Quite a number of folks are planning extended trips around Croatia when they come to our wedding next year, so I thought I’d put together a quick reference to help everyone make their travel plans. I’m including all the places we’ve been, plus a couple extras too. For each place that we’ve visited, you can click through to read more comprehensive information about the location.
Because this post is first and foremost intended for my friends and family coming over for the wedding, I’ll be using Crikvenica as the starting-off point for frame of reference. But others will find this post a great place to start when it comes to planning a trip around Croatia. Bear in mind also that Croatia is a small country, and driving times are relatively short compared to U.S. standards. (For reference, Croatia is about the size of West Virginia.)
Crikvenica – Milos’ hometown of Crikvenica (pronounced tsreek-ven-eet-sah) has started to become a second home for me. It’s located on the north-western seaside, quite close to the Istrian peninsula. The town has beaches upon beaches all up and down its length. It’s also home to a number of excellent dining establishments. (Click HERE for a full list and review, but some faves at a glance: Burin, Zrinski, Domino, and Kantunic.)
Rijeka – The closest large city to Crikvenica is a busy port town, with an extensive history of ship-building. It’s located about 20 minutes away if you take the highway (vs. staying on the sea-side road.) Lots of restaurants, shops, and bars. (Our favorite restaurant is Spagho, located near the marina area. Highly recommended!) A busy student town, Rijeka is a great place to go for nightlife. (During winter, we head to Rijeka almost every weekend.) It’s also the location of the world’s third largest Carnival celebration (after Rio and Venice.) Located right next to Rijeka is Opatija, an historically popular resort town.
Krk – The town of Krk is located on the island of Krk. It has an impressive fort/castle and a charming old town. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring its narrow pedestrian streets and walking along its shoreline. (Plus, there were adorable kitties all throughout the town!) The perfect combination of old world charm and exquisite blue waters. Lots of beach areas too.
Heading west from Crikvenica (towards Italy, on the Istrian Peninsula):
Motovun – Built on a hill rising up from a picturesque valley, Motovun is a great destination for a day trip into Croatia’s past. It’s located inland in the heart of the Istrian peninsula. Be ready for some climbing, as you will need to walk up the little streets to the peak of the hill to fully explore the town. You’ll be rewarded with not only an interesting look into history, but fantastic views as well.
Porec – A quaint seaside town that is very similar to Crikvenica in its character, but with more Venetian influences due to its proximity to the Italian city. It has a really lovely and expansive old town area, and an imposing city wall encircling it. The Basilica is located on one side of the old town, adding to the charm. Porec has great places to eat as well! (We recommend Konoba Aba.)
Rovinj – Rovinj’s old town is nestled on a small hill that protrudes out into the sea. Rising up in the center is the Church of St. Euphemia. The architecture here also reminded us of Venice. Porec and Rovinj are located very close to each other, so I’d recommend staying in one, and visiting the other as a day trip. We also saw lots of adorable little feline city residents here.
Pula – Located at the southwestern tip of the Istrian Peninsula, Pula is probably best known for its ancient Roman connections. During the time of Julius Caesar, it was a significant port city, and it’s great ampitheatre is still mostly standing today.
****This area in general (Istria) specializes in truffles, olive oils, and excellent wines. Be sure to sample some while you’re there!
Heading south from Crikvenica:
Plitvice Lakes National Park – One of the most beautiful natural wonders, Plitvice is worth more than a day’s visit. Majestic waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, winding trails – so many things to see and explore. This is one of our planet’s “not-to-be-missed” treasures. (Be sure to wear comfortable sturdy shoes, as you will do a lot of walking.) It’s located a bit more inland, but worth the drive away from the coast. We’ve been here in the spring (link above in the title) and in the winter (link HERE) and both times were spectacular in their own right.
Zadar – Zadar marks the northern most point of the Dalmatian region of Croatia. The old town is located on a peninsula that runs parallel to the mainland. We had some of our finest dining experiences in Zadar: Rafaelo, Kastel, Kornat. It’s not exactly much of a beach destination, but if you’re interested in history, the old town is fantastic, and you can even frolic on some ancient Roman ruins that are nestled between cafes, right by the seaside. It also boasts the modern marvels of the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun. From Zadar, you can take quick trips out to some of the islands to get some prime beach time – Saharun Beach on Dugi Otok is just one such example.
Krka National Park – Another stunningly beautiful natural wonder, Krka is a bit smaller in scale when compared to Plitvice, but it has a little perk that Plitvice doesn’t have: visitors can swim where the main waterfalls empty into the lake. If you’re a fan of nature, Krka is a wonderful little stop along your Croatian itinerary. We recommend staying overnight in the nearby town of Skradin to make the most of both locations.
Skradin – Nestled along the edge of Krka National Park is a wonderful little port town called Skradin. At first glance, one might only notice the busy marina area, but if you wander in through the narrow pedestrian streets, you’ll be given a wonderful treat! Quaint cafes, restaurants, and shops await you. Take the short hike up the hill to the fort in the center of town to take in some spectacular views. We totally recommend doing an overnight in Skradin so you can take in its charm, while also using it as a home base as you explore Krka National Park.
Split – The city of Split is a bustling tourist area for good reason. Not only is it a fantastic destination in its own right, but it’s a central jumping off point for many island excursions, with busy ferries taking folks all around the Adriatic Sea. Probably one of the most stunning and magnificent sites in Split is the Diocletian Palace in the old town. It was constructed by the Roman Emperor in the early 4th century AD, and continues to be one of the most valuable surviving ruins from that period still in existence today. Although not a beach destination, Split is an absolute must for any history buff. You can easily take a bus or ferry to one of the many numerous beach towns along the coast or on one of the islands.
Brela – If you’re looking for a quiet relaxing beach sojourn, Brela is the place for you. With miles of exquisite beaches, cozy coves, and stunning scenery, you’re guaranteed to find a place to relax and escape from the world around you. It’s a great day trip destination, or a place to settle in for a couple days if peace and quiet are what you’re looking for.
Makarska – One of our favorite vacation get-a-ways, Makarska is a great combination of beach and nightlife. It has just enough old town area to give it soul and personality, with a bustling sea-side promenade and busy outdoor market area. It’s also well-located when it comes to taking day trips around the region. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Makarska, we highly recommend Apartments Alagic!
Dubrovnik – One of the most visited destinations in Croatia is the southern Dalmatian port city of Dubrovnik. It’s a regular stop on many large cruise ships, and has gained even more attention due to the popular show Game of Thrones being filmed there. It’s imposing city walls combine with splendid Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic style architecture.
No matter where you go, you’re bound to have a fantastic trip: exciting adventure, delicious cuisine, crystal seas, and ancient history await you!