Croatia: a walk through the land of national parks.
Updated: Feb 3
Croatia has always been one of the pearls of Europe. It is stunningly beautiful and safe to travel to. Though it has gone through communism and repeated war, the natural treasures still thrive and we love going back there over and over.
If you are a first time visitor and you would love to visit the classic pictures of Croatian outdoor, I strongly recommend the area of Starigrad and Zadar. A two-week holiday is ideal to discover this area and it covers most of the big landmarks.
I would say: sit back and get inspired with all of the landmarks you can visit while staying in this area.
Plitvice: The famous waterfalls.
Croatia's number 1 landmark! You will see colors like you have never seen before in a natural water.
Special about these waterfalls is the fact it isn't a river but a group of lakes running over into each other. Please keep in mind: swimming is prohibited and the water outside of the park is ice-cold too.
TIP: Register and buy your tickets upfront. When arrived you take the central entrance instead of the main entrance. That way you escape the hordes of visitors and you get to do the hike down instead of sweating your way up. When you get back you can take the touristic train (included in your ticket) back to the central parking.
TIP 2: The hike is not hard but it is far and in the summer heat it can be demanding. I would recommend to sleep overnight in the area.
Krka: River with beautiful waterfalls and allround scenery.
Interesting about this landmark is the fact there are swimming spots. The ticket you buy includes several landmarks (lake with church island, batcave and a whole range of waterfalls. You will also pay extra for parking your car. I can strongly advise to buy your ticket upfront and get there early to see as much as possible.
TIP1: Start with the main park, many of the day-trippers will just do this park and it is more quiet early morning. If you will be the first on the boat, there will be nobody else there.
TIP2: Do the walk around the waterfalls, you'll be amazed.
Paklenica: My personal favorite!
It is basically a canyon with a mountainriver streaming down through it. Expect lots of 'baths' and waterfalls mixed with stunning views. Early in summer it is the most magical park of Croatia. The colors of the water are deep and saturated while the rocks are beige and empty. You can easily do a multiday hike there, book housing and take your kids out into the fresh mountains.
If you only visit for a day I recommend following the roadsigns saying: Starigrad entrance and walk the trail up to the cafe/restaurant. You can have a (very) simple lunch there (bring CASH) and the kids can play in the water. After some time chilling you walk back THROUGH the river as much as you can. The kids will love you for it!
TIP 1: Make sure to bring watershoes both for the rocks and the watersnakes.
TIP2: Make the best of the canyon, climb up the rocks, enjoy the secret baths and take in the scenery from below.
TIP3: The best lighting you get right after lunchtime, so start your day in the morning.
When you finally get back down you can still do some rockclimbing (what the canyon actually is most famous for) or just head over to the sea and relax with a cocktail.
Kornati islands and Telascica National Park:
Beautiful snorkeling and diving spots and a lake on top of a rocky island are the Kornati islands in a nutshell. It is pure and relaxing and perfect for a day out. If we had the time and resources we would have opted to stay overnight on one of the stunning little islands.
TIP: Take the smallest boat you can find and afford. Remember: if there are a lot of people on the boat there will also be a lot of people snorkeling the same waters.
Solta: Experience the island life without travelling way south.
Do a nice and relaxed day out to the beautiful island of Solta: You can get a taste of what real Croatian island life feels like. Just take a relaxing walk around. There is some history which is nice to see, but we preferred to just relax. And that is exactly what islandlife is about.
TIP: When you book a boat make sure to check they give you at least 3 hours on the island. Everything less will only frustrate you.
Zadar: Art, history, good food and what probably is the best sunset in the world.
- Book a 'free tour' and get to know the peninsula town.
- Go and have fun at the Museum for Illusions.
- Relax and enjoy the most beautiful sunset in the world while you listen to the sea organ and watch the greeting of the sun (two pieces of modern art).
TIP: Get yourself a take-away pizza and a bottle of wine and just sit on the stairs to enjoy the sunsetshow.
Pag: A lovely island you can reach by car.
Pag has beautiful sandy beaches and the whole landscape is kind of moonlike. It is also known for his special cheese. Very nice little extra: the sheep just walk around all over the moonlike island.
Personally I found the beaches on this island very interesting. Where most of Croatia is lush and green and has a beautiful underwaterlife, Pag doesn't have these things. It feels empty and moonlike (as said before). You also won't see as much fish as in other swimmingspots.
Bosana beach is very big and you can easily find a spot just for you and your family. In the Novalja-area you can find the Spaggia di Ruscica, very crowded in the high season but also very pretty. You will find beaches with all sorts of entertainment but it isn't the right destination for the thrifty traveller. Novalja is also know for it's a rocking nightlife, it is often referred to as the Ibiza of Croatia.
Behind all of the pine-tree forests you can find beautiful beaches all over. Be prepared for warm salty water.
TIP: DO NOT forget sunscreen. This is probably one of the most dangerous places in Croatia to get sunburned.
Nin: An actual SPA beach
Nin is a royal little town next to a lagoon with real sandy beaches (quite unique for Croatia). Do not expect soft white sand, it is still slightly rocky, but the kids managed a sandy castle.
The water however is superclear (just as expected from Croatia) and you will have a spectacular view over the Velebit mountainrange (especially in the afternoon).
You can also take a free wellness treatment here: The mud you find in the lagoon is worldfamous. Its effectiveness has been tested by thousands of people,. The mud has been used to treat various ailments such as rheumatic diseases, spinal deformities, muscular and the skeletal system problems, female infertility and various skin diseases for decades.
Just wrap yourself up with the medicinal mud you can find in the lagoon, let it dry and rinse off under the showers. Swimming in the warm shallow waters also add to the feeling of relaxation.
The evenings in Nin offer lots of entertainment. You can take a walk through the city: enjoy beautiful food and visit the smallest cathedral in the world.
TIP: After sunset go to 'Dogs beach' in Privlaka to go night kayakking, the kayaks have lights and the fish swim towards the light.
Don't worry about safety, you might feel all alone but they really keep an eye on you and have a boat to save you if needed.
Reserve upfront with Sea Adventures Privlaka.
If you finish all of these daytrips during your stay you will have an amazing first time visit of Croatia.
If you want to travel longer or are already planning a second trip … keep your eyes open for my tips on a second trip to Croatia.