Croatia

Where to go in Croatia

My friend was spending time in Croatia for work and asked me if I wanted to meet her there when she got done. My answer? YES! Croatia hadn’t been on my radar before and I have no idea why! It is beautiful, exciting, fun, so much culture and history, affordable, and easy to get around!

The biggest question though was, where to go in Croatia? Luckily, my friend was able to talk to her co-workers to get suggestions of where to go in Croatia. I will now share these with you.

Where to go in Croatia…

Croatia is located in Southeast Europe and boarders the Adriatic Sea to the west. This long 1,100 mile coastal boarder means that so many of the cities you visit are on the coast, giving you beautiful views, awesome opportunities to swim, and delicious seafood.

Where to go in Croatia #1: Dubrovnik

Many people who are from the area or have traveled extensively in the area may turn their nose at Dubrovnik. They call it too touristy. I disagree, and maybe this is because I can see past the touristy part of Venice for how amazing the city is, and I feel like Dubrovnik is no different.

Dubrovnik, Croatia from above
The beautiful Dubrovnik.

The key is to visit between the cruise ship stops. If you manage to time it right, you will be able to enjoy a quiet, beautiful city, rich with history. The best is to ask the host where you are staying. They will have tips on how to avoid this crowd. We were told to get up early, see the sites, come back in the hot afternoon and rest and then go back out in the evening when all the people start heading back to the ships. This plan worked out really well!

The sites!

There are many places to see in the walled Old Town of Dubrovnik and they are all walking distance.

Walking Tour:

One of the best things we did was stop by the Dubrovnik information center early in our visit and sign up for a walking tour. This gave us the lay of the city and the history.

Pile Gate and Onofrio’s Large Fountain (Great Onofrio Well)

You will most likely enter Old Town through Pile Gate which will lead you into the main square with people hanging out around Onofrio’s Large Fountain. Note: The information center is right off the square.

Franciscan Monastery

Contains the oldest pharmacy in Europe

The Cathedral

According to visit-croatia.co.uk, it dates back to 1673 and was built to replace the original 12th century cathedral which was destroyed in an earthquake. It houses the skull of St. Blaise found in a jewel-encrusted crown. Here’s the coolest part: “Another earthquake in 1979 saw cause to dig drains beneath the cathedral; these excavations uncovered a Romanesque cathedral beneath the current one. Further digging, uncovered another church underneath this one, dating from about the 6th century.”

Rector’s Palace

Originally designed by Onofrio, the same Onofrio of the fountain above. Rector’s Palace was destroyed many times from explosions and an earthquake. It has been rebuilt multiple times and still has the splendor of a palace. It currently houses the Cultural City Museum.

The Wall

Two women standing at the wall around Dubrovnik.
The start of the amazing views on our wall walk. Also, before we got too hot.

Dubrovnik is a walled city. Walk the wall, but please do not do it in the heat of the day! We were told over and over again to do it first thing in the morning or late in the day when things had started to cool off. For a moment we thought, how bad can it be up there? We almost did it around 1pm. But then we thought we better listen to the advice we were given and headed back to our hotel to rest and avoid the crowds.

So glad we did! Even though we waited until late in the day when things had cooled off. It was still sooo hot up there. Beautiful, and we loved walking the wall, but HOT! Be sure to bring hats and sunblock. The views from up there are stunning. You can see the roofs of Old Town and the Adriatic Sea. In one area, there was a wedding reception being set up. I would love to go to that reception!

Lokrum Island

Lokrum Island rocky shore in Croatia.
Lokrum Island was used for multiple scenes of Game of Thrones!

 

Two women posing next to a large plant.
The vegetation in Lokrum felt like it was from another era.

We spent one morning at the island of Lokrum, which is a quick boat ride from Dubrovnik. We walked the trails and went swimming in the Adriatic Sea! The vegetation was amazing and we had so much fun swimming in the cold water! Bring swim shoes, it is rocky getting to the water.

Cable Car

Sunset over Dubrovnik.
We timed our ride up on the cable car perfect for the sunset.

Be sure to take the cable car for a spectacular view of Dubrovnik down below. There are numerous activities to do once you get up there. We just enjoyed the views.

Where to go in Croatia #2 Split

There are so many amazing islands off the coast. We knew we didn’t have time to visit them all on our own so we decided to take a day tour that could efficiently bring us to the islands. Added bonus, it was stress free. We didn’t have to worry about logistics, planning it out, etc.

Two women on a boat in Croatia.
We just saw dolphins! What a life!

The tour we went on brought us to the Blue Cave and four islands. Just the ride in the boat to the different destinations was fun. We saw dolphins!

