ridiculous. There were no large screens to show departure times and platforms. We essentially had to run around from desk to desk to find out when the next bus to Ljubljana was. The workers were so unhelpful, constantly telling us to move to another desk and not actually listening to our issue at hand. When someone finally told us that the next bus was at 16:30 we went to the platform to realise that the time was already nearly 17:00?! Not helpful…
If you have a stopover during your journey, ask your conductor!
When travelling from Split to Ljubljana, we had a stopover in Zagreb. However, our ticket only told us that we had to change at Zagreb, not when the next bus would leave, how long the stopover was, the platform… nada! So, once arrived in Zagreb we pretty much ran around like headless chickens trying to find out all this information. Turns out if we’d asked our conductor on our first bus, he would have taken us straight to our next bus (and we wouldn’t have missed that 16:30 bus, goddammit!)
Get up EARLY to see the main tourist attractions.
This ones a bit of a no-brainer and not exclusive to Croatia at all but still important. Krka National Park was absolutely overrun with tourists by the time we arrived at midday, to the point that it nearly ruined the whole experience. Plan to get to the main tourist attractions as soon as they open, explore for a while and then move along. If I could do my Krka experience again, I’d see the main bathing spot for an hour at dawn and then spend the rest of the day walking through surrounding hills around the river, where it was much quieter. Not only did arriving so late mean that it was way too busy but also meant we didn’t have much time to explore the park and its hiking trails before its closing time. Remember these places aren’t open all day long, and some can shut pretty early.
Bring your student cards travelling with you.
If you’re a student that is, obviously. Just like many places in Europe, you can get discounted entry price for many attractions if you flash your student card. Don’t forget it!
Bring jelly shoes!
Wading through the waters in Krka national park, tripping up and cutting my feet on the sharp rocks I was wishing that I had jelly shoes like many other clever travellers around me! Most of Croatia’s beaches aren’t sandy either so they can also be handy for going paddling in the sea and its pebbly shallows.
Ask locals for tips.
Our best experiences always came from asking the locals where to go and eat. On our first day in Split, our Airbnb’s suggested restaurant ended up serving probably my favourite meal the whole trip for a measly price. On Hvar Island, the local barman at Dubovica bay could recommend where to go when we explained we wanted to explore some of the rugged caves along the coastline. If in doubt, always ask!
Hitchhiking and camping is extremely easy.
It’s no secret that Eastern Europe is pretty cheap but you can make your trip even cheaper through these methods. We hitchhiked a couple of times in Croatia and got picked up within minutes. My boyfriend Josh was taken from Hungary all the way to Zadar. We camped pretty much the whole time we were in Croatia, other than our first night in Split. It was so much cheaper and there’s campsites all over the country. We initially doubted there could be campsites on Hvar, its quite a small island, but there ended up being about 6-7 different ones to choose from. If you’re trying to save the pennies, Croatia is an awesome destination.
Best Croatian Destinations
So now that you’re prepared for your travels to Croatia, where do you go? Well here’s the spots not to be missed, including a collection of pictures and guides from some of my favourite travelling ladies across the globe:
One of my favourite destinations this year and my introduction to the beautiful Croatia. Strolling around the port, the markets and the old town, there’s enough in Split to keep you busy -and infatuated- for a good long while. My favourite part was probably climbing the bell tower for beautiful views over the city, sea and mountains. All for a tiny price! Read about my one day adventure in Split, where I was happy to reunite with my boyfriend after a long summer apart.
Don’t miss: Diocletian’s Palace.
Famous for being the stunning setting of Game of Throne’s King’s Landing, Dubrovnik is one of the places in Croatia I didn’t manage to see… and how I wish I had! Check out the McVagabond’s week in Dubrovnik here for a full week itinerary and explore more of their wonderful photography at their instagram.
Don’t miss: Take a boat out from the town to see the city from the sea.
Plitvice National Park
Another one of Croatia’s most famous destinations, home to bright azure water the colour of pure turquoise- is that even real?!- and about 16 different lakes, Plitvice is a must visit to really get a feel of Croatia’s natural side. Check out Fee’s beautiful photos of Plitvice and other destinations here.
