Croatia: A Completely Honest Travel Guide

This page may contain affiliate links. More info in our Privacy Policy.

Whether you are backpacking through or are wanting to splurge on Yacht Week, this Croatia travel guide will help you plan your next adventure throughout this beautiful country in the Balkans.

Croatia: The Complete Travel Guide | Two Wandering Soles

With piercing turquoise seas and fairytale-like architecture, there is no denying Croatia is breathtakingly beautiful.

Spanning most of the Adriatic Sea, you’re never too far away from the coast when traveling in Croatia. And even if it’s not pretty beaches you seek, stone castles and magnificent waterfalls await travelers of all kinds.

Whether you are backpacking through Croatia or are wanting to splurge on Yacht Week, these travel tips will help you plan your next adventure to the Land of a Thousand Islands.

What we really thought about Croatia

Dubrovnik Croatia Travel

We do our best to give our honest opinions about all the destinations we travel to and the products we recommend through Two Wandering Soles. That is why we are going to be honest about our thoughts on traveling in Croatia, so brace yourself because ours an unpopular opinion. What we’re about to say may come as a surprise, but it has to be said: We didn’t love Croatia.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t like Croatia. We just didn’t fall in love like we so often do with places we visit.

There’s no denying Croatia’s beauty. The aquamarine waters and craggy beaches are what dreams are made of.

And Plitvice Lakes National Park is out-of-this-world gorgeous!

Dubrovnik Croatia Travel

But frankly, it takes more than beautiful landscapes to make us fall in love. Just like with people: a pretty face is nice, but we crave more. 

The thing is, we made some big mistakes when traveling to Croatia. So make sure to read until the end of this article so you don’t make the same mistakes we did. If you follow our advice we think you will enjoy your time in Croatia much more than we did.


Article Contents

Places to Visit in Croatia

Tips for Visiting Croatia

Disclaimer: There may be some affiliate links on this page, which means when you click we get a small percentage of the purchase at no extra cost to you. This allows us to keep sharing great travel tips, so feel free to click away!


Places to Visit in Croatia

This tall slice of Adriatic coastline in the Balkans is packed full of charming towns and ancient cities, each with their own unique draw. From the walled city of Dubrovnik to the party-heavy islands, the surprisingly welcoming capital and the famous truffle region, we’ve broken down all the best places to visit in Croatia in this handy guide.

Dubrovnik

An ancient walled city on the coast that is as beautiful as it is popular

Places to Visit in Croatia | Dubrovnik

One of the most famous cities in all of Croatia, Dubrovnik is popular for many reasons. First, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and deservingly so. And we can’t ignore the fact that HBO has put Dubrovnik on the map for a lot of people who may not have otherwise heard of it when they used Dubrovnik Old Town as the backdrop for King’s Landing and filmed many scenes there for their hit show Game of Thrones.

You can even take a Game of Thrones walking tour. Guides dressed in costume will bring you to various filming locations and play the scene on an iPad for a group of about 20 people to see. The tour didn’t look like something we were personally interested in taking. But if you’re a diehard G.O.T. fan, it might be right up your alley.

Places to Visit in Croatia | Dubrovnik

The medieval stone buildings and churches in Dubrovnik Old Town are fascinating; but now some of them are turned into bars, restaurants, and pirate-theme candy stores, which we found to take away from the authenticity of the Old Town.

You can still have a good time getting lost among the city’s narrow alleyways and finding yourself among hidden nooks and crannies.

Best views in Dubrovnik

Places to Visit in Croatia | Dubrovnik

1. The most popular view: Walk along the Dubrovnik City Wall for 2 km and get a unique view of the city (Entrance: 150 kuna / $24.25 USD).

2. An interesting alternative: An alternative to the city wall walk is to stroll along inside the city to the western side where you’ll find the restaurant Buza Bar. We read about Buza Bar in Lonely Planet, and were intrigued by their description of a “hidden gem bar” where you had to walk beneath an unmarked archway to enter.

We were disappointed to find it was packed with people and no longer “secret” at all. That said, the view of the Adriatic Sea is spectacular, and if you climb down the steps you can find a perfect spot for cliff jumping. 

If you are looking to get off the beaten path and away from touristy spots, think about using ViaHero to plan your trip to Croatia. ViaHero connects travelers with locals, who then create an itinerary with a strong local perspective. 

3. The highest viewpoint: Take the cable car up Mt. Srd for some epic views of the walled city, seas and surrounding islands. It’s especially spectacular at sunset (but also especially crowded, so get there early to get a spot in line!). The cable car cost 170 kn (about $25 USD) for a return ticket. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or Uber to the viewpoint at the top. 

4. Our favorite view: Walk uphill through neighborhoods until you get a good view of the city. We packed a picnic (and a bottle of wine!) and enjoyed the view from a small patch of grass as the sun set over Old Town. This was our favorite view and we had it all to ourselves!

Places to Visit in Croatia | Dubrovnik

Day trip from Dubrovnik: Hop across the border to Bosnia. Mostar is a stunning town with an interesting history just a 2.5-hour bus ride away, and some people visit as a day trip. If you have time, we would highly recommend spending more time exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Related Reading: Check out our complete Dubrovnik travel guide for plenty of things to do plus 4 things you should know before traveling to the ancient walled city.

Places to Visit in Croatia | Dubrovnik

Hotels in Dubrovnik

Hotels in Dubrovnik | Bellevue Hotel

Luxury Hotel: Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik

Location: 1.2 km from Old Town

  • Sea views from every room

  • On-site amenities including spa, fitness center and restaurant

  • Steps away from the beach

Hotels in Dubrovnik | Apartments Franka Old Town

Couple Stay/Mid-range: Apartments Franka Old Town 

Location: Dubrovnik Old Town

  • Beautifully decorated apartments

  • Small kitchens

  • 2 min walk from the beach

Hotels in Dubrovnik | Hostel Free Bird

Budget-Friendly/Social Atmosphere: Hostel Free Bird

Location: 2 km from Dubrovnik Old Town

  • Excellent reviews

  • Clean and spacious dorm rooms 

  • Near a bus stop that will take you straight into Old Town


Korčula

A charming island without the crowds

Places to Visit in Croatia | Korcula

Getting off mainland Croatia and visiting some of the country’s most beautiful islands like Hvar, Vis, Brač and Mljet, is one way to avoid the huge crowds of Dubrovnik and Split. 

