Life By no means Stops. Journey awaits in Croatia.
Life in Croatia never seems to stop and adventure is always waiting for you in this European gem. The country of Croatia borders the Adriatic Sea, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia and Bosnia and lies at the interface between Southern Europe and Central Europe. Although people had lived in the area for centuries, the then Kingdom of Croatia established monarchical relations with Hungary in 1102 and was recognized as an autonomous state by the Kingdom of Austria-Hungary. With the end of the First World War and the end of the Habsburg Empire, Croatia found itself again under the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Croatia has been in some difficult situations since the middle of the 20th century. After World War II, it was part of communist Yugoslavia until the 1980s, when the head of state Josip Broz Tito died and tensions in the Balkans escalated in the 1990s.
Croatia is a popular travel destination in the modern world with all the problems it could have had 30 years ago practically nonexistent. While Croatian is the most widely spoken language here, English, German, and Italian are spoken near most of the coastal towns and tourist destinations. While it’s not the largest country in Europe, it’s incredibly diverse with snow-capped mountains in the north, plains and fields on the Hungarian border, and Mediterranean sunshine along the coast. Croatia is a beautiful place with tons to discover, so get out there and check out some of the best things to do in Croatia.
Discover old Dubrovnik: The city of Dubrovnik, located on the Adriatic coast, is sometimes referred to as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”. The city is just stunning with the old town as the center of life right on the water. The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the only city-state in the area in the Middle Ages that could rival nearby Venice. The best way to get to know the area is to just skip the map, not look at your smartphone and walk around. The space is small and might feel a little claustrophobic with winding streets, alleys, and corridors, but lots of signs and shops advertise everything they sell (food, cafes, general stores, etc). The city walls that once protected them are now one of the best places to get panoramic views of the city or the water, and the famous Pile Gate, built in 1537, still offers some incredible sights as it is one of the most iconic structures in the city.
Spend a day on the beach: If you are visiting during the summer months, it can get quite hot in Croatia. While you are certainly not the only one with the idea of spending a hot summer day on the beach, the beaches around Dubrovnik are quite lively, fun, and safe. Lapad Beach is easily one of the city’s most popular beaches that is well maintained, completely pedestrianized and has plenty of bars and cafes nearby if you are looking for a snack or drink.
Banje Beach is another popular spot near the old town, although it is less sandy and more pebbly. There’s a small entry fee, though that usually means the place is well-kept and more relaxed and low-key than free public beaches. Enjoy a drink while lying on a sun lounger and take in the view of the old town and the Adriatic Sea.
Visit the enchanted island of Daksa: There is a great boating culture in Dubrovnik with people from all over the world sailing their boats and yachts to the marina for a day or a couple of nights. But just off the coast of the city is the small idyllic island of Daksa, which is said to be haunted. The island has a centuries-old Franciscan monastery, a lighthouse and a lot of green forest. So why is this beautiful little island haunted? After World War II, many countries in Europe took it upon themselves to exterminate all remaining Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in an act of national pride. When the victorious Yugoslav partisans invaded the city in search of Nazis, they rounded up between 50 and 100 people, including the mayor and the priest, took them to Daksa Island and shot them. The bodies were simply rotten on landing with no real guilt or innocence established for any of them. In 2010 all remains found were properly buried and since then the island has been for sale at a surprisingly low price of just 2 million euros. However, it may not come as a surprise why no one wants it.
Marvel at some art in a historic building: Visiting Dubrovnik and saying you are going to a “historical” place might be a little silly considering the whole place is full of historical buildings, but Sebastian Art Gallery is a small and nondescript place that is priceless Art is filled. In the heart of the old town is the St. Sebastian Church, built by Dominican monks in 1469. Since then, the monastery has developed into an art gallery displaying valuable works of art by Croatian artists and designers. Check out the paintings, glassworks, sculptures and other treasures right in the heart of the old town.
Explore the Upper and Lower Town: While Dubrovnik offers coastal views and coastal charm, Zagreb is the more urban city in Croatia. The city is the capital of the country and is home to over 1 million people. Zagreb has a more medieval cityscape with Gothic architecture and cobblestone streets that resemble Prague, Vienna, and other Central European cities. The city’s biggest tourist attractions are located in Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and Dornji Grad (Lower Town). Here you will find most of the restaurants, shops, cafes and bars and is historically the medieval core of Zagreb.
