The best two cities to visit in Croatia?
What are the two best cities to visit in Croatia? Croatia is a relatively small country which lies on the Adriatic Sea. The capital city is Zagreb. Croatia boarders Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro. The country is at the crossroads of central and southeast Europe. It’s current population is approx. 3.8 million and although in the European Union Croatia has it’s own currency (until 2023), the Croatian Kuna.
They say It’s all in the name and Croatia is known as “the pearl of the Adriatic” and it didn’t get that name by chance. Croatia has some of the most stunning cities and coastlines of anywhere in Europe and the sad truth is it’s mostly over looked by it’s European counterparts, Italy and Greece as a holiday destination.
This is partly the reason I wanted to visit. I had so many questions I wanted to answer. Is Croatia as stunning as it is suggested? Is Croatian food really one of the best in the Mediterranean? What does Croatia have to offer as a holiday destination? What are the two best cities to visit in Croatia?
I would be spending 8 days in Croatia. Four nights in Split and 4 nights in Dubrovnik. Both of them the top two cities to visit in the country. How did I get on? Are they really worth visiting? What are the highlights of each city? Let me explain…
We arrived early evening the day before. Once we landed, got a taxi to the CroParadise Green Hostel (I have more info on all the accommodation below in the summary) which would be our accommodation for the next 4 days. We checked in, all OK and went well. Grabbed some food and had a pretty early night knowing that tomorrow, we will explore and get ready for what Croatia has to offer.
DAY1 – First Full Day
Today would be our first full day in Croatia. We woke up at around 8am, got ready and headed out for the city centre. We are really close to everything where the hostel was situated so the walk was not far at all, which was just as well as it appeared we had brought the rain with us. When we left the room this morning it was raining! We headed for the main strip of the city which is known as “Rivera Plaza” and had our first Croatian breakfast, although it was raining it was still pretty warm. We found a great little restaurant called “Veneranda” over looking the harbour and enjoyed breakfast. Croatian breakfast is much like a continental breakfast, instead of the hot bacon it was cold meats with cheese and hot eggs.
After breakfast we had a little wander around town and found the famous “Spilt” sign. So it would have been rude not to take the opportunity for a few touristy photos! We continued to have a wander around the city, we checked out the palace, the walls, the Rivera and just about anything we could.
The first thing that struck me was, how old and beautiful the city feels. We had booked a tour via TripAdvisor. The tour was a “city walking tour”. I wanted to ensure I understood the city, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it’s history, people and culture so I thought this would be the perfect place to start. The tour started at 1pm and it was excellent. Maria our guide was wonderful. We saw the palace and got a really good understanding of the history thanks to Maria. She took us to all the city highlights, The bell tower, the cathedral and the Jupiter Chapel. We also had a walk down the most narrow street in the world and saw the famous under ground market of Split. It was all very special and I loved it.
By the time we finished the tour it had stopped raining and the sun was out. It was really warm and turn into a beautiful afternoon. We headed back to the room for a little bit to chill and rest before we made our way out to the other side of the city. We saw the coast, the beaches, a ministry and some fantastic views across the sea. It made the perfect site for a sunset, however there would not be one tonight as it was cloudy and overcast. We also had a walk around the other side of town at the local restaurants to see if there was much difference between them.
During the tour of the city Maria suggested that the other side of the city was most popular with the locals, so you always knew that’s a place to check out. We got back to the room after a stop at the local supermarket. That would mark the end of our first day in Croatia and the start of what become a very busy next few days.
DAY2 – Plitvice Lakes Day Trip
Today was an early start at 05:30. It was a muggy warm start to the day at 18C. However it did show a chance of rain a little later. We got our things together and set off for the bus stop. We left our room at 06:30 and walked down to the Rivera Plaza again to catch the bus. (just next to the Spilt sign) It was actually a very pleasant warm morning. Once we arrived at the stop, the tour organises were there to meet us already.
