Ah, Croatia – the land of beaches and the clear blue sea. And let’s not forget the town where Game of Thrones was filmed – Dubrovnik. There is no doubt that Croatia is a versatile country. It offers you national parks, sprawling urban metropoles, and a history that is a mixture of Turkish, Italian and Central European influences. No matter how old you are and what your interests are, there is bound to be something you will like in Croatia.
Getting Off the Beaten Path
But what about the lesser known places we all find ourselves searching for before going on a trip? Where can we find those that veer off the beaten path. How can we experience moments that will give us a better sense of the place we have decided to inhabit for a couple of days? If you, like me, can’t stop looking for the weird and the wonderful wherever you go, you can stop worrying and start packing your bags. Welcome to the definitive guide to five things you can do (for little or no money at all) to really experience Croatia.
1. Get a Really Good Cup of Coffee
Trust me, Croats are as fascinated as the rest of the world with our coffee habit. A couple of years ago, a big coffee-to-go chain opened in Zagreb and they failed spectacularly. Why? Well, let’s just say that there is a good reason why the cafes in the squares of our country’s cities are overflowing with people at any time of the day – coffee is our lifeblood and a way of socializing.
Global invite to hang out: Want to go grab dinner?
Croatian invite to hang out: Want to go for a coffee? [ Cro. Idemo na kavu? ]
So, in order to properly experience Croatia, you have to go get coffee. There is a whole lot of cafes to choose from and the more remote, the better. If you can find a side alley or a place just off a square, you’ll have hit the gold. In nice weather, there is no better place to be than seated in a café. Whether you’re in good company or alone, you can engage in Croatia’s top favorite activity – people-watching.
If you don’t drink coffee, that’s fine, too. Coffee is just a synonym for sipping and socializing. Feel free to get whatever you’d like. Don’t be in a rush to drink it and be on your way. Spend an hour or two there, relax. It’s the Croatian way, after all.
2. Hungry and in the Mood to Party? Find a Restaurant with Live Music
There are clubs in Croatia, sure. Still, the best way to have fun in Croatia is to find a restaurant with live music. You can first enjoy the music while eating, and also do a little dance afterwards. There is no better way to experience Croatia than eating good food and dancing to good music. Often, you can see local bands in restaurants, and there’s something for everyone – no matter if you are more into rock and alternative music genres, or the traditional Croatian tamburaši (tamburica trios) with ethnic undertones that are bound to have you performing yet another very Croatian act of having fun – dancing on the table.
Coffee is not just coffee, dinner is not just dinner.
Like with coffee, we find ways to socialize within whatever we are doing. Coffee is not just coffee, dinner is not just dinner. And for all the talk about how serious we are, and how heated we can get with politics, Croats love to have fun. So if you want to experience Croatia’s fun side, get some food and music – preferably at the same time.
3. Ditch the Sailing Boats and get a Barka
Sailing boat tours can be so expensive and they are, after all, one of the best ways to see the thousands of islands in the Croatian archipelago. But if you find yourself in the coast of Croatia, there is no need to go to that lengths. Locals in seaside towns will usually be happy to take you for a ride in their barkas (small boats) for a moderate compensation, and the coast is so full of bays that it is not hard to find a place that will make you feel like there is no one else in the world but you and the sea.
Seaside locals will usually be happy to take you for a ride in their barkas for a moderate compensation, and there are so many bays that it’s not hard to find a place that will make you feel like there’s no one else in the world but you and the sea.
One of my dearest memories from spending summers in the Dalmatian coast will forever be the time our friend got a boat and we sailed out to the Pelješac Channel. The currents are not strong and there are no sharks so feel free to jump into the sea wherever you’d like. Croatian beaches might be beautiful, but there is no experience like the one of swimming in the open sea, hundreds of islands on the horizon keeping you company.
4. Keep an Eye out for Seasonal Events
You can see a lot of beautiful things in Croatia whenever you come, but there are some events that take place only in certain seasons of the year.
Strossmartre in Zagreb
Taking place on the Strossmayer promenade in the capital, Zagreb, Strossmartre is part of the summer festival that takes place from the end of May to the beginning of September, and is an ode to art and the atmosphere of Parisian Montmartre. With carefully curated musical programme, art installations and events integrated into the atmosphere – but great wine and open-air cinema, too – Strossmartre is a place that you shouldn’t avoid if you want to experience the more artistic side of Zagreb and Croatia.
The Upper Town Witches tour
It is not that well known, but Zagreb has a long history of the mystical – including witches and witch hunts. The Upper Town Witches tour is perfect if you’re curious about the darker side of Croatia’s history and want to learn more about the places witches supposedly gathered in. With a background of historical events and interactive elements, this night walk through the very centre of Zagreb is bound to leave you with a pocketful of new and intriguing stories.
5. Just go on a Walk
At the end of the line – seriously, just walk around. The crime rate is very, very low and you can feel safe in the streets. Croatia has so many beautiful things to see, but the ones you find by exploring on your own are always the best. You will see gems like no others, from pizza vending machines to ivy-covered houses in the centre of the city, and you will stumble upon incredible stories that will in turn create electric moments you will carry within you forever.
You can visit Strossmartre or art galleries for art, but our street art is our pride and joy. As a Croat, I swear that every week I uncover a new piece where there used to be a blank wall. And our art is representative of who we are as a people – pushing the limits and never giving up. It is no wonder that an unofficial motto of my town, Rijeka, is “death over giving up” (or – krepat ma ne molat).
So, no matter what your preference is – architecture, history, art or something else – the best thing you can do to experience Croatia to its fullest is to relax and go where your feet take you. Even if you just manage to see the sky, don’t worry. It’s beautiful, too.