Croatia

Trip Summary:

 

Dates:    June 20th to July 1st

Year: 2014

Main Language of Country:   Croatian

Capital City of Country: Zagreb

Transportation Used:   Bus, Tram, Ferry, Cable Car, Rental Car

Currency: Croatian Kuna (HRK or Kn)

Accommodation: Hostels

Number of Photos Taken: 1672

Favorite Place: Dubrovnik

Average Cost of a Full Meal: 45 kn – 70 kn

Average Cost of a Night per Person: 100 kn – 120 kn (about $20 per night)

Tap Water Drinkable: Yes

 

 

Introduction:

My trip to Croatia marked my first time being in Europe for any period of extended time. Prior to this, I had stopped briefly in Amsterdam, but that hardly counted. So arriving in Croatia was truly my first time spending any time in Europe.

I arrived in Croatia after visiting Morocco, and this trip was the first time that I had travelled overseas by myself. By the time that I had arrived in Croatia I was becoming more comfortable and I had been travelling for roughly two weeks at this point. I was very nervous on my way to Morocco, but by the time that I was on my way to Croatia, the nervousness had been mostly replaced by excitement.

I had about 10 days in Croatia and I was planning to travel from the southern end, all of the way to the northern end where I was going to catch a ferry to Venice, Italy to meet my girlfriend Hilary.

When I was originally planning the trip, I had heard great things about Croatia and had always wanted to visit the country. The cities, the coastline, and the crystal clear waters were too much to resist and I had to include it as part of my trip. I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

 

Dubrovnik: (June 20 – 23)

My first stop on the trip was in Dubrovnik (or King’s Landing as you might know it from Game of Thrones). I had flown over from Fez, Morocco to Dubrovnik on a flight by the airline Vueling. The flight had a 6 hour layover in Barcelona where I left the airport to explore the city briefly. That meant that in one day, I had breakfast at a hostel in Fez, lunch along the Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and supper inside the walls of Dubrovnik. That’s a pretty successful day I would say.


TIP: I stayed at the Fresh Sheets Hostel in Dubrovnik. It was 36 per night, which was fairly expensive for Croatia, but the location was worth it. The hostel was within the walls of Dubrovnik and was just inside of the wall that runs along the water.


 

On the evening that I arrived in Croatia, the sun was just setting as the plane touched down at the airport just outside of Dubrovnik. I took a bus from the airport, which is a fair distance away from the city, as as the bus rounder the last corner high above Dubrovnik, my first sight of the city was with a perfect sunset in the background. It was unbelievable.

The old city itself looks like it is from a story book, with the old buildings, the clay tiled roofs, and the massive city walls. Dubrovnik also sits on the coast of the Adriatic sea, and the waters are an incredible turquoise blue.

I then entered the city at night and all of the walls were lit up, musicians were playing in the streets, and people were casually wandering around everywhere. It was quite a shock after having just left Morocco in the morning as it was a totally different environment and atmosphere. Generally, I don’t really like arriving at a new place in the dark as it can be somewhat unsettling and eerie, but arriving in Dubrovnik that night felt magical in so many ways.

There is a ton to do and see in Dubrovnik, and you could spend many days wandering around inside of the walls of the city, exploring the markets in the mornings, all of the different buildings, alleys, and churches, and then checking out the restaurants and bars during the evening.


TIP: Cruise ships are often docked just outside of the city walls during the day. This means that during the afternoons, the city is flooded with packs of tourists clogging up the streets. This can be quite frustrating trying to get around the city or see anything within the walls. Therefore, I would leave exploring the city for the morning or evenings when it’s quieter and you can soak up the magical atmosphere of the city when the streets are emptier.


 

There is a ton to do outside of the city walls as well and it’s all easily accessible:

 

  • Cable Car to Mount Srd:

Just north of Dubrovnik is Mount Srd, but it’s more like a large hill, than a mountain. There is a walking trail to the top or you can take a cable car. I headed up to the top to catch the sunset one night and was quite late so I didn’t have time to walk and opted for the cable car instead.

A round-trip ticket costs about 120 kn, and the cable car station is located just outside of the north wall of the city. From the top of the hill, you can get a great view back down to the city, or out towards the Elaphite Islands to the north. There is also a fortress on top of Srd to explore. If you have more time, you can also get a one way ticket and walk back down from Srd, or walk both up and down if you’re feeling particularly energetic.

 

  • Cliff Jumping at Cafe Buza:

Along the south side of the city walls, there is a small hole in the wall that takes you out to a steep staircase down to Cafe Buza. It’s easy to miss (I probably only found it because the Fresh Sheets Hostel is nearby), but you can keep an eye out for a small sign that says “Cold drinks with the most beautiful view.”

