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Spotlight on: The Arena, Pula

The stunning Arena in Pula is one of the most magical sights in all of Croatia. This three-story (on its largest side) Roman amphitheatre is the sixth-largest amphitheatre in the world but – with all four sides intact – it is the best-preserved amphitheatre. Imagine that! Read on for more details about this ancient gem in Pula, how to visit it and what to see there.

Getting There

The Arena is located in the northeastern part of Pula, a short distance from the sea. Take a look at our Getting to Istria page for details of flights to Pula Airport, and then out Getting to and from Pula Airport for how to get to the city itself.

The Arena is actually a short walk (no more than 15 minutes) from the bus station and a similar distance from the train station. It is also very close to the port in Pula, should you be making your way to the city by boat.

You can also take a local city bus to the Arena – buses 4, 5a, 8, 9 and 71 go past this wonderful building.

An aerial shot of the Arena in Pula
An aerial shot

About The Arena and Its History

The Arena was built in several stages or iterations during the rule of several different Roman Emperors between 27 BC and 68 AD. The foundations of the first amphitheatre were built during the time of Emperor Augustus. This was extended during the reign of Emperor Claudius and completed under the reign of Emperor Vespasian. At the time of its construction, Pula – then called Pietas Iulia – was the centre of Roman rule in this part of the Empire; the Arena was built just outside the Town Walls.

The Arena is named after the Latin word for sand (harena) which is what the floor of the central part would have been covered in. Its external walls are made from limestone.

Arena Pula
A close-up of the exterior wall of the Arena

During its use in Roman times, it would have held up to 23,000 spectators. These days, about 5,000 people usually attend events held here. Back in those Roman times, the amphitheatre was used for what you can expect – gladiatorial fights and other entertainment occasions, as well as being a place for social meetings.

Gladiatorial fights were banned in the 5th century and the Arena subsequently became used for a cattle market. In that same century, parts of the stone of the structure began to be used as a source of building materials for the local area although this practice was stopped in the 13th century.

In the 16th century, the Venetian Senate proposed to dismantle the amphitheatre in its entirety and rebuild it in Venice although this was (thankfully!) prevented by Sentator  Gabriele Emo. A plaque in tribute to him was placed on the northwestern tower.

The restoration of the Arena began in the 19th century.

Arena Pula
Peeking through one of the arches in the Arena

Features of The Arena

The oval-shaped Arena stands just over 32 metres high, stretching out over an area of about 132 metres wide and 105 metres deep. The central part – where Roman entertainment would have taken place – measures 68 metres by 41 metres. One side of the amphitheatre, the one closest to the Adriatic Sea, has three visible stories (plus a fourth foundation story) whilst the other three sides have two. This is because the Arena is built on a natural slope.

Built in limestone, the two lower stories contain 72 arches whilst the top story is made up of 67 square windows with a cornice feature placed on top. There are four rectangular towers set within the walls which strengthened them; these towers contained water reservoirs.

Arena Pula
A view of the exterior walls showing the arches and the square windows of the top story

Below the main Arena floor were constructed a series of chambers for storing animals and passageways to lead them and gladiators up to the Arena.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Arena could have been covered up in the case of bad weather through a series of pulleys and ropes attached to wooden masts that would pull sails over the roof.

Opening Hours and Entrance Price

The Arena is open year-round with extended opening hours – usually until 10pm – in the summer months.

Entry costs €10 for adults and €5 for children.

The interior of the Arena, Pula, Croatia
The interior of the Arena

What to See and Do at The Arena

Stroll through the Arena and really get a feel for what it must have been like back in Roman times. Unlike, say, the Colosseum in Rome, you can have an uninterrupted stroll right through the centre of this amphitheatre. At times, it almost feels like quite an intimate venue…but then imagine standing in the centre and being watched by 23,000 people!

Take yourself up to the seating levels where you can and now imagine yourself as a Roman spectator. Entry to the Arena was free back in those days but a seating system based on social class would have existed…so make sure you sit in the “best seats”. Whilst you’re up on this level, do also peer out of the Arena.

Arena Pula - Interior
The interior of the Arena – you can see the seating as well the setting up of a concert

Head down below ground to walk through the passageways and chambers. Here, you will find an exhibition on viticulture and olive oil production in Istria during Roman times with a particular focus on how oil was derived from olives in those times.

There is also a large collection of well-preserved Roman amphorae, which were used for transporting liquids.

The Arena, Pula - Roman Amphorae
Roman amphorae at The Arena

Do be sure to also spend some time walking around the outside of the Arena to fully realise the magnificence of this large, wonderfully preserved Roman structure.

There are no guided tours for the Arena itself once you are inside. You may like instead to join a guided walking tour of Pula – as shown below – which includes entry to the Arena:

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Other Ways of Seeing and Enjoying The Arena

These days, the Arena is often used as a concert and entertainment venue in the summer months, and there’s something rather special about enjoying this kind of experience in such a historic venue. Perhaps most famously, the Arena is used as a venue during the Pula Film Festival which takes place every July. In 2024, the 71st edition of the festival will take place meaning it is the oldest film festival in Croatia.

There are also numerous concerts held in the Arena in the summer. For example, in 2024, Dua Lipa, Avril Lavigne, Simple Minds, Lenny Kravitz and Duran Duran will all be performing there. Previous performers over the years have included Sting, Elton John, The Foo Fighters and Luciano Pavarotti. One-off sporting events are also sometimes held here.

Special opening night events of some of Croatia’s music festivals – such as Outlook – have also previously been held here in the past when such festivals were held in the Pula region.

Summer also sees the regular Spectacula Antiqua gladiatorial and Roman reenactments take place. Just the thing to take you back all those many centuries ago!

More info

You can learn more about the Arena on the Archeological Museums of Istria website.

Spotlight on: Diocletian’s Palace, Split

One of the most famed sights in Croatia, the Diocletian’s Palace area in Split is also one of the most historic sights you may visit on your travels. It is an absolute must-see and contains many individually interesting elements to explore. The whole area, right at the very core of the city, is also a thoroughly enjoyable part of Split with numerous cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and more. You’ll be strolling around taking in a whole tonne of history whilst also getting so much of what Split has to offer.

