Croatia is an eastern European Country which placidly lies on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Croatia (Hrvatska in Croatian) is a beautiful melange of nature, heritage and modern vibes. We did a countrywide Croatian road-trip in April 2018. Here are some descriptions of our experiences and details of our itinerary to get a gauge of the different things one can do in Croatia in 15 days
We landed in Zagreb and drove down to Pula, which is a coastal town situated in Istria, the heart shaped peninsula to the north west of Croatia. We started off from Pula as we were drawn by the enchanting amphitheatre, the Pula Arena. It is a lesser known but one of the most well preserved Roman amphitheatres. It is the only one which has all the four towers intact. This impressive first century monument was worth taking the detour. The old town of Pula showcasing the Temple of Augustus , the Arch of Sergii , and idyllic old town alleys was a perfect start for our Croatian Adventure.
Brijuni National Park
Croatia is home to a bunch of spectacular national Parks. Brijuni National Park is a short ferry ride from the quaint little town of Fazana which is a 20 min drive from Pula. Brijuni is a pallete of nature’s colours with the stunning blue sea at the backdrop and the serene green forests. The entry ticket to the national park includes a ride into the island train which takes you through the pleasing paths between the trees. An Olive tree which is 1700 years old and still bears fruits can be seen here on Brijuni Islands. After the train ride, we treated ourselves by renting an electric golf car and made the most of the day by roaming all over the island. The remains of the Roman villa rustica from 1 Century BC are preserved on the island.
The name itself was so interesting that we took a spur of the moment decision to take a detour to this pretty town. Hum is officially the smallest town in the world. In 2011, its population was 21. Hum is on the way from Pula to Rijeka and we took the highway exit directed towards Hum. We left the modern travel scenes and suddenly entered the charming countryside scenes. The road was so pretty that we took innumerable halts just to adore the view.
We kept on driving by the road directions and were a bit skeptical at a point as ours was the only car in on the road in sight and the town was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly after a steep hill climb we saw an adorable entrance to the town of Hum with a ticket counter. We parked and meandered along the cute stoned paths in the smallest town in the world. Hum had some of the cutest souvenir shops and cafés we had ever seen. According to the legends, giants built Hum from the rocks left after building other towns in the valley.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
There has to be an entirely separate blog for describing the happiness derived from every single minute that we spent at Plitvice. We drove from the Pula to Plitvice and took all the country side routes to soak in nature at its best. Plitvice Lakes National Parks is one of the most popular parks in Croatia and is visited by thousands of visitors every year. It has a spectacular setting of 16 terraced lakes formed by cascading waterfalls. The park is marked with trails based on time and distance. Some areas of the park can also be covered by boats and electric buses. We chose the longest trail and walked 18 kms of extraordinarily picturesque landscapes. The paths go through the forests, along the lake, on top of the lake and also from under the waterfalls at some instances. Moments at Plitvice are a struggle between keeping the camera down and losing the sights if you are clicking! For us, Plitvice tops the list of Croatian experiences and lives up to its craze. We were so lucky to have visited in the off season (Early June till Early September marks the peak season) and to have had many of the amazing spots pretty much to ourselves! The sound of the waterfall right after you enter the park stays with you all over the trail and it feels like you are walking right into a national geographic documentary.
Plitvice can be also visited as a day tour from Zagreb or Zadar but we recommend staying there for at least 2 days so you can explore the park for one entire day. We reached the entrance 15 mins before it opening time of 8 and were amongst the first people to rush inside!
The big waterfall at Plitvice Lakes national park (Veliki Slap) is one of the star attractions. Photos cannot do justice to its size and feel. Standing there in front of the waterfall, inhaling the cool breeze and feeling the small droplets on your arms was unimaginably refreshing.
Our next stop in the Croatian Adventure was Zadar. Zadar is known for its prehistoric old town as well as the modern day harbour. Zadar is known for its spectacular sunsets. Zadar Old Town has a plethora of old Roman buildings as well as archeological ruins. Another interesting aspect of Zadar is the architectural marvel of Sea Organ built on the seaside promenade (Riva). The stone steps are built in such a way that when sea waves crash on them it sounds like an organ. We sat there for an hour almost listening to the melodious sea organ. Just next to the Sea Organ is another unique creation of a 22-m wide circular structure made of glass plates called ‘Salutation to the Sun’ . The Glass plates absorb the sun’s energy during the day and illuminates during the night past sunset. The place is vibrant and full of tourists, locals and kids during the evening, a sight surely not to be missed!
Split is the second largest city in Croatia and on the Dalmatian coast. Since we started out journey from the Istrian county, making our way through the pristine countryside of Croatia, this was the first time that we encountered a big city. The old city of Split is known for the Unesco Heritage site of the Diocletian’s Palace. We stayed in an ancient stoned home, right next to the palace and it was an unforgettable experience.
The Diocletian’s Palace is very well maintained and has enormous structures and an immensely large basement. The Roman Emperor had a wish that the ships should enter the palace from the sea directly and he could enter the palace without leaving the deck and had instructed the palace be built accordingly. There is still some archeological excavation going on in the old town. The palace forms the majority of the old town and a stroll inside the palace with a little bit of your imagination can trigger historic feels! A few scenes of the world famous TV series Game Of Thrones were shot at Split. The basement of the Diocletian’s Palace was used to frame the dragons home shown in the series. We were thrilled to see the open roof and could not resist from replicating the pictures of open roofs that we took at Khidrapur and Gondeshwar in India. It is surprising to see how history is connected through similarities in structures throughout the world
Another World Heritage Site, Trogir is a tiny island town connected to the mainland and to the bigger island of Ciovo with a single bridge. Trogir is a around an hours drive from Split. The car free old town of Trogir is a delight to walk with the pebbled roads all around the pretty shops and cafés.
