Over the past few years, Croatia has risen to prominence as one of the hottest travel destinations in Europe. What makes this small Balkan nation so appealing? It could be the brilliant, sapphire waters of the Adriatic and spectacular beaches. Or maybe it’s the medieval architecture, so well preserved that parts of the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones are filmed here. Or perhaps it’s the friendly, welcoming people and unique folk culture.
The truth is, Croatia’s charm comes from a combination of many things. It’s the kind of destination you’ll want to visit again and again, never tiring of the sunny weather and enchanting towns.
Croatia’s most famous destinations are Dubrovnik, Split, and Zagreb. However, there’s much more to the country than those three hotspots. Our country-intensive voyages to Croatia in 2018 and 2019 call on some of the most popular coastal towns and islands, as well as a few hidden gems. Here are seven of the best ways to spend time in Croatia.
1. Walk ancient city walls.
One of the highlights of traveling to Croatia is visiting the country’s incredible walled towns. It’s like traveling back in time. The most well-known and well-preserved is Dubrovnik, and walking along the medieval walls will give you a great feel for the city. It’s about a two-kilometer walk, but plan to spend at least an hour on your stroll to allow for sightseeing and snapping photos. There are several towers and forts to explore along the way.
A cable car ride to the top of Mount Srđ will give you a bird’s eye view of the walls and a fresh perspective on the breathtaking beauty of the harbor city.
As spectacular as Dubrovnik may be, it’s also a very popular port. A stop in Korcula, Croatia delivers incredible historic architecture and defenses with fewer crowds. Though the city walls and corner fortresses are reminiscent of Dubrovnik, what makes Korcula’s Old Town unique is the way its streets were laid out in a herringbone pattern. Take time to explore the narrow side streets that run off the main avenue and soak in the mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
2. Feast on fresh seafood.
The cuisine of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is known for Greek and Italian influences. While cruising the Dalmatian coast, take every opportunity to dine on the region’s fresh, local seafood. Squid, shrimp, octopus, lobster, oysters, clams, and mussels are abundant here. Don’t miss out on trying risotto, a local specialty. Crni rižot, a risotto made with cuttlefish, is particularly popular. Marinated sardines and fish stews are two more must-try dishes.
Of course, there’s more than just seafood to feast upon. On the island of Pag (accessible via shore excursion from Zadar) you’ll find the village of Kolan, an agricultural epicenter since ancient times. Learn about traditional olive oil production and try the region’s renowned cheese, paski sir.
If you’ve visited Dubrovnik before and want to try something new, consider a shore excursion through the lush Konavle Valley, stopping in some of the area’s most charming villages along the way. With Azamara’s Cruise Global, Taste Local shore excursions, you can get a taste of traditional Croatian cuisine in an authentic rural setting.
3. Cruise the inside passage.
The best way to explore Croatia is by sea. That’s because one of the most remarkable aspects of a Croatian cruise actually occurs onboard, not onshore. A voyage to Croatia wouldn’t be complete without cruising the beautiful inside passage.
Cruising this narrow passage of fjords is one of the benefits of traveling onboard a small ship. Larger cruise ships can’t fit–and are they ever missing out. The scenery as you pass through the fjords is like nothing else. Get your camera ready, as you’ll want to capture the scenes of rugged, mountainous coastline and picturesque islands.
4. Go for a spin.
Our new Cruise Global, Bike Local shore excursions have been delighting guests across the globe and Croatia is no exception. There are so many benefits to exploring a place by bike. You can move at a faster pace than on foot, yet still remain connected to your surroundings. You can take in all the sights, sounds, and smells and stop for photo opportunities whenever you please. Here are three Croatian cities best seen by bike:
Our 2018 country-intensive voyage to Croatia features a late-night departure from Split, while the 2019 voyage includes an overnight stay in the popular city. A great way to kick off your time in Split is with a morning bike tour. An expert guide will show you the ins and outs of the vibrant city, including the bustling waterfront and the wooded peninsula known as the “Lungs of Split”. After your tour, you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy Split’s incredible restaurants and boutiques. Take your time exploring Diocletian’s Palace, the stunning Roman ruins at the heart of the city.
