8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Croatia

What is Croatia like? Think crystal-clear water, gorgeous beaches, stunning waterfalls, and picturesque towns. Nomad Ellen shares her tips on things to do in Croatia, when to go, what makes it worth visiting, and how to get off the beaten path.


A panoramic view of Split from the cathedral campanile Photo © Getty Images/cuellar

Croatia is one of my all-time favorite destinations – and I’ve discovered there’s a lot more to it than the iconic (and overtouristed) towns and crowded resorts. Here’s what to know before you visit.

1. Head for Croatia's lesser-known islands

Hvar is renowned for its glitzy, jet-set resorts and nightlife, but there are scores of other islands to choose from – many equally beautiful and charming, but much less noisy and crowded. Take the island of Cres (pronounced stress as in, “no stress in Cres”), where I was fortunate to spend 10 tranquil days. Though it’s one of the largest Croatian islands, it’s also one of the least developed, with lots of hidden beaches, historic hill towns, and seaside taverns instead of nightclubs.

Beli, an ancient hilltop village on the Croatian island of Cres.
The hilltop village of Beli on Cres. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

2. Explore beyond Dubrovnik and visit Zadar and Rovinj

With its iconic city walls and marble streets, Dubrovnik is famous for good reason. But it’s certainly not the only Croatian city worth exploring. I fell hard for Zadar, with its cozy, maze-like Old Town and the quirky art installations along its promenade. One, the Sea Organ, creates music through wave action, while Greeting to the Sun is a piece that collects sunlight by day to create a solar-powered light show at night.

Greeting to the Sun, a solar-powered art installation in Zadar, Croatia.
Greeting to the Sun, a solar-powered art installation in Zadar. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

Or there’s the ridiculously picturesque city of Rovinj, on the Istrian peninsula. Though it can’t be called undiscovered, it may be the world’s best place to sit with a drink, on cushions along the rocky shore, and watch the sunset over the Adriatic.

3. Save money – travel in the shoulder seasons

Croatia is much more expensive – and busier – in the high season summer months (June, July, August) than in September and May. During high season, visitors flock here from all over the world, quiet villages turn into raging party towns, and cruise ship passengers overwhelm port cities such as Dubrovnik and Split. Prices are much lower and accommodations much more plentiful in the spring and fall. I’ve visited in both May and September – in May, the water was a bit chilly for swimming in the north, but very pleasant in the south. The weather in September was ideal throughout the country.

4. Check out Croatia’s waterfalls

Not all of Croatia’s beauty is on the coast. Inland, there are spectacular waterfalls. About two hours from Zagreb or Zadar, Plitvice Lakes National Park is home to a series of 16 turquoise lakes, connected by waterfalls and lined with boardwalks for strolling from one to the other without damaging the delicate terrain. It’s gorgeous any time of year, but especially in the autumn, when the leaves change color. We found it stunning even on a rainy, overcast day (pack a poncho).

At Krka National Park, about an hour from Zadar or Split, the impressive cascades are brilliant for swimming beneath.

Waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and autumn foliage at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.
Plitvice Lakes National Park. Photo credit: Getty Images/Remedios

5. Pack aqua shoes for coast walking/swimming

Croatia’s beaches are beautiful, but they are rocky – expect pebbles rather than sand – and you need to watch out for sea urchins. Some of the best, hidden beaches also require a scramble down a hillside.

A woman enjoys the water at a beautiful, pebbly beach on the Croatian island of Korcula.
A pebbly beach on the Croatian island of Korcula. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

Before you leave home, pack a pair of shoes you can wear over rocky or slippery surfaces. If you're already in Croatia and can't find a pair, a grippy pair of sandals should do the trick.

6. Be sun smart in Croatia

Don't forget to pack sunscreen for your trip. The sun can be very strong – don‘t underestimate it, even under the cloud cover. A sunburn can ruin your holiday, so be sun smart.

Pack a hat and sunglasses, too, and remember to apply your sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go swimming, and reapply liberally once you're dry and out of the water.

7. Istria could be confused for Tuscany

With its Venetian-style clock towers, medieval hill towns constructed from golden stone, vineyards, olive-oil tastings, and truffle cheese, the Istrian peninsula resembles its close neighbor Italy. It's not surprising as Istria was part of Italy for much of its history – Italian is its second language, and many of the signs are in both languages. Though the coast is quite developed and can get very touristy, the inland towns and villages are peaceful and rustic; we stayed at an agritourism hotel with two retired truffle pigs in residence.

