As promised, here is the itinerary of our travel to Croatia with some tidbits of interesting things that we did during our travels.
A small note before I begin – S and I are very adventurous, and cannot stay still for even a minute, so some activities that we did may not be best suited for an idyllic vacation. You will find the disclaimers of the ‘exhaustion’ level for the activities that we did, which entirely relies on our barometer, which, as you may have guessed, is slightly off. 😛
Snapshot of our Croatia trip: Dubrovnik-Split-Hvar-Plitvice-Zagreb
As I mentioned earlier, we preferred going from south to north (Dubrovnik to Zagreb) to save time and cost, as our next destination after Croatia was Slovenia. Usually, people prefer travelling from the north to south (Zagreb to Dubrovnik), but in our experience, since Dubrovnik and Split have a lot of activities, we could use all our energy and enthusiasm that bubbles at the beginning of every trip!
We divided our days in the following way:
Days 1 to 4 – Dubrovnik
‘Ragusa’ or Dubrovnik, is truly King’s Landing (hello Game of Thrones geeks!). The main attraction is the old city that is lined by the deep blue Adriatic on three sides, and a rich heritage inside the walls. Once you enter the Pile Gate (pronounced: Pilae), time turns back to the Middle Ages.
We have been told that Dubrovnik’s economy almost entirely relies on tourism, so be prepared to see thousands of tourists and dozens of travel agents luring you to sightsee with them. Visit the tourist info centre for details, and make sure you ask them about the tourist passes.
Make sure you’re ready to walk. Dubrov is full of small alleyways and streets with hundreds of staircases.
Here is a list of things to do in Dubrov:
- Visit the formidable City Walls of Dubrovnik. Your tour isn’t complete without it! It is a 2-hour walk around the old town with a spectacular vista of the old town and the Adriatic Sea.
Exhaustion Level: Medium. Depends on the time of the day you visit. While early morning and late evening are preferable, afternoons are all about clear skies and beautiful pictures. Be prepared to heave, ho and sweat!
- Take the historical tour of Dubrov. It’s a 1½ hour walking tour and you’ll get the guide right outside the tourist information centre outside the Pile Gate.
Exhaustion Level: Low.
- Game of Thrones tour, yo! If you’re a fan, take the 1½ hour walking tour across the city. The tour has a good mix of Game of Thrones facts, sights for the shooting and the history of the city.
Exhaustion Level: Low.
- See the museum, city hall and the churches inside Old Town. I would suggest walking inside the Old Town first to see what gets your attention.
- Go to Fort Lovrijenac. It’s a stand-alone fort outside Pile Gate that reveals a beautiful panorama of the sea. Our host suggested taking a packed picnic and some wine for dinner, sitting in the gardens in the back and enjoying the sunset from there (sun sets at 8:30 p.m.). We couldn’t explore this because the venue was booked for an event.
- Take the cable car up to Fort Imperial. There is a war museum up there, along with a panoramic restaurant. There is also a gallery for viewing the entire city atop this highest point in Dubrov. If you like hiking, take the walking trail up to the Fort. It takes approx. 1½ hours through a zig-zag path up the hill. It’s quite exhausting, so make sure you’re well hydrated. Before you walk, make sure you get the correct directions from the tourist information centre because finding the starting point of the trail can be confusing.
Exhaustion Level: Medium to High (for hiking)
- Take a half –day trip to Lokrum Island. (http://www.lokrum.hr/eng/). It is a UNESCO world heritage sight and a protected area, so a permit is required to enter. It is 600m away from Old Town and easily accessible by ferry (runs every 30 mins). The ticket price of the ferry will include the entry fee to Lokrum. Visit the various sights there, and again, for a brilliant view of the Old Town, hike up to Fort Royal at Lokrum. Another brilliant experience is swimming in a miniature version of the Dead Sea (Mrtvo more), an idyllic salt-filled lake in the island, which is popular because it is easy to swim in. And last but not the least, there is a replica of the Iron Throne in the monastery at the island, make sure you sit there and take lots of pictures!
Exhaustion Level: Low to Medium (depending on the hike to Fort Royal).
