Whether you’re looking to relax on a sandy beach or like a more active vacation, Croatia offers attractions for all visitors and all seasons. While the country does offer winter skiing and hiking, the warmer months offer the widest range of activities including hiking, cycling, golf, rafting, mountain climbing, kayaking, fishing, cave exploration, horseback riding, windsurfing and beachside escapes.
Once a part of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia fought its war for independence from 1991 to 1995 against the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and local Serb forces. Despite its war-torn past, today Croatia offers stunning natural beauty, friendly people, and one of Europe’s best-kept secret vacation destinations.
Explore the national parks
Much of Croatia’s countryside is made up of protected areas, including eight national parks, two strict reserves and 10 nature parks. The largest and most well-known national park is Plitvice Lakes, a UNESCO Heritage World Heritage Site, which is also the oldest national park in Southeast Europe. Inside the park, you will find more than 16 interconnected lakes aglow in magnificent colors, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue.
If hiking is not your thing, book a sightseeing tour and take a panoramic electric train or a noiseless electro-powered boat around the park. Beautiful any time of year, fall can be especially picturesque as the trees change to beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red and provide a stark contrast with the blue and green waters.
Be sure to check the weather before you go, as temperatures in the mountainous lake areas average only 46 degrees Fahrenheit year round! You’ll also want to be aware that a number of wild animals call the forest their home, including lynx, wolves, brown bears, golden eagles, lizards and turtles. Bring your camera but be aware of your surroundings at all times!
Plan a coastal city getaway
While the warmest months of the year are July and August with temperatures in the mid to lower 80’s, you can still enjoy a little sunshine all year round. Popular seaside destinations include the cities of Dubrovnik and Split.
Dubrovnik was heavily shelled and damaged during the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s, but has since been restored. Stroll along the ancient city walls for great views of the Old Town area and harbor. Inside the Old Town, you’ll find a number of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque buildings including Town Hall (now the Rector’s Palace), dating from the 11th century; the Franciscan Monastery (completed in the 14th century, but now largely Baroque in appearance) with its imposing church; the extensive Dominican Monastery; the cathedral (rebuilt after a 1667 earthquake); the customs house (Sponza), the eclectic appearance of which reveals the fact that it is the work of several hands over many years; and a number of other Baroque churches, such as that of St Blaise (patron saint of the city).
For a little beach time close to the Old Town, you can check out Banje, the city beach. Here you will find views of the city walls, calm waters for the kids to enjoy, and beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. For a more secluded beach frequented by locals, head to Sveti Jakov Beach.
While Dubrovnik can be a little crowded and touristy from spring to late fall, Split offers a taste of a real Mediterranean city with a shorter summer tourist season. At more than 1,700 years old, Split welcomes you to explore Roman Empire remains. For more information, visit the official website of the Tourism Board of Split.
The most well-known attraction in Split is Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO heritage site. Visit these Roman ruins which were built as a retirement palace for Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD.
When hunger strikes, try some burek — a flaky pastry filled with either meat, cheese, potatoes or spinach.
For some fun in the sun, head to the beach at Bačvice. There are plenty of cafés for a snack or ice cream cone. While it can be packed in the summer, this is where you will find all the locals. Venture a little further out by taking the bus north of central Split to Kasjuni beach at the foot of Marjan Hill. While smaller, calmer and rockier than Bačvice, you’ll enjoy the wonderfully blue waters and pine forest coast.
Getting in and around
Many of the budget airlines such as Ryanair, Condor and Easy Jet offer cheap flights to Croatia. Another popular option for seeing Croatia is to make it a port stop on a Mediterranean cruise. Many of the major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and Celebrity have ports of call in Dubrovnik and Split.
In Dubrovnik, get a bird’s eye view of the Old Town by taking a ride on a cable car. With free Wi-Fi internet at the top, you can make your friends jealous by Skyping them with a view of the blue Adriatic Sea behind you. For a fun adventure you won’t soon forget, check out Adriatic Kayak Tours. They provide a range of full and half-day excursions, including kayaking, cave exploration, snorkeling, biking, cliff walks, cliff diving and vineyard tours.
In Split, you can easily tour the Old Town on foot. To get outside the city, rent a bike and head out along Split’s waterfront, the Riva, and continue to Marjan Hill for a great view of Split and the surrounding islands.
If you have rented a car, you may want to take a drive along the coast between Split and the country of Montenegro. This approximately four-hour drive gives you breathtaking views of the sea and islands from atop a mountain road, and you will even pass through a small slice of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When you get hungry, stop for a meal of sea bass or octopus salad with a glass of Pošip, a fantastic Croatian white wine.
Something to suit everyone
From the rolling mountains to the beautiful blue Adriatic Sea, Croatia provides a beautiful backdrop for making new travel memories with family and friends. With so many great options to suit your vacation style, it is no secret why Croatia should be your next travel destination.
Know before you go
During the war for independence, approximately two million mines were laid in various areas of Croatia; today, remaining mines are clearly marked and you can rest assured that roads, tourist areas and public facilities are safe and secure. To learn more and view maps detailing mine areas, visit the Croatian Mine Action Centre (CROMAC) website.