Old meets new in Zadar, one of Croatia’s most underrated and eclectic cities. The city boasts as rich a history as other Croatian towns, but also offers a unique artsy atmosphere. Zadar is off the beaten tourist path, which only adds to its appeal. Spending the morning zipping around town on a bike will help you get to know the city better, particularly thanks to the insights from an expert guide.
Sunshine. Beaches. Nightlife. These are the things the trendy Croatian island of Hvar is most famous for. Luckily, our 2019 itinerary includes a late-night stay in Hvar, giving you plenty of time to experience it all. Hvar asserts that it’s the sunniest place in Europe, and even has the numbers to back up the claim. The resort town averages 2,724 hours of sunshine each year. And what better way to spend a sunny morning than a bike ride? An expert guide will help you discover some of the town’s hidden gems. Afterwards, you’ll still have the afternoon and evening to live your best socialite life. Hit the beach, have a cocktail at a waterfront bar, and watch the sunset.
5. Visit vineyards and taste local wines.
Two of the most noticeable ways Croatian food and drink has been influenced by Greek cuisine are the production of wine and the production of olive oil. Croatia’s hilly countryside is home to picturesque vineyards and olive groves that you shouldn’t miss visiting.
Croatia may not boast world renown when it comes to wine, but the industry has a history dating back more than 2,500 years. Ancient Greek settlers produced wines on the Dalmatian islands of Korcula, Hvar, and Vis. Today there are more than 300 defined wine regions in the country.
Coastal Croatia is known for dry, fruity white wines. You’re unlikely to recognize many of the grapes used, as there’s a rich tradition of using local, indigenous varieties. Red wines are also produced, and the local Plavac Mali grape is linked to the popular Zinfandel variety.
Wine lovers can visit Croatia’s vineyards via excursions from Zadar and Korcula. The Royal Vineyards in the village of Petrcane, near Zadar, are particularly interesting as they were planted in the 11th century.
6. Fall in love with Krka’s waterfalls.
The vast national park of Krka is accessible from several ports along your Croatian cruise itinerary, and visiting it is a must. The park is most frequently explored via Sibenik, a coastal city situated where the lengthy River Krka meets the Adriatic Sea. The vast park surrounds the 72.5-kilometer-long river, as well as the foothills of the Dinara mountain range. Krka National Park’s most renowned attraction, however, are seven spectacular waterfalls.
The largest of the waterfalls is Skradinski Buk, a sight you must see with your own eyes to truly appreciate. A tranquil emerald pool is surrounded by waters that cascade over gypsum formations at one end, and an astonishing 150-foot waterfall at the other. Pack your camera and a swimsuit. You’ll definitely want to snap a postcard-perfect vacation photo here, and you may even want to go for a dip!
Krka National Park is also home to a few manmade sights, including Roman ruins and monasteries. The Mother of Mercy Franciscan Monastery, located on a tiny wooden island in the middle of Lake Viskovac, is particularly striking.
7. Explore Dubrovnik after dark.
Both our country-intensive voyages to Croatia feature late-night stays in Dubrovnik, and the city is simply spectacular at sunset. Travelers who love a good photo opportunity, or just want to take in one of nature’s best shows, should seek out a prime location to watch the sun go down. Here are three photogenic places to spend an evening in Dubrovnik.
The Top of Mount Srđ
If you time your cable car ride just right, you’ll be at the peak of Mount Srđ for sunset. What’s better than a panoramic view? A panoramic view at sunset.
The City Walls
There are three entrances to Dubrovnik’s City Walls, and the operating hours vary from month to month. However, crowds are best avoided by arriving later in the day, once other cruise ships have departed. Walk the walls as late in the day as possible for that “golden hour” glow.
Lapad is one of Dubrovnik’s most famous beaches, second only to Banje. During the day, it’s a popular spot for swimming or sunbathing. At sunset, it’s the perfect place to stroll the boardwalk or sip a cocktail at a waterfront bar.
After the sun has gone down, enjoy one last walk through Dubrovnik’s Old Town. The cobblestoned streets and medieval buildings look even more magical in the evening light.
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