EuroTrip 2019: Croatia!

*by Whitney*

Timeline: August 8-20th

If you haven’t already, you can check out my previous posts on our trip timeline here:

 

This was the last stretch of our trip, and it was action-packed! After some much needed laziness in central Europe, we picked up the pace again in Croatia and continued it through our last stop (Italy). Keep reading to find out what adventures we got into in Croatia, and why it is now near the top of the list of our favorite places we’ve been!

Zagreb, Croatia

Our first stop was the capital of Croatia, Zagreb. A lot of people said it wasn’t really worth it to go here, and to spend more of our time on the coast. They’re certainly right that the coast was more exciting, but we still liked Zagreb. It was a nice, small city, kind of like others we had been to in Central Europe.

Our Airbnb in Zagreb left something to be desired. It was a tiny, tiny studio apartment where the bed took up almost the entire room. We were okay with a smaller space, but the worst part was that the hot water barely worked. We had to get it looked at several times during our short stay there, which was really annoying. Even though it was very hot outside (and inside because of no AC), ice cold showers were still pretty unbearable.

While in Zagreb, we took a free walking tour of the city, which was probably the shortest one we’ve ever been on because it was such a small city! But it was interesting and we got to learn about some older and more recent history of the country. We also did some walking and exploring on our own and found nice outdoor music and dance lessons going on.

Additionally, we decided to go on a pub crawl in Zagreb. We usually meet fun people during pub crawls and similar events, and we were staying in pretty close proximity to the city center, so we went for it. We soon found out that we might be too old for pub crawls, haha. Everyone there seemed to be 18-22 years old. I guess that’s what we get for picking the one hosted by a hostel! (But, hey, it was the cheapest one!) But despite the age gap, we still ended up having a blast. It started off a little awkward and dull, but we all got acquainted a little better because of a game they had us play in two teams. They gave us a list of things we could do (kind of like a scavenger hunt) to earn points, and which ever team had more points got more free drinks! The list included all kinds of things, from human pyramids, to pushups, to taking shots. It made for an interesting night & we had a blast!

Lastly, while in Zagreb we discovered some delicious Croatian food, especially the cevapi! This is grilled meat served on a roll, and it’s soo good, albeit a bit heavy. We made the mistake of having it a couple days in a row which proved a little too much, haha. But it was so yummy and went great with their local red wine!

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Our next stop after Zagreb was a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park. We had planned this out well in advance, after having heard such good things and having seen some astonishing photos of the water! Because the area is a little secluded in the middle of the country, we decided not to stay there, but rather to make it a day trip en route from Zagreb to our next stop, Split. We booked buses in advance to take us from Zagreb early in the morning to the park (a couple hours drive) then in the afternoon another bus to take us from the park to Split (a few more hours). We looked up that they had luggage storage, so this wouldn’t be a problem having all of our belongings with us.

So, with all our planning done, we set out on an early morning bus from Zagreb to Plitvice! We arrived about 9am, thinking this was plenty early since they’d just opened at 8am. To our dismay, however, we found out that the entry tickets were all sold out for the morning! The next entry time would be in the afternoon, just an hour before our bus left. In our research, we had failed to realize we needed to get tickets in advance. We were under the impression that as long as you get there early, you could buy tickets at the gate. We were so distraught over this. We thought we completely missed our chance to enter the park and would have to wait around several hours til our bus left to go to Split. After much scrambling, we decided to get the entry tickets for later in the day, and bought new bus tickets to leave later in the afternoon. We unfortunately could not get refunded for our original tickets.

So, we still ended up sitting around outside the park for several hours before we could enter, and we only had a couple hours to explore the park, rather than the 5 hours we planned. This was really disappointing, because we had wanted to do a longer hike and go to the different parts of the park. But in the end we were just thankful that we got to go at all! Even though we didn’t have as much time as we’d hoped, we still saw the most breath-taking sights! It was extremely crowded during the time of day we entered, which is also something we were hoping to avoid by going earlier. This made it quite difficult to traverse some of the narrow walkways. I for sure thought we were going to get knocked in the water a couple times! But we still managed to see some of the most gorgeous scenery ever and get some awesome photos! (The pictures below are NOT edited. The water really looks like that in person!)

