Your First Trip to Croatia: Discover an Underrated Gem
Looking for a destination free from crowds? With unspoiled coastlines? How about a rich cultural heritage? If so, it’s time for your first trip to Croatia. This post will give you an overview of this incredible country by presenting you with a 12-day itinerary. Each day will give you a glance of Croatia’s highlights, with ample room for any extra activities you may want.
Day 1 & 2: Zagreb
For your first trip to Croatia, your best bet is to fly into Zagreb, the country’s capital and largest city. Upon arrival, you can take it easy and get settled into your hotel, or take a couple-hour-long tours of the city. Zagreb’s Old Town dates back to the Middle Ages. Its highlights are the Neo-Gothic Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, the House of Parliament, the Funicular, the Stone Gate with Virgin Mary shrine, and Lotrscak Tower.
For your second day, you can pick what best fits your interests. You could venture to Hrvatsko Zagorje – literally “behind the mountain.” Located near the border of Slovenia, it’s famous for its medieval castles and vineyards. For foodies, head to the Eastern region of Slavonia, for its traditional specialties and enticing wines.
To get a more hands-on experience, head to the Dolac Open Market. There you can pick the best ingredients from “the belly of Zagreb” to prepare a typical Croatian meal.
If you’re looking for gifts and souvenirs for yourself or otherwise, Zagreb has it all. You can find hand-crafted goods and high fashion stores a plenty.
Day 3: Plitvice Lakes National Park
Unanimously considered the top must-see site in the country by nature enthusiasts and travelers alike. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Europe’s most exotic nature walking routes. The park gets over a million visitors from around the world every year. Venture through this enchanting natural preserve and discover the Upper Lakes (Gornja Jezera), the Lower Lakes (Donja Jezera), and their scenic waterfalls. The Great Waterfall, the country’s largest, is 230 feet tall. Take a boat ride to admire it from up close!
When all that walking and nature-viewing makes you hungry, pamper your taste buds with some “lamb on a stick.” A Croatian favorite.
Day 4: Zadar
With its marbled street and coffee culture immersed in Roman and Pre-Roman history, Zadar is definitely worth a visit. Sit and people-watch while sipping on some dark coffee and maraschino liqueur, a regional specialty. Take a walk through Zadar’s beautiful fish market, admire its ancient architecture. The Roman Forum, the Church of Saint Donatus, and the Cathedral of Saint Anastasia are just a few highlights.
Head to the waterfront, where you can listen to the music played by the famous Sea Organ. A series of tubes beneath the ground that create different sounds as the sea moves through them. While you’re at it, check out the “Greetings to the Sun” installation a few steps away. Hundreds of glass plates reflecting the sunlight. You can get some interesting sights at different times of the day.
Day 5: Kornati Islands & Telascica, or Modric Cave Adventure
On your second day in Zadar, it is time to get adventurous and have a taste of the surrounding unspoiled beauty. Hop on a boat and discover the Kornati Islands Archipelago with its 150 islands, islets and rocks. Admire the 492-foot-high Devil Rock and explore Telascica bay. Take some time to disembark, sunbathe, swim in the salt lake, snorkel, and explore the park.
If sailing is not your thing, but you still like adventure, head to Rovanjska. This small village in Northern Dalmatia is a mere half hour from Zadar. Explore Modric Cave, very close to the sea, where stalactites and stalagmites (those weird, icicle-like rock formations) are still being formed.
Day 6: Sibenik & Trogir
Moving on to the Central Dalmatian Coast, it’s time to discover Croatia’s cultural richness. Just an hour-long drive away from Zadar is Sibenik, where the river Krka flows into the sea. Its Saint James’ Cathedral was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.
Totally built in pale limestone, Trogir is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The many masterpieces by local sculptors that you can see all around town feel like an open-air museum.
Day 7: Split
The second biggest city in the country, Split is home to a great deal of cultural history. Among its highlights, is the iconic 1700-year-old Diocletian Palace. This is an important part of the very fabric of the city. It houses a beautiful main square (the Peristil), many businesses, as well as artisanal shops within its walls. It’s also home to the Mestrovic Gallery, hosting works of Croatian artist and political activist, Ivan Mestrovic. This beautiful estate overlooking the sea was actually the artist’s former home. The Archaeological Museum is also remarkable, with its stunning mosaic displaying the story of Hippolytus and Phaedra, among other masterpieces.
At this point, Croatian wine needs to be mentioned. Get ready to taste it, along with a typical Croatian platter inside the Diocletian Palace. Enjoy these treats as you learn the story of Croatian Zinfandel.
If you can’t get enough of beaches, you can take an excursion to the island of Brac, with the amazing Golden Horn beach. The Pakleni Islands Archipelago is also charming, with its untouched nature and scenic reefs.
Day 8 & 9: Hvar
The island and city of Hvar is another must-see on your first trip to Croatia. With its fields of lavender, unspoiled beaches and its art, Hvar is definitely a gem of the Adriatic. If you want to dive into its cultural heritage, You’ve got plenty of options. There’s the Treasury of the Hvar Cathedral, The Bishop’s Museum, the Oldest Community Theatre (dating back to 1612), the Renaissance Cathedral, and the unfinished palace of the poet Petar Hektorovic.
If you’re up for more sailing, you can follow the fishermen villages along the coast as the wind leads you to Vis Island. Take a swim in the Green Cave and snorkel your way around. If you get lucky, you might see dolphins! You can also paddle your way to deserted lagoons as you take it all in.
Hvar island is also a perfect destination for wine tasting. Its plavac and other indigenous purple grape varieties, production facilities and cellars.
Day 10: Dubrovnik
This “pearl of the Adriatic” is famously the setting for “Game of Thrones” fictional kingdom of King’s Landing. While it can no longer be said that Dubrovnik is free from the big tourist crowds, it still has much to offer a first timer. It will also conveniently be the city you fly out from. Get a bird’s eye view from Srdj Hill, the mountain overlooking the city. Head to the Old Town and walk over the marble-paved Stradun, then take a look at the many medieval monuments. The Franciscan Monastery, Rector’s Palace, Onofrio’s Fountain, are just a few. There are a number of high-fashion stores in the area if you’re ready for a break from sight-seeing.
For active travelers, you can rent a kayak to paddle around the massive city walls. If you are traveling with kids, they’ll surely have a blast too!
Mijet and the Elaphiti islands are the main seaside attractions in Dubrovnik. A private cruise through their wild nature will definitely be a highlight.
Don’t miss the large amount of events Dubrovnik hosts every year. You’ll get the chance to feel like a true local!
Day 11: Montenegro
If you still have time on your first trip to Croatia, its neighbor Montenegro won’t disappoint. The coastline is illuminated by the light blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. The inland is perfect as a wild, untamed setting for your trip. The main cities to discover are Kotor and Budva.
Day 12: Travel day to Airport
As your first trip to Croatia comes to a close, get in your last breath of Croatian air and find your way to Dubrovnik’s airport. It might be sad to leave all this behind, but there’s always next time. Plus, you’ll have inspiration for what you’d like to do on your second visit.
Unveil the secrets of Croatia – a wonderful adventure is waiting for you. Be careful though, it can become addictive!