If you are even a passing fan of international football, you would have surely been awed by the enthralling rise and stellar performance of a tiny nation that made it to the finals of the FIFA 2018 World Cup - Croatia. A small, unassuming nation located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia was until recently, a beautiful European country with medieval era-esque towns and lovely beaches. It was by no means on top of the bucket list of tourists travelling to Europe for the first time. Then, in around 2011, two things happened. The producers of an upcoming HBO fantasy series decided to use the beautiful town of Dubrovnik as the fictional capital city of its mythical Westeros - King’s Landing. This small TV Series was Game of Thrones that went on to become a global cultural phenomenon and the biggest TV show on earth. And thus, the collective eyes of the world were drawn to Croatia, and just like the performance of its football team, interest of travelers towards this gem in the Mediterranean soared beyond belief. And the hype and attention that Croatia draws is totally justified. Croatia is (in my opinion) any travellers paradise, with some of the best sights and experiences in all of Europe.
What are the must see places to visit in Croatia?
Dubrovnik: Any post about Croatia is incomplete without the mention of the Pearl of the Adriatic Sea - the enchanting city of Dubrovnik. One glimpse of the city from a distance will convince you why it can easily pass off as the capital of a medieval kingdom, with its huge city wall dating back to the 12th century, cluster of red roofed houses and cobbled intermingling streets. You can walk your way through the old city (car traffic is prohibited), walk over the city walls with the stunning Adriatic Sea lining the entire outer coast. The gothic Rector’s Palace, Orlando’s column, the Revein Fort, the famed Dubrovnik cable car, the Renaissance Sponza Palace and the Maritime museum are some of the best parts of the city. There is also the exclusive Game of Thrones themed tour that takes you through some of the sites where the series has been filmed. From kayaking to snorkeling, from hiking to deep sea diving, Dubrovnik offers it all.
Split: Split is the kind of picture perfect metropolitan city that everyone dreams of living in. It has the hustle and bustle of big cities (cars, traffic, shopping outlets) while also having stunning beaches and a serene coastline. The restaurants here give you the chance to revel in the best of Croatian cuisine with amazing ambience to boot. And within a day’s travelling distance from Split are the beaches of Zlatni Rat, Brela, Solta, Milna, and the Pakleni Islands. ‘Zlatni Rat’ literally translates into the Golden Horn after the striking shape of the sand deposits on the beach that taper into the ocean. While here, you might want to split your time visiting the famous monuments like the Palace of Diocletian, the Fruit Square, Ivan Mestrovic Gallery, Bacvice Beach, the exceptional ruins of the Roman Empire and explore the nature up at Marjan Hill with panoramic views of the entire city before your eyes.
Sibenik: Sibenik is a charming city on the Dalmatian Coast with a vibe of tranquility and resilience, whether it is in the weathered old city walls dating back to the 11th century, or the multiple fortresses to be found both inside and outside. With fewer tourists than other Croatian cities, you can explore this city and its cathedrals with a kind of leisure that one strangely finds in a tourist place. A favourite for most visitors is the Krka National Park, home over 200 different species of birds, along with breathtaking waterfalls, multiple streams and cultural attractions like the Orthodox Krka Monastery. You can spend hours roaming through the numerous city squares and peach-golden brick houses, the Renaissance era city hall, with its tall columns and arches and the St. James’ Cathedral. Among the fortresses (of which there are many), a marvelous one is the 16th century arrowhead shaped fortress island of St. Nicholas, built initially to defend the port of Sibenik from Turkish invasion. Croatia’s first water park, Aquapark Solaris, is also within driving distance from the Sibenik old town.
Zagreb: The country’s capital and the beating heart of Croatia, Zagreb is a full of important state and historical monuments, pubs, restaurants and shopping avenues. Most of these can be found in the very heart of the city, thriving with people, culture and jubilance. The city can be roughly segregated into two, the Upper Town or ‘Gornji Grad’ - located on a high plateau with Zagreb’s cathedral and parliament building and the Lower Town or ‘Donji Grad’ - the lower, more modern part of the city with some of the grandest museums of the country. It is impossible to miss the Trg Bana Jelacica, the city’s main square and the horizon point where the upper and lower towns meet. Zagreb is also a haven for wanderers, with its many, many crisscrossing streets filled with idyllic sidewalk cafes, the colorful Tkalciceva Street, the Kaptol Square with its notable 17th century buildings and the ancient fruit and vegetable market. Out of the multiple museums in this city, a special mention goes out to the Muzej Prekinutih Vez, or the ‘Museum of Broken Relationships’, which houses a frankly baffling collection of objects and articles from old lovers and significant others from around the world. If you are looking for a night of entertainment, visit the Croatian National Theatre in the Lower Town.