The village of Momjan in the interior of Croatia's Istrian peninsula.
The village of Momjan in the Istrian interior. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

8. Croatian food is amazing

As well as the delicious, Italian-influenced food and wine in Istria, the dish that I still dream about is one I tried in Lapad, on the outskirts of Dubrovnik. Called “fish under the bell,” it’s a slab of fish with potatoes, cooked under embers inside a terracotta dome. It sounds simple, but it’s buttery perfection. It can also be made with octopus, lamb, chicken, or pork. 

It’s also fun to try the many varieties of rakija (local brandy), which, depending on the region, can be flavored with pears, plums, cherries, honey, herbs, or even mistletoe.

Listen to The World Nomads Podcast: Croatia

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  • Kathy Dragon said

    I'm about ready to head back to Croatia for the 4th time in the past year and a half. <br><br>Here are some tips:<br><br>Swimming and Snorkeling: the water can be cool in the fall so take a light surf shirt or shorty websuite<br><br>Food: most of the food is "organic" as Croatia has never been exposed to the pesticides due to the fact that farmers couldn't afford it.<br><br>Smoking: smoking is part of the culture and, though it is supposed to be prohibited in many restaurants and hotels soon, at last visit in the fall the smoke is quite bad in all restaurants and unbareable in clubs.


  • Alyssa at United Planet said

    I spent the month of May in the Balkans and would have loved to know these tips before heading into Dubrovnik. The coast was phenomenal, but after my first jump in the water and a cut on my foot from the barnacles I was not a very happy person. Next time I will definitely be going with water shoes.


  • Clem Robin said

    The best part of Croatia is the coastline and the coastal towns, so jump on a boat/yaught and hop along the coast and small islands. The water's amazing and if you travel during the summer months, you'll be spending a whole lot of time in it! (however, as mentioned above, beware of the spikey urchins)


  • Andrea Barbieri said

    In all croatian camping doesn’t exist a security service during the night, so noise could be a problem. If your idea is to relax and to sleep on the night, take care when you have to choice a place for the tent. You could find a beach party on the night inside camping, or your neighbors could be a group of young guys coming from a country where be completely drunk is the only reason for living, so shout is the only way to communicate regardless people are sleeping. In these cases anybody from camping staff will do something because you can receive answers like “there are on holidays”.<br><br>If you plan holiday cost, consider in summer 2009 an amount of 30 euros for 2 persons in tent, while renting an apartment has almost the same cost.<br>


  • Diane Greene said

    Try taking the ferry ride from Split to Korcula and you will get a fantastic view of the island of Croatia. If you continue on to Vela Luka you will can visit this lovely small city. I have friends in Vela Luka and always look forward to a visit to Croatia.<br>I live in Anacortes, WA and Vela Luka is our sister city and we have many Croatians living here, including myself. There is an active Croatian culture club and a Vela Luka Dance troop.


  • Jason Tesh said

    The best part about Croatia is that it's close to Serbia! I was there last year and prefered the people, food, country and culture of Serbia. Heading to Exit music festival and Guca music festival in August and can't wait to swill some more rakija and down some Serb sausages - I think they were called 'chevapi' - and party in Belgrade! Highly highly recommend it.


  • balkanski špijun said

    I wish I was born in Kazhastan ;)
    But really, jelaous Serbs (Jason & Patricia) go on Ceca's music videos, why the hell you even google Croatia.. :/


  • korcula larus said

    One really important thing that is not written here is that the sea and the winds are very very dangerous, but tourist mostly ignore this because it may not seem so dangerous when you look at the sea and, let's say, nearby islets, from a beach on the shore, while the actual conditions on the sea are much more different when you take off just a little bit further from the shore. Sadly, accidents happen often because foreign people without sea experience don't know for exemple when and what type of wind blows. Also, the weather can quickly change from calm to extremly windy, so keeping track on the weather forecast is an absolute must, especially if you are planning sea activities like kayaking, boat rental, yachting etc. Making and distributing flyers for usual local weather conditions wouldn't be so bad idea either...


