Croatia Holiday Planning Guide
Once situated on the edge of empires between the Balkans and Central Europe, Croatia represents a land of great natural diversity and rich cultural heritage. Cultural Croatia tourism relies on the charming juxtaposition of contrasts: Venetian palaces sit next to Napoleonic forts, Viennese mansions face Socialist Realist sculpture, early Slavic churches built on the sites of ancient Roman settlements offer countless sightseeing opportunities. It's no wonder that Croatia's museums present the main stages of the history of Europe. The country's sapphire seawater and long coastline speckled with islands draws visitors, as do numerous nature reserves, marinas, ancient fortified towns, and sandy and rocky beaches. In recent years, Croatia's shoreline has become a famed center for nautical tourism and naturism, and is a promising diving destination. Hikers explore outdoor landscapes of canyons, underground grottoes, dramatic waterfalls, stony peaks, and scenic lakes of the Dinaric Alps, which hug the Adriatic coastline. Inland areas showcase mountain resorts, national parks, pine forests, vineyards, and spas.
Places to Visit in Croatia
Regions of CroatiaDalmatia
: Known for its warm sea, wooded islands, preserved medieval cities, and beaches of white sand and soft pebble, Dalmatia stretches along the Adriatic coast, separated from the inland area by the barren Dinaric Alps. The abundance of natural and cultural treasures here offers some of the most spectacular sightseeing in Croatia.Central Croatia
: Hills covered in forests and vineyards and dotted with romantic castles, Baroque churches, and monasteries make this area ideal for hiking, cycling, hunting, and sightseeing.Istria
: The rocky coastline of the Adriatic meets the rolling hills and bucolic plains of continental Croatia in Istria, the heart-shaped peninsula with a complex cultural legacy, including well-preserved Roman relics. A region famed for its wine, olive oil, and truffles, it is a must on any gastronomic Croatia itinerary.Sibenik-Knin County
: Stretched along the coast of central Dalmatia to the heart of the Dinaric mountains, Sibenik-Knin County boasts many fortified towns, a World Heritage Site, and two national parks, while along the shore, hundreds of islands, islets, cliffs, and reefs spread like pearls over the azure seawater.
Cities in CroatiaZagreb
: A city where Austro-Hungarian and Socialist architecture stand side by side, Zagreb is beloved for its outdoor cafe culture and is home to many of the country's best galleries, as well as museums, live music, food, theater, and cinemas.Dubrovnik
: The highlight on many Croatia itineraries is the city of Dubrovnik, also known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, which has become famous for its pedestrian-only old town surrounded by fortress walls. Its historical heft has earned it World Heritage Site-status.Split
The largest city along the Adriatic coast, Split has, over the centuries, been under Roman, Venetian, Austrian, French, Italian, and Yugoslav rule, and is home to one of the most famous Roman sites in the world.Zadar
: Situated along the Adriatic Sea, Zadar preserves a medieval old town that is entirely contained on a peninsula whose historical district harbors ancient Roman ruins, churches dating back to the Middle Ages, museums, and plenty of lively cafes.Hvar
: The island of Hvar, which claims to be the sunniest place on the continent, serves as a picturesque location for a Croatia vacation, with a range of offerings from quiet coves to a lively medieval town.Pula
: It's the ample Roman architecture of Pula that draw visitors to the southernmost point of the Istrian peninsula, but the city's mild climate and calm seas are a key reason they stay.
Things to Do in Croatia
Popular Croatia Tourist AttractionsGradske Zidine
: One of the most popular Croatia tourist attractions, the Ancient City Walls feature a complex system of bastions, casemates, towers, and detached forts, earning World Heritage Site status in 1979.Old Town
: Stroll the marble walkways of Old Town Dubrovnik, learn how the city developed as a major Mediterranean power after the 13th century, and enjoy views of the crystal clear sea and the countryside.Plitvice Lakes National Park
: A World Heritage Site and the oldest national park in Southeastern Europe, Plitvice Lakes feature 16 interconnected lakes of translucent emerald waters, natural travertine dams, and cascading waterfalls.Dubrovnik Cable Car
: Sightseeing in Croatia would be incomplete without a ride on the Dubrovnik Cable Car from Old Town to the top of Mount Srđ. Observe how the landscape transitions from the city's medieval walls and terra-cotta tile rooftops to the harbor, Adriatic coastline, and its many islands.Island of Lokrum
: Covered with exotic plants and inhabited by peacocks, Island of Lokrum is the alleged site where King Richard the Lionheart was cast safely ashore after a shipwreck during his return from the crusades.Diocletian's Palace
: Located in the heart of Old Split, this World Heritage Site is one of the most famous examples of Roman architecture.Krka National Park
: Hike, sightsee, take a boat trip, and swim at Krka National Park, one of Croatia's most famous natural attractions, renowned for its waterfalls.Morske Orgulje (Sea Organ)
: Descend the white marble steps of Organo Marino, a popular Croatia attraction and the world's first musical pipe organs played by the sea, and enjoy the never-ending concert.STARI GRAD
: Preserving elements of its Illyrian, Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian heritage, Old Town Rovinj is full of small squares and narrow, cobbled alleyways lined with many independent shops and art galleries.Museum of Broken Relationships
: Reflect on the fragility of human relationships and consider the political, social, and cultural circumstances surrounding the love stories presented at this museum, recipient of the Kenneth Hudson Award for Europe's most innovative museum in 2011.
