If you’re planning on visiting Croatia but only have a limited amount of time, you’ll likely want to head straight to the ‘top’ sights and experiences the country has to offer. To help you, here’s our guide on what not to miss in Croatia.
Now, there’s plenty that we haven’t mentioned in this guide – lovely Zagreb, beautiful Istria, islands such as Vis, Mljet or Korcula…the list goes on, really! (Sorry to all of these places and many more besides.) They are absolutely wonderful to visit and explore. Their omission from this page does not mean we don’t recommend them, or that you shouldn’t visit them. It’s just that if you’re visiting Croatia on a whistle-stop tour, you’re probably going to want to visit the below places most. And when you go back home, your friends will surely ask, “Oh, you went to Croatia? Did you visit Dubrovnik/Split/Plitvice/Hvar/Brac?” and you can say yes!
Then, on your next – much longer 😄 – visit to Croatia, you can plan to see some of the areas you missed and much more besides.
Think of a ‘what not to miss in Croatia’ tour as a taster for the country that you can expand on on your next trip!
What Not to Miss in Croatia – Dubrovnik
It’s not for nothing that Dubrovnik is referred to as the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’. The city received 1.44 million visitors in 2019 and does a good job of promoting year-round tourism. The majority of sights in Dubrovnik are contained in or nearby to the Old Town which means you can easily cover visiting most of them in a day or two. Likewise, many excellent amenities – restaurants, cafes, bars – are here too and if you want a bit of beach time as well, Banje Beach is located a short walk from the Old Town.
Spend your time walking the Old Town Walls, then the ‘streets’ of the Old Town itself. A ride up to Mount Srd in the cable car is also a must for some amazing views of the Old Town from above. Another must is the ‘secret’ Buza Bar for a cocktail or a cold beer, and where you can watch sunbathers on the rocks, and swimmers and kayakers going past.
Tip: you can’t beat staying in the Old Town, location-wise. An apartment would be the best choice as there are few hotels in the Old Town. But if a hotel is a must for you, there are a few located a short walk away.
What Not to Miss in Croatia – A national park
The Plitvice Lakes National Park
It would be hard to write an article on ‘what not to miss in Croatia’ without mentioning the Plitvice Lakes National Park. The sixteen lakes, interconnected by a series of waterfalls, set in lush woodland are a truly magical slice of nature to experience. It is easily possible to spend a couple of days (or even longer) in the Park; explore all the paths and try out a number of the different suggested routes. However, with only a short amount of time in Croatia, you can still cover a decent amount of the National Park in one day.
If you’re visiting from Split and have your own hire car (and feel comfortable with a 5-6 hour round-trip drive) we’d suggest setting off as early as you can to make the most of your day. This plan would work out best in the summer months when the Park has the longest opening hours.
Alternatively, organised trips from Split to the Plitvice Lakes are plentiful – ask at a local agency for details. In almost all cases (unless you book a transport-only tour), you will then also be guided around the National Park.
Tip: Book your tickets to the park online in advance in order to save time and skip the queue!
Krka National Park
An often-asked question by travellers to Croatia is “Which is the better national park, the Plitvice Lakes or Krka?” To give a safe answer, both are the best! Alright, if we were really pushed, we’d say that the Plitvice Lakes edges it for the extraordinary experience and another-level of nature it offers its visitors. But Krka National Park honestly comes a very, very close second.
If you’re wanting to visit a national park from Split and don’t fancy the longer journey time to Plitvice, we’d absolutely suggest you visit Krka National Park instead. Centred around the Krka River, this Park also offers numerous lakes and waterfalls to view. It does also offer a slightly different adventure for visitors, what with people being allowed to swim in some of its waters (right by Skradinski buk waterfalls!) and a number of boat tours to sights such as Visovac island. (Tickets for these are separate to the entrance price.)
Tip: Tickets for Krka National Park can also be purchased in advance online.
