Another road trip but this time to South-Central Europe to explore some of the finest cities on the Croatia coastline. This is a journey starting from Zadar through to Krka, Split and finishing off in the beautiful city of Dubrovnik. This long drive covers coastlines to bendy roads while exploring quaint old cities that serves amazing local wines and foods – definitely a trip that you won’t forget anytime soon.
First Stop: Zadar
It is common for holiday goers (or GoT fans) to list Dubrovnik as a priority when traveling to Croatia. But why not start yourself off in a quieter part of the coast? Especially the sleepy but beautiful city of Zadar. This less-traveled destination will give you a sense of local Croatian life, a less tourist-filled experience, and to quote Alfred Hitchcock: ‘Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, in Florida, applauded at every evening.’
Flights to Zadar are also cheaper than flying straight to other cities in Croatia and makes it a perfect place to start your Croatian coastline adventure. We stayed in an apartment called Nana’s Room in the middle of the old town that we found on AirBnB that is about 10 minutes walk from the water and only a few minutes away from the central attractions. We highly recommend the place hosted by Sanja, whose father was so kind to pick us up from the airport and made sure that we settled in well in the apartment. Our evening flight meant we only had enough time to go for a quick stroll around the city before retiring for an early night, ready for an early start. The city itself is beautiful with its large white stone like tiles across the Old town.
Pit Stop: Krka National Park
We decided to save Zadar to be explored in its glorious sunset and spent the second day of our Croatian holiday driving to Krka National Park. The hours drive to Krka was mainly on the motorway which was pretty much empty. Park in the carpark near Hotel Vrata Krke and get your ticket at the ticket office before hopping onto a feeder bus that brings you straight to the park entrance. Krka is an absolutely incredible park filled with rivers, lakes and beautiful sights. Absolutely breathtaking and it’s like watching Monet’s Water Lilies come to life. The clear refreshing water makes it a popular destination for pictures and a swim by the waterfalls.
The park is structured with wooden walkways through the walking trails, making it an easy walk with stopping points for picture taking. It is quite a fair bit of walking around but it all goes by quickly in the calm, refreshing and relaxing environment.
Lunch is not to be worried when visiting the Krka National Park because by the end of the walk you will be offered a selection of restaurants to choose from to fuel up before continuing on more trails. We settled on a restaurant around the corner at the end of the trail (the result of having a big breakfast!) and had our first proper local seafood meal. Excellent fried fish that was well seasoned, fresh and so delicious!
Before returning to Zadar, we made a quick stop at Murter and Tisno, small quiet towns on a connected island just outside Sibenik. As we went just before the summer, the shops were still in preparations for the peak of the season and very few were open for business. Probably best to head there during the summer, but nothing like some peace and quiet after a long drive.
Back to Zadar: Best Sunset in the World
Alfred Hitchcock famously praised Zadar’s sunset to be the most beautiful one in the world. What a statement. And just how beautiful and breathtaking can this sunset be? Well, beautiful and breathtaking enough that you have to show up early to the seafront to grab the perfect spot to witness the show before floods of tourists arrive. We took a quick stroll around Zadar after returning from Krka and promptly made our way to the seafront which is a long coastline with an infinity view of the sea.
There is also a famous sea organ at the seafront, made of steel pipes built into the steps of the seafront which bellows soft organ-like sounds when waves hit against the harbour. Not as fascinating as the sunset, but there is something strangely therapeutic about gazing out into the empty horizon whilst listening to the soft organ-like sounds. No wonder there is always a crowd hanging about the seafront, just soaking it all in.
The sunset is best described as a phoenix dancing behind the clouds in the sky – magnificent and bright in all directions. It was a beautiful sight – the red and orange strokes in the sky reflecting against the sea. Spectacular.
After the sunset, we had another local seafood meal at 2Ribara, which was recommended by the staff at the highly popular dining place, Bruschetta (definitely would need prior bookings to dine at this restaurant). The fried fresh fish at Krka earlier in the day definitely triggered our seafood cravings and 2Ribara did not disappoint – cozy and with excellent staff that suggested great dishes with wine pairings. Croatian white wines are not to be missed here. It was surprisingly refreshing, crisp and definitely different to the ones from my Moselle road trip. The taste went so well with the seafood and had me asking for the name of the wine! (Kozlovic).
Third Stop: Split
The next morning, we bid goodbye to our cozy apartment in Zadar and went back on the road again towards Split, Croatia’s second largest city (that of course, has an old historical side of town with strong Roman architecture influences). Our two-hour drive along the coast concluded with a view of the old city from the top of the highway. It was such a magnificent sight to see the city perched against the water. We dropped off our car at our AirBnB and began a 30-40 minute walk towards the center, where we embarked on a guided tour of the city’s Roman ruins. Our tour was predominately based on the UNESCO heritage site of the Diocletian’s palace, built in the 4th century as a retirement palace for the then Roman Emperor Diocletian.
The entrance of the palace is now a waiting area with an oculus. This creates the perfect interior acoustics and ambiance for buskers – which during our trip was a group of male opera singers.
The tour was a wander around of what remains of the palace and the Peristyle architecture.