There are plenty of options to visit various islands along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. With some basic research we finalised Korcula and in retrospect, was one of the best decisions. Korcula is a 2-3 hours ferry ride from Split. We took the early morning ferry and reached Korcula around 10am. The very first sight of the island was fascinating! The cool blue sea along the pretty old town on one side and the forest of the island on the other side was a treat to the eyes! The water on the shore was so clear that we could almost see the bottom of the sea where the sunrays reached!
We rented a scooter to explore the island. The island is approx 46 kms long and 7 kms wide. Riding the scooter alongside the ocean was a super enthralling experience. The most beautiful bay at the Pupnatska Lupa on the island where the sea came in through a small fjord was like a dream! The old town of Korcula was small but delightful! The setting of restaurants along the sea and the old town was extremely elegant. We could have stayed here for a month without getting bored! After witnessing the calm stress free life of the locals here our city lives where we run by the minute seemed so unpleasant.
The most known town of Croatia, Dubrovnik is the southernmost town in Croatia. An interesting fact: one highway that goes to Dubrovnik passes through Bosnia and Herzegovina. We took a ferry from Korcula to Dubrovnik. The old town of Dubrovnik (King’s Landing from Game of Thrones) is one of the most beautiful old towns in Croatia. Situated at a lower altitude than the new town, you have to climb down around 100-150 steps to reach the old town and climb up again if you want to reach the bus/ferry station or the airport. The old town has an amazing feel of the history and most of the buildings are preserved as they are.
We took the 2-3 hour walk on the Walls of Dubrovnik and could see stunning sea-side landscapes and also enchanting views of the old town form the top. The Dubrovnik Cable Car also gives some stunning views from the nearby hill. Lokrum island, which is a 15 min ferry ride from Dubrovnik is a nature’s paradise with the Game of Thrones Exhibit in the Tourist Centre. As we had visited so many more beautiful natural sites of Croatia prior to visiting Lokrum we were a bit disappointed, as it was smaller, more crowded and much more expensive. But Dubrovnik Old Town stole the show for us and we spent all the time that we had wandering along the old town arcades.
We had kept the capital as our last destination as we were flying back from Zagreb. We took the domestic flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb. Zagreb surprised us totally. We had an inhibition that being a large city, it could be intimidating as, so far, our experience in Croatia was limited tothe old town and village side of Croatia. But Zagreb proved our inhibitions wrong and welcomed us with beautiful gardens and mesmerising city squares. The city is so well planned that the map looked like a lovely maze. We walked along the new city roads and also explored the old town. St Marks Church and the Cathedral were lovely sights and so was the National Theatres and surrounding areas. Zagreb has a heritage funicular railway which recently completed 125 years. It is preserved extraordinarily and a 4 kuna joy ride was a lovely experience. We witnessed the flower and the vegetable markets. The pace with which the entire place got cleaned after the markets were closed was phenomenal. We did a horse-shoe trail which takes us around Zagreb’s beautiful gardens. The tram ride through the town concluded our Zagreb exploration and we pinned the city in our list of favourites.
The entire 15 day journey through Croatia was mesmerizing. The Croatian people are very warm and hospitable. We came across some amazing locals form the airbnbs where we stayed in. Public transport in Croatia is fabulous and so is the self drive. You can easily plan your own trip around this lovely country. One prominent thing that we observed in Croatia was, we did not see a single person stuck to his/her phone/tablet. That was such a comforting sight. It restored our faith in human emotions a bit! This was a very unlike the typical phone-glued scenes we saw in Thailand, Singapore, Belgium or Germany.
We are sharing a few points which helped us before ending the blog. Have you visited Croatia? Would love to read about your stories in the comments!
How to reach
Most of the towns have airports. Zagreb and Dubrovnik have good international connectivity. The airports are usually at least 20km away from the town but there is an airport shuttle to take to you the main town if you don’t want to spend on taxis. You can also take international ferries from Italy. Check on visa requirements beforehand.
Public transport in Croatia is a bliss! Buses are more frequent than trains as the distances are not much. The farthest two main towns of Zagreb and Dubrovnik are just 600kms away. Car rentals are available everywhere. You drive on the right hand side of the road (opposite to India) and the road rules are pretty strict. But you don’t need to worry if you are a good driver. The islands are very well connected with ferries. You can also book tickets online as well as get them on the spot. In the heavy tourist season from June-August, it is better to book tickets beforehand.
Where to stay
All towns in Croatia have apartments with star ratings. Most of them usually come with a small kitchen. We had some super experiences through Airbnb and Booking.com. The one we stayed at near Plitvice lakes national parks remains our favourite till date! There are plenty options available from basic to luxury and you can chose according to your budget and requirement.
Where to Eat
There are plenty of restaurants in the old towns and near the tourist places. Though you wouldn’t get much variety of food everywhere, you can find eating places which serve pretty much the same thing. Eating out can be expensive if you are on budget. We did a combination of eating out and buying groceries from the super markets and cooking in our apartment kitchens.
Please have a look at our travel video here