Trip Report - Three weeks in Croatia

Old Jun 22nd, 2022, 11:54 AM
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Trip Report - Three weeks in Croatia

Just back from three weeks in wonderful Croatia, and I want to get a trip report posted before real life descends on me again! I always appreciate the great tips and help I get from travel forums, and hope that my report will help someone in the future. I tend to get a bit long-winded, so am going to limit this to highlights and general comments / tips (I also posted this in Trip Advisor, so you might see it there if you are on both forums).

We started in Dubrovnik on May 28 and finished in Zagreb on June 16. Following is our itinerary with highlights:

Dubrovnik – 3 nights including one day-trip to Kotor/Perast

Accommodation – Villa Gloria, just outside the Ploce Gate, 5 minutes’ walk to Old City, reasonable price, view of the Adriatic, quiet. It was up or down 100 steps, so be aware of that.

Highlights: Dubrovnik walls were the absolute top for us. We loved walking along them and all the beautiful views. Also, climbing the Lovrjenak fortress to get a view of the walls from outside. Afternoon on Lokrum Island – fun but not essential, given all the other stuff we did/saw on our trip. Sunset Kayak tour around city walls – we did this to help combat jetlag on the day we landed. It was lovely, and just the right amount of activity. The Stradun and just walking around the Old City – we did this as often as we could; pretty much every evening. We rode the cable car for sunset one evening. Great views, but expensive for what it is (you can take a taxi and / or hike up as an alternative). I would have loved one more day in Dubrovnik just to enjoy it more, maybe take a day-trip to Korcula or Miljet, and not rush through this wonderful city.

Day-trip to Montenegro (private driver/guide through CheapDubrovnikTours. Highly recommend)

Highlights: the wonderful guide, Andro; the Old City of Kotor and the climb to the Fortress - We are in good shape, and it took us an hour up and 30 mins down. The climb was challenging, but not technically difficult. Just pace yourself. Perast was beautiful. We ended up on a ferry to the islands with a fun group of Turkish women who shared their fresh, market-bought cherries with us. Lovely. The 2000-yr-old Roman Mosaic floor between Herceg Novi and Perast. If you have not seen a lot of Roman mosaic floors, this was a beautiful sample. I would add an overnight to Montenegro if I could do it again, and see more of this beautiful country.

Mostar – 1 night. We picked up a car at MACK rental in Dubrovnik and had the car the rest of our trip. We drove via Trsteno (the fountain was beautiful but not necessarily worth the price of admission, IMO) and Ston (the wall is extremely impressive; definitely worth a pit-stop and a climb if you are driving that way).

Accommodation: Pansion Nur. Right next to the “crooked bridge”. A lovely couple were our hosts; ideal location, great price, on-site parking.

Highlights: Mostar was straight out of a fairytale. It was absolutely perfect for one overnight. We climbed the minaret of the Mehmet Pasha Mosque to get the “perfect” view of the Old Bridge. We enjoyed just walking around and taking photographs of the bridge from all angles all over the Old City. The market was fabulous. We had Turkish coffee at Sadravan, and ate dinner at Tima Irma, both were recommended to us, and we highly endorse the recommendations. We spent a couple hours walking around the city outside of the Old City – it reminds you that there was a terrible war here in the 90s, with many still-bombed-out buildings. I would not change anything about our Mostar day. The drive was pretty easy but a bit hilarious, as you drive in and out of Bosnia about 6 times before you actually “arrive” (more on driving below). But we were lucky with all border crossings, and have lots of cool passport stamps now.

Split: 4 nights

Accommodation: AirBNB “Marjan Forest Park”. It was great for us, but would be too far for some. 15 minutes’ walk – a solid mile uphill – outside of the Old City, but less than 10 minutes’ walk to a nice beach. Very near the Mestrovich Gallery. It had parking and laundry which were musts for us. Beautiful place, excellent price, fabulous host.

Highlights: The Riva – just walking along, people watching, eating gelato, enjoying being there. Diocletian’s Palace - the only place in our three weeks that we ran into problematic crowds. We simply came back a few hours later and it was fine. Loved the whole Diocletian’s Palace / Old City scene. Hanging out at “Luxor” in the Peristyle in the evening was great. The beach near our house (Kastelet beach) was fabulous. The weather ended up being MUCH HOTTER than our research indicated, and we really appreciated the beach! We enjoyed the Mestrovich Gallery, but don’t consider it a must-see. Same with Marjan Hill. We probably could have dropped a day from Split. We had planned to do a day-trip to Trogir, Klis, and Salona, but ended up only going to Klis. We were already a bit “Old Citied-out” by this point, and they were started to bleed into each other. Every old city has a fortress and / or a wall and / or a cathedral bell-tower to be climbed, and it was a lot (I also had a kidney stone attack shortly after Split, so that might explain my extra level of exhaustion!).

