Croatia Countdown: Top Ten Destinations Part Two

Part Two

5. ZADAR
SUMMARY: An underrated port city on the Dalmatian coast. It is an eclectic mix of modern and ancient architecture and is in an ideal location with both national parks and party islands nearby. Don’t miss the city gate, Zadar Cathedral and the Church of St Donatus.
TOP TIP: The Sea Organ, an art installation by architect Nikola Bašić, is unmissable. It is an immersive experience which generates music using the waves. Combine this with watching the sunset made famous by Hitchcock.
EAT: Bruschetta for an interesting twist on classic dishes, see below for my personal favourite, the squid ink gnocchi.
UNESCO: ✖ (It is, however, on the Tentative List and is being considered for the future.)IMG_9841
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4. PLITVICE
SUMMARY: Home to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, this area is a must visit for those wanting to explore the more scenic side of Croatia rather than just hit up the festivals and parties.
TOP TIP: Unless you’re coming here for a quick day trip, then it is definitely in your best interest to rent a car to make life a lot easier when getting around.
EAT: There really isn’t much choice here, so if you’re more of a foodie, then head to Bistro & Cafe Plum located in the Hotel Degenija.
UNESCO:

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3. DUBROVNIK
SUMMARY: A medieval city so perfectly intact that the majority of GoT is filmed here. Walk down the Stradun (the main street in the Old Town) and then climb and explore the walls which are considered one of the greatest fortification systems of the Middle Ages.
TOP TIP: Go in spring to avoid the tourists who take over the city during the summer. Head to Lokrum, a nearby island which can be easily reached by boats which depart from the harbour. It is home to historic buildings, gardens and a small GoT museum with a replica of the iron throne.
EAT: Head to Nishta for vegetarian and vegan dishes which will impress the most faithful of carnivores.
UNESCO:

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2. ZAGREB
SUMMARY: The capital city of Croatia, but not overwhelming in the way that other cities can be. Instead, it is charming, cultural and easily explored by foot in a couple of days. It is often neglected by those who prefer to go straight to the coast, but it definitely shouldn’t be skipped. Highlights include the Cathedral, St Mark’s Church and a string of quirky museums.
TOP TIP: Laugh and cry in The Museum of Broken Relationships, the first of its kind, where anyone can donate items from their past. A touching, poignant and hopeful collection.
EAT: Hip restaurant Mundoaka Street Food for an unpretentious and varied menu.
UNESCO:
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1. ROVINJ
SUMMARY: My favourite place in Croatia (so far). Rovinj has a very Venetian feel with its romantic cobbled streets and pastel colours. Not too busy, more of a idyllic, sleepy seaside town.
TOP TIP: It is fairly small so aimlessly wander and explore for half a day before sipping a coffee by the harbour and watching the world go by.
EAT: Giannino Rovinj for great seafood, and desserts to die for.
UNESCO:

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Croatia Countdown: Top Ten Destinations

Lately, everyone has become obsessed with Croatia. During the first half of this year alone, the Croatian tourist board has reported a 36% increase in overnight stays from British travellers. When considering a trip to Croatia, the myriad of destinations can seem overwhelming to say the least, so I’ve decided to compile a handy list of brief summaries of my favourite places…

10. TROGIR
SUMMARY: Big things come in small packages, and there’s a reason why tiny Trogir has been granted UNESCO status.
TOP TIP: You only really need half a day here. Go in the afternoon, appreciate the cathedral and then come nightfall visit some of the many bars and restaurants strewn along the harbour.
EAT: Konoba Trs, for a traditional restaurant located in a 13th Century house.
UNESCO:

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9. PULA
SUMMARY:
Home to a host of impressive roman ruins, most notably Augustine’s Temple and the Colosseum’s little sister: the Pula Arena.
TOP TIP: It was very quiet when we visited in April. Instead, go in the summer and combine it with attending Outlook Festival, which is based nearby at an abandoned Roman fort in Stinjan, Croatia
EAT: Jupiter for some of the best pizza in Croatia. Be warned though, the portions are huge.
UNESCO:
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8. SIBENIK
SUMMARY: A small, coastal city located where the Krka river flows into the sea. Full of meandering stone alleyways, fortresses and tranquil squares.
TOP TIP: Visit the nearby Krka National Park.
EAT: Head to top-rated Pelegrini for the ambience and the friendly staff who go to great length to explain the menu and local ingredients to you.
UNESCO: ✔ (The Cathedral of St James)