If you’re looking for a laid-back island in Croatia that is bursting with old-time charm, Korčula may just be the Croatian island for you!

We enjoyed Korčula a lot more than Dubrovnik. The walled cities look strikingly similar, but Korčula was lacking the crowds that made our visit to Dubrovnik a bit of a disappointment. We saw a good chunk of this island via bicycle, and think it is a perfect way to explore this Croatian gem.

How to get to Korčula from Dubrovnik

Places to Visit in Croatia | Korcula

There are regular buses running between Dubrovnik and Korčula that take approximately 3 hours and will cost you about 100 kn ($16 USD). 

Another option is to take a ferry from Dubrovnik, which is both faster and more scenic. The Nona Ana Ferry runs this route only during the months (July – September) and the journey takes about 2.5 hours. You can purchase tickets in Dubrovnik at Petka Pier or in Korčula at the Korkyra Tourist Agency.

Things to do in Korčula

Things to Do in Korcula, Croatia | Rent a bike
Things to Do in Korcula, Croatia | Go to the beach

1. Rent a bike in town for around 100 kn ($16 USD) for the day, pack a picnic lunch, a map, and head out on your way! We discovered hidden beaches and small villages along the way, making this one of our favorite memories in Croatia. Stop along the way in Lumbarda, a small village on the eastern side of Korčula island where the hills are filled with vineyards and the beaches have crystal clear water.

2. Visit a winery and try the famous white wines. There are lots of wineries on the island of Korčula. Just be sure to check the hours they are open to the public, as some of the wineries have certain hours when they are only open for tour groups.  

3. Have a beach day. The beaches in Croatia are world-renowned for their turquoise Mediterranean waters, but don’t expect powdery sand that you can bury your toes in while drift to sleep. Instead, most Croatian beaches are pretty rugged, and powdery sand is replaced with small stones. But don’t let that deter you from taking a refreshing dip in the water.

4. Rent a scooter. If we had more time in Korčula, we would have loved to explore the western part of the island.

5. Explore the Old Town which is surrounded on all sides by water. The old churches are gorgeous and the restaurants on the water look delicious. Walk up and down the alleyways and get lost. 

6. Get a view of the Old Town. Take a short hike up the hill opposite the city and find the lookout point to get a great view of the city.

Viewpoint Korcula Croatia Travel

Where to Stay in Korčula

Hotels in Korcula | Apartments Galerija

Couple Stay/Mid-range: Apartments Galerija 

Location: Right next to Old Town

  • Private bathroom with bathtub

  • Kitchenette

  • 4-min walk to beach

Hotels in Korcula | Apartments Nina

Budget-Friendly/Social Atmosphere: Apartments & Room Nina 

Location: Old Town of Korčula

  • Restaurants and bars within walking distance

  • Perfect location for meeting other travelers


Split

A modern city with plenty of nightlife and beaches

Places to Visit in Croatia | Split

The nightlife, beautiful beaches, historic center and proximity to some of the country’s most famous islands makes Split a popular destination on most Croatia itineraries. Its location on the Adriatic coast makes it a popular stop for cruise ships as well.

Can’t-Miss Highlights of Split

Highlights of Split | Diocletian's Palace in Old Town
Highlights of Split | View from Marjan Hill
Highlights of Split | Krka National Park

1. Explore the Old Town city center. Remnants from the former Roman Emperor, Diocletian’s Palace makes up the majority of the city center of Split known as “Old Town”. Make your way through the narrow alleyways, shop around, grab a bite to eat or climb the old bell tower for some seriously epic views of the city.

2. Make your way to the beach. There are plenty of beaches to choose from in this coastal town. Some of the best include Bačvice Beach, which is right near Old Town and by far the most popular, and Trstenik Beach which is more of a local secret and not nearly as crowded.

3. Indulge in the food at Bokeria Kitchen & Wine Bar. Whether you’re going for a boozy brunch on the weekend or a fancy night out, Bokeria was hands-down my favorite restaurant in Split and worth checking out for the decor alone. 

4. Climb Marjan Hill for sunset. To escape the city, head west and enter the Park Šuma Marjan. It’s a bit of a climb up hundreds of steps but if you go later in the afternoon, you will be rewarded with great sunset views of the Old Town and the sea.

5. Get into nature in Krka National Park. It may not get as much hype as it’s larger sister park, Plitvice, but Krka is most-definitely worth a visit just 1.5 hours outside of Split. With a single loop around the park, it’s easy to walk the park on your own and there is no need for a tour. And while swimming is supposedly forbidden in national parks, it is “tolerated” in a single area of Krka so don’t forget to bring your suit!

Check out our complete Split travel guide for all the things to do, including all of the best restaurants in Split and tips for getting around.

Where to Stay in Split

Where to Stay in Split | Time Boutique Hotel

Luxury Hotel: Time Boutique Hotel

Location: Old Town city center

  • 5 min walk to Bačvice Beach

  • Free parking

  • Bar and garden lounge

Where to Stay in Split | Villa Domina

Couple Stay/Mid-range: Villa Domina

Location: 5 minute walk to Old Town Split 

  • 10 minute walk to the beach

  • Exposed-brick yet modern style

  • Perfect stay for a couple

Where to Stay in Split | Downtown Hostel

Budget Friendly/Social Atmosphere: Downtown Hostel

Location: Old Town city center

  • One of the cheapest options in Old Town

  • Free WiFi throughout the property 

  • Perfect location for exploring


Hvar

The resort island known for epic parties

Places to Visit in Croatia | Hvar

Hvar is an island off the Croatian coast near Split which is best known as a boujee resort destination with lots of partying. While there are some luxurious resorts on Hvar, it is also possible to experience Hvar on a budget. And there are plenty of things to do on the island that aren’t party-hopping. 