Our advice to those who are planning a visit to Plitvice would be to BUY YOUR TICKETS IN ADVANCE, and get the earliest entrance time possible. Explore the most popular part of the lower lakes first while it’s not too crowded, then if you want to do a longer hike to the upper lakes do that afterwards when the crowds roll in. Most of the tourists will only do the easy part near the entrance, so it will naturally be less crowded on the upper parts. Because we had limited time, we didn’t get to take the ferry to the other parts of the park and only saw some of it. I would allow a full day there if possible, and some people even recommend splitting it into two days if you plan to stay in the area.

 

Split, Croatia

Our next stop was the coastal city of Split! After catching our later-than-expected bus from Plitvice to Split, we got into town pretty late. We had an ordeal trying to get from the city center to where we were staying, which was actually in a small town on the outskirts of Split called Solin. We ended up taking an Uber, which we generally try to avoid when possible.

We stayed at another Airbnb there, and this one was pretty nice. We had a really nice host there who we enjoyed chatting with. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very easy to get around town. The bus system is pretty confusing and there aren’t really timetables posted. There was a bus stop right by our Airbnb though, so we would just go wait down there and be ready for when the bus came. We usually only had to wait 5-15 minutes, but on a couple occasions we waited 20-30 minutes (I think we were there on a holiday or a Sunday where the bus schedule was irregular).

We were surprised at how much the city of Split reminded us of Rome! (I had been before- Jared hadn’t yet, but you can still imagine from seeing photos and movies). We learned about the Roman influence on this city, and we also got to see ancient Roman ruins and aqueducts in Solin near where we were staying. The architecture in Split was beautiful, and we enjoyed wandering through the narrow streets between the historic buildings. They also had a nice harbor area.

One thing we found out was that the prices were starting to go up since we were on the coast! The costs in Split were much higher than central Europe and even higher than the capital, Zagreb! We were soon to find out they were even higher in Dubrovnik. So during this part of the trip we ate a lot of local “fast” food and didn’t do as many sit-down dinners to try to manage costs and offset all the activities we were doing.

We had heard that the islands around Split were even better than the city itself. We looked into a couple different ones and decided on visiting the island of Brac. We heard a lot about Hvar, but some people said it was overly touristy and not worthwhile, so we opted for Brac instead. We took the ferry from Split to Supetar (the closest city on the island to Split). We explored that area for a little while, then took a shared taxi from Supetar to Bol on the other side of the island. This option was cheaper than taking the ferry to/from Bol, and it allowed us to see a couple different things. But Bol was the real attraction. The beach at Bol was amazing! We found a shady spot to relax which was near a beach bar with music. We waded in the clear sea water, but wished we had brought our water shoes due to the pebbly beach beneath our feet! When evening came, we made our way along the footpath from the beach into the center of town where the ferry leaves. The views of the Adriatic Sea were so gorgeous! The town of Bol seemed really nice, and I wish we had more time to spend there, but we had to catch the last ferry before it left! This actually ended up being a little confusing and we thought we would almost have to stay the night on the island! We couldn’t figure out where to buy tickets, so we waited around until the ferry came thinking that you bought them onboard. Turns out everyone else had bought them in advance, so we had to wait until last to see if there was space for us! Luckily there was plenty of space and they let us buy tickets onboard. So we made it back to Split that night afterall!

Another day while in Split, we took a day trip to the Krka National Park which is another beautiful place we had heard about. We did an organized tour which actually just included the transportation on a bus with other tourists. Once there, we had freetime to go around and do what we wanted. The park was beautiful with more gorgeous turquoise water and huge waterfalls! It wasn’t quite as magnificent as Plitvice or as large, but it was still breathtaking. Here, we were actually able to swim in the water near the big waterfall, unlike in Plitvice where no swimming is allowed. It was also very, very crowded here which made it a little less enjoyable, but we still had a great time!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Our last stop in Croatia was the much anticipated Dubrovnik! This place has gotten so popular in recent years due to the Game of Thrones series, much of which was filmed in Dubrovnik. But we learned that tourism was booming there even before the show. Now we can see why, because it was such an amazing place!