Once you get there, you can walk through the cafe all of the way down to the water. You can swim, lay on the rocks, or jump off of the cliffs into the water. It’s a pretty cool feeling swimming in the water and looking up towards the cliffs and city walls towering above you. It’s a totally different perspective and you can’t miss it.

 

  • Walk Along the City Walls:

Walking the city walls is a must do in Dubrovnik. There’s no better way to see the city and there are a ton of great views so make sure that you have both a camera, as well as lots of time.

It’s best to do this first thing in the morning before it gets too hot (and when it’s less busy), and there are a couple of entrances to the walls. If you start at the entrance near the Ploce gate on the east side of the city, however, you can do all of the uphill walking first while it’s cooler out. This is the way that I was recommended to do the walls, and it was a great idea.

The cost is about 120 kr per person and the walls open at 8:00AM or 9:00AM and close around 6:30PM or 7:30PM all depending on the time of year.

 

  • Fort Lovrijenac:

When you get a ticket to walk the city walls, your ticket also gives you access to Fort Lovrijenac (or St. Lawrence Fortress). Lovrijenac is just outside of the walls of Dubrovnik and across a small bay of water. It doesn’t take long to get to and gives you yet another view of Dubrovnik from a different perspective.

 

  • Head to a Beach:

I didn’t spend a ton of time on any beaches, but one afternoon when it was warm and I wanted to get away from the crowds in Dubrovnik, I headed south down the coast to a small beach called St. Jacob’s Beach.

Blue water and white sand of St. Jacob's beach near Dubrovnik.

It’s easy to find and you head straight out of Ploce Gate and walk for 15 or 20 minutes until you see a small church called Sveti Jakov. A little past the church, there is a gate and a small staircase down to the water.

There are quite a few beaches along this part of the coastline and a few of them are just outside the walls of the city. St. Jacob’s however, was a little bit quieter and had a great view back towards the city of Dubrovnik.

 

  • Take a Boat Ride or Rent a Kayak:

I never had a chance to do this myself, but for a different perspective on Dubrovnik, you can get a boat ride or rent a kayak to see Dubrovnik from the water. You can also check out the island across the water from Dubrovnik called Lokrum.

There is a small bay on the west side of Dubrovnik that I noticed had kayak rentals, and the harbour on the east side of the city had lots of options for a boat tour or a water taxi over to Lokrum.

 

  • Montenegro:

I made a quick trip down to Montenegro one day on a tour from Dubrovnik. I have a separate trip report for Montenegro with the details of that tour if you’re interested.

 

Split: (June 24 – 27)

When I left Dubrovnik, I caught a bus up to the town of Mostar in the country of Bosnia. I only stayed in Mostar for one night before catching another bus onwards to the city of Split.


TIP: I stayed at the Outlanders Tribe Hostel in Split because there was little availability and this was the only hostel that seemed to have any space on the nights that I stayed in Split. It cost about 110kn per night. The hostel wasn’t bad, but it was a long walk from the old town which was inconvenient. Something in or closer to the old town would definitely be more preferable.


 

Before arriving in Split, I had heard mixed reviews about the city and was uncertain about how much time I would spend here, and how much I would enjoy it. After spending just a small amount of time in the city, however, I found it to be great!

It has similarities to Dubrovnik, but it is quite different in that it is not a walled city and has a lot more modern touches. It’s great though because there is a lot of energy and everywhere you walk there is something going on or something to see. The old city is set up that half is the Roman ruins of the Diocletian’s palace which is a massive structure with narrow alleys, Roman architecture, big squares, and buildings. The Diocletian’s Palace was not what I expected because it’s not really a palace but has instead basically become a section of the city.

The other half of the old city is a section that was built by Venetians after the palace was built and is also very cool to explore. This layout makes it interesting and unique it’s a lot of fun to explore.

In front of the old city is a modern street, called the Riva, that has lots of shopping and is a strange contrast to the Old Town immediately behind it. There are lots of shops and restaurants along the Riva and there are a lot of performers and musicians along this street as well that add to the atmosphere.

Then on the other side of the Riva is the harbour. There’s something about the smells and the boats and ships bobbing around that makes it really relaxing and great. Split doesn’t really take you back in time like the chiming bells, draw bridges, castle walls, elegant staircases and narrow alleys of Dubrovnik did, but it definitely has a charm of its own that is really cool.

