Dreaming of sun, sand, mountains, cities brimming with history and culture, and possibly some flavourful food? You needn't look any further than Croatia. Whilst many know Croatia for it's beautiful Adriatic islands and are familiar with the 'sail Croatia' offerings, less are doing it themselves. If you want to see more of what Croatia has to offer, without having to shell out for those expensive package tours read on.
Days One - Three (two nights)Dubrovnik
Game of Thrones has catapulted the charming old town of Dubrovnik into the spotlight with thousands of tourists flocking to the walled historical centre daily. There are plenty of options for accommodation in the old town itself, whilst you can save some money if you rent something outside the walls, air b n b is a good option in Dubrovnik.
If you are not fond of walking you may want to book something inside the walls, or incredibly close to the Pile Gate or Ploce Gate, which is the less popular, and quieter with its own stunning views, entrance to the city. The entrance to the Ploce Gate is also where you can snap the old style postcard shot of the old town's harbour.
Whilst it will only take you a day, at the most, to explore the old town's shops and sights, having a little more time up your sleeve gives you the opportunity to explore things in more details. Here are some of our favourite activities we did during our time in Dubrovnik.
One of the most expensive things to do in the city is walking the city walls at 150 ($23 USD), it's a beautiful way to view the city and it includes entrance to Fort Lovrijenac, also known as the Red Keep. If you go up on the walls before going on your GOT tour be sure to keep your ticket as it will allow you free entry into the Fort and reduce your ticket price for the tour - win!
Want more GOT? Head across to Lokrum Island to sit on the Iron Throne, and check out a beautiful monastery while you are at it. Looking for something different? Head to the Franciscan Monastery Pharmacy dating back to the 1317, no photos allowed. If you are looking to get the adrenaline pumping you could jump off the walls of the city, or the cliffs surrounding it, into the crystal clear water. It's not for the feint of heart, seas can be rough and the rocks, used to get out of the water back up to the town, can be razor sharp.
Day Three - Six Island Hopping
Now this is where you have a lot of choice. From Dubrovnik there is a regular boat service that takes you to the islands (think; Brac, Hvar, Korcula etc). We decided to spend a few days on Korcula, the purported homeland of Marco Polo - the famous explorer to gave us most of what we knew about the Orient in the medieval period. In search of sandy beaches and a quiet, tourist devoid island this was perfect for us as, over the weekend, it's mostly locals as the tourist prefer to go to Hvar or one of the bigger islands.
Another great option is spending one night on each island Korcula-Hvar-Brac, or splitting your time up to suit your needs. If you are looking for active night life Korcula is not for you! Choose Hvar for a longer stay with bars and a more vibrant tourist scene.
Day Six - Split
Split itself did not impress me. Lacking the charm of neighboring Croatian cities, tourists flock here because it is the traditional launch point for the cruises, and it's extremely easy to head out on a day trip to any number of islands. What I will say for Split is this - good coffee, the best we had in all of Croatia.
If you, like us, didn't have much time to devote to day trips, Split is the perfect place to overnight on the journey north, but if you do have a few more days check into a reasonably priced hostel and do some diving or day trips.
Day 7- 9 Plitvice Lakes
Many people swing in and out on a day trip of this natural wonder of the world, but in my opinion you need two days to explore this area. We opted for the two day ticket for 180 Kuna($27 USD) and used both days to explore differently. On our first day we took the well trodden and incredibly busy tourist path. Be prepared; you will get annoyed with people, there are people everywhere pushing, stopping, and, at times, you will be frustrated. There is simply nothing you can do but go with the flow.
The next day we were smarter, we hit the parts of the park that we wanted to photograph early in the morning before the tour groups arrived. We moved fast and took advantage of the early shuttle bus to transport us to the other side of the park rather than walking, as we did the day before.
Right behind the big waterfall, that everyone comes to see, there is an incredibly steep set of stairs that many people do not see or think there is anything worthwhile up there to see. Their lack of curiosity is your gain, walk up these steps, when the path ends follow the small trail through the bus, this is the real national park and this is where the real views are.
It was here, on these lofty trails, that we spent our second day. Far more enjoyable than the day before, having seen around 20 people on the trail all day it felt like we could wander at our own pace and stop to enjoy the quietness when we pleased.
Day 9 -10 Zagreb
Would it be a trip to Croatia without visiting the capital? Compared with all the other cities we visited in Croatia, Zagreb was by far the most 'European' of the lot. Tall, ornate buildings lined the street, English was splashed about on every sign and the people- well they were very very tall. Zagreb also makes the perfect finishing point as the airport has frequent flights to many destinations in Europe.
Not ready to go home yet? Why not tack on Zadar, or while you are in the north head to Rijeka and Pula, we spent two weeks exploring the north, read all about that here.