Don’t miss: Choose one of Plitvice’s many hiking trails for a full day’s adventure.
Krka National Park
Plitvice’s little sister down in the South of Croatia, Krka National Park makes a perfect day trip from Split. Although not quite as stunning as Plitvice, a positive about Krka is that you can take a swim in the bathing spot, making it a relaxing day out for those hot Croatian summers. I would also recommend taking advantage of one of Krka’s hiking trails as some of the best views of the park were certainly not from the popular or central spots. Read about my day in Krka National Park and how we camped nearby here.
Dont miss: Seeing the waterfalls early in the morning, before the crowds come in!
Definitely my top recommendation for Croatia hands-down. Hvar is a land of many faces, the ancient Stari Grad shrouded in history, the stylish, suave town of Hvar and the rugged coast of Dubovica- also where the island’s coolest beach bars can be found. At certain times of year you can also be lucky enough to galavant through Hvar’s famous lavender fields.We camped on the island and spent about a week there and I definitely recommend spending more time on Hvar than as a brief stop on an island tour. There’s so much to see and explore! Read about our time on Hvar here, where I explore Stari Grad- one of Europe’s oldest towns- and here, where I discover the beautiful coast of Dubovica and its caves as well as Hvar and its stunning sunsets.
Don’t miss: Even if you’re only in Hvar for a day-trip, there’s no excuse to miss the gorgeous views from the top of Spanjola fortress in Hvar.
Not far from my favourite island of Hvar, you can find Vis, a blissful island of beaches and adorable stone villages. Just off the shore of Vis is Croatia’s incredible and mysterious blue caves. Check out Kat’s time on the beautiful Vis Island here. You can peruse her site for longer to find out about even more beautiful Dalmatian Islands… I wouldn’t recommend leaving Croatia without visiting at least one! More of her photography can be found on instagram here.
Don’t miss: A trip to the blue caves on Bisevo island.
Zagreb is Croatia’s capital and like most capitals, its a vibrant hub of culture. Zagreb is often skipped by a lot of travellers for the more popular Croatian destinations of Split or Dubrovnik. Full of museums, cafés, theatres, galleries and beautiful architecture, Zagreb is a good place to stop for a couple of days to explore some of Croatia’s art and culture before heading off to some of the more summery spots. Check out Maddy’s travel blog here (donator of the awesome Zagreb shot below) and check out more of her photos on her instagram.
Don’t miss: Museum of broken relationships! My boyfriend and I have been wanting to go here for ages but we didn’t have time during our layover in Zagreb.. it looks so interesting and they even have a bar (I think you’ll need it after some of the sad stories you read there!)
The coastal town of Zadar is a popular destination for family holidays due to its relaxed vibe. Zadar is home to some of the best cafés and restaurants in Croatia and boasts a beautiful old town of Roman Ruins. However, the coastline is what Zadar is really all about. With diving boards over the sea and beach bars with some of Europe’s cheapest beers and happiest music, this is the best place to spend your time in Zadar. Kat’s adventures in Zadar can be found here, and more of her photos are on her instagram.
Don’t miss: Zadar’s famous sea organ, where the sea plays music for its visitors.
If you’re more into rugged natural landscape and trekking, Paklenica National Park is the place for you. Check out more of Brown Girl trekker’s photos of Paklenica here. Paklenica is a karst river canyon in Northern Croatia and by god am I devastated I hadn’t hear about it before I went to Croatia, so here’s your heads-up so you don’t make the same mistake as me. Look at those views!
Don’t miss: Exploring some of the park’s 200 km of hiking trails.
Thank you to all the beautiful bloggers who donated their photos and stories to create this full guide of Croatia. Make sure to check out their sites for some incredible travel guides and writing. I hope this has inspired you to make the most of one of the Mediterranean’s most stunning countries.
Interested in visiting more countries in this region? Check out these 25 reasons to visit the Balkans.
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Much love <3