Croatia (Hrvatska in Croatian) is known for it’s gorgeous jagged coastline and famed islands (over 1100 of them) all of which can be enjoyed during the blistering sunshine of the summer but I visited Croatia during the Autumn. This was partially to avoid the crowds and partially because work doesn’t like everybody taking their holidays at the same time! The experience of freshness and some snow was much different to what people might tell you of island hopping during the summer but no less interesting.
Time to Do: To do all that is mentioned in this post with a rental car will take a minimum of 10 days but 2 weeks would be better to enjoy the islands, the walks and the cities. If you use public transport it will take 2 or 3 days more.
If you fancy seeing most of Croatia in a week then renting a car is the way to go. If there are two of you then it makes financial sense and although the bus service, which is also excellent, may be slightly cheaper, the freedom that a car gives you to go anywhere on the map is invaluable. Any village on the coast is now within your radar. The roads have dramatically improved over the last 10years and now there is motorway going through the whole country so driving from Zadar to Zagreb takes less than 3hrs to travel 300km. One thing you will notice in Croatia is that once you leave the coastline then the interior of the country is very mountainous which makes for great views but trickier driving if you leave the motorway. Having said that, the roads are still good if windy/bendy (great use of words there) and not full of potholes. I’ll try to let you know a little more about Croatia below.
This quirky little city is like a mini Dubrovnik but just doesn’t have the name or the amount of tourists. The old city is full of intricate streets which don’t permit traffic to allow for a peaceful cool beer or a hot coffee. The Roman walls dominate the city and make for great walking routes around by the sea by which you will pass the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje) which plays music to the sound of the waves and Sun Salutation (Pozdrav Suncu). Across the footbridge in the newer part of the harbor, any morning is a good time to see the locals take breakfast in-front of a vista of boats and yachts. If you fancy heading out to the Kornati Islands in Kornati National Park then there are several tourist companies that can bring you there for a relaxing day.
Excluding swimming and drinking in the friendly atmosphere, one day in the town is enough to see all there is to see around but another day should be added if you are thinking of going Kornati National Park.
Need to know
The town is easily seen in a day with time to relax in the evening. Kornati National Park is another day. Zadar can be reached by bus from any other major city.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
(Plitvicka jezera, www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr)
One of the main sites in Croatia, this national park full of lakes, waterfalls, moss and wooden walkways will be beautiful no matter what time of the year you go. The water is crystal clear so it is possible to see fallen logs in shimmering blue or emerald 4mtrs below the surface. The park is a UNESCO Heritage site since 1979 and was formed by a unique build up of encrusted plants that cause the little dams and hence the waterfalls. During the summer the park is packed with visitors and the wooden walkways can get fairly crowded. There are no barriers so a little bump to an unwanted guest is all it takes! In the autumn there are much fewer tourists and you can have the place to yourself with maybe a little snow on the ground to comfort you.
The entrances are signposted with ‘Ulaz Entrance 1 and 2’ and it is not possible to see the lakes or falls from the road. The entrances look just like a hotel stop.
Once you buy the ticket in the tourist office you will be given a map of the area. The map is definitely confusing at first with trails going all over the place but the boats and buses are included in the park ticket. The walking times on the brochure are exaggerated and it is possible to walk to the furthest point on one side of the Upper lakes (as far as Labudavac) and back on the other side (which give very different views) in around 3hrs. Although depending on the ticket you may have paid to get the bus there anyway.
There are longer and steeper walks should you venture further north to the areas around Veliki Slap at the Lower Lakes which are more challenging than the gentle inclines at the Upper Falls.
Need to Know
One of the highlights of Croatia and well worth going. Busy in summer. One day is enough to see the main highlights but two days are necessary (or an early start) if you plan to hike in both the Upper and Lower Lakes. There are hotels at the park that also double as restaurants although some hotels are a few kilometers away.
Buses leave Zadar and Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park. It takes approximately 3hrs from Zadar and 2.5hrs from Zagreb.
The park entrance costs 110Kn
Istria and Kvarner (Pula, Porec, Rijeka, Opatija)
One of the most touristy spots in Croatia but also one of the most expensive due to the close proximity to Italy. Almost all people in the region have some if not very good Italian, so if you are Italian this is good news! The towns and villages on this peninsula have that Mediterranean look and feel and some of the towns have stunning Roman architecture like Pula with its amphitheatre, citadel, Arch of Sergius and (statue of James Joyce). The western coast of the Istrian Peninsula is dominated by towns dedicated to summer tourism which means you will need to book accommodation if coming during that time. If you come in late autumn or winter then you could have the same problem for the opposite reason as some of the hotels close. Although the coastline is stunning, some of the famous smaller towns like Opatija have almost nothing in them except hotels, café’s and the coastline. Opatija is a place for the rich and there is almost no budget accommodation in the town. The drive from Rijeka south through Opatija along the coast is beautiful and gives great views of the bay and of the slender Cres Island.
Porec like Pula (and a lot of nearby smaller coastal towns) is another wonderfully kept Roman town with narrow polished stone streets and café culture. Again a walk can be taken around the ancient city walls within an hour to get a full appreciation of the city and the sunset. Like Pula the town can be easily explored and enjoyed within a day.
From May to October a boat leaves going to the island of Sveti Nikola that can be seen from the harbour. Scuba diving is also possible in Porec with the highlight being the sunk British warship Coriolanus.
