When I chose a college graduation trip back in 2010, I did plenty of research. I wanted to go somewhere warm and by the water (water sign!) but one that was cheap to visit. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who had traveled to Croatia. My knowledge was purely from watching episodes of Rick Steves. The country was not yet a part of the Eurozone and still had a reputation for the war that plagued the Balkans in the 1990s. I’ve talked in depth about how this trip changed me and started me on my path to a travel lifestyle, but I haven’t really discussed the best way to take the same trip I did. That is, until now. Plenty has changed since I was last there, but I’ve tried to make this post as up-to-date as possible. If you have your own suggestions on what to do on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, leave them in the comments below!
Why You Should See the Dalmatian Coast
So why visit the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia at all? While there’s plenty to see in cities like Zagreb and Zadar, the long, thin nation is mostly coastline. Much of its history is based in this area too, which starts with Roman settlements. It’s also, arguably, the most beautiful area of the country. Crystal blue waters of the Adriatic and barrier islands make it a popular spot with vacationers from Britain and Australia, as well as the rest of Europe. Americans don’t seem to have caught on quite yet, as I only met one other while I was there.
What to Expect
While the cost of traveling in Croatia may have gone up in the last six years, it’s still a great value destination. Distances aren’t very far so you can take public transportation very cheaply and easily. Food is delicious, especially on the coast where seafood is plentiful. The cuisine is similar to what you’ll find in Italy and the Balkans, including whole fish, risottos, and sausage platters. Konobas are the Croatian versions of trattorias, simple family-run eateries that have the best meals and prices.
Don’t worry about drinking the water here, as they have Roman aqueducts. It is, in my opinion, the best drinking water in the world. If you want something stronger, you can do it very cheaply. Beer from brands like Ozujsko and Karlovacko are very drinkable, especially if you’re cooling off after spending a day at the beach. Liquor is more expensive, but rakija is the national firewater.
How to See the Coast
Seeing Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is easy once you decide how you want to do it. Sailing trips leave from both Split and Dubrovnik and can be one way or return. Tour companies like Travel Talk, Sail Croatia, and Busabout are just of the few you’ll see flying their flags in the harbors of the cities along the coast. Each has their own benefits, like included meals, so do your research beforehand. Most of these also dock in a town at night.
You can also take ferries in between many of the destinations using Jadrolinja, the national ferry carrier. But remember that smaller ports can only be accessed by smaller boats. This might limit the places you can visit if you’re traveling by ferry.
Where to Go
I started my journey here, flying into Split Airport before taking a taxi into the city. Flights arrive here daily from throughout Europe. I stayed at Silver Gate Hostel for two nights, a simple hostel on the top floor of a building without elevators, which was right across from the entrance to Diocletian’s Palace. In my opinion, this was the best place to start my trip, as it’s a much smaller port and less touristy than Dubrovnik on the other end of the coast. Climb to the top of the bell tower for the best views in town.
Spend your days here walking the Riva, the main promenade in town, where you’ll find plenty of cafes with outdoor dining, shops and ice cream shops. After you’ve wandered the walls of Diocletian’s Palace, stop by the farmer’s market, which often sets up outside. If you have time, take a tour of the city, which can teach you about the food culture, history, and Game of Thrones landmarks. Stop by the konobas for a bite or grab a slice of pizza from one of the local shops.
There’s a surprising amount of nightlife in Split, which you can find on the Tower Pub Crawl. I might feel a little too old for these all-night drinking fests, but I sure enjoyed it at 22. It picks up at 9 pm in front of the Perstil tower. Over the course of a few hours, you’ll get all-you-can-drink beer for two hours at one bar, visit another and end the night at a massive beachfront nightclub.
This town is known for celebrity-spotting, as notable names like Beyonce and Jay Z have been seen here. It’s a beautiful place whether you see some or not. Start with a climb to the top of the hill to the Fortress for the best views at sunset. Then have a casual dinner in town to prepare yourself for a big night out. If you have extra time, visit one of the historic cathedrals and monasteries.
