Why travel to Croatia? My husband Dave and I wanted to explore a country off the beaten track. We weren’t asking for much, nice weather, friendly people, outdoor excursions and delicious food. Friends and family members had been telling us about Croatia for years. So when we heard their borders were open to vaccinated Americans and that United Airlines had a direct flight from Newark to Dubrovnik, we jumped at the chance to go. The best time to go is in the spring and summer so that you can hit the Dalmatian coast.
Several areas in the Croatian towns aren’t open during the Winter and the best things to do are when the weather is warm. We had a great time traveling during high season, but it does get crowded! Summer months are always busier in places with both beautiful islands and beautiful beaches. Since Croatia has become a more popular place in recent years, we knew that peak season would come with crowds.
If medieval castles, local wines, historical sites and natural beauty are your thing, you cannot go wrong with this 10-day Croatia itinerary.
We knew we wouldn’t be able to see everything in ten days, so we decided to focus on the southern part of the country. Geographically, Croatia is a perfect combination of rocky mountains, turquoise waters and thousands of Islands. Croatia is just to the East of Italy and North of Montenegro. I bring you what I think is the best way to explore Southern Croatia.
We stayed in three locations during our trip and they were both incredible for different reasons.
10-day Croatia itinerary for art lovers:
DUBROVNIK (4-5 nights)
We started off here when we flew into and out of the Dubrovnik airport. Our first day was spent exploring the beach town away from the city center. We were jet lagged and not quite ready for a full day of activity.
Dubrovnik is a small city with a rich history. Perched along the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik is on a UNESCO World Heritage site in recognition of both its architecture as well as the medieval fort that guards the city. In more recent years, Dubrovnik has also become a destination for Game of Thrones fans since most of the series was filmed there. Put simply, Dubrovnik is a magical place.
The Sheraton Hotel is about a ten minute drive from the Old City. The hotel has a waterfront promenade with little cafes. We found that this little area was a vacation spot for locals and not very touristy. We walked into a random restaurant, within walking distance from the hotel, and it ended up being one of our favorite lunches in Croatia. The name of our lunch spot was Puntizela and it was the best Greek salad and grilled octopus I have ever had. Our room wasn’t ready so we spent the afternoon swimming in the Adriatic and snoozing on the pebble beach.
We also had the opportunity to stay at the Royal Blue Hotel. Like the Sheraton, it sits on the Adriatic with breathtaking views of the surrounding islands. The resort area has a walkable promenade with tons of cafes. The hotel is new and the room was luxurious. Make sure to request a high floor with water views. The property sits alongside rocky cliffs with chaises and umbrellas. The rocks have access points for swimming and it was a perfect secluded area – very romantic! It was easier to get to the Old City from the Royal Blue than from the Sheraton. If you prefer a villa to a hotel, I recommend staying at Villa Splendid. It is owned by our friends and sits in an incredible location, but was not available during COVID.
While most restaurants were easy to get into, I recommend making reservations a few days in advance since the popular spots fill up quickly.
Orsean by the Yacht Club. The mussels and fish were incredible! They had three different olive oil choices and we all decided to do a taste test to discover which one we loved most. Peppino’s is the best spot for delicious gelato.
Buza Bar inside the old city. Buza Bar is a wine bar built into the side of the mountain. It is a perfect spot to take in the sunset and soak in the culture.
Panorama Restaurant: If you can’t get a reservation for dinner, head there for drinks instead.
Everyone suggested we wake up early and walk the walls of the old city before it gets too hot and crowded. This was great advice because we were able to move slowly and take great pictures. Walking the walls takes under two hours. There are little spots along the way to purchase water and drinks, but they were overpriced so I suggest bringing plenty of water and comfortable shoes. Another fun activity is the hike to the top of Mt. Srd to take in the views of Dubrovnik. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can take the cable car.
The old city had 6,000 residents twenty years ago and now has 1000 full-time residents. There are tons of restaurants, bars and shopping which makes it an incredible place to explore. I was blown away by how well preserved the old city is. We also loved sitting on the stairs and people-watching. Behind the main street are small side streets which are fun to meander.
By the late afternoon, it did get quite crowded, but we were still able to navigate the old town walls overlooking this historic city.
Aurelija: Even with a mask on I could smell the leather from a block away. I went back three times and bought two bags for my 7 days in Dubrovnik. I wanted everything in the shop and the owner was warm, patient and knowledgeable about leather. The handbags are all either Italian fine leather or local Croatian woven bags.
UJE: Olive oil tastings, salt and beautiful packaging.
Uje is a beautifully curated shop with olive oils local salts and truffles. Their packaging is beautiful and I ended up stuffing 3 bottles in my checked luggage. The owner lets you taste the different olive oil and they are the best I have ever had!
I fell in love with the Jadranka Munitic’ Art Gallery. Situated in the Jewish quarter of Dubrovnik, Jadranka makes art using foils on canvas to create a stained glass appearance. She was in the shop and loved talking about her unique process.
