My travel plans to Croatia hatched after I was scrolling through the internet for stunning places to trek and I came across a photo of the Plitvice Lakes. I swear I screenshotted the image and did a Pinterest image search on Croatia. I can safely say I fell in love with its picturesque landscape and medieval-esque architecture. In hindsight, I should’ve probably done a bit more research about the country before actually booking my tickets.
Besides all of the hassle, I have to say I really enjoyed my vacation there. It’s truly a stunning place to visit with so much to offer. If I had another chance, I would love to explore the country by driving through it and maybe even do an island-hopping tour.
Getting Here and moving around
Right off the bat, I do feel like I made a mistake of booking my flight to Zagreb instead of Dubrovnik. Though Zagreb is less crowded than Dubrovnik, we ended up spending more days at Dubrovnik because Dubrovnik seemed to have more to do and see.
I flew from Singapore to Zagreb via London on British Airways and Croatia Airlines. Our transit in London was a great time to stretch my legs and do some shopping. We were lucky enough that our luggage made it to Zagreb with no hiccups. Thanks, BA! There were many routes we could possibly fly but we chose this route because it was one of the least expensive and I didn’t want to transit in Frankfurt.
I visited a total of 4 cities in Croatia — Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split, and Zadar. Besides flying on Croatia Airlines from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, I traveled from each city to the next via bus. Unlike most European destinations I’ve been to, Croatia doesn’t have intercity train travel. The buses we traveled on (except one company) were comfortable and punctual.
Within each city, we selected accommodations in the Old Town or main city area (excluding Zadar) so we could easily walk anywhere. You could use Uber but it’s only available in selected cities. Plus, it’s relatively affordable. I used Uber in Zadar and Zagreb whenever we had to travel with suitcases in hand.
Halal food in Croatia
Croatia has a handful of halal eateries and mosques. But I do recommend Muslim travelers to bring their own food if possible. This is a great budget-friendly way to make sure you don’t get hungry since dining out can be expensive too. You could also find some instant noodles and get ingredients from supermarkets if you want to travel light.
It was difficult to find halal food in cities like Dubrovnik and Split. I guess there isn’t a significant Muslim community there. Zagreb definitely boasted the most halal food options serving Mediterranean cuisine. Otherwise, I did opt for seafood or vegetarian options such as Margherita pizza and Fish n Chips whenever I ate out.
Here’s 7 things every traveler should know before planning your trip to Croatia!
Day 1: Arriving in Zagreb
After transiting in London, we arrived in Zagreb late evening. Customs and immigration was a breeze to get through. After collecting the luggage, we waited for our free airport transfer to our airport hotel. We decided to spend the night in Zagreb before flying to Dubrovnik as we knew we would be tired from 16 hours of traveling.
I stayed at the Dream Hotel which was a quaint airport hotel, 30 minutes away from the airport. After checking in, we washed up and decided to head to the local supermarket, Konzum, to get basic supplies like water and have a quick walk around the area. There wasn’t much in the area since it was far from the main city area. I called it an early day since I was pretty much wiped out by then.
Day 2: Traveling to Dubrovnik’s Old Town
After a late breakfast at the hotel, the airport transfer took us to Zagreb airport for our domestic flight to Dubrovnik. Zagreb airport is rather small and doesn’t have much going on so we settled down at a cafe and bought a deck of Uno cards to wait for our flight.
I flew to Dubrovnik via Croatian Airlines and the flight lasted about an hour. There are many ways you could get to the Old Town where the accommodation was. Since my flight coincided with the bus airport transfer, I decided to travel via bus. The airport transfer cost HRK40 (~S$8) with no extra charge for luggage. You’ll just have to approach the counter inside the airport to get your tickets and make your way to the bus. The journey to the Old Town was about 2 hours.
From the drop off point, we had to walk about 10 minutes to the Airbnb which was right smack in Old Town. This was when the real cardio workout was going to happen. Since it was the Old Town, many of the stairs and paths were very steep and made of cobblestones. I fainted on my bed the moment we got to the apartment. We were struggling with our suitcases that a kind stranger actually helped us with our bags for a moment. I was so thankful for European chivalry at that moment (haha).