The “Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian” was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1979. (It was one of Croatia’s first; Dubrovnik’s Old Town and the Plitvice Lakes were also added to the list in the same year.)

Diocletian's Palace

About Diocletian’s Palace and History

If you don’t yet know much about Diocletian’s Palace, you might consider Dioletina’s retirement home to be like any typical European palace structure. In your head, you may be considering an extremely large and ornate building, perhaps set in large, highly manicured grounds and full of rather ostentatious furniture.

Diocletian’s Palace is nothing like that! (At least not today; the palace may well have had some of these components all those many centuries ago.)

The palace was built as a retirement home (yes, really) for Roman Emperor Diocletian who was born in Salona (now present-day Solin) sometime between the years 242 to 245. He retired from Emperor life in the year 305 and lived in the palace until his death in 311. Work on constructing the palace is though to have begun in the year 295 with materials from local sources used – particularly white limestone from Brac and bricks made locally. You can see below what the structure would have looked like around the time of its competition – you can see that the palace did indeed stretch all the way out to the sea.

Diocletian's Palace (original appearance)

Diocletian’s Palace. (2024, February 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diocletian%27s_Palace

The Palace was built in a rectangular shape of roughly 215 metres by 180 metres. There were towers at each corner of the Palace and octagonal towers framing each entrance into the Palace. The area of the structure was divided into four with two main “streets” within. The southern gate would have been the Emperor’s main entry into the Palace by sea and, indeed, the southern part of the Palace would have contained his residence whilst the northern part would have contained quarters for servants and guards.

After Diocletian’s death, the Palace continued to be used by members of the emperor’s family. It rose in importance again in the 7th century when Salona (Solin), once the capital of Dalmatia and a large (for that time) city was destroyed by an invasion by the Slavs that had by now reached this area. Some of the previous inhabitants of Salona sought shelter and refuge in the large Palace area, and Palace life – now city life – began to resume. In the many years since citizens have continuously lived within what is deemed to be the Palace area and adapted its use multiple times.

Getting There

The Diocletian’s Palace area is just by the Riva, the main harbourfront in Split. It is a short walk from the main bus and train stations and port in the city (which are all adjacent to each other), about 10 minutes.

Should you be travelling from further afield in Split, there are numerous local bus lines that stop near the Palace. You can check out Split’s bus network on the Promet Split website.

What to See and Do at Diocletian’s Palace

You really could get lost whilst wandering the streets of the Palace…but try not to! In all seriousness, the best way of seeing the Palace is to go back and forth through its many little streets taking in all the many sights and experiences. Below are some of the main things to look out for and see.

Gates

As you approach the Palace area, you’ll no doubt enter through to the main part via one of the gates. As we’ve mentioned, the southern gate – the Brass Gate – would have once been the main entrance from the sea and is the smallest of all the gates. Today, this gate allows you entry from the Riva. On the eastern side is the Silver Gate which was reconstructed in 1952 after Dusica Church was destroyed during World War II; the gate had become part of the Church during its construction.

On the northern side, right by the large Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin) statue is the Golden Gate (Zlatna vrata) which would have faced the direction of Salona and would have been the main entrance into the Palace.

Golden Gate (Zlatna vrata), Split
Golden Gate / Zlatna vrata

On the eastern side is the Iron Gate which is the only gate of the four that has seen continuous use since it was first constructed.

The Cathedral of Saint Domnius and Belltower

The octagonally-shaped Cathedral of St Domnius (Katedrala Svetog Duje in Croatian) is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world in its original structure, consecrated as it was in the 7th century. The Cathedral contains the 3rd-century mausoleum for Emperor Diocletian whilst the belltower was a later addition, built in the 13th century. Diocletian’s sarcophagus was destroyed in the 5th century

The 57-metre-tall belltower can be climbed for superb views over Split in all directions including out over the twinkling Adriatic Sea.

The Peristyle with the Cathedral and its Belltower to the left

Temple of Jupiter

By the entrance of this former temple is another 3,500-year-old Egyptian sphynx, this one being headless. The Temple itself was converted into a Baptistry dedicated to St John the Baptist in the 6th century. The Temple contains sarcophagi with the remains of Ivan of Ravenna and Lovre, both Archbishops of Split in the 11th century. You will also find a bronze statue of St John the Baptist created by famed Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic.

The Peristyle

The Peristyle is a remarkable open-air square which would have been the main square of the Palace even way back when. Consider this as you sip on a relaxing coffee on the stone steps whilst admiring the view. The Peristyle is also home to a 3,500-year-old Egyptian sphynx.

The Vestibule

The inside of the vestibule is circular, and you’ll notice the circular open-air top which was once covered by a dome. The vestibule was a hall in the days of the Palace, serving as an entrance to the Palace apartments. These days you come across traditional acapella singers (singing klapa music) who make use of the excellent acoustics in the Vestibule.

Diocletian's Palace - Vestibule
Vestibule

Cellars

The cellars were originally used as storage areas when the Palace was first built. The importance of the cellars is because they are so well preserved and provide and excellent idea of what the above-ground portion of the Palace would have been like.

Part of the cellar area can be easily visited as you pass through the Brass Gate from the Riva towards the direction of the Vestibule and the Peristyle. You will find numerous little market stalls selling souvenirs and other trinkets.

Access to the rest of the cellars is ticketed (see below).

Opening Hours and Entrance Price

The main Palace area is free to enter at all times of day and night, year-round, and there is no fee to enter, of course!

Parts of the Palace, however, do have an entrance fee and particular opening times.

All parts of the Cathedral, including the Belltower, require tickets to enter.

Part of the cellars that are ticketed are open 8.30am – 8pm (summer hours, April to October) or 9am to 5pm (winter hours, November to March). Tickets cost €8 for adults and €6 for children aged 7 to 14, seniors (aged 65 and over) and students with ID. Children aged 6 and under can enter for free. You can buy tickets at the ticket booth in the Palace or on the Museum of the City of Split website.

Other Ways of Seeing and Enjoying Diocletian’s Palace

If you’d like to step back in time – virtually – and see for yourself what Diocletian’s Palace would have been like all those many centuries ago, head to the Diocletian’s Dream experience. Don a VR headset and immerse yourself in Split life in the year 305.