How to get to Hvar from Split

The easiest way to get to Hvar Island is by ferry from Split. The Jadrolinija ferry operates year-round and runs daily from Split to Hvar and back. The 1 hour journey will cost a reasonable 110 kn for adults (about $16 USD) and there are plenty of times to catch the ferry throughout the day.

Things to do in Hvar

Places to Visit in Croatia | Hvar

1. Find a hidden beach. There are plenty of beaches on the island of Hvar to get your tan on or take a dip. One of favorites for a day full of relaxation is Pokonji dol Beach. You can also walk along the road between the Hvar marina and Pokonji dol Beach to find some hidden spots to take a plunge and have a bit more privacy – that is if no one else sees you and decides to join. 

2. Visit Stari Grad. Literally translated to “Old Town,” Stari Grad has been settled since prehistoric times and is the oldest town in all of Croatia and one of the oldest in Europe. Rent a scooter and drive the stunning 15 mile stretch along the coast on the Old Road from Hvar Town to Stari Grad and go exploring. 

3. Indulge in good food and local wine. Hvar has lots of wineries, each creating their own special blend of local Croatian wine that is begging to be taste tested at one of Hvar Town’s many delicious restaurants. Some of our favorites include Black Pepper Restaurant, Fig Cafe and Lungo Mare.

4. Hike to the Spanish Fortress. Sitting high above Hvar Town is Tvrdava Fortica, an elevated fortress which can be accessed via the scenic walkway, with sweeping panoramic views of the sea and surrounding islands. We recommend packing a picnic and heading up there for the sunset with a bottle of local wine!

5. Rent a boat to explore the Pakelni Islands. For a reasonable price you can rent a speedboat for a half or full day to explore the neighboring island archipelago, the Pakelni Islands. With crystal clear waters, untouched beaches and hidden lagoons, you can easily spend the day in this undeveloped paradise. 

6. Climb Sveti Nikola. With just over 2,000 ft in elevation gain, Sveti Nikola is the island’s highest peak and makes for an active day’s climb. 

7. Hit up a beacless beach club. Hula-Hula is one of Hvar’s most popular beach clubs, but you won’t find a beach here. Head here for an afternoon of sunning, seafood, cocktails and dancing. There are ladders to drop into the water for a dip, but nothing resembling a beach. It’s a younger crowd here too, and the party is at its peak for sunset, but dies down shortly after that and closes by 10 pm.

Things to Do in Hvar | Hike to the Spanish Fortress

Where to Stay in Hvar

Hvar Town is the largest town on Hvar and is very walkable with plenty of restaurants, bars and beaches, making it the most convenient place to stay on the island.

Where to Stay in Hvar | Amfora Grand Beach Resort

Luxury Hotel: Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort

Location: 0.7 km from Hvar Town marina

  • Beachfront property

  • Incredible pool

  • Comfortable quiet rooms

Where to Stay in Hvar | Villa Fio

Couple Stay/Mid-range: Villa Fio

Location: 1.1 km from Hvar Town marina

  • Beautiful views

  • Helpful staff

  • Exceptionally clean property

Where to Stay in Hvar | Villa Zorna

Budget Friendly/Social Atmosphere: Hostel Villa Zorana

Location: Hvar Town city center

  • Great location

  • Modern & charming rooms

  • Social events


Plitvice Lakes National Parks

National park with spectacular waterfalls and turquoise lakes

Places to Visit in Croatia | Plitvice National Park
Great Waterfall Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Travel
Great Waterfall Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Travel

We couldn’t make a list of highlights of Croatia without including this otherworldly beauty: It literally looks like you are walking in a fairytale land. 

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a stunner, and it’s popular for good reason. So popular, in fact, that if you’re visiting during peak season, you’ll likely be walking behind lines of other tourists in parts of this national park.

Tip for avoiding crowds in Plitvice

Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Travel

Getting there early will help you avoid the crowds. Visit the most popular spots early in the day or in the later afternoon when the lighting is better and the crowds have thinned. In the meantime, venture off the well-trodden path a bit for a better chance of (semi) solitude.

Suggested Route for Plitvice Lakes 

Great Waterfall Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Travel

There are 7 popular hiking routes around Plitvice Lakes, all with varying degree of difficulty and time. To avoid the crowds in Plitvice and see all the major sights, this is the route that we would recommend:

Do the H hiking route in reverse. Starting at Entrance 1, go down to the Lower Falls, see the Great Waterfall, (which is spectacular) but then follow the reverse of the H hiking route (similar to K route). This way you won’t feel like cattle moving on walkways with the rest of the crowds. You can either walk around the big lake or take the ferry across. 

The Upper Falls were our favorite part, because there were less people and the way the water flows off all the rocks is unlike anything we have ever seen. Continue to follow the H hiking route in reverse, twisting through the upper falls, until you reach Station 3. Then, take the free shuttle to Station 1 so you don’t have to walk the entire way back.

Upper Waterfalls Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Travel

Insider tips for Plitvice Lakes National Park

  • Pack a picnic lunch because a) it’s a beautiful spot for picnics, and b) the choices inside the park are limited and expensive.

  • Stay in a hotel near Plitvice instead of doing a day trip from Split or Zadar (if your timing allows!). You’ll get there bright and early and will be able to stay after the last buses leave. This is how we would do it next time. (Find some recommended hotel options below!)

If you’re traveling to Plitvice as a day trip, read this first!

We departed from Split and were going to Zagreb that night, so we had all our stuff. There is a free storage room at Plitvice Lakes in which you can leave your belongings. Do know that the storage room is locked, but it’s not secure.

People will be going in all day long to drop off and pick up their belongings, so lock up your valuables. A trick we often use is locking our bags together with these wire locks. Nobody will steal your bag when it’s locked to another bag. It’s just too awkward!

Admission Cost for Plitvice Lakes National Park

Upper Waterfalls Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Travel
  • High Season: July 1 – Aug 31: Adults: 180 Kuna ($28 USD) Students: 110 Kuna ($17 USD)

  • Shoulder Seasons: April 1 – June 30 & Sept 1 to Oct 31: Adults: 110 Kuna ($17 USD) Students 80 Kuna ($12.50 USD)

  • Low Season: Nov 1 – March 31: Adults: 55 Kuna ($8.50 USD) Students: 45 Kuna ($7 USD)

More information on Plitvice Lakes website.

