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Croatia Destinations Features

What I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Croatia

My trip to Croatia earlier this Summer was not quite what I expected. After hearing rave reviews about this new tourist hotspot, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.

While I really liked Croatia, especially my visit to Zagreb, I just didn’t fall in love with Croatia the same way so many other travelers do. Still, there’s no doubt that Croatia is a beautiful country with lots to offer tourists.
Things to Know Croatia

Despite encountering a lot of hiccups in Croatia, including the deportation of our American tour guide, I still enjoyed my short visit to the Adriatic coast.

After having some time to reflect on my trip, I wish I had known the following before boarding my flight from Zagreb to Dubrovnik…


Croatia Lacks Sand Beaches

If you’re envisioning sandy white beaches in Croatia, you’re in for a minor letdown! The coastline stuns with dreamlike vistas and clear blue water. The only downside is that the majority of these gorgeous shores are pebble beaches.

Things to Know Croatia

Fortunately, it’s still possible to comfortably soak up some rays. Full-service cabanas or loungers are widely available and many beachside bars offer plush seating options for visitors.

Oceanfront seating is generally complimentary if you order a certain amount of food or drinks.

If you get bored of lounging, many establishments offer kayaks, snorkel gear, and stand up paddle boards for hire!

Things to Know Croatia

However, there are still some sandy beaches, you just need to scout them out! If only a sandy beach will do, consult this list of Croatia’s best sand beaches.

Enter the Adriatic Sea At Your Own Risk

Since the beaches are rocky, it’s common for travelers to scrape their feet on rocks or jagged edges while taking a dip.

Even worse, you could end up stepping on a sea urchin! Not only is this incredibly painful, but removing the spines is an arduous and time-consuming process. It can take weeks for a spine to dissolve or infection could result from removal – completely ruining your vacation!

Black_Sea_Urchin_(Arbacia_lixula)_in_Croatia

Prevent any mishaps by investing in a pair of aqua socks or waterproof shoes before your visit. Should you decide to purchase them in Croatia, you’ll encounter steep price markups.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen and Aloe!

It’s a safe assumption that if you will be visiting Croatia, you are planning on spending a lot of time in the sun!

Be smart, and always wear sunscreen! Other than stepping on a sea urchin, I can’t think of a bigger buzzkill than spending your vacation nursing a painful sunburn.

Thanks to basic economic theory, sun protection is insanely expensive in most tourist areas. Avoid being price gauged, and come prepared with your own supply – you will be thankful you did!

Transportation: Rent a Car or Stick to Ferries! 

If you have ambitious island-hopping plans or want to cover a lot of ground in a short timeframe, consult ferry and bus schedules before planning your trip.

My friend and I neglected to realize our visit to Dubrovnik was only a day or two before regular ferry service began to Split and Zadar. This resulted in us losing almost two days out of our trip to bus transit.

Aside from taking in some nice scenery, the long-haul bus rides in Croatia weren’t as nice as completing the trip by ferry.The roads were bumpy and winding, the driver stopped frequently for a smoke or to pick up some produce. Only select bus routes utilize the national highway system, so the ride can be winding and full of potholes. I rarely experience motion sickness, but my bus journeys in Croatia were two of the most nausea-inducing experiences to date. However, we did to get to take in some nice views!

Things to Know CroatiaCroatia’s rail system is good within the northern, more industrialized regions near Zagreb. However, service is lacking or non-existent as you head further south.

Fortunately, ferry services and water taxis offers faster, more comfortable access across Croatia’s port cities and islands.
Things to Know CroatiaThough we decided against renting a car, I wish we had. Not only would this have saved us a lot of time in transit, but it would have allowed us to steer away from the standard tourist trail.

Driving rules in Croatia are easy to follow, and the highways are generally in good condition. For more information on renting a car in Croatia, click here.

Seek Out Locals

Tourism in Croatia has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels over the last several years. Understandably, this has led to a slightly oversaturated national tourism industry, and some overwhelmed hospitality workers.

