Croatia boasts almost 2000km of rocky shore and more than a thousand islands, many blanketed in luxuriant vegetation. Off-the-beaten-track islands, quiet coves and stone-built fishing villages make you feel as if you’re visiting Europe at its most unspoiled.
But travel to Croatia and you’ll find the country also has a cool and contemporary sheen – evidenced in its arts attractions and galleries, its swanky hotels and cocktail bars, and flashy yacht-filled harbours. The country also has a growing reputation for niche festivals – not just in the party-the-weekend-away music events held on beaches and in ancient forts up and down the coast, but also in the mushrooming number of arts festivals and small-town cultural shindigs.
A renewed respect for natural ingredients has become the watchword of Croatian cuisine, with locally sourced foodstuffs, wines and olive oils finding their way into some great regional cooking and speciality dishes.
The country has come a long way since the early 1990s, when within the space of half a decade – almost uniquely in contemporary Europe – it experienced the collapse of communism, a war of national survival and the securing of independence. Nearly twenty-five years on, visitors will be struck by the tangible sense of pride that independent statehood has brought. National culture is a far from one-dimensional affair, however, and much of the country’s individuality is due to its geographical position, straddling the point at which the sober Central European virtues of hard work and order collide with the spontaneity and vivacity that characterize the countries of southern Europe. Not only that, but the country also stands on one of the great fault lines of European civilization, where the Catholicism of Central Europe meets the Islam and Orthodox Christianity of the East. Though Croats traditionally see themselves as a Western people, many of the hallmarks of Balkan culture – patriarchal families, hospitality towards strangers and a fondness for grilled food – are as common in Croatia as in any other part of southeastern Europe.
Croatia travel facts
Spoken language: Croatian is the official language (spoken by around 95 percent of the population)
Currency: kuna (Kn)
Population: around four million
Tourist numbers: around 20 million in 2018
Politics: a single-chamber parliamentary democracy with a directly elected – though largely ceremonial – president as head of state
Sport: Croatia reached the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup championships in July 2018, the smallest country by population to do so since Uruguay in 1950
Hours of sunshine: 2715 (more than Sydney)
Coffee consumption: over 5kg of coffee a year on average (almost twice as much as the average Brit)
Where to go in Croatia
Choosing where to visit in Croatia can be a tough one, as this is a country that offers it all: crumbling palaces, idyllic islands and beaches, and the best nightlife in the Adriatic.
If it’s history and culture you’re after, Croatia certainly ticks the boxes. You’ll find medieval remains, Baroque grandeur and Byzantine monuments in towns and cities, such as Poreč, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Šibenik and Split, Venetian architecture in Rovinj, and a two-thousand-year-old Roman amphitheatre at Pula.
But Croatia’s towns and cities aren’t just about ancient monuments. The country’s capital, Zagreb, has a distinctly modern vibe, with its quirky art and alternative music scene. Dubrovnik offers a plethora of eccentric bars, and Hvar Town on the beautiful island of Hvar, a touch of glamour. Several cities also host summer festivals showcasing top-class drama and music.
Croatia’s national parks
If it’s the untamed great outdoors you’re after, Croatia provides an abundance of staggeringly beautiful national parks – such as Paklenica, with its karst wilderness and fir-clad slopes, the breathtaking forest-fringed lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes, and Northern Velebit, a hiker’s paradise.
The Croatian islands
Undeniably though, its Croatia’s beaches and islands that are the country’s top draw. The Elaphite Islands of Kolcep, Lopud and Sipan are among the most beautiful and unspoiled in the Adriatic, and beaches on the Pelješac Peninsula, and on the Dalmatian coast – such as those on the islands of Brac and Susak, are surely the most irresistible.
Best time to travel to Croatia
Figuring out the best time to travel to Croatia largely depends on what you plan to do during your trip. If it’s sun and sea you’re after, the summer months are the obvious time to