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The Go Ahead Travel Guide to Croatia

Jun 11, 2020 by Emily Houston

Like everything we do here at Go Ahead Tours, this destination guide was handcrafted for you by our global team! Read on to get our staffers’ insider tips from their travels.

If the words “travel to Croatia” haven’t made it onto your travel to-do list, then consider this Croatia travel guide your reason to add it. You’ll get an insider’s peek into everything the showstopping country has to offer—and there’s a lot! From things to see in Croatia (Plitvice Lakes National Park is a must) to places to visit in Croatia (you won’t want to miss Dubrovnik), here’s your complete guide to planning a trip to Croatia.

TIPS FOR TRAVELING TO CROATIA

Currency: Croatian kuna

Language: Croatian. It’s the most commonly used form of the Serbo-Croatian language. People from Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina all speak a slightly different version of this language, making it easy for people from the region to understand each other.

UNESCO-listed sites: The country has 10 in total. Our favorites are Plitvice Lakes National Park, the Old City of Dubrovnik, and Diocletian’s Palace in Split.

Best way to get around: Lucky for you, when you travel to Croatia you’ll have an expert driving you to the country’s top cities via private bus. Once you’re in each city, walking is the best way to explore.

Pre-trip travel tip: While your expert Tour Director will of course dive into the region’s history, you may be interested in doing some research before you depart. “The area of former Yugoslavia has gone through a lot, which has created a complex history and interesting cultures,” said staffer Nic.

We recommend watching Once Brothers on YouTube, Google Play, or Amazon Prime. This ESPN 30 for 30 documentary explores how the friendship between Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac, two NBA players, was torn apart during the Yugoslav Wars.

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WHEN TO GO TO CROATIA

While there’s certainly no wrong time to travel to Croatia, the country shines in the off-season. Our team loved being able to visit once the toasty summer temps had come and gone. If you’re all about summer travel, we have tips for you, too!

  • The fall for the best weather and off-season perks. “I traveled to Croatia at the end of September into early October and I could not have asked for better weather,” said staffer Emily. “Our Tour Director even told us that the fall was one of his favorite times to visit the country because it’s the perfect temperature and all of the summer crowds have returned home. He was completely right!”
  • Summer for beach days and endless sunshine. Summer is the peak travel time in Croatia, but don’t let that deter you. There will be warm summer weather to welcome you (just make sure you pack accordingly!). Plus, a dip in the Adriatic is the perfect way to cool off after spending the day exploring historic cities.

Check out our top-rated tour of Croatia

WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO CROATIA

As you plan your Croatia travel, you’ll need to think about what makes it into your luggage. Many of the cities along the Dalmatian Coast (think: Dubrovnik, Split, and Zadar) are known for their sunny weather. Whereas places like Zagreb and Plitvice are located more inland and tend to be more temperate. That’s why we recommend packing warm-weather basics and a few easy layering pieces you can wear when needed when you travel to Croatia.

  • Reliable walking shoes. Every single one of our staffers who’s traveled to Croatia recommended bringing a comfortable pair of walking shoes. “Those streets are not evenly paved,” said staffer Nic, with a laugh.
  • A bathing suit. Croatia is known for its beautiful coastline and you may want to sneak in a dip in the Adriatic during your free time. If you see some sunshine and waves in your travel plans, it’s best to pack accordingly.
  • Your summer essentials. “If you’re going in the summer it is HOT, so bring clothes that will be breathable and allow you to move around,” said staffer Nic. Packing a pair of sunglasses and some sunscreen never hurt either!
  • A jacket for layering. While city’s like Dubrovnik are a haven for sun lovers, once you head north into the the Lika region, where Plitvice Lakes National Park is located, you’ll find the temperature dips. “When you head out on your sightseeing tour of the lakes it will likely be crisp and chilly, no matter the time of year, so make sure you wear a light jacket to keep you warm in the morning,” said staffer Emily.

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THINGS TO SEE IN CROATIA

You know all those pictures of terracotta rooftops and turquoise lakes you keep seeing whenever you look up the best places to go in Croatia? Our Croatia tours bring you there with a local guide who’s ready to give you all the history and fun facts. Here are the top things to see in Croatia—but our list could go on forever.

  • Plitvice Lakes National Park. If we have to use only one word to describe the park’s falls and jewel-toned water, we’re going to follow suit with staffer Amanda and say “otherworldly.” Check out our guide to this stunning UNESCO World Heritage site, which also happens to be one of our favorite places to visit in Croatia.
  • Dubrovnik’s Old City. “The city is so historic, but it’s also small enough that you can explore without getting lost,” said staffer Emily. “It’s really easy to see the whole city in a day or two.”
  • The water! “Most of the country is coastline and the Adriatic is an absolutely beautiful shade of blue,” said staffer Nic. The best part? You don’t have to go to the beach to soak in the views. All you have to do is walk along the waterfront in cities like Dubrovnik, Zadar, and Split. Plus, when you’re driving along the Dalamatian Coast you’ll have coastal views for hours.
  • Diocletian’s Palace in Split. “If you were to just walk through this limestone palace on your own you wouldn’t think it’s anything special, but luckily we had the most incredible local guide who made the history of this place come to life,” said staffer Emily. “Plus, scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here and I definitely geeked out about that.”

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THINGS TO DO IN CROATIA DURING YOUR FREE TIME

No Croatia travel guide would be complete without the best suggestions for how to spend your free time. Whether you find yourself in seaside Dubrovnik or the capital city of Zagreb, you’ll have time to set out and explore the cities at your leisure. Here are all of the best things to do in Croatia, tested and approved by our team.