My friend and I stayed mostly in local guesthouses or Aibnbs, which we enjoyed more than the night or two we stayed in larger hotels. In all of the smaller establishments, we were usually treated to wine, olive oil or another Croatian delicacy! Our Croatian host made us feel welcome instantly, with offbeat local suggestions, and a constant offering of appetizers drenched in Croatian olive oil.

Things to Know Croatia

Be Prepared For Lots of Walking Climbing!

One of the reasons Croatia has such stunning views is because of the country’s rolling hills, particularly in the Istria region! The harder the climb, the better the view rings true in Croatia. If you’re looking for breathtaking views, you’re going to have to work for it!

Though invigorating at first, these steep uphill climbs can get a bit old once you start doing them every day, especially if you’re trying to make it back to your accommodation with a bottle of wine or groceries in tow

Things to Know Croatia

If you’re not physically up for daily uphill hikes, I recommend researching your destination and accommodation carefully.
Don’t forget comfy walking shoes, making the ascent to your hotel in flip flops isn’t fun!

 Dubrovnik is Almost Always Packed

Even in May before the official tourist season started, Dubrovnik was filled to the brim with tourists. Dubrovnik has always been a popular tourist spot, but tourism has increased dramatically after Game of Thrones shot on location here.

View_old_city_of_Dubrovnik-5If you hate crowds or aren’t a die-hard GOT fan, you may want to consider skipping Dubrovnik all together. This isn’t to say Dubrovnik isn’t worth visiting, it absolutely is! However, I enjoyed Hvar and Split far more than Dubrovnik and would have rather allotted more time there.

If scheduling isn’t an issue you might want to consider visiting Dubrovnik in September or October. During this time of year, the weather is much more bearable than the scorching summers, and less cruise ships are at port.

Hotel prices, and package deals are much cheaper outside the summer months as well.

If you can’t swing an off-season visit, try to avoid the major tourist attractions during midday. The city walls, for example, are most crowded around 3 PM.


If you’ve been to Croatia, do you think it’s worth the hype? What do you wish you had known before visiting?

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Sarah Beth
    July 30, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve heard mixed things about Croatia, and am not sure if I would like it. Do you think someone who is more into history/museums than partying and yacht week would have fun?? I’m also 23.

  • Reply
    Deanna
    July 31, 2015 at 10:09 am

    I was just reading your about page and I wanted to let you know that your story is super inspiring to me. My husband and I are really itching to travel long term, but it always seems like we have so many ties and responsibilities at home. This has definitely inspired me to consider just getting up and GOING. 🙂

    xxDeanna
    http://www.followtherules.com

    • Reply
      Allison
      August 1, 2015 at 4:44 am

      Thanks, Deanna! I’m so glad you found my blog inspiring and helpful. Reading comments like yours makes my day! I hope you and your husband are able to travel soon, best of luck xx

  • Reply
    Caro
    August 1, 2015 at 5:37 am

    These are great tipps! Thanks for sharing.
    Croatia is definitely on my list 🙂
    If you’ll ever visit Leipzig/Germany, tell me 🙂
    Have a great time,
    Caro

  • Reply
    Allison
    August 3, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks Caro! I would love to visit Leipzig soon, I’ve heard it’s on its way to becoming a cooler destination than Berlin 🙂

    And Sarah Beth, I think you could have fun as a history buff – just maybe avoid islands like Hvar if you are trying to avoid partygoers.

  • Reply
    Ira Kharchenko
    August 5, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    lovely post! It’s so amazing:)

    http://www.bloglovin.com/blogs/printed-sea-3880191

  • Reply
    Dan
    August 10, 2015 at 1:18 am

    Sorry to hear of your unpleasant bus rides. In 2013 on the state owned bus line I had none of the problems you did.

    • Reply
      Allison
      August 10, 2015 at 1:48 am

      Thanks, Dan! I think it was overcrowded due to it being the days right before regular ferry service started, I’m sure it’s normally much more contained!

  • Reply
    Tanya
    February 3, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Croatia is rich in history!! You would have plenty to see and do.

