Croatia is a magical place. From walled medieval cities to the sparkling Dalmatian coastline, Eastern Europe’s crown jewel is the epitome of wanderlust – a perfect mix of history, adventure and natural beauty. I’ve traveled all over the globe for Bucket List Bums, and Croatia is one of the few places I would return to. It really does cast a spell, and I wanted to share a few favorites from my travels through the vibrant country.
Favorite City – Dubrovnik
It’s tough to pick a favorite city in Croatia – everywhere I visited was so special! But Dubrovnik was particularly epic to me. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, I fell in love with the sweeping walled city that so many have fondly come to know as “King’s Landing.” I tucked my map away in Dubrovnik, and let myself get lost in the picturesque maze of streets, plazas and alleyways dotted with churches, markets, fountains and the most adorable doorways.
A little secret for anyone traveling to Dubrovnik during high season: hit the streets at sunrise every morning. I loved the energy of the summer crowds, but I cherished my two hours alone with the city in the early hours. Mornings were my only chance to have the marble wonderland to myself, and experience a bit of quiet with the city still asleep
Favorite Beach – Banje Beach, Dubrovnik
While in Dubrovnik, I left the city walls behind and strolled south where I spent an afternoon soaking in the sun on Banje Beach. The location was incredible. I perched myself high atop the turquoise gem, overlooking picturesque Croatian scenes of the dazzling Dalmatian coast, and epic views of the walled city. Typically, I like empty stretches of sand, but the good vibes and contagious energy of this crowded paradise were irresistible.
Favorite Bar – Buza Bar, Dubrovnik
A drink at cliffside Buza Bar is a MUST for anyone visiting Dubrovnik. Built up the rocks along the city walls, the vibrant bar is the perfect spot to chill out after a long day of sightseeing. Nab a table, order a few beers and watch (or partake!) as the adventurous cliff jumpers plunge into the crashing waves below.
Favorite Island – Hvar
Rarely would I recommend traveling somewhere during high season, but summer in Hvar oozes with an irresistible energy fused by the warm weather, beautiful people and lively bars. From 7 AM to 7 PM, the rocky coastline is dotted with sunbathers along waters so pristine that I could jump in just about anywhere (and I did!).
Hvar Town itself is a medieval little wonder. I braved the summer heat and let myself get lost in the maze of cobbled alleyways and side streets lined with restaurant corridors, tiny shops and wine bars. While I loved the energy, it was best to explore in the early morning when I had the streets to myself for a few hours.
Favorite Daytrip – Proizd Island
Croatia’s Adriatic coast was a wealth of island gems and glistening beaches. And in the months leading up to our travels, I made it my mission to find the country’s prettiest, off-the-beaten-path paradise. I must have sifted through hundreds of island photos, and read dozens of articles, before coming across Proizd, a little Croatian wonder located just off the Vela Luka tip of Korcula.
From Old Town Korcula, I rented a car for the day, and drove across the island to the west end’s sleepy Vela Luka waterfront where I caught the first water taxi over to Proizd. The 40-minute journey was cold and bumpy, but all that discomfort melted away when I disembarked in Proizd’s warm, idyllic paradise ringed with the clearest turquoise shallows.
Favorite Eats – Gelato
Croatia was a blur of tasty eats. Seafood and Italian restaurants lined the streets, and the aroma of fresh cooked mussels, sea bass and John Dory guided me through every city. But when I think back to Croatia, it’s gelato that pops into my mind. Ice cream is my favorite treat when we travel, and I was eating it two to three times a day in Croatia. Make note to do the same!
Favorite Natural Wonder – Plitvice Lakes
It was 10 years ago that I’d first seen a photo of Croatia, a little country in Eastern Europe that sounded vaguely familiar, but I knew little about. The imagery depicted more than a dozen cascading white waterfalls feeding into tiered pools of vibrant turquoise, in what looked like a mythical forest of lush greenery. At first, I thought it was a painting – somewhere too magical to actually exist, like the setting of a JRR Tolkien novel. But the caption swore it to be a real place … Plitvice Lakes National Park, in Croatia.
I arrived to find Plitvice just as epic as the photos I had seen. It rained during my visit, creating a dreamy wonderland of lush greenery as I hiked from lake to lake and waterfall to waterfall. Crowds were non-existent at 7 AM when the park opened, so I recommend an early start.
Favorite Adventure – Adriatic Sea Caves
There are several sea caves hidden throughout the Mediterranean, but Croatia’s Blue Grotto and Monk Seal Cave are two of my favorites. Hidden in the rocks of Bisevo, the Blue Grotto is reachable by little rowboats that fit through the tiniest of openings in the island cliffs. As we floated in, I was in awe of the dark cavern lit by a surreal blue glow, and crystal clear water dotted with silvery rocks just below the surface.
Monk Seal Cave was another little gem. The tiny cave was hardly visible from our boat, and we could only get into the mouth via an underwater swim. I jumped from the boat, and in choppy waters, took a deep breath diving down and then up into the sea cavern’s interior that radiated with a brilliant turquoise glow.
For travelers staying on Hvar, daytrips to both caves can be booked on the island’s waterfront with a local guide or tour company.