- Take the kayak tour (http://kayak-dubrovnik.com- their people wear blue shirts with “Sea Kayaking” written on it). The tour operates at specific times through the day. We took the sunset tour which was approx. 4-hours long. They take you to hidden caves, where you can snorkel and swim in the sea. There’s an added bonus of wine at the end of the tour!
Exhaustion Level: Medium. It tests your upper body strength.
- Lazy much? Head to Banje beach for some sun, shine and sea!
What to eat:
Apart from the bureks, and other savouries from the bakery, do not miss the black risotto and the ‘under the bell’ cuisine. Black risotto is heavy on seafood, made of cuttle fish, prawns and rice, and cooked with the black ink that comes out of the fish. It is available at restaurant Kamenice in Old Town. ‘Under the Bell’ is lamb / veal cooked for 5-6 hours under an iron bell, so make sure you tell the restaurant to prepare it a day in advance. We went to restaurant Mimoza (outside Pile Gate and opposite Hilton) but you can ask the locals at the tourist info centre for other options. Try to also visit restaurant Dubravka, a panoramic restaurant next to Fort Imperial atop the hill. Other recommendations from our host were Pizzeria Tabasco for pizza, and restaurant Gusta Me for a hearty breakfast.
What to drink:
Wine and beer of course! Try Karlovacko beer and Plavac wine for the local flavor, at your nearest café. For water, fill up your bottle at Onofrijeva fountain right at the entrance of the Old Town. Go to buza bar, it’s perfect for cliff jumping (if you can swim. I would recommend cliff jumping only if you have prior experience or under the supervision of someone local and experienced).
Day 5 to 6 – Split
Split exudes the vibe of a Riviera town, where you can walk the promenade and sit at the cafes by the Sea and enjoy your cup of coffee or drink. It is the second largest city and more heavily influenced by the Dalmatian culture than Dubrovnik.
- The focal point of Split’s tourist activity is the Diocletian’s Palace. It was built in 4th Century by Emperor Diocletian of the Roman Empire after abdicating his throne. The ruins of the palace will give you a glimpse of the mighty Roman empire and it’s glorious architecture. You can visit various museums there that capture the culture and history of Split. Depending on what you want to see, there are various passes available accordingly, so make sure you ask the tourist info centre about them. We saw the Temple of Jupiter, the Cathedral (Roman Mausoleum), the Bell Tower (another great place for a panorama of the city) and the crypt at the Palace.
- Visit Marjan, a viewpoint at Split to see the entire city at a glance. It is a 10-min walk to the top. Alternatively, you can see the city from the top of the Bell Tower at the Diocletian’s Palace.
- Several beaches flank the east and west sides of Split in case you want to relax and soak in the sun.
- Visit Hvar and various other islands that dot the Adriatic. You can opt for various tours that leave from Split, whose kiosks are located at the promenade leading to the port. We were planning to stay at Hvar so did not take a day trip to any of the islands.
- Take the Three Caves Tour! There are several companies that operate this tour, but we went with Illirios’ Three Caves Tour as it had the highest rating at the time of booking (http://www.ilirios-hvar-tours.com/three-caves-tour/). It is a day-long tour (12-hours approx. from Split and 10-hours from Hvar), which involves spending the day in a motorboat in the ocean (it’s not as easy as it sounds). The experienced guides give you a tour of various islands around Split (Bisevo, Hvar, Paklinski, Vis); take you the famous blue and green caves; and other interesting caves made of limestone. There are several places to swim in the ocean or in the caves, and lie on beaches on small islands (Stiniva Cove was named the best beach of Europe in 2016). There is a stopover for lunch at a small island with only one beach shack that gives some excellent seafood, Dalmatian style! (I had French fries :P). I very highly recommend taking this tour because it’s one of the best things I have experienced in Croatia. I not only swam in the Sea for the first time, but in underwater caves with a high tide, cliff jumped (under the guide’s supervision) and saw some beautiful sights around. It’s worth every hour of your day!
Exhaustion Level: Medium to High
What to eat:
Split’s cuisine has heavy Dalmatian influences, so the food there is more indigenous and authentic. So if you want to have some Croatian food, then this is the place to be. Our top recommendation is Villa Spiza, but make sure you go there at an odd hour (late afternoon) or very early (brunch) because the lines to eat there are at least an hour long. Our host also recommended Luxor, at the Diocletian’s palace (slightly expensive), and Konoba Marjan. For vegetarians, a vegan option is Hakrovega. For the best ice cream in Split, head to Ribula Luca. There is also an artisan bakery called Krusic that was recommended, but we could never get there on time! (it closes by afternoon).