We paid our park entrance fee of 300HRN. Meet up with our tour guide “peter” who was great. We all got onto the bus and set off. It took 2.5hrs to drive to the national park but peter made sure it didn’t seem that long. He gave us loads of facts and info about Croatia and the park. It was great. We stopped half way for the toliet and to grab some supplies. We finally got to the park at 10:20.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is the most visited national park in Croatia. It is also the oldest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Plitvice lakes national park covers an area of 300 square kilometres and is the largest national park of all 8 in the country. The park is famous for the 90 plus waterfalls and 16 lakes which turn different colours at certain times of the day and year. We got onto a bus that took us to the upper lake section. We would be walking down to the lower lake section of the park while taking in all of it’s stunning beauty. Believe me this park was stunning, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife and we even saw Croatia’s largest waterfall at 62M. Plitvice lakes is one of the most beautiful places in Europe.
We stopped for lunch in the park and even had a lovely boat ride on the largest lake in the park and 3rd largest lake in Croatia. There are many different areas of the park to explore. Numerous trails to choose from that take you around the park at all the stunning lakes and waterfalls. There is a cave system you can walk through and the end of the trail is certainly the best. Which is why I would recommend starting at the higher lake section and walking down. You don’t have to take the boat, you can walk the lake but it was nice to take the weight off my feet and see the park from the water.
It was most certainly a brilliant day. I highly recommend a day trip to Plitvice National Park and there are many tour companies and tour operators with day trips from Split you can choose from.
We got the bus back to Split with another 2.5hrs and in total 500KM travelled. There is no doubt, it was a long day. Once we got back we went for some dinner at “Big Macho”. We wanted to try two native dishes. We tried “Cevapi” and “Octopus Salad“. They were both lovely dishes. We found a great little restaurant to eat. The waiters were great, the food was great and the atmosphere was brilliant.
After dinner we went and got an ice cream and then had a walk along the Rivera Plaza. We started making our way back to the room and managed to avoid the rain all day. It was still warm and we got back to the room at 22:00, we chilled for a little while, had a cup of tea and got our stuff ready for tomorrow morning as we have another early start. I finally settled down for the night, feeling great and ready to do it all again tomorrow…
DAY3 – Krka National Park
Had a great sleep last night and woke up to my alarm clock at 06:00am. After I got up and jumped in the shower, it was another muggy morning. I had breakfast at the hostel (toast & Tea) then set off for the bus. I draw out some cash on route from the ATM and we headed for the Rivera Plaza to the greyline office to check in at 08:10.
We left Split at 09:00am and started the journey to Krka National Park. It took around 1hr to get there from Spilt and when we arrived, it was pouring down with rain as we were in the middle of a thunderstorm. Krka National Park is 109 square kilometres in size; it is actually one of the newest national parks of Croatia.
Krka officially become a protected national park in 1985 (making it the 7th of 8). Almost all of the national park is located along the Krka River which is home to 222 different species of birds and 18 different species of fish. The lack of pollution in this river has led to its huge abundance of wildlife which is unmatched by other major rivers around the world. In 2016 the park has become so popular that numbers started to be limited (which is still in place today) and swimming has been banned in all the pools and lakes in Krka National Park to help protect it for future generations.
Our guide for the day was Dario. He was brilliant, very funny, very kind and great at his job. I had a good feeling about today and could not wait to get exploring once we had arrived. The sun soon came out and we started our trek through the park. The park is lovely, the waterfalls were beautiful, loud and power fall. We took our time wondering around the trails and seeing the different viewpoints. The park has toilets, a café and restaurant. The main showpiece of the park is Skradinski Buk. Being so close to this hugely impressive waterfall is a very surreal experience and I cannot recommend it enough. After the trails, it was a trip on the boat through the national park to Skradin.
A small town on the river Krka. The sun was out in full now and it turned out to be a very hot day. We arrived in Skradin at 13:00 and started having a wander around. We stopped for lunch at “Konoba Dalenatina” and the food was wonderful. After lunch, it was a hike up to the fortress. Where there are wonderful views of Skradin and the Krka River. It was really hot and sunny by now, at least 24C. We headed for the only place we could, the beach. We took a little swim in the river. (I did not as it was too cold for me but my friend did). After that, it was back at the meeting point and back on the bus to head back to Spilt.
