You’ve got two weeks free in June / July and fancy a budget(ish) trip around Europe. Where do you go? It’s seems that we’re almost spoilt for choice with cheap flights from the UK but one destination that kept being mentioned (and raved about!) was Croatia. A quick check on skyscanner and I soon realised that there are lots of cheap options from Manchester to a number of different Croatian cities.
So that was it. I booked a last minute one way flight from Manchester to Dubronvik with Monarch (£79.50 including all baggage/fees) and 2 nights accommodation in a small, family run hostel within the city walls.
After the 2.5 hour flight I landed into Dubrovnik and stepped onto the tarmac just in time to watch a beautiful sunset – not a bad start!
From there it was a 40 minute shuttle bus (which cost 40 Kuna – less than £5) into the heart of Dubrovnik. After reading up a little about the city and watching Game of Thrones (which is partially filmed there) I was excited to get inside the city walls and they didn’t disappoint – Dubrovnik is stunning!!
I stayed at Hostel Ana, which is a small (pretty basic) family run hostel ideally located just off the main street (the Stradun) in the Old Town and run by Ana and her son, who are so helpful and always want to make sure that you are having the best time (they will probably bring out the Rakia from the freezer if you’re not!) – as a solo traveller it’s nice to have the option to get involved!
On my first morning I opted to make the walk up to Fort Imperial at the top of Mount Srd early the next morning (before the heat really kicked it – it is typically 30+ degrees in July – you can take the cable car if you don’t fancy the walk) and the views were breathtaking!! The mountain was home to one of the fiercest battles of the Independence War and there’s plenty of photographs documenting this time. From the top you can see across Dubrovnik where the shelling took place in the early 90s and repairs have been made to the buildings and rooftops.
My afternoon was spent over on Lokrum Island, 20 minutes or so from the city by boat. The little island is a nature reserve and a mini ‘Dead Sea’ to float around in.
In terms of food and drink, there are so many options in the city including Nitsha, which had a completely vegan menu! I almost extended my stay just so that I could eat there again!
Dubrovnik is bustling with tourism, largely as a result of huge cruise ships but there’s so many little backstreets where you can disappear for a bite to eat with lots of family run restaurants and bars. Equally, there’s also a few nightclubs for those that want to party the night away in a typically European style (which I may have done on my second night!)!
After walking the walls the following morning (highly recommended but go early or late due to the heat) I caught the bus to Split, which is 4 hours north. Another option is to take a ferry to Hvar for a few nights and then move on to Split but the buses are really cheap and some of the best buses I have travelled on (reclining seats, air con and wifi!).
I’m told that Split used to be more of a pass through city for tourists, which has become really popular over the last few years with a fabulous party scene developing (I know you can find Aussie backpackers everywhere but they are in Split in significant numbers!).
I stayed at the Outlanders Tribe Hostel, which is a little walk out of the city, but has large bunks, secure lockers and a good mixture of travellers passing though at all times, which makes it a great option to stay. It’s also pretty close to the ‘nice’ beach (the one SW of the city isn’t recommended) if you want to top up the tan.
I booked a river tour (rafting, canyoning, caving & cliff jumping) with Jure (aka George) at Dalmatia Gateway (https://www.omis.holiday) on the Cetina river, a 40 minute drive from Split. The rapids are only grade 3 but the owner, Jure, is a super host and will guarantee that you will have a brilliant day on the water, whilst filming all the action on a GoPro. There’s lots of tours on the river but if you’re looking for a personal option Jure is your man!
From Split I took a very bumpy (!) catamaran over to Hvar (a weird storm had blown over with high winds – there was sick bags everywhere….grim!) and headed over to my hostel, Earthers, which is superbly run by an Aussie and Croat. There’s a mixture of private/shared dorm rooms and the whole atmosphere is perfect. I highly recommend staying there!
Top tip – however long you want to stay in Hvar for, add another night! Trust me, you’ll end up extending if you don’t!
Hvar might be a little island, but it has a big reputation for partying – I was there for yacht week so the nightlife was lively (that’s a understatement!) but the island offers so much more than that. In the day there’s a chilled vibe, options for boat trips (to other islands), moped tours and or just lazy days on the beaches (FYI – the beaches in Croatia are almost all stone beaches with not a speck of sand to be found but it’s actually quite nice to not have sand everywhere at the end of a beach day!!)
