13 Jul 2018 - 6 min read
If you’ve watched the hit TV show ‘Game of Thrones’, then you’ve probably admired its gorgeous settings, many of which were filmed in the real-world country of Croatia. The coastal city of Dubrovnik, for example, has now become famously associated with King’s Landing, the capital of the fictional Seven Kingdoms.
While the popularity of the show has put the balmy country on the map, there’s far more to it than what you’ve seen on the show. So we’ve got the low-down on why you should put Croatia at the top of your travel bucket list.
Each region in Croatia has its specialty dishes, influenced by neighboring countries such as Italy and Hungary. Mainland cuisine typically comprises meats cooked every which way and hearty stews, while the coastal cities facing the Adriatic Sea are famous for their fresh seafood and pasta.
Must-eat dishes include black risotto (known locally as crni rižot) – made with squid ink, it’s got an intense flavor and will turn your teeth and tongue black – and creamy, truffle-topped fuži pasta, a handmade quill-shaped Istrian pasta. Head to a konoba (tavern) to sample some authentic local cuisine.
Fuži pasta with truffle.
KLites only get car-free streets every first and third Sunday of the month, but in the Old Towns of Split and Dubrovnik, you can take a relaxing walk along the cobbled streets all year round without having to worry about errant drivers.
Split’s pedestrian-friendly Old Town. Credit: fakeplasticgirl / Flickr
In fact, there are even entire islands that are car-free, such as the isles of Kolocep, Zlarin and Silba, so if you plan on visiting these, you’d better pack a pair of sturdy walking shoes!
The peaceful and scenic island of Zlarin. Credit: klimenko / Flickr
Set against the deep sapphire blue of the Adriatic Sea, it’s no wonder that visitors tend to flock to its beachside towns and islands. Zlatni Rat is probably the most recognized beach in Croatia due to its wide use in travel brochures – the pebbled spit of land extends from the southern coast of Brac island, earning it the moniker of the ‘Golden Cape’ or ‘Golden Horn’.
Zlatni Rat, Croatia’s ‘Golden Cape’. Credit: Szabolcs Emich / Flickr
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds at popular beaches, Croatia also has its share of secluded sandy hideaways. Krk island is easily accessible from the mainland as it’s connected by a bridge and you can take your pick from its numerous sunny beaches.
One of Krk’s many picturesque beaches. Credit: belsim / Flickr
Besides its gorgeous beaches and islands, Croatia also has its share of majestic mountain ranges and forests. Plitvice Lakes National Park, comprising emerald green lakes and cascading waterfalls, should definitely be on your must-visit list. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the largest and oldest national parks in the country.
Plitvice Lakes National Park. Credit: Erin Johnson / Flickr
While you can’t swim in the lakes at Plitvice, feel free to take a cooling dip in the waterfalls at Krka National Park. If you’re visiting Split or Zadar, it’s worth a day trip to the park. Nearby, you can also check out a 14th-century medieval fortress overlooking Krka River or take a boat ride to the Krka Monastery.
Krka National Park. Credit: Chris Bentley / Flickr
Like many Eastern European countries, Croatia’s open-air markets are buzzing hives of activity filled with an assortment of wonders just waiting to be discovered. Many of them are mainly farmer’s markets selling fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as other foodstuff. Zagreb’s Dolac Market, Split’s Pazar Market along Hrvojeva Street and Dubrovnik’s morning market at Gundulic Square are great for a bit of shopping.
Gundulic Square market in Dubrovnik. Credit: Jennifer Boyer / Flickr
Looking for interesting mementos? You’re sure to find something at the Britanac antique market in Zagreb. Held on Sundays, you’ll find all sorts of things being peddled, from jewelry and vinyl records to books and paintings. There’s also the Hrelic flea market, held on Sundays and Wednesdays on the outskirts of Zagreb.
Britanac antique market in Zagreb. Credit: lisabrideau / Flickr
You can feel it in the air – Croatia has history. Lavish, intricate buildings with Gothic and Renaissance influences can be seen in cities across Croatia. Its ancient architecture dates back centuries to the time of the Roman and Ottoman Empires, but archaeologists have uncovered artifacts and ruins going back even further in time.
Diocletian’s Palace. Credit: Arnie Pap / Flickr
No trip to Croatia is complete without making a round on the city walls of Dubrovnik, which encircle the Old City. The 2-kilometer stretch takes around two hours to complete (including the time you’ll spend taking epic selfies and photos). Diocletian’s Palace in Split is another impressive ancient Roman fortified city, one that can rival Dubrovnik.
The view from atop the Dubrovnik city walls. Credit: EyeofJ / Flickr
Croatia’s historical buildings may be a major draw for many visitors, but so are its cool, interactive art installations. You can listen to the music the ocean makes at the Sea Organ in Zadar. Designed by local architect Nikola Bašić, the special stone stairs that disappear into the sea are actually a system of pipes similar to that of an organ. Each movement of the sea creates a melancholic musical note.
Credit: Tim Ertl / Flickr
Near the Sea Organ is the Sun Salutation, another one of Bašić’s works. Rather than the power of the ocean, however, this installation harnesses the power of the sun. Its glass panels collect solar energy throughout the day, producing a mesmerizingly colorful light show that comes to life at sunset. It’s the perfect spot to bid the sun farewell for the day!
Credit: djou / Flickr
Originating in the town of Korcula, the Moreska is a traditional sword dance dating back to at least the mid-17th century. The dance tells the tale of a fight between two groups over the fate of a veiled young woman. In it, dancers from the two groups engage in a mock battle.
Credit: Luka Jačov / Wikimedia Commons
The two groups originally represented the Moors and Christians in a retelling of the years of battle between them to rule the region. Now, it’s more of a tourist draw.