What to Know Before You Visit Croatia

I always wanted to visit Croatia but my trip this summer wasn’t quite what I expected. 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 it’s a gorgeous country and there’s a lot to do in Croatia!

Visit Croatia
You might want to know the following information before you visit Croatia – I wish I had!

 Croatia Lacks Sandy Beaches

If you’re envisioning sandy white beaches in Croatia, you’re in for a letdown! The coastline stuns with dreamlike vistas and clear blue water. The only downside is that the majority of these gorgeous shores are full of pebbles. Still, the beaches in Croatia are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

best beaches 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. Waterfront seating is generally complimentary if you order a certain amount of food or drinks.

Croatia Beaches
You can still find sandy beaches in Croatia, you just need to scout them out! If you’re not a fan of pebble beaches, consult this list of the best sandy beaches in Croatia.

Enter the Adriatic Sea At Your Own Risk

Since the beaches are rocky, it’s common for travelers in Croatia to scrape their feet on rocks or jagged edges while taking a dip. This happened to my friend and the paramedics told us it was a fairly common thing in Hvar.

hvar beaches

Even worse, you could end up stepping on a sea urchin – the beaches in Croatia are full of them! Not only is this incredibly painful, but removing the spines takes forever and hurts like heck! It can take weeks for a spine to dissolve and can become infected if you try to remove it yourself.

beaches in croatia

Prevent any mishaps by investing in a pair of aqua socks or waterproof shoes before your visit. If you buy a pair in Croatia, you’ll be way overcharged.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen and Aloe!

It’s a safe assumption that if you visit Croatia, you will spend 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.

Not surprisingly, shops in tourist areas will try to rip you off.  Avoid being price gauged, and come prepared with your own supply – you will be thankful you did!

Rent a Car or Stick to Ferries! 

If you want to island hop or cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, check ferry and bus schedules before planning your trip. My friend and I made the mistake of not doing so, and had to take a long bus ride before taking a ferry to Hvar. If we had waited two more days for summer ferry service, we could have taken a direct ferry!

Croatia Ferry

Aside from taking in some nice scenery, the bus ride was pretty rough! The roads were bumpy and winding, the driver stopped frequently for a smoke or to pick up some produce from a street vendor. Only select bus routes go on the highway, so our ride was winding and full of potholes. I rarely experience motion sickness, but the bus ride in Croatia was one of my most nausea-inducing experiences to date. The awesome views were a consolation, though!

what to do in croatia

Fortunately, ferries and water taxis offers faster, more comfortable access across Croatia’s port cities and islands. Though 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 are easy to follow, and the highways are generally in good condition. This Croatia guide has more information on renting a car in Croatia.

Seek Out Locals

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

what to do in croatia

Our guesthouse in Dubrovnik


My friend and I stayed mostly in local guesthouses or Airbnb apartments, 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! Not sure what to do in Croatia? Your host can help with that! Our Croatian host made us feel welcome instantly, with offbeat local suggestions, and a constant offering of appetizers drenched in Croatian olive oil.

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 here!

croatia guide

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

If you’re not physically up for this, I recommend researching your destination and accommodation carefully. Don’t forget comfy walking shoes! Trust me, trekking up rocky hills in flip flops is no fun!

 Dubrovnik is Almost Always Packed

Even in early May before the official tourist season started, Dubrovnik was filled to the brim with the tourists and cruise ships. Dubrovnik has always been a popular tourist spot, but more people are visiting than ever thanks to Game of Thrones. Since the show started filming here, it seems like everyone and their mom wants to visit Croatia.

croatia guide
If you hate crowds or aren’t a die-hard GOT fan, you may want to consider skipping Dubrovnik all together. Is Dubrovnik worth visiting? Of course it is! However, I personally hate crowds, so this kind of killed the vibe for me. I enjoyed Hvar and Split more and would have rather spent 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 and less cruise ships are at port. Hotel prices, and package deals are much cheaper outside the summer months as well.

what to do dubrovnik

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? If not, do you want to visit Croatia? I’m hoping to go back soon and give it another shot!

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  • 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
      Laura McQuade
      June 5, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      We went to Dubrovnik in October. Still crowded. Cute town though.
      I only wished I’d known that there’s just only entrance to go up on the ‘wall’.
      AND it’s the only way down, as well. You have to walk around the whole town
      before you can get down.

    • Reply
      August 30, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Totally. If you can’t find rich history and museums of any kind in every city in Croatia, I really don’t know where can you find them! Just name what type of museum do you like and I’ll list you a dosen of them. History? Art? Crafts? Ethnographic? Natural history? Mummies? Technical? Whatever you want! Especialy in bigger cities: Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split…

  • Reply
    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. 🙂


    • Reply
      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
    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,

  • Reply
    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:)


  • Reply
    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
      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
    February 3, 2016 at 2:49 pm

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

    • Reply
      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
    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
    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
      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
      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
    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
      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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
      June 5, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks Lulu, glad I could help!

  • Reply
    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
    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
    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
      May 10, 2017 at 2:18 am

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

  • Reply
    August 30, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Thank You Allison for such a cool post about my country. I enjoyed reding it. So proud to be Croat 🙂 Living here is like in paradise. Except our stupid politicions :/
    However, You are more than wellcome (like everyone who is reading this) to Croatia. The best way to explore the country is to make some friends localy. People here are nice and willing to help (except some Dalmatians), everyone speaks english and can tip You to some cool places You can’t find in travel guides. I usually do so when I’m travelling to some other countries. What You miss in the post, in my opinion is food & drink in Croatia, especially in Istria region, but that is so wide theme for a lot of new posts.
    Cheers 😉

  • Reply
    September 7, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Hi Allison, I’m sorry that people have given you a hard time for your honest review of Croatia. As a novice traveler I appreciate you pointing out things I may not think of when planning a trip, in the hopes that my trip may be even better than yours. So many travel blogs are all sunshine but fall short on truth. For example I just returned from Portugal and while it was lovely I will say I was disappointed that the scenery when driving across the country was not great. I may have plannedy trip differently had someone told me. Happy Travels!

    • Reply
      September 11, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Rachel! Thanks for kind feedback, I hope that this post helped you plan the perfect Croatia trip 🙂 I’ve definitely noticed that trend among travel bloggers as well and find it frustrating too – reading others’ blogs is my favorite way to plan a trip. Happy travels to you as well!

  • Reply
    November 3, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Thank you Allison, great post. My husband and I spent 2 weeks in Croatia in late August/early September and we absolutely loved it. Our route was Zagreb Plitvice Zadar Split Hvar Dubrovnik. I would say all locations absolutely exceeded our expectations with the exception of Dubrovnik. We liked Dubrovnik but said if we had it to do over again we would have subtracted a day from Dubrovnik and added it to Split/Hvar. I also do not like crowds, one thing that was helpful for Dubrovnik is the cruise ship schedule that is available online. We walked the city walls in Dubrovnik on a very light day for cruise ship visitors, I can’t imagine a heavier day! Touring small islands off Hvar was a highlight of our trip. The people of Croatia are amazing- extremely hospitable and eager for you to experience their wonderful country. We can’t wait to go back and explore the northern coast as well as return to our favorite spots!

    • Reply
      November 7, 2017 at 11:08 pm

      I’m so glad you loved your trip! Hvar was my favorite place as well and I would have definitely spent more time there in retrospect. Hope you enjoy your next trip 🙂

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