We got back and headed to the Rivera Plaza for some ice cream. Yes, I know, that is 2 ice creams, two days in row. I am on holiday after all. It was back to the room to download the photos and look back at what a brilliant day we had. We got back to Spilt around 16:00hrs and our room was literally just a short walk from the bus stop. After some chilling out in the room we left again at 20:00 to check out Split and the palace by night. We stopped and had some street food “Cevapi” (a tradional Croatian dish) again. After some food we headed back to the room, we packed up our cases, got ready for bed and went to sleep at 23:00hrs. We are off to destination No.2 tomorrow!
DAY4 – From Split to Dubrovnik
It was another early start today after a warm muggy night. Were up at 05:40am jumped in the shower, got dressed, had a cup of tea, banana and apple for breakfast. We finished packing our cases and final things then walked down to the main offices to drop off our room key. At 06:45 we got to the harbour and needed to find our ferry. When we arrived at the ferry terminal, we looked on the wall and found our ferry and the dock number. As we had already booked and got our tickets online we just walked through the ferry terminal and headed for the boat. The ferry was already docked and we got straight on and seated with no issues. The ferry was big. We left Split on-time at 07:40am and headed down the coast for Dubrovnik.
In Croatia it is one of the best ways to travel. Over 1000 islands make up Croatia so getting ferries and boats around is very normal.
I had a little snooze, a coffee from on board. It was a very pleasant trip. We stopped at a few different locations on the way down the coast like Hvar, Korcula among others. We finally got into Dubrovnik at 12:20pm and it looked stunning. I looked on maps where the accommodation was and it showed a 30min walk. Once we docked, we got off and started to walk. What it did not tell us was how steep the journey would be! 90% of the walk would be uphill in very hot, humid conditions. We finally found our accommodation; it seemed a nice place.
We had chosen the Dubrovnik Backpackers Club Hostel. The owner (Milka) was great. A lovely guy who welcomed us, made us a drink and sat us down and explained the entire city. He gave us a map and helped point out some interesting things to see, cheap places to eat and other important info like the nearest ATM’s, Pharmacy and Supermarkets were located. Our room was great, it was basic but that is all we needed. We dropped off our stuff, got changed because it was so hot and we were sweating after that walk.
I then headed out to look around the local area. The nearest beach, was less than 10 minutes away. Loads of local restaurants where we ended up having lunch at one of the many hotels along the beachfront called “restaurant sphere” and I had some stunning chicken teriyaki. We went for a little walk around the area, and then popped to the supermarket to grab some supplies for the room.
We headed back to the room, dropped off our stuff and headed for the beach to watch the sunset and have a swim. However, the clouds came over and we could not see the sunset at all. So we swam in the sea anyway, it got a little cold so I did not stay in there too long. We headed back to the hostel and chilled out. My first impressions of Dubrovnik were good, I saw straight away the differences between Split and Dubrovnik (more on them a little later) but I was left wondering, would Dubrovnik come close to the amazing time we had in Split?
DAY5 – Dubrovnik
Today was the first full day in Dubrovnik and the first day we did not need to get up early. I woke up at 08:00am and we were able to take our time and chill. It was another muggy, warm morning. We left the room at 09:40am and headed for the bus. The bus (number 6) would take us to the Old Town and it cost just 13HR (1 Adult). We got off at the main station and made our way into the city gates for the first time and within the walls of the old town. It was a beautiful place, I knew I was going to love it here. It reminded me of steeping back in time, when the Roman’s might have been around. I imagined them walking the streets and everyone going about their business back in day.
We had a little wander around the Old Town and then meet up with our guide Bruno at 11:00am of our guided Game of Thrones tour. The tour was excellent, if you are a fan of the TV series of course. We visited blackwater bay, the red keep, the Sansa Escape route and the famous pier. Bruno was brilliant, informative, fun and had plenty of good humour. Game of Thrones was filmed in Dubrovnik and the setting of the old town was the backdrop to Kings Landing in the TV series. We stopped for lunch after the tour, I had Pizza in a small place, “restaurant Nava”. One thing I have noticed about Croatia is the food is inspired by Italy. Most restaurants offer, Pizza, Pasta and Fish! We then got our Dubrovnik passes and then made our way onto and around the famous city walls.
