- Written by Dan
By Hostelling International / Andrea Bang
World Heritage Sites, Trogir and More!
Between Montenegro, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, Serbia, and the Adriatic Sea, Croatia boasts some of the most beautiful surroundings in Europe.
From World Heritage Sites, Trogir and Korcula Island, Croatia is a travel dream. It’s difficult to stop drooling at the mere sight of its sapphire-clear waters, red-roofed homes and medieval towns. So when I started showing signs of the travel bug—itchy feet, sweaty palms and restlessness—I wiped off the drool and headed straight for Croatia.
After convincing my friend Jenny to come with me, we boarded a plane and 11 hours later arrived in the Dalmatia region of Croatia—home to beaches, beaches and more beaches. Yes, there are oodles of beaches in Croatia, including more than 1,100 islands. Sound like paradise? Well, it’s no surprise that every summer thousands of travellers flock to Croatia’s coast to soak up the rays and bask in its Mediterranean vibe. And like any Mediterranean city, time seems to move at a slower pace. It’s common to see people freely walking around with half-buttoned shirts and sunburned faces. With siesta from 2 to 6 p.m., people spend their days people-watching, sunbathing or sleeping-off a big lunch and their nights relaxing on a terrace with some ice-cold drinks and good company.
Days are also spent exploring the island’s sights by foot, bicycle or boat. It’s ideal for people who like to see everything by foot since most of the city’s old centres prohibit cars. Another way to check out the sights is with a boat. If there’s a piece of open sea, there will definitely be a boat floating next to its owner’s bobbing head cooling off from the heat.
Nightlife gets exciting after midnight when everyone has finished their dinner and is ready to party. Most clubs are tiny, harbouring a small dance floor, which isn’t a problem since most people find themselves chatting to other visitors and locals on the steps of small alleyways outside the club. It’s quite an experience. And, if one club is causing heavy eyes or creepy stares, it’s easy to hop over to another since the islands are built for walking. Plus, the city is great to see in the dark as my friend and I discovered in Dubrovnik. We met a Croatian girl who showed us around and took us to a wonderful place to watch the sunrise.
WARNING: Getting stung by a sea urchin is highly possible. While swimming in the Mediterranean, I unknowingly got stung by one. Thinking it was dirt, my immediate reaction was to poke and prod at the wound, making it worse. For days I had dizzy spells and could’ve sworn the world was tipping sideways. Thankfully, I went to a doctor and the world is upright once again.
Travelling northbound and moving inland, people often referred to our itinerary as the ‘ugly’ route because travellers usually visit Croatia for its beautiful cities along the coast between Split and Dubrovnik. Sadly, non-coastal areas of Croatia are often avoided by visitors for the beaches in Dalmatia. But getting a few shades darker (and, in some cases, red and splotchy) and gorging on fresh seafood is only a small contributing factor to Croatia’s charm.
As we started moving away from the coast, it started to rain—nay—pour. For a country that receives an average four days of rainfall every June, we were there for all of it. And when it rains, the city shuts down. Locals close up their outdoor markets as everyone waits undercover for the rain to stop. As intruding as the rain is, it also cools the air and adds to the experience (for example, we spontaneously made a day trip to Mostar, Bosnia, since we were unable to visit more islands).
The rain also added to our visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A short four-hour bus ride from Split, the national park is renowned for its 16 lakes that range in vibrant colours from green to blue, creating a picture-perfect scene. Croatia is also home to six other UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Dubrovnik’s Old Town, Diocletian’s Palace (Split), Euphrasian Basilica (Porec), Trogir, Stari Grad Plain (Hvar) and Cathedral of St. James (Sibenik). There is no shortage of World Heritage Sites for you to explore.
Another four hours north of Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb. Many travellers recommend skipping Zagreb and heading straight to the south, but it’s much more than just a big city; it’s bursting with personality. If an island and a big city were to have a baby, Zagreb would be the product. It’s the one place a local kindly drove three friends and me back to our hostel after we couldn’t find a taxi. The locals are friendly and hospitable!
Travelling throughout Croatia, whenever my friend and I said we were from Vancouver, people would scratch their head and say, “where?” if someone were to tell me they were from Croatia, I’d have put on an awkward smile and thought they were lying because before June, I knew a pitiful zilch. For a country that was never on my radar, it has quickly become one of my favourites. I keep a small amount of local money in the hope of one day returning to the charming little country that I knew nothing about, but ended up loving.
Having overcome centuries of turmoil, most recently with the Croatian War of Independence fought from 1991 to 1995, Croatia is quickly becoming a top tourist destination. War-torn cities have promptly been restored and overflow with people from around the world looking to once again absorb the country’s beauty. Here are some highlights:
Often referred to as the ‘pearl of the Adriatic,’ Dubrovnik cannot be missed. Stepping into the old centre is like stepping onto the set of a medieval movie—I kept expecting King Arthur to walk by. It’s a surreal experience.
The alleged birthplace of Marco Polo, this island is quite small so everything is within walking distance. Exuding a small-town feel, Korcula is known to keep people on the island for weeks.
One of the most visited islands of Croatia, Hvar offers upscale hotels and feels like a resort town. Hvar is a great place to take day trips to other islands. For partiers, Veneranda is a must-visit. Located in a former fortress, Veneranda is the place to party under the stars.
For a quiet town, Pag Island is said to be the Ibiza of Croatia, inhabiting the famous Zrce Beach in Novalja town. From June to September, Zrce Beach holds 24-hour parties.
A charming little town, Trogir is like a mini-Cape Split equipped with its own medieval walls and a harbour lined with boats.