Blue Cave

The pictures don’t oversell! It is amazing in here! You enter the Blue Cave by water. It is a vibrant blue and beautiful. When we were there, we could jump out of the boat for a swim.

The Islands

View of Komiza Island's shore with a boat and flowers.
Komiza Island, one of our stops on our island tour.

During the trip we visited four Islands. I usually don’t like to try to pack so much into one day so I can really explore the area, but because the logistics were planned so well, we got plenty of time at each location. Some were sleepy fishing islands and others were vibrant islands where yachts were coming in and out all day.

Kayak Tour

We thought this would be fun. Kayaking the Adriatic with the stop at a beach to relax, cliff jumping, and kayaking back. Neither my friend nor I had really kayaked before, but we were ensured it wasn’t going to be hard.

We had a relaxing kayak down to the beach. Got out to enjoy, people did some cliff jumping, and while there our tour guides said there were reports of wind. Wind? That doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. He said we better head back. Some people started complaining because we only got a little bit of beach time, but everyone finally agreed. We all got back in our kayaks and started heading back.

The wind

I underestimated the WIND!! It was so intense. My friend and I had to paddle our hearts out to stay in place. We couldn’t make actual progress. Just paddled to not get blown out into the Adriatic.

I looked at my friend and asked how she got sand all over her. Then realized, it wasn’t sand. It was salt. The wind was blowing the saltwater on us and we both looked like our whole bodies, face, and hair was just full of sand.

People on the land were pointing at our group probably thinking, what are these crazy people doing?! AND my friend and I were considered to be the few doing well with the situation at hand. Remember, we weren’t moving. Just staying in place. The tour guide actually called out, “Looks like you ladies are doing well, I am going to go to the others who need help.” Sure, no problem, just over here fighting with all my might to not get blown out to sea, go ahead! Fun fact, I was pregnant at the time.

Land!

Slowly by slowly we finally made a little progress and after a very long time, we made it back. There were staff members waiting for us and other staff members who were going out to tow some of our group back to land because they were losing the fight against the wind. They told us this was the first time they had experienced the wind so intensely. I have no idea if that is true or it is a regular occurrence and they just don’t advertise it on their website.

I’m not saying don’t do a Kayak Tour. The part that wasn’t full of wind was great! I want to share my experience so you know what may be to come.

Old Town

Gregory of Nin Statue

Two women touching Gregory of Nim's statue toe for good luck.
Good luck at the Gregory of Nim Statue.

Gregory of Nin was a bishop during the medieval era. The superstition is to rub his toe for luck. You will see it has been rubbed a lot, so be sure to bring some hand sanitizer for afterwards!

Golden Gate

Two women smiling at the Golden Gate leading into Old Town Split.
We are ready to start our self-guided walking tour of Old Town!

Across from the statue is the Golden Gate of Split that ushers you into Old Town.

Saint Dominus Bell Tower

Two women smiling at the top of Saint Dominus bell tower.
We made it to the top of the bell tower!

It’s a climb to get to the top, but why not? When are you going to come back? At least that was the argument I used on my friend to get her to do it! Stairs after stairs and finally we made it to the top. Beautiful views and we were out of breath! Perfect!

Near the entrance to the bell tower there is a small square where people hangout, listen to music, and have drinks.

Marjan Forest

Two women looking nervous in front of a sign for Marjan Park-Forest.
Before our hike, nervous about our decisions…

There was a sign near where we were staying for Marjan Forest with an arrow pointing up. We didn’t know anything about Marjan Forest, only that there was an arrow on the sign pointing up. We had already walked a lot of stairs, kayaked in a practical hurricane (okay, a slight exaggeration), and walked and walked through trails. The thought of following an arrow up, was hard to swallow. But….our curiosity finally got the better of us. One late afternoon, we had some time and decided to do it and follow the arrow. We walked up and up and up. Eventually, we made it to the top and the views were worth it!

Two women at the top of Marjan park, smiling with Split in the background.
We made it to the top and were very happy about our decision! I mean, that view!

Water Walk

There is a big, bustling promenade following the water. There are many outdoor restaurants, carts with vendors selling Croatia related items, benches, and people walking. We loved grabbing some gelato, sitting down on a bench, and watching people walk. A great way to rest our weary legs and relax.

There are so many more places to explore in Split. I suggest you do a self-guided walking tour to not miss any of the history or sites. We did this one, but there are so many more that you can download onto your phone as well.

Where to go in Croatia #3 Sibenik

Krka national park waterfalls.
The beautiful waterfalls of Krka national park.

We called an audible at the last minute. We had debated between going to Krka National Park or Plitvice National Park and we landed on Krka. Then my friend heard from her co-workers that Krka is wonderful but the Plitvice National Park is incredible! Imagine having to decide between something that is wonderful and incredible! A good problem to have.

