After spending a little over a week in Croatia and exploring the infamous “Kings Landing” from the popular TV series Game of Thrones, we can tell you one thing: Winter is most certainly not coming.
Croatia surprised us a bit with her intense heat and humidity, but left us utterly speechless when it came to her surreal natural beauty. We expected to have a nice week escaping Italy’s heat, but found that we were often a bit sweatier! Nonetheless, our week in Croatia was one for the books. For such a small country, you’ll find that Croatia has vastly different climates, lifestyles, and topography as you travel from the southern part of the country (Dubrovnik) toward the north to the national parks.
If you’re looking to conquer Croatia in a week, follow this guide on where to go, what to do, and of course, where to fill your bellies!
King’s Landing! For all the Game of Thrones fans out there, Dubrovnik is going to be heaven. From high castle walls, to marble paved streets, this place teleports you back in time. Alex has watched just about the entirety of the GOT series, but Michael has only seen the first season. However, the city was inspiring enough that Michael ended up buying the first GOT book and is now spending the next 12 years reading it (probably a good rough estimate, yes?) Nonetheless, we were blown away by this miraculous city!
What to do:
Hike the castle walls – easily the coolest thing that we did in Dubrovnik. For just about $20 (USD) you can walk the walls. The walls of Dubrovnik are her pride and joy. Built between the 7th and 17th centries the limestone walls encompass the entirety of the Old Town and reach 25 meters high at some points! The walls run 1940 meters (or just about 2KM) in circumference and have a load of stairs to provide an awesome workout! Make sure to wear sunscreen, because you’re going to melt if it is the high point of summer. Get there right when they open to avoid the crowds!
Lokrum – The island of Lokrum is the small island that you’ll spot just off the coast of Dubrovnik. For just over $20 (return) you can catch a boat to the island and spend all day exploring. The island is tiny, but there is a lot to see. You’ll find awesome nature preserves in the center, rocky cliffs on the back side, and rocky beaches and docks on the front side of the island. Not to mention you get an awesome view of Dubrovnik from the island as well as the boats coming in and out of town. Find yourself a flat rock to lay on and have a private cove with pristine waters all to yourself.
Workout in the parks – Dubrovnik definitely isn’t Muscle Beach. To be honest, we couldn’t find a single gym. Not one. Maybe the gyms aren’t leveraging the power of marketing, or maybe we suck at Googling things, but we honestly could not find 1 normal gym. Instead, we found a couple parks that have bodyweight exercise machines. They offset with your own weight and will essentially have you lifting yourself for various moves. Definitely a great way to stay in shape – and not a bad view of the harbor either!
Water Polo – Michael was an avid water polo player in high school and was stoked to see that just outside the castle walls there was an open sea field set up. The child in him led him to diving in and making some new local Croatian friends as he joined a pick-up game.
Where to eat:
Shizuku – OK, so maybe not your traditional style Croatian food. We made sure to eat a bunch during our trip, but we have honestly been dying to have good sushi since we left home eight weeks ago. Florence has sushi bars….but….well, let’s just say we tried one once and have decided to hold out for other options. Shizukus, however, is amazing! The owner uprooted his life and his business from Japan to Dubrovnik because Dubrovnik is famous for Tuna. Their sushi is on par with California restaurants and definitely sub-par on pricing. We ate here 3 times in just a couple days, so that can be a testament to the quality. Definitely get the tuna and avocado bowl! It is incredibly healthy, incredibly fresh, and incredibly delicious!
Moskar – You’re going to earn your food if you eat here because you are going to have to climb a butt load of stairs. However, their food is awesome. We ate here twice in one day because they have an amazing omelet breakfast as well as a diverse dinner menu. Oh, and one thing you’ll love as well is that they have great wifi (which is hard to come by in Croatia)! Every restaurant, bar, hotel, apartment, etc. in Croatia advertises their free wifi, but 99% of them have horrible wifi. Moskar is an exception here. Definitely a great place for brunch, lunch, and/or dinner. For dinner, try the Croatica salad and stuffed chicken or chicken kebabs for some of the healthier options.
Pantarul – Ranking at #1 of restaurants in Dubrovnik, Pantarul is a modern restaurant that one might find in Santa Monica. Their menu offers traditional Croatian cuisine as well as some more modern American style dishes. We suggest the tuna steak with veggies and veal ribs.
We leveraged Sibenik as our overnight for Krka National Park as it is just about 15 minutes from the park entrance and is a lovely little seaside town.
