Croatia may have been a bit late to the tourism party, but it’s certainly made up for lost time. Nowadays, 10 million people flock here every year, and it’s easy to see why. Its coastline is packed with postcard-perfect beaches, historical sights and terracotta cities. Further inland, you’ll also find green-clad national parks, glass-clear lakes and pinstriped vineyards. Here, we take you through Croatia’s best bits, from start to finish…
Warm, blue and beautiful – the Adriatic Sea ticks all the right boxes. In summer, the water temperature usually hovers around 24 degrees, so you can dive right in. The sea is really clear, too, with great visibility for snorkelling. Keep your eyes peeled for sea urchins, monk seals and brightly-coloured fish.
With a 1,000-kilometre coastline, Croatia has a seemingly endless supply of beaches. Most places here are made up of grape-sized pebbles that are smooth enough to walk along. If you’re looking for a mixture of busy bays and quiet coves, we’d recommend going to Zivogosce. This 6-kilometre stretch has a varied line-up of secluded spots and family-friendly beaches.
Seafood fans will love crni rizot. This delicious risotto is made with freshly-caught prawns, squid and cuttlefish. The squid ink soaks into the rice, giving the dish its unique black colour. Find a family-owned bistro by the sea and tuck in.
With its distinctive red rooftops, Dubrovnik is Croatia’s most iconic city. It’s a place where old meets new – in the Old Town, ancient churches tower over stylish restaurants, while glittering boutiques hide under Medieval archways. There’s also an assortment of beaches, seafront cafés and late-night bars.
Just a boat-ride away from the Dubrovnik Riviera, the Elaphiti Islands are well worth visiting. With a population of less than 1,000 people, this 6-island archipelago is an oasis of quiet villages, pine-covered hills and white-sand beaches.
As the host of Hideout, Soundwave and Ultra Europe, Croatia is making a big name for itself on the festival scene. Across the summer months, there’s a huge range of music events on offer, featuring big-name acts like David Guetta, Julio Bashmore and Nero.
If the words ‘Westeros’, ‘Stark’ and ‘Targaryen’ mean nothing to you, we can only assume you’ve been living under a rock. TV phenomenon Game of Thrones seems to have taken over most peoples’ lives – and holiday wish-lists. If you want to step into Westeros, Croatia is the best place to start. Many of GOT’s iconic scenes were filmed here – Dubrovnik stands in for King’s Landing, Lokrum Island features as Qarth, and Diocletian’s Palace doubles up as Daenerys’ throne room in Meereen.
Hvar – which is pronounced ‘phwoar’ – is like Dubrovnik’s younger, prettier sister. This seafront town has plenty to see, with terracotta tiles, Gothic palaces and a hilltop fortress. It’s great for nightlife, too, with most bars and clubs staying open until the early hours.
From the Venetian-style town of Rovinj to the Roman ruins of Pula, the Istrian Riviera is not to be missed. Surrounded by over 250 kilometres of coastline, this picture-perfect peninsula is made up of age-old cities, idyllic islands and hideaway beaches.
Juha is Croatian soup, which is usually a clear broth served with skinny noodles or dumplings. Just like in the UK, though, there are many different flavours. Riblja juha is similar to fish chowder, zagorska juha is made with mushrooms and bacon, and thicker krem-juha is a rich creamy soup.
Don’t make the mistake of taking euros to Croatia with you – Croatian kuna is what you need. A pint of beer costs about 14KN, which works out at about £1.50. Meanwhile, a 3-course meal at a reputable restaurant will set you back about 200KN.
Or, as it’s also known, the national anthem of Croatia. The title, very fittingly, means ‘Our beautiful homeland’.
Perched in between Dubrovnik and Split, Makarska serves up a sand-and-pebble beach, green-clad mountains and an abundance of ancient sights. You can bounce between historical churches, a Baroque palace and a 16th-century monastery. Or simply spend some time relaxing on Makarska Beach, where you’ll find picturesque coves, pedalos and ice cream parlours.
Croatia is home to 8 national parks, which cover a staggering area of 994 square-kilometres. Each park is vastly different, so you can expect everything from off-shore islands and colourful reefs, to sprawling lakes and mountains.
Think fresh fish, zesty juices and smoky flavours. Made with octopus, carrots, potatoes and a good helping of garlic, this Croatian one-pot dish is delicious.
Of all the national parks in Croatia, Plitvice Lakes is the jewel in the crown. The area is packed with bright blue lakes and bottle-green streams, interspersed with waterfalls and forests. There’s a labyrinth of boardwalks, too, making it easy to get around and explore.
The letter ‘Q’ doesn’t feature in the Croatian alphabet. The only time it’ll be used is when there’s a foreign word that can’t be translated. The Croatian language also ignores the letters W, X and Y.
This fruity alcoholic drink is similar to brandy, but homemade rakija can come in all kinds of flavours. It’s definitely something to try before you head back to the UK.
Split is the largest city on the Dalmatian Coast, halfway between Dubrovnik and Zadar. Peppered with Roman buildings and ruins from the Middle Ages, it’s steeped in history. As you meander through the Old Town’s narrow lanes, expect to stumble across beautiful stone churches and grand archways. St Domnius’ Cathedral and the ancient palace are particularly impressive.
Just a 30-minute drive from Split, Trogir is a maze of Gothic architecture, Romanesque cathedrals and Renaissance castles.
Considering how many ancient settlements there are, it’s hardly surprising that Croatia has 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We’ve already mentioned our favourite 3 – historical Trogir, Dubrovnik’s Old Town and Diocletian’s Palace in Split. If you’re hungry for more, check out the rest of Croatia’s UNESCO-listed sites.
With so many seafood dishes to try, you’ll need some Croatian wine to wash it all down. Vugava is an indigenous white wine, made with high-quality grapes. Plus, its crisp, fruity taste goes well with white meat and fish.
Croatia’s 1,000-kilometre coastline, unsurprisingly, has no shortage of places to get involved with watersports. Dubrovnik’s Copacabana Beach is our pick of the bunch – this place has banana boats, jet-skis and everything in between. Further along the coast, Podstrana is another great spot for water babies. Take your pick from waterskiing, windsurfing and scuba-diving.
Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. If you want to take part in some fun-filled festivities, book your holiday over 8th October, when the country celebrates its Independence Day.
Having joined in 2013, Croatia is the youngest member of the European Union.
On the unspoilt island of Brac, this distinctive arrowhead-shaped beach is probably one of Croatia’s most-photographed sites. The windier side of Zlatni Rat Beach is popular with watersports aficionados, while the quieter stretch is perfect for paddling families and chilled-out couples.
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Author: Sarah Reeves
Published: August 19, 2016
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