It is no secret that we have fallen in love with Croatia. Throughout our travels we have visited many wonderful countries, but we return time and time again to this coastal gem off the Adriatic. With a rich history, beautiful landscapes and welcoming people, Croatia ticks off many boxes on any travellers wish list.
Whether you love exploring ancient ruins, or just want to lay by the beach, you will not be disappointed. Here are my top 5 reasons Croatia might just become your next vacation destination...
The People and their Culture
Many times, when visiting a country, you will be greeted with the faux enthusiasm of the tourism industry. They will try to say just the right thing, but usually don't really care if you are having a good time. We found Croatia to be quite different. Sure there are exceptions, but for the most part the people of Croatia are ready to share their story and happy to host you. They are well educated and passionate about what they do, and keep the balance between the strict ethics of the communist era and the easy living that comes with having almost 6,000 km of coastline. They may seem a bit gruff on the outside, but you'll notice the twinkle in their eye and that quick smile so often found on your great uncles face.
Considering their very recent history, the scars of which can still be seen in some areas, their zest for life and outlook for the future is shining brighter than the stones of Dubrovnik's old town.
If friendly, welcoming people, ready with a homemade shot of Rakija is what you're after, then a visit to this heart warming country is a must!
Dating back to the prehistoric period, you could say Croatia has a rich history. From the Roman emperor Diocletian's Palace, which is now the old town of Split, to the rich Venetian settlements that lay along the Dalmatian coast, you can enjoy ruins and buildings from days of old. On the main land, the Austrian/Slavic history becomes more apparent in cities such as Zagreb with the Church of St. Mark, a striking resemblance to Vienna's St. Stephan's Cathedral. From Greek, Roman, Venetian, Austrian, Turkish and others all using the ports for trade and the land route, with it's connections to mainland Europe, Croatia has a wonderful spattering of architecture, culture and stories to share with eager travellers looking to expand their UNESCO site repertoire.
And Then You Eat
Food is one of the strongest selling points of any tourist destination, if we're being honest. Imagine a place with stone baked pizza, and homemade pasta as good, if not better, than Italy's. What about Hungarian inspired goulash and dumplings, or grilled meat platters pilled high? Last time we were in Zadar we visited the local hang out the Kod Stipe, the grilled meat platter and huge bowl of ripe tomatoes is still one of our top meals... ever.
Croatia's geography allows for the best of both worlds. Along the coast, expect fantastic Italian inspired fare, and lot's of fresh seafood. In the interior you can enjoy hearty stews, and if you're lucky a fresh caught trout from the Plitvicka Jezera National Park. We stayed in a charming bed and breakfast during our visit to the Plitvice Lakes which offered amazing grilled fish and homemade marmalade, along with warm friendly service.
If you still have room for more, take advantage of the world class cafe culture leftover from their days as part of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire. Cakes, pastries and gelato await hungry travellers, and will not disappoint.
It Won't Cost an Arm and a Leg
At this point you may be thinking, ''Ok, great food with friendly service and rich in history is gonna cost me...''
This is usually true in most places, but thanks to the Croatian Kuna, their local currency since 1994, most people can easily stretch their dollar. Due to a variety of reasons the Kuna sits far lower than the Euro or intimidating Pound (Check the current exchange rate). On top of this Croatia is still an up and coming tourism hot spot, so much of the accommodations are still very reasonably priced. We usually hostel, and in many cities across Europe choose affordable dorm rooms over hotels, but in Croatia we live like royalty. From private rooms to studio apartments, the cost of staying in these breathtakingly beautiful, often historic places is less than a night in an 8 bed dorm in London, which is a welcome change. After booking a room in a hostel in Split, we were pleased to find we'd been upgraded to a 300 year old studio with the most beautiful courtyard I have ever seen.
For this same reason many tourist attractions and museums are lower priced, even Dubrivnik's city wall, possibly one of the most expensive things we have come across in the whole country was covered in the very low priced city card, making the whole experience cheaper than a visit to the Louvre. Over all we manage to come in under budget almost every day we spent in Croatia. This is sure to change over the coming years, so get here before everyone else realises how awesome it is!
Getting Around is a Piece of Cake
Many of us are familiar with the efficient train system that runs across most of mainland Europe, however in the Balkans, which are mainly comprised of stunning mountains, the bus is your friend.
With so many great cities to visit, and outdoor activities, getting around this relatively small country is affordable and generally stress free. Keeping in mind that Croatia is a long country, it's also an added bonus that one of the major highways runs along the coast.
The flexibility, and reliability of the local bus system is top notch. It's just a matter of heading to the local bus station or finding a stop, which will usually appear on a good tourist map, finding your destination, which is usually listed in the bus window, and hopping on.
When we were set to leave Plitvice National Park and head to the capitol, Zagreb, we simply grabbed our bags, headed to the bus stop, in what felt like the middle of now where, and right on time, a bus came by. We flagged it down, bought our tickets right from the driver and were on our merry way. I would not even try that in Canada.
Tickets can be purchased from the kiosk in the station, or on the bus from one of the drivers. Thankfully, in major cities there is also an information kiosk with a willing to help employee. With tickets costing far less than the trains in Europe, many 3-4 hr trips cost only $8 per person, getting around from town to town, or even a day trip won't eat into your budget. By far, the most affordable transit we have come across in Europe and the Balkans to date
This small, but mighty country has captured my heart. From the stunning mountain regions of the north, and the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic, lined with quaint houses, to the rich history of the land that opened up trade, and brought goods to many across greater Europe, there is so much to see and do.
Current day Croatia is vibrant, welcoming and has something for everyone. Just make sure you get there before everyone else, because this tourist destination won't be a secret for long.