I don’t even know where to start. I can give you enough advice to last you an entire summer, but I’ll do my best to narrow it down to just a week or two. My mom was born in Croatia and moved to the states when she was 12. The rest of her family still lives there, so we travel back to visit practically every summer. Over the years, Croatia has become my second home. I want others to love it just as much as I do because I take it personal. This country is unbelievably gorgeous, but it’s so much more than that. The history and culture run incredibly deep, and to get the full experience you need to go all in. Don’t be that yacht week guy/girl. Eat the food, drink the pivo, sit at a cafe all day and get to know the locals. There will never be another place like the old country.
My family lives in a small mountain village about an hour outside of Split, so I’m really only qualified to give advice on the southern(ish) part of Croatia as I’ve spent very little time in the north. But like I said before, there’s so much to do that you’re going to have to make multiple trips to really get the full experience. The itinerary I’m giving you will include the cities I visit every summer as they are my favorite places in the world. The only thing I’m not going to include is my family’s village because the mountains are pretty much a no go zone for tourists and you’d probably be looked at like a freak if you somehow ended up there.
******Depending on how much traveling around you plan on doing within the country, I would recommend renting a car. There’s not really any public transportation other than those huge tour buses (which are horrible), so just make your life easier and rent a car. Just be careful while driving as the people drive like psychos and other than the new autobahn that doesn’t span the entire length of the country yet (yay developing countries!), your only option will be a two lane road along the coast that might or might not always have guard rails.
Fly into Split and drive an hour to Makarska, an adorable little beach town on the Adriatic. I’ve been coming here since I was little, and while people were slowly but surely discovering Croatia, Makarska was able to fly under the radar for a really long time. This is where the people from the mountains take their holidays, but over the last five or so years the tourism industry has taken over. When I’m in Makarska I literally do the same thing every single day for like a week and I freaking love it. I wake up late, head to the beach to bake in the sun for eight hours, go back to my room to take a nap, get ready for a late dinner, and then party all night until the sun comes up. Granted I’m getting older and the party all night thing is becoming more and more rare with every year, but it’s so easy and so fun to just pretend you’re 21 again while in this adorable little town.
Hotel Dalmacija: When I don’t feel like making the 30 minute drive from my grandma’s house to Makarska, I either stay at my aunt’s rental apartment or at Hotel Dalmacija. The hotel is nothing special. Like at all. But it’s cheap, the location is perfect, and you’re never going to be in the room anyway. There are several hotel/apartment options throughout town so you’ll never have any issues finding a place to stay, just make sure you pick a place within walking distance to the beach.
Buba Beach: One part of the super long beach is dedicated to this cool little beach bar that bumps awesome house music all day long. Keep in mind that the beaches in Croatia have rocks, not sand, so it’s totally worth spending the 20ish Kuna (~$4) to rent a lounge chair for the day. When you’re not dancing, drinking, napping, or swimming, take a walk down to the day market on the other side of the beach. The vendors sell a lot of cheesy knick knacks, but there are a lot of good gifts for your friends back home. One thing you should absolutely get is the tanning oil the little old ladies sell along the beach. It’s literally olive oil mixed with lavender, and it will get you the tannest you’ve ever been in your life. I swear by it. (If you’re like Truett and are borderline see through, avoid the oil (and the sun for that matter) and buy the strongest sunscreen you can find)
Cliff Jumping: While on your walk, ask one of the locals where the cliff jumping is. It’s a bit of a hike from the beach, but it’s so much fun and you get some pretty cool views/photo ops. There used to be this awesome little bar with glass floors built into the side of the cliff, but it has since been abandoned. My uncle and the owner used to get hammered together all the time so I’m going to go ahead and assume there was just nothing left for the customers.
Club Deep: Speaking of cliffs, this is where you’re going to want to spend your nights. This club is built into a cliff right across the water from the cliff jumping spot and is just so much fun. It’s not very big but the atmosphere is amazing. Another fun place to dance not too far from Deep is Petar Pan. Remember that in Europe people do not really go out until after midnight, so prepare to stay out until at least 6am. The best part is walking back to your room as the sun comes up just in time for the Pekara (bakery) to open.
After spending 2-3 days in Makarska, make the two hour drive along the coast down to Dubrovnik. I fell in love with this city when I was just a little girl, and it’s still my favorite place in the entire world. The wall surrounding Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Sight) is intimidatingly beautiful, and the views of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding mountains are equally as breathtaking. Dubrovnik isn’t just a pretty face though, it’s a history book with hundreds of thousands of pages. The mountains at the top of the city are said to still have mines and shell casings from the war. It’s very easy to be a tourist and appreciate Croatia’s beauty from a surface level perspective, but this country and its people have been through some shit. That very war is why my family came to America. So before I get back to the fun stuff, I just want to ask one thing of you: respect this country, respect the people, and enjoy all that it has to offer. Ok moving on…
Where To Stay: Most of the time I usually just do day trips to Dubrovnik, but on my last visit I decided to stay for a few days and stayed at this Airbnb. The owner is super sweet and the house can be rented as a whole, or you can rent individual rooms that all come with their own bathrooms. No matter where you stay, you want to make sure your hotel or airbnb is in Old Town, which is where you’ll be spending 98% of your time.