After a rest and some lunch, we decided to take a walk around the Old Town. Dubrovnik’s Old Town is right out of some episode of (insert your desired medieval show). Among all the other cities, it’s definitely the most crowded and touristy due to being the filming of Game of Thrones here. If you’re a fan, I do recommend the walking tours here.
During a quick walk through the entire Old Town, any traveler could spot King’s Landing, Orlando’s Column, Rector’s Palace, and Church of Saint Blaise. After getting lost in the labyrinth that is Old Town, we decided to enjoy our ice cream while sitting at the Porporela. It may be a popular spot for travelers to swim but find yourself a nice spot to enjoy the view of Lokrum island and the cooling evening breeze.
Day 3: Morning swim at Danče Beach and exploring Lovrijenac
We started the day with a trip to Danče Beach which was a 10-minute walk from the apartment. Compared to other beaches in Dubrovnik, Danče Beach is not as popular but I decided on it due to its close proximity. I would say that it was a bit tricky to find it due to its secluded location. Hence, it’s not very crowded with tourists as most locals come here.
Danče Beach is not your typical sandy beach. It was covered in rocks with a ladder for confident swimmers to climb in and out of the water. Since it faces an open sea, the temperature of the waters is much colder especially on a hot sunny day in Dubrovnik. I would not recommend you to swim unless you’re a strong swimmer as the water can be very choppy with passing boats. However, if you’re a sunbather, it’s a great spot to lay out a towel and bask in the sun.
Address: Rudimira Rotera, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia Opening hours: Always open Entrance fee: Free
We then headed out for a late lunch at the seemingly only Muslim-friendly restaurant in Dubrovnik. After a quick Google search and finding out many halal restaurants in Croatia are from Bosnia, we found the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal restaurant serves up Bosnian cuisine with the beef option being the only halal option. We were given a separate menu which included the halal beef options. The prices here might not be cheap but the food was good. My cousin and I also became a fan of the local iced tea!
After lunch, we continued to explore the rest of the Old Town. Initially, we wanted to walk along the City Walls but the pricey entrance fee drove us to visit Lovrijenac instead. Lovrijenac was recommended as the budget-friendly attraction substitution to the City Walls. It’s also the site where Game of Thrones’ scene of the Red Keep. You will be promised equally stunning views of Dubrovnik and its surroundings.
There are many ways to walk to Loverijenac. For me, I strolled along the Stradun, the Old Town’s main walking street, and past the Large Onofrio’s Fountain and Pile Gate. I even passed the famous Dubrovnik West Harbour, a popular Game of Thrones filming site. It’s also a common starting point for many kayaking tours here. From here, get ready for a quick workout up the long staircases to the main entrance of Lovrijenac. After purchasing your tickets, you’re free to roam the entire fort.
Address: Ul. od Tabakarije 29, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia Opening hours: Daily, 08:00 - 19:00 Entrance fee: HRK 200 (adults), HRK 50 (under 18 years old)
Day 4: Shopping at the Sunday Market and Riding the Dubrovnik Cable Car
Our late morning began with a walk through of Sponza Palace or Divona. Located along the Stradun, Sponza Palace is a 16th-century mansion that currently houses the state archives. Besides browsing its galleries, travelers should also appreciate its unique architecture of both Gothic and Renaissance influence.
Address: Stradun 2, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia Opening hours: Daily, 08:00 - 19:00 Entrance fee: HRK 40 (adult), HRK 20 (children)
#traveltip: I would recommend you visit Rector’s Palace instead of Sponza Palace. Though entrance tickets are slightly more expensive, you’ll be able to explore more ground and peruse more galleries at Rector’s Palace.
Later, I spotted a quaint Sunday flea market at the open area near Rector’s Palace and in front of the Konzum supermarket. This flea market had stalls selling various souvenirs and knick-knacks along with some Croatian delicacies. I personally bought bars of homemade lavender soap (that I’m still rationing at home now). Some were selling Croatian snacks which included figs and sugar-coated nuts and orange peels. I have to say it was really delicious! Others sold fresh produce and even ceramics.