Day-trip to Hvar (done out of Split) – another perfect one-day trip for us. We are not interested in the party scene and did not need an overnight on Hvar, but enjoyed every second of our day there. The beauty of the city and all the beautiful people were really fun. We enjoyed climbing to the top of the fortress, shopping for coral jewelry, and walking in the Old City and on the Riva. We spent the afternoon at Stipanska beach on one of the Pakleni Islands. It was not what we expected (we expected remote and possibly FKK, and it was the total beach club scene!), but we wandered a couple hundred meters out onto the rocks and “made” our own beach and it was paradise. The water in the Adriatic is absolutely stunning, and we just tried to maximize our enjoyment of it.

Vrana / Pakostane: 4 nights

Accommodation: Hotel Maskovica Han (a renovated castle of some sort, very charming, lovely room and grounds, great price, fabulous breakfast included – eggs cooked to order, chocolate croissants and other pastries, meat, cheese, bread, cappuccino)

There were no real highlights here. These four days were added to the middle of the trip to give my partner (who is a birder) a bit of a break from the Old Cities and do some birding. He enjoyed Lake Vrana and Paklenica NP, but the birding was pretty disappointing for him, and I got attacked by a kidney stone in this portion of the trip, so my opinion might be clouded, but if I were recommending an itinerary for someone else, I would simply drop this four-day period, although the hotel was really lovely and we did find a nice beach in Pakostane. For most travelers, no real reason to go here. If you are out-doorsy / like hiking, Paklenica is worth a day-trip, but you can do it out of somewhere else (like Zadar).

Sibenik: day-trip. We drove to Vrana via Sibenik and spent the day exploring. It was one of the most beautiful old cities in terms of cobbled streets, lovely flowers, steps and alley-ways, lots of churches, and general beauty. We were there on a Sunday so we could actually hear the mass (mostly sung, in Latin, absolutely lovely) from outside the big cathedral. We also climbed to the three accessible castles that protect Sibenik – hard work, but interesting, and great views!

Zadar: 1 night, with day spent in Krka NP

Accommodation: AirBNB “Luci” – Our only bad experience of the trip. The apt itself was very nice and extremely well located, but the write-up promised on-site parking, and the parking ended up being 1.5 miles away (!!) AND we had to find it by ourselves in a city full of one-way streets, pedestrian-only streets, and an insane amount of construction. Parking the car added TWO HOURS to our drive and ate up most of our afternoon in Zadar, so we were extremely disappointed.

Highlights: Zadar was not our favorite place, most certainly because of our bad luck with parking and all the construction. Even the Riva was fully under construction, so we could not walk along it. But we did enjoy the sea organ, the Greeting to the Sun, all the Roman ruins scattered throughout the city, and the awesome mix of Old and New (eg a night-club set up in a Roman Ruin – very cool). Zadar had a young , hip vibe. Seems like a great place for families and college-age kids. The restaurant scene was also very good. I think that if we had had more time there, we would have found a lot to like. But it was really just a stop-over for us; a place to sleep after our day in Krkra.

Krka – done as a day-trip between Vrana and Zadar: A storm was rolling in, so we probably broke the speed-record for hiking Krka NP, but it was spectacular. If we hadn’t gone to Plitvice after, we would never understand why Krka is the “lesser” waterfall park. If you cannot make it to Plitvice, you should go to Krka. It is a gorgeous park and well worth it. If you are going to Plitvice, you can probably skip it (but for outdoor-lovers, it is fabulous in any case).

Plitvice: 1 night.

Accommodation: Miric Inn. Perfect for us. Like an alpine ski lodge. Awesome breakfast and extremely helpful, friendly staff – gave us tips about the hike, made sure we had adequate rain gear, generally excellent. Good price. Cash only.

Highlights: What can I say about Plitvice? It is one of the most beautiful places I have been on earth. Every step you take, every turn you make, there is another splendor to behold. This was our ONLY bad weather day of the whole trip (the only day we needed long pants or rain gear) but it was still spectacular. Do not miss Plitvice. We followed all the advice to stay in a local hotel the night before, and it was 100% worth having the 2-hour head-start on all the day-trip tourists. In part due to the bad weather, we did not encounter crowds at all. I understand it can be quite jam-packed, but our experience was fabulous.

