I get asked this same question all the time, what should we do while on holidays in Croatia? There are dozens of ways to experience the magic of Croatia. Meander the warren of cobbled streets in cities centuries old, discovering UNESCO sites as you go. Spend a day or maybe weeks mesmerised by the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea as you sail Croatia’s 1,000 islands or maybe you’d like to hike, cycle or raft along one of the 8 stunning national parks?
As someone who lives in Croatia, here are some key tips that I always tell people to consider and work into their trip itinerary.
1. Sail the high seas
When a country has over 1,000 islands and one of the richest archipelagos in the world, don’t miss your chance to sail along the coast. Spending any time at sea is a must on your Croatian vacation, even if it’s for just a few days.
You can combine the best of sea and land by spending your time sailing the Adriatic Coast, making stops along your route to explore the mainland. For help choosing a sailing route, we compiled this Guide to Sailing Croatia.
While sailing, we recommend you try Konoba Opat, a restaurant where they only serve you fresh fish caught by local fishermen. Once you anchor your vessel and take a seat your eyes will be drawn out to the blue bay that seems to go forever. Mr. Chasing the Donkey claims it to be one of his best food experiences in Croatia.
2. Explore Croatia’s National Parks
Croatia has a total of eight national parks, and you should make sure you see at least one of these during while on holidays in Croatia. Of all of the things to see and do in Croatia, the national parks are sure to satisfy the whole family. Many agree that the most stunning out of these by far is Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site two hours by bus from Zagreb. Here, you can meander along the wooden plank trails and admire the glistening waterfalls crashing into the ever changing colours of the 16 interconnected lakes below.
Not far from the Dalmatian port city of Split, you can take a day trip to the Krka National Park. Krka is complete with medieval fortresses, waterfalls and boat excursions. The other six national parks also make great additions to your what to do in Croatia checklist. Especially Paklenica National Park, just 40 kilometres from the low-cost carrier airport, Zadar. Paklenica National Park is home to Croatia’s largest mountain, the Velebit which rises sharply from the edge of the sea and is a mountain climber lovers paradise.
3. Tick off the UNESCO Sites
Still not sure what to do in Croatia? Well, for a small country of just over 56,000 square kilometres, you may be surprised to know that there are seven (yes that’s right seven!), Croatian UNESCO World Heritage sites you can experience.
- Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč
- Historic city of Trogir
- Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian
- Old City of Dubrovnik
- Stari Grad Plain, Hvar
- The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik
If you’d rather not brave the masses in peak season, you could also visit some of the lesser-known Croatian sites that have been submitted to the tentative UNESCO list. These include:
- The Episcopal complex in Zadar, which is just a two-hour bus ride north of Split.
- The fortified walls and salt pans in the towns of Ston and Mali Ston, which are less than an hour from Dubrovnik by car.
- The Istrian hilltop town of Motovun.
- The historical nucleus of Varazdin, north of Zagreb, which the New York Times named in its list of 52 Places to Go in 2014.
Don’t forget to check out the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list while you are travelling Croatia.
4. Find a Konoba
While on holidays in Croatia, no matter where you are, you’ll find something to treat your taste buds.
When in Dalmatia, make sure you order any fresh fish that you see on offer. Trust us, a Dalmatian chef knows how to grill fish to perfection, so it’s something well worth sampling.
A unique Croatian dish you’ll want to try is a black risotto made from cuttlefish called crni rižot. If you are not a fan of seafood, be sure to order pašticada, a traditional beef dish, which is marinated for 24 hours in garlic, wine and herbs. Pašticada has a rich dark sauce and is served with homemade gnocchi, and best enjoyed with a glass of the Dalmatian Plavac Mali red wine.
Local tip: don’t let the abundance of pizza ovens seduce you! Although the pizza in Croatia is indeed fantastic, you need to also be on the lookout for small, often family-run local restaurants called konobas.
5. Discover Zadar
One of the best things to do in Croatia is to visit the historic old towns. One such place that I always recommend is the seaside town of Zadar. By day, you can drink coffee in the 2,000-year-old Roman forum, or wander the narrow streets enjoying locally made ice cream, from the parlour Donat Sladoled. Once night falls, you can enjoy the sounds of the Musical Nights Festival, A classical music festival which runs from July to August each year, bringing the 9th century Saint Donatus Church and Roman Forum to life.
What to see in Croatia gets no better than the music and lights which are found along Zadar’s promenade. Thanks to architect Nikola Basic who added a modern dimension to Zadar with his design of the Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun. Relax by the Sea Organ, by day or night and enjoy the sound of the waves creating music, as they push air through 35 underwater pipes.
We’ve hand picked the best Hotels deals in Zadar for you.
6. Explore Istria
When you think of Croatia, you’ll be forgiven if you only think of beaches along those 1,000 out-of-this world islands. Yet there is a part of Croatia to the north-west that you should visit while you’re in the land of the red & white checkers. It’s known as Istria.
In Istria you’ll find medieval hilltop towns, and gems like the town of Novigrad which some describe as being like the ‘new Tuscany’, an array of food festivals and some of the region’s best olive oil, wine and the famous white truffle. Many visit Istria and wonder if they haven’t just stumbled into small-town life in Italy.
Something else you might want to consider while on holidays in Croatia is cycling. Istria has some of the most scenic routes geared for cyclists. Amateurs through to professionals will each find a trail lined with breathtaking views and plenty of places to stop and enjoy a coffee.
Plus in Istria, there now is now an Aquapark, which is one of the fun things for kids to do in Croatia that we recommend.
We’ve hand picked the best Hotels deals in Istria for you.
