MUST DO – Things to DO IN CROATIA !

A country that connects the east and west of Europe, a beating artery, roots extending from ancient times, rich history and culture, the real old towns , crystal clear Adriatic sea,  thousands of islands, incredibly beautiful national parks, various UNESCO world heritage sites, music festivals at locations that date back to ancient times and finally – the hospitality of Croats –  Croatia is a country of incredible magnetic attraction.

  • “ROAD TRIP IS A MUST” 🙂 While I understand there are a lot of ferries to hop between islands, I would still shout out loud that you have to drive by yourselves to experience this beautiful country in its true sense. Our complete itinerary details are in the blog – Croatia Road Trip Itinerary & A guide for you to prepare for your Road Trip is here.

ZAGREB

  • We flew in and out of Zagreb – capital of Croatia, from India. It is always cheaper to fly to Zagreb from India than any other city in Croatia. Zagreb in Croatia, is often overlooked as a destination in its own right but there is so much to do here and surely is a great start to your vacation ! You wont get lost in the labyrinth of streets because you can always stop and ask for directions. You will be delighted by the hospitality of people here.
  • We lived very close to the main center and I loved strolling around the upper town. Don’t even think of any other means of exploring Zagreb – Just keep walking . There are plenty of museums, parks but below is what made Zagreb special for me :
  • Ban Jelacic Square – which stands at the centre of Zagreb’s social life.

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  • Kaptol – which is just behind the main square – here you can see the Cathedral, St Stephen’s Chapel, Virgin Mary with Angels.
  • Dolac Market – Open-air food markets make up one of Zagreb’s most attractive features – the most famous one being “Dolac” close to the cathedral. Here people sell fruits, vegetables, meat and fish every day of the week. This bustling place is affectionately known as “the belly of Zagreb”
  • Tkalciceva – most colouful downtown street for its small boutiques, traditional shops, restaurants and cafes. Linger over a cup of coffee or beer in here.

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  • The stone gate – One enters the upper town through the stone gate – the only old town gate that has remained intact.
  • Gradec – St Mark’s Church – St Mark’s Square constitutes the heart of the upper town – dominating which is the St Mark’s church and also the Museum of Broken relationships ( this museum has an entry fees )

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Shortest Funicular Ever !

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Upper Town

PLITVICE NATIONAL PARK

After staying two days in Zagreb ( we also stayed a day on our return here ) started our road trip and our first pit-stop was Plitvice National Park ( took us two hours ). Plitvice National Park – UNESCO’s World Heritage – this wonderful natural phenomenon has 16 interconnected lakes over 90 waterfalls of different sizes.  The lakes have distinctly different colours and the entire park is accessible via foot via dirt path and walk ways . You will get a map when you buy the tickets at the entrance and you can just follow the path as per the map depending on the energy and time you have. Just don’t forget to carry water along . You will take about 3 to 4 hours to fully walk around and explore the place and return to the parking.

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We then started driving towards Zadar and stopped by a Kanoba enroute as we were super hungry. In Zadar, we stayed in a beautiful apartment just at the heart of the old town. Though we reached late, we could find parking ( there was no separate parking space for the apartment but just along the road , there are lot of parking spaces ) and then we were handed over a map and a list of things to do by the owner of the place.

ZADAR

  • Zadar was the best European destination in 2016 and I was super excited.  Zadar itself is a pretty small city on the Adriatic sea and you need to walk around the old town to soak it all in.
  • Just as you walk, you will find small streets lined up with lovely restaurants, pubs and shops. While in Zadar – don’t miss to see the Bell Tower and the Cathedral, The Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation . Zadar is a place where you just wander around and do nothing which is the best thing ever on a trip ! Trust me when I say it and that’s why I keep saying to all my friends that my vacation to Croatia is one of the most relaxed trips so far.

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We spent two nights in Zadar – All that we did was just wander around the old town during the day , enjoy the sunset at the waterfront listening to the Sea Organ followed by dinner in any of the sit out restaurants in the old town.1FB1121C-9D29-4B58-AAB2-04E6E973C333

DSC_0520The SEA ORGAN !! that plays music by the waves of the sea and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps ! Underneath the perforated stone stairs that descend into the sea are 35 musically tuned pipes with whistles openings on the sidewalk ! The movement of the sea pushes air through and depending on the size and velocity of the wave musical chords are played .The volume increases when a boat or a ferry passes by enjoy unforgettable sunsets.

