Have you ever sat down to start planning a vacation and gotten totally stalled by the “where do I go” question? I definitely have, largely because I want to go everywhere and it’s difficult sometimes to pick one place over another. If that’s ever happened to you, allow me a suggestion: Just go to Croatia. No matter what type of traveler you are, Croatia probably has what you’re looking for. Settled just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, Croatia boasts a unique blend of history, nearly tropical weather, amazing beaches and a ton of adventure and outdoor activities.
I had the huge privilege of traveling up and down the Dalmatian Coast last year with three compatriots and pretty much haven’t stopped thinking about it since. If you need a little travel inspiration, or are just looking to feed your travel bug, check out these nine reasons you should consider Croatia for your next big getaway.
1. Amazing Food
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the cuisine in Croatia, but ended up being very pleasantly surprised. As we learned while we were there, Croatia is a hot spot for Italian vacationers, which means the food is heavily influenced by Italian cuisine. Add that to the fresh seafood that comes from the hundreds of miles of coastline and the prevalence of truffles in everything from olive oil to pasta, and we got 10 full days with not a bad meal to be had.
2. Red, Red Wine…
…and white and rose, too. Before I booked my trip to Croatia, I had no idea that they were such a big producer of my favorite export. Naturally, we sampled as many wines as we could and the sheer volume of options meant we (almost) never drank the same thing twice. Many of the islands off the coast of Croatia grow grapes and as each have different environments, the wines are often very localized. We learned, for instance, that a wine we all absolutely loved on the island of Vis was not available anywhere else we visited. Which meant we got a hyper-local experience, but unfortunately, lost our chance to bring some home. The Croatian wines I had (mostly red and rose) were different than any other I’ve tried—I found them slightly more acidic than the more common varieties here in the US. While that took some getting used to, I grew to expect and enjoy it, and I’ve continued sampling whenever I can find a Croatian wine importer. If you’re “into” wine, you must go and try as many varieties as you can.
3. Beautiful Beaches
Unless you’re on the French Riviera, you might not equate Europe with fantastic beaches–at least, I didn’t really. But Croatia, settled on the Adriatic sea, boasts literal scads of amazing beachfront hangouts. The hundreds of islands off the coast offer everything from rocky cliffs to white powdery sand, all sliding seamlessly into unbelievably deep blue water. There are even palm trees in some areas. If you love a good beach vacation, you’ve got to try out the beaches of Croatia. There’s nothing like settling on a beautiful tropical beach and looking behind you to see one of the oldest cities in the world.
4. History Everywhere
Like all of Europe, Croatian history goes back thousands of years. As an American, the idea of living among buildings that are more than a couple hundred years old is absolutely insane. I loved that history was so seamlessly incorporated into everyday life in Croatia, like the marketplace that runs through the old Diocletian palace compound in the town of Split. My favorite part of the trip was our time in Dubrovnik, when we got to explore the walled Old Town, where modern restaurants and bars are housed in old stone buildings. I get a taste of this living in NYC, but in Dubrovnik the history was so much older, yet so much more present.
5. Breathtaking Views
I’ve been to a handful of absolutely gorgeous places, but I’ve never seen anything like what I saw in Croatia. I’ll just let a few pictures illustrate this:
6. You Don’t Need a Tour Guide
I never travel as part of a tour group, instead preferring to make my own itinerary and find my own way. My fellow travelers are the same, so we put together our own travel plans, booking everything from our accommodations to daily activities ourselves. I was a little apprehensive about how this would go in Croatia, not knowing any of the language and being completely without a GPS to get from here to there, but it all turned out fine. In fact, not having a tour guide, through the whole trip or even just on certain days, left us open to changing plans at the last minute, which ended up leading to some of our best adventures. Renting scooters and discovering a bar with amazing views, an unplanned trip through Bosnia, a private boat tour to the Blue Caves–none of that would’ve happened if we’d decided to do day tours.
7. There’s Something for Every Travel Style
One of the reasons my group chose to go to Croatia was that it seemed to offer something for everyone in our group. Some people like relaxing beach vacations, some like historic locales full of churches and museums, some like adventure and lots of outdoor activities, some like a party vibe. Whatever type of travel you’re interested in, Croatia can provide it. We were working with four different travel styles and we all left completely satisfied with the itineraries we made.
8. You Can Keep a Reasonable Budget
In the last few years, Croatia’s tourism industry has started to bounce back after the War of Independence in the early to mid-1990s, but the country is still in the early stages of “discovery,” especially by American tourists. Not only does this mean there are still tons of beautifully untouched places, but it also means it is still relatively inexpensive to travel throughout the country, particularly in comparison to many places in Western Europe. We regularly paid less than $20 for amazing meals, and tours and activities were much cheaper than we expected. In fact, it got to the point where I was actually outraged to pay $7 for a beer, because I’d become so accustomed to cheaper libations. Coming back to NYC was definitely a rough return in that respect.
9. Hidden Gems Abound
My favorite part about island hopping along the Dalmatian Coast was the sheer number of hidden gems we encountered. Because tourism hasn’t totally picked up yet, there are still a ton of off-the-beaten path treasures to discover, and even the most popular destinations aren’t nearly as trafficked as their western European counterparts. Whether it was a historic fort that turns into a nightclub on top of a cliff on Vis, or a small family-run outdoor restaurant halfway up a hill in the bay near Stari Grad, or even just a completely deserted swimming hole, there is a never-ending supply of absolutely breathtaking spots to discover in Croatia that will make you feel like you just might be the only person to have ever set foot there.
Have you been to Croatia? Would you go? Tell us what your favorite travel experience has been so far!