Waterfalls Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia Travel

Hotels near Plitvice Lakes

Hotels near Plitvice | Apartmani Buric

Couple Stay/Mid-range: Apartmani Burić

Location: 5.7 km from Plitvice Lakes National Park

  • Fully equipped kitchens and flat-screen TVs

  • Beautiful property

  • Stunning views

Hotels near Plitvice Lakes | House Nina

Budget Friendly/Social Atmosphere: House Nina

Location: 2 km from Plitvice

  • Cute & cozy house 

  • Beautifully decorated garden

  • Great reviews

Tip: Renting a car is very affordable in Croatia and a great way to allow yourself some flexibility in getting around.


Istria Peninsula

Where continental Croatia meets the Sea

Places to Visit in Croatia | Istria Peninsula

The northern part of Croatia that juts out into the Adriatic sea is known as the Istria Peninsula. This peninsula has a unique history – first it was considered part of Italy after WWI, then it was part of Yugoslavia following WWII and is now a slice of Croatia where the locals are of both Italian and Croatian descent. 

The Istria region of Croatia is not as well traveled as its lower, coastal half and the towns and historical charm are much more preserved. Istria is also the region known for growing truffles – the rare fungi considered a delicacy in most of the world due to its intense flavor. But more on that below…

Places to Visit in Istria Croatia

 Pula

Places to Visit in Croatia | Pula Arena

This seaside town on the southern tip of the Istria peninsula is known for its beach-lined coast and Roman ruins. Pula is the largest city in the Istria region and has a history of being occupied, destroyed and rebuilt. 

The most prominent marker of its history is the Pula Arena, which bears a striking resemblance to Rome’s Colosseum. It is also the only remaining roman amphitheater on earth that has all four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved. 

Pula is a great starting off point to discover the rest of the Istria peninsula. 

Where to Stay in Pula

Where to Stay in Pula, Croatia | Adrion Aparthotel

Couple Stay/Mid-range: Adrion Aparthotel

Location: 3.5 km to city center

  • Indoor pool

  • Friendly staff

  • Fully fitted apartments with AC and kitchen

Where to Stay in Pula, Croatia | Pula City Center Accommodations

Budget Friendly/Social Atmosphere: Pula City Center Accommodations 

Location: Pula city center

  • Great value for the money

  • Breakfast included

  • Offer triple and quadruple rooms

Rovinj

Places to Visit in Croatia | Rovinj

If there’s one thing Croatia seems to do exceedingly well, it’s charming historical towns on the coast and Rovinj may just be the underrated crowning glory. A fishing port on the west coast of the peninsula, the enchanting old town of Rovinj is built up on a hill. The narrow cobblestone streets all lead to the church at the top, who’s steeple dominates the horizon. 

Things to do in Rovinj

Places to Visit in Croatia | Rovinj
Places to Visit in Croatia | Rovinj

1. Get lost in the tangled web of streets as you make your way through the town, ducking into alleyways to reveal turquoise blue waters framed by the outer walls of the town.

2. Discover the local market, filled with fresh produce, spices and all the truffle you can get your hands on. 

3. Take a dip at Lone Bay, one of the area’s pebble beaches, just south of Old Town. 

4. Have a cliff-side snack or drink at La Puntulina. With only a few tables on their outside terrace, you’ll want to be sure to get a spot to take in the views as you indulge in a glass of wine or some Italian-inspired bites.

Where to Stay in Rovinj

Where to Stay in Rovinj, Croatia | Rooms Villa Duketic

Couple Stay/Mid-range: Rooms Villa Duketis

Location: Old Town city center

  • Warm welcoming atmosphere

  • Beautifully decorated rooms

  • Quiet location right in the historic center

Where to Stay in Rovinj, Croatia | Apartment Lily

Budget Friendly/Social Atmosphere: Studio Apartment Lily

Location: Old Town city center

  • Clean and comfortable rooms

  • Steps from Rovinj Market

  • Free WiFi and AC

Truffle Hunting in Croatia

Truffle Hunting in Croatia Istria Peninsula

We mentioned that Istria is known as the truffle region of Croatia and Croatia happens to be the best (and one of the only!) place to find truffles in the world. So it’s no wonder that truffle hunting has become a bit of an experience to be had in the region. If you are visiting during the months of April – November, it is a great time to experience the thrill of the “hunt”! 

Karlic Tartufi, a local family business of 3 generations, offers a truffle hunting experience that we highly recommend. They were friendly and incredibly knowledgeable about all things truffle. You’ll come away from the experience filled with knowledge about truffle hunting, the process and how they train their dogs. 

Truffle Hunting in Croatia Istria Peninsula

…And before you ask, the answer is YES! The animals are treated very well. In fact, once the dogs have been trained to hunt truffles, they are considered extremely valuable and are given the doggy equivalent of the royal treatment. Plus they absolutely love the hunt! Their tails were wagging the entire time as they were free to roam about the forest and sniff everything in sight.

Take a Ferry to Venice

Places to Visit in Croatia | Take the ferry to Venice, Italy

Did you know you can get to Italy from Croatia in just 3 hours!? There are 2 ferries that run between Pula and Venice, Italy 8 times every week. The price varies by season but the trip takes just 3 hours and is well-worth it if your travel schedule allows. You can check the ferry schedules and buy your tickets online at Direct Ferries.

You might just find a lot more similarities than you’d guess between Venice and the Istria region of Croatia.


Zagreb

A totally different side of Croatia…

Places to Visit in Croatia | Zagreb

While we’ve already told you why we weren’t blown away with the rest of Croatia, the city of Zagreb actually really surprised us. It feels worlds different than the coastal towns, and actually has a very welcoming and accessible vibe.

Things to do in Zagreb

Free Walking tour Zagreb Croatia Travel
Places to Visit in Croatia | Zagreb
Things to Do in Zagreb | Street Art

1. Wander Tkalčićeva Street: This pedestrian walking street is packed with restaurants and bars serving good happy hour deals. 

