Croatia is one of the most enthralling countries to travel in Europe. This year in the month of May, just before the peak summer (and also before all the tourists!), my boyfriend and I did a road trip through the coast of Croatia and Montenegro. I will cover this 8 day journey in two parts. This article is the first part documenting the highlights of the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Stay tuned for the second part covering Montenegro.
Where is Croatia?
Croatia (Hrvatska) lies along the Adriatic Sea and shares its border with Bosnia and Herzegovina,Hungary and Slovenia. The local currency is Kuna (1€ = 7.4 HRK).
Getting here: We flew in and out of Zadar airport. The travel cost to get there from Germany (Memmingen) was just 35€ per head via Ryanair.
Total Budget (per person):
Entry tickets: 180€
Parking + Toll: 85€
Food: ~ 40€ a day
Car: 90€ (For two people) + fuel
Day 1: A trek around Plitvice lakes
Day 2: 5 Islands around Split
Day 3: Exploring the Old town of Dubrovnik
We landed in Zadar around 6 pm and collected our car, which we had pre-booked online with Sixt. After checking in and freshening up at our Airbnb, we went out on a walk through the streets of Zadar old town. One thing we noticed right away was how clean the cobbled pathways were! We walked all the way to the seaside passing by the Church of St Donatus. On the way back, we stopped by a small bar for a drink and then had dinner at burger place close by.
Day 1: A trek around the Plitvice lakes
The Plitvice lakes are situated 110 km away from Zadar and it takes roughly 90 minutes to get there by car. We started early and stopped by a McDonald’s on the way for a warm cup of coffee and also packed lunch for the afternoon. Once you enter the National park, there are no places to stop by for food, so pack lunch and sufficient water. There are restaurants at the entrance but not inside the park. The parking outside the national park costs 7 Kuna an hour.
We bought a student entry ticket that costs just 10€ . There are close to 10 hiking trails in the park each one filled with it’s unique charm and overload of GREEN! The National Park is quite huge and a UNESCO protected site.
You can probably complete a maximum of two hiking trails in a day. We did just one and chose the trail ‘F’. We could walk alongside the lakes and also get the view of the lakes from the top! When we reached the top, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the ‘Veliki slap’ falls!
It was almost 3:30 pm when we finished our trek. We stopped for some hot chocolate at the restaurant near the ticket counter and then began our 2.5 hour drive to Split. Split is the second largest city (after the capital, Zagreb) and the busiest port in Croatia.
We reached Split around 6:15 pm and the city welcomed us with the perfect amount of sunshine! We parked our car at the Bijankinijeva street parking spot which is 900 meters from the main city center and costed 8 Kuna an hour. We bought some refreshing ice cream and took a walk along the streets.
Split’s old town is within the walls of what used to be the Diocletian’s Palace. The Roman architecture is really fascinating to see and sets it apart from Dubrovnik’s old town. We went inside the old town and were amazed to see so less tourists!
After spending quite some time here we went in search of a place to have dinner and came across restaurant Poseidon. We had grilled Sea Bass and Swordfish. Both the dishes were amazingly delicious. On the way back, we saw quite some people gathered around the Lvxor Cafe watching live performances by musicians and singers. We too bought a drink at the Cafe and sat on the steps alongside the crowds enjoying the music. The cafe is overpriced, but the atmosphere around is amazing since it’s right opposite Saint Domnius Bell Tower. After the drink we returned to our Airbnb which was just a 10 minutes walk away.
Day 2 : Five islands around Split
For the second day, we had pre booked a guided tour. The tour included a trip to 5 islands around Hvar and costed us 110€ per person. We met our two guides at the pier at 7:15 am. There were two other couples who joined us and the 8 of us started off to a day filled with adventure on a speed boat around 7:30 am. After introducing ourselves, we were given some snacks and juice onboard. As we sailed away from the city, after a certain point, everything looked so magical. One could not identify where the horizon separated the sky from the sea! It was surreal!
Our first stop was Biševo island which was a 90 minute speedboat ride away. The island in total has just 9 residents! The Blue cave is the highlight of the Biševo island. Visitors describe the Blue Cave as one of the most beautiful phenomenon in the world thanks to its blue silver water, created by light refraction of sunlight entering through a crack in the stone. It wasn’t until recently that the cave was open for public and it has been a must-see location ever since.
The entrance of the Blue Cave is so narrow that we had to go inside aboard a small fishing boat and duck down as we entered. Swimming is forbidden inside the cave. This truly was an unforgettable moment of my whole trip.
Stop number 2 was Komiža, an authentic fisherman’s village on Vis island. We had about an hour of free time for sightseeing. We spent our time checking out the town’s old stone houses and small narrow streets, taking a stroll along the promenade while enjoying a glass of orange juice.