There is a ton of great cafes and restaurants in Split, and I ate at a restaurant called Buffet Fife on the west side of the harbour several times during my time in Split as it had great food at reasonable prices.


TIP: I ate a few dinners and lunches at restaurants during my time in Croatia. It’s definitely worth it as the food is great and there are so many different types of food to try. To save a bit of money, however, most of the food that I bought was from grocery stores which are usually easy to find. The largest chain is the Konzum so keep an eye out for the large red sign that says Konzum if you’re looking for a supermarket.


 

Besides simply wandering the city and exploring the streets, alleys, squares, cafes, bars, and everything else, a few sights that I would recommend in Split are:

 

  • Hvar:

Hvar is an island that is about an hour ferry ride from Split. It’s really easy to get to and is one of the most popular islands to visit. Croatia is known for its coastline and islands so I thought it would be remiss of me not to visit one. There are also several other islands nearby that I didn’t have time to check out such as Korcula, Brac, and Vik but they might be worth looking into if you have enough time.

You can buy tickets to Hvar from the ticket office on the pier just east of the harbour. You aren’t able to buy tickets in advance (unless that changes since the time of writing) so you have to show up a little bit earlier than when you want to depart to make sure that you get your ticket. Also make sure that you get a ticket to Hvar Town, rather than Stari Grad. Stari Grad is a port on the island that is about a 20 minute drive from the town of Hvar.

The town of Hvar itself is really small but has enough to explore for a day. There is also a fortress above town that you can walk up to. It costs about 30kn to enter, but is worth it. The views from the fortress down to Hvar below are great and would be even better at sunset.

There are a couple of beaches near the town of Hvar. One thing that I found about the beaches in Croatia is that they are not sandy at all but instead are pebbly, rocky, or sometimes even just one big rock itself. Because of this, however, the water is unbelievably clear, and with the light coloured rocks underneath, it gets a beautiful turquoise blue colour that is incredible.

Sometimes when you see boats in the harbour it looks like the boat is floating in air because you can hardly see the water, but can see the entire bottom of the boat perfectly through the water. Anyways, I noticed that this was definitely the case in Hvar and maybe even more so than other places in Croatia.

In general though, Hvar was beautiful, but there wasn’t a ton to do or see and I was glad that I only had the one day in Hvar. The town is better known for it’s night scene where yachters come to eat expensive food, drink expensive drinks, and spend the nights in the many bars and clubs on the island. They then spend the next day sleeping hungover on a rocky beach. This didn’t sound like a great way to see Croatia though so one day in Hvar was likely enough.

 

  • Climbing to the top of Saint Domnius Bell Tower:

st-domnius-bell-tower-split-croatia

In the centre of the Diocletian’s palace is the bell tower of Saint Domnius. I often find myself finding bell towers to climb to get a view of the city from above, so it might not be for everyone. But it you are like me and enjoy the different perspective, it costs about 40 kn to climb up to the top.

In front of the bell tower and cathedral is a small square called Peristyle Square. In the evenings, you can sit on the steps around the square and watch musicians play and put on performances.

 

  • Diocletian Palace Underground Cellars:

diocletian-palace-underground-cellar-split-croatia

Beneath the south end of the Diocletian’s Palace is a network of rooms that you can explore. There is a small entry fee to get into this area but it’s worth checking out. You can wander through a few different rooms and read up about the history.

 

 

  • Marjan Hill:

staircase-marjan-hill-split-croatia

If you get tired of wandering the streets and alleys of Split, you can head west of the old town to Marjan Hill. It’s not a far walk at all from the old town, and it has a ton of trails that climb up and around the hill. I didn’t explore all of the trails, but there are a ton, so there you can spend as much time as you want wandering around Marjan Hill.

 

Krka and Plitvice National Parks: (June 27 – 28)

After leaving Split, I headed north with my end goal being the city of Porec, where I was to catch a ferry over to Venice. Along the way are two national parks that are very famous within Croatia.


TIP: To travel north from Split, I found that there were very few busses to get from the south end to the north end. Because of this, I rented a vehicle for 3 days from Sixt and the total rental cost was €145.


 

The first park that you hit going from south to north is Krka. I hadn’t planned on going to Krka so it was an added bonus and one that was well worth the stop. Krka is unique because there is a main set of waterfalls towards the bottom of the park where there is a large pool that you can swim in.

The second park is Plitvice Lakes. Plitvice is much larger and more spectacular than Krka, but you aren’t able to swim in any of the pools like you are at Krka. Because of this, if you are able to, it’s definitely worth trying to visit both parks. Otherwise, there is definitely more to see at Plitvice, so it would be my choice if I could only see one.


