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Croatia may not be atop many European trip bucket lists, but it is certainly a noteworthy addition to your itinerary.
The first thing that comes to mind when one hears about this country is the hit show Game of Thrones. Many of the show’s famous filming locations are in Dubrovnik. The latter is worth a few days’ visit, even if you’re not a fan of the show. However, the country has plenty else to offer to those who want a bit of culture, history, and beautiful sceneries and architecture.
You could easily spend a week or so visiting just a few cities during your trip around Croatia. It is also an affordable country compared to other more famous European destinations.
Getting a visa
It’s possible to enter Croatia if you have a double- or multiple-entry Schengen visa. The border control officer will verify your Schengen visa and then stamp you into Croatia once they have cleared your documents.
*TIP: It helps to include your itinerary in Croatia when you apply through any embassy of the Schengen zone. However, it will still be upon the discretion of the embassy if they will grant you a single-, double-, or multiple-entry visa.
If Croatia is your only destination or you still want to include it even if you only received a single-entry Schengen visa, you could apply through VFS.
Entering the country
Croatia is one of the countries in the Balkans. It’s surrounded by Slovenia and Hungary (both Schengen zone countries) and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. Travel around Europe by land is easy as there are trains and buses connecting countries. There are direct routes or routes that require one or more transfers that can last anywhere from minutes to hours.
I entered Zagreb, Croatia from Vienna, Austria with a few stops along the way, which include a few minutes in Slovenia before crossing the border. The bus is your affordable option when entering Croatia. The bus company I’d recommend is FlixBus. They have plenty of routes throughout Europe including Croatia. You can view their routes here.
There are also flights to Croatia from major cities in Europe. Some of the airports in the country include Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split, Pula, Zadar, and others. I use different booking sites such as Skyscanner and WayAway to look for the cheapest flights. You can also use these site aggregators to look for flights and then book directly through the airline’s website.
Getting around Croatia
Croatia doesn’t have the same extensive rail network like in other European countries. However, it is still easy to go to different cities by land. You have the option to travel by bus or rent a car. There are several buses traveling during the day to many destinations including Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik. FlixBus is my go-to option, but you can show up at the station and buy a ticket. However, during the peak summer holiday season it’s better to book tickets in advance.
Places to visit
Croatia has plenty to offer visitors looking for a good city break, culture and history, and beautiful landscapes. The cities and towns are laid-back but can get busy during the summer holiday season.
This itinerary assumes that you start with one whole day.
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and its largest city. It is a transportation hub that connects visitors to different cities and towns in the country. Many visitors just spend a day here and go on their way to other destinations. However, the capital is worth at least two whole days to scratch the surface. I didn’t expect much from Zagreb, but I enjoyed my stay here.
This is where I started my trip, and you could make it your starting point as well. The city is small. You can explore on foot without feeling rushed. There are trams and buses that go to different parts of the city, but I didn’t use them because most of the attractions for tourists are within manageable walking distance from each other (think a 1-2 km radius).
Most of the places of interest are either in Donji Grad or Gornji Grad (Lower or Upper Town, respectively).
Notable spots include:
- St. Mark’s Church
- Tkalciceva Street
- Dolac Market
- Zagreb Cathedral
- Stone Gate
- Art Pavilion and the Mestrovic Gallery
- Croatian National Theatre
- Croatian Museum of Naïve Art
- Ban Jelačić Square
- Museum of Broken Relationships
- City Museum
- Archeological and Ethnographic Museums
I spent most of my time around the Ban Jelacic Square and the area surrounding St. Mark’s Church. The city has nice cafes, food stalls, restaurants, and a mall with a cinema (I watched Spiderman No Way Home when I was in Zagreb). As someone from Metro Manila, Zagreb didn’t feel like a capital city. It felt laid-back and I didn’t feel the hustle and bustle as I normally would’ve felt in capitals in other countries I’ve been to.
After exploring Zagreb, take the latest possible bus (or buy an overnight ticket) to Split.
Split is a chill destination with centuries of history to be proud of. It is situated along the beautiful Dalmatian Coast which make it a popular summer spot for Europeans. The Austrians, Byzantines, Croats, Romans, and Venetians have lived in Split in various points of the city’s long and vibrant history. This is where you’ll find the UNESCO-listed Diocletian’s Palace, a Roman epoch monument that has withstood the test of time. It is also one of the filming locations of Game of Thrones.
Split is an interesting mix of old and new. You’ll most likely spend most of your time around the old town, Riva Promenade, and the Palace of Diocletian. I liked the chill vibe of the city. I explored the old town and hung out by the promenade where there are many cafés and restaurants. The city is small and easy to navigate on foot, especially if you’re not going too far away from the old town.
Attractions in Split you can visit:
- Diocletian’s Palace
- Cathedral of St. Domnius
- Ivan Mestrovic Gallery
- Riva Promenade
- Split Archaeological Museum
- Klis Fortress
Other than museums and historic attractions, there are beaches you can visit during your trip. It was winter when I visited so I wasn’t eager to hit the beach.