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7. SPLIT
SUMMARY: Though some may say it is overrated, no trip to Croatia would be completed without at least a day in Split. Mosey around Diocletian’s Palace and climb the bell tower to get a breathtaking view of the whitewashed stonewalls and orange rooftops.
TOP TIP: Split is perfectly located for island hopping. Take a trip across to Brač to relax on Zlatni Rat, one of Croatia’s best loved (and sandy!) beaches.
EAT: Ostarija u Vidjakovi for comfort food sourced locally
UNESCO: ✔ (The Historical Complex)
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6. HVAR
SUMMARY: Pag is often dubbed the Ibiza of Croatia, but I’d say Hvar is more deserving of the title whereas Pag is more comparable to Magaluf. Hvar oozes sophistication, has a beautiful little cathedral and many healthy eateries for foodies. However, it errs on the expensive side compared to the rest of Croatia.
TOP TIP: Carpe Diem, a club on its own island complete with swimming pools, a private beach, several bars, top DJs and the sea. You can get there by a small boat which departs regularly from the island.
EAT: Since you’re in Hvar, splash out on food at Macondo before heading for drinks at Hula Hula.
UNESCO: ✔ (the Stari Grad Plain in Hvar)

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To be continued…

48 Hours in Zadar

In the last five years, Croatia has seen a huge increase in tourism. Breathtaking scenery, affordable prices, and great weather is making it the ideal spot for many, especially during the summer. While many young people go for the big name music festivals like Outlook and Hideout, Croatia has a lot more to offer. This is especially evident in Zadar, an underrated port city on the Dalmatian coast. It is an eclectic mix of modern and ancient architecture and is in an ideal location with both national parks and party islands nearby. You can definitely cover Zadar in 48 hours although you’ll undoubtedly want to extend your trip. If you have any more time to spare here, then the hostels often run trips to the two most popular national parks, Plitvice Lakes and Krka.

Where to Stay

The Drunken Monkey Hostel. You have everything you need here: clean facilities, a lively common room, a swimming pool, wifi, and a bar with cocktails galore. Its only downside is that it’s a fifteen minute walk from the Old Town (and it’s in a residential area so you have the keep noise down after hours), but in terms of facilities it beats any of the more central hostels. 
Prices start at £12.46 for a standard mixed dorm in low season, and £19.04 for the same in high season.

Getting Around

Most of Zadar is easily explored by foot. The majority of the things to see and do are in the Old Town, and you can walk around that in about an hour.

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Getting There

Direct flights using Ryanair. Cheapest to fly from London. Typically ~£90 single in high season and ~£80 single in low season. Flying time 2 hours 25 minutes. If you have more time to spare, I’d highly recommend flying into Split and taking a coach up to Zadar to get more of a taste of Croatia.

Time difference

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Currency

Croatian Kuna

Day 1

Arrive early and spend your first day wandering through the cobbled streets of the old town and doing the majority of the sightseeing. Not to be missed is the city gate, Zadar Cathedral and the Church of St Donatus. The People’s Square is home to a fantastic set of roman ruins for history buffs to peruse.

The City Gate

Have lunch at The Garden which prides itself on the art of raw food. Here you’ll find delicious smoothies and snacks, and an array of impressive cocktails if you want to see the atmosphere change after dark. The bar is the ideal place to relax with lounger beds and views overlooking the sea. Zadar is home to two unique art installations, both by architect Nikola Bašić. The first, the Sea Organ, is an immersive experience which generates music using the waves. The second, The Greeting to the Sun, is a unique solar panel which absorbs the energy from the sun in the day and is brightly colored after dark. Stroll along the promenade and watch the famous sunset, which Alfred Hitchcock called the most beautiful in the world, and then watch The Greeting to the Sun light up.