For its relatively small size, Hvar is a party town and comes to life when the sun goes down. Kiva Bar is odd, but fun, with a tree growing in the middle of it. Get the tequila boom boom shot, which is mixed against a helmet the drinker must wear on their head. Carpe Diem Beach Stipanska is another favorite, a day and night club for lounging off your hangover or partying all night.
The southernmost island you might visit is Mljet, home to a national park that makes up most of the land. The population is less than 2,000, so your dining options are limited to a handful of restaurants that may have seasonal hours. It also depends on where you dock, but I found a simple restaurant offering pizza in the Pomena area, a short walk from the entrance to the park. The area was discovered before 6 BC when Greco-Roman geographers arrived to survey the land. The national park includes two large saltwater lakes, one of which is pictured. This is the best island for getting active, whether that means laying out, swimming in the lake, hiking or biking around the island.
Large mountains crash into clear ocean in Makarska, a resort town with plenty of shops, restaurants and nightlife. Spend time at the rocky beach, pictured, which is the perfect place to cool off in the summer months. As with other towns on the coast, Makarska has historic churches and monasteries worth a visit. You’ll find more hotels here than elsewhere on the coast, with the exceptions being Split and Dubrovnik, so splurge on a nice place to stay and an authentic, local meal. End your night at Deep Makarska, a nightclub in a cave.
In the town that claims to be the home to Marco Polo, you’ll find the House of Marco Polo museum. There’s also a smaller Town Museum, which details the history of the city. There’s no shortage of konobas to enjoy in town. Catch the sunset at Cocktail Bar Massimo, a tower that you have to climb for views of the harbor and drinks delivered by pulley. Also, catch a performance of the famous moreska dance, made famous here, which involves swords and tells the story of battling Moors and Christians.
The town of Omis isn’t as touristy as many other parts of the Dalmatian Coast, which is a good thing. You get more of a local experience here. Start your stay by making the climb up to the Starigrad Fortica, a fort at the top of the mountain, which has the best views of town. PEOVICA fortress is closer to town if you don’t want to hike the entire way. The dining scene in Omis is fairly casual, so you’ll likely want to visit a pizzeria or konoba and have a few drinks before calling it a night, as there isn’t much nightlife to speak of.
Known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik is the most populated by tourists thanks to cruise passengers and other travelers. Here you’ll find your large chain hotels in addition to boutique hotels and guesthouses alongside top-notch restaurants. But there’s plenty to be seen here, especially thanks to the rise in tourism from Game of Thrones fans. Whether or not you’re a fan, commit to climbing the thousands of stairs at the
Whether or not you’re a fan, commit to climbing the thousands of stairs at the Dubrovnik City Walls for the best views and an understanding of what protected the city for so many years. And you never know what you might see! This area was used for the filming of King’s Landing on the show. Take the cable car to the top of the mountain for an unrivaled view before walking the smooth, stone pedestrian streets lined with shops and restaurants.
I had my favorite meal here, a simple seafood risotto, at a family-owned eatery. I also found Dubrovnik’s nightlife to be the most enjoyable of my trip. We started with late afternoon drinks (and a swim for some!) at Buza Bar, a bar and restaurant carved into the side of a cliff. Then move on to Gallerie Bar, a bar that sells cocktails in buckets with glow sticks. Just remember that you may need to take the bus from the dock to town and back so don’t imbibe too much.
What to Pack
If you’re visiting during the warmer months, which I recommend you do, be prepared for the heat. You won’t need much, as many of the towns are fairly casual, but it’s nice to dress up at least once on your trip. If you’re taking a sailing trip, remember that oftentimes boats moor by tying themselves together, so you’ll have to walk through one ship to get to another. This not only means that you’ll have to lug your bag that entire way, but also that you should lock up your valuables for this reason. I would recommend some comfortable sandals that can go from day to night, one pair of athletic shoes, two swimsuits and a few dresses, shorts, and shirts. Here’s what I packed for Croatia back in 2010, which was a trip paired with a mission trip in Thailand.
Have you been to Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast? What else would you suggest?