Day 7 to 8 – Hvar Island
Hvar is the most populated and most luxurious island in the Adriatic. It is the most popular destination from Split, both in terms of stay as well as a day trip from Split. Various carriers operate from Split’s Port to the Hvar Port during the day: we took Jadrolinija for our voyage (http://www.jadrolinija.hr/en/ferry-croatia).
- Apart from the cathedral and the monastery, once again, Hvar has a fort atop the hill (10-min walk) for a vista of the town. You can also visit Stari Grad (the old town), if you’re a history buff. Travel from Hvar Town to Stari Grad by the local bus, which runs at specific times from the bus station at Hvar Town.
- You can also take the three caves tour, the sunset tour or visit individual islands (Bisevo, Vis, Paklinski) from Hvar Town.
Where to eat:
Hvar has the usual eateries dotted across the town. One tip from the locals: avoid eating at the restaurants that are right in the front of the port, instead, find restaurants one or two streets at the back, they give meals for half the price!
Where to drink:
Hvar is famous for it’s nightlife, and the two dominating (and expensive!) options are Carpe Diem Bar and Hula Hula Bar. If you’re a night owl, take the ferry from Carpe Diem Bar to Carpe Diem Beach located on a separate island. Carpe Diem Beach is considered to be one of the most exclusive beach clubs in the world!
Special Mention – Cast Away!
While doing our research, S stumbled upon a beautiful place for a staycation called Cast Away, which is nestled in the non-touristy parts of Hvar in Gromin Dolac. Staying at Cast Away is akin to camping – cook your meals, wash your dishes, use a flush free toilet, stay in a tent (albeit a wooden hut) and make friends with everyone around! The site of the place has lots of hammocks and common areas spread around to just relax and enjoy the view. Cast Away also has two beaches to relax, swim and snorkel around. It is relatively new so less advertised, but what a wonderful place to be! Check it out at http://castawayhvar.com.
Day 9 – Plitvice Lakes National Park
If you want to see all the beauty in just one day, head to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the national park spans across 16 crystalline lakes dotted with hundreds of waterfalls.
You can choose to either spend a night at Plitvice, at apartments near the villages outside the national park, or make a day trip from Zagreb. Our choice to stay at Plitvice was to space out our travel and experience living in Croatia’s hinterland.
All the sights in the national park are accessible through walking trails, which are designed depending on the amount of time you have at hand. Trails range between 2-3 hours (3,500m), 3-4 hours (4,000m), 4-6 hours (8,000m) and 6-8 hours (18300m). The most popular trail is the 8,000m trail, which involves walking, taking a boat, and a bus towards the end of the trip, so walking is minimized but all the sights are covered.
You can either carry food there and have a picnic or eat at one of the local restaurants at the entrances of the Park. Make sure you have good walking shoes and lots of water!
Day 10 to 11 – Zagreb
Last but not the least, the capital city of Croatia, the hustling bustling Zagreb! After a healthy dose of the sea, Zagreb is a city-break destination. Since we were exhausted towards the end, there was not much that we could do there, but these are some of the sights we saw:
- The Museum of Broken Relationships is a unique museum offer insight into people’s heartbreaks by displaying their stories with an every day object. It’s a wonderful place to explore art in a different form, and very cathartic for the soul.
- Apart from this, there are several museums and art galleries that dot Zagreb. Just pick up a brochure at the tourist info centre at the Zagreb city centre and take your pick!
- In the recent years Zagreb has developed a wonderful craft beer culture, so google the nearest craft beer pub near you and head out there!
- Head to Tkalčićeva Street, which is throbbing with bars and cafes. For a good option for craft beer, the Tolkien Pub (yes, it’s based on the Lord of the Rings theme) is right at the back of this street.
This is it from me. If you are interested in creating a detailed itinerary customized to suit your needs, then you can contact me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp or Bagpackerbear! I am happy to help!
P.S.: A piece of worldly advice from S. The best pictures of any place are just before sunrise. S woke up at 5 a.m. to take this picture, check it out and tell me what you think! Cheers!