There are numerous walking tours of the Diocletian’s Palace area that you can join; led by knowledgeable guides, the tours will really give you an expansive information base from which to learn all about the Emperor and his retirement home. Take a look at some of the tours below:

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More info

You can read more about the Palace on the Split Tourist Board website.

Trsat Castle

Spotlight on: Trsat Castle, Rijeka

It has to be said that the country of Croatia is blessed with a number of very fine things (islands, a beautiful coastline, a rich history, many a fine sight…to name just a few!). Something that features relatively frequently in the country but perhaps not that well-known to visitors is its castles. One such castle to visit – very easily done so, as it’s just “above” one of Croatia’s main cities – is Trsat Castle. Read on below for information on how to visit the castle and what to see and do there.

Trsat Castle
Trsat Castle

About Trsat Castle

Trsat Castle is located on a hill above Croatia’s third-largest city, the very interesting Rijeka. The castle sits 138 metres above sea level meaning that you’ll enjoy excellent views when visiting, looking out over the city and the Adriatic Sea beyond (even to the island of Krk), and the nearby hills in the other direction.

Trsat Castle is one of the oldest such structures located along the coastline. Situated as it is on a hill, you are right to think that it was built as a defensive building. The current castle was built in the 13th century by the Croatian noble Frankopan family, although it is believed to be sited on a previous Roman hill fort. The castle fell into disrepair during the 17th and 18th centuries when it increasingly was no longer needed as a defensive structure. It was renovated during the 19th century

Getting There

The easiest way of getting to the castle is to take one of the local buses that operate in the city. Rijeka bus line 2 or Rijeka bus line 8 both operate from the centre to Trsat and both options will have a total journey time of around 25 minutes.

If you like to work up a bit of adrenaline before being rewarded with stunning views, you could also walk to the castle. Take the Petar Kruzic stairs which start just beyond Tito Square where it crosses the River Rijecina. Consisting of 561 stone steps and ascending up to 138 metres high, as we’ve mentioned, it is a bit of an energy-busting climb – but you might also consider part of the Trsat Castle experience.

The Petar Kruzic stairs to Trsat Castle
The Petar Kruzic stairs to Trsat Castle

What to See and Do at Trsat Castle

Whatever way you choose to arrive at the castle, once you’re here, start exploring the remains of the castle’s structure. You’ll get a feel of how impressive this building used to be as you walk around it, and take a look at the information signs which explain the different components of what you can see.

Of particular interest are the towers, some of which can be climbed for an even taller lookout viewpoint. You will also find a mausoleum – the building with MIR JUNAKA on it – which is the resting place of 19th-century military commander Laval Nugent; his family owned the castle up until the end of World War II.

Trsat Castle Mausoleum
Trsat Castle Mausoleum

The central courtyard of the castle is now home to a cafe bar which is very well placed to offer refreshment with a fantastic lookout point. The castle and the surrounding area is often used these days as a venue for various events.

Opposite is the Trsat Castle Park in which you can enjoy a nice bit of greenery and relaxation before you return back down to the city.

If you’ve climbed up the stairs to the castle, you will have passed by the Church of Our Lady of Trsat. This is one of the main pilgrimage places in Croatia, and the steps actually form part of the pilgrimage route.

View from Trsat Castle
View from Trsat Castle

Opening Hours and Entrance Price

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It is free to enter the castle, which is open year-round.

More info on Trsat Castle

Learn more about the castle from Rijeka Tourist Board.

Greeting to the Sun, Zadar at night

Spotlight on: Greeting to the Sun, Zadar

At the start of the new year, let’s continue Visit Croatia’s “Spotlight on…” series with a wonderfully colourful and super magical modern sight in the exceedingly charming town of Zadar in North Dalmatia. The Greeting to the Sun light installation might seem a bit hard to comprehend on paper but in real life, it’s a wonderful experience. It’s also a true example of how a relatively new landmark can equally delight visitors and sit alongside and complement much older sights.

Greeting to the Sun, Zadar
Visitors enjoying Greeting to the Sun at ngiht

About Greeting to the Sun

The Greeting to the Sun (Pozdrav suncu in Croatian) monument was installed in 2008 and designed by Croatian architect Nikola Basic. (Basic is also the man behind Zadar’s Sea Organ which is just a few steps away…but we’ll cover that excellent audio experience in another post!) It is made up of 300 glass solar panels that harness the sun’s rays during the day to power the lights at night. Pretty clever and inventive, wouldn’t you say?

The monument’s glass panels are arranged in a circle that is 22 metres in diameter – so it’s a fairly large installation and can be enjoyed by many, many people all at the same time. The panels are laid in stone which gives the whole area a neat, modern appearance and is a suitable contrast to the colour when the installation is awakened at dusk.

Just by the “Sun” are smaller circular panels – which also light up – that represent the planets of the solar system. It’s clear that this whole monument was rather smartly designed and is a great addition to the wonderful Zadar.

Getting There

The Greeting to the Sun is located on the northwestern tip of the peninsula on which Zadar’s Old Town is located. Head to the Riva in Zadar – the beautiful seaside promenade – and walk in a northerly direction. If you can hear the Sea Organ, you’re going the right way! Essentially, keep walking until you can walk no more (because otherwise, you’d fall into the sea) and you’ll find the twinkling lights underfoot.

Greeting to the Sun, Zadar, in daytime
Location of Greeting to the Sun – it’s popular in daytime too!

The Experience

This light installation is best viewed when its lights come on, so the most suitable time to experience it is just after sundown. Or rather, head to the Greeting to the Sun for sunset – to take in one of Zadar’s always gorgeous sunsets and to enjoy the convivial atmosphere on the Riva – and then see the lights of the installation come on.

Once the lights come on, then what? Well, look, watch and enjoy them! You’ll notice the Greeting to the Sun lights up in all manner of colours and light intensities, with different patterns continuously moving around the whole installation. Children in particular will be delighted chasing after the lights and patterns as they shift around; you may find yourself doing the same.

