After having ticked off the biggest landmarks of Croatia , you will certainly love my tips for discovering Croatia off the beaten path.
In the first article you got short descriptions on which landmark not to miss when visiting Croatia for the first time. I mean, you can’t go to Croatia without visiting the Plitvice wonder or the Kornati National Park.
But apart from these wonders Croatia also holds some beautiful old cities, wine districts, mountainous areas and stunning islands.
Here goes my second list of must do’s in Croatia. To make it easy on you fellow roadtrippers out there; I’ve put the list in order from north to south. This article will talk about the regions: Pula, Slavonia and northern Dalmatia, the mainland and the small islets attached to them.
In comparison to most European Capitals Zagreb is rather small. It also doesn’t have a big suburban area. But that also contributes to the charm. The heart of Zagreb consists out of two old towns Gradec and Kaptol. Over the years they grew together and the whole city expanded from there. Both neighbourhoods are well worth a visit. Between the two old towns you can find a neighbourhood full of cafés, restaurants and bars. If you go there you are up for a great night.
On the foot of these two old cities you can find Dolac Market, which operates every morning and offers everything you need for a great lunch.
For those of you who have seen Croatia before will surely remember the scars of the last war. To me it was so unnatural that a country so beautiful with such warm people went through such horror. The last Balkanwar actually started in Zagreb and they offer a fair amount of decent tours trying to explain the uncomprehensible.
Round Zadar you also find a big stretch of parks which are fun and beautiful to walk through. One of the parks holds a beautiful zoo right in the middle of it. And just like any big city you can find the best musea. One of our favorites was the museum for Illusions. It was fun, interactive and great for kids. But the museum that popped out the most was the museum for broken relationships. I was quite scared about what the girls would think of it, but I ended up translating stories for 3 hours and we ended our visit into each others arms being grateful we had each other.
Less than an hour away from the capital Zagreb there is this stunning little town right out of a fairytale. People often call it little Vienna.
Used mostly as backdrop for many wedding -and engagement pic it still is an amazing place to visit and due to it’s location quite far away from the most know touristic sites, still a hidden gem.
Must-see places are the main square, the old castle, churches, and cemetary. Don’t expect a big city, but rather a beautiful place to enjoy coffee and cake and the classic, harty eastern-Croatian dishes.
The biggest national park and also the most know natural landmark of Croatia. Mostly it is visited as a daytrip (check my first visit to Croatia article to know more about visiting Plitvice as a daytrip), but some of you might spent more time in Croatia or just really love Plitvice. If so there are many more things to do in the park.
Did you know Plitvice has some epic caves and it is a perfect place to enjoy outdoor sports due to it s mild temperature in summer?
If you travel slightly west you will pass Kuterevo. Not much to tell about it but it runs a bear-sanctuary. Don’t expect a big zoo, but rather a place where they genuinely try to help rescued bears and give them a good and spacious home. One of the volunteers will happily show you around. After that you can take a walk, relax a bit in the hammocks and enjoy your picknick.
INSIDERSTIP: For those of you really planning on travelling off the beaten path; contact them to volunteer yourself or with your family. Also check out my article on bearspotting.
Often said to be one of the most beautiful parts of Croatia with also the friendliest people (said by a Croatian girl once. Though I don’t really agree: I get her point, Croatians are helpful and correct but have this eastern European and kind of practical and matter-of-factly. As for Istrians, being so close to Italie, they have this Italian warmness added to it.
Best to spend about a week in Istria. Rovinj, Pula or Lovran are the best places to stay if you want to discover the peninsula. Personally I would opt for Rovinj being the closest to the Brijuni National Park. It is also a beautiful medieval town with a cosmpolitan flair to his architecture.
Brijuni is a park full of little paradise-like islands. Tito even made it his own paradise with safari-animals and lots of options for relaxation.
Opatija is known for his resort culture and has a 12 kilometer long beachside walk. Though very busy in summer it keeps on having a relaxed atmosphere.
Best way to discover Istria is in late spring or fall on a vespa or any scooter. You can drive all day, discover the beautiful Amphitheater in Pula, the small villages, wineries, take a dip in the beautiful sea and enjoy a wine aperitivo when back in your own little ‘town’.
Personally we haven’t made the best use of this region in Croatia while I’ve been planning on it for some time. We’ve discovered the borders of it and we’ve drove through it but that’s it.
And it is a shame because the Velebit mountain culture is totally something else. The temperature is completely different and it will also rain in summer. Yet it is stunning and has lots of greenery. You will feel revived.
In the Velebit you can find lots of chalets to stay in. The ones you find on the internet are usually quite expensive, but if you drive there yourself you can see many people renting out a little room or even a little chalet.
You can take beautiful paths for riding on a horseback through the Velebit. Enjoy them.
This little peninsula Island is mostly known for his nightlife. Though Croatia is mostly a family destination, Primosten offers treats for the young traveller. You can find quiet beaches but also more wild ones which are not suitable for families with young children. Nightlife is a big thing in Primosten. It is also the place with the biggest club and international DJ’s often play there.
Sibenik was the first place we visited in Croatia, now more than 13 years ago. Back then it was still recovering from the last homeland war, especially the suburbs.
In the meanwhile it bloomed to be a great destination for families. It is also the region with the biggest Splashpark in Croatia.
The town itself is a romantic and beautiful place with great restaurants and architectural gems.
What we loved were the little boats in the harbour. You can take them to the inhabited islands right before the coast of Sibenik. Just the boatride is great already. You will pass the beautiful high rocks that will lead you to the open sea where the islands can be found.
Inhabited island hopping
- Zlarin Island: Not exactly an inhabited island, but it is carfree. It is mostly known for the strong fishermen community, great beaches with lots of watersports and pine tree forests.
- Kaprije Island: Make sure you visit the islet de Baljenac. It is full of drystone walls, vineyards, olive -and figgroves. The island is also known as fingerprint island because the coastline rocks resemble the shape of fingerprints.
- Krapanj Island: The island known for the sea sponge harvesting. It is our favorite, the smallest island and the place where we’ve spent most of our babymoon. The memories to the clear waters are so sweet.
- Prvic Island: A carfree island but far from remote. If you like cute villages this is your place. Put on the sunhat and wear the flowwy skirt and enjoy wine and good food.
- Zirje Island: The most remote of all islands and not so easy to reach. The ferries going there aren’t too frequent and the distance is 90 minutes. It is a great choice for those planning to indulge into fish menus as the fishing traditon is really big there.
Skradin or the town mostly known for Krka national parc is situated less than 20 minutes from Sibenik. Though daytrips are easily done … if you really want to travel off the beaten path it might also be a good idea to spend 3-4 days in Skradin to escape the tiring hot saltyness of Sibenik in Summer.
When you visit Krka, try to be there before openingtime. The main waterfall Skradinski buk is very busy in high season. Make sure to also do the short walk over the waterfalls. If you follow this itinary you will get back round luchtime and you will have time to also visit the monastry, other waterfalls and cave.
A plus when you stay in Skradin is how you can spread your visits over 3 days (you have a special ticket) and you can also enjoy the beautiful little town of Skradin.
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Also read my previous post on what you should definitely visit on a first travel to Croatia.
3 thoughts on “Croatia off the beaten path: Mainland”
Your Croatia resources are unbelievably helpful! Thank you so much!
👌👌 Thank you for this article, I am going to take way more time than planned while travelling through Croatia.