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Top Things To Do on Holiday In Croatia

THINGS-TO-DO-IN-CROATIA-COVERBy: Chasing The Donkey

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.

Brela Beach – Photo Credit Leonardo Uzeda

Brela Beach – Photo Credit Leonardo Uzeda

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.

Mljet National Park – Photo Credit SailDubrovnik

Mljet National Park – Photo Credit SailDubrovnik

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.

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 Zagrebwhich 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.

Hvar Island – Photo Credit Leonardo Uzeda

Hvar Island – Photo Credit Leonardo Uzeda

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.

Other must-try foods are krafne and burek.. just don’t blame me for your expanding waistline.

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.

octopus-salad-fish.jpg

Octopus salad

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.

After enjoying all that Zadar, has to offer, stay a few extra nights and make use of the convenient location to take day trips to the national parks and to sail along the Adriatic Coast.

We’ve hand picked the best Hotels deals in Zadar for you.

Zadar Greeting to the sun – Photo credit Leonardo Uzeda

Zadar Greeting to the sun – Photo credit Leonardo Uzeda

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.

Motovun Istria – Photo Credit Sobrecroacia

Motovun Istria – Photo Credit Sobrecroacia

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.

Esplanade Zagreb Hotel – Photo Credit Zagreb Tourism

Esplanade Zagreb Hotel – Photo Credit Zagreb Tourism

8. Visit the most famous beach

That would have to be without a doubt Zlatni Rat Beach, which has a long golden pebble tip that stretches out to the Adriatic Sea like a hand reaching out for more wine (or beer, you choose).

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.

Things to do in Croatia – Zlatni Rat Beach

Things to do in Croatia – Zlatni Rat Beach

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!

Things to do in Croatia – Photo Credit Zip Line Croatia

Things to do in Croatia – Photo Credit Zip Line Croatia

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. 

One of the keys places for wine in Pelješac. Photo Credit Korta Katarina

One of the keys places for wine in Pelješac. Photo Credit Korta Katarina

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.

14. Eat

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

Now that you know where you want to go, you’ll need to decide if Croatia is the right choice for your family using the guide to Croatia for families and also top things for kids to do in Croatia.

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.

Family travel in Croatia is easy!

Family travel in Croatia is easy!

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?

Have you ever been to Croatia on holidays? Are there any things to do in Croatia that you loved that we missed off this list?

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