Pag Island: done as a day-trip between Zadar and Plitvice- Pag was added to our itinerary purely so that my partner could look for birds, but we both really enjoyed it (despite the birding not being very good). It was so different than anything else on our trip! Highlights: the lunar landscape, the sheep, the traditional sheep fences made of dry stacked rocks, the fabulous cheese factory/deli/tasting restaurant/shop in the town of Kolan – highly recommend if you are in Pag! Excellent cheese and souvenir shopping. I would not add Pag Island to the general tourist circuit, but it was a fun and different day for us.

Rovinj: 4 nights

Accommodation: Villa Squero – The Best of our accommodations in Croatia, and we had some great accommodations. The price was very competitive, the room was large, modern and beautiful, the location was on the water, within a stone’s throw of the Old City and less than 10 minutes’ walk from the beach, the breakfast was included and again, fabulous (Croatian breakfasts have in general, been very impressive), AND the parking was included and proximate – two blocks away.

We used Rovinj as a base to visit Pula, Motovun, and Porec.

Highlights: Rovinj Old City – very Italian, great food, wonderful for just walking around, shopping, people watching; climbing the bell-tower- great climb and views; eating truffles; having a drink at Mediterraneo – on the outside of the city wall, overhanging the Adriatic. Wonderful!

Pula – wow! The amphitheatre! The Roman ruins! So many parks and restaurants. Just a great city. Top day-trip out of Rovinj, I would say.

Porec – I adore Byzantine Christian art, so this day-trip was absolutely worth it for me. The Basilica is spectacular. Other than the Basilica, the city was very touristy, but we enjoyed it. Nice riva and tons of shopping!

Motovun – a lovely half-day trip. No huge reason to go to Motovun, other than it is an extremely scenic, charming hill-town with truffles (!) and more great shopping. We ended up getting all of our rakija, olive oil, and truffle souvenirs here. The vendors were helpful and not as aggressive as the ones in Rovinj, which we really appreciated. Lovely place for a 3-4 hour visit.

Zagreb: 2 nights

Accommodation: Astoria (owned by Best Western, but not like an American Best Western). We got a great price on this; otherwise it would not be our typical kind of place. Well-located, upscale, fabulous breakfast (again!), and on-site parking!

Highlights: We only had a few hours in Zagreb, so we did the Rick Steves walking tour, and really enjoyed what we saw of the city! Some great historic sites, but a very young, hip, “real” vibe. Best gelato of our trip was in Cvjetni square. Loved Tkalciceva street and the Pivnica Mali Medo brewpub. We really enjoyed our one afternoon and two evenings in Zagreb. Great place to buy souvenirs too! Not as expensive as most of the tourist cities.

Zagreb was a base for our last day-trip: to Cigoc to see the famous storks (if you don’t know about the storks of Cigoc, read the following article. You will fall in love with the storks too: Oops! I learned I cannot post a link. You can google "storks keep long distance love live in Croatia". ) Cigoc was straight out of a fairy tale. The village is comprised of about 70 houses, all around 300 hundred years old. In the spring / summer, storks nest on nearly every house. The villagers are primarily farmers who practice traditional agriculture with ancient breeds of livestock. Not much other than animals out here – and one fabulous restaurant and a TI Office with a very motivated employee – but we loved it!

And that was the end of our wonderful trip!!! I will be happy to answer questions that anyone might have. I am now moving on to general tips and comments, below:

Packing and weather:

We each packed in a single carry-on rolling suitcase, plus a large backpack as our “personal item”. In addition, I always pack a foldable nylon duffle bag which I fill and check on the way home because I can’t resist buying souvenirs for friends and family . If you are not renting a car, I would recommend a large travel back-pack as your main suitcase instead. There are a LOT of steps everywhere, and the streets are cobbled.

We did extensive research before packing, to try to gauge the weather and what clothing we would need. The historic averages indicated that we would have temps in the low-60 to high-70 range, and water temps too cold for us to swim in (we are from the southern US). My biggest struggle was deciding which jacket to pack, and I only packed one bathing suit. In the end, I only needed the jacket on the airplane and could have used three bathing suits! I don’t know if there was a Croatian heatwave in early June or the historic averages were just misleading, but it was 80-90 degrees and sunny almost every day (LOVE!!). Before the trip, thought we might be lucky to go to one beach and probably not swim at all. In fact, we went to a beach almost every afternoon and swam a lot! There’s just no predicting the weather sometimes.