Hvar: Your trip to Croatia cannot be truly completed until you visit this tiny paradisiacal island in the Adriatic Sea – Hvar. It has beaches, cathedrals, rolling inland lavender fields, gorgeous cliffs and picturesque mountain-top views of the sea and Croatia’s best wine. The Hvar Town is full of roadside cafes, luxurious hotels, night clubs and idyllic, twisting lanes to lose yourself into. Locations worth visiting are the majestic Church of our Lady of Merci and the neighboring museum next to the center of Hvar Town, the Stari Grad, the vineyards in the holiday retreat – Jelsa . A perfect day on Hvar can also be spent visiting the Jerolim and Pakleni Islands, a cluster of small islands with secluded beaches, lagoons and sapphire blue waters with white foaming waves. Another popular excursion is visiting the abandoned stone village of Malo Grablje and the tiny village of Sveta Nedjelja nestled in the cliffs of St. Nicholas, Hvar’s highest mountain. You can also hire a boat to take a trip to the blue and green caves, on Ravnik and Bisevo Islands respectively, where nature plays its magic on the sea, the cave floors and you. Dive into the sea, explore adventure sports, or simply spend a day on one of the countless beaches sipping wine while watching the sunset, one thing is for sure, any day spent on Hvar will be nothing short of perfect.
What is the best time to visit Croatia?
Right Now, not kidding! Although Croatia (unlike most of Europe) has mild climate, blue skies and ample sunshine throughout the year, there is no time as good as the summer months, from May to September. The weather is just about perfect for swimming in the sea, sunbathing, the oceans are bluer than ever and post spring bloom is perfect for your camera roll. It is also the best time for those looking to indulge in adventure sports like kayaking, rafting, mountain climbing, scuba diving, with all elements in their best temperatures.
What else do we need to know about Croatia?
Although Croatia is a part of Europe, other than the Euro, Kuna is the local currency used in local cities. Italian and German are the most prevalent languages, but most people have a decent understanding of English. Nonetheless, you should try and learn a few common Croatian terms to make it easier to navigate, especially in small towns. You might have to get a tourist registration done upon entry in Croatia (as non-EU citizens), and will have to carry your ID card with you at all times.
How to get to Croatia from India?
Indians need a Schengen visa to visit Croatia for a stay not exceeding 90 days. If your plan is to only visit Croatia, you could also opt for a short-stay visa or a C-visa. Flights to Croatia, Zagreb in particular, are available from every major city in India. Middle-eastern carriers like Etihad Airlines, Emirates as well as the European Lufthansa and Air France have steady year- long flights to Croatia. Croatia is also connected densely to other Montenegrin cities and all major countries in and around Europe. If flying isn’t your preferred mode of transport, there are private and Euro buses with flexible timings to suit your schedule. For travel in-country, renting a car is the best option without a doubt.
The Mountains from the Sea
On a completely different note, if you wish to see Croatia not from the air or from the window of a bus or car, there is a third, infinitely more alluring option. You can instead wade into the Adriatic Sea on a luxurious cruise ship. Dubrovnik is a popular port of call for most Eastern Mediterranean cruises voyaging from Venice. Some of the world’s leading cruise liners, including Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruises and Celebrity Cruises have sailing itineraries of varying durations in this region. There are also a number of small, independent cruise liners with cruises exclusively to Croatian ports.
The major cruise liners have sailing itineraries varying from a week to a fortnight, most of which allow anywhere between 2-3 days in various Croatian ports. The private cruises instead have cruises of shorter durations devoted exclusively to exploring Croatia and its surrounding waters. The focus on these cruises is more on nature, and intimacy with the wonders of nature than the panache of a major luxury cruise.
A special mention goes out to the Katarina Cruise Line that offers selectively chosen premier cruises every week to explore Croatia. Their exclusive offerings include cruises to the Kvarner Bay of Islands, mini cruises from Dubrovnik and Split, and the Southern Explorer – a cruise to the Dalmatian islands and coastline.
Other independent cruise offers come from the My Croatia Cruise line, Windstar Cruises and Luxury Gold Cruises.
If you ever fancied yourself in a land as beautiful as that of a mythical princess, with castles and fortresses and beaches with frothing white waves, Croatia is the one answer to make all your fantasies come true. Odyssey Travels allows you to explore all of this, but with 21st century luxury and elegance on an 8 night- 9 day small group guided tour to Croatia in October. Experience the perfect mix of the sapphire waters, the national parks, sail to Hvar – the sunniest place in all of Europe and reap all the marvels of Dubrovnik over nine days of luxury with the best food, accommodation, sights and obviously, the company of like-minded people. You never know, while roaming the streets of King’s Landing, you might just find a dragon’s egg of your own!