TIP: After visiting Krka, I drove to a hostel near Plitvice called Plitvice Backpackers. This allowed me to head over to Plitvice early in the morning so that I could spend a whole day there and be rested for it. The hostel cost €17 and was fantastic.
On the night that I arrived, the owner was barbecuing supper on the deck for all of the guests and everyone was visiting and swapping stories. I instantly felt at home and in the quiet of the country, it was incredibly peaceful. One of my most distinct memories from the trip was sitting on the deck visiting with everyone and watching the occasional glow of fireflies in the night as they danced around the field in front of the hostel, while we all had a supper fresh off of the barbecue.


 

Both Krka and Plitvice parks are similar in that they are a series of cascading lakes and waterfalls in a big canyon with beautiful green and lush forests everywhere. You can walk around for hours and hours exploring the waterfalls, lakes, boardwalks, and all of the paths.

plitvice-lakes-national-park-croatia

I explored Plitvice with a few people that I had met at the hostel. We spent about 6 hours walking around the park and I could have spent even longer as each waterfall and lake seemed to be more impressive than the last. To get around the park you took trams, small boats, and walked on really cool boardwalks between the lakes which gave it a magical feeling.

It’s tough to capture the sounds, smells, feelings, or 360 degree views that you have when you visit the park, but I hope that the pictures at least show some of the incredible things that you can find at Plitvice.

Plitvice is split into two halves with the upper lakes and the lower lakes. We did the upper lakes first and ended the day at the lower lakes, which ended up being a great way to see the park.

Depending on the time of year, the cost to enter Plitvice is around 110kn to 180kn. If you have a vehicle, there is also a small fee for parking. The park is also open from 7:00AM to either 7:00PM or 9:00PM depending on the time of year. Just like everything else, you’re best to go early in the morning to avoid as many of the crowds as possible.

 

Pula: (June 28 – 30)

pula-arena-croatia
After exploring Plitvice parks, I got on the road and drove all of the way up to the town of Pula which is where I returned my rental car. The drive from Plitvice to Pula was great and I saw a lot of really cool countryside. The roads are narrow and twisty compared to Canada, and you were often quite high on a hillside or mountainside with great views all around. There were also a lot of tunnels which I probably found way cooler that I should have.


TIP: I stayed at the Riva Hostel in Pula. I had never actually planned to stay in Pula at all as I was hoping to stay in the town of Rovinj instead. When I found out that everything was booked in Rovinj except for the very expensive places, however, I changed my plans and stayed a few nights in Pula. The Riva Hostel itself is a great place and is located right on the waterfront. It’s also a quick walk to the bus station and costs about €15 per night.


 

Pula is a port town and has more of an industrial feel than the more tourist cities nearby, such as Rovinj. Regardless though, there is still definitely a lot to see and do in Pula and it’s a great place to base yourself (like I did) to explore the area, or if you decide to stay elsewhere and have the time it’s worth checking out for a day.

The northern part of Croatia where Pula is located is called Istria. It is a beautiful area of the country and deserves some time to explore if you can afford it. I only had a few days in this area of the country to explore the area between Pula, Rovinj, and Porec, and would have loved more time. If you’re able to, however, give yourself some time to check out the coastline, as well as inland Istria.


TIP: I did most of my travelling between places by bus. The bus routes in Croatia are generally great (except to get between the south and the north when I opted to rent a car instead). A longer route like between Dubrovnik and Split would usually cost between 95kn and 120 kn, whereas shorter routes like Pula to Rovinj might cost between 30 kn and 40 kn.


 

Some places to check out in and around Pula are:

 

  • The Pula Arena (Roman Amphitheatre):

exterior-of-pula-arena-roman-amphitheatre

The main feature to see in Pula is definitely the Roman Amphitheatre, which is called the Pula Arena. It’s located  in the Old Town near the harbour and you can’t miss it. It’s very well preserved and well worth the entrance fee of 40 kn or 50 kn. There’s a lot of history to the arena and you can almost picture the bloody gladiator battles in your imagination as you wander around the site.

interior-of-pula-arena-roman-amphitheatre

They also sometimes host concerts and different shows at the Pula Arena that would be really cool to see.

 

  • The Pula Old Town:

The old town of Pula is built around the base of a small hill. You can walk along streets that wrap around the base of the hill and slowly climb their way to the top. At the top of the hill is the Kastel which is worth climbing up to, even if only for the view from the top of the hill.