We had a rough bus ride from Split to Dubrovnik. Our bus was very late leaving, then it ended up being a very ancient & out-dated bus. We had basically no stops and no ability to use the bathroom. We had to stop at the border with Bosnia which took a while (Bosnia weirdly comes out in a tiny section to the coastline, splitting part of Croatia off – which we later found out was a strategic move by Croatia to sell that piece of land to them for an added buffer from a neighboring enemy. But soon there are plans to build a bridge to bypass this border crossing).

Upon arriving in Dubrovnik, we caught the local bus to our Airbnb a little outside the city center. We actually ran into a couple waiting for the bus with us that were going to be staying at our Airbnb too! Upon arrival, we found out our Airbnb was awesome! It was a large family home, where they rent out about 4 rooms with 2 bathrooms in the downstairs/backside of the house, while the upstairs and front of the house are for the family. We saw just a little bit of the hosts coming and going, but mostly it was like a small hostel. We met some great people staying at the Airbnb, including a couple we sat up talking to for several hours on a couple different evenings. There was this great back porch with a “summer kitchen” where we could cook and eat. This made for such a lovely experience! We were also glad to be able to go to the nearby grocery store on foot and cook our own meals a few times! Additionally we found a nice pizza place nearby that we went to twice. The food was insanely expensive in the city center, but on the outskirts where we stayed it was more reasonable!

In Dubrovnik, we enjoyed exploring the historic city center and the fortress. The town itself is so well-preserved, including the city walls, and the views over the sea were breathtaking! We did a free walking tour in the city; the self guided tour walking along the walls of the city; and a Game of Thrones tour where the guide showed us different areas where they did filming! Lots of tours, but it was all worth it!

We even swam in the sea right near the city center. There is an area right off of the city walls where you can go through a small opening of the walls, out onto a patio and jump off the rocks/landings into the water. I mostly stuck with sunbathing here, but Jared talked me into jumping in once! (The water was pretty cold for me!) Another day we visited a little beach area a few blocks from the city center. The sun was really hot that day, so the cold water actually felt good to me then. The water there was so clear, it was amazing! We also found a little cave to explore. We couldn’t believe that it was so easily accessible right in the city!

One evening we took a bus up to the top of Srd Mountain to see the sunset. The popular thing to do is take the cable car up there, but it was pretty pricey and we were already spending a lot of money on activities so we decided to skip that. The bus was pretty cheap and easy to get up there. On the way back down, we decided to walk. The walk wasn’t bad, but we definitely cut it close on timing because it was very dark by the time we were heading back down! Luckily it was a nice paved path and some stairs, so we were okay.

The last thing we did in Dubrovnik was take a day trip to do kayaking and island hopping! I didn’t really realize there would be that much outdoors stuff to do in Croatia, but boy was I wrong! The water was probably our favorite part. From afar it’s a gorgeous turquoise-blue. Up close, you can see straight through it, which makes it less scary because you can see everything around you. We learned there aren’t really any sharks or jelly-fish in the water either, which makes it much nicer than the ocean. The kayaking tour we did was through Airbnb Experiences. The guide met us in Dubrovnik, then we took a ferry to an island where he had the kayaks. Then we kayaked from there to another island where we swam in a cave. Then we kayaked to another island with a small village, where we stopped for lunch and had time to hang out at the beach there. Then, we kayaked back and had time to grab some ice cream before the ferry took us back to Dubrovnik. It was the perfect day!

Summary

Needless to say, we absolutely loved our time in Croatia. Although the prices were a bit higher, we had some amazing experiences, ate awesome food, met lots of cool people, and saw the most beautiful sights! We can definitely see ourselves going back and exploring more of Croatia and spending more time there!

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