You may also want to return to the lights later in the evening (perhaps after a tasty dinner or after some drinks…mind the maraschino!) to really see them in full action when it’s properly dark.

But the Greeting to the Sun is also worth seeing in bright daylight as you’ll be able to see the glass panels better when unlit to get a better understanding of their mechanism.

Greeting to the Sun, Zadar at night
An aerial shot of Greeting to the Sun that shows its lights and colours – note the “planets” stretching out above it

Opening Hours and Prices

Two bits of good news here! As it’s in a public space, the Greeting to the Sun installation can be visited any time of day or night. (Although do see above what we would recommend is the best time of day to see it.)

It is also completely free to visit – again, because it is in a public space!

More info on Greeting to the Sun

Read more about the Greeting to the Sun on the Zadar Tourist Board website.

Zagreb Cable Car Top Station

Spotlight on: Zagreb Cable Car and Sljeme 360 Viewpoint

Following on from my focus on Dubrovnik’s Old Town Walls, in the second of the spotlight on series, I’m going to take a look at a couple of far more modern sights. Both found high up on Mount Medvenica above the city, they are the excellent Zagreb Cable Car and the brand-new Sljeme 360 Viewpoint in the TV tower at the peak of this mountain.

Zagreb Cable Car Top Station
The top station of Zagreb Cable Car

About Zagreb Cable Car and Sljeme 360

Zagreb’s Cable Car was opened in February 2022 whilst the Sljeme 360 experience was opening very recently indeed – in October 2023.

Zagreb originally had a cable car that opened in 1963 to transport skiers up the mountain, with a travelling distance of around 4,000 metres. This old cable car stopped operating in 2007 after it was found to require extensive repair and a decision was (eventually) made to build a new version.

The new cable car covers a distance of 5,017 metres and has a height difference of 754 metres between the lower and upper stations.

The TV tower was built in 1973 and stands 169 metres tall.

Zagreb Cable Car Bottom Station
The bottom station of Zagreb Cable Car

Getting There

The lower station of the Zagreb cable car is located in the Gracansko dolje region of northern Zagreb. It’s easy to get here by public transport, although you will most likely require a change somewhere along the way. You can make the whole journey by tram, or by tram and bus.

If travelling from the main square, take tram number 14 north to its end point of Mihaljevac. Once there, you’ll see the stop (it’s only about a minute walk away) for tram number 15 which heads to Gracansko dolje. This tram is rather unusual and an experience in itself – it only operates for four stops and at somewhat of an incline (compared to the other Zagreb trams at least) whilst it speeds along the track, seemingly mere centimetres away from the houses at points.

At Mihaljevac, it is possible to take bus number 233 for five stops to Gracansko dolje instead. Personally, I would recommend the tram option – it is far more fun!

It is also possible to reach Gracansko dolje by car, for there is a large parking garage below the base station building. Or you could also take an Uber or Bolt vehicle, but…take the tram, it’s so much fun!

Either way, once you reach the Gracansko dolje, you’ll see the gleaming, modern Zagreb cable car base station in front of you. Resist the urge to climb the climbing wall/bear hybrid here (you’ll know what I mean when you see it!) and head inside to purchase your tickets and begin your journey.

The Experience

The Cable Car

The six-person cabins of the cable car are much like any other cable car you may have come across – including those up mountains at ski resorts! Funnily enough, Zagreb’s cable car has something in common with those – for it is possible to ski on Sljeme in the winter months, and the cabins are adorned with sports equipment (i.e. ski and snowboard) holders on the outside.

Zagreb Cable Car Cabins
About to board the Zagreb Cable Car

As the cabins continuously pass by being pulled by the ever-moving cable, you have a short window to enter. Not too long and not too short, but just enough time for the four of us to enter along with the buggy we also had with us. This adds a certain excitement to the proceedings.

Visiting in the mid-afternoon in late October saw hardly any other visitors on the cable car – certainly, there was no one boarding at the same time as us, and as we ascended (and later descended), few other cabins had people in.

Going up in the cable car offers stunning views over Zagreb and of the lush forest below, which is full of autumn colours at this time of year. The full journey takes around 20 minutes each way, which is plenty of time to take in the magic of your surroundings and snap plenty of photos in all directions. And to admire the cable car itself, of course.

Interestingly, once you board the cable car at the bottom you’ll be whizzed through another cable car station almost immediately. On our journey, we wondered about the purpose of this station; it turns out that this “corner” station is required to change the direction of the cable car’s travels by 28 degrees. Huh!

There’s also an intermediate station – Brestovac – at which people can disembark.

At Sljeme

Once you reach the top of the cable car, you’re at Sljeme, the peak of Mount Medvednica. You’ll immediately the the Zagreb TV tower in front of you (home to the Zagreb 360 viewpoint which I’ll talk about in a second) as well as a little restaurant/cafe for refreshments.

OIV TV Tower, Zagreb
The OIV TV Tower

Take a look all around you for the amazing views – Zagreb stretches out in front of you (and it really does stretch out; the city is perhaps far larger than people think), whilst you can see little towns and villages at the base of the mountain in the other direction.

A short walk away from where the cable car places you are a few more restaurants as well as the Hotel Tomislavov Dom which would be an excellent place to base yourself if you really want to explore the nearby Medvednica Nature Park or Medvedgrad Castle.

The Zagreb 360 viewpoint also has its own little cafe, so after your hard work ascending the cable car you have the additional tough job of choosing where to reset for a little while, enjoying a coffee or hot chocolate. (Or a cup of whipped cream in the case of my toddler.)

We opted for Vidikovac Sljeme which has a pretty wide menu (had I not already had lunch, I would definitely have opted for one of their hearty-looking soups!) and seating next to large windows for you to really take in the view.

Should you be travelling on the cable car in winter, you might have come up to Sljeme to go skiing! There are some ski/snowboard rental shops up here too…and, of course, here is where the ski runs start!

Zagreb 360 Viewpoint

The 169 metre-tall Zagreb TV tower (the Sljeme OIV tower, to give it its proper name) is now home to the Zagreb 360 Viewpoint experience, which is located roughly highway up the tower – at an altitude of 1,118 metres above sea level.