Visit the city’s eccentric museums: As in many major European cities, the cultural heart of the city usually has museums for modern art, local history or showcases for local artists. While Zagreb has these things to offer, be sure to check out some of the stranger and eccentric museums the city has to offer.
One such museum is the Museum of Broken Relationships. Started by two artists who couldn’t part with their lost love belongings, they opened the museum so the items could stay together. In theory simple, the idea worked and the museum’s exhibits traveled through Europe and North America, gaining popularity and increasing donations. A permanent museum has opened here in Zagreb, and while some of the items are mundane like teddy bears and love letters, there is also a collection of curiosities like a taser, a vial of tears and a prosthetic leg.
While the Museum of Broken Relationships is a bit strange, head to the Croatian Museum of Naive Art for something more mundane (if still unique). While many museums show fine arts, the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art is the opposite of that. Many great artists have formal education, they have trained with other great artists or attended school to learn the intricacies of the art, but everything on display here is more down to earth. The artists featured here are normal working and middle class people. They are self-taught, have not attended any art school or formal training, yet the pieces are all striking examples of their everyday normality.
Hike to Medvedgrad Fortress: The imposing mountain that towers over the city is Medvednica and is also home to the Medvedgrad fortress. The mountain is over 1000 meters high and as such an imposing hike, but if you want to hike and get into nature and out of the city this is the place for it. The walking and cycling paths are well laid out so that even inexperienced hikers have no problems. At the top, when you reach Medvedgrad, the fortress has the best view of Zagreb and there are cafes, rest stops and restaurants there. However, guests should note that Medvedgrad is the location of the “Altar of Homeland” monument dedicated to Croatian soldiers, so respect the space.
Spend a day in Diocletian’s Palace: Split is the largest city after Zagreb and a kind of middle ground between old historical Dubrovnik and the more urban Zagreb. However, Split is still full of interesting places like Diocletian’s Palace. The castle grounds with a view of the Adriatic Sea were built in 305 AD for Diocletian after his retirement. Diocletian lived here for 4 years until his suicide in 311 AD. If you look at the palace, the building looks more like a fortress than a palace with high walls, gates and a bell tower. In modern times, the area is used for concerts, guided tours, entertainment and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Spend a day or two in Hvar: Just a short ferry ride from Split, the island of Hvar is one of the trendiest spots in the country. The town is relatively small, but the pedestrian paths, rolling green hills and fields of lavender make a trip here absolutely worthwhile. Hvar is located on the Adriatic coast and has both Italian and Croatian influence that dates back to the Venetian times. So expect ornate Italian architecture in the 16th-century town square and church, as well as some of the best seafood in the country.
Eat: Of course you have to eat everywhere, but there is a reason why the “Mediterranean diet” is revered as one of the healthiest. The food in Split is among the best and freshest. Markets are plentiful and some local specialties include soparnik, a crpe-style flat dough filled with Swiss chard and onions and baked in a fireplace before topping with olive oil and garlic. Dalmatian style gnocchi are available in many restaurants and Ćevapčići is pork, beef, or lamb that is minced, rolled, and then grilled and served with onions and ajvar. With Italy right on the Adriatic, there is no shortage of delicious pasta, risottos and other Italian-influenced dishes.
Party at the Carpe Diem Europe is home to some amazing clubs and Carpe Diem is Split’s hottest place. Located on an island off the island of Hvar, Carpe Diem is the place to dance the night away on a private island with lots of energy and even bigger DJs. Performers and artists are usually internationally known and on tour. Boats go from the docks in Split to Hvar and from there to the island.
Our last word
From the old cobblestone streets of Dubrovnik to the medieval capital of Zagreb, Croatia is full of amazing things to experience. The view of the Adriatic Sea and the fantastic fresh food cannot be missed, while the architecture of the city everywhere makes you feel like you are in some kind of fairy tale. Hike in the mountains or laze on the beach, or do both! Croatia is there for every traveler.