After vacationing our way across Europe, we decided it was time to visit Croatia. I had heard a lot about this gorgeous Mediterranean country from my friends, and it was at the top of my travel list. From cobblestone streets that wind through stunning Roman architecture to the clear waters around Mljet Island, we found Croatia has something for everyone. Here are eleven things that I loved about it and you will too.
Croatia’s vibrant streets are rich with history. Reflecting the various periods from the third century BC to the present, it includes classical and Renaissance styles. We enjoyed strolling on the cobblestone streets surrounded by walled forts and visiting churches, castles, town squares, and promenades. The walled towns look stunning against the backdrop of the turquoise Mediterranean. Our favorites were Dubrovnik, Split, and Trogir (UNESCO). (Zagreb, which we did not visit, is a popular cosmopolitan city rich in art, culture, and history and known for its winter Christmas market.) Because of Croatia’s architecture and medieval towns, the popular HBO TV show “Game of Thrones” is shot there. The show tours in Dubrovnik are popular among fans.
2) National Parks:
Croatia has numerous national parks, the most popular of which is Plitvice Lakes National Park. As one of the most famous natural wonders in Europe, it is renowned for its beauty, crystal-clear lakes, and hiking trails. We visited Krka National Park, another park famous for its waterfalls. The whole family enjoyed swimming under the aqua green waterfall and walking on the trails to admire what nature has to offer.
3) Beaches in Croatia:
If you are looking for a beach vacation, Croatia is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. It has over 1,000 islands with relatively untouched areas like Mljet (half of which is covered by forest). It also has some of the most famous beaches in all of Europe. Mljet Island was our first stop while cruising the coast in our catamaran after leaving Dubrovnik. We also visited the Blue Lagoon, known for its clear blue water. Croatia has both rocky and sandy beaches. Zlatni Rat Beach is one of the Mediterranean’s most famous beaches. It has water on both sides (and restaurants and kids’ activities in the middle). On one side of the island we watched waves crash into the shore, while the other side was calm — a unique beach experience.
One of our favorite beaches was in Split because it was essentially a giant pool, very kid-friendly and a great place to escape the heat of the day.
We did not know what to expect with Croatian cuisine, but we were prepared to be adventurous…turns out it was delicious! There is a strong Italian influence thanks to Croatia’s proximity to Italy. You will find different varieties of pasta dishes on almost every menu — with lots of truffles, which are native to the Istria region. If you enjoy these natural delicacies as much as I do, you will like fuzi, a pasta dish with Parmigiano cheese and truffles. You will also find plenty of stews on the menu. My favorites were pasticada, which is stewed beef prepared with gnocchi, and any seafood cooked buzara style. Both are a must try! If you get tired of Croatian food, you will also find other cuisines. To go with your food, Croatia offers various local and imported wines, which are also worth a try.
Croatian weather is warm in the summer and gentle in the winter with many hours of sunlight. We were there during the worst heat wave of the year (almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit), but spending the day in the Mediterranean Sea was a great way to cool off.
A language barrier can be challenging — and stressful — in a foreign country; but we were pleasantly surprised that almost everyone whom we met (from hotel and restaurant staff to taxi and Uber drivers) spoke English. This was a relief after the language barriers that we have encountered in many other European countries that we have visited. Tourists from other parts of Europe (French, German, Italian, Swedish, etc.) also communicated in English. In addition, all the menus had an English section.
There are many calm, shallow beaches perfect for small kids. My kids enjoyed both sandy and rocky beaches. Many of the beaches had aqua parks with trampolines and inflatable features where kids of all ages were able to climb, scramble, and slide to their heart’s’ content. I had never seen those inflated aqua parks before, but I enjoyed watching the twins have so much fun on them. Most of the locals and restaurants were kid-friendly, and there is no shortage of gelato/ice cream shops to please kids of any age.
If you are looking for nightlife, then Croatia will not disappoint you. Restaurants close late, and bars and clubs are open most of the night. Hvar, which is trendy among the rich and famous, and Split are both known for their nightlife. Many Croatian towns also host popular summer music festivals. Since we were in Croatia during a heat wave, we enjoyed going to the beaches during the day and spending evenings in towns for dinner and drinks. The live music, street performances, night markets, well-lit forts and castles, and cobblestone streets made each town a magical place at night.
One of the most popular ways to explore Croatia’s islands and coastline is by boat. With over 3,000 boats available for rental, a number that continues to grow, it’s common to charter sailboats, catamarans, and yachts in this region. The waters are perfect for yachting. In fact, Croatia hosts a famous yacht week every year, which is excellent for cruising and partying. We explored Croatia by catamaran, and it was an unforgettable experience. Seeing a new town every day, we enjoyed every bit of our time cruising on the Adriatic.
We found Croatia extremely safe when walking, even late at night. In our case, we were also comfortable leaving our belongings on the boat while we went sightseeing. Unlike many European destinations, pick-pocketing is uncommon in Croatia. Let’s hope it stays that way!
Croatia is a reasonably priced country for accommodations, food, and travel. Hotels are well priced, and locals rent their houses and apartments during the peak season to make extra cash. As this country has become more popular, prices have risen; but it has remained an affordable, popular destination for backpackers and students. Also, if you avoid going during the peak season — July and August — you can get even better rates on accommodations and travel.
With its daily 12 hours of sunshine, stunning beach views, kid-friendly menus, aqua parks, and vibrant nightlife, there’s no doubt we’ll be returning to Croatia. Hopefully, we’ll see you there!