What to do:
Workout Outside – Similar to Dubrovnik, finding a gym will be tough. Sibenik is small and feels even smaller on Sunday’s. The whole town seems to honor siesta quite vigilantly, so finding anything to do here between 14:00 and 17:00 is going to be quite tough. So what better to do than head down to the beach and use the workout park? They have a few machines, a basketball court, a volleyball court, and then the sea where you can swim. Not to mention, the waterfront boardwalk and the many stairs of the town make for great runs!
Walk the town – Sibenik is adorable. The marble streets are reminiscent of Dubrovnik but the buildings remind you a bit more of Italy. They also have some shopping opportunities!
Where to eat:
Tinel – This place was so great that it is our only suggestion. Granted, we were only in Sibenik for one night, but we ended up eating here twice! Be sure to try anything meat or fish as it is all fresh and incredibly high quality.
Krka National Park
Croatia is famous of course for her coastal cities and islands but in our opinion the real thing to write home about are her national parks. Krka is one of the two most famous national parks (after Plitvice…more to follow). The park is comprised of massive waterfalls, gorgeous lakes and various types of topography. Be sure to rent a car so that you can have control over your trips to the national parks. Also, be sure to get to them as soon as they open so you can beat the massive crowds. Those who shuttle in or join tours will swarm the park by no later than 10:00 A.M.
What to do:
Hike – There is a lot of misinformation out there about the difficulty level of hiking Krka. We did the entire lower half of the park in about an hour and that includes taking time to swim.
Swim – In the lower waterfall there is an incredibly refreshing spot to swim. You seriously can’t be the view or the sounds either as the massive waterfalls crash right in front of you!
Boat tour – If you have 3.5 hours, take the boat tour which takes you to the back part of the park as well as the monastery island of Visovac. It costs about $15 each and is definitely worth it to see more of the park. You will also have another opportunity to swim once you reach the picnic area that you will dock at for an hour break.
What to eat:
Bring your own food – Honestly, there is no great food at the park. Your options are essentially limited to a ham and cheese sandwich or a cheese sandwich. While we are on the topic as well, be sure to bring lots of water! A Camelbak or a couple Nalgenes would work well. We didn’t bring either on this trip and ended up spending upwards of $20 on water throughout the day.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
The pinnacle of our Croatia trip and the object of our Instagram feeds for the last week! As we mentioned, you’ll experience a stark shift in both climate as well as topography as you travel throughout Croatia. Plitvice is the culmination of this, offering wildly different scenes herself. You will also find that Plitvice is much more temperate in comparison to Krka which is more of a Mediterranean climate. As the largest of the Croatian national parks, Plitvice boasts 16 lakes and endless waterfalls, the highest of which is 78 meters tall! Remember us saying this when you go….you will literally feel as if you left Croatia and arrived on the island of Pandora from the movie Avatar. We kept having to pinch ourselves to remember that this was actually real life. One of the most beautiful sights either of us have ever seen.
What to do:
Hike – Similar to Krka with a bit more intensity, the hiking here is awesome. Here is our suggestion for the best hike in Plitvice: We started from entrance 2, took the shuttle to the top of trail H, and hiked down following signs for trail H. This works quite well because you not only get to hike downhill, but you also get to see the lake and the upper part of the park while the rest of the crowds are pouring into entrance 1 to see the “main” waterfalls. Eventually trail H will have you arrive at these “main” falls. We think this is a better way to finish your day than to start it, but it is completely up to you! (Side note: You can easily hike both Plitvice and Krka in sandals so long as the waterfalls are not at their peak season. We both wore our Rainbow sandals and were just fine.)
No swimming – Unfortunately you cannot swim at Plitvice Lakes. The water is as blue as Alex’s eyes and for a good reason. It is incredibly well taken care of and clean. Leave the board shorts and bikinis at home because you definitely won’t be needing them.
Rent row boats – If you take our suggestion on following trail H, you will eventually arrive at a ferry which you take across the lake all of about 200 meters. Once you arrive on the other side, rent a row boat and row around the bright blue lake and past some of the smaller waterfalls. They’re only $8 an hour and are a great workout (well for Michael at least).
What to eat:
Again, bring your own food – The one solid option that we found was a snack bar near the ferry at P2. They offer grilled chicken burgers and Greek salads, so you definitely have some healthy options. However, the food is cafeteria quality. It is definitely best to pack a picnic.
Although, just outside the park there is a restaurant called Restoran Degenija. This is a great stop on the way out of the park after you’ve spent the day hiking and sweating from places you didn’t know possible. Their outdoor patio and traditional Croatian cuisine definitely hit the spot after a long day!
We realize now that one week is not quite enough time for Croatia; 10 – 14 days would have sufficed much better. We planned our trip around Krka and Plitvice, and as such were unable to visit Hvar, Korcula, and a few other places we were hoping to go. I guess we’ll just have to plan another trip!