Croatia provides travelers with some of the best values in Europe. If you’re longing to visit sunny Mediterranean beaches, Croatia is a less crowded and cheaper alternative to Southern France, Italy, and other famous European beach destinations. Croatia, of course, has a lot more than just beaches. It also offers a rich culture with unique architecture, museums, food, and history. If you do plan a trip to Croatia, make sure you don’t leave before visiting the following places.
Dubrovnik encapsulates many of the most impressive features of Croatia. Set on the scenic Dalmatian Coast, it offers spectacular views of the Mediterranean, a beautiful Old Town, and well-preserved churches, buildings, and city walls.
City Gate and Walls
The old city gate and walls are among the highlights of any trip to Croatia. The Pile Gate is the main entrance to the Old City. To reach the gate, you walk over a stone bridge (that was once a drawbridge). Today, the Pile Gate is famous as one of the filming locations for the popular TV series Game of Thrones. If you’re a fan of the show, you can look for many filming locations in Dubrovnik.
Once you enter the gate, you have a good view of the city walls. Dating back to the 10th century, these defensive walls successfully kept invaders out of the city. The walls were strengthened and extended until the 17th century, and many are still in good condition today. The walls, as well as several intact towers, provide some amazing views of the city as well as the Adriatic.
Stradun, officially called Placa, is a long (about 1,000 feet) and busy street in Dubrovnik where you’ll find lots of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Many of the street’s limestones date back to the 15th century. Stradun is a strictly pedestrian street, so you don’t have to worry about traffic. Aside from shopping and dining, you can take in some of the city’s historic sights such as the bell tower (actually reconstructed after a devastating earthquake in 1667) and the famous Loggia Square, where you’ll also find one of Dubrovnik’s best-known monuments, Orlando’s Column.
Another reoccurring Game of Thrones filming location, Fort Lovrijenac is sometimes called the Gibraltar of Dubrovnik. Once an important point for defending the city, the fortress had multiple cannons surrounding it. Today, it’s frequently used as a venue for performances during Dubrovnik’s annual Summer Festival.
One of Croatia’s most beautiful churches, The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a baroque style building full of precious artwork. The church is also known for its relics, including part of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The church dates back to the 6th century, but much of it was rebuilt after earthquakes destroyed much of the original structure.
While not as large or well known as Dubrovnik, Zadar has unique charms of its own and should definitely be on your must-see list for Croatia. On the northern Dalmatian coast, this city has beaches, Roman ruins, old churches, and many pedestrian-friendly streets.
Zadar’s waterfront attracts crowds that gather nightly to watch the incredible sunsets. The central attraction is a solar-powered disc and art installation called Monument to the Sun, created by an artist named Nikola Basic in 2008. This is the perfect place to spend a romantic evening as people often dance on the disc as they watch the sunset. Plans are in the works to make this popular piece interactive so it responds to people’s movements. Close by is another innovative art project, the Sea Organ, which makes sounds that are set off by sea waves.
Zadar Archaeological Museum
This museum, which opened in 1832, is an excellent place to learn about the rich history of Zadar, Dalmatia, and Croatia in general. You can see jewelry, weapons, and pottery dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. As you browse collections from the Roman, Byzantine and Medieval periods, you can appreciate the various influences that molded this fascinating region.
Kornati National Park
Nature lovers will want to visit Kornati National Park, which is actually an archipelago off the coast of Zadar. Composed of 147 islands, this protected area is ideal for observing wildlife and exploring ancient Roman settlements. It’s also a prime spot for scuba diving.
Churches in Zadar
This city has several remarkable churches. The Church of St. Donatus, a Byzantine church built in the 12th century, was built on top of a Roman forum. The Church of St. Simeon stores the remains of one of the city’s patron saints in a sarcophagus. The Church of St. Chrysogonus is a Benedictine church known for its well-preserved frescoes from the 13th century.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
While Dubrovnik gives you a glimpse at some of Croatia’s fascinating history, Plitvice Lakes National Park reveals some of the exotic natural beauty of the country’s inland. This beautiful park has forests, waterfalls, lakes, and abundant wildlife. It’s called Plitvice Lakes National Park because of its 16 lakes, renowned for their clear, turquoise waters. The park is also known for its hiking trails, dozens of waterfalls, and spots for white water rafting. One thing you can’t do is swim in the lakes. As tempting as it may be, people aren’t allowed in the water for health and sanitary reasons.
Take a Tour
If you want to see as much as possible, take a guided tour which includes ferry rides and a railroad that operates within the park. Animal lovers will appreciate the park, whose inhabitants include bears, deer, wolves, and many rare species of birds. You could easily spend weeks exploring this region but you should at least resolve to spend a day here. Numerous tours can take you through the park. You can arrange day trips by bus from Zadar. If you prefer to explore it on your own, make sure you make a plan and give yourself enough time. To take a hike around the lakes takes at least four hours.
There are numerous places to stay in and around the park. There’s also a campsite in a town about 10 miles away called Korana. To get to Plitvice Lakes National Park, you’ll have to rent a car or take a bus as trains don’t travel here. The closest stations are Zadar and Zagreb, which are several hours away.
Croatia is an incredibly diverse and beautiful nation. Its cultural influences include the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Byzantine and Austro-Hungarian empires, and even the Mongols. With views of both the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas, and its many old cities and picturesque islands, Croatia is the perfect destination for anyone who appreciates nature, beaches, history, and lots of sun.