Planning a Croatia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Croatia with Kids
Croatia is truly a good choice for a family vacation, boasting sandy beaches, green islands, national parks with exquisite waterfalls, ancient palaces, medieval forts, and a number of outdoor activities. No matter where you go on your Croatia holiday, you will find something to entertain and inspire the imagination of kids of all ages.
Consider including some of the attractive historical monuments and World Heritage Sites on your family's Croatia itinerary, such as Diocletian's Palace
and Old Town
with its Gradske Zidine
, where your kids will love exploring and learning a bit of world history along the way. Croatia's many national parks, including Plitvice
, and Krka
, also make great places to go with little ones. Finally, the beaches along Croatia's Adriatic coast offer sandy shallows perfect for children, plus marvels like Morske Orgulje (Sea Organ)
and Island of Lokrum
, as well as adventure parks, such as Glavani Park
Things to Do in Croatia with Kids
Your family vacation in Croatia might very well begin on the coast, but swimming and sunbathing are not the only options for keeping your children busy while in Croatia. You can also cycle along the coast, hike through one of Croatia's stunning national parks, or go for a scenic horseback ride. If you're looking for something even more exciting, you can go rafting, kayaking, or canoeing. In addition to national parks, Croatia has a number of adventure parks that offer rock climbing and zip lining, or water parks, such as Aquapark Istralandia
Tips for a Family Vacation in Croatia
Croatia is a very kid-friendly country and Croats will go out of their way to help you with little ones if needed. Do not be surprised if they stop to speak with your children, pet them on the head, or even play with them and pick them up. Children are welcome everywhere, including restaurants, museums, and generally all Croatia tourist attractions.
All-inclusive hotels and many family-friendly hotels have kids' clubs, organized outdoor activities for children, and private pools. But if you prefer to be more relaxed with your schedule, staying in a rental apartment will give you privacy, extra space, and the opportunity to manage your time as you wish. Restaurants seldom offer a kids' menu but you can always ask for a half-portion or a special dish that might appeal to your child. In terms of amenities, you can always get a child's seat when renting a car, but do not expect high chairs in restaurants or diaper-changing tables in public restrooms.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Croatia
Cuisine of Croatia
Croatian cuisine is quite diverse and, of course, combines influences of its neighboring countries. The eastern continental regions near the Hungarian border feature hearty, meat-based dishes, like piquant sausages and meat stews. Cheese is the main ingredient of meals in Central Croatia
. When in Zagreb
, make sure to try "štrukli" (cheese-filled pasta) or buy fresh cottage cheese at Dolac Market
. Fresh fish, calamari, mussels, and other locally sourced seafood is, naturally, essential in the coastal cuisine. Istria
is famous for truffle delicacies and its olive oil, which is said to be one of the finest in the world. Must-try dishes in Dalmatia
are "pršut" (similar to Italian prosciutto), black risotto, and "brudet" (fish stew). Croatians are not very keen on fast food, but Turkish specialties like "burek" and "ćevapčići" are widely popular. For those who have a sweet tooth, pies with walnuts, poppy seeds, or pumpkins and cheese are not to be missed on a Croatia holiday.
Shopping in Croatia
While enjoying your tour of Croatia, you might consider buying Croatian natural cosmetics, olive oil, and wines, particularly those from Brac Island
, which are among finest in the world and present a real value for the money. Dubrovnik
is full of charming little shops, such as Kokula Art & Craft Shop
, where you can buy handmade jewelry, paintings, carvings, and embroideries made by local artisans. The capital Zagreb
boasts modern shopping malls with a vast selection of international brands at 10- to 20-percent lower prices than most EU countries, as well as designer stores like Take Me Home
. The local currency is the kuna (HRK), but in tourist destinations many private business owners accept euros. Note that for purchases of single items worth more than 740 kunas, you can get a tax return when leaving the country, so save your receipts.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Croatia
History of Croatia
Croatia is a small country but extremely rich in historical and cultural heritage. Inhabited since the Paleolithic Age, its territories have seen the rise and fall of ancient civilizations and medieval empires. Experience the glory of Ancient Rome by adding sights like Diocletian's Palace
and Pula Arena
to your Croatia itinerary.
The Croats, a group of Slavic people, migrated to the area in the early 7th century, forming settlements around the Dalmatian towns of Zadar
, and Trogir
. In the 9th century, Croatia received Christianity and became part of the Roman Catholic Church. Sibenik
was the first town founded by Croats and the seat of Croatian kings for some time. The Kingdom of Croatia lasted less than 200 years before Croatia united with Hungary.