Other things to check out in and around the old town are the Temple of Augustus, the City Palace or Town Hall, the Arch of the Sergii, or the Cathedral near the harbour. Nearby to the old town is also an indoor marketplace that you can wander around as well if you get tired of the cobblestone streets and old buildings. You can get a map from a hostel or tourist information centre with all of the major sights listed to help you find your way around to all of the places that interest you.

marketplace-pula-old-town

 

  • Motovun:

Motovun is a small town in inland Istria that was on my list of places to see, but unfortunately I ran out of time before I could make it there. I can’t say much about it, obviously, because I’ve never been there, but it’s a walled city built at the top of a small hill. It’s supposed to be beautiful and might make for a good day trip if you are staying in any of the coastal cities such as Pula, Porec, or Rovinj as it’s only about an hour inland. Or if you have enough time, you might also be able to include a night in Motovun as part of your trip.

 

  • Rovinj:

harbour-pier-in-old-town-rovinj-croatia

I had originally planned to spend a night in Rovinj which is about 45 minutes north of Pula, but after spending a night in Pula I found out that there was no accommodation available in Rovinj (unless you were willing to pay hundreds of dollars per night). I then quickly booked another night in Pula and decided to do a day trip to Rovinj instead which worked out good in the end.

colourful-buildings-along-water-rovinj-croatia

Rovinj is a small fishing village and has a really cool Old Town on a hill with narrow alleys and colourful buildings (that sentence could be used for pretty much any city or town in Croatia, but the alleys and colourful buildings in Rovinj were slightly different than the alleys and colourful building in the other places that I had been).

alleyways-in-rovinj-old-town

It was really small and I was able to see most of the city in a few hours which gave me lots of time to hang around, take pictures, and enjoy some food.

If you’re a little more proactive than me, you might be able to book ahead and find affordable accommodation in Rovinj, in which case it would be a great place to stay for a few nights.

 

Porec: (June 30 – July 1)

sunset-over-the-city-of-porec-croatia

The city of Porec was my last stop in Croatia and it was from Porec that I caught a ferry over to Venice to meet Hilary.


TIP: The ferry that I took from Porec to Venice was booked through Commodore cruises and cost €60 per person. I booked the ferry crossing ahead of time (actually before I left Canada on June 5th for Morocco) just to be sure that I would be able to make the crossing.


 

ferry-from-commodore-cruise-porec-to-venice

I can’t say much about Porec as I was only there for one day and night, but if I didn’t have to go there to catch my ferry, I probably would have skipped a visit to the city. It’s a nice city but there isn’t a ton to do or see except wander around the old town. Porec is a resort town so there are lots of bars, restaurants, beaches, and yachts, but not many sites or features that are particularly interesting.

 

Conclusion:

My trip to Croatia (and Morocco before that) was the first time that I had ever travelled abroad by myself, so when it was coming to an end it felt like a mix of emotion between huge relief that I was able to complete the trip unscathed, sadness that the trip itself was coming to an end, and excitement for all of the great things that I had seen and learned along the way.

It’s strange looking back on a trip like that because when you leave home your trip is like an empty book and you have all of these ideas of things you want to do and see and people that you might meet, but when you arrive and begin travelling around you begin to fill in the pages of this book with your stories and memories and pictures. Then when you get to a certain point in the trip and begin looking back on everywhere you’ve been you realize that you’ve filled in these pages and written your story and whether everything you’ve done was as you had planned, or as you had thought it might be, those pages are filled in and are concrete rather than just ideas in your head like you had before you left.

I guess that’s the whole idea of travelling though is to write these stories and fill the pages with as many crazy, or funny, or incredible things as possible while dealing with the shitty things as you go along. On this trip, I learned a ton about so many things by travelling by myself and I think the story I’ve written is one that I will remember forever and one that has turned out far, far better than I would have ever hoped. I’ve also found that these places like Morocco, and Bosnia, and Montenegro, and Croatia, that before felt so far away and so exotic, now just feel like countries that have different landscapes, different people, and different ways of doing things that begin to feel less foreign with the more time that you spend travelling.

Croatia itself was a wonderful country and one that I plan to return to eventually. I was able to see a lot of great places along the coast, and I would like to explore more of the coastal cities and islands, as well as some of the interior landscapes. I also really enjoyed the northern areas of the country and would love to return to explore more of Istria one day.

Although my solo trip was coming to an end, I was heading to Venice to meet up with Hilary and travel for a few weeks through more of Europe. I really enjoyed the solo travel and I learned a ton, but I was also really looking forward to meeting up with Hilary and having a partner to share the sights with.


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