A fast and large lift whisks you up to the inside portion of the viewpoint where there is also a cafe. To my delight, the cafe’s tables all had boards and pieces of the game Čovječe, ne ljuti see (translates to Man, don’t get angry; essentially it is the game Ludo) which I remember playing endlessly as a child. We attempted a game before the toddler interrupted and started throwing pieces around.

Covjece ne luti se board game at Sljeme 360 Viewpoint
Ready for a game of Covjece, ne luti se?

Of course, the view from up here is spectacular – and all around, seeing as you’re in a tower! I highly recommend also visiting the Zagreb 360 viewpoint once you’re up Sljeme.

Funnily enough, as we were visiting barely a week after it had opened, we could see that some of the furnishings weren’t quite finished.

Opening Hours and Prices

Make sure the weather is good before setting off to enjoy these attractions!

Zagreb Cable Car

The cable car operates from 10am to 7pm (last departure from the lower station is at 6.30pm) every day, year-round. The cable car may not operate in the case of strong winds or bad weather, so do check the Zagreb Cable Car website before you set off to make sure it is operating.

It costs €16.59 return (€9.95 one way) for adults; €9.95 return (€6.64 one way) for people aged 15-24 and 65+; and €3.98 return (€2.65 one way) for kids aged 0 to 15 or for people with disabilities. (These are all 2023 prices.)

It has to be said that Zagreb Cable Car has been accused of being too expensive – in my opinion, the experience on this modern transport method and the views make it worth it.

Zagreb 360 Viewpoint

The viewpoint is open 10.30am to 6.30pm daily (from 9.30am on Saturdays).

This costs an additional €10 for adults; €7.50 for kids aged 12 to 18, students and those aged 65+; €5 for kids aged 5 to 12; kids under 5 go free. (2023 prices)

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More info

You can learn more about Zagreb Cable Car at the Sljeme 360 Viewpoint on their respective websites, and there’s additional information on the cable car on the ZET website.

Spotlight on: Old Town Walls, Dubrovnik

In the first of a regular series looking at some of Croatia’s most famous – and perhaps lesser-known – sights in more detail, today we’re taking a look at the Old Town Walls, Dubrovnik. These famed walls run for a length of 1,940 metres around the Old Town part of Dubrovnik and are 25 metres tall at their highest point. In the interior, the walls have a thickness of between 4 metres and 6 metres, whilst on the portion facing out over the Adriatic Sea, they are 1.5 metres to 3 metres thick.

Old Town Walls Dubrovnik
A “close-up” look at the Old Town Walls Dubrovnik

The walls are stunning to experience for yourself in real life and have a fascinating history. They have protected Dubrovnik during a number of attacks over the centuries and served as excellent protection during the Homeland War in Croatia in the early 1990s. The walls also withstood an incredibly powerful earthquake in 1667 (when 2,000 locals are estimated to have died, and many of the Old Town buildings were destroyed) and were barely damaged.

History of the Old Town Walls, Dubrovnik

Portions of the walls were first constructed in the 13th century, with the basic shape fully outlined by the 14th century. The walls were continuously added to over the subsequent centuries, with considerable work on the walls undertaken in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Many builders and architects contributed to the construction of the walls and their elements over time, including Juraj Dalmatinac (who worked on Minceta Fortress) who is famous for his work in Sibenik.

Features of the Old Town Walls, Dubrovnik

As we’ve mentioned, the walls run for 1,940 metres in length and include a number of towers, fortresses and gates, and we’ll take a look at some of the best ones here.

Minceta Fortress, completed in 1464, was the main point of defence on the land side of Dubrovnik and is in fact the northernmost point of the Walls as well as the highest point. (So be sure to climb for some fantastic views!) The Tower was originally built in a rectangular shape in the 14th century but was then changed to be a round tower in the mid-15th century.

Top Sights in Croatia - Dubrovnik Old Town
A view over the rooftops of Dubrovnik Old Town from Minceta Tower

Pile Gate is the main entrance into the Old Town on the western side and stands where Pile Fortress used to be, which was torn down in 1818. As you approach this gate you will cross a 15th-century, triple-arched stone bridge. Above the gate itself you will notice a statue of St. Blaise, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, that was sculpted by the famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic; the gate itself actually consists of two gates, and outer and an inner one which were built at different times.

Pile Gate, Old Town Walls Dubrovnik
Pile Gate with the stone bridge approaching it

On the western side of the Old Town is Ploce Gate which also consists of an outer and an inner gate and a stone bridge on its approach; again, this gate was constructed in the 15th century. Be sure to check out a gorgeous view of the harbour when you cross this bridge!

Next to Ploce Gate is Revelin Fortress which is also adjacent to the Old Town port. This fortress was constructed in the late 16th century to protect the city from attacks from Venice which were considered heightened at the time. These days, the fortress is home to Club Revelin – what an amazing place to do some partying!

St John’s Fortress to the southeast of the Old Town harbour stood to protect the city from attacks from the sea. Completed in 1557, today this amazing building is home to the Dubrovnik Aquarium and the Maritime Museum.

St John Fortress, Old Town Walls Dubrovnik
St John Fortress

The circular Bokar Fortress stands to protect Pile Gate and the harbour just below. Completed in 1570, this fortress was used as an ammunition store and also to test canon range.

Lovrijenac Fortress stands separate to the town walls – but you will get an excellent view of this fortress when you make the walk on them, and a ticket to the town walls also includes a visit here. This was likely the most important defence of the city, given its position 40 metres up on these cliffs. Originally built in the 14th century – likely on the site of a previous fort, which existed perhaps as early as the 10th century – this triangular-shaped fortress was strengthened and changed over the centuries and also needed restoring after the 1667 earthquake. Amazing, the walls of the fortress that face the sea are 12 metres thick, but much, much less so on the side facing inland. Lovirjenac “plays” the Red Keep of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones.

Lovrijenac Fortress, Dubrovnik
Lovrijenac Fortress

Visiting the Old Town Walls

Getting There

Obviously, the Old Town Walls completely surround the Old Town (the clue is in the name!) so once you’re in Dubrovnik, make your way over to the Old Town.

