Croatia vacations overview
Croatia is a place to slow down, escape the crowds and find the Zen corners. The accessibility of the islands has made it a sailing haven for a long time. It is like a much smaller version of Greece except the islands are greener and closer together. There are eight national parks in Croatia, many inland, with hiking and biking routes, waterfalls and white-water rivers. It isn’t all go, however. On the island of Vis there is a saying “pomalo, pomalo”, meaning “slowly, slowly”. Discover the right region for you in our Croatia travel guide.
Our top Croatia vacations
Best time to go to Croatia
Croatia has a mild climate all year. In July and August, however, the mad Med kicks in quicker than you can say factor 50. Consequently, there is an international summit meeting of sunbathers in peak season, with throngs of international tourists entering one giant Eurovision Sun Contest. So the vote from our jury in terms of best time to visit Croatia is early June, or September to October. Or even earlier Ė Easter is the beginning of the swimming season for local people, plus a time for decorating with pisanice painted eggs. Read more about when to visit Croatia.
Map & highlightsDubrovnik, in the south, is clutched by walls that have protected its churches, synagogue and marble streets through many wars. Itís justifiably popular; go out of season to really enjoy it. You can day-trip to the nearby Elaphiti Islands, but youíre better off staying a couple of nights on sleepy, sandy Lopud. Korcula and Vis are larger islands, so you can explore pine forests and vineyards by bike or kayak cruise-free coves. Up north, the Istrian Peninsula presents terracotta-topped Rovinj. If you can prise yourself away from the coast, dive into Plitvice National Park and its waterfalls and turquoise pools.
Dubrovnik lives up to the hype. A medieval walled city is usually enough, but one that overlooks a coastline that would usurp every shade of blue and green of any artistís palette, makes it memorable in the extreme. Painstakingly restored since the war ended, this city has earned its UNESCO World Heritage status. Makes Barcelona look boring and Paris a bit pedestrian. Escape the cruise crowds at Pile Bay.
2. Istrian Peninsula
Istria avoided much of the wartime devastation and also got ahead of the game when it comes to tourism. There is a big boutique and baroque vibe, which isnít for everyone, but donít let that put you off. Inland are peaceful, verdant hilltops. Explore the hill towns and coastal villages by bike Ė you'll have endless excuses to rest as they are all so beautiful. There is a huge Italian influence here historically. Combine with a trip to Slovenian Istria.
Korcula has a Gothic-Renaissance Cathedral in the main square. As you do. On an island. Korcula town has a fortified center, cobbled alleys and stone houses, giving it the nickname "mini Dubrovnik". Supposed birth place of Marco Polo, it begs the question, why would anyone want to leave such a paradise? It does get cruise ship visitors but most stick to shoreline cafes. This is one for cycling or walking, exploring pine forests, vineyards and, of course, wines.
Lopud island is a day trip special, but this is really worth an overnighter. Itís that combination of arriving into a pretty port, rambling through lush woodland to find a perfect sandy beach (Sunj is the one to seek) on the other side and having a car-free ambience to boot. Itís a knickerbocker glory of an island; each layer is as delicious as the last. You wonít want to get the last ferry back, so look into local family owned hotels and check in for life.
Plitvice National Park
5. Plitvice National Park
Plitvice is, fundamentally, fresh. After all that coastline, this is a land of 16 freshwater lakes and 90 waterfalls. A landscape you can literally plunge into, its beauty is almost Narnia-esque. UNESCO thought so too when it gave it World Heritage status. Post a pic of you zipwiring across lakes or chilling at a guest house perched on a remote riverbank and your mates will think you are in Costa Rica, not Croatia.
Vis is bliss. If the tourism board hasnít used that strapline yet, they are missing a trick. As well as having the picture postcard aquamarine coves, kayaking and hiking, it has a passionate slow food movement. In fact, slow is the key on Vis. Go with the local pace, active by day, siesta by midday and fiesta til midnight. And with its own local red wine, Plavac, on tap, you canít fail to imbibe the blissful vibe.
Over 1,000 islands dot-and-dash the Croatian coast – so where do you begin? Our guide to the top 10 islands in Croatia is a good place to start. The Elaphiti Islands near Dubrovnik are the most-visited by day-trippers, but if you stay overnight in Sipan or Lopud you’ll get sunset dinners in snoozing villages with islanders and yachties. Families often focus on Vis, where cliffs and kayaking waters sit well away from the cruise ship terminal, while Hvar specialises in picturesque fishing towns. Mljet National Park is a forested retreat where you can hike to lakes and a Benedictine monastery.
Small ship cruising
‘Small’ is key when it comes to cruising in Croatia – the industry has a bad rep, thanks to the mega ships that clog up Dubrovnik with thousands of passengers. But Croatia is a seafaring nation and often the best way to see it is under sail. Small ship cruises are slow travel. They stick to Croatia only, slipping through dolphin waters and dropping anchor in sunset-facing bays with barely a ripple. With a maximum of 40 shipmates (on yachts, it’s more like 10), you’ll eat at harbour restaurants and explore vineyards, supporting island communities without overwhelming them. Read our Croatia cruising guide.
Family activity vacations
Croatia and Italy have a shared sea, history, cuisine and way of life Ė but thereís also something very Italian about how Croatians welcome families. Most restaurants and hotels are kid-friendly, and the best family activity vacations in Croatia are less kidsí club and more kayaking, white water rafting, caving and cycling. Many trips root you to an island to minimise traveling, too. Theyíre also the most relaxing activity vacations youíll find: while some days are all-go, your free days and evenings can be spent lounging with a glass of Plavac Mali (or a peach mocktail) by the water.
More vacation ideas
More about Croatia
Some people like to kick back and watch Croatia roll by; some like to dive straight into it. High-energy adventure vacations in Croatia take you from Dubrovnik to Zadar, weaving over the Bosnia and Herzegovina border to Mostar and then back to Krka, Velebit and Plitvice Lakes national parks, where you can canoe along rivers and hike up to waterfalls. Other trips stick to one adventurous destination: sea kayaking from Dubrovnik, perhaps, or biking, boating and scuba diving around Vis island. You can find out more about the most adventurous places in Croatia in our multi activity travel guide.
It doesn’t matter if you’re exploring the islands and Venetian cities along the Adriatic Coast or the lake-spattered national parks – it’s really, really hard to resist getting out on the water. Sea kayaking in Croatia is as good as paddling gets, thanks to the sheer number of islands (most uninhabited) and craggy, cracked-open scenery. Sailing in Croatia is like stepping back to the Renaissance, when the Adriatic Sea fluttered with white-sailed trading ships. Stand up paddle boarding is gaining popularity, or you could simply swim in warm, glassy waters that feel like they’ve flowed from the Tropics.
Types of vacations
Activity vacations are the most common type of vacation in Croatia – and they can be as leisurely or as action-packed as you like. Cycling vacations swoop along curvy coastal roads and peninsula vineyards, before taking you on ferries to islands laced with cool, piney forest paths. Walking vacations are your chance to go off-piste with a Croatian guide who’ll take you for lunch at villages that make their own basa cheese or to little-known inland national parks. There are also self guided trips, if you fancy adventuring on your own. Read our cycling in Croatia and walking in Croatia travel guides for more.