There's more to Croatia than Game of Thrones, apparently. I'm only kidding since I've actually never watched the show, but some people really do flock to this Southeastern European country because they saw it in the famed series and want to experience GOT scenery in real life.
Earlier this year, after getting vaccinated, a couple of friends and I decided to plan a long-awaited European vacation, but not to any of the super popular spots. Underrated and 120 percent worth it, Croatia awoke that desire in me to travel again after being locked down for what felt like 16 years.
The Dalmatian Coast is home to the friendliest of people (everyone we spoke with said we were experiencing a rare moment in time where the cities weren't overcrowded with tourists and Americans and cruise ships). All roads lead to crystal clear, teal waters where you can swim without a care in the world because there are no dangerous marine life (AKA sharks) here. It seemed, for such a quaint place, that there were more Michelin-rated restaurants in a super small radius than in New York City. That's an exaggeration, but there were quite a few.
If you're planning a trip to Croatia, the summer is a tad hot. It's also more expensive since that's when most people plan their longer vacations. Opt for a trip in the spring or fall, but if you do decide on summer, it's the perfect weather for watersports, ferry rides and other outdoor/water-adjacent adventures.
Our trip was short - a little over a week - so we stayed along the Dalmatian Coast, island and city-hopping every couple days or so to be able to experience everything the region had to offer. Headed to Croatia? We've got you covered with tips, activities, restaurant options and more.
In Dubrovnik your best bet is to book an Airbnb, in or outside of the walled city. Know that wherever you stay, there will be stairs, which means lugging your suitcases up and down when you arrive and when you depart. If you prefer the luxury of hotels, Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik, Villa Orsula Dubrovnik and Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik offer breathtaking Adriatic views and are just outside of and within walking distance of Old Town.
You'll find the tiny Above 5 restaurant atop a boutique hotel and yes, it's five stories up. But the climb is worth it at this Michelin Guide restaurant with 360-degree views of the Old Town. Reservations are a must as there are two timed seatings a night here and around eight to ten tables, total. Opt for three or five courses at this rooftop restaurant; the mushroom ravioli is spectacular as are the sea bass and the mango panna cotta.
Notable bars here include D'Vino Wine Bar (where you can taste local and regional reds and whites in an alley), Bard and Buza Bar - two cash-only outdoor spots right next to each other on a cliff looking out to Lokrum Island.
Coveted activities here include kayaking and day trips to nearby islands including Lokrum. Climbing the Jesuit Stairs from Game of Thrones are a must even if you're not privy to the series and make sure to squeeze in a cable car excursion or a walk around the Walls of Dubrovnik for an even better look at picturesque Old Town.
Take a three-hour ferry (or a four-and-a-half-hour car ferry if you've rented a vehicle) from Dubrovnik to the resort town of Hvar and prepare to be wowed in this yacht-filled island with plenty of secluded beaches for lounging and pine forests for hiking and maybe even getting off the beaten path a little. Hvar is known for its lavender and its wine, its fig trees and olive trees that can be spotted bearing fruits on the side of the road almost anywhere you look.
Book a room at the 4.7-star Hotel Park Hvar if you want to stay in the middle of the action. Breakfast is included at this hotspot, there's a semi-private courtyard where you can enjoy a book, and there's a little restaurant right outside the hotel called Black Pepper that serves up modern Croatian dishes with a twist. Central Park Club, also attached to the hotel, is a great place to end the night with drinks and live music; like everything else in Croatia at the moment, bars and restaurants here close at midnight daily.
Secure a sunset sailing trip in Hvar to have an experience like no other with a guide who'll be happy to share their favorite local spots around town and who'll bring wine and snacks for the journey. Don't miss the market in the square where you'll find locally-made jewelry, lavender products and more. Our other favorites here were a hike to Pachamama and Robinson Beach (sometimes there's a water taxi that'll take you back to town) and dinner at Konoba Luviji Rooftop Restaurant. Whole-cooked fish, locally-made cheeses and house-cured meats are a must here, along with Croatian wines, and dessert, of course. We'd recommend staying in Hvar for at least three nights and checking out super cute gifts and design store called Isola before your departure.
Hop on an hour-long ferry from Hvar to Korcula and make sure you're hydrated and you've had a good night's sleep. Summer temps here can creep into the 90s and chances are you'll spend some time outside checking out the town and various swimming spots, as well. If you don't have a car in Korcula, it's a good place to rent one so you can drive around the island and discover small places to eat al fresco as well as all the wineries in Lumbarda. There are at least a handful. Grk is the local white wine produced from a native grape that's not found anywhere else in the world. Visit Bire Winery for variety and Lovric Winery for a white, rose and red tasting that includes little snacks like tomatoes stuffed with cheese and anchovies and finishes with a shot of house-made grappa. Make the most of your stay by booking an Airbnb or rental apartment in Lumbarda or in Korcula's Old Town for a couple of nights. Get ready for the next leg of your adventure but not before checking out Cocktail Bar Massimo (not for the faint of heart, this rooftop bar on top of an old fort is accessed by a ladder), the Michelin-starred LD restaurant inside Lesic Dimitri Palace and Restaurant Filippi.
Last but not least, Split. We took the ferry from Korcula to Split, which was pretty early in the morning, so be sure to check ferry/catamaran times and book accordingly. Azur Palace is a cool, small boutique hotel with an almost invisible entrance off a side street/alley across from an Asian market. Loft-style rooms are perfect for a group of two or four and the hotel has a quiet little courtyard and indoor library area with books and magazines available to borrow. This city felt the most touristy and bars/restaurants were pretty packed considering there were still no cruise ships docking at the time.
Rent a car or take a bus tour to Krka National Park. Swimming is no longer allowed here, but the waterfalls are still a sight for sore eyes if you've got at least a half-day to spare. If driving, Bibich Winery is a beautiful stop on the way back to Split from Krka. Ask for a customized tasting and don't dare skimp on the food - it's delicious.
Explore Diocletian's Palace on foot; you could spend hours winding in and out of the little souvenir shops, pubs and alleyway bars. You can't go wrong with breakfast, lunch or dinner at Fig Split; there are gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian options on the menu, which can be a nice way to switch it up after loads of seafood and cheese-filled meals. Another option for a lively dinner is Bokeria kitchen + wine bar. The restaurant offers a Mediterranean-inspired menu with croquettes, gourmet burgers, charcuterie platters, pasta dishes and more.
A couple of nights in Split should suffice if you're not planning to take more than a road trip or two. From here, you can take the ferry or a bus back to Dubrovnik if that's where you'll be flying home from. Be aware that the bus stops once at a rest stop/market and twice in Bosnia-Herzegovina for passport control.
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