On the map, Croatia looks like just a little sliver across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, but in reality, its coast is pretty long while its capital, Zagreb, is far inland. After loving Dubrovnik last year on a short stop during a cruise, I knew I wanted to go back with more time to explore. My friend Laura was visiting from home and wanted to do a beach vacation somewhere. This was the perfect opportunity to return to Croatia. As much as I would have loved to tour the whole coast, we only had a week, so to be realistic, we spent about three days in Dubrovnik with a Bosnia and Herzegovina day trip built in and four days in Split. We preferred to have enough relaxing beach time rather than squeezing in another city.
We went at the end of June, and I must say the summer weather was perfect, albeit a little hot for us, but we spent plenty of time cooling off in the sea. It was hot and dry everyday, with highs between 90 and 95 degrees.
In Dubrovnik, we stayed in the City Walls Hostel, which had decent air conditioning and was one of the nicer hostels I’ve stayed in. It’s a very expensive city, so this was the best option for us. In Split, we stayed in a private room of an Airbnb apartment with a friendly old Croatian woman. We were happy with both accommodation options.
Day 1: Dubrovnik
We arrived just in time for dinner our first night, so I’m counting our first full day as Day 1. We woke up early to be the first ones on the city’s medieval walls, which circle the entire old town and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. This was my favorite part of our Dubrovnik visit last year, so we had to do it this time around as well—and I already knew that going in the morning was the best bet to avoid tourists and extreme heat! We were still sweating under the beating, 85-degree sun at 9 a.m., but I couldn’t imagine going in the afternoon. From every part of the wall we had panoramic views over the roofs of Dubrovnik’s old town. Game of Thrones fans should know the walls were used for some of the filming of the show.
We cooled off in the air conditioning of our hostel and changed into our beach clothes, then headed back out. We hopped on a quick boat ride from the old town port to the island of Lokrum, another spot known for Game of Thrones filming. They actually had a whole exhibit inside the old monastery showing the various locations used in Dubrovnik, and there was an Iron Throne replica for us to take a picture on.
Lokrum was a quiet haven from the tourist-filled streets of Dubrovnik. While there were still a lot of people on the island, everyone was more spread out. We were hot, so we went looking for a spot to swim and found the Lokrum Rocks and main beach (I’m sure this isn’t the official name but this is what it’s called on Google maps). While it’s not the most comfortable spot for sunbathing, and there’s no actual sand beach, the rocks were fun to walk on and explore. I was feeling adventurous so I joined the cliff jumpers hanging out here for a little adrenaline rush. I had always heard about cliff jumping in Croatia!
Then we walked around the island a little more. We saw baby peacocks, which I’ve never seen before, and after that I was happy enough to head back into town.
After a shower, we made it to the Lovrijenac Fortress, which was used as the Red Keep for Game of Thrones, just in time for sunset. We saw Old Town Dubrovnik glow in warm yellow hues during golden hour, so I highly recommend going at this time. Entrance is included in the ticket for the city walls, and it was empty because most people don’t know that or don’t bother going over.
Day 2: Day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina
Not only did I think Mostar looked like a super cool town, but I’m also a fan of adding new countries to my list of where I have been, so we took full advantage of Dubrovnik’s close proximity to Bosnia and Herzegovina and booked a day tour. While it involved a lot of time on the bus to deal with border crossings (Bosnia is not in the EU), it was definitely worth the trip!
Our first stop was the Kravica Waterfalls. There are a ton of different options for waterfalls in Croatia and this Balkan region, so we were happy to find a tour that included some. My complaint was that this was the first stop of the day so we didn’t want to swim and be wet on the bus; it would have been better as the last stop. Regardless, we dipped our feet in and the waterfalls were really beautiful, so I enjoyed this stop.
Next, we had a quick fifteen minutes or so in the town of Počitelj. There wasn’t much there except for a grueling climb up a million stairs in 90-plus-degree weather, but the mosque showed the influence of the Ottomans who once occupied the land and I appreciated the stone streets.
Our main stop of the day was in the town of Mostar. By the time we arrived at about 1 p.m., the temperature had reached its high of 96 degrees, and we were ready for lunch. We took the tour guide’s recommendation and ate a restaurant where I was able to get grilled calamari, one of my favorite kinds of seafood! We ate on a terrace outside with a view of Mostar’s iconic Stari Most, or Old Bridge.
I’m not even an architecture buff, but this bridge was super cool. Also side note, the stone paths of the bridge and Mostar streets were so slippery I almost fell multiple times—I didn’t get the memo I needed hiking boots for this town! After lunch, we walked around and took some pictures. There was a little beach below the bridge for a different perspective, and not to mention a place to cool off in the water. We ended our time in town with some gelato because what else can we do when it’s 96 degrees outside?!
