Croatia is one of my favourite European destinations, mainly because there is so much variety. Stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park and surrounds is one of my all-time happy places, and Croatia’s ancient cities are like something out of a movie. In fact, Game of Thrones was filmed in Dubrovnik, so you can quite literally wander through Westeros on a trip to Croatia.
And then there’s the beaches. Oh my gosh. With everything from secluded bays or resort-style beaches catering to your every need. It’s all there. So whether you’ve got a month to spare or just a few days, here are my suggestions for planning a trip to Croatia.
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#1 – Prioritise
Are you looking for a beach holiday? A city break? A dip into nature? Perhaps a mix of all 3? Before you start looking at flights, take a second to prioritise what you want to see.
Beach bums are best advised to cling to the country’s 1,100 miles of coastline, with the most popular resorts being centred around Split and the islands just off its coast. If you’re hankering for somewhere a little quieter, then head north to Pula for a more relaxed but still resort-centric holiday, or if you want your experience to be quiet and authentic, then Dugi Otok, Silba, Ugljan, Pašman, Iž and Molat are beautiful locations often overlooked by tourists.
Zadar is a charming little city situated on a peninsular and surrounded by sea. Watch the sun set whilst listening to the ‘sea organ’, a system of pipes which play music when lapped by the waves. Zagreb, in the north is a Mecca for anyone who loves architecture, with 18th and 19th century Austro-Hungarian buildings practically everywhere.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is the place to be if you love to be surrounded by nature. A chain of lakes flow into each other through a vast canyon, creating waterfalls for miles. Outside of the tourist centre of the park, you’ll find tiny villages such as Rastoke which still retain their rustic charm.
#2 – Getting there and around
There are loads of low-cost airlines flying from the UK to Croatia, including Easyjet, Ryanair (don’t hate, I got to Zadar for £30 return!) and Monarch. Run a few itineraries through Skyscanner and Momondo to find the best fares.
Once you’re there, the public transportation is pretty decent between main hotspots, with trains and buses readily available. Get early buses or overnight trains (e.g. from Zagreb to Split) so you can spend your travelling time sleeping! If you’re travelling along the coast, travel by ferry rather than by bus or train. Yes, it’s slower but it’s a really lovely way to see the coast and it’s not too pricey.
As Croatia is so large and spread out, if you’re hoping to take in a few locations on your trip it might work out cheaper to fly internally using Croatia Airlines. Make sure you book well in advance to avoid being stung by the last minute fares.
For my trip between Zadar and the Plitvice Lakes, I chose to hire a car which I think was the best option for seeing the park. Buses can be restrictive here as you’re herded around with the other day-trippers, and if you have your own wheels you can arrive earlier and stay later, and see the lakes in all their quiet glory. You’ll also need a car if you’re visiting any locations off of the tourist map.
Island hopping is an awesome way to see lots of places within one trip, with sailing trips lasting from a day to two weeks being offered around Hvar. Make sure you do your research and get the right sailing trip for you, as a lot of them are party-centric. Sail Croatia and Medsailors are two trusted companies to check out for starters.
#3 – Where to stay
Within the main resort areas there is plenty of choice for hotels, so shop around to find what suits you best. I like to read through Tripadvisor and booking.com reviews, make a shortlist of favourites and then run them through hotels combined to make sure I’m getting the best deal.
If there are a few of you then you might want to rent one of the many holiday villas dotted around the coastlines. These can be close to the action or nestled in the hills in the middle of nowhere, it’s totally up to you and your group. Check out Villa Plus for a great selection.
As always, don’t forget to check out Airbnb (if you haven’t signed up already then click here for free credit on your first stay). You can choose a self-contained apartment or live with the hosts in their house. I’ve done both and really like being able to stay with locals and check out their way of life, rather than staying in faceless resorts.
What are your tips for planning a trip through Croatia? Feel free to add them below.
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