Croatia is far more than Dubrovnik, great though it is. Discover five (other) places in Croatia that should be on your travel hit list!
Croatia, a country that came into existence in 1991 with the collapse of Yugoslavia, is a fashionable tourist destination. Travellers flock in great numbers to Dubrovnik because of its Game of Thrones connection – a popularity that has been maintained despite the series coming to an end.
However, Croatia is far more than this one city, great though it is. In fact, for the more independently-minded tourist the country has so much more to offer than its famed walled enclave. Moreover, it’s all easily accessible and getting around is a doddle. So pack your bag, book a flight – EasyJet links to lots of Croatian destinations from Gatwick – and prepared for a feast of cool culture and sophistication in one the of the EU’s newest nations.
Our top five places to visit in Croatia
The largest town in Istria with 90,000 inhabitants, Pula’s coastal position has guaranteed its popularity since ancient times. The proof is obvious as soon as you arrive – there’s no missing the Roman theatre, which is still in use to this day. Those Romans knew how to build. In fact, during my visit I got to see gladiatorial combat in the arena, which might sound a little comical but it was actually very good indeed. The stone seating, however, paid testament to the resilience of the Roman rear.
The old town is a mix of narrow streets and steep alleyways, all lined with bars and restaurants for every depth of pocket. Many of the buildings are medieval and renaissance, which adds plenty of charm. And slap in the middle is the Temple to Augustus, a beautiful building but don’t pay to go in – there’s pretty much nothing of merit on show; the temple’s charm is its exterior.
Perhaps my favourite quirky places was MEMO, the museum of good memories. It covers daily life from the 1950s to the 1980s – a time of political and social change that’s well documented in its hands-on displays. I feel it should be bigger – there’s certainly more to be said about this period – but what’s there is a lot of fun.
The town has a great food market and the bars above the central hall are excellent – stop and watch the locals barter while sipping a cold beer. For those who like a visit to the cinema there’s the Pula Film Festival. Established in 1954 it’s held in the Roman theatre, of course.
Want to see how epic Pula looks? We’ve just discovered Cities in 4K on YouTube and wanted to share some of their great 4K videos of our chosen Croatian cities…
Rovinj, which is probably best visited as part of a trip to Pula as it’s just up the coast, is quite simply beautiful. Fortunately, it’s not all about the tourist dollar – this is a working fishing port, which imbues the town with lots of its atmosphere.
This picturesque mix of winding, cobbled streets is built on a peninsula and lots of the houses come right down to the water, in many ways redolent of Venice. The whole effect is quite enchanting, especially when a narrow street opens up onto a square or the waterside. The coastline breaks out into small rocky outcrops that are popular with the locals and visitors alike for a bit of sunbathing.
During my visit a local gallery was showing some minor works by Picasso and Dali; an added bonus that really made my day. And a day is all you’ll need; Rovinj is small, which is part of its undeniable charms.
The second city of Croatia, Split, is awash with history. In fact, much of the old town is quite literally build from it. For example, Diocletian’s Palace, which was built in 305 AD as a retirement complex for the Roman Emperor Diocletian, forms the centre of Split.
There are a number of interesting sites within the palace including its cellar, which was used as a location for Game of Throne – Daenerys kept her dragons here when in Meereen. Perhaps of more significance, though, is Saint Domnius Cathedral, which is the oldest cathedral in the world, completed in the 7th century AD.
Running in front of this is the harbour, which is sleek, modern and stylish; a welcome break from the tight turns of the old town. From the north end it’s possible to walk up Marjan Hill, past an old Jewish cemetery. The views from the top are excellent but it’s tough on the legs on a warm day. Luckily, there’s a bar at its peak.
From the bus station, at the southern tip of the waterfront, it’s possible to catch a bus up to the Klis Fortress, yet another Game of Thrones location – it’s where they shot the Khaleesi scenes with slaves. It’s position offers remarkable views over the valley below and once again there’s some clambering about, some of which is slightly precarious. The good news is that the bus starts its journey from the stop at the bottom of the castle. Waits can be spent in the bar across the street.
There’s nowhere quite like Zadar. Well, can you name another small walled town with a solar powered pavement and a sea organ? No – and that’s part of the charm of this place. That and the Roman ruins, secluded town park, cathedral and Venetian-style city gate.
For a one horse town there’s plenty to enjoy, albeit as part of a longer stay as Zadar will offer up all its gifts in 48 hours. But what gifts they are! Who doesn’t enjoy a pavement that lights up at dusk with a display of moving colours in slashing patterns? And as for the sea organ… well, it’s a unique set of underground pipes that make whale noises in time with the lapping sea. The movement of the water pushes air through the instrument to create a random series of low drones and rumbles. Bonkers and magic at the same time.
Another highlight for me was the archaeological museum, which contained an interesting collection of finds from the local Roman sites as well as other artefacts from earlier periods. From out the window you can see the old Roman square, which still forms part of the town to this day. The cathedral is perfectly pleasant as is the park, which is ideal for sitting out in on a warm day with a book and a beer, and while neither will blow off your socks they both add to charm of the town.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Our final destination in Croatia is the Plitvice Lakes National Park – a day trip from Zadar and quite simply stunning. The visit isn’t for the fainthearted as there’s lots of walking, some over rather damp stepping stones, but every step is worth it. The chain of 16 terraced lakes and waterfalls, which sit in the centre of 295 square kilometres of protect forest, ends with Veliki Slap, a waterfall 70 metres high that cascades back down to where you came in.
The good news for visitors is that there are special buses within the park to get you up to near the top of the lakes but in the end it’s all about the walk, which is wholly memorable if a little tiring. The bottom line is that if you don’t find lakes beautiful then you have no soul.
Getting about Croatia
Croatia has lots of trains. However, due to the topography of the country the rail network has limited routes and it isn’t especially useful for tourist travel. Fortunately, there’s a perfectly serviceable bus network and taxis aren’t expensive, either. Also, English is spoken all over so your visit to Croatia should pass off without a hitch.
Whether you’re flying in for a few days or spending a longer time in the country, you’ll not run out of places to see and at the end of it all you’ll have created some very special memories. Who else do you know who’ll have seen a light-up pavement and a sea organ… in the same day?
Five great places to visit in Croatia – Pin for later!
This is a guest post by Anthony Clark, journalist, copywriter and longtime friend of the Ladies What Travel team. He loves beer, cheese and travel and is a genius when it comes to making the most of his annual leave.