Where to Go
A relatively unknown city 20 years ago, Dubrovnik catapulted into the public eye following the release of HBO’s Game of Thrones in 2011 – although it should have been a favourite long before this. Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Adriatic” Dubrovnik is one of the best places to visit in the whole of the Mediterranean. Tucked away right on the southernmost tip of the Croatian mainland, it was first established during the 7th century, and the distinctive orange rooftop houses sits beautifully against the blue sky and tranquil ocean. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring old defensive walls, cobblestoned streets, palaces, and ancient churches.
The main island off the Dalmatian coastline of Croatia, Hvar is favoured by tourists and locals alike thanks to the spectacular beaches, lavender fields, lush vineyards, and exceptional atmosphere. Hvar Town is the main – and pretty much only major city on the island, with 13th century walls, marble stone streets, Gothic palaces, an imposing old fortress, and everything you could ask for from a cultural delight to explore.
Known as the “Mediterranean Flower”, Split is the second largest city in Croatia. A fantastic place to visit for a number of reasons, the main pull of the city is the interesting blend of Gothic and Renaissance architecture which is perfect reflected in the Diocletian’s Palace. The palace was first built between 298 and 305 A.D. by the Romans Empire, and it’s now essentially its own small city with a maze of marble walkways, shops, cafes and bars.
Not technically one place, but an archipelago of 20 islands with the Old Town of Rivinj set on a small peninsula. Rovinj is, quite honestly, just beautiful. It’s possible to spend hours wandering the narrow cobblestoned streets, passing under ancient arches, and generally admiring the interesting architecture. The sites include a 12th century town clock and the iconic St. Euphemia’s Basilica and its numerous art works hidden away inside.
The city of Zadar is over 3000 years old, so as you can probably imagine it is home to some beautiful sites. Nestled along the northern Dalmatian coastline, it’s known as the ideal tourist gateway – or the perfect start to a backpacking trip – because it perfectly showcases all the best that Croatia has to offer. The Old Town can be found right in the heart of the city, containing Roman ruins, medieval architecture, numerous old churches, and more, and there’s also a number of fantastic beaches that are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, relaxing, and a whole range of water-based activities. It really is the best of both worlds.
What to Do
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
One of the most charming parts of Hvar, the St. Stephen’s Cathedral is an incredible sight, with a renaissance bell tower that can be seen from all over the city, and is lit up during the evenings as the sun hits the white stones. Inside, the cathedral is full of renaissance art, with pieces by Palma Junior, Juan Boschettus, Stefano Celesti, and an unknown artist who created the iconic Madonna and Child during the 1200s.
Blue and Green Caves
Only accessible if you take a mini guided motorboat tour around the island, seeing the blue and green caves is well worth it. Ravnik Island is the home of Green Cave, where the sunlight hits the water in such a way that there is an ethereal emerald green glow. Blue Cave can be found along the shoreline of Bisevo Island, where a neon light is created thanks to sunlight reflecting on the sand.
The Diocletian’s Palace is notable for being one of the most imposing ancient Roman structures that still exists today – and has been preserved incredibly well. not technically a palace, or even a museum today, it’s the heart of the city of Split, consisting of labyrinth streets packed with people, bars, shops, and restaurants. The Palace was originally built to be a military fortress, imperial residence, and fortified town all in one, and it has been added to and updated consistently since its creation during the 300s.
Venetian Loggia and Clock Tower
An incredible example of renaissance architecture, the Venetian Loggia in Hvar’s town was once a part of the governor’s palace, and although it is predominately a renaissance architectural design, it has actually been on the site since as early as the 1300s. The clock tower that’s there is actually a much later addition, having been installed during the 18th century – replacing one that was there a few hundred years before, but was destroyed during an Ottoman attack.