7. Don’t skip Zagreb
I often hear from travellers to Croatia that they land in Zagreb, collect their bags, and race off to the Dalmatian Coast. I cannot blame them for doing so, of course, but my advice is not to rush off so quickly.
There are so many things to do in Zagreb, including a very unique exhibit of trinkets people keep that remind them of broken relationships. at the Museum of Broken Relationships. Along with museums and galleries, Zagreb also has a wonderful boutique fashion scene that you won’t find anywhere else in Croatia. Best of all, you can zig-zag across Zagreb without fuss, as the city is a walker’s paradise and has a great tram network.
If you are adding Zagreb to your things to see in Croatia wish-list, then we recommend Hotel Esplanade. It isworth every penny. If you want to take our lead and rest your head in this 5-star hotel, our tip to you is to be sure to ask for a park facing view! Or you can also stay at the Zagreb Hilton, and eat at Oxbo Bar and Grill.
Zagreb has a thriving food scene, with a mix of upscale restaurants including fusion, international fare, and those serving truly authentic meals. Tkalčićeva Street is the place to eat and drink: wander up the 800-meter paved street and take your pick at where to enjoy coffee or a cocktail. My favourite spot here is number 18 Tkalčićeva street, where you can drink with the locals and try many flavours of the Croatian liquor known as rajika.
Allow time to wander about the city admiring the architecture, which dates back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some of the buildings have a raw beauty while others are very well maintained, like in the main square of Ban Jelacic.
Zagreb is a place for all seasons, especially December. Here you can escape the crowds that flock to the bigger European Christmas Markets, and plan your stay around the Advent in Zagreb festival, where you can drink mulled wine, eat street food and buy trinkets at the open air markets.
We’ve hand picked the best Hotels deals in Zagreb for you.
8. Visit the most famous beach
The shape of the half-kilometre beach continually changes (albeit ever so slightly), forming the most unusual shape. Zlatni Rat is sometimes referred to as the Golden Horn or Golden Cape beach and is regularly named as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Zlatni Rat beach is on the Brač Island just four kilometres from the sweet town of Bol, Croatia.
Sleep in the best accommodation on Brač, just like we did.
9. Get outdoors, and we don’t mean the beach
Croatia has some fab beaches and makes for an ideal place to kick back and relax. But why not mix it up with some fun outdoor adventure sports too? Two things to add to your list are Zip Lining and Rafting on the Cetina River.
The zip line in Omiš is the fastest one in Croatia and goes a whopping 65kms an hour – now that will get your vacation started!
10. Hike to fabulous heights
Not just beaches and extreme sports opportunities, Croatia also boasts marvellous options for hiking. Particularly inland Dalmatia, with its beautiful karst landscape. Part of the Dinaric Alps, it boasts a priceless wealth of the natural and animal worlds. It is one of the last sanctuaries of wildlife in Europe. These unspoiled natural beauties and all its secrets are yet to be discovered.
Climb magnificent mountains and enjoy its scents, sounds and colours boasting unforgettable panoramic views. Hiking in Croatia offers the possibility to enjoy the freedom of its wildlife; a flying falcon, the howling of wolves, rock climbing chamois (a type of goat). And is a blend of sea, islands, shores and wildlife of inland Dalmatia make it a unique, small region of great opportunity and diversity. Check out these five hiking trails – not all of them for serious hikers.
11. Love wine? Head to the Pelješac Peninsula
Though it is only home to about 8 thousand people, the Pelješac peninsula is now coming into its stride as a travel destination. This region has long been known for its delicious shellfish, dry red wines, and gorgeous beaches and is the key place to take a real adult holiday. Wine aficionados should stop at Korta Katarina Winery in Orebić as well as check out this list of things to do in Pelješac for more ideas.
12. Rent a car and go on a road trip
If you are not sailing on the Adriatic, the best way to travel Croatia is by car. It makes sense that with so many magical hilltop towns in Istria and rustic villages across the country only accessible by car that you hit the road. Hiring a car in Croatia is so much easier than you think, and with panoramic view hugging roads along the coast, you’ll explore Croatia in ways you can’t by bus or train.
13. Get spiritual
I’ve never heard anyone outside of Croatia tell me that they plan to go to Marija Bistrica. Never has anyone asked me about how to get there or what to do there. Yet, this town holds a unique charm and sense of divine healing that I’ve not yet felt anywhere else across Croatia. be sure to take a look for yourself.
Stay in the towns only four-star hotel in Marija Bistrica, just like we did.
Okay, that’s a given. But where? What about going on a food tour with locals? We found these gourmet food tours with locals that look ah-may-zing
15. Attend a festival
Whenever we travel to new places, (and we’ve been to 25 countries and have lost count of the cities now!) we love to find and plan our trips around local festivals. It’s at festivals that you experience what a place is really about – especially when it’s a food festival! We have not been to enough festivals in Croatia but plan to go to many this year – and so we’ve combined a list of just a few of the many festivals in Croatia.
Croatia and families
You’ll simply fall in love with Croatia’s old cities & the raw coastline on your visit and it’s my guess that you’ll need two more trips (at least!) to experience all that is on offer.
Bonus: We have a great idea when flying with children– take a peek – it’s FREE.
Accommodation in Croatia
There are numerous options for where to sleep while on your vacation in Croatia. We keep an updated list of places we’ve stayed at or recommend and you can even get a $10 booking voucher to get you started.
Want More Ideas For Things To Do In Croatia?
- Top Croatia Travel Guides & Books to Read Before Your Holiday
- What to see and do in Croatia
- Things to do with kids in Croatia
- 62 ideas from travel bloggers on what to do in Croatia
- Take a road trip, here are car rental tips and deals for Croatia
- Find out about all kinds of festivals in Croatia