    • Reply
      Allison
      February 6, 2016 at 10:36 pm

      Tanya, definitely! I wish I had gone with someone who shared my interest in history. One of the many reasons why I prefer solo travel 🙂

  • Reply
    Kelly
    February 27, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Hello, thanks for the post! Planning our trip there now, and I want to ensure the ferries are running as suggested! I am trying to find out online when they start but am having trouble.. it sounds like you were there in May, do you remember when they start running? thanks!!

    • Reply
      Allison
      February 27, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      Hi Kelly, unfortunately, I don’t know when they resume but I think it’s early June! We were there in the tail-end of May!

  • Reply
    Ana
    June 23, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    Been to Croatia over a dozen of times… I find many tourists don’t go to cities that are actually worth seeing. Yes, of course Dubrovnik is beautiful, but there are so many cities like Zadar and Sibenik that are worth seeing more. Hope you get to go again and have a different experience. My husband and I leave next week to go for three weeks.

    • Reply
      Allison
      June 24, 2016 at 12:18 am

      Thanks Ana! We stopped in Zadar as well but Sibenik wasn’t even on my radar! Hope you and your husband have a wonderful trip!

  • Reply
    Nora Kühl
    June 29, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Great post and thank you. I will be going to Croatia in a few weeks, road trip with husband and our daughters. I am into interior design and doing their bedroom theme of global princesses. They are soon to be 6 and 9. So want to travel from Germany to Croatia during the summer. Will be making spots in Italy and Austria. Since this will be a road trip I don’t want to make reservations anywhere as I am not sure when we are going to be where especially with kids. See that it is peak season do you know if it is are to get a guest room last minute? Come to think of it I don’t even know where to look.

    • Reply
      Allison
      June 30, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      Hi Nora – wow a global princess theme sounds amazing! We didn’t have any trouble booking last minute accommodation online at all.

  • Reply
    Dora
    July 5, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Croatia is a country that in each town/city has an equal number of museums and partying spots. That is a great thing. Each city has wonderful kuseums and I visited most of the country so I know. I disagree steongly with this post. You should definitly visit Dubrovnik because it is a magnificant place with a lot of museums that are simply breathtaking. I advise strongly to go visit the coastal area after the New Years Eve because then the prices drop and there arw not a lot of turists. The blogger unfortunately didn’t menion the city of Rijeka. It is a small cosy town that has a lot of beaches, but is also industrial. The torpedo was invented there. Pens also(Penkala)! The boat that came to the rescue of Titanic was Carapathia, it is a ship that had regular lines between Rijeka and America. If I remember reading it correctly the blogger said also that there are few sandy beaches, my response is: You just have to know where to look 🙂 The highways are in excellet shape and the complaining about bumpy roads from Dubrovnik to Split is just ridicilous! They are veey curvy but nothing more. And in Croatia you just have to know when and with which line to go and then you get a luxurious bus to travel with 😉
    The hotels remark I just don’t understand. I’ve been to many hotels and they will help you right away and they are all very nice, of course there are some of them tat arw not so good but I guess from where you come from apparently all hotels are wonderful #note the sarcasm

    • Reply
      Allison
      July 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      Dora, thanks so much for commenting! I’m a huge Titanic nerd and had no idea about the Carapathia. I totally agree with you that Croatia is a beautiful, amazing place. It’s not my favorite, but I’m glad it’s yours! Everything I’m sharing is just based off of my own opinions and experiences, obviously your milage (or any readers’) will vary! Thanks for stopping by though, and the tips are appreciated!

  • Reply
    leah
    August 15, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    The things you mentioned are definitely good to know before you go. Fortunately we found out all of those things before our visit last year, and I purposely planned things to avoid the crowds. In the areas we visited (Zagreb, Lovran, Split, Hvar), we found the people to be hospitable and wonderful to visit with. We loved the combination of historical sites, raw beauty, local delicacies, and loving people. The rocky coastline and clear waters are stunning, for sure, and even though we love a nice sandy beach, my family fell in love with floating in the Adriatic! We found the prices to be very reasonable, maybe because we didn’t spend time in Dubrovnik, made good use of Airbnb, rented a car, shopped the fresh food markets and local dining. We are forever enamored with Croatia, but also fell hard for Slovenia!

