Croatia – My Top Ten Places to Visit

Croatia may not be the top Mediterranean destination for family holidays; it has few sandy beaches and little in the way of child-friendly entertainment. However it has a great deal to offer the discerning senior traveller.

Croatia - Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park

In addition to magnificent coastal and mountain scenery, there are spectacular national parks, many interesting historical sites and inexpensive restaurants serving fine local and international fare.

Croatia has a mainland coastline of over a thousand miles, plus more than a thousand islands and a vast inland region; so where do you start? I’ve enjoyed visiting Croatia many times over the last twelve years, from north to south and east to west. Based on my travels around the country, here are my suggestions for the top ten places to visit.

I start my list with Dubrovnik at the southernmost point of Croatia and work my way up the Adriatic coast to the Istrian Peninsula in the north-west. I then head inland over the mountains to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, the capital Zagreb and finally to the less well known north of the country.

My Top Ten Places to Visit

• Dubrovnik – If you visit only one place in Croatia it has to be Dubrovnik, with its historic Old Town sitting proudly above the blue Adriatic Sea. Unfortunately, it can get quite crowded with tourists in a morning, so I suggest visiting other nearby places of interest until later in the day, when it is less busy. For more information, see my article: Dubrovnik: Historic Old Town plus an Island and a Hill.

Dubrovnik Old Town from the Coastal Road
Dubrovnik Old Town from the coastal road

• Split and Trogir – Many people pass through Split on the way to catching island ferries and sometimes fail to see the city itself. It has a fine promenade with many restaurants, all over-shadowed by the remains of the massive Palace built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

A few miles along the coast is the much quieter town of Trogir, with its historic centre on a small island. A boat trip around Trogir harbour is a very pleasant way to while away an hour or two.

• Šibenik and the Krka National Park – Šibenik is a typical Croatian coastal city built where the River Krka flows into the sea. It has four fortresses and a beautiful central stone church dating back to 1536. Just a few miles up river is the Krka National Park with its series of seven waterfalls splashing down into clear green lakes. You can take a ferry across the largest lake to Visovac Island, home to the 15th Century Franciscan Monastery, and then along to where one of the largest waterfalls cascades into the lake.

Visovac Island in Krka National Park
Visovac Island in Krka National Park

• Krk Island – On my first visit to Croatia, I headed from the capital Zagreb directly to the coast and found myself on Krk Island, having crossed a high level road bridge. It proved quite fortuitous, as the island has some of the finest beaches in Croatia, including the mile long Baška beach in the south.

Krk town on the southwest coast of the island has Roman ruins and medieval fortifications. Vrbnik on the eastern coast is perched on a limestone outcrop.

• Opatija – I find the faded charm of Opatija very attractive, reminding me of some Victorian seaside resorts in England. Opatija was at its grandest in the late 19th Century before wars and border disputes led to its partial demise. It is now re-establishing itself with some excellent hotels and first-class restaurants. More spritely senior travellers may even wish to sample the Lord Byron Nightclub!

Vrbnik town on the Island of Krk
Vrbnik town on Krk Island

• Pula – One of the greatest Roman amphitheatres, largely intact externally, dominates the centre of the city of Pula on the southernmost tip of the Istrian Peninsula. There are many other classical and medieval sights nearby, plus an attractive harbour-side promenade. Don’t try to drive in Pula – it is definitely somewhere to explore on foot.

For more information on the area, see my article: Southern Istria, Croatia – Roman, Italian and Yugoslavian heritage.

• Veli Brijun Island – This curious island, a 20 min boat ride away from the attractive harbour of Fažana, was President Tito’s retreat. In addition to a Tito museum and a zoo, there are pleasant gardens to stroll around.

Faded charm of Opatija

Plitvice Lakes National Park – I first visited Plitvice twelve years ago when the area around was still blighted by remnants of the recent independence war. Entering the National Park was like being transformed into a different world. Massive waterfalls cascade into clear green lakes stocked with a multitude of fish – truly breath-taking. Some of the pathways are wet and slippery, whilst others rise steeply above waterfalls, so less nimble senior travellers need to take care.

• Zagreb – Although most visitors to Croatia stay near the coast, it is well worth taking an excursion to the capital Zagreb. It has many historic buildings in the medieval Old Town perched on a hill overlooking fine squares and gardens below. See my article Zagreb – Short Break for more information on one of Europe’s newest capital cities.

Roman amphitheatre in Pula
Roman amphitheatre in Pula

• Trakošćan Castle and Varaždīn – I first came across Trakošćan Castle by chance when searching for a hotel in the north of Croatia. Turning a corner on a small road, suddenly there appeared a ‘magical’ castle on a hill, reflected in the lake below. It proved equally interesting inside with museum exhibits explaining its 700 year history.

The nearby city of Varaždīn has its own castle, not quite as striking as Trakošćan, but equally interesting. The historic old town is famous for its floral displays and I can personally recommend the refreshments served in the market square by the town hall, washed down with a Karlovačko beer or two.

How to Get There

Several airlines fly from the UK to Croatian destinations, including Dubrovnik, Split, Pula and Zagreb, for £150-250 return, depending on season. Car hire is relatively inexpensive. The main roads in Croatia are of good quality, but smaller roads, particularly through the mountains, can be tricky and may suddenly turn into dirt tracks.

The 'magical' Trakošćan Castle
The ‘magical’ Trakošćan Castle

There are an increasing number of package holidays available now in Croatia. TUI has holidays in many of the places mentioned above, including Dubrovnik, Sibenik and Pula, with optional excursions to others like the Krka National Park and Veli Brijun Island.

When to Visit and Practicalities

Senior travellers who are not tied to school holidays should plan Croatia visits for the quieter spring and autumn periods.

Although Croatia is an EU member, it has its own currency, the kuna, valued at about 10 kunas to £1 sterling. Credit and debit cards are readily acceptable. I’ve never had a problem getting cash using a credit card at an ATM. English is widely understood with young Croatians taking a pride in practising their English language skills.