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Along with Zadar’s most popular attraction – the Sea Organ is another artistic installation – Sun Salutation – which utilizes the power of nature to create a beautiful sight for the visitors. The Sun Salutation – is a vast circle of solar panels paved into the ground. The solar cells absorb the Sun’s energy from sunrise to sunset, and convert this energy into electricity. The electricity produced is then used to light the entire waterfront at night – a unique example of an efficient and renewable energy source.

KRKA National Park

Enroute to Split is KrKa National Park which is around an hour and a half journey from Zadar. Once you buy the tickets at the main entrance, you then need to take a ferry that departs every 10-15 minutes to enter the park. The fascinating bit of the lakes, caves and waterfalls of Krka National Park is that they are formed out of limestone ( calcium carbonate ) that becomes travertine, which only grows about one centimeter every year ! You can just imagine for how long this place is beautifully growing.

We did not explore the different trails in Krka but we enjoyed ourselves relaxing by the Scradinski buk waterfall. Just don’t forget to carry a dry bag, towel, swimming gear if you want to get into the water !

 

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SPLIT

  • We reached Split almost by evening. There is a parking lot behind the main bus stand for parking your cars.

Very Imp Note:  If you have booked your stay in the old town ( which I highly recommend ), you need to park your car elsewhere and drag your suitcase or carry your backpack to your room !  We packed all that we needed for our stay in Split in one suitcase ( left the other one in the car ) so that we could just drag one bag to the old town. Also, call the contact of the property atleast once before you arrive so that you will be guided where to meet him/her.

We stayed in this beautiful cosy little place right at the heart of the old town. You just feel you have travelled back in time and is one of the cutest places I have ever stayed – Split Old Town Apartments !

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When we called the contact person of the property, she asked us to meet her near a restaurant and as we were lost, we asked a few Croats to finally reach the centre of the old town. My My, while I started walking from the parking lot, along the shore where there were these huge ferries ( that take off to the nearby islands  ) and then pass through one of the lanes behind RIVA to enter the old town – i really felt so happy …yes ..genuinely happy to have come here.. fortunate enough and extremely thankful !

Walking on these centuries old streets will surely give you a high ! Split is surely less crowded than Dubrovnik and is all about wandering it’s narrow, cobbled streets and enjoying its beautiful architecture.

  • Take a walking tour – be it Game of Thrones specific ( to walk on the streets of Meereen or Braavos )  or even just the old town tour – its worth every penny. You can buy the walking tours online or go there and buy – most of them start at the Peristyle of the old town or at the Gregory of Nin monument. The walking tour pretty much covers all the important places in this small old town !
  • I just loved visiting the four gates of Diocletian palace ( golden, silver, bronze and iron ) which is a marvelous landmark of the past – Apparently The Romans made it so fancy that you could actually come into the palace by boat  !
  • The Cathedral –  All through your stay in Split, you can hear the cathedral bell ring every hour.
  • You can find Egyptian sphinxes on Peristyle near Jupiter Temple that today serves as a baptistery.

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Smallest Chimney ? 

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  • Piazza which is called the People’s Square – town’s central point
  • Walk up the Marajan hill for a fantastic panaromic view of the city. ( You just have to pass the Riva and follow the direction and walk up the stairs )

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  • Stroll along split’s seafront promenade (Riva) or Relax in one of the restaurants at the Riva as the view is spectacular.

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  • To satisfy your gastronomical desires, please skip the big restaurants and visit the small café’s and restaurants in the old town which play live music and serve some amazing local food.

Just get lost in the streets of Split I say !