Then we were headed back to Dubrovnik. This day tour required a lot of time on the bus, but I think it’s definitely worth it to have been able to explore a small part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Day 3: Dubrovnik to Split
There were two options for getting from Dubrovnik to Split: bus or ferry. They both took roughly four and a half hours, but the ferry was twice the price. However, we chose that route because then we wouldn’t have to worry about border traffic and the ferry would be much more comfortable. And it was! I think it’s a great mode of transportation, especially if you’re interested in seeing the islands like Brač or Hvar, as it stops at several along the way.
Our ferry wasn’t until 4 p.m. so we spent our morning and early afternoon at the beach. Banje Beach is just outside the old town walls and has an awesome view for anyone who decides to swim. They also have kayak rentals, which my sister and I did when we were there last year. The beach is rocky rather than sand, but we learned that that’s how just about all the beaches are in Croatia.
By the time we got to our Split Airbnb, it was almost 10 p.m., so we just picked up some pizzas nearby and had an early night.
Day 4: Split
Our first morning in Split, we had brunch and then we walked around the city and Diocletian’s Palace, which dates back to about the fourth century AD and takes up nearly half the old town. We stopped in the tourist office to get our lay of the land and decided we would see all the sights the next morning right when they opened. After a quick stroll through the fish market, we we were ready to head to the beach!
The tourist office recommended if we were down to go out of town a little bit, Kašjuni Beach was a nice place to go. A public bus goes there, but there is also Uber and it was fairly cheap, so we went that route. The beach was rocky as expected, but otherwise it was perfect. The water was crystal clear and there was a beach bar where we ordered lunch and cocktails. While it was still a bit crowded, it was much nicer than the city beach we went to the next day.
On the way back from the beach, we had the Uber drop us off at the Prva Vidilica Na Marjanu observation deck that the tourist office had recommended, but I must say the view of the city was slightly blocked by trees. From there it was just a 10-minute walk back into the city, where we stopped for a quick dinner and gelato before heading back to the Airbnb for the night.
Day 5: Split
We wanted to get to Diocletian’s Palace before all the tourists because this city was just as crowded as Dubrovnik. We stopped for a quick iced latte at one of Split’s many coffee shops, and then we headed to see the sights. A combined ticket got us into the cathedral, crypt and Jupiter’s temple for about $7. I was fairly underwhelmed honestly, so I think paying for a tour or doing a free walking tour that might be able to explain the significance of these small rooms would be worthwhile. I was fine with it though because it was really the only “cultural” thing we did in Split. The basements of the palace, another Game of Thrones filming location, were a separate ticket, but people had told us they weren’t worth it. Sounds like a general consensus that the palace is better with context. We also climbed a tower to a terrace that had a cool view, a good alternative to climbing the cathedral tower, which had a long line.
We walked around the streets of the old town and ate lunch before getting ready to—you guessed it—go to the beach! Instead of paying for an Uber, we walked to the city beach, called Bačvice. I don’t have much to say other than that it was unbelievably crowded, to the point where we found a spot to lay our towels down by sheer luck, and as a result, dirty, so we only stayed for about an hour. Kašjuni beach was definitely the way to go.
Day 6: Catamaran cruise of the islands
For our last full day in Split, we did a daylong catamaran cruise through the islands. We were trying to decide between this and speedboat tour that actually stopped at five islands, but we decided the catamaran would be more relaxing. We quickly made friends with some nice Canadian girls who we spent the day with. We sunbathed basically the whole time, cooling off by jumping off the boat into the water at the three different swim stops we made. We also got a one hour stop at Hvar. The old town was very beautiful and it was nice to see a different part of Croatia that wasn’t these major cities. The boat also provided lunch and had an open bar included in the price, so that was a plus! I highly recommend checking out Summer Blues if you’re ever in Split because this was my favorite day of the trip!
Day 7: Heading home from Split
Our flight wasn’t until the evening, so we went back to Kašjuni Beach with our new Canadian friends and one of my friends from college who happened to be in Split at the same time as us. We ate lunch there, had one last drink, and did one last cliff jump before going to the Airbnb to shower and get to the airport.
If you’re willing to endure the crowds in these cities, especially when there are multiple cruise ships docked at once, Dubrovnik and Split are both good options for summer travel! I’ve concluded that people who say Croatia is an up-and-coming destination are wrong, and that it is already incredibly, possibly excessively, popular, hence the large masses of tourists. But I had some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had overall on a trip, so please read my restaurant recommendations below, and Laura and I loved every second of our beach time.
Barba: delicious seafood burgers
Horizont: nice views as the sun sets
Konoba Jesuita: local food with a nice spot to eat outside
Marco Polo: best cuttlefish ink risotto
D16 Coffee: amazing coffee shop
Fig Split: brunch!!
Konoba Matejuška: good seafood, especially cuttlefish risotto
Luka Ice Cream & Cakes: creative ice cream flavors and other desserts
Superfood Healthy Food Factory: healthy options but also pizza and pasta
Toto’s Burger Bar: cheap, delicious burgers