Croatia is hands down one of my favorite places I’ve visited. Maybe we got lucky – we were there right before peak tourist season so we were able to enjoy private beaches and avoid long tourist lines. We also had perfect weather the entire time, sunny and in the 80s, but no words or pictures can fully explain how beautiful Croatia is. I’ll admit I’m a very coastal person and my choice of vacation is always going to be the beach, so maybe I’m a little biased, but the history and the architecture, the island hopping and the outdoor restaurants, the waterfalls and the seafood and the Croatian wines made it impossible for me not to fall in love with this country.
Unfortunately we were only there for five short days, so we only fully explored two towns, Split and Hvar, with two day-trip excursions in between. There are still so many more towns in Croatia that I need to see, so there will definitely be another trip in the future. In the meantime, however, here is a quick guide to Split and Hvar — two amazing towns that made for one unbelievable vacation.
Split is a picturesque coastal city, home to Diocletian’s Palace, the Pazar markets, beautiful sunsets, and wonderful people watching. You really only need a few days to fully explore Split, so keep reading for my Must Do’s, Must Eat’s, and more.
Diocletian’s Palace – Roman emperor Diocletian built this palace for his retirement from the throne of the Roman Empire. Today, numerous shops, cafes and restaurants fill the space of these Roman ruins and it’s easy to forget that you’re walking within the walls of a fortress. I am a huge fan of free walking tours in any foreign city, and Split is no different. Join a walking tour one morning and learn about the palace; then wander around the narrow streets and get lost within the palace walls.
Pazar market – After the walking tour, explore the Pazar market (also known as the Green Market) which is located along the east wall of the palace. The market is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables of the season, like peaches, strawberries, cherries and grapes. I think we ended up buying fruit from the market every morning for breakfast. The market also has vendors selling flowers, souvenirs, toys, clothes, etc.
Marjan Hill – Before sunset, grab some wine and cheese from the local supermarket (we went to Tommy’s) and walk up Marjan Hill to watch the sunset. It’s only about a 15 minute walk to the top, and once there you will have an excellent view of the city. Just a fair warning, there are a lot of stairs, so you’ll definitely get your fitbit steps in, but the view is worth it.
People watching on Riva (the seafront promenade) – The seafront promenade is constantly bustling with people sipping coffee, socializing, eating dinner, drinking a beer, watching soccer, etc. Surrounded by water on one side and restaurants and cafes on the other, the promenade is a great place to sit, think, and bask in the sun, and a really great place to people watch. Somehow among the hustle and bustle, something about the promenade is also just peaceful.
Ovcice Beach – This is the more laid back, less-crowded beach in Split. There’s a nice outdoor cafe/bar overlooking the water, lots of benches, and excellent people watching. Grab a Somersby Blueberry (Croatian cider) and head to the watering hole.
Fife – Buffet Fife is loved by tourist and locals alike. The authentic Croatian food is delicious and at excellent prices. Try their house wine, bread, and black risotto. You won’t be disappointed!
Bistro Toc – This restaurant was recommended to us by our hostel. It’s a Mediterranean/Mexican restaurant. Their nachos appetizer is amazing, but their seafood pasta and risotto were equally delicious. If you’re staying at the hostel, bring the hostel’s business card to get 10% off your order.
Takeaway – If you want a quick and easy bite to go, whether you’re heading to the beach or out to explore, takeaways has delicious pizza and wraps. Their wraps are made with pizza dough, making them extra delicious.
Luka’s Ice Cream – While walking through the promenade and through the streets of the palace, you’ll pass by many gelaterias/ice cream shops. Keep walking to Luka’s ice cream – it’s the only place in Split that home-makes their ice cream and they have unique flavors that change daily.
Fabrique – This is where the locals go to watch soccer games and to hang out. Once you walk in, you’ll see why. This is a bar that I would love in Atlanta — there’s exposed brick walls, industrial light fixtures, a classy industrial-style bar, and chalkboard wall decor with funny quotes about drinking — it actually really felt like I was in a cool, swanky bar in America. Fabrique definitely was designed to cater to Americans, as evidenced by the food menu, but it’s a really cool place to grab a few drinks.
F de Mar – If you love the water, you’ll love F de Mar, one of the restaurants by the marina. There is great outdoor seating, which is perfect for people watching, and this is where we first fell in love with Somersby, which is Croatian cider. They have different flavors: apple, pear, blueberry and blackberry; and from then on we could not stop craving Somersby Blue which was so refreshing in the sun. We didn’t try the food here, but judging from the reviews online, it looks amazing!
Pub Crawls – We had a lot of early mornings, so we didn’t have a chance to check out the nightlife as much as we would have liked, but we did go on a pub crawl with some friends we made in our hostel. We heard about the pub crawl from our hostel and from some promoters walking around the promenade. For 20 euro, you get a free t-shirt, 2 hours of open bar during the pregame, and free pizza, and then you go to a few different bars depending on the night, and then end at one of the beach clubs.
Where we stayed:
Split Backpackers – If you’re young and willing to go the hostel route, we stayed at the Split Backpackers Hostel. It was an interesting set up, with four rooms (varying amount of beds per room) and two showers and one male and one female restroom. At first we were a little turned off by this, but we soon realized that we never really had an issue of waiting on showers or bathrooms, as everyone is on a different schedule. The people who work the front desk were amazing – they had the best recommendations and even if they didn’t know the answer to something, they researched until they found us an excursion we wanted.
