Where should I go in Croatia for a low-intensity, beach-centric break?
March 3, 2014 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to Croatia this summer (mid-June) for a friend's wedding, and I have about a week before the wedding to see the sites. I need to end up in Varazdin, Croatia for the wedding, but I'm interested in the beaches. What should my itinerary be?

I (late-20's American female) will be traveling with another woman about my age. Our main interest is relaxing--beaches, cafes, nightlife, nature (though nothing too extreme/strenuous). I'm more interested in history/museums than she is, so suggestions where I could split off for a bit would be good. She has a more flexible budget than I do, but I am hoping to spend $1500+/- (not including the international airfare). Do-able?

Should I plan to slowly make my way north or just plan to fly/train/bus to Varazdin from wherever we are? We were thinking of flying in to Dubrovnik and using it as a base to see the islands and possibly work our way up to Split. Is there a better option given our interests? Is it better to use a different city as base? Or to plan to sleep in a different city every night (we were tentatively thinking about booking a room for the week via airbnb or something similar)? Any must-sees or places to avoid?

Was also thinking of trying to fit a day or two in after the wedding to see Zagreb (alone). Worth it? Somewhere better to spend the last two days?

I'm in the beginning stages of research and just trying to get a sense of what makes the most sense logistically. I've traveled to Europe (including Eastern Europe) before but it was about 8 years ago, and I didn't do any of the planning (large group trips). Any recommendations about trains/buses, hotels, restaurants, beaches, bars, etc. will be useful!
posted by kochenta to Travel & Transportation around Croatia (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't make it to any of the islands, but Split over Dubrovnik if actual beaches are what you're after (Dubrovnik has a few, but most of the swimming there is mostly jump off big rocks into the water-style). Split has some gorgeous beaches, but the water was COLD in September.. there was also some kind of track and field championship event going on when I was there, so the city was absolutely buzzing with activity (live music, dancing...) well into the night amongst the backdrop of ancient roman architecture. It was just magical.

Have you looked into Plitvice Lakes yet? It's closer to Split than Zagreb is (which I probably wouldn't bother with given that you have limited time), and is probably the most beautiful place I've ever been to. Lots of guesthouses and B&B's in some small towns nearby.

Memail me for some more specific recommendations, if you like. I absolutely loved Croatia.
posted by wats at 9:54 AM on March 3, 2014

Hvar was a blast (beaches, nightlife, coffee), but it's not that easy to get to (expect to get up early and wait in a looong line for ferry tickets), so I wouldn't do that as a day trip - spend at least a couple nights there if you're going to go. We ended up checking out Split on the days we were taking the ferry back and forth, which was honestly plenty of time to see the historic stuff in the Old Town.

We liked Dubrovnik and stayed there for four nights while we did day trips. We stayed in the Old Town, but if you are looking for beaches you should stay elsewhere - there are a bunch of beach resort-y places outside the Old Town, and the buses are easy to figure out if you want to go into the Old Town. Keep in mind that all the beaches are pebbly, which was worse in practice than in theory. If we'd had those nerdy aqua shoes we would have been much better off.

Seconding Plitvice. It was amazing and wonderful and definitely the prettiest place we went. That can be your nature section!

$1500 should be more than fine for a week, especially if you're sharing rooms. You could stay in some nice places - we went the airbnb route mostly. If you want a recommendations email me; we loved the places we stayed in Croatia and most of them were very reasonable.

Buses are really easy along the coast - they run frequently and are pretty cheap, and the scenery's gorgeous. Dunno what it's like further east - we rented a car to go to Plitvice because it sounded sort of complicated to get to our hotel on the bus. Driving in Croatia was super easy - roads are in waaay better shape there than in the US - if not cheap.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:09 AM on March 3, 2014

I went to Croatia with a friend for about a month in 2009, i don't know how much prices have gone up since then, but your budget sounds fine (I think we did the month on around £700 which was a bit tight but not restrictive, though we were there in September so we got some stuff cheaper). To get accommodation we didn't book anything, there were lots of people by the ferries or coach stations holding signs saying 'sobe' (rooms), who'd happily haggle in bad English. Maybe it's a bit of a risk just to turn up in peak season, but lots of Croats own holiday apartments, that also can be rented online.

For beaches I'd definitely check out the islands between Split and Dubrovnik, if you can make it work logistically. Both Vis and Mljet were absolutely stunning. We avoided Hvar because we'd heard it was expensive and touristy, but as we didn't go I don't know how true that is.

In terms of cities, I think Split and Dubrovnik are the two that are really worth seeing, so your plan of going between them sounds good.

People have mentioned Plitvice, the other option is Krka. It's not as big as Plitvice, but you can swim under the waterfalls and get there in a few hours from Split.

Finally, I'm not sure about visiting Zagreb, I've never been, but I spent a bit of time in Eastern Europe this summer, and the impression I got was that there wasn't loads going on, especially in the middle of summer as a lot of the locals pack up an head to the coast.
posted by Ned G at 10:52 AM on March 3, 2014

Fly or train from Zagreb to Split. Arrive in Split, which is a city with great stuff including Roman palace ruins, not a beach destination. Across the street from the train station is the ferry terminal. Grab a ferry and in a couple of hours you will be on an island beach.

Hvar is tourist central, and thus kind of crowded, pricey, loud, and filled with mindless Euro-party people. The harbor area is one huge disco meat market rave at night. I am not a fan of Hvar.

Korcula is about eight hours from Split by ferry, but offers a great town, beach, and history. Brac is also worth a peek.

My suggestions is the island of Vis, about three hours out of Split by ferry. Because it was a Yugoslav army base and favorite of Tito and his Party leaders it remained relatively undeveloped. The town of Vis is rather quiet, but on the far side of the island is the village of Komiza - a bus to there meets each ferry. You can book ahead but I always just show up and we book a room in either a family home (ask in any bar!) or by asking people in konoba restaurants, who usualy have rooms for rent.
posted by zaelic at 12:30 AM on March 4, 2014

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