Because of this, we changed around our plans last minute to go to Plitvice instead. Our hotel room was non-refundable in Sibenik and it was on our way to our next stop, Zadar, so we decided to still stay there and figured it would give us a head start on our way to Zadar.

However, we ended up arriving in Sibenik with just enough time to take the boat over to Krka falls! It was going to have to be a quick visit, but we were going to be able to do both! I excitedly told my friend. She tiredly looked at me and said, “I’m going back to the room to nap. I just can’t do it.”

Understandable, we had been going and going for days! But I was game! I walked over, bought my tickets and took a beautiful double decker boat ride over to Krka National Park to see the falls. It was stunning. At this point, I couldn’t imagine Plitvice National Park being more beautiful than this- Krka was amazing!

I walked the trails and took in the sites of the waterfalls. You are able to swim in the pools below, although you have to keep your distance from the actual falls because, safety!

I was sure to make it on the last boat back and then met my friend for dinner. Sibenik is a very small, but charming town. The falls are the main draw.

Where to go in Croatia #4 Zadar

Sunset over water surrounding Zadar with a sailboat.
Zadar sunset.

Oh Zadar. How I love thee! And I’m not the only one, according to The Telegraph, Alfred Hitchcock once said it had “the most beautiful sunset in the world.” I won’t argue with that statement.  This may be why one of my favorite things to do while we were there was hangout at the Monument to the Sun and Sea Organ and watch the sunset.

Monument to the Sun and Sea Organ

Two women smiling with the sunset over the water surrounding Zadarr.
Enjoying the sounds of the Sea Organ and watching the sunset.

That sunset Hitchcock was talking about, there is no better place to watch it then from the Sea Organ steps. The Sea Organ is often referenced as the harmonica of the sea. There are steps leading down to the sea. In these steps are cutouts like organ pipes that play notes as the waves go in and out of them. It’s a popular place to sit down, meet with friends, and enjoy the sounds and the sunset.

Right next to the Sea Organ is the Monument to the Sun. This solar power dance floor takes in the sun rays during the day and at night, lights up!

Old Town

Roman Forum – There isn’t much left of the Roman Forum, but you can walk the area and imagine what life must have been like back then. There is also a public shaming column, so if you need to shame anyone, have at it!

Public shaming column ruins in Zadar.
Public shaming column!

Churches

There are many historic churches in Zadar. You only have a short amount of time and you are wondering which ones to visit? It depends what you find interesting.

The Crazy Tourist does a great blurb on each. Here is a condensed version:

St Donatus’ Church – It is old, very old. It was built in the year 800 and is still in a great state. It has become a landmark of Zadar and you may have seen it as the cover image on websites.

St Mary’s Church – Houses the Permanent Exhibition of Religious Art or as some call it, “the gold and silver of Zadar” collection. This exhibit covers tapestries, manuscripts, reliefs and you guessed it, gold and silver religious artifacts that spans 700s and 1700s.

St Anastasia’s Cathedral – Dates back to 1177. Inside there is a mosaic dating back to the original basilica from 300 and was where this church stands today. There is an incredible bell tower that was started in the 15th century and finished in the 1800s.

St Simeon’s Church – The outside is non-assuming, inside you will find the Chest of St. Simeon- a wooden sarcophagus plated in silver and gold. This is UNESCO-protected and dates back to the late 1370s.

Museums:

Museum of Ancient Glass – This museum is unique compared to usual art museums I visit while abroad. You will find ancient glass found in archaeological digs from the area.

National Museum – Learn about the cultural heritage of the Zadar region.

Archaeological Museum – Contains artifacts discovered in and around Zadar. There is a model that shows what The Roman Forum looked like at its height of power.

Where to go in Croatia #5 Plitvice Lakes National Park

Two women smiling in front of Veliki Slap in Plitvice National Park.
If you choose to start at Entrance 1, Veliki Slap (Large Waterfall) will greet you as you start your hike around Plitvice National Park.

I cannot begin to describe to you the beauty of this place. If you go to Croatia and do not make it here, go back, now! There is a reason it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

They describe it as, “The waters flowing over the limestone and chalk have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams which in turn have created a series of beautiful lakes, caves and waterfalls. These geological processes continue today. The forests in the park are home to bears, wolves and many rare bird species.”

There is a lot of information to cover for Plitvice Lakes National Park. Because of this, it deserves its own post. Click there to get all the information you need.

There’s Croatia! There are so many other islands to see and things to do. Please, share with me your favorite places in Croatia. I will add it to my list for my next visit!

Krka waterfall photo by Agnieszka M on Unsplash

All other photos by Jennifer Smith

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