In recent years, Croatia has transformed from a hidden gem of coastal delights to one of the hottest travel destinations in Europe. What makes this small Balkan nation so appealing? Is it the brilliant, sapphire waters of the Adriatic and spectacular white beaches? Or maybe the medieval architecture and walled towns steeped history begging to be uncovered? Or perhaps it’s the friendly, welcoming people and unique folk culture?
The truth is, Croatia’s charm comes from a combination of many things. It’s the kind of destination you’ll want to visit again and again, never tiring of the sunny weather, island-dotted coast, and enchanting towns.
Croatia’s most famous destinations are Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar. However, there’s much more to the country than those three hotspots. Our voyages to Croatia call on some of the country’s most popular coastal towns and islands, as well as a few hidden gems — all of which are waiting for you. Before you set sail, here are seven of the best ways to spend time in Croatia.
1. Walk Ancient City Walls
Whether it’s your first time in Croatia, or you’re back for another adventure, you have to spend some time exploring the country’s incredible walled towns — the most well-known and preserved of which is Dubrovnik. At times, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back through time rather than through the Adriatic to arrive here, and this surreal feeling is equal parts fascinating and exciting. Walking along Dubrovnik’s medieval walls will give you an excellent feel for the city and its history, as well as some beautiful views. While a walk along the wall is only about two-kilometers, you should plan to spend at least an hour on your stroll, especially if you really want to take in the sights and snap some photos. Along this walk, you’ll also find several towers and forts to explore.
Once your walk along the walls is complete, take a cable car ride to the top of Mount Srđ. Here, you’ll get an entirely new perspective on these ancient walls, as well as a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the harbor city.
As spectacular as Dubrovnik may be, it’s also a very popular port. A stop in Korčula, Croatia delivers incredible historic architecture and defenses with fewer crowds. Situated on the island of Korčula of the Croatian coast, this city’s walls and corner fortresses are reminiscent of Dubrovnik. What makes Korcula’s Old Town unique is the way its streets were laid out in a herringbone pattern. This ingenious layout was implemented with the safety and comfort of Korcula’s residents in mind. On the western side of town, you can stroll long, straight streets that welcome the summer’s westerly winds. Make your way east, however, and you’ll find the streets take on a bit of a curve. This design decision helped to minimize the force of cold northeasterly winds in the winter — keeping locals protected. While you’re here, explore the narrow side streets that run off the main avenue and soak in the mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
2. Feast on Fresh Seafood
The cuisine of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is known for Greek and Italian influences. While cruising the Dalmatian coast, take every opportunity to dine on the region’s fresh, local seafood. Squid, shrimp, octopus, lobster, oysters, clams, and mussels are abundant here. Don’t miss out on trying risotto, a local specialty. Crni rižot, a risotto made with cuttlefish, is particularly popular. Marinated sardines and fish stews are two more must-try dishes.
If you’ve visited Dubrovnik before and want to try something new, consider a shore excursion through the lush Konavle Valley, stopping in some of the area’s most charming villages along the way. When you join us, you can get a taste of traditional Croatian cuisine in an authentic rural setting.
3. Cruise the Inside Passage
The best way to explore Croatia is by sea. That's because one of the most remarkable aspects of a Croatian cruise actually occurs onboard, not inland. A voyage to Croatia wouldn't be complete without cruising the beautiful inside passage.
Cruising this narrow passage of fjords is one of the benefits of traveling onboard a small ship. Larger cruise ships can't fit–and are they ever missing out. The scenery as you pass through the fjords is like nothing else. Get your camera ready, as you'll want to capture the scenes of rugged, mountainous coastline and picturesque islands.
4. Go for a Spin
For many, there's no better way to explore a new city than on a bike. You can move at a faster pace than on foot, yet still remain connected to your surroundings. You can take in all the sights, sounds, and smells, and stop for photo opportunities whenever you please. And with our shore excursions focused on cycling, it's never been easier to put the pedal to the metal! Here are four Croatian bike tours not to miss:
Korčula is a beautiful city, conveniently enough, located on an equally-beautiful island. When you join us on a cycling shore excursion here, you'll get to experience both. We'll start in the city and make our way east toward the village of Lumbarda. Along the way, you'll ride past old vineyards, medieval villages, and soak in spectacular views of Saint Ilija — a limestone mountain peak situated on Croatia's mainland.
