When I think of Croatia, I picture clear blue beaches, lavendar scents, fresh truffles, fish and steak. But Croatia has so much more to offer than this – a short trip to paradise. I visited Croatia during the Easter break in 2017 with two friends from my summer in the US. While planning our travel itineraries, we looked into covering both beaches as well as cities. Google travel research showed that we should look into visiting Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split, Korcula, Pula, Rovinj, Zadar, Plitvice, Krka and Hvar to name a few.
Most of these places are spread out along the coast, and not so easy to cover as day trips from a home base. To travel in Croatia, the easiest way is to rent a car. We finally settled to fly to Zagreb, spend a few days in the city and then rent a car to drive to Split, covering both city and beach life over Easter break. This ensured we had a relaxed “no-rush” vacation, while getting an idea of the local culture, enjoying local cuisine, and just catching up through long overdue conversations with friends. And of course collecting some “Game of Thrones” souvenirs along the way.
Recommendations for Zagreb:
Where to go
Upper town (Gornji Grad)
The upper town of Zagreb is the old town with many points of interest like the St Mark Church, Stone gate (Kamenita Vrata), Cathedral (Kaptol), Strossmayer promenade, and several small museums and galleries. You can cover the upper town by foot in 3-4 hours. There are several mini streets with restaurants and bohemian styled cafes, and the Dolac market for fresh fruits and vegetables in the upper town. The best way to explore the upper town is to start walking from the main square (Trg Jelacica) to the Kaptol via Dolac, checking out the beautiful architecture, graffiti, and markets. You can also spend some time at the Tkalčićeva street, which is a cute and colorful street, with many places to eat.
Museum of broken relationships
I am usually not a big fan of museums, but this museum in upper town seemed interesting. It was a different experience – looking at the exhibits of personal objects from former lovers from different parts of the world. The museum starts with some light break-up souvenirs and jokes, to exhibits of more deep relationships of broken families, divorces and suicides. It was a different experience, and I recommend to visit it for its idiosyncratic and unique theme.
I suggest just walking around in the lower town again. It has a lot to offer – squares, parks, restaurants, cafes, colorful shops, charming architecture, street art and graffiti. The shopping street is called Ilica, featuring major brands, and also some small stores. The streets are quite busy, and the locals are friendly and welcoming.
Where to eat
Recommended for traditional Croatian cuisine. This restaurant is located in downtown, has few vegetarian options, but popularly known for its rich local cuisine. I had an oven-baked sea bream with vegetables and potatoes here – delicious and filling.
Another traditional Croatian restaurant that I recommend. This restaurant is located in upper town, and has a cozy ambience, welcoming atmosphere, and extensive menu. We ordered a combination of fish, frog legs, and steak here.
Where to drink
Named after J.R.R. Tolkien, this pub has a good variety of beers imported from different parts of Europe. The interiors is LOTR themed (obviously), and provides a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to hang out.
This bar has 200 different kinds of beer at reasonable prices. I am not much of a beer person, but recommend this place to check out the local beer scene, listen to some rock music, and experience good service.
Recommended if you like craft beer. This bar also has an extensive selection of beers, as well as food options. It can get quite crowded on a busy day, so make a reservation before visiting.
Recommendations for Split:
Split features stony beaches, not ideal for swimming in April, but the clear blue water and its reflection at night looks amazing. Apart from the beaches, Split also some other sights to offer:
One of the big attractions of Split, the palace is a ruin from the Roman era in the heart of Split. The palace is quite magnificent and big, and extends from the main architecture to smaller buildings surrounding it. The palace looks pretty especially at night with the lighting that casts shadows over the streets. There is a paid entrance to the basement of the palace. I personally would not recommend a guided tour, unless you are really interested in learning in depth about the history of the palace. As the area is quite big, just walking around suffices to get a good impression of the construction, architecture, and cultural heritage.
Cathedral of Saint Domnius and Bell Tower
I recommend this place to get a good panoramic view of Split. The climb to the top is moderate, but the stairs are steep and not so easy to climb. The tower itself is supposed to be 1800 years old, and there is an entry fee to get to the top of the bell tower.
Temple of Jupiter
While visiting the Diocletians Palace, you can also check out the Temple of Jupiter located in the west of the palace. It gives an antique feel, has some good stone work. The visit can be very short, 10-15 minutes. Recommended to visit if you are already exploring the palace.
I recommend this place to stroll around the water, check out the fishing boats, get a coffee or a drink from the many cafes and restaurants along the harbour, and watch the striking sunset sitting at one of the comfortable benches surrounded by giant palm trees. I think it would be a good way to end your visit to Split.
Pro tip: Uber works in Croatia, and quite reasonable for airport transfers.