Before I continue with the city walls I do want to mention the Dubrovnik passes. Its ultimately a tourist pass card, it allows for admission to most of the cities museums, it allows access to the city walls. It allows discount to certain restaurants and public transport. For example, with our passes we were able to use the bus 6 times however and whenever we choose. This worked out a great money saving idea while we were in Dubrovnik and I do recommend getting the pass if staying in the old town for 3 or 4 days. You really got a good return for your money.
We walked the entire city walls which took us 2hrs from start to finish and the views were outstanding! This is one of those places that writing this blog really will not do it justice. You get some of the most amazing city views from the walls, not just the city but the island of Lokrum and the Adriatic Sea. I was honestly in proper tourist mode and I could not resist in taking photos every 3 seconds it seemed. After the walls, it was back to the stairs of shame (Game of Thrones Reference). We took some photos and then popped into the Cathradral. I had a further wander through the streets within the walls and there are so many little side streets everywhere. I felt like I needed a week just to explore the old town.
We then headed back for the bus (No.6) to take us back to the room. We got back and had another catch up with Milka who told us about being in Game of Thrones as an extra. It was fascinating hearing his stories and I thank Milka for sharing those with us. It only felt right that after a day mostly aimed toward Game of Thrones we watched a little on the TV before finally going to bed at about 22:45hrs after another brilliant day in Croatia. For my first day in Dubrovnik, I already felt that I would enjoy it here. Nevertheless, would it be better than our time in Split?
DAY6 – Lokrum Island day trip
It was a relaxed start to the day after a good night sleep. I did not set my alarm today but did wake up at 08:10am. Had a bowl of cereal and tea, got dressed/showered and we made our way into Old Town again. I left the accommodation at 09:35am and it was already a hot day. I was just in t-shirt and shorts. The temperature once we got to Old Town was already hitting 20C and it is not even 10am yet! We got the No.6 bus from outside the hostel and it dropped us off right outside the main city gates (Pile Gate).
We walked to the Srd Mountain Cable Car. I queued for around 15mins, paid my 200 Kuna and got on cable car. Within 5 mins I was up at the top of the mountain. The views were outstanding. I could see into the distance for miles. Srd is a major tourist attraction in the city so I do recommend getting there early or much later in the day.
There is a hiking/walking trail up the mountain and there is a road. However, the most popular and quickest is the cable car. Once at the top there is a visitor centre and restaurant and in the summer months, the restaurant is one of the best places in town to watch the sun set while having dinner. During the day, however they serve light lunches, tea, coffee, and cakes. As I mentioned the views of Dubrovnik are outstanding, on a clear day you can see up to 30 miles along the coast.
After about 1hr and 20mins I came back down. We went and had a coffee, it was now nearly lunchtime so we headed for the “lokrum” ferry. It cost 160 Kuna return (1 adult) with the Dubrovnik pass, which gave us a 25% discount. We boarded the ferry and headed over to the island. The Island of Lokrum is a nature reserve, protected park and makes for a great family day out. The island was lovely, beautiful views, great hiking trials and loads of local wildlife. We saw the game of thrones, Throne. Which we all sat in. We then headed up the hill to the fort for the some brilliant views of the sea and Dubrovnik. From the fort it was time to do some swimming, we headed for the sea. It was 14:00hrs by now and really hot and warm.
This is where I got to try cliff jumping for the first time and I jumped off some cliffs into the ocean! It was a load of fun but I was starting to get cold and a little tired. After that, I did find somewhere different to swim. We found the dead sea area which is a natural lake (sea water) feed from the sea underneath. A small tidal pool. We got in and had a little swim, however it was not long before I started to get cold and so It was time to get out. I got dressed and headed for the ferry back to the main land. We got the 16:45 ferry back to the Old Town.