Greeting to the Sun
The Greeting to the Sun

When you’re finished, head to 2Ribara (The Two Fishermen) for dinner which serves fresh seafood for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home. Pre-drink either back at the hostel or in one of the many bars in town such as Q bar. Then head to Ledana, an open air nightclub which overlooks the city. It’s free entry and is open until 4am.

Ledana
Ledana

Day 2

Have breakfast at the nearby sister hostel, The Lazy Monkey, and then go to the beach to cure your hangover. Croatia is notorious for its stoney beaches but its turquoise water makes up for it. The beach and cocktail bar Bamboo is in a fantastic location on the edge of the sea, and you can grab lunch there too. If you’re feeling adventurous, Zadar is also home to various spots to cliff jump, as well as offering a wide variety of water sports. Head to Bruschetta for dinner where they specialize in classic food with a twist (the squid ink gnocchi is my favourite) and then go to Donat for dessert, where you’ll find the best gelato in Zadar. It’s probably wise to make a reservation for Bruschetta as it tends to get very busy, especially in summer.

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For your second night out, go to the nearby party island Pag for nightlife, home to Zcre Beach which is dubbed the Ibiza of Croatia and is an hour away by bus. If you’d rather stay local, check out bars such as Factory Bar and Maraschino. In a similar fashion to Rome, crowds congregate in the streets to drink during the evenings, so there is always a vibrant atmosphere in the city.

 

Originally featured on Exepose.com

Krka vs. Plitvice Lakes National Park

While on holiday this Easter, I was lucky enough to visit two of the best National Parks that Croatia has to offer – Krka and Plitvice Lakes. I was supposed to go to the latter during my time in Croatia last summer, but the coach from Zadar left at 7am and (surprise surprise), after a big night out I didn’t quite make it. I did know I was coming back with my family this April though, or else I would’ve dragged myself out of bed (I hope).

I’d definitely recommend visiting both but if you don’t have enough time in your schedule, then I hope you can use the following information to make a decision. Unsurprisingly, in summer they’re packed with tourists, so I’d recommend visiting the parks in spring like we did, as we had them practically to ourselves. Both parks are in ideal locations and can be easily adopted into various routes.

Plitvice Lakes National Park (Plitvička jezera)

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Entry price:
Adult/child
Jul & Aug 180/80KN
Apr-Jun, Sep & Oct 110/55KN
Nov-Mar 55/35KN

View of the lakes from afar
View of the lakes from afar

Getting there:
There are excursions from most major cities or alternatively, you can stay in accommodation within the municipality of the park. We incorporated it into our trip by spending two nights at a nearby guesthouse, but you if are rushed for time you could treat it as a day trip. The best bases to do this from are either Zadar or Zagreb. If you don’t have a car, both places have buses which go to the park regularly. To make the most of the park, leave early especially if you are going in the summer months when it can get very crowded.

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Getting around:
This is the largest and most famous national park in Croatia, home to sixteen lakes. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is why you can’t swim in any of the lakes and are requested to be respectful to your surroundings. Due to its size, a lot of people spend two days here, wandering around and taking all of the scenery in. However, if you are rushed for time, you can achieve it in a day, and at a real push, half a day. We covered a lot of ground in one day. The public transport within the park is a real help, there is a boat and a bus which takes you between various entrances and stations. 
Often the paths have little dips in them, especially those that go across the water and they can be slippery, so make sure you wear sensible shoes. Even with appropriate footwear, in my clumsy manner, I managed to fall over twice at Plitvice and once at Krka. I honestly don’t know how the women I saw wearing heels managed! Even though it is more challenging than Krka, it was still a fairly easy path. The wooden walkways add to the ambience and are straightforward to follow with clear sign-posted directions. Hiking is an option for those who are more adventurous.

post-fall and Dad's top concern was getting a photo of me without passers-by in the background
post-fall and Dad’s top concern was getting a photo of me without passers-by in the background

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Attractions:
Entrance One has the attractions of Veliki slap (Large waterfall) and the lower lakes canyon. I’d argue that it is the more scenic of the two entrances, although a lot of it was sectioned off. After noticing others had disregarded the warnings, we too didn’t take much notice of them, especially as the large waterfall was one of the attractions closed. If you have a similar dilemma on your visit then proceed with caution, as the paths which were marked off didn’t have railings, or were sometimes immersed in water. While it didn’t seem extremely dangerous, it wouldn’t be everyone’s ideal venture especially with younger children.