We continued to brave the Croatian heat and rode the Dubrovnik Cable Car to get some of the best views of the entire city. The entrance of the cable is about a 10-15 minutes walk from the Stradun.
When you arrive at the top, you could freely explore the amphitheater and gallery which gives you an uninterrupted view of the Old Town and its mountainous surroundings. There’s even a restaurant here for those who want to dine at the best vantage point in Dubrovnik. Honestly, I only lasted probably an hour or so here due to the hot midday sun.
Address: Stradun 2, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia Opening hours: Daily, 09:00 - 00:00 Entrance fee: HRK 170 for roundtrip (adults), HRK 60 (kids ages 4-12)
Before calling it an early night, we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying some delicious ice cream and pastries. I also lost count of how many Game of Thrones memorabilia shops I walked past. You can get a variety of Game of Thrones souvenirs here but I would recommend looking around because prices do vary with each shop. For me, I bought for my mother a beautiful handcrafted Croatian table cloth. There are many shops selling such table cloths as it’s their specialty. But I recommend travelers to check out the off beaten stalls near the Historic Stairs.
Day 5: Traveling to Split
The day began early as we had a 9am bus to catch to Split. We took a cab from the Old Town to the bus terminal. Despite being punctual, our bus was unfortunately extremely late. (I could dedicate an entire post to this.) We unknowingly booked the one bus company that was notoriously known for being late and extremely rude. The late departure set us back an hour and half. Plus, we had to pay an additional 20 kn to store our bags. Thankfully, there were a number of people who were in the same boat as us so we didn’t feel too intimidated by the scary bus workers.
The bus ride from Dubrovnik to Split took us 4 ½ hours with a 10-20 minute stop. You have to get your passports ready as the route will cross in and out of Bosnia where immigration will check your travel documents on the bus.
After arriving at the Split bus station, we walked another 10 minutes to our Airbnb apartment. We met our host who was so nice that it basically balanced out our horrid bus experience.
We had lunch and basically conked out as we were exhausted from our morning drama. Afterwards, we headed up to a nearby viewpoint that our host recommended. Prva Vidilica Na Marjanu is an observation “deck” where you can get a panoramic view of the Old Town. There are two ways you could access the viewpoint at Marjan Forest Park. Since it was near our apartment, it took us a 10-minute walk. We went down via the other route, Marjan Hill Stairs, which featured many flights of stairs.
Address: Šetalište Luke Botića 3, 21000, Split, Croatia
The rest of the day was spent aimlessly roaming the streets of Split. I enjoyed Split the most because of its much calmer atmosphere and less hilly terrain. Split is relatively less touristy and crowded than Dubrovnik. However, it is a popular city among travelers due to it being a popular port and starting point where cruises begin.
Day 6: Exploring Diocletian’s Palace and the rest of Split’s Old Town
This was the only full day we had to explore Split. And there was no better way to start than a visit to the Diocletian’s Palace. Right in the heart of Split’s Old Town, Diocletian’s Palace is a massive fort-like palace which served as the residence of the Roman emperor and military garrison.
#traveltip: Be sure to check out the underground market at Diocletian’s Palace! This cool indoor market houses several souvenir shops selling really cool jewelry.
You can explore the palace freely including the Peristyle where you’ll find large crowds of people and even buskers. However, the entrance to individual buildings requires a ticket. Other interesting sites to visit are the Temple of Jupiter, Cathedral of Saint Domnius, and the Saint Domnius Bell Tower. The bell tower will give you great views of the city but the line was too long for me to wait. This attraction requires a separate ticket.
Address: Dioklecijanova ul. 1, 21000, Split, Croatia Opening hours: Open 24 hours (Diocletian’s Palace), 08:00 - 20:00 (Temple of Jupiter, Cathedral of Saint Domnius, Basement cellars and Saint Domnius Bell Tower) Entrance fee: HRK 25 (Temple of Jupiter and Cathedral of Saint Domnius), HRK 40 (Basement cellars), HRK 20 (Saint Domnius Bell Tower)
Near Diocletian’s Palace, I exited via the Golden Gate and ended up in a park with the Strossmayerova Fontana where I sat and enjoyed some time away from the crowds. There are many monuments here too such as the Gregory of Nin. We also visited the antique stalls selling old furniture and other cool trinkets.