Things To Do:
-Walk the wall. Like I said before, the views are amazing. Take note that Croatian summers are HOT. Like hot enough to have given me heatstroke once. So keep water on you at all times. And when you’re at restaurants, don’t be afraid to ask for more ice. Croatians think you’re going to get pneumonia from cold drinks, but just ignore them and get your damn ice.
–Game of Thrones Tour: If you’re a GOT fan like me, you’ll know that Old Town Dubrovnik serves as the setting for King’s Landing (where Cersei just recently f’d shit up last season). I’ve never done the tour, but it’s something to do if you feel like nerding out!
–Buža Bar: One of the coolest parts of the city. This bar/cafe is built into the rocks on the outside of the wall. You’ll want to spend the better part of one of your days drinking/tanning/swimming/cliff jumping here. You’ll see it while walking along the wall, but It’s pretty hard to actually get to so you’re going to have to ask someone where the little entrance door is.
-Explore the city: walk around the little alleyways, peek into some of the 100+ churches within the city limits, window shop, eat an endless amount of sladoled (ice cream), and do like the Croats do and sit at cafes all day and silently judge tourists/people watch.
Nightlife: If you’re into the club scene, check out Club Revelin. Otherwise there are tons of bars and cafes in Old Town to choose from.
Avoid eating at any of the restaurants in the main squares as they’re tourist traps with subpar food. The best restaurants will be found within the millions of alleyways. Ragusa 2 is one of my favorites, as well as…
–Taj Majal: Great for authentic cuisine. Order the Ćevapi (my favorite Croatian dish) and enjoy!
Take a ferry to Hvar from Dubrovnik and give yourself at least three nights here. The island is a dream and perfect for taking a few days to kick back and relax. If you don’t need to relax all day every day, there are tons of fun activities you can partake in both during the day and at night so you’ll get the best of both worlds. Most important of all, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Blue have been named honorary citizens of Hvar by the mayor himself. While Bey was pregnant with little Blue, the couple (supposedly) came across the Blue Ivy plant while on vacation in Hvar and were inspired to name their daughter after it. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a fact that Queen B and Hov both love Croatia, so you should too.
Amfora Hvar: Other than Dubrovnik (tourist central), Croatia is relatively inexpensive as a whole. Since I spend almost nothing on my trips back to the old country, I always splurge on a few nights at Amfora. The resort has an amazing pool that overlooks the Adriatic (both of which you’ll probably end up spending most of your time at), and is within walking distance to Hvar Town where the harbor and restaurants are located. There are plenty of other options for accommodations on the island if you don’t feel like spending the money, but I wouldn’t know because I choose to treat myself :).
Hvar Fortica Španjola: Wake up early one day and take a hike (more like a brisk walk) up to the fortress at the top of the island. The walk through the city and the alleyways that criss cross through it is fantastic and the views from the fortress are stunning. You’ll get a little history lesson if you actually go inside the castle, but make sure to bring a few Kuna just in case they charge a cover.
Food & Fun:
–Divino: My favorite restaurant in Croatia. The setting is beautiful and the food is amazing. Get there just before sunset so you can enjoy the views, and make sure to order at least one dish with black truffles because they’re to die for and are native to Croatia.
–Butchery & Wine: Probably the only place in the entire country you can get a real steak (I’m probably lying). The food is delicious and the views of the yachts on the harbor are fantastic.
-Get some gelato after dinner and stroll along the harbor while gawking at all the impressively luxurious yachts you’ll never have the opportunity of stepping on. It’s actually fun…very little sarcasm here. I’m actually serious.
–Carpe Diem: One of the tiny islands adjacent to Hvar is home to nothing but Carpe Diem, a beach bar that is accessible only by water taxi. I’ve never been during the day for the beach parties, but I have been to the club at night and to be completely honest it’s either a hit or miss. Remember that nothing good happens before 12am, so keep that in mind if you choose to take the 10ish minute boat ride from Hvar Town. It’s totally possible to have the time of your life here, in which case you can thank me later, but keep in mind that it’s equally as possible you’ll regret going (I sort of warned you). If you want to take the easy route and have a guaranteed good time, hop around the little bars along the harbour in town.
Once your stay in Hvar comes to an end, take the ferry from Hvar to Split instead of heading back to Dubrovnik. The trip is about an hour shorter and you’ll have ended up right where you started. In my opinion, Split isn’t exactly worth exploring (although some people feel differently), but go for it if you have an extra day before your flight leaves.
I hope you fall in love with Croatia just as I did so many years ago. If you need advice on any city not listed above, please feel free to reach out! Enjoy!