After handing in my last essay for the semester, all I could think about was travel. And so I booked my first ever real seventeen days of traveling. Alone.
Until now I’d only ever gone on holiday with either friends or my parents and stayed in one place. A few weeks in the Cote d’Azur (very relaxing). A week on Kefalonia in Greece (beautiful). A few city trips here and there. But not this time. I booked a ticket from Amsterdam to Zagreb, and one from Dubrovnik back to Amsterdam almost three weeks later. And it turned out to be the most amazing experience. Seventeen days became twenty-five days, and they have brought me much, much more than I could have ever imagined.
But that is for another time. For now, I’d like to take you through my visit to Croatia from a sightseeing and practical perspective (meaning more on food and other revelations later). I am by no means an expert, but who knows who may find my humble opinion useful.
As said, I flew in on Zagreb. I’d booked one night in Hostel Bureau, which I do not recommend you to do also. I don’t know who wrote all the five star reviews, but I still questioned whether we went to the same place.
Zagreb itself also was a little bit of a let down. While my hostel was right next to one of the main squares, which was admittedly beautiful, the remainder of the city barely provided enough to fill my first day with. Let alone two days. Briefly put: I was happy to move on towards the Plitvice Lakes the next day.
Plitvice National Park
Stunning. Stunning, stunning, stunning. The best way to kick off my Croatia tour. I made a point of getting there early (the park opens at 7am, I arrived around 8am) to avoid the worst of the masses. Most of the tourist busses arrive after 10am, so this gave me a nice little head start, which was more than worth it. I got to enjoy the first hours in the park in relative tranquility. No crowding, no queuing, no people nearly pushing each other off the pathways (over water..) just to get that perfect shot.
The scenery was just stunning. Especially coming from the Netherlands, where waterfalls, mountains, and lakes aren’t exactly part of the landscape, I couldn’t help but constantly gawk at my surroundings.
From Plitvice, I went straight to Zadar. Because I traveled alone, I resorted to buses to get from A to B, which worked perfectly. On average, I spent around €12,- per bus ride, which was usually about a 2hr journey.
Zadar was a very big step up from Zagreb, and was really just lovely. As most Croatian cities, it isn’t very big, and you only need a few hours to see all there is to see (unless you’d like to learn the contents of every single museum by heart, in which case, ignore my advice). I decided to enjoy the weather, and therefore did not visit any musea, but I was highly recommend to go to the Museum of Illusions. Personally, I recommend meandering through the small streets of the town, eating too much ice cream, and taking a break at one of the many small cafes. Also, do visit the see organ both by day and night. The larger waves caused by passing boats during the day hit all the notes on the organ, whereas the light effects are a must see at night.
Skradin & Krka
While Krka National Park cannot compete with Plitvice, it is nonetheless beautiful. Unlike its larger, better known sister, Krka does allow swimming near the waterfalls, which is the main attraction for many. The first half of the park is relatively small and can definitely be seen within an hour. If you travel by car, you can drive up to the higher levels of the park yourself. If like me you do not have your own transport, a tour will take you there for around €15,-. Again, I would definitely say it is worth it, and all together you can spend nearly a full day enjoying the area when you include the higher parts of the park, which are infinitely beautiful.
The town of Skradin is tiny, but lovely, and it makes the perfect basecamp for your visit to Krka. There are plenty of very affordable and well maintained guesthouses, and some great restaurants to finish the day.
Note: unless you enjoy climbing stairs and really, really love views, don’t bother climbing up to the cave. It was possibly the biggest let down. But I did get my exercise in..
While possibly too overtaken by tourists for some, I personally loved Split. Again, it is not a big city, but it does impress. I spent hours walking through the small streets and alleys, to suddenly stumble upon amply imposing churches and towers. You can easily spend a day exploring park/forest Marian, hiking up to the top to enjoy the most splendid views over the city, cooling down at one of the many beaches, and exploring the small trails that run throughout the park.
I kicked off my third morning in Split with a kayaking tour which admittedly wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be, so I would suggest to try out one of the many other activities offered in the area. I was told the walking tour of Split was very much worth doing if you would like to learn a little more about its historic and cultural background.
For the daredevils amongst us, I’d say to spend half a day on the zipline in Omis. There’s a frequent and reliable bus connection between Split and Omis and the zipline really was an amazing experience, topped off with incredible views. Other adventurous excursions offered in the area include canyoning, rock climbing, cliff jumping, skydiving, and mountain biking. I definitely hope to be back to try some of them..
Probably known as Croatia’s main party island, but it’s so much more. Hvar stole my heart. Or maybe Earthers Hostel and the people there did. Either way: a five day stay became a eleven day stay for which I missed my flight. And had they not kicked me out because they were closing at the end of a long season, I may have stayed longer.
Yes. You can definitely party on Hvar. But you can also rent a car and explore all the small towns, bays, and beaches the island has to offer. Go for a wine tasting, or two. Book a tour to see the blue and green caves. Walk from Hvar to Milna via the trail by the sea. Rent a small boat and explore the coast yourself. Walk up to one of the forts to enjoy the most amazing sunset.
I arrived wondering how on earth I would spend five days in this small town with seemingly little to do. But I promise you: not for a second will you be without something to do.