Croatia is surely on every traveller’s list of must see places. It has everything; beautiful coastline, historic towns, party islands and surprisingly the best sunsets in Europe (as voted for by…errr…me, but trust me they are incredible).
My friend Jess and I, took ourselves and our backpacks to this great country in 2011 – before much had been made of it as a set location for Game of Thrones and while it was still rising in popularity with younger tourists. My parents had visited before the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001) and ten years after the last insurgency, it was time for me to see it too.
Our trip was one of my favourite ever holidays and we were asked by a lot of friends when we came back about our itinerary, route and hacks – so it made sense to turn our email tips into a quick blog post for anyone thinking of doing the same. We packed a lot into just 10 days and did travel on some pretty bad hangovers – so if you want to experience the nightlife and have some days off to recover, I would make this into a two-week trip.
DAY 1 – Getting there and first impressions
Jess and I flew into Dubrovnik from Gatwick London and (eventually) located our hostel – Fresh* Sheets Hostel Dubrovnik Old Town, where we would be staying for two days. Being English, we decided to scale the famous city walls, great for incredible views of the city and coast, in the mid-day heat. The climb / walk nearly finished us before we had even got going – so best go early morning to avoid cruise ship throngs and the baking sun! Cooling off with some beers afterwards, we explored the family-run bars and restaurants in the historic port area. As it turned 5pm we headed to the newly reopened cable car to see the town from the hills above. The sunset from here was spectacular. With the view almost to ourselves, we stayed on the hill watching the changing colours of the sky for three to four hours and admired the mountains behind us. Dubrovnik is a stunning city.
Taking in a half day sea kayaking adventure, with Adriatic Kayak Tours, we paddled through clear blue waters, sea arches and around Dubrovnik’s vertical cliffs and out to the nearby island of Lokrum – home to a Benedictine Monastery and botanical gardens. It also has some great cliffs for jumping off, if you are feeling brave! The island has a nudist beach – we had no idea, so paddling around a corner to full fronted nakedness stopped us dead in our tracks! Composure regained, we were back in Dubrovnik by mid-afternoon to walk around its cobbled streets and winding passages. Dubrovnik old town is small so doesn’t take long to cover on foot. It is uneven under foot and hilly, so good shoes for walking required!
DAY 3 & 4 – Korcula
Nearly missing the early morning bus from Dubrovnik to Korcula was probably the most exciting thing we did this day! The island is quiet, relaxing and very picturesque. We stayed with an old Croatian lady in her converted loft and there are loads of rooms in locals homes you can rent – and this was before the days of Air B&B so there must be even more now. Apart from walking around and appreciating our new Medditearean diet, we visited Marco Polo’s house, peeked in at some old churches and got our thrills on a jet ski in Prizba lido.
DAY 5 & 6- Hvar
We took an early morning catamaran over to Hvar ‘the party island’ – probably the place we expected to enjoy the most. There are clubs and bars here for every budget (though the higher the budget better) and the island has a reputation to rival Ibiza when it comes to hedonistic nightlife. We went to the most famous club – Carpe Diem, frequented by celebrities (Jay-Z, Beyonce and Prince Harry had been that summer). However, there isn’t much else in Hvar town itself. We climbed the fortress which is well worth the hike to the top for the views (though again, avoid mid-day, we still hadn’t learnt our lesson).
We also took a trip to a very pretty town called Starigrad (about 45 mins into the centre of the island) for a wander and to get out of our stuffy hostel dorm room.
On Day 6 we took a very hungover boat trip to the Palenki Islands to fully enjoy the island hopping experience. These are a group of gorgeous islands, you can swim, relax and walk through lush greenery and olive groves – would highly recommend it for anyone going to Hvar for more than the clubs.
Our residence for two days was a 6 bed dorm – at Hostel Villa Skansi – clean enough but nothing wow and of course everyone is there to party.
DAY 7 – Split
Split was, in fact, our favourite destination of the whole trip. Amazing architecture, safe and friendly atmosphere and perfect weather (slightly cooler than Dubrovnik). We explored the local food markets with its incredible array of fresh seafood, climbed the bell tower and found the statue of Gregory of Nin and duly rubbed his toe for luck. We took Segways with Boris out of the city, through the park ‘the lungs of Split’ and up to Marjan Hill via a hermit house built into the cliff face. Great bars and clubs turn Split into a party town at dusk, so head to Bačvice’s beach clubs to party until the small hours. We stayed in a private double apartment with Silver Central hostel with green window shutters! It was perfect.
DAY 8 – Krka National Park
Sadly, we weren’t going inland to get to Plitvice Lakes, the most famous National Park in the country. Determined not to miss out too much, we dusted ourselves off after too many cocktails from the night before and hopped on a bus for the 1.5 hour trip from Split. Krka is stunningly beautiful. Known for its seven tier waterfalls and nature trails, it was the best day I’ve had recovering from the night before. Swimming under waterfalls definitely dusts away the cobwebs.
DAY 9 & 10 Zadar
Zadar has plenty to see and rich history as the oldest, most continually lived-in city in Croatia. It has archaeological remains from Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and was part of the Byzantine empire as well as the Venetian. As well as 9th Century churches, it has modern structures too – the sea organ plays only when the waves rush into its hidden tubes giving out deep, rich, church inspired music. The city also has the most brilliant sunset we have ever seen. Ever. We went a bar called the Garden, and despite it being owned by Brits, they had nice music and yummy cocktails. Very highly recommended. We stayed at Hostel Elena in a 4-bed dorm, which again was fine (although you pay extra for the towels!)
Budget and Tips:
Jess and I stayed in private hostel rooms and shared dorms throughout the trip. Private rooms were around £30-40pn. We didn’t scrimp on spending on food/ attractions/ booze/ travelling around, so including flights, spent around £800 for 10 days (2011 prices but looking at prices now, accommodation prices seem to have only gone down as the number of hostels and hotels have increased).
It is an amazingly beautiful country, very easy to travel around, very friendly to tourists and you can stay in good accommodation for not too high prices. If you, like us, are hopping about – I would pay a bit extra and stay within the city walls to make the most of your time in each city.