Before strolling along the Riva, we explored some of the market stalls around the Pazar Split. There are various stalls here selling everything and anything you could think of. From fresh produce to souvenirs, this would be the best place to shop. Prices at the shops here are considered a bargain compared to the bustling Riva. The Riva does have a selection of stalls but they are usually slightly pricier and not as varied. However, if you’re looking for a place to dine, there are many restaurants that line the Riva with a great view of the water.
Day 7: Traveling to Zadar and sunset at the Sea Organ
We took a morning bus to Zadar. The drive to Zadar was about 3 ½ hours with a stop in between. After our horrid experience, my cousin decided to switch all our reservations to other bus companies such as Antonio Tours and Arriva. They only cost €1-2 more and didn’t charge any extras for luggage storage. Of course, the best part is the buses were of much better quality and were on time.
After arriving at Zadar’s bus terminal, we hung around to waste some time before making our way to the Airbnb. This accommodation was far from the Old Town so we had to Uber back and forth. But it was relatively inexpensive and saved us from the heat.
Any traveler could easily hit up all the interesting attractions of Zadar within a day. After hitching a ride on Uber to the Old Town, we could easily check out the attractions by foot. We started out with the famous Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun, located next to each other. I was most excited about visiting the Sea Organ, a musical instrument that sounds dependent on the waters that surround it. And I was not disappointed!
We didn’t enter specific attractions since we only had half a day to explore Zadar. However, we spotted the Church of St Donatus, Cathedral of St Anastasia, Chest of Saint Simeon, Land Gate, 5 Wells Square and Captain’s Tower. We took a short break from the bustling crowds by strolling the grounds of Queen Jelena Madijevka Park. This park, seemingly located in the middle of the lively city, is a great place for you to take in some fresh air and enjoy your ice cream in a calm atmosphere.
Before heading back to the Sea Organ for sunset, I managed to check out the many market stalls nearby. Just like other flea markets in Split and Dubrovnik, there is a selection of keepsakes and other knick-knacks you’ll be able to check out. We headed early to the Sea Organ to secure great seats to catch the sun setting. Of course, there were already throngs of people. But it was definitely worth braving the crowds for. You could also watch the colourful light show on the glass panels of the Greeting to the Sun.
By the time the sun had setted, it was already 8pm. So, we decided to head back for dinner since we had an early start to Plitvice Lakes the following day.
Day 8: Day trip from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes
This was, of course, the highlight of the entire trip since it was what inspired me to travel to Croatia. I had booked a day trip to Plitvice Lakes via Viator. I decided to book a day tour instead of heading there on my own since it was just less hassling since we didn’t drive. But if you’re planning on driving, I would recommend spending a night at Plitvice so you can have an early start and beat out the tourist crowds.
After our morning pickup, we settled the entrance fees with our tour guide. For this Croatica tour, the entrance fees were separate from the tour fee. The bus drove for about 2 hours towards Plitvice Lakes. Upon arrival, we were allowed some free time to use the washrooms and eat our breakfast that was provided.
Park Entrance Fees: HRK 300 (adult), HRK 120 (children aged 7-18) — High season prices from June to August
It is important to note that when you visit with a tour company, each tour company is already assigned a specific trail for the season. This is a way they try to effectively manage the crazy foot traffic here. It’s easy to lose your people here if you’re not paying attention.
There are a total of 16 lakes you can explore: 12 upper lakes and 4 lower lakes. There are 8 routes you can take to explore the Plitvice Lakes. The trails are labeled A, B, C, E, F, H K accordingly. Like most visitors, I started from entrance 2 and ended up at entrance 1 of the park. My route started with a short tram ride, exploring the lower lakes, a boat ride and touring the upper lakes before ending with a visit to the Great Waterfall, Veliki Slap. We did have a lunch/snack break after our boat ride. There’s one restaurant available but I would recommend bringing your own food if you’re not keen on long lines.
It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re here. Before I knew it, it was late afternoon and we headed back on the bus. The drive back to Zadar included a short pit stop at a small cafe for us to stretch our legs and grab some snacks.