2. Pop into one of the many cute coffee shops. There are hundreds throughout this city so find one in a busy square, relax and people watch. 

3. Visit St. Mark’s Church. This church built in the 13th century, has colorful roof tiles showing the Croatian, Dalmatian and Slavonian coats-of-arms. 

4. Visit Dolac Market: Be sure to walk through the massive Dolac Market to pick up fresh fruit. 

5. Gaze at street art: Get lost in alleyways in search of the city’s street art. During our free walking tour, our guide brought us to some pretty cool art. 

6. Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships. This quirky museum is a collection of personal items people received from former lovers, and is complete with stories.

7. Free walking tour in Zagreb: Always a good way to see the city and its major sites while getting a little history lesson too. 

Hotels in Zagreb

Hotels in Zagreb | Esplanade Hotel

Luxury Hotel: Esplanade Zagreb Hotel

Location: In the city center district

  • Luxury to the max on a lower budget

  • Terrace restaurant and bar

  • Walking distances to attractions, shops & restaurants

Hotels in Zagreb | Rooms 17

Couple Stay/Mid-range: Rooms Zagreb 17 

Location: In the city center district

  • Spacious beautifully decorated rooms 

  • Beautifully decorated

  • Welcoming hosts

Hotels in Zagreb | Main Square Hostel

Budget Friendly/Social Atmosphere: Main Square Hostel

Location: In the city center district

  • Modern hostel

  • Offers both private and dorm rooms

  • Free wifi + common area to meet other travelers


Don’t make these Mistakes when traveling to Croatia

We’re not writing this to discourage anyone from visiting this Mediterranean beauty. We tend to shy away from sharing when we don’t like a place. But I think we’ve pinpointed what it was that turned us off to Croatia.

We hope by sharing our disappointment, it may help others come with more realistic expectations and avoid the mistakes that we made while traveling in Croatia.

There are a few things that affected our feelings about Croatia, and we made some big mistakes when we traveled there. Once you understand the mistakes we made, you will enjoy Croatia so much more!

1. Our expectations were high

Places to Visit in Croatia | Plitvice Lakes National Park

For one thing, we had super high expectations. Back in 2009, Ben and I studied abroad in Italy. That was the first time I remember hearing about Croatia. A friend of mine went there and raved about the beaches, the lack of other tourists compared to neighboring Italy. She said it was cheap, “off the beaten path”, beautiful. I’ve been dreaming about visiting Croatia ever since. You can probably guess where I’m going with this…

Have you ever visited a place that was so hyped up that even though you had a good time, you left feeling underwhelmed? That’s how we felt about Croatia. We had allotted 2 and a half weeks to visit Croatia, but ended up leaving early – something we rarely do when traveling (in fact, it’s almost always the opposite!).

2. It was PEAK tourist season

Places to Visit in Croatia | Dubrovnik

When we visited Croatia in July, it was packed with tourists everywhere you looked. Places that were described online as “hidden gems” had lines around the block.

The famed Plitvice Lakes that grace your Instagram feed are magical, yes, but some of that magic is diminished when you have to walk the wooden boardwalks behind long lines of people carrying selfie sticks.

And in Dubrovnik, you couldn’t walk a few minutes in the Old City without seeing one of the many corny “Game of Thrones” tours (complete with a guide dressed in chainmail and holding an iPad that was playing a scene from the show). Historic buildings had been turned into overpriced pirate-themed candy shops. It felt a bit like Disney World. And not in a good way.

I think a few years ago, these crowds didn’t exist to the extent that we experienced. But with photos of Croatia being an Instagram staple (I’m guilty of posting these too!) and with the exploding popularity of “Game of Thrones” (King’s Landing was famously filmed in Dubrovnik), people are flocking to this Mediterranean country in hordes. Especially during the summer months. Yet, I wonder what will happen to tourism now that the show has wrapped up?

3. We didn’t budget correctly

Prices were much higher than any of the neighboring countries we visited (and with all the tourists there, I totally understand why). This is more on us than anything else, but we just didn’t have the right budget expectations to fully appreciate Croatia. If we raised our budget, we probably would have been able to enjoy ourselves a little more.

4. The people weren’t as friendly as the neighbors

On top of everything else, we’d just come from Bosnia where the people were incredibly friendly, funny and excited to talk with us. Many of the people we met in Croatia were lacking in this department.

This isn’t to say we didn’t meet friendly Croatians – just the opposite. We had a few lovely guesthouse owners that were very kind, but the overall vibe just wasn’t as friendly as many of the countries we visited during our round-the-world trip – especially the neighboring countries.

5. Our feelings are relative

Our travels were bookended with visits in two countries that seriously surprised us: Bosnia and Slovenia. And it just so happened that Croatia fell in between.

Think of it this way: You go to a dinner party and speak with 3 people. The first (Bosnia) and the last (Slovenia) are humble and surprisingly interesting. You laugh, you cry. You listen to their stories and they listen to yours.

That person you speak with in between is perfectly nice. A little cocky, maybe. They are beautiful, but they know they are. Everyone in the party wants to talk to them, so you kind of just feel like you scratch the surface of really getting to know who they are. 

And when it comes time to leave the party, you reflect on the two fantastic conversations you just had. The one in the middle kind of fades away. Maybe if you hadn’t spoken with the other two party-goers, you would have really appreciated that middle convo a bit more. 

For better or worse, our opinions of people or places are heavily impacted by where we’ve just come from or where we’re going (literally and metaphorically). We just weren’t in a place to fully and wholeheartedly appreciate what Croatia had to offer.

6. We may have gone to the wrong places

Places to Visit in Croatia | Split

This is a lesson we learn over and over again. 

The most popular destinations almost always leave us a bit disappointed. I’m sure anyone who has ever gone to the Leaning Tower of Pisa can relate. Cool tower, but that’s about it for Pisa. 

Maybe it was our route: Dubrovnik – Korčula – Split – Plitvice Lakes – Zagreb. We started off with a city that we really didn’t enjoy, and that sour taste lasted in our mouths for the rest of the country. 