Veliki slap
Veliki slap

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view from above the lower lakes canyon
View from above the lower lakes canyon

Entrance Two’s main attraction is the Galovački buk (Galovac Waterfall). I’d say there is a lot more to see in comparison to Krka and in my opinion, it is more aesthetically impressive. That being said, I do think Krka is immensely underrated, and is extremely beautiful.

Galovac Waterfall
Galovac Waterfall
Galovac Waterfall
Galovac Waterfall

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Krka National Park

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Entry price:
It’s cheaper than Plitvice…
Adult/child
Nov-Feb 30Kn/20Kn
March-May and Oct 90Kn/70Kn
June-Sept 110Kn/80Kn

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Getting there:
It’s arguably more accessible as it is easily reached from coastal places like Split which is fairly close by. You have to go to the town Skradin, and then catch a ferry across to the park (you can walk, but this will take a substantial amount of time). The town is easy to drive to, or if you are taking the bus, then first proceed to Sibenik where you can then change to get to Skradin. Many nearby towns also offer official excursions.

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Getting around:
There are boat excursions around the park which allow you to visit the charming island Visovak (home to a little monastery), but we were pushed for time so opted out of this
. Krka was a day trip for us on our way from Split to Dubrovnik so we only spent a couple of hours there. In that amount of time, we managed to walk the entire trail around the park, so it is a more manageable route than those in Plitvice.

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Attractions:
The main advantage is that you can swim in the lake here, which is strictly forbidden in Plitvice. This is permitted in Skradinski buk, the most famous attraction in the park. You can’t miss it, it’ll be one of the first things you see upon your arrival. There are also several archaeological remains of fortresses. A trip here is easily combined with visiting the nearby stunning Šibenik, which is a UNESCO world heritage site even though Krka itself is not.

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Skradinski buk

How To: Prepare For Your First Solo Travel Trip

Although I have spent a great deal of my life traveling, the prospect of doing it alone was a daunting one. During my time in sixth form, I started branching out with my best friend: we went to Paris, and then the following summer we traveled around Europe. It was during this interrail trip that I considered the possibility of a solo trip for the first time. After all, the two of us were managing fine booking hostels, catching flights, and organizing ourselves – why would it be any different if I was on my own? These days anyway when you are traveling alone, you are never really alone. The hostel culture which now exists worldwide means that you can mix with like minded travelers and essentially have ready made friends waiting for you. Gone are the days when hostels were dingy, dirty and looked down on. Now, if you choose wisely you can go somewhere with free wifi, a quirky roof top bar, and clean, spacious rooms. Of course, you still get what you pay for and quality is varied, but that’s what the review section of hostelworld.com is for!

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The view from the Rooftop Bar in the Hat Hostel

I was set up to spend last summer in Rome as an au-pair when my host family told me that for two weeks they’d be going on holiday. It was a few weeks before my planned arrival. I thought, I could remain in my apartment in Rome, await their return and explore the city but I had my entire placement to do this. Croatia kept popping in to my mind. It was on my list of places to go and earlier that year, I had unsuccessfully tried to persuade friends to travel around it with me. Before I could change my mind, I’d booked myself a flight to Split and started looking at hostels.

1) Start small
I’d already had some experience in navigating around Europe, and Croatia was only a short flight away from Rome so it didn’t feel as overwhelming as it would’ve done if I’d decided to whisk myself off to Australia for a fortnight. If you try smaller trips away nearer to home, then eventually you’ll have the confidence to go further afield. After a few solo trips, I’m now quite happy at the prospect of my year abroad in China in which I plan to travel as much of the surrounding countries as possible.