Need to Know
All towns in Istria are well preserved and the main towns have plenty of Roman ruins to stimulate the mind and beaches and coves to un-stimulate it.
Buses service all of the main towns and it is possible to get a bus from Zagreb to Porec (217Kn 5hrs), Pula (210Kn 4.5hrs) or Rijeka (100Kn, 3hrs).
Rijeka is the main hub to which you can get buses to almost anywhere in Istria. It is possible to get buses here from any city including Zadar (170Kn, 4.5hrs, 6daily) and even Dubrovnik (400Kn,12hrs,3daily). More locally, services to all the main towns go several times a day, Porec (81Kn, 2hrs, 11daily) and Pula (90Kn, 2hrs, 12 daily)
Although not part of the well known ‘coast and islands’ part of Croatia, Zagreb is still the capital and has plenty of history, coffee and museums and art. If you like coffee and sitting in café’s watching the world pass by then Zagreb is perfect as there are more café’s than you could shake a stick at!
Zagreb is not the prettiest and does not have any headline buildings or parks or Van Gogh paintings you should visit. Many of the buildings were of the old communist type and while some are done up and clean, others are not and it doesn’t look good. Even if there isn’t much happening in the city, one thing that they do do well are the parks. They are clean, kept well and perfect for strolling around in relaxing. Trams can get you around the city cheaply but just be careful not to get knocked over by one, they are everywhere! In truth the centre of Zagreb is not big and is split into the older Upper Town and newer Lower Town. Zagreb can be strolled in a day or if you want to visit some of the museums in the Lower Town then another should be added.
Some of the main sights to be seen are:
- Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Kaptol Square/Dolac
- Banski Dvori (presidential palace)
- St.Marks Church
- Lotrscak Tower (10Kn, not open Mondays)
- Museums and Galleries (at my count there were 8 different ones to choose from)
The main tourist hub of Croatia but when you arrive there you can see the magnificent views all the other tourists come to see. The spectacular city walls that encompass the city are awesome and if you come into the city from a height you have a great view of both them and the shimmering Adriatic Sea. The huge walls are extremely new looking because they are. They were deliberately shelled by the Yugoslav army in 1991 and have been rebuilt since.
Inside the walls of the World Heritage site are marble streets and baroque buildings with shops in every nook and cranny for tourists. Everything from the walls to the shops to the arches are similar to what they were hundreds of years ago except now their mission is to charge high prices for anybody not a local. Everything is very clean and polished with the beautiful intricate streets to wander around in and no matter what gate you enter the city you will find the thickness of the walls something to behold. The main gate, Pile Gate, leads onto the Placa (Stradun) street which ends with the Clock Tower. There are plenty of churches, restaurants and barbers inside the walls to keep you busy for a full day.
Some of the highlights inside the old walls are
- Franciscan Monastery: Has 3rd oldest Pharmacy in Europe. Open since 1391
- City Walls walk: 50Kn (9am-7pm) which starts beside Pile Gate.
- Cathedral of Assumption of the Virgin: Up the stairs and has plenty of narrow streets off it to explore.
- Buza Bar: This bar is actually between the city walls and the sea on the south side of the city! Pricey but a super place to stop on your stroll around.
There is plenty of accommodation around the Old City a little up the hill. Every second house is renting out rooms or apartments. If you come in the summertime these will be booked but we got a very good price in the autumn for 2nights only because most of these privately run places close during the off-season will give it to you for cheap. If you have been around the rest of Croatia, the prices are a little more expensive in Dubrovnik.
Need to Know
From Dubrovnik it is possible to go on kayak trips to Lokrum Island, white water rafting and also head on day trips to Albania or Bosnia Hercegovina in Mostar and Medugorje.
Gruz is where the ferry terminal and the bus station is and is approximately 4km from the Old City and there are plenty of buses that bring you into the city.
Buses can be got from any Croatian city with the furthest being Zagreb (250Kn, 11hrs, 8daily)
It is worth noting that if you are driving south through Croatia to Dubrovnik then you will actually have to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as the Dubrovnik section of Croatia is cut off from the rest. There is no problem with this as the border control are very used to this traffic. Just when renting a car make sure to mention it as although the little permit sticker comes as standard it is worth being sure.
Dubrovnik Airport is 30min south of the city.
Practicalities – About Croatia
1€ = 7.60HRK (Kuna or Kn) $1=5.93HRK (Kuna or Kn)
Price of pint (500ml) of beer: 30HRK
Reasonably priced Double room: around 300HRK
Transport: Flights to Dubrovnik (DBV, www.airport-dubrovnik.hr), Pula (PUY), Rijeka (RJK), Split (SPU), Zadar (ZAD) and Zagreb (ZAG www.zagreb-airport.hr) can be taken from most major European cities and
Bus: Bus services are excellent and go to all the cities. Longest journey from Zagreb to Dubrovnik is 11hrs and 250Kn
Map of Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
|Zagreb - Catheral of Virgin Mary|
|Zagreb - Kaptol Square, Dolac|
Dolac Market, Zagreb, Croatia
|Zagreb - Banski Dvori (presidential palace)|
Banski dvori, Zagreb, Croatia
|Zagreb - St. Marks Church|
Zagreb main, Croatia
|Zagreb - Lotrscak Tower|
Lotrščak Tower, Strossmayerovo šetalište, Zagreb, Croatia
My Croatia Gallery
My Route around Croatia and Bosnia