I read all the articles and advice about not dressing like American tourists. I am admittedly overly-sensitive about appearances, and I gave my poor spouse a terrible time about his shorts and running shoes. I made him pack Brooks Brothers trousers and button-up shirts. Women of America – do your husbands and yourselves a favor and let him pack his shorts and running shoes!! We saw almost no other American tourists, but believe me, all the German, Dutch, and Austrian tourists were wearing shorts and American running shoes! The women – especially in Dubrovnik, Split, Hvar, and Rovinj – did tend to look cute in dresses and skirts, but the men were overwhelmingly wearing shorts and running shoes. I had packed two sun-dresses, and wished I had four. I wore sun-dresses and skirts/t-shirts with sandals almost every day. My spouse wore shorts and chacos (or running shoes for the heavy hiking days) and looked like all the European husbands! Everyone in these tourist cities is a tourist. Even in my cute little sun-dresses, with my camera and guide book in hand, I never looked like anything but a tourist!

Air Travel:

Post-Covid Air Travel is universally awful. Flight delays and cancelations are the norm, so be prepared. We were booked on the one-and-only direct flight from the US to Dubrovnik that flies on Friday nights out of Newark during the summer season. The day of our departure, all flights on the American East Coast were disrupted due to a storm system, so I pulled up every possible itinerary from Raleigh to Dubrovnik and had the options ready on my phone. This came in very handy when our flight was canceled and I was able to run to the ticket desk and tell them exactly what flight we wanted to get on. We luckily arrived in Dubrovnik almost on-time but on a completely different set of flights (sadly, we did not make the direct flight). We had to sprint through virtually every airport we flew through, and it was not fun, but this seems to be modern air travel. Just be prepared with lots of alternatives for yourself.

Side note about Covid – there are no Covid restrictions in Croatia. Some airlines still have restrictions in place, so bring a mask (plus, we liked the security of the masks when we heard people coughing in airplanes etc), but Covid is basically “over”. The great thing is, in Croatia, almost all dining is outside and most of the sightseeing is open-air, so you do not feel uncomfortable.

Driving:

We rented our car from MACK rent-a-car, picking up in Dubrovnik city (about 100 meters from our hotel) and dropping off at Zagreb airport. For 17 days, we paid $1,000 for a VW Golf-sized stick shift diesel with a GPS. Driving in Croatia is generally fantastic. The Express / toll roads are very fast (130 kph), smooth, well-maintained, and un-crowded. The secondary roads are perfectly adequate, like American state highways. Crossing the border was easy for us in all cases. They just ask for your passport, scan it, and hand it back. The roads in Bosnia were slightly less excellent than in Croatia, but were still perfectly fine. We ended up needing both our phone GPS and the GPS that came with the car. The car GPS doesn’t have all the current traffic / road closure info, but our phone GPS couldn’t find all the locations, so we definitely used both. Gas was very expensive ($100 to fill up the little diesel car), but our gas mileage was so fabulous and distances between locations was so short, that we only filled up three times in 17 days. The toll roads are an added cost. Count on about $5.00 - $20.00 per long drive. One more thing to note: our GPS several times instructed us to turn onto a “road” that didn’t appear to be a road to us – barely an alley-way. Sometimes we really needed to turn onto this road (and sometimes it was a pedestrian-only road). The GPS is not perfect. It helped using both the phone GPS and the car GPS.

Parking was slightly amusing and was a “cultural experience”. When you drive into a city, you pretty much have to find parking outside the city and then walk about ˝ mile. The parking is in big lots or on streets that have pay machines which you often have to search for. The instructions for the machines are often complicated and only in Croatian, so we just kept our sense of humor and enjoyed helping and being helped by other tourists who may or may not have spoken our language and were also struggling. Interacting with others is one thing we love about foreign travel! We always managed to get a parking spot and also miraculously always managed to pay for a parking permit, and even more miraculously did not get any tickets.

Accommodation:

We stayed at a combination of AirBNBs, “pansions”, BnB’s, Inns, and hotels. For us, everywhere beyond Durbrovnik, parking was essential, so this meant staying outside of the Old Cities, but we were able to find places within easy walking distance. AirBnBs are nice because you have a whole flat / apt to yourself and can often get laundry, but hotels are nice because you can get a big breakfast. A combination worked best for us.