  • Raewyn Portef said

    Korcula is a simply beautiful place to be but you have to be aware that most of the food is imported, seafood in the restaurants are not always fresh, most is frozen. Bad most often is imported from Germany. Bus timetables do not often reflect the real times. Sunday's and public holiday they seem to almost be non existent so if you want to go somewhere do it before Sunday or a holiday.
    Bus drivers tell you to buy a ticket at the office and the office tells you to buy a ticket on the bus??? Be careful or you will miss the bus. Some apartments do not provide simple things like toasters and you do not think about this until you go to cook your breakfast. Also accomodation websites often do not tell you how far the accomodation is from town, be prepared to do a lot of walking, ok if you are young but no good if you have any hip problems. We had a ally nice time but one has to be aware of differences and make allowances or preparations. Food can be really stodgy to what we are used to, hard to find something that is light to eat with flavour.


  • pizza said

    @raewyn portef

    stop bullshitting, none of your claims are true. Why the fuck would the sea food be imported from Germany when the Croats have their own sea with plenty of wild catches and aquacultures? Doesn't make any sense. The thing about public transport is not true either. You are just trying to badmouth the country


  • Ellen Watkins said

    Thank you for the article. I think it looks and sounds amazing and I would love to visit. It will remain on my bucket list.


  • LISA said

    Would love to visit Croatia, thanks for the tips!


  • Shirin said

    Very funny. I've visited Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, and this comment thread is how I remembered it: the Serbs and Croats going on and on about how they're the best, while the Slovenians smile happily and the Montenegrans bask in their silence.


  • Debi Doyle said

    Love Croatia! Of the 6 countries we visited in 2014 by far my favorite. Watched Germany destroy Brazil in 2014 WC, on the big screen in the Harbour. Visited during Yacht Week leading up to Ulta. Just to watch the boats -Yachts- in the Harbour was amazing. Upon arrival at the bus stop in Split, met a gent that led us to a lovely room for rent, which worked out great until Ulta started and rooms every where increased 500%. My son, 24, spent the night at Ulta, me mid 50's spent the night on the promenade in Split, watching those who come out at night to keep it clean for the tourist, work incredibly hard and felt totally safe. Spent the previous five days walking and exploring all over Split. Can't wait to go back and explore more. Beautiful country. Got there by bus from Munich, flight out to Milan both modes of transport safe and without issue. Bus was definitely more interesting and beautiful as it goes through the mountains of Solvenia and down the coast of Croatia.


  • rick baldwin said

    Is there a boat from Italy?


  • Marila said

    I'm going to spend a week in Croatia between the 15th of Agost and 21st. I'm looking for a camping in a Island not too much touristic. My Okan is driving from Italy to Croatia, take a ferry and camping in a nice, quite Island. I don't look for discos, etc. Just beautiful sea, good food and a loro of relax! Any tips for me :)? Thank you? Marika


  • Lucy said

    @rickbaldwin there are boats from Venice - only 2 hours to the Croatian coast.


  • Monika said

    Croatia is a very beautiful country, with all kind of different natural beauties, cultures, food, wine, parties, lonely beaches... Everyone can find something for themselves. And, allways you can visit countries in the neighbourhood which are also very interesting (Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro). First, I recommned to visit Croatia. If you like peace and relaxing then you should visit some islands like Cres, Lošinj, Rab, Vis, Lastovo, Mljet...also, some small places on coastline. If you like party then you should visit Zrće on Island Rab or some bigger cities like Zadar, Rijeka, Split. There are also very beautiful National parks: Plitvice lakes, Kornati, Krka, Brijuni... On the coastline you should try many of different food specialites like pršut, olive oil, fish, brodet, home made chees (especially on Island Pag)...

    In the continental part of Croatia you must visit small cities with baroque soul like Varaždin and Čakovec on the north of Croatia. Also, in the near is capital Zagreb. On the east part of country you can find beautiful cities Osijek and Vukovar. Here you can enjoy in National park Kopački rit. Continental part is rich with all kind of delicious food ( zagorski štruklji, varaždinski klipiči, turkey with mlinci, fišpaprikaš, kulen...).

    And, if you like hiking you must visit mountain part (mountains Velebit, Dinara, Učka...). This mountains are close to the coastline so you could connect swimming in the sea in the morning and hiking in the evening. Croatia is full of magic!


  • ywalker said

    SO can one take a boat from Dubrovnik to Venice? Or from somewhere close to Dubrovnik to Venice? We will be in Dubrovnik in September and my hubby and I would enjoy visiting Venice again even as a day trip.


  • marco said

    wtf earthquakes in croatia omfg who told you that hahahahaha that neeeever happens -.-'


  • Cheri said

    Zagreb is a very dull city..Nothing to see.