Tip: If you’ve got your own wheels, head to the Lozovac entrance where there’s a large car park; from here, you can walk down or get a bus to the start of the paths. If you’re taking public transport, you’ll be (most likely) getting a bus to the town of Skradin, where another of the main entrances is.
Once considered a passing through point for simply heading out to an island, a resort or somewhere like Dubrovnik, Split is certainly a worthy inclusion on this list and absolutely an excellent place to visit. The bustling Diocletian’s Palace area has numerous sights (obviously elements from the Palace itself) as well as plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes. Head out to the famous Bacvice Beach to mingle with the locals (why not take part in a quick game of picigin?!) or explore the forested Marjan Hill. Good food and drink, nightlife, shopping, beaches, sights – Split has it all!
Tip: If you want to see another gorgeous town nearby, take a trip out to majestic Trogir! It’s an easy journey by bus, but travelling by boat (there are regular services in summer) is perhaps best.
An island – One of the Dalmatian islands
You can’t come to Croatia and not visit one of the islands, right? Those back home will never forgive you! If you’re in this part of Croatia, we’d suggest heading out to one of the nearby, popular islands of either stylish Hvar or sporty and family-friendly Brac. There are a number of catamaran routes (and we’d recommend catamarans as they’re quicker than the ferries!) to these islands. The most popular destinations on these islands are Hvar Town and Bol on Brac (home to Zlatni Rat beach); either of these would be do-able as a stop via one of the catamarans (run by Kapetan Luka or Jadrolinija) that run from Split to Dubrovnik or vice versa. However, you would likely need to spend at least a night on the island of your choice (hardly a bad thing!) to make the most of it.
If you don’t want to spend a night on the islands, ask at a local Split agency for one of the many day trips to the islands.
Tip: For something a bit different, why not visit the island of Solta which is very close to Split? Easily doable as a day trip by public transport. Then you get to tell your friends about the off-the-beaten-track island in Croatia you visited!
How to get around Croatia
There’s two ways you can approach this, we reckon!
Hiring a car
To give you flexibility, you may like to rent a car to help you explore the national parks. If you do rent a car, we would then recommend that you leave it parked on the mainland when visiting one of the islands – whether just on a day trip (organised or not) or for a few days – and then return to use the car to drive between Split or Dubrovnik.
Not hiring a car
Or, you can easily take an organised day trip from Split to visit Krka or Plitvice National Parks. Once you’ve experienced them, and after you’ve explored Split, we’d suggest taking a catamaran out to one of the Dalmatian islands and spending a few days here. Then, take a catamaran on to Dubrovnik. See – easy without a car too!
Does it matter what time of year I visit?
No! Or rather, not really. Certainly, visiting Dubrovnik, Split and a national park are wonderful experiences at any time of year. Dubrovnik is welcoming in any month (and, in fact, far less crowded outside of peak season); Split – as Croatia’s second-largest city – is a bustling place any time of year; the national parks can offer different adventures for you in the different seasons.
But the islands? Well, they’re pretty quiet outside of the months of April to (early) October and a little harder to get to as some catamaran services stop running. So if you’re visiting in Croatia in late autumn, winter or early spring, we’d suggest skipping the island experience. Use the time instead to explore more of the mainland. Perhaps take in another town or region? For example, take a day trip to Sibenik or even Zadar from Split.
What not to miss in Croatia – other guides that will help you plan a holiday
After reading all of the above, you may like some further help with planning your short trip to Croatia. The following pages from our Itineraries will definitely also be useful to you!
- One Week in Croatia A one-week itinerary taking in some of the best sights
- Ten Days in Croatia If you can spare a bit more time, here are some possible routes when visiting the country
- How to plan a holiday to Croatia Tips for putting your trip together
- Why Go to Croatia? If you need a little persuasion!
- When to Go to Croatia? What’s the best time of year to visit?
- Top 10 Destinations in Croatia For more ideas of where to go