  • Walk along Dubrovnik’s city walls. Time and again this came up as one of the top things to do in Croatia. “Walk the walls in Dubrovnik right when they open in the morning, before it gets too hot and crowded,” said staffer Sarah. “There are lots of cafes to stop and grab breakfast along the way!” Get the inside scoop on this can’t-miss activity (which offers the best views in the city) and more free time tips in our Dubrovnik travel guide.
  • Boat over to Lokrum Island in Dubrovnik. “Take the ferry to the Island of Lokrum to get away from the hustle of the city for a bit,” said staffer Amanda. “You can see ruins, beautiful wildlife, and a couple museums, AND you can jump into the water and swim near the shore,” added staffer Nic. Learn more about Lokrum Island in our Dubrovnik travel guide.
  • Head up to Mount Srđ in Dubrovnik. “You can either hike or take the gondola up to this old fortress and look out over the old town,” said staffer Nic. “That’s where you can get the iconic pic of the city walls, red rooftops, and water.” Read our Dubrovnik travel guide to get more tips for visiting this iconic spot.
  • Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. Read our insider’s guide to Zagreb to learn about this unique museum and get more tips on how to spend free time in Croatia’s capital city.
  • Enjoy a gelato on Zadar’s waterfront. Tracing the city’s shoreline is a set of marble steps. But even more interesting is what lies within them. Holes drilled into the tops and bottoms of the steps form manmade pipes of different lengths. Air is pushed up through the pipes as the waves crash underneath, creating a one-of-a-kind sea organ. “Instead of getting a sit-down lunch in Zadar, I ordered gelato and enjoyed it while sitting on the steps,” said staffer Emily. “Good food and seaside views. It’s the perfect combo!”
  • Add on extra days to visit Hvar. “If you can make it to Hvar, do it,” said staffer Nic. While this popular island is located near Dubrovnik, it’s a little far for a day trip. That’s why we recommend customizing your tour to spend time on the island at your leisure before your tour starts. The best part? We’ll help you make those arrangements!

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WHAT TO EAT & DRINK IN CROATIA

Ok, it’s time to dish out one of our tops tips for traveling to Croatia: You should come ready to dig in to local cuisine. Of course the local sites are remarkable, but just wait until you sit down and try your first plate of ćevapi. We promise it’ll be so good, you’ll be asking the chef to share their secret recipe.

  • Ćevapi from anywhere and everywhere. “It’s actually a Bosnian dish, but it can be found in Croatia, too,” said staffer Sarah. “It’s similar to a meatball made out of minced beef and served with onions.” Two local spots in Split that we love for their delicious ćevapi are Ba!Će and Giros travnički ćevap. “My Tour Director took us to Giros, a little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roadside spot down the street from our hotel, which served the most delicious ćevapi,” said staffer Emily. “It made me feel like I was in the know about a truly local spot.”
  • Beers at Buža Bar in Dubrovnik. “It’s a tiny little bar that sits on the cliffs and looks out to the ocean,” said staffer Nic. “It’s an excellent place to sit and have an Ožujsko (a local Croatian lager)... or several!”
  • Wine from the Istria peninsula. Mainly produced by small, local winemakers, wines from this area feature both regional and international grape varieties. Most bottles of wine are kept within the country, rather than being exported, making it a hyperlocal product that you can truly only try when you visit Croatia. One type of wine you have to try? Malvazija Istarska. This refreshing white wine is the most popular varietal in the area and pairs perfectly with fish!
  • Fresh seafood on a private beach (yes, really!). “I highly recommend adding the Scenic Dubrovnik Coast Cruise & Dinner excursion to enjoy a private boat ride past the city walls and over to St. Jacob’s Beach, where you’ll be treated to a three-course dinner on the shores of the beach,” said staffer Emily. “I couldn’t have picked a more perfect backdrop to enjoy fresh-cooked seafood and watch the sunset.”

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SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN CROATIA

When you have some free time and you’re wondering what to do in Croatia, we recommend shopping for some souvenirs. Local stores always have the best options and they’re the perfect places the pick up a gift that’ll bring back the flavors and scents of Croatia once you’re back home.

  • Fig jam. Dalmatia is known for producing flavorful figs, and picking up a small jar of jam is a great way to bring the flavors of Croatia back home. We recommend stopping by Uje Oil Shop in Split. They sell a wide selection of unique jams, oils, and hot sauces.
  • White limestone jewelry. The island of Brač, which is located north of Dubrovnik, is where much of the white limestone used in buildings throughout the country is quarried. It’s so famous in fact, that even the White House features pieces of Brač limestone. Bring home a set of earrings, a necklace, or a bracelet made from the classic stone.
  • A cravat. Fun fact: The necktie was invented in Croatia! In 1630, King Louis XIII saw Croatian mercenaries wearing the fabric around their neck. He was impressed by the variety of colors and fabrics and soon after, the cravat became part of the Paris fashion scene. Stop by Kravata in Zagreb to find a monochromatic necktie that will match most pieces in your wardrobe, or step outside the box and pick a patterned one to jazz up any outfit.
  • Sachets of lavender. Most people will likely name France’s Provence region when asked where to find lavender in Europe. While we heart Provence for its lovely lavender fields, travelers shouldn’t overlook Croatia. Hvar is known as the Island of Lavender, and in late summer the fields turn the perfect shade of purple when the flower blooms. Visit the Green Markets in Trogir or Split to buy a sachet of lavender from the island.

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About the author | Emily Houston
Emily loves the simple travel moments—like watching hours pass by in minutes while sharing a meal and a laugh (or many) with her friends and family. Outside the office, you'll find Emily listening to anything and everything John Mayer, attempting to cook a New York Times recipe, or dreaming up her next trip.

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waterfalls at plitvice lakes national park in split
Croatia & Slovenia: The Old-World Adriatic
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