Venice also strove to establish dominion over the Croatian coast. At the beginning of the 13th century Crusaders conquered Zadar
and Venetians seized Dubrovnik
. However, Dubrovnik bought its freedom and was the only coastal town in present-day Croatia to remain independent during the long power struggles between Venetians, Hungarians, and, later, Ottomans and Habsburgs, thanks to its shrewd foreign politics and its Gradske Zidine
In the 16th century, the Hungarians were overpowered by the Turks and the kingdom of Hungary-Croatia was passed to the Habsburgs. The country's capital Zagreb
, called Little Vienna, still preserves the Habsburg spirit in its historical neighborhoods.
In the 19th century, the Austrian Empire split into two halves and Napoleon forced Venice to hand over its territory in Croatia to Austria. Napoleon also formed a new, albeit short-lived state, called the Illyrian Provinces, which boasted Croatia's already growing nationalism. Still, Croatian nationalists were severely divided between those who dreamed of independence, and those who advocated uniting all Southern Slavs.
After the post-World War I breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Croatia declared its independence and soon after joined the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes--later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The union survived World War II, but after Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe, Croatians voted for independence in 1991. The civil war that followed left many scars on the country and its people but also led to the establishment of a liberal democracy and economic growth in the 2000s. Croatia joined the European Union in 2013.
Customs of Croatia
Croats are family-oriented people deeply influenced by the Catholic Church. They keep their relatives close and weekends are thought of as family time. You may find that they behave quite formally if they do not know you well--especially older generations--but as soon as they open up, the personal space between individuals shrinks, giving way to boisterous conversation, particularly in the coastal areas.
If you get invited to a local's home on your tour of Croatia, note that it is considered impolite to refuse food and beverage offered. The hosts may draw you into a conversation about politics and European and world affairs, since these are common everyday topics in Croatia. However, respect and reserve is advisable if you want to discuss the recent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, since it is still a touchy subject.
Holidays & Festivals in Croatia
When planning your Croatia itinerary, note that many attractions and banks close on state holidays, of which there are more than a few. Many of Croatia's cities celebrate their patron saints in February or March, while earlier in the year the carnival season brings street parades and lively folk dancing in traditional costumes. Being a devoted Catholic country, Croatia's most joyful season is Christmas.
Concerning non-religious celebrations, Zagreb
is a hub of contemporary music, theater, and film festivals. Croatia's chief party spot is the Island of Pag
with hip-hop, electro, and dance festivals. Dubrovnik
also host popular music festivals in the summer.
Croatia Travel Tips
Climate of Croatia
The Croatian climate significantly differs between the mainland and the coast. Central and northern regions have a continental climate with unpleasantly hot summers and cold winters with plenty of snow in the mountains. The entire Adriatic coast, on the other hand, enjoys a pleasant Mediterranean climate with mild (but rainy and windy) winters, and hot, dry summers. Arguably the best time for a vacation in Croatia is in May or September, when the weather is sunny and the sea is warm enough for swimming.
Transportation in Croatia
Getting around on your tour of Croatia, you can choose between buses, trains, planes, cars, and boats. The railway is the cheapest connection between inland and coast; trains are clean and mostly punctual, though not very frequent. For inter-city travel, your safest option is a coach bus, which is faster than the train and offers plenty of connections to get you where you want to go. Renting a car gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace but can be pricey. You'll need to keep in mind that many town centers are pedestrian-only, with parking lots located just outside. Croatian roads, though well maintained, can be very narrow, curvy, and slippery when wet. Independent travelers often choose to hitchhike, looking for rides at stops along highway tolls or gas stations. Sailing is the best way to explore the beautiful coastline with its hundreds of islands; ferries, as well as boat taxis and private charters, link the coast with the islands. If you need to save time, you can fly between all major cities in Croatia.
Language of Croatia
The official language in Croatia is Croatian, but in most of Istria, Italian is recognized as a co-official language and widely spoken. English is commonly spoken among younger Croats, just as German is by the older generation. Workers in tourism and those who live in tourist areas usually speak more than one foreign language; French, Italian, Czech, and Hungarian are common. Other Slavic languages like Polish and Czech share some vocabulary with Croatian, and in the former Yugoslavia, Croatian and Serbian were practically the same language. Keeping all this in mind, there is really no need to learn Croatian or carry a dictionary with you while sightseeing in Croatia, but learning a few basic phrases will earn you respect from the locals.
Tipping in Croatia
As in most European countries, tipping is appreciated in Croatia, but not necessarily expected. It depends on the context and the quality of the service. In bars, cafes, and taxis, it is customary to round up a bill. In restaurants, you can leave 10 to 15 percent for first-rate service. However, you should check the bill for a "cover" charge, which includes the cost of something that the waiter brought without your request, like a small appetizer or bread; in that case, you can decide whether or not to tip. If you decide to pamper yourself during your Croatia holiday, a customary 10-percent tip is much obliged but not obligatory in beauty parlors and massage salons.