Paklenica National Park
The Paklenica National Park covers an area of 95 square kilometres, and it is home to some of the most exquisite and beautiful mountain scenery across the country. Here, avid adventure enthusiasts can enjoy trekking up the numerous gorges, climb walls of stone, and wander along tiny paths next to rushing streams.
Read More About Croatia
Best Time to Visit Croatia
July and August are Croatia’s peak seasons thanks to the blissfully hot weather – but this also means there are a lot of tourists, and the major tourist hot spots can be incredibly busy. Contrastingly, winter can be a lot cooler and, in some places, actually cold, so for weather purposes the best times to visit are the shoulder seasons: May and September, notably.
It’s worth noting that the months between October and April a lot of places are closed, while the offering of activities and excursions is a lot more limited, and it can be very quiet on the islands.
In terms of festivals and events, the Ultra Music Festival takes place every July in Split, and Soundwave Croatia takes place in Tisno – also in July. There’s also Outlook Festival in pula in September, and the Infternational Folklore festival in Zagreb in July.
How Much Does it Cost
Croatia doesn’t use the Euro, which typically suggests it’s quite cheap to travel around but unfortunately that’s not the case here. While there are plenty of things to do and ways to keep the costs down, typically it’s an expensive place to see – and only getting more expensive as the tourism industry booms.
A daily budget here could be $45-70, assuming you’re staying in hostels, enjoying cheap street food, and using public transport.
Typical costs while backpacking across Croatia:
One of the best ways to backpack through Croatia on a budget is to skip the hostels altogether and try camping. The country is home to plenty of stunning mountains, lakes, sprawling forests, hidden castle ss and more, and camping helps get you off the beaten track and exploring all these hidden treasures.
It’s also a good idea to try and cook your own food – which is fairly easy on a travel stove if you’re camping. Plus, bring a travel water bottle with you and keep that topped up. Not only are you saving on the cost of bottled water, but you’re also helping the environment.
What to Pack
Backpacking across Croatia is fairly simple in terms of what to pack, because there aren’t’ any specific dress considerations to take into account. Of course, you can try and dress like the locals, which often means sophisticated clothing with bright colours, but this isn’t crucial.
You only really need the essentials for Croatia – eveyrthing else you can probably get there, and if you can’t then the likelihood is you don’t need them. Think shorts, dresses, t shirts, towels, walking boats, sandals, sun cream, swimming costumes, mosquito repellent, toiletries, and a first aid kit.
Hostels in Croatia are typically cheaper than a lot of countries in Europe, but that doesn’t mean they’re exceptionally cheap or even anything special. Plus, these are only really an option along the coast or on the islands, simply because inland Croatia is less in demand.
During the summer, it’s crucial to book your accommodation ahead of time, but if the weather is good then bring a tent with you and camp under the stars wherever you can. That way, you have the freedom to sleep pretty much wherever you want, without having to break the bank.
Food and Drink
Croatian food is pretty complex, and you could probably visit every year for a decade and not try the same thing twice. It’s been influenced by some of the best cuisines in the world: Italian, Middle Eastern, Ottoman and more, all combining to create the staple Balkan food.
One such Croatian delicacy is an octopus salad, which can be found on the menu of pretty much every traditional restaurant along the Dalmatian coast. Olive oil is also a famous Croatian delicacy; consumed around the world, it first came from this Mediterranean part of the world, with the oldest living olive tree here said to be at least 1600 years old, first planted by the Romans.
For special occasions, Croatians love a plate of pasticada with gnocchi. Pasticada is essentially top round or rump steak, pierced with a knife and stuffed with garlic, cloves, and bacon, and then marinated overnight in vinegar. It’s then placed in a pan with onions, parsley root, bacon, nutmeg and prunes, covered with water and Prosek (Dalmatian sweet dessert wine) and then roasted for five hours.
In terms of drinks, you can’t leave without trying Croatian wine. The wine history of Croatia dates back thousands of years, and they’ve really learnt how to make some cracking wines.