6 ISLAND TOURS FROM SPLIT

  • The next day : We went on a speed boat ride to visit the various islands around Split. If you have time, you can stay a night or two in one of the islands. We booked our ride ( just a day prior ) with a company by name WaterWorldCroatia and trust me , you will love them! I am sea sick and was super skeptical about taking this boat ride. Peter  ( owner of Water World Croatia ) promised that I will not get sick in his speed boat and he hasn’t had any of his visitors have any discomfort in years !
  • When we got up that morning and went near the pick up point, I was surprised to meet two Indians ( one in his late 60’s and the other in early 70’s ) I must say they were the most inspirational people I have ever met till date.  They are two brothers who stay apart and meet once or twice in a year in a different country and they plan their vacations all by themselves. How cool is it?
  • We started cruising towards blue cave ( only the first leg of the journey is around 1.5 hours ) and I was so happy that i wasnt feeling sick at all rather started enjoying the boat ride 🙂
  • Our first pitstop was island Bisevo – Blue cave which is one the most natural grotto in the CroatianAdriatic and I was awe struck!  We then moved to visit the monk seal cave and to Island Ravnik to see the green cave. Check the pictures below !
  • Why the name blue , green and monkseal for these caves ? : The sunlight’s refraction on the surface of the sea and it passing through an underwater opening is a complex natural mechanism which adds a magical bluish tinge to a silvery sheen resembling moonlight. The Green Cave on the islet of Ravnik is named for its emerald light effects, similarly as the Blue. Cracks in the ceiling allow the sun’s rays to reflect in the cave’s interior. Monk seal cave – a protected monument of nature. The name comes from the cave’s former inhabitant, the Mediterranean seal known as the sea monk, today an endangered specie. The cave’s most memorable feature is the strange “imbalance” of a wide, cavernous opening and a tapering interior which becomes progressively more dark as one goes deeper into the heart of “Medvidina”.

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DSC_0888Lunch ( Set Menu ) was arranged at the only house on the island Budihovac which is nested between trees and winefields. Not many companies are allowed to take their speed boats here , so this island is less crowded and you have the entire island to yourself to swim, snorkel, have a sunbath or just sit and and enjoy the clear waters.

  • After a lazy lunch was a very exciting pit stop to the island Vis, Smokova Sandy beach where we all played the traditional Croatian sport by name – Picigin ( consisting of players keeping a small ball from touching the water.)  It is after this time that we were headed towards Hvar town ! We wandered about in the town for almost two hours after which we started our journey to our  last destination, Island Brac, Milna where we went for wine tasting in a local’s house which is one of the best wines I have ever had in the whole wide world ! We carried some back home too !

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Yes, we did all of this in a day and it was not hectic nor stressful. It was indeed a wonderful day which cannot be explained in words rather would want each one of you reading this blog to experience this journey !

DUBROVNIK – PEARL OF THE ADRIATIC ! – Wanna see “King’s Landing”, “Qarth” and the gardens of the “Red Keep” in real life ?

Our last destination of the road trip was Dubrovnik.  And guess what? We actually need to drive through Bosnia to reach Dubrovnik. At a  checkpoint, we were asked to show our passports and reason of travel. So keep your passports handy.

We left the car at the drop off location ( you have to choose the drop off location while booking your car )  as we were flying back to Zagreb  from Dubrovnik and then back to India.

There are two options for your stay in Dubrovnik : One is in the old town where you need to drag your suitcases/carry your backpacks to these narrow old streets and may have to take stairs ( please keep in mind that you will not have lifts here ) . It is surely worth staying in the old town for a day or two just to experience the old town.  The second option is up the hill where you can see the fantastic panoramic view of the entire dubrovnik old town !  You will have to drop your luggage here before you drop off the car as it is tough for you to carry your luggage by walk as these accommodations are mostly up the hill. If you are staying up the hill, then please be prepared for your to and fro walks to dubrovnik old town. Don’t worry about safety in places like dubrovnik – apparently theft or robbery is a very rare thing as the population is so less here and the possibility of getting caught is quite high 🙂

If you choose option 2, you can skip the cable car tour !

As you enter the old town, you can find so many companies offering you walking tours, pub crawls, day trips from Dubrovnik and you must try all of these !

  • Walking tours – go for Games of thrones specific tour combined with a tour of the old town which will cover the City walls,  Placa ( main street ) , Dubrovnik cathedral, Lovrijenac fort, St John’s fortress, Clock tower, Orlando’s column, St Blaise’s Church, Sponza’s palace and all other nook and corners each with a compelling story to tell.
  • To check the rest of the places in the old town – take a map and explore on your own.
  • Go for a pub crawl for sure in Dubrovnik – it was so much fun – they took us to three different pubs and it was fantastic !
  • Just wander around, sit by the restaurants , listen to the live music and yet again i repeat – just wander around these lovely old streets.
  • You can take day trips from Dubrovnik to places like Mostar, Montenegro or Bosnia.

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