January has hit me HARD this year. With chillier days and darker evenings I can’t help but spend these winter months dreaming about sunnier climes. Which is why I thought I would use this post to rewind to last summer when Jordan and I headed to Croatia for a week of sunshine and exploring.
Croatia has always been one of the top countries on my bucket list, so when it came to booking a last minute holiday at the end of September, we both jumped at the chance to spend a week travelling around this beautiful country. Whether you are planning a European honeymoon, your next summer holiday, or simply looking for some travel inspiration, I’ve condensed everything we learned about travelling to Croatia into this post. I hope it inspires you to plan your own getaway!
Croatia is one of those places where, as soon as you start researching where to go, you will feel well and truly spoilt for choice and will likely find many conflicting opinions on which regions to visit.
We decided to spend the majority of our trip in the northwestern peninsula of Istria, flying in and out of Pula airport. And of course, we couldn’t go to Croatia without paying a visit to the incredible Plitvice Lakes National Park – a real must-see if you are heading to this part of the world!
Our first stop was the coastal town of Opatija on the eastern side of the peninsula. If I’m being completely honest, this was probably our least favourite out of the three places we stayed. Although it wasn’t cold or raining on the two days that we stayed here, we didn’t have the sunny, late summer weather I was hoping for (according to the locals we were just a week too late!) – and the town somewhat lacked the Istrian charm I was hoping to find.
Nonetheless, we had a fun time exploring the area, and we stayed in a beautiful apartment just a short drive from the main town which was the perfect place to relax. I’d recommend taking a meander down the Lungomare Promenade to see the Maiden With the Seagull statue; we also spent a morning at Trsat Castle in nearby Rijeka, which is well worth a visit.
I’ve never visited anywhere quite like Plitvice National Park, it feels worlds away from the Adriatic coast and it’s safe to say it stole a piece of my heart. The park is comprised of 16 crystal clear lakes connected by a series of waterfalls and it truly is incredible.
One thing I feel I should note is that I massively underestimated what the weather would be like. Don’t let that bright blue water and shimmering sunshine fool you – Autumn had well and truly arrived when we visited and it was COLD. When we woke up on our first morning there to find ice on our hire car, I very quickly stowed the pretty playsuit I had planned on wearing that day back into my suitcase and layered up with any warm clothing I could find (which, incidentally, wasn’t anywhere near enough)!
As it turns out, I think early Autumn was the perfect time to visit. Although still very busy, the crowds were significantly less than they appear to be in the busy summer months, and the leaves had just started to turn beautiful shades of orange which made for some truly beautiful photos.
There are two entrances to the Lakes and several routes that you can take around the National Park. It’s definitely possible to see everything in one day, although if you are able to spend two days there I would highly recommend it. We spent our first day exploring the whole park, and on our second day we were able to skip certain parts and go straight back to the areas we wanted to revisit (which predominantly meant beating the crowds there).
Tickets prices vary depending on the time of year you visit, but you can expect to pay between 55-250 Kuna (£6.50-£30) for a one day ticket and 90-400 Kuna for a two day ticket (£10-£50).
I genuinely can’t recommend Plitvice Lakes enough. Not only is it packed with incredible scenery, it offers an indescribable tranquility that’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It was without a doubt the highlight of our trip and we both agreed we would return again in a heartbeat.
Take the road less travelled: We hired a car during our trip, which I would highly recommend for getting around. The drive from Istria to Plitvice National Park was around 3 hours, and we purposely avoided the main roads there, which not only avoided tolls, but also forced us to take a stunning route along the Adratic coast and through the mountains. It was the most beautiful road trip I’ve ever taken – we couldn’t resist stopping to take pictures several times!
Get there early: Plitvice Lakes are open between 7am and 8pm and I can’t recommend enough being there as soon as they open. We did on both days that we visited and agreed it was the best decision we made. The Lakes start to get exceptionally busy around 9am so enjoy a couple of hours of unspoilt tranquility before most visitors arrive.
Find the best (secret!) views: Wondering where those epic, postcard-worthy shots of the lakes have been taken from? We happened to stumble upon them by accident but we were SO glad we did! To find the viewpoints, follow signs to ‘Veliki Slap’ (or Big Waterfall), and take the small stepped path up on your left just before you reach the waterfall. There are several viewpoints along the top, the most favourite with photographers being one 200 metres down the road to your right. It’s well worth making a little excursion to get the perfect, uninterrupted view from up high – we only saw around 3 or 4 other people up there.
Be Patient for the Perfect Photo: Plitvice Lakes is PERFECT for any photography fans, but don’t expect to point your camera and immediately get the perfect, tourist-free shot first time. We took our time and were more than happy waiting 5 or even 10 minutes to get some beautiful (people free!) pictures – be patient!
Don’t expect to go swimming: As tempting as it looks to jump in and go for a dip, swimming isn’t permitted in Plitvice Lakes. However, if you are looking for an alternative Croatian waterfall that you can swim in, try Krka National Park – which is definitely on my bucket list after this trip!
Our final stop on the trip was the highly charming town of Rovinj, on the western side of the Istrian peninsula. When we visited in September, it was touristic without losing it’s Croatian authenticity. We were also very fortunate with the weather and had beautiful sunshine for the two days we were staying.
If you’re a big foodie, be sure to taste the Istrian cuisine that you’ll find on offer here. Fresh seafood, olive oils and Istrian truffles are all a must in this area. Or why not make a day of it and go wine tasting or truffle hunting?
There aren’t a huge amount of sights to see in Rovinj; instead, I would recommend losing yourself around the winding cobbled streets of the old town, paying a visit to the bell tower of the Church of St. Euphemia which dominates the town, and be sure to return to the harbour in time to watch the sunset in the evenings – it truly is stunning.