The journey continued around the southern side of Vis island, stopping briefly in the unique Stiniva Cove, reachable only by sea side. Stiniva Cove is a stunning beach hidden behind two towering cliffs, with deep azure blues, and the most vivid turquoise waters you’ll ever see!!! This beach was voted the prettiest beach in Europe in the year 2016. We could only see this beach for about 5 minutes from the boat.
As we continued our journey, the guide kept showing us different kinds of rocks and fun facts about the formation of those structures.
Stop number 3 was Budikovac island where we had about an hour to enjoy a swim and snorkel in the Blue Lagoon’s sandy beach with shallow water. The most incredible thing was to have a complete beach for yourself! Except the 8 of us, there was no one on that beach!!!
Stop number 4 was the Palmižana beach. We stopped by for lunch here at a restaurant called Bacchus. The food was delicious and the view was spectacular! They also gave us a free postcard!
The last stop was Hvar on Hvar Island, one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. Hvar is apparently the most expensive place in Croatia and a vacation spot for many celebrities.
We had two and a half hours time for sightseeing. We climbed uphill towards fortress Španjola which takes about 20 minutes. We did not enter the museum at the top. The fortress offers a great view of the Pakleni islands and Hvar’s old town. After climbing down, we passed by the old town, the promenade, the historic theater and the cathedral of Saint Stephen.
After a spectacular day, we started off back to Split on our speedboat. On reaching Split around 6 p.m we had an early dinner by the sea side and went to our room. Accommodation is cheaper in Split than in Dubrovnik, so we decided to spend two nights in Split.
Day 3: Exploring the Old town of Dubrovnik
Day 3 started with us getting up early and starting our 3 hour drive to Dubrovnik at 7 am. Driving along the Dalmatian coast tops the list of ‘things to do’ in Croatia. The Adriatic coastline reflects sapphire blue water, teasing your wanderlust wherever you look. There are two routes to drive from Dubrovnik to Split by car and we chose the one by the coast. Both routes have tolls, so keep a few hundred Kuna in cash with you. Both routes also require you to cross a 20 km stretch through Bosnia and Herzegovina before re-entering Croatia. So, carry your passport irrespective of your nationality. We drove by too many breathtaking view points but stopped by only a few and reached Dubrovnik at 11 am. Like the first day, we had stopped by a McDonald’s for a coffee and packed a take away lunch with us.
Most of you may know Dubrovnik as King’s Landing from Game Of Thrones. Our first stop in this beautiful city was Fort Lovrijenac (popularly known as the Red Keep from Game Of Thrones) located at the western side of the Old town, outside the city walls on a 37 meters high cliff. The fort has a triangular shape with three levels and was defended with 10 large cannons. The entry ticket to the city walls and the Fort together is 27€ (20€ + 7€) with a validity of 2 days. So depending on your schedule, you can choose to cover one of them on the next day. From the fort you get some of the most stunning views of the blue Adriatic and the orange Old town!
After seeing the inside of the fort, we chose a nice spot under a tree overlooking the people kayaking below. We had our lunch here. The weather was not too hot and kayaking looked inviting. We decided that if we had time left we would definitely try it.
Next we went to the city walls of Dubrovnik Old town (King’s Landing). There were a lot of people taking a ‘Game Of Thrones’ guided tour where the guide would show around the town with a bunch of pictures from the series to match the scenes with the places they were filmed.
We decided to take a walk on the city walls instead. I highly recommend to take this tour either early in the morning or after 4 pm in order to avoid tourists and the harsh heat! It can get really hot during the day and the walk around the walls takes at least 2 hours under direct sunlight. When we visited in mid May there were fewer tourists and the temperature wasn’t that harsh. Carry a hat and enough water to keep yourself hydrated. The views you get to see are totally worth it!
After the walk around the walls, we still had enough time to do kayaking. Kayaking at Dubrovnik is an experience you don’t want to miss! Our half day adventure at the Adriatic sea started beneath the Old Town at a small port. We set off to explore caves around Lokrum island (aka ‘The island of love’), and then paddled across the bay until we reached a hidden cave beach called Betina, where we enjoyed a snorkeling break. The only way to reach this secluded beach is via the sea.
After the break, we paddled along the coast towards the City walls to witness breathtaking views of Dubrovnik from a different perspective. We finished the tour by coming back to the initial point at Pile bay. It costs 30€ per person and is totally an adventure you would remember!
It was already past 7 as we entered the city gates again, this time to have a lazy walk across the city. We bought ice cream at Peppino’s which also had a Game Of Thrones Special flavor! We saw the Old town streets, the bells, the small City Square and the Walk of Shame.
If you are visiting Dubrovnik, I would highly recommend all the three: the fort, the walls and kayaking spread across two days.
After 3 days in Croatia, We spent the next 4 days relaxing in Montenegro. The country totally surprised us! Stay tuned for the upcoming article on Montenegro.