I’ve had a vague idea that I wanted to visit Croatia for a few years, and this trip far exceeded expectations. It was the perfect combination of glimmering water, rich history, winding streets, beautiful sunsets and sweeping landscapes.

In Croatia, you don’t have to choose between mountains or beaches; stellar food or a nightlife scene. The country has options to feed every traveler’s needs, oftentimes within the same city. The hardest part of my trip was whittling down everything I wanted to do.

Walking tour of Diocletian’s Palace

I’m not one for walking around towering palaces on my first day in a new city, so when I first read that this was the top tourist site in Split, I was skeptical. Then I realized this was a living, breathing palace. The remaining ruins are crawling with restaurants, vendors and cafes. It’s entirely car-free, which makes it perfect for an all-day stroll. I used Lonely Planet’s self-guided walking tour instructions to make sure we saw everything.

Tips:

  • Certain portions of the 30,000 square meter complex require an admission fee. We only paid for access to the bell tower, which allowed us to see pristine views of Split from above (after a long, steep set of winding stairs).
  • Head to Kavana Lvxor by the Bronze Gate entrance around 8 p.m. for Diocletian’s by night. The restaurant has live jazz each night in the peristyle. Order a drink or dessert and settle onto the steps to take in the columns and music.
(Photos courtesy of Neema Roshania Patel)
(Photos courtesy of Neema Roshania Patel)

Blue lagoon

As you walk along the waterfront in Split, you’ll see vendor after vendor offering to take you to any of the islands that dot the coast. We headed out to the blue lagoon between Drvenik and Krknjasi islands for a half day to check out the crystal clear water we had been admiring from afar.

Tips:

  • Avoid the urge to book a boat ahead of time. If you’re a planner like me, this is tough. But waiting to see which day the weather is best will ensure you get the most from your day at sea. If the sun isn’t out, you won’t see the stunning range of blues as clearly.
  • There are tons of islands and areas to visit, so chat with the boat operator about what best fits your interests.

This is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia. You can take a bus to the park for a day trip (or go through one of the many tour companies based in Split if you prefer). The options will vary based on the time of year you go, but it’s easy to figure out at the Split bus terminal.

Tips:

  • Once there, you can choose between hopping on a boat (for free) that will take you through the lakes or hiking the winding trails around the lakes. We went with the latter.

Dominisova ul. 3. Open daily from 9 a.m. to midnight

While Croatia is rarely listed among the likes of Greece and Italy when it comes to olive oil, the country produces excellent varieties. We headed to an olive oil tasting at Uje Oil Bar (it cost 99 kuna — around $15— per person) to learn more about the different types of olives grown in the region and how to best differentiate between varying qualities. We tested out our newly found skills at the end and paired our favorite oils with a cheese plate, local fig jam and homemade bread. To finish off, we had the house ice cream (drizzled with mint olive oil, of course).

Tončićeva ul. 12Open daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Because it’s right across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy, Croatia excels in Italian food. Galija is no exception, and we reveled in the perfectly thin crust, simple sauce, and fresh cheese and vegetables of this wood-fire restaurant. I read that they generally require reservations, but we were able to snag a table at the awkward hour of 4 p.m. without trouble.

Green Market

Just outside the city center, Split’s Green Market is the perfect place to take in the daily action of the city. Walk around, sample and buy fresh fruits and veggies and admire the creative floral arrangements.

Marjan Hill

Head to this spot outside the old town for a long walk. You’ll see small churches and ruins along the way. Sunset preferred.

We walked everywhere while we were in Split and Dubrovnik and took boats to our island day trips. We occasionally used Uber (Lyft is not available in either city) at night and to go outside the pedestrian-friendly city centers.

Our initial plan was to take a ferry from Split to Dubrovnik, but we decided to take our Airbnb host’s advice and rent a car. Despite the extra money — it ended up costing almost four times what the ferry would have — this ended up being my favorite day on the trip.

The trip at its most efficient should take about two and a half hours. We instead took the coastal highway down, stopping to take in the views, snack on oranges and figs and explore on mini-hikes along the way. (Make sure to have your passport handy if you take the coastal highway. You’ll drive through Bosnia for about 20 minutes.)

Seven hours later, we arrived in Dubrovnik, just in time to settle in for the sunset.

Walls of Dubrovnik

Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (May to mid October until 7 p.m.)150 kuna (adult)

Take your time and stroll the raised walls of the enclosed old city. It can take up to three or four hours, depending on how often you stop to take pictures and how heavy the crowd is. The views are unparalleled. Be sure to pay attention to the two tones of the roofs you’ll see from above: The view from the walls give visitors a chance to understand how much damage the city sustained during the war in the early ’90s. The brighter terracotta roofs indicate areas that had to be rebuilt.

Tips:

  • Don’t visit in the middle of the day. First thing in the morning or in the late afternoon is best to avoid the sun. There’s little to no shade while you’re walking the wall.
  • Brings snacks and water with you. There are a few vendors along the wall, but they are all overpriced. And your ticket is single-entry, so you can’t leave and come back.

Mt. Srdj

Timings vary depending on the time of year

Take the trail from Jadranska Cesta (or hop on a cable car) up to the top of Mt. Srdj for an excellent view. I suggest heading up close to sunset for a unique view of the city’s famed evening sky. There’s a restaurant at the top, too. (I didn’t eat a full meal there, but suggest it for an appetizer or dessert.)

Prijeko bbOpen Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

I mentioned earlier that my husband and I are vegetarian. Nishta is entirely vegan, but it’s popular among the vegan and non-vegan alike. Many people make reservations ahead of time, and there’s almost always a wait. The food is worth it, and it’s the only place we went to that served a vegan take on traditional Dalmatian food. We ended up going here twice.

Dolce Vita

Nalješkovićeva ul. 1AOpen daily from 9 a.m. to midnight

I ate a lot of gelato in Croatia (my personal record was three times in one day, thank you very much). Dolce Vita was my favorite. The flavors are unique and the scoops are generous.

A local illustrator’s vision

(Courtesy of Jelena Njeguš)
(Courtesy of Jelena Njeguš)

Graphic and UX/UI designer

“I was born and raised in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I studied at Arts Academy Split and have a BA in visual communication design, and I am a few months away from having a MA degree in interaction design. I currently live in Zagreb.

When I started making the lettering, I thought about the impression my country leaves on people. [The] mutual relationship of the land and the sea is essential for representing the beauty of Croatia, and I tried to show that balance by connecting the letters and combining the sharp edges of some elements with smooth curves of others. Croats are pretty laid back and don’t take themselves too seriously so I was also inspired by the numerous “rooms for rent” signs on our coast, which often look wacky, to make this lettering look friendly and [informal].”

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