Once we got back into Old Town we grabbed some food as we didn’t have anything since breakfast. We ended up sharing a meat platter for two at “Konoba Scabecco”, which was great. Amazing service, great food and a really good price. It was a little cheaper for both of us to get this then a main meal each. It was more than enough food as well.
After the food we headed for the park where the “Purple Wedding” was filmed in Game of Thrones. From the park we finally got to watch the Croatian sunset on Dance beach for the first time. It was then time to head back into the Old Town to have a walk around the city while it was dark and all light up. It is a lovely place in the day and at night. We got the bus back to the accommodation at 21:25hrs and chilled in the room for a few hours after another excellent day in Dubrovnik. I fall asleep on the bed!
DAY7 – Museums in Dubrovnik
Woke up at 09:00am on our last full day in Croatia. It was raining when we woke up today but still feeling warm. We got up, showered, got dressed and then headed for Old Town. We stopped for breakfast and I had pancakes in a local restaurant called SNEK by Congo. It was then time to see some of the museums and see if I could learn something about Croatia and Dubrovnik. I wanted some time to get a feel for the history of a country I knew little about.
We stopped first at the Maritime Museum. As Dubrovnik is so closely linked to the ocean I thought, it would be a great place to start. The Maritime Museum is located within the Walls of the Old Town and is well signposted. It is generally a small museum, you really do not need much time to see everything, but although it might be small, it certainly does pack a punch.
Their collection includes over 4000 items that charts the growth and demise of Dubrovnik’s rich maritime history. I learned how power fall Dubrovnik became in shipbuilding and how important it was in history not just for Croatia but for Maritime history as well. Did you know: Dubrovnik used to be its own governed republic back in the 11th century? The Dubrovnik republic was also the first state in the world to develop and then enforce maritime insurance, which today is used all over the world.
After the maritime museum, it was time to check out another popular museum in the city. The Cultural History Museum inside Rectors Palace. A beautiful building in the heart of the Old Town. Again, it is a small museum, but is packed with many things to look at. From how local transport has evolved to how the city has now become one of the most popular places in the country. The highlight for me was the exhibits about the war. It was fascinating to see the videos and pictures of the city during the war and people that lived there. TOP TIP: Your Dubrovnik Pass gets you into both the above-mentioned museums for free. So, at no extra cost. You just show your pass at the entrance and you get access. I really recommend a visit to both of these wonderful museums.
We stayed a few hours and then headed for some lunch. As today would be our last full day in Croatia we wanted to sample some more local dishes. I was very keen to try something from the ocean, after all seafood is a Croatian speciality. (It is a staple of Croatian food). We found a place called “Gourmet” and I had “fish ragu” which was squid/octopus with pasta. It was delicious. I ate the entire thing and wanted some more. The restaurant was also in a brilliant location, the service was great, food was outstanding and I did not want to leave. However, the lure of ice cream temped me away. The Croatians really knew how to do ice cream.
The sun was back out in full force and it was getting really hot and muggy, after lunch we chilled for a little in Blackwater Bay before leaving Old Town and heading back to the room. We wanted to go swimming one last time at the local beach. However, it started to pour down with rain but it was still warm and muggy. We walked down to the Sunny beach in the pouring rain, not sunny at all. Andy got into the water. I did not as it was too cold for me but I was happy putting my feet in the sea. The rain kept coming and then it started lightening!
We quickly left the beach (we were the only ones there) and headed in land but I still kept filming. I grabbed some takeaway Pizza on the way back to the room and headed back to eat and watch Game of Thrones. We chilled eating, drinking and watching TV before then heading for bed at 23:45hrs ready to travel home tomorrow.
What a brilliant last day to end such a wonderful trip to Croatia.
How expensive is Split and Dubrovnik?
It is always a hot topic of conversation whenever I travel. One of the first questions I seem to always be asked is “How much did it all cost”, “was the food expensive” or “How much spending money do I need”? They are all great questions and I will try my best to answer them as always.