By the time we got back, it was close to 6pm. We decided to head back since we had to pack up and leave for Zagreb the next day.
Day 9: Back in Zagreb
The last stretch of our trip approached quickly as we hopped on our last bus ride. From Zadar to Zagreb, our bus took slightly more than 3 hours. Unlike the other Croatian cities, Zagreb has a great tram network that you could easily use to get around. Since we had luggage, I opted for an Uber ride to the accommodation.
We then spent the rest of the day walking aimlessly around Zagreb’s Old Town. From the apartment, we walked to the Croatian National Theatre and past the Museum of Arts and Crafts. We strolled past rows and rows of shops and found ourselves at Ban Jelačić Square. Things got interesting when we followed a path of cold air into the Tunnel Grič. Tunnel Grič is an old bomb shelter with 6 exits. Honestly, we were just happy to be in the tunnels since it was a nice cooling escape from the heat.
After we exited one of the random exits of the tunnel, we ended up visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships. This rather quirky museum features a collection of mementos that reminded these people of their previous lovers. Mementos extended from an old wedding dress to an old pair of sneakers.
Address: Ćirilometodska ul. 2, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia Opening hours: Daily, 09:00 - 22:00 Entrance fee: HRK 30 (adults), HRK 20 (kids, students, senior citizens)
From the museum, we walked down a park path that led to a viewpoint where you could see the entire city including St Mary Church and Cathedral of Zagreb. If you continue down the path that leads to a street, you could easily walk over to St Mary Church. There are many shops that lined the street for those of you keen on doing a little shopping. (I came across a shop selling bags and scored a bargain with an Italian leather handbag.)
I decided to stop for an early dinner at Lokma from Istanbul, located not far from Zagreb City Museum. This is one of several kebab/Mediteranean restaurants you can find in Zagreb. Zagreb definitely has the most halal food choices among other cities in Croatia.
Address: Lokma from Istanbul, Ul. Ivana Tkalčića 59, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia Opening hours: Weekdays 12:00 - 22:00, Weekends 12:00 - 00:00
After dinner, we ended our walking tour of Zagreb at the Cathedral of Zagreb. Right in front of the cathedral, you’ll be able to spot the Monument of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are also many charming shops around this area for those looking for your own Croatian souvenir.
Day 10: Shopping in Zagreb
The last full day in Croatia was spent emptying our wallets at the Arena Centar. There are so many stores and brands here that we mindlessly spent the entire day shopping here. You can find brand favourites such as Nike, Converse, Pull & Bear, GAP and the list goes on. There are also a handful of European brands that I’ve never seen. I have to say that certain brands like H&M were slightly cheaper here than in Singapore. But it really depends on specific brands. But boy did I have a fun time raiding Zara and Zara Home. There are no halal restaurants here. But there are fast food choices if you’d like to help you curb your hunger.
Address: Arena Centar, Ul. Vice Vukova 6, 10020, Zagreb, Croatia Opening hours: Weekdays 10:00 - 21:00, Weekends 09:00 - 21:00
Sadly, when we headed back to our apartment, the rain had greeted us for the first time during our visit here. And since it was a Sunday where most shops are closed or closed early. The city centre was a ghost town. We did manage to drop by a supermarket to pick up some snacks before our suitcase packing workout.
Day 11: Homebound
We had a midday flight home so after breakfast, we headed straight to the airport. You could easily book an Uber to the airport. Currently, they hold a flat rate of HRK 70 for a one way trip to the airport. I also booked my Uber the night before, just throwing a side of caution.
There are a limited number of Duty Free shops at Zagreb International airport. Fret not, we did more shopping damage at Heathrow during our 5 hour layover. The layover extended for another hour later on due to a flight delay. The (one) great thing about flying British Airways is they allow passengers to check in hand carry luggages (if needed) at the airport for free.
On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Croatia. Though I wished I had more time to research individual attractions and maybe head on some walking tours, I enjoyed every moment when I was walking through each city. From the medieval architecture to the (somewhat) small town charm, Croatia definitely is more than just a summer vacation spot.
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