2) Choose your hostel wisely
As a solo-traveler, it is so important to look at the reviews and try to gauge what kind of accommodation you’re considering. I always go for hostels closest to the centre, but now I was also looking at how they were rated for atmosphere and social life. If you’re by yourself, you don’t want to go to a hostel which has more emphasis on peace and quiet. Good websites to peruse include: hostelbookers.com, hostelworld.com, and other travel blogs. Try to go for the ones with later check out times, you don’t want to get kicked out at 9am after only getting in a few hours before and scrambling to round up your stuff while you can barely function.

3) Get involved
A great way to make friends is to stay in the largest dorm they offer (which is also the cheapest) and start chatting to your roommates on arrival. It’s all too easy to slink off by yourself and go sightseeing alone (which, as I’ll come to, is fine on occasion) but you could be missing out on making friends for life. I’ve stayed in touch with so many people that I’ve met in hostels, some of whom are included in this post. In fact, I found it easier to make friends when I did finally take the plunge into traveling solo. When you are with someone, not only are you complacent because have them to cling onto, but others do not feel as strong an urge to talk to you as you are already occupied. Chat to everyone, explore the hostel, hang out in the common room and enquire at the reception to see if there are any organized activities. If you do go to a hostel renowned for it’s social atmosphere then try to go to the group gatherings. Most party hostels, for example, will organize pre-drinks for everyone before leading you off out to the local bars. There are also usually fun daytime activities too. For example, in Carpe Noctem in Budapest they organized an underground tunnel trip among other things, or if we didn’t fancy the event on a particular day we would explore by ourselves.

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Sightseeing with Sammie, my soul sister I met in Carpe Noctem

4) Don’t be afraid to be alone
By the same merit, don’t be afraid to have a bit of down time, especially if you’re traveling for a more prolonged period. After a few days of being constantly surrounded by people, it is nice to take yourself out for lunch or have a wander around. We live in a society where quite often people feel embarrassed to be seen in a restaurant on their own. There is nothing wrong with spending time by yourself and it’s not at all an indication of your popularity. If you feel intimidated, then take a book with you to occupy yourself or write in a journal (I would recommend everyone to keep a travel journal, they are fascinating to look back on). People who are confident to spend time (and travel) alone are more self assured and more in tune with their instincts – they need to be as there is no one else looking out for them.

5) Go with the flow
The good thing about traveling alone is that you can do exactly what you want, when you want without having to compromise with anyone. A lot of the time people get to a place and end up extending their stay a lot longer than planned. Allow for this. That’s one of the best parts about traveling, and meeting people, joining them temporarily then going off in a different direction when the time is right. I wish I’d done more of this. While I was in Zadar, I met a great group of people from Liverpool who invited me to go along with them to Soundwave (a music festival). I didn’t go and it was probably a good thing because it would’ve taken up quite a lot of my budget, but I still regret it.

6) Keep organized and stay safe
Make sure you’re organized at all times. I am probably the most disorganized person I know, so I made sure to keep several copies of my flight and hostel itineraries on me, both on my phone, and hard copies. The majority of hostels – in Europe anyway – have lockers (and you can usually confirm this on their website/review sites), so you don’t need to worry about your valuables although I would keep the ones you bring with you on your trip to a minimum. I’m prone to losing things so I always leave my passport at the reception desk. Obviously, use your common sense while traveling. The same rules apply to traveling alone as traveling in general. Trust your intuition. It’s probably not a good idea to get completely wasted on your own unless you’re with people who you’ve come to trust, but even then try to be more cautious than usual. Always have the name of your hostel written down in a couple of places (some of them have wristbands so you can just show a taxi driver where to take you if needs be). When you first arrive, familiarize yourself with the area and any major monuments you can use as pointers in case you get lost.

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Sophia and I in Split

Above all, have fun! These are just things I’ve learned from my own experiences, I’m by no means an expert as the few solo trips I’ve taken have been short term. Even so, they taught me a lot about myself. Not in the sense of ‘finding myself’, but in the practical sense of how I react to certain situations, how I organize myself, and how I handle being on my own and the feelings that accompany this.