Pit Stop: Marjan Hill
After the tour, we stopped by the waterfront for some ice cream before hiking to the top of Park Marjan. Although we didn’t hike to the very top, the views from the first viewing area were spectacular. On one side, you see the big cruises and yachts parked by the bay and on the other side, you see the sprawling old city of Split with its iconic orange tiled roofs. It is well worth the little walk up!
After a bit of quiet time and pictures at the top, we headed to Konoba Fetivi, a highly recommended restaurant on TripAdvisor. As much as we loved 2Ribara, this was, hands down, one of our favorite meals in Croatia – a friendly ambiance, great seafood and excellent choice of wines! Don’t forget to check out the local shops nearby that sell local wines and products.
Last Stop: Dubrovnik
Situated at the bottle strip of Croatia is Dubrovnik – Croatia’s most traveled tourist destination. From Split, it is about a three hour drive (230 km) but you will have to cross into Bosnia, before driving back into Croatia. This part of the country is enclosed by Bosnia in the north and the coast on the south side and a bit of Montenegro on the East. A great thing about this region is that everywhere is accessible by car. Our trip consisted of a long drive up to Sarajevo (blog of Bosnia to come!) before coming into Dubrovnik. The journey into Dubrovnik is filled with amazing stretches of coastal views as you make your way down towards the main walled city. Here, we found a beautiful AirBnB about a 30 second walk to Pile Bay and a 2 minutes walk from the Pile Gate, where scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed!
We definitely recommend starting your day off at Dubravka 1836, a restaurant with a view, where you can catch some sun right next to the sea and under the big Fort. Enjoy some classic western breakfast and soak in some of that endless horizon – with hopefully with no seagulls disturbing your meal! Alternatively, you can also head into the main square to Cafe Festival for a hearty breakfast – also the perfect cafe spot for people watching in the centre of the old town.
And now, the inevitable talk of GoT. If you are a fan, the tours inspired by the series are not to be missed. Head towards the bus stop outside Pile Gate and you will be greeted by a variety of different tour companies trying to sell you tours of all kinds, ranging from kayak tours, island hopping tours and GoT tours which take you to all the filming locations of the series. For us, we simply wanted to know more about the history of the city, especially about the 1991 war and the Siege of Dubrovnik – the war between Croatian forces and the Yugoslav people’s army (an interest after our stop at Sarajevo).
The old city is beautifully walled, enclosing buildings and little alleyways with shops and cafes dotted all around. The tour we got was more of a general history tour of the city, showing us all the historical areas and buildings.
After a nice stroll, head over to any of the restaurants around the main square for some pasta and seafood. There is something about eating outside in the cobbled stone streets and just people watching.
After lunch, climb the stairs and head towards the northern gate, where you can get tickets for the cable car up to Mount Srdj. There is an option to walk but we would suggest buying a return ticket, as it seems quite a hike. Once on top, head to the viewing platform for one of the most amazing views of Dubrovnik where you can see the blue waters and the iconic orange-tiled roofs of the old town!
What most people miss out is the view round the back. Head out of the back entrance of the cable car building and follow the path along to the museum at the back. Walk past the entrance and at the far right side are some steps heading up and you will be at a clearing which leads to one of the most incredible and peaceful views of the other side of Dubrovnik. With less people around here, it is a nice spot to just soak it in and take a quite break.
After you head back down the cable car, it’ll be the perfect time to go over to Buda Bar. Perched literally on the outside of the walls, all you see is the beautiful blue waters. Sit back and relax with a glass of wine, sunbath and watch groups of kayakers tackle the waves.
For dinner make your way to Moby Dick’s, another great meal that we had in Dubrovnik. Sitting on one of the upper levels in the old town, we sat outside on the side street. The seafood platter was filled with a fresh mixture of different types of seafood. All very delicious.
Go on a Kayak Tour
Our final day was spent doing the Arches, Caves and Island Tour by Outdoor Croatia, It was an early start and the meeting point was at the commercial pier, about 20 minutes on the bus from Pile Gate. After meeting the guide, we hopped onto a ferry and headed towards Lopud Island. It was a chilly ferry ride but nice to get out and in the refreshing breeze.
After a short walk from the boat, we were given our two-person kayaks, paddles and equipment. There was a short demo before we jumped into the waters and started paddling across to the first island. It was quite a physically challenging workout as the waves and waters were quite rough, but this might have been due to the storm that was coming in. The first island had a little-hidden cave which you have to dive under water to access it. The cave is surprisingly bright and is filled with the natural sunlight reflected off the waters.
Our second stop was to another island for a nice local lunch. This was when the storm really hit and the rain starting pouring down. We were lucky to have made it into the restaurant just in time! The food was fantastic and it was a nice warm place to just cool down from the long ride. The guide then made a decision to stop our trip due to the weather and we stayed around waiting for the next boat back to Dubrovnik.
Final Evening in Dubrovnik
After getting back into town and grabbing a well-deserved shower, we headed out to this restaurant by the waters to enjoy one last seafood meal (yes, a lot of seafood were consumed during this trip!). All in all, Croatia was a fantastic journey filled with incredible sights and delicious seafood. And of course, the cities along the coast with their individual style and flair that made the trip so much better.
Also published on Medium.