HVAR: Croatia’s party island (2-3 nights)
Hvar was the highlight of the trip. Hvar is a small island that has it all: beaches, ruins, restaurants and luxury yachts. Plus, it is a ton of fun. Hvar is a great place to spend time and it is very easy to island hop to some smaller islands. The main square on Hvar is made from white limestone and the reflection of the sun makes it very bright and striking. Hvar is easily reached by ferry from Dubrovnik. Be sure to reserve ferry tickets in advance here: https://www.jadrolinija.hr/en/ferry-croatia
We stayed at the Amfora Beach Hotel. While it isn’t the most luxurious hotel on the island, its location has it all. It is a short enough walk to the main plaza, yet quiet enough to relax and unwind. If you stay at the Amfora, be sure to request a high floor with an ocean view. The rooms are small, but breakfast is included and the pool is fantastic. The layout of the hotel is slightly confusing and the higher floors are part of the newer wing. The Elizabeth Hotel is another great option but more expensive. It is located right in the heart of the main plaza, but had no availability when we tried to book. We also heard it can get loud since the location is right in the heart of the main square.
We had incredible meals in Hvar! For dinners, I highly recommend Divino. Divino is a special restaurant with a creative menu. Its location is perfect for taking in the sunset. Make a reservation a few days in advance. Juniors had amazing risotto. We were also blown away by our meal at Maestros. Maestros is owned by three brothers who live above the restaurant. They wake up each morning to go fishing and list their daily catches on the nightly menu. The fish was incredibly fresh and the staff was attentive and appreciative. It is tucked away on a side street and was an off-the-beaten-path treasure.
Go to any kiosk and rent a boat with a skipper for the day. Prices are negotiable and you can choose the type of boat you want to rent. We rented a large speed boat for a 7 hour trip. We chose to go on a private boat vs. a catamaran cruise. This allowed us to be spontaneous and visit Croatia’s hidden beaches. The skipper took us to the Blue Lagoon, Blue Cave, and the Green Cave which were stunning. He also took us to the island of Vis. Once on Vis, spend some time getting lost on the side streets. We discovered a hidden beach with incredible stones, pottery remnants and sea glass.
On the island of Vis, we had lunch at Pizzeria Zadruga. The staff was friendly and it was a nice spot for a quick lunch. On our boat ride back to Hvar, our skipper stopped at a secluded beach with a cocktail bar called Calma. We went right before sunset and had the entire beach to ourselves. Truly a highlight!
Hvar is known for its lavender, olive oil and red wine. The lavender grows everywhere and smells incredible. We also loved the little boutiques. The highlight is the many street vendors. The motto for Hvar is Carpe Diem which is written on many items in the souvenir shops.
SPLIT: Croatian city life (2 nights)
Split is the second largest city in Croatia and feels more urban than Dubrovnik and Hvar. Arriving at the busy port in Split is jarring after the relaxed beauty of Hvar and Dubrovnik, but is incredible in its own unique way.
We stayed at the Le Meridian which is more of a resort than a hotel. The resort is situated on a promenade alongside cafes, restaurants and large boats. Le Meridian is a bit of a drive to the downtown area.
While I loved being near the beach and the restaurants at Le Meridian were incredible, if I returned to Split I would stay at the Juditha Palace Heritage Hotel. My parents stayed there and loved that it was a four star boutique, more like a three story bed and breakfast within the walls of the Diocletian palace.
Dioclesian Palace was an incredible site. We also climbed to the top of the Bell Tower to see views of the city. During our time in Split, we spent another day island-hopping to both Brac and Solta. Again, this was a highlight. We had lunch on the island of Solta at a restaurant only accessible by boat. The fish was caught within hours of our arrival.
Brasserie on 7 just outside the city walls was delicious and had incredible people-watching. We loved the watermelon gazpacho. On the day we went island hopping, we had lunch at Turanj in Stomorska. It was incredible. We had delicious sushi at Adriatic Sushi and Oyster Bar within the walled city. The spring rolls were my favorite.
- We landed at the Dubrovnik airport and cleared customs in less than ten minutes. The airport is immaculate and the people are friendly. There are plenty of cabs available, but we found the Ubers to be much cheaper.
- We always felt safe in Croatia.
- Ask for ice (tap water is not available in a lot of restaurants and an ice bucket makes the water last longer)
- Don’t bring high heels – lots of uneven cobblestones and stairs.
- Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat
- Bring water shoes to protect your feet from sea urchins and rocks. They also sell them everywhere for around $10
- Boat rentals can be made at the many kiosks everywhere we went – you can try to negotiate on price
- Local foods: orange peels, grappa, wine, olive oil, fleur de sal, truffles, octopus
- Uber: It’s easy and everywhere
- We flew in and out of Newark to Dubrovnik. Our friends flew to Germany from Split and then directly to Chicago O’Hare. If I did it again, I would fly into Split and out of Dubrovnik (or vice versa). Flying out of Newark International Airport was amazing, but flying back in was not a good experience and we ended up missing our connecting flight to Chicago.
- Pack light. Traveling from place to place with a giant suitcase is not fun!
- Next time we will explore the North (Zagreb and Rovijn). We didn’t have enough time this trip but we hope to return one day!
- If you have more time, you can take a Croatia road trip to both Zagreb or Montenegro. But because we had to head back to the city of Dubrovnik to fly home, we knew it would not be a good idea to go too far from the airport.
- If you are not physically able to do a walking tour, Croatia might not be the best place for you to travel. It is quite rocky and difficult to navigate.