Many people ask me for tips about visiting Croatia’s coast, so here are my notes and recommendations.
Zagreb is the vibrant capital conveniently located on the way to the coast, so you’ll probably pass through it. Spending 2-3 days there is probably a good choice for a dash of middle European atmosphere before you dive into the Mediterranean vibes on the cost.
Cool spots to visit in the centre:
- The Lenuci Horseshoe – a system of parks in the very centre. Be sure to walk around it – a good way to start any tour.
- Art Park – a chill park with DJs & an open air bar
- The Tunnel – an old tunnel from the 2nd world war that you can enter from the Art Park
- “Stross” – if you follow the stairs uphill from Art Park you get to this small stretch that usually has live music over the summer
- Gornji Grad (Upper City) – it’s on that hill where Stross is – the medieval part of Zagreb, fun to explore during the day – in the summer there’s this Dvorišta / Courtyards event where you can enter some courtyards, listen to concerts etc.
- Tkalča is where the central nightlife is – Funk, Melin, Medvedgrad, Craft Room (be sure to climb upstairs to the roof terrace) are nice bars there
For more info and current events during your visit (especially in this central zone), check out the tourist info pages – they usually have good information on what festivities etc. are taking place.
60s and later modernist architecture / design:
- Studentski centar (student center) – complex of buildings / pavillions with today some alternative student content that was built for the 1987 Summer Universiade
- across the road is the “Nikola Tesla” Technical Museum (also a nice building)
- very close is the alternative bar “Krivi Put” (Wrong way) with a nice courtyard where you can go for a break
- MSU (Museum of contemporary art) – a nice place to take a peek into New Zagreb and its skyscrapers and brutalist architecture
- Ribice i tri točkice – an affordable fish restaurant
- Medvedgrad in Ilica – beer garden type of place (they have their own craft beer that’s pretty good)
- Veganšpek – a mix of vegan and meaty dishes, very nicely decorated, in the “design district” (part of town where a lot of architects, designers etc. have offices – a nice area to walk around)
Alternative places / clubs (worth checking out the program on Facebook first):
- Katran – an old industrial complex a bit far from the center, turned into multiple night clubs open all night
- Swanky Mint – in the center, nice terrace, pretty lively at night (can be very crowded)
- Močvara (the “Swamp”) – more heavy, metal stuff, sometimes cheerful stuff too :slightly_smiling_face:
- Jabuka (the “Apple”) – not always open, but has some pretty cool 80s parties, usually for “later at night”
In the north, Istria is full of small towns with narrow alleys, old stone houses, wineries and nice rocky beaches. Poreč and Rovinj are good destinations. My favourite place in the inland is Motovun, a fortified old town on the top of a high hill with good food and a splendid view. Pula is both a lively city and has some Roman remains like the wonderfully preserved Arena. The Brijuni national park is really worth visiting for a one-day trip.
A bit more south is what we call Primorje. Rijeka has some cultural sites and even though it is not the most popular beach destination (but see party-time below), there are ferry lines to the nice islands of Lošinj, Krk (check out Baška), Cres. There is the Austro-Hungarian-architected Opatija – artificial concrete beaches, but quite peaceful, quaint and a popular destination.
Further south, in Dalmatia the coast gets nicer and nicer, but it gets more crowded as well. If you’re visiting in mid-season, I’d recommend visiting some islands other than Hvar (which is beautiful BTW, but swarming with tourists), such as Brač (some smaller towns like Sutivan are great for family relaxation), or Pag (check out the Straško camp, but avoid the town of Novalja – see Party-time 🙂
A sailing trip along the Croatian coastline is becoming quite a popular option. You rent a boat (usually big, separate bedrooms & bathrooms) and the services of a professional skipper and can visit all sort of islands, towns, secluded beaches. You basically get portable accommodation wherever you want to go.
Charter sailing services:
For this I like the alternative, urban atmospheres in Rijeka and Pula. For more mainstream stuff, Novalja and Vodice are very popular destinations with clubs, DJs…
Dubrovnik is really worth visiting, although a bit too crowded during the peak season (July, August). Šibenik, Zadar and Split are also very lively cities full of old Roman-era buildings.
National parks like the Plitvice lakes and the Krka waterfalls are great sites to visit as a one-day trip from the nearby cities.
Velebit has some good hiking trails with a splendid view of the Adriatic sea.