We probably should have done some more research and found more off-the-beaten-path areas, but we were traveling so fast that we just defaulted to the easiest route. 

Would we go back to Croatia?

Yes, without a doubt. We would return in a heartbeat. 

We already have a few places in mind that we’d like to visit the second time around, including some that our editor has visited and wrote about in this guide. We won’t deny that Croatia is absolutely breathtaking. Dubrovnik is as touristy as it is beautiful and Plitvice Lakes are a natural treasure.

Our advice to others visiting Croatia:

Avoid peak tourist season. Period. Go somewhere else.

Budget quite a bit more money than you would for the rest of Eastern Europe. We knew Croatia would be one of the more expensive countries on our trip. But we didn’t think it would be the same prices as Western Europe. Don’t make the mistake we did. You’ll enjoy yourself more if your budget has some wiggle room.

Have realistic expectations about crowds. Unless you visit during a totally off-peak time, Plitvice Lakes will be crowded. Dubrovnik may feel a bit like Disney World. If you go in knowing that there will be long lines and selfie sticks, you won’t be as disappointed as we were.

A Personal Note from Katie and Ben: I’m sure there will be a few people who read this and think we’re crazy because they had a fantastic time in Croatia. And I know we rave about places that others may not like. Travel is personal. 

We try not to highly publicize when we don’t like a place because we truly believe that there are so many factors that can affect how much you like a particular city or country. But we also believe in honesty, and think that it’s okay not to fall in love with every place we visit. 

Our intention is not to discourage anyone from visiting Croatia, but instead to help set expectations and give you advice so you avoid some of our mistakes. We would definitely go back to Croatia; and knowing what we know now, we would most likely enjoy it much more.


Before you book your trip, think about this:

Travel Insurance

We never travel without travel insurance. It’s never fun to think about losing your stuff or the possibility of a delayed flight, missing a connection, or heaven forbid you get injured while traveling. It’s best to know that you’ll be covered if anything goes wrong.

We have a whole article dedicated to figuring out the best travel insurance for you, but one company we really like is World Nomads. Get a quote in a couple minutes by filling out your information below:

 

 

European Train Travel

How are you traveling around Eastern Europe? One way to travel around Europe is by train and the best way to save money on trains is to buy Eurail Pass.

Now to be honest, we didn’t take any trains in Croatia because the buses and ride-sharing were cheaper. However, if you are traveling to multiple countries fairly quickly or traveling to Western Europe, purchasing a train pass might be your cheapest bet. Check out the Eurail Pass prices here.

European Air Travel

Another great thing about traveling in Europe is airfare is so much cheaper than in North America. One of our favorite sites to book flight is Skyscanner.

It’s so easy to use and we found some our cheapest flights using their “Show Whole Month” feature, where you can select your route and it tells you the cheapest days of the month to fly.

 

 


Want more information on Eastern Europe?

We have tons of resources for you on popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations in the region. Check out the 19 places to visit in Eastern Europe you absolutely cannot miss and read some of our favorite articles below. 

Save this article on Pinterest for later!

The Ultimate Croatia Travel Guide
Croatia: The Complete Travel Guide | Two Wandering Soles

We want to hear from you!

Have you traveled to Croatia? Tell us about your additional travel tips in the comments below.

Are you planning a trip to Croatia now? Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. We are happy to answer them.

Comments (34) on “Croatia: A Completely Honest Travel Guide

  1. Nina says:

    I thought this blog post was hilarious. 20 percent of Croatia’s GDP comes from tourism so yeah there are going to be tourists there in July. Also Dubrovnik will probably be fine without the GoT fans… It’s great with honest reviews but they’re meaningless if the writer hasn’t bothered to find out basic facts about the country beforehand.

  2. Eric says:

    I think this article sealed the deal for me to not go. The only time I can go this year is in July and given the pandemic I’m not sure I want to be in crowds. The pandemic could translate into less tourists but I don’t think I want my first big overseas trip in 2 years to be a let down.

  3. donna@ajis.com says:

    Hi Katie & Ben,

    Thx so much for your comprehensive review! I found your blog while looking around for some ideas on doing a coastal Croatian trip for our 40th anniversary. I especially appreciated your 3 different budget types of lodging…so helpful.
    We’ve been to Croatia many times before, Dubrovnik, Split, etc. etc. but this time I wanted to do strictly coastal and end up exactly where you went – the northern region almost to Italy – the Istrian Peninsula. I heard it’s less crowded and you did confirm that.
    Now, about the people lol. My husband was born here so he’s a local, well sort of. I never speak English while we’re there and let him speak his native tongue and we get along just fine. We get that they just don’t have the best attitude in the world, but as some others have said, they probably hate all of the tourism.
    Thanks again for all the info…you really helped me out a lot!

  4. Alex says:

    Croatia is a small country full of negative, arrogant, and lazy people. I know because I lived there. Many people think that Croatians are hospitable and good people but the truth is most of that is fake and you have no idea what they are saying behind your back – if you don’t understand the language. Croates look down upon tourists, they feel that everyone is inferior to them and this stems frim a deep seeded jealousy they have for the rest of the world- especially those countries with normal economies where people travel. So they will have no problem to cheat you. They will smile to you but curse and make fun of you behind your back. I know because I understand the language but often spoke English when there. Yes, the nature is stunning but people are miserable. Keep that in mind.

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi Alex, thanks for sharing your opinion. However, in our experience, we had lovely interactions with Croatians. As with any society, there will be people who are not as nice, but from our travels, we have nothing but good things to say about the people of Croatia.