Croatia is tucked away in a part of the world where numerous different cultures intertwine and converge, meaning the languages are muddled, the history is shared, and traditions are important.
A few things to bear in mind when backpacking through Croatia:
- Only close friends tend to use first names, so don’t start with these unless you’ve been invited to
- People typically socialise over a cup of coffee
- Greet people as you pass them causally around the workplace or in public
- Croatians are extremely punctual and expect others to be on time
- People tend to dress neatly and modestly
- It is considered rude to place one’s hands below the table
Croatian is the main language of Croatia, although English will typically be spoken across the major tourist areas and in the main cities. A difficult language to learn, it’s nevertheless important to pick up a few Croatian phrases if you’re planning on travelling through the rural countryside.
With that in mind, here are some handy phrases to help you get around Croatia:
- Bok / Zdravo
- Mogu li kampirati ovdje?
- Je li ovo autobus za… ?
- Izgubljen sam
- Kako si?
- Govorite li engleski?
- Zao mi je, ne govorim hrvatski
- Hi / Hello
- I’m Sorry
- Can I camp here?
- Is this the bus for… ?
- I am lost
- How are you?
- Do you speak English?
- I’m sorry, I don’t speak Croatian
Croatia is fairly small, which makes it pretty easy to get around – thankfully. It’s also very well connected with bus transport links, and ferries to get to and from the smaller islands.
In addition, it’s pretty safe to hitchhike through Croatia if you’re on a really tight budget, and this can be handy across the smaller islands and in some of the more rural parts of the mainland where the public transport is less reliable.
If you’re a European citizen, all you need is an ID card to show your identity – you don’t even need a passport to visit. Citizens of the USA, Australia, Canada and the UK can get a 90-day visa on arrival.
The country officially became part of the EU in 2013, but they’re not yet part of the Schengen area which means a passport is required if you want to travel from Croatia to any other EU state.
Is It Safe?
Overall, Croatia is a very safe place to visit. apart from the usual safety concerns of any major cities – like not going out alone, in the dark, after a few drinks – it’s safe to travel through, and even safe to travel alone as a woman.
The biggest concerns to our safety can be the extreme weather. Croatia is known for its lovely hot summers, but the winters can get extremely cold – especially in the mountains, so make sure you have the right gear and warm clothing.
A Brief History
The first settlers to Croatia set up camp as early as 500 A.D., ruling the country for over 500 years. That is, until the Hungarian empire marched their way across the border in 1091, when Croatia decided to join forces through an agreement called the Pacta Conventa.
During the 1400s, the Ottoman Empire began to expand, so Croatia asked Archduke Ferdinand if they could join the Austrian Habsburg Empire to avoid a detrimental conflict with the Ottomans.
Then, in 1868, Croatia was again under the control of Hungary, which lasted until WWI when they became part of Yugoslavia. The onset of WWII brought with it terrible consequences for Croatia under German and Italian rule, and after the war Marshal Tito led the communist part to take over control of Yugoslavia.
Communism collapsed in Yugoslavia during the 1990s, and during that same decade Croatia declared its independence, prompting a civil war. The war between the Croatians and Serbians raged for a number of years, until December 1995 saw the Dayton peace agreement signed, bringing with it peace to the country.
- Croatia is lucky to have more than 2715 hours of sunshine every year
- Croatians invented the parachute, torpedo, mechanical pencil, MP3 Player, and the Maglite torch
- Hum is one of the world’s smallest towns, with a population of just 20
- The island of Brac has a beach that changes its shape after the winds
- There are 1244 islands, isles, and inlets to explore
- One third of the country is covered with forests
- Croatians are the 4th heaviest alcohol consumers in the world
- There is an unknown number of dialects, and some of them are so distinct that people from other regions would have a hard time understanding them
If you really want to make the most of your time in Croatia, then check out these useful resources. When you’re backpacking, it’s always better to be safe and prepared than winging it.
- Links incoming