Old meets new in Zadar, one of Croatia’s most underrated and eclectic cities. The city boasts as rich a history as other Croatian towns, but also offers a unique artsy atmosphere. Zadar is off the beaten tourist path, which only adds to its appeal. Spending the day zipping around town on a bike will help you get to know the city better, particularly thanks to the insights from an expert guide.
This scenic bike tour starts in Gruda — a picturesque village outside of Dubrovnik. You'll pedal your way through the countryside, passing vineyards and cycling along the Ljuta River before looping around and returning to Gruda. While the ride may be over, the fun is just getting started. Hop off your bike and make your way to a local vineyard, where you'll sample local wines paired with a light snack.
Hvar asserts that it's the sunniest place in Europe, and even has the numbers to back up the claim. The resort town averages 2,724 hours of sunshine each year. And what better way to spend a sunny day than with a bike ride? An expert guide will share the stories behind some of the town's biggest attractions — from the ancient city walls to the relics of Hvar's aristocracy — as you cycle along car-free marble streets. Afterwards, take some time to live your best socialite life. Hit the beach, have a cocktail at a waterfront bar, and watch the sunset.
5. Visit Vineyards and Taste Local Wines
Greek influence on Croatian food and drink can also be found in the country's production of wine and olive oil. Croatia's hilly countryside is home to picturesque vineyards and olive groves that you shouldn't miss visiting. In fact, you can join us on a journey to the town of Orasac to tour an olive oil estate and get an inside look at production.
Croatia may not be the first country that springs to mind when it comes to wine, but they're not to be overlooked. The industry here has a history dating back more than 2,500 years. Ancient Greek settlers produced wines on the Dalmatian islands of Korcula, Hvar, and Vis. Today there are more than 300 defined Croatian wine regions — not bad for a country about the size of the state of Maine.
Coastal Croatia is known for dry, fruity white wines. You're unlikely to recognize many of the grapes used — and that's part of the fun. There's a rich tradition of using local, indigenous varieties here, resulting in some fantastic varieties. Red wines are also produced, and the local Plavac Mali grape is linked to the popular Zinfandel variety.
When you join us on shore excursion at the Tomic Winery, you can sample their internationally acclaimed whites and reds. You'll also take a guided tour through wine cellars before settling in the beautiful tasting room to try even more varieties paired with local snacks.
6. Fall in Love With Krka’s Waterfalls
Krka National Park is one of Croatia's greatest treasures. Vast and magnificent, the park surrounds the 72.5-kilometer-long Krka river, as well as the foothills of the Dinara mountain range. For all the beauty this park radiates, nothing defines its landscape quite its seven spectacular waterfalls.
The largest of the waterfalls is Skradinski Buk, a sight you must see with your own eyes to truly appreciate. A tranquil emerald pool is surrounded by waters that cascade over gypsum formations at one end, and an astonishing 150-foot waterfall at the other. Pack your camera and a swimsuit. You'll definitely want to snap a postcard-perfect vacation photo here, and you may even want to go for a dip!
While the falls are the main event, Krka National Park is also home to other impressive man-made sights, including Roman ruins and monasteries. The Mother of Mercy Franciscan Monastery, located on a tiny wooden island in the middle of Lake Viskovac, is particularly striking.
7. Explore Dubrovnik After Dark
Beyond being a city filled with history, Dubrovnik is spectacular at sunset. Travelers who love a good photo opportunity, or just want to take in one of nature's best shows, should seek out a prime location to watch the sun go down. Here are three photogenic places to spend an evening in Dubrovnik.
The Top of Mount Srđ
If you time your cable car ride just right, you'll be at the peak of Mount Srđ for sunset. What's better than a panoramic view? A panoramic view at golden hour.
The City Walls
There are three entrances to Dubrovnik's City Walls, and the operating hours vary from month to month. However, crowds are best avoided by arriving later in the day. Walk the walls later in the day to catch the glow of the sun setting in the distance.
Lapad is one of Dubrovnik's most famous beaches, second only to Banje. During the day, it's a popular spot for swimming or sunbathing. At sunset, it's the perfect place to stroll the boardwalk or sip a cocktail at a waterfront bar.
After the sun has gone down, enjoy one last walk through Dubrovnik's Old Town. The cobblestoned streets and medieval buildings look even more magical in the evening light.
Day or night, Croatia is a pure delight. And there’s no better way to spend time here than on a cruise!
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