Vukovar is the most eastern city in Croatia, right on the border with neighbouring country Serbia in Vukovar-Syrmia County. Also located on the Danube River (the Dunav in Croatian), the city has a population of just over 22,000 people. Vukovar has unfortunately gone through quite a turbulent period in its recent past, during the war in the 1990s, but has since been rebuilt and is now a pleasant and highly interesting place to visit.
History of Vukovar
Vukovar gets its name from the River Vuka, which flows through the city as a tributary of the Danube. Part of the Kingdom of Hungary from the 13th century, the city achieved royal free city status – making it one of the most important cities in the Kingdom – in 1231. After occupation by the Ottoman Empire in 1526, the city fell under Austro-Hungarian rule in 1699 and the German noble Eltz family owned and controlled a significant part of the land here in the 18th century.
In the 19th century, Vukovar prospered with a focus on trade, craft and agriculture – it exported goods by boat on the Danube.
After becoming part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, Vukovar grew once again, this time with textile and shoe industries; the shoe company Borovo (first called Bata) was founded in this part of Croatia in 1931. This growth and prosperity continued in the times of Yugoslavia, largely in part to the Borovo factory. By the 1980s, the city had over 40,000 inhabitants.
Many people know of Vukovar due to its very turbulent years in the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s. Tensions and escalating events started in 1991, even before Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The city went through an 87-day siege between August and November 1991 which saw a heavily outnumbered group of Croatian armed forces and volunteers try and defend Vukovar before being eventually overrun. Over 3,000 people altogether lost their lives and around 90% of the houses in the city were damaged or destroyed. Vukovar was subsequently under Serbian control until being liberated in 1995, and then formally returned to Croatia in 1998.
Getting to Vukovar
The nearest airport in Croatia to Vukovar is Osijek Airport, about 25km away so if you’re heading directly to Vukovar when visiting Croatia, it would be best to fly to here. There are a handful of flights from European cities to Osijek, including new for 2023! flights from London Stansted to Osijek with Ryanair. There are also internal flights to Osijek from Zagreb, Pula and Rijeka.
You could also consider flying to other airports in the wider region and then travelling on to Vukovar – such as to Belgrade Airport, Budapest Airport or Zagreb Airport. (In the case of Belgrade Airport, you will have to navigate a border control when travelling on to Croatia.)
It is now possible to reach Vukovar by train from Zagreb and from Split in the summer months. It takes 5 hours from Zagreb and 14 hours from Split. (It is an overnight train from Split, so sleeper tickets are available.)
Outside of summer, there tend not to be any direct connections, even from Zagreb. However, there are numerous options to travel by train every day. The shortest journey time is about 6-7 hours. Take a look at the Croatian Railways website to look up timetables and to buy tickets.
As with most locations in Croatia, bus is the best way of travelling to the city. There are services from Zagreb (just under 5 hours) and from Osijek (50 minutes) with Cazmatrans.
If you have trouble reaching Vukovar directly from other towns or cities in Croatia, we would recommend first travelling to Osijek and then travelling on from there by bus.
By Boat (sort of!)
Given its location on the River Danube, the city is connected to European capitals such as Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna by boat. There are no scheduled ferry services – how amazing would that be?! – but some companies run European river cruises which make a stop in Vukovar. This is a very pleasant way of exploring this part of Europe.
Sightseeing in Vukovar
Vukovar City Mueum
Vukovar City Museum is housed in Eltz Manor, a baroque palace that used to the be the home of the noble Eltz family in the 18th century. (Those of you who remember the Kuna may recall Eltz Manor depicted on the reverse of the 20 Kuna banknote.) The Museum has been at this location since 1966; both the building itself and the Museum collection were severely damaged during the Homeland War. However, Eltz Manor was completely restored by 2011 and part of the Museum’s collection was returned by 2001.
Today the museum features over 1,500 Croatian and European works of art and numerous artefacts telling the story of the city. If you do one sightseeing experience in Vukovar, make it this museum!
Vucedol Culture Museum
Vucedol Culture Museum is located 5km outside of the city on an archaeological site that may have once been home to around 3,000 inhabitants as far back as 3,000 – 2,500 BC, making it one of the largest European settlements at the time. The wonderful modern Museum highlights the impressive achievements of the Vucedol culture and details life at that time.
You may know Vucedol culture through the “Vucedol dove” (now actually thought to be a partridge instead of a dove), a ceramic figure that represents fertility that was excavated from the Vucedol site in the 1930s. The Vucedol dove is not only a famous symbol of Vucedol culture but also Vukovar and even the whole of Croatia. The dove was also depicted on the reverse of 20 Kuna banknote.
Vukovar Water Tower (vodotoranj in Croatian) stands as a symbol of the city and what it went through during the Homeland War in Croatia. (The tower itself suffered over 600 direct hits during the war.) Standing at 50.3m tall and originally built in the mid-1960s, these days it is possible to go to the top of the tower (by lift or using stairs) for a fantastic view over the city and beyond.
Other Sights and Activities
The centre of Vukovar is a pleasant place to wander around for a few hours, admiring the Baroque-style architecture.
You’ll notice several street art installations dotted around, which have all previously been part of the VukovArt Festival!
Ada Island – an island in the Danube – is a 5-minute boat ride away from Vukovar, and a must-visit during the summer months. Go to enjoy the sandy beach and a pleasant day out in the sun with beach games and refreshments.
Eating and Drinking in Vukovar
Restoran Stari Toranj serves typical Croatian fare – grilled meats and fish, hearty sides, good cakes – and reasonable prices.
Restoran Mornar has a great setting right on the Danube, also a good place to sample the food of the region.
Mexican Bar Tequila is a fun Mexican restaurant with typical dishes – tacos, burritos, enchiladas…and a big selection of pizzas! – and a friendly vibe.
Head to Display Bar for cocktails and DJs on a night out in the city.
Accommodation in Vukovar
The four-star Hotel Lav Vukovar is the only hotel option located here, so if a hotel is important to you, that’s the one!
For hostels, there’s the Hostel Dubrovnik which has single and double rooms, plus beds in dorm rooms.
Events in Vukovar
Vukovar Puppet Spring was first held in 1996 and takes place at the end of March/early April. Numerous puppet shows, particularly aimed at children, are performed each day of the festival
The Vukovar Film Festival takes place in late June/early July each year, showcasing Croatian films and films from the nearby region.
The Klein Film Festival centres on short documentary, feature and animated films – all less than 20 minutes in length. It takes place at the end of July each year.