  • Reply
    leah
    August 15, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    p.s. the private beaches and cliff diving are worth searching out — we didn’t spend any of our time on the public peaches, so we felt like our whole experience was one of great value and luxury! I appreciate that your experience was different, but the aim of your post is to let people know these helpful tips so maybe they can have a better first experience than you did.

  • Reply
    Allison
    August 18, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Hi Leah,

    Thanks for your comments! I’m glad to hear you loved Croatia so much. Like you, I also fell very hard for Slovenia and Croatia was a bit of a let down for me after having such a lovely time in Bled and Ljubljana. However, I will say I did have a very nice time in Croatia, and found it to be very beautiful.

    We didn’t spend any time on public beaches either, and also only stayed in AirBnBs, where we had wonderful hosts. I also worked with a very nice tour company in Zagreb, and met several kind Croats who made my trip very memorable. On the other hand, my friends and I were also scammed by a tour company in Hvar, which left a bad taste in our mouth for the rest of the trip.

    With that being said, I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bashing Croatia in my post. That’s not my intention at all, I’m simply just trying to provide insight and my honest opinion for others in the process of planning their trips.

  • Reply
    Dan
    August 21, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    I’m very surprised at this post. I have visited Croatia a few times now from Australia and absolutely love the place. The roads are excellent as their freeway was built in the last 15 years. The coastal road is windy but has some of the best views in Europe and is definitely not bumpy having done the route four times. I have visited Croatia in the peak season and even with crowds you can’t not appreciate it’s beauty. As is often said crowds come and see the blockbusters and that is Croatia. Towns like Rovinj, Dubrovnik, Hvar , Split are so unique and can’t be missed but if you you want beauty which can match it with these places like Varazdin, Sibenik, island Murter are stunning and are a little less visited. Slovenia is beautiful but in my opinion is much of what you get in other alp regions in Europe. Croatia on the other hand is unique and the Plitvice Lakes hand down is the most beautiful national park in Europe.

  • Reply
    lulu
    October 9, 2016 at 1:08 am

    Thanks for this post. I didn’t think it bags Croatia at all and is full of good tips. For example I’ve just put beach shoes on my packing list.

  • Reply
    Karen
    October 9, 2016 at 9:57 am

    I must agree with you Dan…I am very shocked at the post from Alison…I have been many places from Mexico, the whole Caribbean, huge parts of Europe and am currently traveling the USA for 4months and to be honest Croatia gave me the best of every thing….wine regions, historic architecture, art by famous masters, beautiful beaches, quiet gettaways and buzzing city life. I also found it particularly cheap coming from South Africa with our awful currency that is 15 to $1.
    But the difference is I did my research before travelling to have the optimal experience…with the Croatia trip I took 7 friends with and we went budget and had the best time of our lives even though we were not the party type and not fans of Game of Thrones. We rented 2 cars and all though I took the winding scenic route the other car took the highway and the roads were in great condition. We found the people warm, very welcoming and extremely helpfull. We went 13 June -1 July 2015 and I am looking at going next year again end of June.

  • Reply
    Ivana
    October 18, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    I am Croatian and when I was younger it meant going to old country and partying however last year I finally really saw it for the first time. I love Zagreb but it so close to where my family is from it was like a second home however the cost I have never been too and let me tell you I was shocked there are no sand beaches and Dubrovnik is always busy with tourist but islands like Hvar and Zadar are hidden gems. It is a country that’s not commercialized like most so it makes it difficult to travel without a car but you don’t feel like a tourist like I have felt like in France, Italy, or England!

  • Reply
    Bethan Greenhalgh
    November 3, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Thanks for this great post! I am currently planning a trip to Croatia and surrounding area next year (flights booked this morning)and have found this post very useful 🙂

    Thanks again
    Bethan (blogger over at – http://www.wanderlustbee.com )

  • Reply
    Therie
    May 9, 2017 at 4:07 am

    Never been to Croatia, I’ve always love to see Plitvice . I think I’ll be fine with these little things, since I’m not a huge GoT fan, I think I’ll skip Dubrovnik. Thanks for putting this together!

    • Reply
      Allison
      May 10, 2017 at 2:18 am

      Therie, I hope you enjoy! Thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂

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