You can obviously marvel at the walls from many a spot inside and outside of the Old Town. In fact, walking around the outside of them – on the land side, of course – is one way of appreciating the magnitude of the walls and the level of protection they bestowed on the town. Should you get a chance, opting for a spot of sea kayaking in Dubrovnik is another fantastic way of seeing the walls, this time from sea level (of course!). Again, you can imagine how imposing the walls would have been to potential marauders.

Entry & Tickets

There are entrances up to the Town Walls by both Pile and Ploce gates, and you can buy tickets for the walls at both of these locations. Personally, we like entering at Pile Gate to make the walk around on the sea side first before heading inland and marvelling at all the pretty orange rooftops. It is also possible to buy tickets online on the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities website. Tickets cost €35 for adults and €15 for children under 18 (2023 prices). This includes entry to Lovrenjac Fortress as well.

Old Town Walls Dubrovnik

More info

You can learn more about the walls on the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities website. This society was formed in 1952 to protect, preserve and promote the walls. The same society also looks after the stunning town walls in Ston.

Take a look at our Dubrovnik Old Town Photos gallery to see the sights visible on and from the walls.

St Nicholas Fortress

Visit Croatia Review: Visiting St Nicholas’ Fortress

If you’re visiting the lovely town of Sibenik, you’re in for a real treat! This smart town has it all – great accommodation options, good food, and some amazing sights. There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sibenik; no other location in Croatia has two such sites in the same place! Here, we will explain how to visit the impressive St Nicholas’ Fortress and review whether it is worth it.

St Nicholas Fortress
An interior shot of the fortress

St Nicholas’ Fortress – a bit of history

To expand on what we’ve said above – St Nicholas’ Fortress is indeed a UNESCO World Heritage site but under the title of “Venetian Works of Defence between the 16th and 17th Centuries”. These works of defence include six different sites; three in Italy, one in Kotor in Montenegro and the Old Town walls in Zadar.

Located in St Anthony’s Channel, out to sea from Sibenik, the fortress sits on a tiny island named Ljuljevac. Bult between 1540 and 1547 by Venetian architect Giangirolamo Sanmicheli, the fortress was indeed constructed to act as a sea defence against Ottoman boats and to protect the town of Sibenik. The Fortress obviously did its job – Sibenik was never attacked from the sea, and no naval battles in this area were ever recorded.

St Nicholas’ Fortress gets its name from the Benedictine Monastery of St Nicholas which was located on the same island but was demolished to make way for the fortress.

The fortress was opened to visitors in 2019, so it’s only been a short few years that travellers to Croatia have been able to visit the place.

How to visit St Nicholas’ Fortress

St Nicholas’ Fortress can only be visited on an official boat tour. You cannot visit using a private boat or via an unofficial tour boat.

St Nicholas Fortress boat
The boat to the fortress (on the right – the larger one, not the little dinghy!) waiting in the harbour

Boats depart Sibenik’s waterfront, close to Perivoj Robert Visanija and the Hotel Bellevue. Tickets for the tour can be purchased in a little office just opposite the boat – ask the guide or captain on board the boat to point it out to you if you can’t spot it. Alternatively, you can also purchase tickets ahead of time online on the St Anthony’s Channel website.

Tickets cost €22 for adults and €16 for children aged 7 to 18 years old. Children under the age of 7 go free.

Boats run several times a day (four times a day in peak season, July and August; two or three times a day outside of these months) from the end of April to mid-October.

St Nicholas Fortress tablet
The tablet for the tour, waiting to be used!

What you see and do on the St Nicholas’ Fortress Tour

Upon boarding the boat, you are given a tablet – with headphones – that’s loaded with an interactive tour of the fortress. Its a quirky addition to the tour that feels a little unusual at first, but makes sense once you actually step foot inside St Nicholas’ Fortress.

It’s a 30-minute boat ride over to Ljuljevac island on the comfortable boat; make sure you take in your surroundings and get your camera out as there are plenty of photo-worthy scenes. As you sail through St Anthony’s Channel, you’ll notice lush greenery on both sides; on the left, you might notice a path through the trees (and eventually a small beach) that you might want to return to another day. There’s also an intriguing tunnel set in the cliff walls – this was built by the Germans in WWII and continued to be used in the days of Yugoslavia. (It is no longer used, of course!)

Welcome to Sibenik sign
A Welcome to Sibenik sign
Tunnel in St Anthony's Channel
The tunnel – now unused – in St Anthony’s Channel

When you arrive at the Fortress and disembark on the pier, make sure you take some photos of the grand main entrance. It really is an impressive first experience of the Fortress, and when you arrive you truly understand the amazing way the structure has been built on this islet, right up to the water’s edge.

St Nicholas Fortress entrance
The entrance to St Nicholas’ Fortress
St Nicholas Fortress entrance
Looking back once inside

Once inside the Fortress, the guided tour begins. Our tour guide was a lively lady who spoke excellent English and was perfect at explaining the different elements of the complex. As mentioned, however, all visitors are also given a tablet with an interactive tour. There are different numbers displayed on walls throughout the Fortress at which you are supposed to play some additional audio or video on your tablet.

The same tablet also allows for some neat augmented reality elements – suddenly, some “guards” may appear right before your eyes! Walking through what would have been the ammunition storage room, you are also guided to play a game on the tablet, shooting cannonballs at attacking ships.

St Nicholas Fortress interior
St Nicholas Fortress interior
St Nicholas’ Fortress interior

Whilst the different interior components of the Fortress are interesting, once you get on the roof you can really get a sense for how well placed St Nicholas’ Fortress would have been to protect the town of Sibenik. These days, you can rest easy with some gorgeous views out to see, and the only boats to remark on are the numerous speedboats taking holidaymakers somewhere fun.

St Nicholas Fortress roof
A panoramic shot on the roof of the fortress

Is it worth visiting St Nicholas’ Fortress?

Absolutely, yes! All in all, this is a very interesting, informative and highly pleasant little trip.

We visited the fortress in the mid-afternoon in the peak summer season – late July – and although the trip was busy with a good number of visitors, it wasn’t overly crowded. I believe the full capacity of the boats/tour is 94 people, and we were probably not even a third of that number.

