So much Croatia hype as we were planning our Eastern Europe itinerary. Every traveler insisted-GO. Brian's parents encouraged more-GO. So we went and we are so happy we made it to Croatia (Hrvatska to the locals) on this trip. It really is a stunning country. We started our time in Zagreb, traveling south to Plitvice, Split, Hvar and finally, Dubrovnik.
Here are our favorite things by city:
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, but is not a large city. Most of cities have an Old Town, so we stayed in an apartment within walking distance. There isn't a ton to see in Zagreb, but is known for its live music in the parks many days of the week.
Historically, a cannon was fired every day at noon for people to set their clocks by and the city reinstated the tradition following the war. A climb to the top of Lotrscak Tower is worth the view. Just be mindful of the very low ceilings.
Nearby is the Museum of Broken Relationships, a modern showcase of love lost from every day people. It's a very interesting concept and borders the hilarious and the painful.
A stop at celebrated wine shop, Bornsteins, was a highlight. The somm plays geographical expert and showcases wine from all regions of Croatia. Bonus: they also ship wine to the States.
Plitvice is known for one thing-the national park-and it is well worth a full day hiking. The paths are fairly easy, but the maps are a bit difficult. The scenery is like nothing we've seen before. The falls are everywhere and truly stunning.
We followed the great advice of our host, entered at the second entrance and took the ferry to stop 2, hiked this portion and then took the ferry to the larger falls. This was indeed the best way to spend our day, limiting competing with the day trippers who start at the large falls. Pack a picnic and eat in the park at location 3.
There is nothing else to do in Plitvice and it really is easier to have a car as there are no sidewalks, guest houses are a good hike from the park and the nearest true grocery store is about a 15-minute drive away. The restaurants nearby are all average at best, so stay in a place with a restaurant or community kitchen.
Split is a historic town built right into Roman ruins. It is an intriguing place to visit and worth at least two days. Stay three days and you can receive a free pass to see the majority of the historical sites. Just ask your hotel/host for one and they will get a Split Card from the tourist office.
Wander the Riva and enjoy a bottle of wine on a white bench as the sun sets, eat at locally renowned Fife for a cheap meal and Sperun for the best fried calamari we've ever eaten. Our waiter was also a riot; we were sure he was drunk.
Because the city itself is ruins, it's easy to hop from site to site. The hike up to the top of bell tower is worth the 15 kuna extra.
Day trip from Split: Trogier
A short bus ride from Split lies a lovely island called Trogier. Go. It's an enchanting little town and makes an easy afternoon walking the entire island, stopping to put your feet in the cool, blue Adriatic or eating Ferraro Rocher gelato.
Hvar Island boasts several small towns, but the most well-known is Hvar Town. It is a magical place and is quickly becoming one of the "must visit" places of Croatia. It is very pricey compared to the mainland, but bite the bullet and go.
There are two ferry companies that run to the island, but Jadrolinija has a direct catamaran to Hvar Town from Split. Do not take the ferry to Stari Grad Town. The town isn't really worth the time and if you miss one of only three buses to Hvar Town during the day, you're stuck with a very expensive taxi ride, nearly $50.
The majority of the restaurants in Hvar Town are pricey, but carry fresh seafood. It's tough to have a "miss" at any restaurant. We enjoyed a great meal from Lucullus, the wild boar and lavender gnocchi were great, along with a monkfish stew. We also heard great things about Dalmatino.
Walk to the top of the fort for spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea close to sunset. It's incredible the way the city lights up and the sun shimmers off the water.
Nearly everyone we know who has been to Croatia went on a cruise and stopped in Dubrovnik. It's a charming city, but is even more charming once the cruise ships leave for the day. The city settles a bit into a more relaxed, beach town vibe.
There is a lot to see within the walls, so the one- or two-day tourist card is a good buy at 150-200 kuna, as every museum seems to cost 100 kuna apiece. It is definitely worth the walk around the walls. Go after 5 pm-the wall closes at 7 pm-you have the wall to yourself compared to 2 pm. Pick one of the cafe along the way and relax, enjoying the view.
A must of Dubrovnik is a drink at Buza Bar. This tiny place really does have the best view in the world. Relax, feel the breeze and sip an ice cold beverage taking in the views. Perfection.
Oysters are also plentiful at most restaurants and worth an order of six or more. At Bota Sushi (delicious, but seriously overpriced) we had the absolute best-both fresh and tempura fried (ok, those were worth the price!) The oysters are harvested in a specific location called Ston, where the temperature changes each hour, giving them the best taste. A bit of lemon and bottoms up!
If you have time, take a half-day kayak tour around the island. Dalmatia Adventure Company provides a sandwich lunch, water and snorkeling gear for 230 kuna each-a steal compared to the price other rental companies offered. Just be mindful the day isn't windy-it's a TOUGH paddle if the wind picks up.
Side trip: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
From Dubrovnik, you can also take a day trip into Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bus ride is close to three hours one way and costs 40 Euro. We stopped in Mostar between Hvar and Dubrovnik and it is well worth a day.
Spend time at the Mostar Old Bridge History Museum, the video is wordless and it's probably best, because your heart will be ripped apart at the images of the war.
Take a guided walking tour to really understand the dynamics of the city, a melting pot of many different religions, stopping at one of the many cemeteries, where all the gravestones bear the same year of death-1993. This city will tear at you emotionally, as the buildings still have pock marks from all the bombings. Then you see how far things have progressed since only just 1999-2000 and you feel the spirit of this people. Overwhelming.
Enjoy lunch at Han Restaurant and get the meat and spicy vegetable stew. You will not be disappointed. Also, grab a Bosnian coffee from one of the cafes. It will knock your socks off. (Use only 1 sugar first.)
Before you leave, make sure you see one of the local boys jump from the famous Old Bridge. This tradition goes back to the 1960s and a competition is held annually. 70 feet into the second fastest flowing (and freezing!) river in Europe is quite the sight.
Croatia is a magnificent country and we are glad we covered the majority of the must-see places. Croatia felt a bit more like a vacation to us as opposed to traveling. We also realized how much of water people we truly are. We were thrilled to relax on a beach or two, kayak and enjoy the sunsets following a warm day.