On the island there are a few vegetarian/vegan options. My favourite was without a doubt Fig Cafe Bar , the food and wine was delicious! Hula hula is a great option for sundown, then back into town to Kiva before heading over to Carpe Diem (an open air nightclub on its own island – 150kn/£18 entry before 1am with a return boat transfer included) until sunrise. I end up there twice and had so much fun!!
Another city, another coach ride up North. After partying so much I slept the entire way but I’m told that the view are gorgeous along the coastline!
I opted to stay at the Lazy Monkey Hostel (sister to the Drunken Monkey Hostel 5 minutes away). The 30 minute walk into the old city along the coastline was just perfect. It was early evening and packed with Croatian families diving into the crystal clear water. I got to the old town just in time for sunset and headed straight to the famous Sea Organ, which plays music from the movement of the tide against the sea wall and the Sun Salutation, which is a 22m wide section of solar powered glass plates, which produce a light display from sunset to sunrise!
Zadar is certainly more cosmopolitan with its cafes and restaurants but there are also the Roman ruins, medieval churches and museums for the culture vultures out there.
From Zadar, both the Plitvice Lakes National Park (1 hour 20 each way) and Krka National Park (1 hour) are easily accessible. Plitvice is without a doubt the most beautiful and requires a full day to explore. However, you can’t swim in the waterfalls. On the other hand, you can swim at Krka, but it’s much smaller. I opted for Plitvice and was wowed by its beauty. The Park was busy and is now Croatia’s top attraction with 2 million visitors a year. I would highly recommend visiting in September when it is less crowded and taking 2 days to explore (there are hotels just outside the Park). The waterfalls are stunning – if you want to avoid the crowds, you can opt to walk a single track around the main lake instead of queuing for the boat!
Another 3 hours north, Rijeka is a quite an industrial town, with lots of shopping! There’s a collection of 6 small (but gorgeous) beaches about a 40 minute walk out of the city, which is right near hostel Dharma. I desperately wanted to stay there but it was full. They have free yoga classes twice a day and veggie breakfast for guests! Next time I’m booked early! However, all was not lost. I ended up staying at Hostel NW which was more like a boutique hotel! The bunk beds were huge, with a large back privacy curtain, interior bedside lamps and excellent wifi! I happily took myself off to bed early for a Netflix binge and a 10 hour sleep. It was absolute heaven!
Rovinj was the most picturesque town that I visited on my trip and had the most Italian influence. I highly recommend a visit, however, skip the Roundabout hostel (the only hostel in the town) – it’s a fair walk out of town and was pretty bad! Thankfully the town made up for the accommodation! For food try Snack Bar Rio – don’t be deceived by the world snack bar, it’s more like high end fine dining with excellent wines and service. Make sure you also stop for a G&T at Mediterraneo Bar (aka the secret escape), with its quirky seating and cushions on the side of a cliff.
North Istria / Oprtalj
When your friend’s friends (thank you Jonny and Lisa!!) have recently moved to Croatia, you’ve just got to make a effort to check out their 200 year old converted barn. It turned out that very little effort was required on my part and I was chauffeured around, wined and dined by my fantastic hosts, Helen and Pete – thank you both so so much for everything! I even had a little hug from their 79 year old neighbour, Ferrugio, who brought me some onions from his field next door! The perfect end to a fabulous trip!
My thoughts on Croatia:
This was my first proper trip away as a solo backpacker (before I embark on a much bigger trip at the end of the year! Yay!) and I couldn’t have picked a safer, friendlier place. There’s lots of options for accommodation and it’s clear that Croatia is on the hot list for many young European, American and Australian travellers, but it’s easy to avoid the crowds. The North is beautiful with lots of Italian influences (in Oprtali the locals all spoke Italian!) – I could have easily spent another 2 weeks there!
Looking back at my pictures, it’s weird comparing them to other trips, particularly India, where people have been the main focus of my images. In Croatia it was all about buildings and landscapes (with a few terrible selfies), which were stunning, but I think it mostly had to do with the number of tourists (maybe also the nightlife! Whoops, I did have a lot of fun though!). I much prefer to disappear amongst locals with my camera, which was impossible to do in peak tourist season! My top tip would be to visit in September time, when it is still hot and less crowded.
Here’s a few images from my trip, all shot on my little Fuji X100T (fixed 35mm lens mirrorless camera):