The boat trip over to the fortress was a very enjoyable start and end to the trip – a lovely way of experiencing St Anthony’s Channel and an opportunity to snap some gorgeous shots of Sibenik from the sea.

More info

You can find out more about visiting St Nicholas’ Fortress on the official St Anthony’s Channel website.

Istria Tours Sini

Get to know Istria Tours and their tours of the region…and Croatia!

Istria Tours are a Pula-based tour company offering tours of Pula, of Istria and the whole of Croatia! Run by the very friendly licensed guide Sini Sljukic, there’s a whole heap of exploring to do with Istria Tours.

Sini Sljukic, Istria Tours
Sini

The company was started by Sini in 2011 as something he always wanted to do – with an interest in history and culture as well as a wish to work in tourism, after working for other companies and learning the job he decided to try to work on his own! Having acquired the necessary qualifications to be a licensed guide at university, it’s been full steam ahead for Istria Tours ever since! Sini’s tours are offered in English or German, and he runs them year-round, transporting guests in a new, airconditioned van of 8 + 1 seats or a black Mercedes limousine.

Walking Tours of Istria

If you’re heading to Istria in the near future, check out the walking tours of the region’s different towns and cities that Sini offers. There are walking tours of Porec, Rovinj, Pula, Umag, Pazin, Motovun, Labin and Groznjan – as well as Opatija – that last one or two hours (depending on the tour) and are priced at €70-80 for a group.

Sini’s personal favourites are the walking tours of Pula. He says:

It is never the same, different people, different questions…I enjoy it every time!

Istria Tour - Pula
An aerial view of Pula, Istria

Excursions

If you fancy travelling further afield from your Istrian base, it’s an excursion that you’re after! Again, Istria Tours offer a number of different options – whether you’d like to explore some of the peninsula’s inland towns and villages (such as Groznjan – “city of artists” and Motovun – “capital of
truffles”) or perhaps you want an easy way to explore some of the not-too-distant islands such as Krk or Cres. One excursion that we know many travellers to Istria look for – but that is difficult to navigate themselves due to a lack of direct public transport – is a day trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Istria Tours can organise such an excursion which includes transportation, a guide and an entry ticket from 1990 Kunas per person.

Bale
One of the pretty streets in Bale

Sini’s favourite excursions are the van tours are to Rovinj, Bale and Vodnjan and the one to Groznjan, Motovun and Pazin. He says:

There is so much we can do along the way: truffle hunting, wine tasting, olive oil tasting, truffle and cheese tasting… We see the most beautiful sights, we have lunch in the best “konobas” (the Istrian word for restaurant)…culture and culinary highlights of Istria, a great way to spend a day in “Terra magica” (this is how they call Istria)!

Boat Tours of Istria

If exploring by sea is more your kind of thing, take a look at the boat tours that Istria Tours offers. You can visit multiple locations in one day in Istra – for example, setting off from Rovinj to the Lim Fjord, Vrsar and Porec, or from Rabac to visit island locations such as Valun and Cres. These boat tours are priced between €30 to €40 per person (depending on the tour) and boat transport, a guide and lunch and a drink.

The most popular boat tour is the Brijuni Islands tour from Pula, which Sini believes is because of the beauty of the national park and its vicinity to Pula.

National Parks in Croatia - Brijuni National Park
The Brijuni islands

Transfers

If ‘all’ you need is some transport in Croatia, Istria Tours also has you covered! They can organise transfers in a standard car for just 1 or 2 people to larger groups (5-8 or under 20 people) requiring a people carrier or a van, to much, much larger groups that need a coach. Contact sini@istria-tours.hr with the number of passengers you need transporting and the route so they can give you a quote.

Istria Tours Sini
Sini and his van by Pula’s famous Arena

Istria Tours offer tours of Croatia too!

But it’s not just Istria they cover! Istria Tours can also do tours covering the whole of Croatia – for example, Sini has run a 20-day tour of the country for a customer that started in Zagreb and ended in Dubrovnik. A private tour of the country will enable you to see as much of it as possible in the time frame you have in mind for visiting the country (2 to 3 weeks are ideal, although shorter tours are also certainly doable).

More on Istria Tours

Learn more about the company on their website Istria Tours and contact Sini direct atsini@istria-tours.hr or on +385 994 012 153 (via WhatsApp or Viber).

Museum of Illusions in Zagreb

Museum of Illusions in Zagreb – Visit Croatia Review

One November morning, Visit Croatia popped along to the Museum of Illusions in Zagreb to enjoy the illusions and tricks on the eye in this relatively new museum. See what we thought!

Visiting the Museum of Illusions in Zagreb

A rainy, grey Saturday morning in Zagreb is an ideal time to visit a museum – especially a relatively new one, and a quirky one to boot. It seems like many other people in Zagreb had the same idea that morning, judging by the queue to get into the Museum of Illusions and the number of people inside! * (see note below)

Luckily, the entrance down a small covered alleyway provided shelter from the rain…and the queue moved pretty quickly anyway. We were into the museum and ascending the stairs to the first floor of the museum swiftly.

Museum of Illusions in Zagreb
The ‘head on a platter’ (without the head!)

Here on the first floor, you have a number of the smaller exhibits, such as the clone table (where you can play cards against several versions of yourself!); the ‘head on a platter’ trick (you can be served up as a dish!); the infinity room (a closed room of mirrors, giving the appearance of multiple versions of the room’s occupants that stretch out seemingly forever! An ideal space for ‘pulling some shapes’…); and the ‘tricks on the eye’ optical illusions. I’m not giving the game away by revealing any of these exhibits here, by the way, as they really need to be seen to be ‘believed’ and are far more impressive in real life rather than just being written about!

Heading on up to the second floor, there are some of the ‘larger’ illusions – including the anti-gravity room, where it seems gravity’s gone haywire; the Ames room, where two of you can become giant and miniaturised versions of yourselves; and the rotated room, where the world has been rotated by 90 degrees. The kaleidoscope is also super fun – where you get to be in a large kaleidoscope!