Trogir is a bus ride away from Split and is a possible addition to your itinerary. It’s small but has plenty of charm. You could easily walk from one end of the old town to the other in less than 10 minutes if you rush through. However, you wouldn’t want to do that. Trogir’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has plenty of beautiful architecture and historic buildings that have been restored. Trogir was the fictional harbor of Qarth in Game of Thrones.
How to go: you can take Bus 37 from Split’s bus station. There are other buses that may stop at Trogir; you can ask the driver or the conductor that you’ll alight at Trogir. The trip takes roughly 30 minutes.
Another half or full day trip you can consider from Split is Sibenik. Croatia doesn’t seem to run out of quaint destinations and Sibenik is one of them. Get great views of the coast and admire the beautiful architecture. The most notable attraction here is the UNESCO-listed Cathedral of St. James. Construction for the cathedral began some time in the 15th century. It took more than a century to finish building. As an added tidbit, the cathedral was the fictional Iron Bank and Sibenik was Braavos in the Game of Thrones.
How to go: there are regular buses from Split to Sibenik; just show up at the station and look at the signs or ask around.
It’s possible to do Split in one day or as a day trip from Dubrovnik. However, it’s such a charming city and can serve as your base to other destinations in Croatia such as the two I’ve mentioned (Trogir and Sibenik). If you don’t want to hurry through the city, four days is a relaxed pace to go.
After spending a few days in Split, you can take the latest possible bus to Dubrovnik. However, I’d recommend taking an afternoon or morning bus while the sun is still out. The route from Split to Dubrovnik or vice-versa is scenic and worth the few hours you spend on the road.
Dubrovnik got its moniker as the “Pearl of the Adriatic” because of its striking old town along the coast. In my opinion, it has earned this name. The fetching centuries-old architecture and its cobblestone streets will take you back in time. The city dates to the 7th century and was at some point under Venetian and Hungarian rule. The old town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I would suggest spending at least two days in Dubrovnik, but it’s possible to see the historic area and famous Game of Thrones filming locations in one whole day.
Dubrovnik is a possible jump-off point for day trips to nearby countries such as Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some travel agencies offer day trips to Kotor (Montenegro) and Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina). They also offer trips to nearby destinations in Dubrovnik. Most cities along the coast (including Dubrovnik) are popular summer destinations. The tours mentioned are available during summer until shoulder season. Tours become less available or unavailable during the winter.
Prices in Dubrovnik are generally higher compared to other destinations in Croatia. The tourist boom, popularity, and location all contributed to that fact. A local I met said that many have sold their houses or put it up for rent to accommodate tourists, which resulted in an increase in the value of real estate in the city.
Attractions in Dubrovnik:
- Old City Walls
- Dubrovnik Cathedral and Treasury
- Loggia Square
- Fort Lovrijenac
- Fountain of Onofrio and St. Saviour Church
- Dubrovnik Cable Car
- Rector’s Palace and Cultural Historical Museum
- Fort of St. John
- Banje Beach
- Lokrum Island
After spending a few days in Dubrovnik, you can fly out to another city or return to Zagreb to end your trip. You can also travel by land to nearby countries in the Balkans.
Croatia has plenty more to offer tourists who venture to this part of Europe. I was unable to visit the famous waterfalls and other historic cities. However, there’s already plenty to see and do in 9-10 days in the country.
How much will you spend?
Croatia is one of the most affordable countries in Europe. A budget of roughly 270 kuna (Croatia’s currency), 36 euros, or P2,050 a day is possible during your trip in Croatia. This budget covers accommodation, transportation, food, and some paid attractions, excluding flights. I traveled in winter, so prices were generally lower compared to a trip during the summer. You’ll spend more or less depending on where you stay, eat, and the activities you do (I didn’t do the Game of Thrones tours).
Money saving tips
Croatia is cheaper than many famous European destinations, but you want to save money while still enjoying your trip. Here are some tips you can follow:
- Take the overnight bus when you can. Overnight buses in Croatia are comfortable and they save you one night’s accommodation. The Zagreb-Dubrovnik and vice-versa route is a possible overnight bus option.
- Stay in a hostel when you’re traveling alone. Dorm rooms are cheaper than private rooms and they provide you with an opportunity to meet other travelers.
- Consider buying food from groceries or supermarkets. There are also bakeries that sell affordable sandwiches.
- Join a free walking tour if one is available. You can give the guide a tip after the tour, but the amount is up to you.
- Take public transportation. Croatian cities are small enough to navigate on foot, but if you are too tired, you can always take the tram or the bus.
- Consider traveling during shoulder or low season. I traveled to Croatia during the winter so prices in general were lower even in an expensive tourist city like Dubrovnik. – Rappler.com
Joshua Berida is a writer who loves to travel. He blogs at www.thewanderingjuan.net.
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