  • Dan said

    I have been to Croatia numerous times in last 10 years from Australia. Ignore the I'll informed comments from Serbians above, who can't move on from the past. Croatia is a stunning country as are Slovenia and Montenegro. It does have the odd tremor but no more than other places infact less so I'm surprised tve author bought it up in the article. It's safe and has good tourism infrastructure. It will have 15 million tourist in 2016. Put that in perspective Australia gets approx 5 mill. Croatia has a population of 4.5 million . It regularly gets voted by tourist promos as amongst tbe most beautiful in tbe world. Check out on Google Images my hidden treasures. Town of Betina on island of Murter. Murter and tbe Kornati archipelago. Rastoke, Varazdin, Bale & Motovun. Rovinj and my favorite Sibenik and the Krka falls and also Solaris beach. As for tbe comment above re Zagreb too many people come here without doing their homework. Have been all over Europe and in my opinion has the nicest cafe strip about 700 m long called Tkalciceva street, also amazing Cathedral, and a church with possibly the most unique roof in Europe in the old town. It also has the most beautiful cemetery in Europe, an architectural delight and beautiful Austro Hungarian buildings around the many city green squares. It doesn't have land marks because until films are made somewhere landmarks don't become popular


  • Powder Snow Skier said

    Recently came back from a holiday in Europe, visited Germany, Austria, France, Italy and final place was Croatia.

    Dammm, I wish we had allowed for more time in Croatia, we had only 5 days, was not enough. Out of all of the above countries Croatia was the winner, FOOD, PEOPLE, SAFETY, HONESTY and of course SCENERY absolutely stunning.

    We are planning a return trip in 2018, Croatia only, 4 weeks, coastal and in land Croatia.

    Cant wait.


  • Johnson said

    I am a Nigerian coming to Croatia for a job.I really want to know if people are paid either weekly or monthly in Croatia.Also is it possible to switch job when one arrive because am a graduate and don't really like they job provided to me.are Croatians freindly?I jus hope I made they right choice by wanting to go to Croatia in search of greener pastures


  • Francisc said

    Had to drive through Croatia over the past months. Service is generally bad and expensive. Hotel receptionists do not answer to your greetings. Highway toll booth operators keep change for themselves.


  • Tj said

    I'm a Canadian and have traveled to Croatia twice, the second time I stayed in Zagreb for 3 months and used it as a base to travel the region.
    Croatia is a beautiful country, however the coast line is becoming crowded and often the service was grumpy. I don't blame them, dealing with tourists all day can't be easy but I had several encounters with people who maybe needed a time out from their jobs.
    A little further down the coast is Montenegro and their coast line is as beautiful but they seem less jaded from the demands of tourists. Its worth it to check it out, even rent a car and easily cross the border.
    Don't get me wrong, Croatia is beautiful but I think they may have reached that point where the growth has become a little painful and it's starting to show.


  • Sam said

    My friend is married to a croatian woman and when they go to Croatia,he is subjected to racial abuse, he is indian


  • Rocco said

    I already had visited Croatia few times. People are friendly, prices are very low, sea is very clean. I like their 'acapella' songs! Best places to visit when in Croatia - Dubrovnik, Zadar and Split. Cheers!


  • joe said

    my deceased grandfather heralded from croatia /delmatia so that is the reason that I would like to visit, he was an urlich.


  • Janaki said

    Visiting Split, Havar and Dubronvick. Can I travel by sea from Havar to Dubrovnick?


  • patrick stiles said

    I am a New Yorker living in Austria for 11 years. We go to Croatia min. 2-3 times a year for 7 years just came back from the lakes in Plitvice what a great place. Please do not listen to all the B.S. thats on this site. The people are super the food is super just a great country the sea is very clean just a cool place. We stay in Porec in a hotel group called Valamar they have about 30 hotels in Croatia they treat us like kings i could not get over how good the food is breakfast and dinner are included. Dinner has 7,8, 9 main dishes to chose from. The only down fall is the prices go up every year, but i would pay double just to enjoy this wonderful Country. HAVE A GREAT TRIP! PATRICK


  • Tina said

    If the author of this post could please do something about the blatant racism in the comments section that would be highly appreciated.

    We cannot live in a world where people are still allowed to express these backwards village attitudes without consequences.


  • Ellen Hall said

    Hi Tina,
    Thanks for flagging. While we encourage debate in our comments, and encourage people to share their experiences and opinions, we do not condone racism or personal attacks. We've taken down posts we deemed offensive.


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