Just about on every travel forum you can find; Croatia is HOT right now. As it should be. Gorgeous from the get go, from it's bucolic islands, to country villages and fortressed cities. Though not a large country, there is a lot to cover here. Living in a small town called Tisno for two months, I did not have enough time to cover even a fraction of the all the interesting and historic communities found here.
Flying into Split or Zadar, both super cheap and easy with daily flights from London....allowing for great coastal access. If cities are more your thing, than Zagreb is a better option. Though there are a number of local bus companies serving both individually and on tours, the best way to get around is with a car. Be wary however, many of the smaller coastal or village roads, do not have well signed speed limits and there are plenty of traps laid for the weary traveler. Never fear, should you be pulled over, be prepared to pay the charges right there with your policeman. Smile, say you are sorry, hand over the 1000 Kuna ( or whatever it happens to be) and go on your marry way. Try to average in the 30- 60 km per hour range, and you should be fine, slowing down in obvious communities, use common sense, stop for pedestrians. These roads are crazy busy during the summer, with adults, children, dogs, cats...all crossing and not paying any attention to the traffic coming their way. Uber is available too, unlike much of Eastern Europe, and can be a great option as well, when going from point A to point B.
As mentioned, I based myself in Tisno, next to the island Murter and just outside of Sibenik. A little over 2 hours to the bustling waterfront of Split, about half that to the incredible Krka National Park or the lovely seaside town of Zadar. Plitvice Lakes will take about 3 hours from here, same for Zagreb. With more islands and beaches and villages than you can count, in between them all. Perfect for bicycle riding, boating or wandering at your leisure. We stayed in a two bedroom apartment at Lilly's Cozy Cove, and can't recommend it enough. Not needing a vehicle for most of our trip, easily walkable into town for groceries and pubs, with fabulous beaches and the local bus stop, a handful of meters away. The owners are from North Carolina, with Laura growing up in Croatia, offering amazing insight into this countries recent trauma as well as local culture and travel recommendations. If you are into riding, Joe is a superb guide, and can take you on some fabulous off road trips throughout the region and as an extra bonus, a fabulous chef!
Though I did not make it to Dubrovnik, I did get to Sibenik a handful of times. Also a UNESCO World Heritage listed city, surrounded by a wall located on the Adriatic Sea. With it's St. James Cathedral decorated with 71 sculptured faces, or the massive St. Michaels fortress, to the 14th century Prince's Palace; this is my favorite town of all, though touristy, not to the degree of Split and Zadar, or from what I have heard about Dubrovnik. I love to travel and experience new cultures, but walking through a wall of people is not my idea of fun, which is exactly the case in most of Croatia during the summer months. Be prepared. None of these cities have adequate parking, all are over run with visitors from around the globe, many also have cruise ships inundating their cobblestone streets by the masses. If you can get accommodation in an area which you don't need a car, this is a great option. Besides the lack of parking, the more scenic routes are a slow crawl of vehicles going from one seaside village to the next. Arriving in May gave us a great head start on exploring before the crowds arrived in mid June. While in Split, take time to wander the grand white marble promenade or climb to the top of the bell tower, take in Diocletian’s Palace and the Salona. Whilst in Zadar, be sure to hang out along the sea organ and dance at night on the huge solar powered sun dial. With so much to see and do in just this short burst of communities, allow for a minimum of a few weeks, to explore fully.
Dalmatia offers the clearest, bluest waters....but rarely a sandy beach. Be sure to bring good water shoes with you, and try to only swim from a dock or in a location with public access, as there are a slew of sea urchins. These beautiful creatures can't hurt you, but their spines can easily become lodged in toes if you are not paying attention. With so much water around, taking a few ferry rides to random islands is a must, as well as a kayaking trip and private boat hire or tour. We spent a day with Peak and Paddle, which was great fun, off the coastline of Zarin, an island we took a ferry from in Sibenik. On another day, I was convinced to sign up for a 10 km hike on the island of Preko ( I barely survived this "hike" and is a story in itself) , just off the coast from Zadar. Also from Zadar, a private tour to Kornati National Park, only accessible by boat, and simply spectacular. All of these locations completely dog friendly, with our little girl, JeliBën with us on most occasions. Ferries are fairly straightforward and easy to use, with most crossings only lasting 15-30 minutes.
As you can easily see, there is a lot to do, and I haven't even mentioned Zagreb or Pula or any number of towns dotting the coast or islands. If you are not a fan of crowds, avoid this region during June, July and August. The weather is lovely year round, but especially fantastic during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. Come prepared to be flexible, take time exploring off the beaten path locations. Go to random village markets, learn a handful of local sayings. Dober dan = Good day and hvala = thank you, two good ones to know. With a plethora of wineries, museums and interesting towns filled with history and character, you simply can't go wrong with the stunning landscapes this beautiful country has to offer. Be sure to stay tuned for another post specifically geared towards Krka and Plitvice, as both are a must do, with former being my personal favorite.
As always, I am happy to help with any itineraries or logistics with your trip to Dalmatia.
We also drove from Tisno to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, via Serbia,
so I have a lot to offer on road conditions, towns, distances and crowds. Travel opens your minds and opens your heart, I can't wait to hear where you are heading off to next.