Museum of Illusions in Zagreb
The Bottomless Pit Illusion

When we were there, the museum was very busy indeed and it was sometimes difficult to get to see and interact with all the exhibits, as well as take the appropriate funny snaps. But that’s of course a reflection on the popularity of the museum – and if you’re patient enough, you’ll definitely get your turn with each exhibit. (Visiting with a little one in tow who dictated patience levels meant we had to zip through most exhibits quite quickly!)

Is it worth visiting?

Is the Museum of Illusions in Zagreb worth visiting? Yes, definitely. This is one of the city’s newer museums and belongs in the same boat as some of the more quirky ones – such as the famed Museum of Broken Relationships and the Zagreb 80s Museum, to name two. There’s plenty to occupy your time, with a number of optical illusions to interact with. We’d recommend going along with a friend or two to get the most out of tricks such as the Ames Room – or, at the very least, so you can get snaps taken as one of you performs the ‘tricks’ and the other is behind the camera! It’s certainly a very visual museum and you’ll get plenty of excellent photos to share on the ‘Gram!

As for age suitability…I went with my then 4-year-old child and I’d say it was a little bit too old for her. Sure, she liked the illusions involving mirrors and couldn’t wait to try out the ‘head on a platter’ trick (although most of the fun there for her was crawling through the small tunnel!) but she didn’t quite get the fun of most of the exhibits. I’d say the museum is more suitable for kids aged 7 and older, especially pre-teens and teens. And it’s absolutely suitable and fun for adults too!

Museum of Illusions in Zagreb

The museum is priced at a reasonable 50 Kunas for adults, 40 Kunas for students and seniors and 30 Kunas for children aged 5 to 15 years.

Museum of Illusions
Ilica 72
10000 Zagreb
muzejiluzija.com

* Note: Visit Croatia visited in November 2019, well before the pandemic and any need for social distancing. Please do check before visiting for opening hours and any visiting restrictions.

Zagreb 80s Museum Feat

Zagreb 80s Museum – Visit Croatia Review

If you’re anything like Visit Croatia, you have both a strong connection to the city of Zagreb…and are absolutely in love with the decade that is the 1980s. In which case, what could be a better museum for you to visit practically anywhere in the world than the Zagreb 80s Museum!

(No? Just me then?)

Well, even if neither of the above apply to you, read on…for this is certainly one of the most fun museums to visit in Zagreb!

Zagreb 80s Museum Sign

Visiting the Zagreb 80s Museum

If truth be told, this was definitely on my list of things to see in Croatia’s capital…but I actually stumbled across it during a walk in the Upper Town one November afternoon, having finally escaped the confines of the warm indoors after a lengthy and heavy rainstorm. Admiring the statue of St George as I have done a number of times before, I turned around…to be greeted by a bright and cheery sign with everything (well, not exactly everything) that is dear to me.

Climbing up the steps to what is basically a first floor apartment, you enter the museum’s small lobby area in what would ordinarily be a hallway. But this is a hallway with a difference, for it features half a yellow Fico car (a Zastava 750) practically emerging out of one wall. And you can climb inside for photos!

Zagreb 80s Museum Fico Car
The Fico car in the lobby…climb inside!
80s Ski Gear
80s ski gear

There are several distinct rooms – apart from the hallway/museum lobby, there’s an open plan living room/kitchen with sofas, entertainment and lifestyle items (telephone, record player, TV) and even one of those giant wardrobe/sideboard items that seemed to be very popular in…well…everyone’s home in Yugoslavia in the 1980s. Beyond that there’s another hallway-slash-office-slash-tribute-to-Zagi (remember him??!); a bedroom and then a kind of games room with the ubiquitous 80s games consoles.

Zagreb 80s Museum Reception
Does this look like a living room that you remember??
80s Wardrobe
Open it up to discover the fun inside…including 80s clothes to dress up in!
80s Telephone
Yup, the standard ‘telephone corner’ with the standard 80s telephone
80s Dining Room

But what’s there to do?

The premise of this museum is that it is fully interactive and offers you an immersive experience of what living in Yugoslavia in the 1980s was like. That means nothing is off limits – you can touch everything in the museum, sit in the chairs, open up the drawers, play around with things like the games consoles. You can even dress up in 80s gear as one of the wardrobes is filled with 80s clothes!

There’s plenty of fun to be had touching and feeling the exhibits, opening up cupboards to see what’s inside. Try sitting in the living room and pretending this is your apartment, albeit one 35 years ago.

One area that brought me the most amusement was the small corner dedicated to Zagi, the blue squirrel that was the mascot of the 1987 Univerzijada (the University Olympics) which were held in Zagreb. If you were slightly obsessed by him back in that decade, well, this will be a real treat for you.

Yugoslavian money
Yugoslavian Dinars
Yugoslavian food items
Food packaging from 1980s Yugoslavia
Zagi
A corner dedicated to my beloved Zagi

Zagreb 80s Museum – Verdict

We (of course!) absolutely loved this museum and really enjoyed our visit – so it’s no surprise that we’d really recommend this place.

However, we would say that the Zagreb 80s Museum is probably for those that are either really in to the 1980s (or don’t mind it for a few hours!) and/or have some kind of nostalgia about Yugoslavia or another Eastern European country during that decade. (Whether you lived through that time, had family there or visited in some way.)

But it is actually even good for kids! Given that it’s a fully interactive museum, they’ll also have fun looking at the ‘funny’ exhibits and there’s plenty of kid-friendly things that will catch their interest. (Even if this sets the scene of a time ages before they were born.) And they’ll just love sitting in the yellow car and pretending to drive.

The Zagreb 80s Museum is also located just a short distance from many other sights in the Upper Town, so can easily be combined with a tour of this part of the city – it’s a nice way to change up the scene from walking around looking at many of the outdoor sights.

There are also some rather fun (and some…ahem…quite naughty) trinkets to take home from the little shop. I went home with a Tesla (a Yugoslavian brand) lightbulb!

Zagreb 80s Museum - 80s games consoles
The games console corner

More info

Tickets for the museum cost 40 Kunas for adults, 30 Kunas for concessions (students and 65+) and 25 Kunas for kids aged 3 to 13.

Full details on Zagreb 80s Museum can be found on the official website.