I love Hvar and I think you should absolutely go here! Although it’s a pretty small island, there is plenty to do and it is so beautiful. The views were amazing, the food was amazing, the people were amazing — even the pharmacist was nice!
Dalmatino – This was by far the best meal I had in Croatia. Both locals and tourist go here to enjoy traditional Croatian cuisine. I ordered the Gnocchi Istria, which is black gnocchi with black truffles and shrimp in creamy wine sauce, and we split the grilled zucchini as an appetizer. The gnocchi was absolutely amazing. We also split the house red and house white wines. The staff was so friendly — everyone we talked to made us feel like family, bar tenders and waiters — and we received a ‘welcome’ shot shortly after sitting down as well as a digestive shot after we ate. Just thinking about the gnocchi is making me hungry again.
Hula Hula – We didn’t really get a chance to explore the Hvar nightlife, which is a shame because there are so many cool outdoor bars in this town. Hula Hula is one of the most popular beach clubs in Croatia (Beyonce has been here), so we at least made a point to go there. We went to Hula Hula around sunset time and it did not disappoint!
Where we stayed:
Helvetia Hostel – I highly highly recommend this hostel! The owner is amazing and is so passionate about his hostel/about making sure you have a great stay in Hvar. The hostel itself is amazing — very clean, good sized bathrooms, clean kitchen, and a rooftop terrace. The terrace had a great view and Reno, the owner, gave us shots of Croatian brandy that his mom made and a glass of Croatian wine that he made himself. We felt like we got VIP treatment, and it was definitely one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at.
Absolute must do excursions:
One of the best things about Split is that all of the day trips that we wanted (Krka waterfalls and blue caves) had excursions that left from Split. If you are ever in Croatia, the Krka waterfalls are an absolute must and I highly recommend the blue caves and island hopping tours.
Swimming in the waterfalls at the Krka National Park is one of the top 5 coolest things I have ever done! I had seen pictures of the waterfalls on Pinterest before we went, but no pictures will fully show the beauty of these waterfalls in person. We were lucky enough to find an amazing tour company that not only brought us to Krka, but also took us to Sibenik, Skradin, and then Croatian wine tasting. It was great to explore Sibenik, which is the oldest Croatian town on the Adriatic Sea and is home to the Cathedral of St. James (it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is made completely of limestone and marble). We walked to the top of the St. Michael’s Fortress, which gave us amazing views of the city and the water.
Krka was amazing. We had four hours to explore the Krka National Park, which was plenty of time. There is an easy walking trail that allows you to see all of the best views of the park, as well as a few restaurants and a big outdoor green area for you to relax and bask in the sun. If you feel pressed for time, you should probably bring your own lunch, as the restaurants can get crowded and the food wasn’t too impressive for the price (grilled chicken, some sausages, and schnitzel). I wish we had just packed a sandwich to eat in the green area. Additionally, don’t forget to pack a waterproof case for your phone or camera! You’ll definitely want to get in the water and take some amazing pictures. Also, there are big rocks at the bottom of the water, so you won’t want to go barefoot (we all wore Chacos or Tevas). And don’t forget your sunscreen!
After the waterfalls, we went to Skradin for wine tasting. Who knew Croatia had such great wines? Croatian winemakers stay local, which is why we in the States don’t ever hear about it. We went to a local winery, had some cheese and tried three different wines. I’m usually more of a red drinker, but between me and my friends we bought three bottles of the white!
Overall, I highly recommend this company, and even though no, I am not getting paid to rave about them, Petar, if you ever end up reading this, can I get a discount on my next trip? If you’re interested, go to www.croatia-dream.com for more information.
Blue Caves and Islands Tour
We knew we wanted to see the blue caves, but we didn’t know how we wanted to get there or what else we wanted to do. We ended up walking around the palace streets, popping into travel agencies to see what blue caves tours they had, and realized that most excursions include the blue caves, green caves, and a couple of islands. We decided to go with the Adriatic Pearl travel agency.
The next day, together with four other couples, we got into a speedboat and took a 1 hour and 45 minute ride out to the blue caves. Our tour price included the blue caves ticket, so once there, we were able to hop right into a smaller boat which took us to the caves. They were amazing. Pictures of course won’t do them justice, but they were beautiful! You are only actually in the blue caves for 7-10 minutes, but it really is unbelievable how blue the water is. Disclaimer: we went to the blue caves during an off-season. During peak-season the wait time for the caves can be very long, but it’s still worth it!
Next we took our speedboat to the island Vis, where we stopped by Stiniva Beach, which was apparently the voted #1 best beach in Croatia in 2016. It was small, so we didn’t stay. Next, we went to the green caves, which were cool but very crowded with boats and swimmers. Finally, we went to Stoncica beach on Vis, which was like being on our own private beach. There were only a handful of other people on the beach, so it was quiet and peaceful. There is also a restaurant right on the beach called Konoba Stoncica, which is where we all ate lunch. I had the octopus salad, which was amazing! After a few hours on the beach, we all jumped back onto the speedboat for our last stop — Hvar. Since we had already explored Hvar the day before, we went to our favorite grocery store and found a few beach chairs and hung out by the water until it was time for us to head back to the boat.