Crowds:

We chose to go on our trip in late May/early June to try to beat the heat and the crowds. I think Covid and the war probably helped us, but we did not have terrible crowds anywhere except for one morning in Diocletian’s Palace (it turned out I missed that a cruise ship would be in Port this day). Going to the popular tourist spots first thing in the morning is one option (be done before 10AM), but another option we found was to go late-afternoon. Most attractions are open late this time of year, and we had a lovely time visiting sites from 4-8 PM. We also worked very hard to check the Cruise Ship Port schedule and avoided spending days in the city when a cruise ship was in port. This worked on all but one morning for us. We simply planned day-trips or less touristy sightseeing if we knew there would be a cruise ship in town. It is a pain to work around the cruise ships, but if you are like me, it is 100% worth it to avoid the swarms of tour-groups.








































ljturco is offline  
Old Jun 22nd, 2022, 12:47 PM
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Great trip report, thank you! Croatia is definitely on my top-10 list of trips to take (and within my top 3 in Europe).
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Old Jun 22nd, 2022, 02:59 PM
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I enjoyed your trip report very much. We visited Croatia in 2019 and absolutely love it. We also stayed at the Plitvice Miric Inn. Their breakfast buffet is superb! Were they also serving dinner? They did when we were there. It was 20 euros per person and one of the best meals of our trip. We also hired a private driver for our trip around the Bay of Kotor. We didn't have time to visit Mostar, and I knew I didn't want to visit it as a daytrip. I just knew spending one night there would be perfect. You were smart in doing that. If we return to that region, we will definitely spend a night in Mostar.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2022, 05:13 PM
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Great TR! Thanks!
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 01:50 AM
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Originally Posted by KarenWoo View Post
I enjoyed your trip report very much. We visited Croatia in 2019 and absolutely love it. We also stayed at the Plitvice Miric Inn. Their breakfast buffet is superb! Were they also serving dinner? They did when we were there. It was 20 euros per person and one of the best meals of our trip. We also hired a private driver for our trip around the Bay of Kotor. We didn't have time to visit Mostar, and I knew I didn't want to visit it as a daytrip. I just knew spending one night there would be perfect. You were smart in doing that. If we return to that region, we will definitely spend a night in Mostar.
Thanks for your TR, which I am bookmarking. I am thinking of Croatia and the region for next May, we have previously been only to Dubrovnic.
How difficult is it to visit without a car, using public transport? Is there a good and reliable bus network?

Karen, will check your TA also for ideas, our travel style is very similar 😊

Last edited by geetika; Jun 23rd, 2022 at 01:54 AM.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 05:29 AM
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Karen - your TR was one that I really enjoyed when preparing for my trip, and I'm sure I found the Miric Inn there. They were not serving dinner when we went, but she helpful front-desk staff directed us to a local place in walking distance that was fine for us. Mostar with an overnight was really perfect
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 05:35 AM
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We didn't use public transport other than the ferry to/from Hvar/Split, but I think that along the coast it would be quite easy. The ferry runs all along the main coastal cities and islands, and I think buses also connect the cities (including day-trip-type places like Trogir and Klis). I'm not sure if Istria would be as easy. My main thing would be for places like Plitvice - you would still want to try to go the afternoon / evening before, rather than as a day-trip. At the ultra-popular spots, you really need to beat the 10AM crowds who are coming in as day-trippers. If we hadn't wanted to do so many day-trips / nature excursions on our own (and maybe without Istria), I think we could have been fine with ferries and buses.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 08:22 AM
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Originally Posted by ljturco View Post
We didn't use public transport other than the ferry to/from Hvar/Split, but I think that along the coast it would be quite easy. The ferry runs all along the main coastal cities and islands, and I think buses also connect the cities (including day-trip-type places like Trogir and Klis). I'm not sure if Istria would be as easy. My main thing would be for places like Plitvice - you would still want to try to go the afternoon / evening before, rather than as a day-trip. At the ultra-popular spots, you really need to beat the 10AM crowds who are coming in as day-trippers. If we hadn't wanted to do so many day-trips / nature excursions on our own (and maybe without Istria), I think we could have been fine with ferries and buses.
Thank you ljturco, if it’s just my sister and I, we’ll almost certainly go public transport, except for maybe the Plitvice area. I’m not comfortable driving abroad and feel it’s not fair to ask my sister to be behind the wheel all the time. But if my husband and/or niece/nephew join us we’ll definitely go with a rental car.

We’ll discuss and plan our next year’s travel in the next month or two. Ideally I am thinking of mid to end May, maybe into early June. We’d like to go before it gets too hot and crowded.

Thanks again all your tips and suggestions!
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 11:13 AM
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Your reasoning about the car makes sense. We loved driving in Croatia (other than trying to drive inside Old Cities), but if you are not comfortable driving, then you shouldn't. Late May/early June was perfect for us. It was nice and warm by then, and we really enjoyed the beaches (more than we thought we would!). You are smart to try to beat the heat and the crowds. There is just that window between rainy spring and hot, crowded summer. It worked for us!. I will look forward to following your trip plans as they come together.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 11:49 AM
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Very helpful trip report. Some of the places you mention seem worth investigating more. Thanks!
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