The first thing I wanted to share, Croatia is NOT CHEAP. There are plenty of other cheaper European destinations out there if money is the No.1 factor. However, if money is not the No.1 factor there are ways to make your hard earned cash go further. A typical meal in a restaurant in Old Town will cost approx. 120-150 HRK (approx. 15-£17), once you then start to add drinks, a starter and dessert your meal easily comes to 300-400 HRK (approx. £50-£60) per night. You are on holiday, so treating yourself is absolutely OK but if I did that every night of the trip, not only would I be the size of a small family car I would have also spent nearly 2800 HRK (approx. £330) just on food in a week and that is just one meal per day!
Here is a detailed look at the costs of this trip. (PLEASE NOTE: All costs are in Pound Stirling £)
TOP SAVING MONEY TIPS:
- Do not eat out every meal. The biggest costs you will face in Croatia is the cost of food and drink. However, I did find that in supermarkets the food was much more reasonable. I used to buy stuff at the supermarket that I could take back the accommodation. Eating food there, I was only paying for ONE meal per day out at a restaurant. I would have breakfast most mornings in the accommodation.
- Dubrovnik Passes. If you are visiting Dubrovnik, I highly recommend a city pass. It helped save money on public transport with use of the buses. It saved money on entrance fees to some of the city’s top attractions like the city walls and the Fort Lovrijenac. Just those two attractions alone cost 300 HRK. Which is how much the pass costs. You can also get one for 48hrs up to 10 days saving you even more money. I highly recommend getting these.
- Look for happy hour deals and special offers. Most bars and restaurants I saw in both Spilt and Dubrovnik had deals on at certain times of the day. We made sure we made the most of them when we could. We did not work our trip around these deals, but if were hungry we made notes of them and would head back the following day for example. We also had sharing platters, which is another way to save a little money.
- Book your excursions BEFORE YOU TRAVEL. We booked all our day trips and tours before we set off to Croatia and I did find that at least 80% of them were more expensive if I was to have booked while I was there. For example, Plitvice Lakes National Park day trip cost £50.81 for one adult. (approx. 435 HRK) I saw trips to the lakes while I was in Split for £63.54 (approx. 500 HRK) for one adult.
- Always SHOP around. It is necessary! It is also one of my top 10 travel tips. DO NOT always go for the first deal or price you see. Take some time to look around and shop around because 7 out of 10 times you will get it cheaper.
Croatia is a great destination for a holiday. It feels tropical and at times, I forgot I was still in Europe. Croatia is certainly not a cheap country to visit. The country offers some amazing activities, beautiful scenery and great food. What is their not to like about it?
I would urge some caution on when you visit. Croatia is mostly a seasonal country, by that I mean the population will change with the seasons. This means that during the summer months in some of the hot spots like Zadar, Hvar, Spilt and Dubrovnik the population change triple with the influx of tourists. This does put a strain on the local infustructer, meaning you are queuing for longer, everything is more expensive and everywhere is always full.
My advice would be visit Croatia in shoulder season, ideal months would be May and September. The weather is still warm, everything is open but there are not as many tourists.
Our accommodation in both destinations was excellent. We stayed in two hostels to help keep the costs down. They were both brilliant locations, very clean and comfy beds. In Split we stayed at CroParadise Green Hostel which was right next to Diocletian Palace, easy walking distance from all the main attractions. In Dubrovnik we stayed in Dubrovnik Backpackers Hostel, I actually preferred this hostel while in Croatia. Although is was a 10 minute bus ride away from the Old Town the accommodation was excellent, the host was fantastic and the facilities were great. Loved the Game of Thrones TV room. I highly recommend hostels as a place to stay. They are often much cheaper then hotels and you can get private rooms with your bathrooms if that’s what you would prefer. I always use Hostel World when booked hostels and looking for accommodation.
I loved my trip to Croatia. The country is beautiful, the people are extremely friendly and the food was great. There are also loads of things to see and do. There are stunning national parks, incredible beaches, great hiking trails and loads of history. I most certainly do recommend a trip to Croatia. Here is the link to check available flights. I also highly recommend you check out my top 10 travel tips, they may help you save some time, money and stress!
Plan a trip to Croatia, I promise once you do. You will keep going back for more.
Until next time….