  5. croguy@hotmail.com says:

    I could not agree more with your review of Croatia. As a Croatian, living in Canada over 20 years now, I stopped visiting the country as often as I used to.
    You summed up pretty much everything I have been thinking for years now and although preparation and expectations go a long way, some destinations need less of those in order for one to enjoy the destination.
    I will preface my comment by saying that I have been vacationing in Croatia for pretty much every two years and there have been some major changes that will prevent me from going back soon.
    The main one are the prices. I get expensive, since I live in Toronto, one of the most expensive cities in North America.
    The problem is the value. For example, we rented a yacht last summer and visited tons of little islands. The prices were exorbitant and before anyone says that is normal for island pricing, I have been to plenty of other places, where this wasn’t the case.
    In Lisbon or Barcelona, you can get a cup of fresh fruit for 1 or 2 Euros (berries and cherries), while Croatia would sell the same type of fruit cup (cheaper selection like watermelon and honeydew and grapes mix) for 5 or 6 euros.
    Rudeness was at an all time high in places of official business, the public transit and connection between cities is abysmal and overpriced, plus finding information in places that are frequented by tourists can be a challenge and I do not even want to get into what happens when you travel to smaller places.
    Most restaurants serve the same fare or a slight variation of it. We ate in some fine dining places and also in some regular joints, and overall the experience has been underwhelming. Way too expensive for what it is and also the quality of food declined drastically over the years.
    I am assuming lot of places have a high turnover and might not care about the returning customers, and yet lot of dishes were particularly bland and just too expensive.
    Renting anything, you will pay through an arm and a nose.
    Bike fees are obscenely expensive, as are cab fares.
    Due to the high increase in tourist numbers, it seems that every Joe is trying to capitalize on the opportunity and rents rooms and apartments.
    Again, price – value ratio is disappointing. Some of the accommodation prices we had to laugh at, since they thought they were renting at the Four Seasons, but instead you were getting the most recent Ikea dress-up.
    Public smoking seems to be ubiquitous, and it is really hard to avoid smoke everywhere you go. On one of the ferries we took, the crew was smoking on the dock, despite prohibition signs and then tossed the cigarette butts into the sea.
    Pollution and garbage everywhere, including the sea, made me question how clean some of the beaches are. I am comparing it to previous years and some garbage piles have net been cleaned in years.

    Having said all of that, I can share few tips from travelling abroad over the years.

    1. Avoid places like Split or Dubrovnik in high season
    2. Smaller Dalmatian islands like Vis or Hvar are great, and less crowded. Stay away from the main ports and pick other parts of the island for a more relaxing stay
    3. Rent a car if you can
    4. Rely on several sources for official information. It is very common to give incorrect info and this can vary from one representative to another.
    5. Eat where locals eat. This usually means moderately priced places and places that are rarely located by the marina
    6. Bring reusable water bottle. The amount of plastic wasted is sad, and never buy bottled water in Croatia. Croatia ranks as one of the highest countries when it comes to water drinking quality.
    7. Money exchange rates are similar in the tourist spots and post offices have one of the best exchange rates, even better than banks.
    8. Lot of bus stations don’t have anyone announcing anything, so it is very common to ask the driver if the bus is the right bus, since sometimes the labels on the buses can be incorrect.
    9. Bakeries are very often the best option for a fast and cheap meal on the go.
    10. Lot of places don’t accept debit or credit cards, so always have cash on you.

    This turned out to be a longer post than I originally anticipated. In conclusion, Croatia is an amazing place to visit, the nature is truly breathtakingly beautiful, but please be wary that it is not cheap or undiscovered. This was maybe true 20 years ago, but not anymore.

  6. Cyc says:

    Croatian expat here.
    I have to go every summer for holidays in Croatia to spend some time with the family and I’m even more annoyed about the prices, the crowds and rude locals. But I also know where to go and how to avoid it.
    The biggest mistake travellers like you make is thinking Croatia is eastern Europe or "balkans". It’s not. It’s always been (well besides the dark era or communist occupation) a Central European and Mediterranean society. So you should compare it as such. Rapid increase of tourists drives certain behaviours everywhere. But then again towns like Dubrovnik, Hvar and others are unique. their historical, cultural value plus the beauty justifies the price you need to pay to see them. Tourists shouldn’t expect some 3rd world shithole where their 100 bucks or euros will make them Kings. I don’t want our country to be overrun by cheap backpackers and cruisers . It spoils it for everyone.

    • Anna Gerad says:

      Croatia is not the Balkans?? That’s a story Croates maybe tell themselves because they hate the fact, but Croatia is as Balkan as it gets.

  7. blaugh@gmail.com says:

    The reason why people in Croatia, or more specifically Split and Dubrovnik, are not as friendly as the "neighbours" lies in the fact that locals are just absolutely inundated and fed up with mass tourism and the type of tourists their cities get. The old town of Split has in the past years lost hundreds of its inhabitants cos people have lost access to basic necessities in the centre and are abused night and day by groups of drunken tourists pissing at their doorsteps, vomiting under their windows, screaming and in general, acting like complete morons. Every shack downtown has turned into a shitty and overpriced pizza and burger place or an almost Michelin-star restaurant, neither of which the locals can afford. If that wasn’t enough, from April until October there’s at least 2 cruise ships daily docked in the harbour, each with thousands of passengers that just clog the already overwhelmed city, and who bring absolutely no value to the economy. People are bursting at the seams, they can’t function normally in their daily life and they are also being priced out of their homes, as everybody decided to squeeze whatever little buck out of tourism they can. And so on, and so on.

  8. nivanytsky@gmail.com says:

    Hi! Thanks so much for all the information. We’re planning a small wedding in Split and are debating restaurants for our reception (small is very small, ie 6 people including us). Our planner recommended Bokeria which looks like it has great food but seating looks a little communal and not private. Were there any more private seating options there or would you recommend we look elsewhere. Sorry for the random message but appreciate your input!!

  9. massagetherapy9@aol.com says:

    Thanks for sharing all your information! I’m sorry the people aren’t friendly in Croatia. I have a friend that’s from there and she’s darling! She says it deoends where you go and what you do ..I don’t know never been.bit it looks beautiful! Great pictures as well ! Happy travels to you! Oh didn’t you get any massages while travelling? I always do so I can stay relaxed and enjoy my trip ! ?

  10. uyulove@comic.com says:

    I totally agree with you guys, having just coming back from Croatia. I didn’t have that high of an expectation but I didn’t really think it was that amazing either (also wanted to starting heading back). It was the same price as many other western european cities but without the infrastructure.. I loved the island (Hvar) but that was about it. It’s definitely not one of my favorite countries in Europe.

  11. Chang.nana@gmail.com says:

    Appreciate the review. I am hoping to go in September a little off the busy season, I was wondering if you think one day is enough for Plitvice Lakes?

  12. danbac36@gmail.com says:

    I have travelled to Croatia many times over the last ten years from Australia as it became one of my favourite places in the world after my first visit. The towns of Split and Dubrovnik are busy in July and August however in my opinion people overstate this as all the beautiful places in the world are busy, ie French Riviera, Amalfi Coast, Dalmatian Coast and places like Mykonos and Santorini. I for one don’t mind the Crowds other than when Cruise ships are around which you may have encountered in Dubrovnik. They are normally gone by 6pm. There are places that are off the beaten track in Croatia that are stunning and if you want smaller crowds go in June or September. But places like Vis island and Island of Murter are beautiful and not overcrowded during peak season. There is still a good vibe and not too sleepy. Also small cities of Sibenik and Zadar are stunning as is Rovinj and places like Opatilja. Croatia is also a lot cheaper in shoulder season. I’m an avid traveller and blog reader and surprisingly the only time I’ve read a blogger write a negative review is when they are a budget traveller, backpacker or nomadic traveller and the first place they visit in Croatia is Dubrovnik. It’s as if they expect these cheap third world prices not realising they are coming to some of the most stunning and classy old towns in the entire world.

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Dan, thanks for your detailed comment. Love hearing about more cities to explore in Croatia, especially ones that are not as crowded.
      During our trip to Croatia, we were on a year-long trip so we were traveling on a budget, and were slightly surprised but the prices in Croatia compared to neighboring countries. Just want to set expectations straight for other travelers and share our experience so they are prepared.

  13. Mandy says:

    Hi! I stumbled upon your site while researching for our 2019 trip to Croatia and Slovenia. I appreciate the candid feedback and helps solidify my decision to skip a few of the "must see" towns. It’s hard to skip when you don’t know when/if you’ll make it back, but I know it’s not what we like to do when we travel. It will give us more time to explore wine country.

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Glad we could help, Mandy. It is tricky choosing cities sometimes, but you have travel according to your travel style and not just because places are marked as “must see” spots. Have a great trip!

  14. costas@beyondgreentravel.com says:

    Katie and Ben, Just finished reading about your Croatia trip. First time to see your site. Feedback: You did a good job! Don’t be overly concerned about offering candid opinions based upon your experiences. Even when they may be negative. Travel is like beauty – "In the eyes of the beholder". It is refreshing to read a site that avoid hype and focuses on being honest, even if you sounded somewhat apologetic for not loving Croatia. What is most important is truth in travel. Keep at it.- Costas Christ, Editor at Large, National Geographic Traveler

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Wow, we are honored at such a compliment from you, Costas. We always aim to be honest, even if it’s not the easiest way to write. We appreciate honesty when we read other blogs, and we hope others feel the same when they read our writing. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  15. emilyherman7@gmail.com says:

    Thank you for your advice! We are planning a trip to Croatia and plan to use a few tidbits learned from what you’ve mentioned here.

  16. contact@travelscams.org says:

    Great article, thanks for the tips!

    Indeed, Croatia is indeed home to many amazing sights and sounds, but in this beautiful land also lie some tourist-targeting scammers. Do be wary of the hostess bar scam, beach thieves, overcharging restaurants, pickpocketing, flat tire scam, overcharging taxi drivers, holiday apartment scam, car rental scam, border scam and many more!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      It’s always good to travel with common sense, David, so thanks for that reminder. We didn’t experience any of these scams while in Croatia (even during busy season). It’s good to be aware, but not to worry about traveling in Croatia.

  17. marko.spikic@gmail.com says:

    You’ve numbered the main problems regarding your trip to Croatia: thinking it is still an "undiscovered gem", that you’ve mostly stayed within the most touristy locations and that you had way too high expectations.
    Croatia is having a huge influx of tourists for the last several years and many people think that it’s still not that discovered, which isn’t true. This year it will be visited by around if not more than 20 million people. Have in mind that the country itself has only a bit over 4 million inhabitants.
    Also, people read blogs like this that rave about the country and have unrealistic expectations that sometimes can be hard to meet. Especially when you travel in the middle of the summer when the number of visitors can be off-putting.
    That being said, one needs to do some homework before the trip to know what more or less to expect and not to get unpleasantly surprised and enjoy their visit to Croatia.

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Thank you Mario for basically summarizing what we stated in the article. We acknowledged that our expectations were off and wrote this article to inform others so they don’t have the same experience as us. We really liked traveling in Croatia and encourage others to go there as well. We would love to go back during an shoulder or off season.

  18. katharina.office@gmail.com says:

    Hello Ben and Katie,

    fantastic and honest article. I agree with everything you write about Croatia. I had to smile about your "high expectations". 😉

    My family and I used to travel to Istria in Croatia every summer for, well, at least 5 years? I think the last time we spent our holiday there was maybe in 2011? I remember it to be always crowded, even though we stayed in a small fishermen’s village, not really a big player in the touristic landscape of Croatia. Still, the beach was packed with tourists, families,… but beautiful though. The reason could be, that many Germans and Austrians go there in summer, because it’s nearby, easy to reach and (still) cheaper than Spain or Italy.
    Sooo july & august, or summer in general isn’t really a great time to explore Croatia.

    Though, I have beautiful memories of that country as well. We used to drive around the countryside – and one time, by chance, we came by an old, very small village. It was in the middle of nowhere. Located on a hill and surrounded by the remains of a medieval fortress. The houses and streets were made of stone – and there was absolutely nobody far and wide. So calm. By the time the landscape darkened, it was a cloudy day, and this gave the whole scenery the final touch 😉 I don’t remember the name of that place, but it was somewhere in the middle of Istria.

    Hope you’ll go back someday (not in summer!) and have a great time, maybe you can still find some hidden treasures. <3

    all the best for your future-journeys,

    Kathi from nomadenleben.tumblr.com

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi Kathi, that sounds like a lovely memory of Croatia, so peaceful and charming. And don’t get us wrong, we would love to travel back to Croatia, but you’re right, we probably won’t go in the summer again. Thanks for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *