The Best Time To Visit Croatia (& The Top Activities to Do!)

The Best Time To Visit Croatia (& The Top Activities to Do!)

Why visit Croatia?

A Crossroads Of Cultural Influences

Croatia is a cultural treasure where Central Europe and the Balkans meet. While the Croatians have inhabited the country for over 14 centuries, Western, Eastern, Mediterranean and Slavic influences have all shaped Croatia into the complex cultural tapestry it is today. The capital of Zagreb is located far inland while most of the tourist destinations are located by the coast. This city showcases slightly more modern architectural gems compared to the rest of the country with its 18th -19th century Austro-Hungarian buildings that are definitely worth a visit. But if you are curious what more is out there, let me introduce you to some of the other most notable historical sites in Croatia, most of them featuring places marked as UNESCO World Heritage!

The Dalmatian Coast

Dubrovnik is not only one of the most visited towns in Croatia, but also in the Mediterranean. Located in the far southern part of Dalmatia, excavations have uncovered an 8th century Byzantine basilica and even seem to point to settlements that predate the christian era. The old town has been declared a World Heritage site due to its pristine condition featuring treasures from between the 11th and 17th centuries from the city walls to baroque churches and palaces, renaissance fountains cobbled streets and marble squares. Split is the biggest city in Dalmatia and can be found around 6 hours north from Dubrovnik. Originally founded as a Greek colony, Split is home to the Diocletian’s Palace built for the Roman emperor in the 4th century. Split also shows Venetian and Slavic influences and features some stunning beaches. Trogir is less than an hour away and this whole town featuring Romanesque, medieval and baroque architecture, has been declared a World Heritage Site. The historical town of Zadar is located on the far northern tip of the Dalmatian coast. Here you can find an interesting mix between old and new with the Venetian and Roman ruins alongside the Monument to the Sun and the harmonious Sea Organ.

Stari Grad Plain

Around 50 kilometers off the coast of Split, you will find a more unique kind of cultural heritage that doesn’t show lavish palaces or ancient churches, but rather an agricultural landscape. Located on the island of Hvar, the plains were first developed by the ancient Greek colonists in the 4 Century BC and still remain in use today. Additionally, they are largely presented in its original form. This site has offered us a valuable insight into the agricultural activities of the ancients and shows sophisticated engineering in the use of gutters and storage cisterns for rainwater recovery. Hvar is also known as the most sunny part of Croatia with 2700 hours of sun recorded per year.

Istria County

The Istria County is located on Croatia’s west and is the most prominent Italian speaking area in the country. While Pore? is known as a highly developed destination with summer resorts, it also features the 6th Century Euphrasian Basilica which is most notable for its stunning Byzantine mosaics. A little further south on the coast, the charming Pula is mainly known for its 1st century Roman Arena that is still used for events today.

Diverse Natural Heritage

Croatia combines a fascinating history with being one of the most biologically intense destinations in Europe. Croatia’s bio-geographical qualities can be divided in 4 regions:
  • Mediterranean along the Adriatic coast – Identified by dry summers and mild winters.
  • Alpine in the regions of Gorski Kotar and Lika – Climate region above the tree line.
  • Pannonian in Danube and Drava – A grassland ecosystem as found in the Pannonia Basin.
  • Continental in the remaining areas, characterized by hot summers and cold winters.
While over 37,000 species have been recorded of which over 1000 are endemic, it is estimated that close to 100,000 inhabit the country. Croatia counts about 7000 caves and pits where a plethora of vertebrates have been discovered. 44% of its surface is covered by forests and 9% of the total land is protected, including 2 reserves, 8 national parks and 10 natural parks. The most famous and visited of these parks, is Plitvice Lakes National Park, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Some of the other most famous national parks include:
  • Krka National Park – Featuring the Krka river and swelling waterfalls.
  • Brijuni Islands National Park – Where beautiful scenery meets fascinating archaeological remains.
  • Mljet National Park – With white sandy beaches, lush green forests and pearly blue waters.
  • Risnjak National Park – Home to wild forests and rugged mountain ranges.
  • Paklenica National Park – With dramatic canyons cutting through a rich ecosystem.
  • Sjeverni Velebit National Park – The largest mountain range in Croatia.
  • Kornati National Park – A group of stunning islands perfect for the avid sailor.
  • Ucka Nature Park – Climb the 1401 peak for amazing views.
  • Biokovo Nature Park – A rocky landscape ideal for hikers with sweeping views of Adriatic Sea.

Best Time Of The Year To Visit Croatia

The Climate In Croatia

In Croatia, every season has its charm but there are some things you should be aware of. Firstly, Croatia’s geographical location means that you will experience a very different climate by the coast as you would inland. During the summer months, coastal temperatures can reach between 22 and 30 degrees Celsius and while it can get warm, it will be a rather dry heat. The winters can be relatively mild with temperatures that rarely go below zero degrees Celsius and are generally a couple of degrees above. The Dinaric Alps cut through the country and create a stark climatic division between the coast and the inland. Winters can get a lot colder and reach temperatures below freezing point. While the summers inland have been known to be a little bit colder than the coastal regions, heatwaves are becoming more common and the humidity levels are higher. Another distinctive quality that defines Croatia’s climate, is wind.

Croatia’s winds: a part of life and a part of legends

Croatia is known for two very different types of coastal winds that define its climate: Jugo and Bura. Jugo is a warm wind which blows from the sea to the land. It travels north all the way from Sahara. The Bura, on the other hand, is a dry and cold wind that travels from land to water and grows in power as it heads down the mountains before hitting the sea. Both winds have been known to reach hurricane speed. While the winds can be rather welcoming during the warmer months, they can be biting and unpleasant during winter. If you are a keen sailor, you should most definitely keep an eye on weather reports before heading out there. Bura has been known to strike rather unexpectedly at times and locals warn that if you see thin, white clouds forming over the mountains, it might be time to head to a place of safety since it might be a sign that Bura is approaching. With winds this fickle and powerful, you probably already guessed that several legends are tied to its force. Bura is mainly revered as a form of cleansing spirit that purifies the country itself as well as your mind, bringing cooling gusts of winds from the land and expelling all bad things into the ocean. Locals also believe that if Bura hits 3 times in March, the upcoming summer will be hot and stable. In fact, they have even developed a rather instinctive relationship with the Bura and if you are wondering if the current wind blowing is in fact the famous one, locals advise you to look up at the clothing-lines. If most of them are stocked with clothes, you can guess the Bura has arrived as Croatians love drying their clothes in the strong and especially clean Bura winds. Jugo, on the other hand has a less positive reputation. Since it comes from the sea, it is believed to bring unclean and alien things with it that settle on the lands, especially by the people of Dalmatia. The humid air that tends to be accompanied by dark clouds, is said to cause depression and melancholy. Stories are even told about people who have been acquitted for murder by blaming Jugo for their bad frame of mind.

Top Activities And Average Temperatures By Season

In general terms, the top months with a balance between mild temperatures and fewer crowds are May and June, and September and October. The months of July and August are considered the high season the busiest as well as the most expensive. The winter months can be a beautiful time to travel but keep in mind that some hotels in the more remote locations can be closed. The following table shows the average daytime temperatures in Celsius per month for some of the most popular destinations in Croatia. You will notice that although the temperatures drop significantly during winter, they almost never reach freezing point and snow is uncommonly rare at the coast.

Destination

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Zagreb

4

4

12

16

19

24

27

28

22

18

9

7

Dubrovnik

11

12

15

17

22

27

29

30

25

21

16

14

Split

11

12

14

18

24

28

31

31

25

21

15

12

Zadar

9

10

15

17

21

25

28

29

25

20

14

11

Porec

7

9

12

15

20

25

26

28

23

18

13

9

Pula

10

10

15

17

22

25

26

30

24

20

13

11

Spring (March – June)

  • International Documentary Film Festival in Zagreb (March)
  • Sailing and swimming (in May and June)
  • Dance week Festival in Zagreb (June)
  • Hiking
Spring is one of the best times to visit Croatia, especially during the months of May and June. The hoards of tourists won’t arrive until July and the weather is already pleasant enough for swimming and sailing. March and April is still rather chilly but you may be able to catch the sun at Hvar Island and the surrounding areas. If your trip is less about the beaches and more about the culture and experience of some unique events, this is a great time for you to travel to Croatia.

Summer (June – September)

  • Dubrovnik Summer Festival (July)
  • Split Summer Festival (July)
  • Full Moon Festival in Zadar (August)
  • Hiking

Summer is the busiest and most expensive time of the year. Croatia celebrates this rush of tourists by providing entertainment and offering a wide variety of activities and day-trips, especially during the months of July and August. In these months, Croatia also hosts various spectacular festivals like most other European countries. While the above mentioned festivals are the biggest ones around at this time, you can expect music and performances practically very evening during high season.

If you are traveling for a specific event or are just looking to enjoy long, hot days, summer will be a good time for you. However if you are looking to soak up some culture and visit some of the stunning national parks, it is better for you to travel in Spring or Autumn.

Autumn (September – December)

  • Varazdin Baroque Evenings (September)
  • Zagreb Film Festival (October)
  • Istrian Truffle Days (October)
  • Festival of animated film (November)
  • Hiking

September is another delicious month to travel with the warmth still in the air and the tourists on their way back home. Since summer has just ended, you will still be able to take advantage of the usual summer offers such as regular ferries to get around on the islands and organized day-trips. On some days, it is even still possible to head out for a swim.

Once October rears its head, be prepared for a country that is slowly settling into its everyday routine, including harvest season which is now in full swing. Tourism is no longer the number one concern and even ferries go on their winter schedule until the month of May. This makes October one of the more interesting months for those who travel independently, but not for those who enjoy organized tours.

From November, tourism hibernation will have settled in deeply around the country and culture holidays will be the number one trip to organize for you and your family. This is your chance to fully connect with the locals as they are, not with the show they put on during high season.

Winter (December – March)

  • February Carnival
  • Feast of St. Blaise in Dubrovnik (February)
  • Skiing and hiking
Perhaps you simply aren’t a beach person and you are not overly focused on catching those endless sunny days. Then I will tell you that traveling through Croatia in winter has its charm for sure. Croatia has some wonderfully atmospheric Christmas markets and it is even said that new year’s celebrations in Dubrovnik are the best in the Adriatic (I can’t confirm that yet though). The main attractions will be swarmed during the summer months, but almost completely abandoned during winter. I have put hiking as an option during every season because technically you can even during winter, it simply depends on what you are looking for. While the parks won’t all be an evergreen paradise and some of the higher peaks should be avoided, the frozen Plitvice lakes have an ethereal beauty about them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are some of your questions about Croatia left unanswered? Then this might help!

What is the food like in Croatia?

Food is a very important part of Croatian culture and just like the architecture, it shows a wide variety of influences. The northern regions will be more defined by Eastern European traditions and you will find rich foods containing root vegetables, meats and potatoes. The county of Istria is noted for its Italian influences and Dalmatia is strongly defined by seafood. When in Istria, try Istarski fuzi, a delicious pasta unique to the area. In Dalmatia, you might enjoy trying the Crni Rizot, a seafood risotto owing its black color to the ink of a squid used in the meal preparation.

Where are the Game of Thrones sets in Croatia?

If you are a Game of Thrones fan like me, you might have already heard that Croatia has been used as a set for several of the fantasy epic’s scenes. You can take a tour to visit all the locations or you can visit them independently. Here is a list of locations for you to scratch off your Game of Thrones bucket list: – The Kliss Fortress, located in the town of Kliss, has been used as the set for the City of Mereen. – Did you ever wonder where King’s Landing is located? It’s in Dubrovnik! These are the locations of Trsteno Arboretum, Fort Lovrijenac the Jesuit staircase descending from Gundulic? Square to St. Ignatius Church, the rupe ethnographic museum, Pile Gate and Pile Bay. But a view of the whole city will award you with instant flashbacks to the TV-show and you will see that only a couple of details have been added. – Lokrum Island is located just off the coast of Dubrovnik and has been used as a set for the city of Qarth. While King’s Landing will be recognizable in almost all of the above mentioned sites, CGI played a more important role here. Here, you can also take a photo while being seated on one of the iron thrones used during filming. – The basement of Diocletian’s Palace in Split is used as the dungeon where Daenerys kept her dragons and also featured as her throne room (with plenty of CGI magic added).

Do I need a visa to travel to Croatia?

If you are traveling from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, you only need a valid passport with which you can enter the country for 90 days. Croatia is part of the European union so as a European, you only need your ID. If you want more information on travel to Croatia, feel free to contact your embassy.

Is Croatia a safe place for tourists?

Crime rates are very low in Croatia and it is a wonderful country for solo travelers as well as families. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that if you are looking to travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations, you should refrain from straying away from the marked paths. There are still many landmines planted during the Balkan Wars that have not yet been accounted for.

How big is Croatia?

Compared to some of the major tourist destinations in Europe, Croatia’s size is rather modest with its 32,186 square kilometers (20,000 miles), but it more than makes up for it in the cultural and natural variety with which it can easily rival most European destinations.

What is the local currency in Croatia?

While part of the European Union, Croatia has maintained its own currency the Kuna. It is a good idea to have some at hand especially if you plan on visiting more remote places, but Credit Cards are also widely accepted in the touristy destinations.

How do I get around in Croatia?

While the train network is very limited, Croatia does have excellent bus connections, daily flights and ferry networks (keep in mind the ferries go on winter schedule between the months of October and May). Ferries are usually the only way to get to the islands and they will be packed during the summer months. Always arrive around 2 hours before departure. The roads are in excellent condition and taking the bus as well as driving will be very easy. Buses in Croatia are pretty affordable though not exactly cheap. You can book your tickets online via GetByBus where you can also consult the schedules (these are also posted in Zagreb station). The bus is the cheaper option if you are a solo traveler or a couple, but if you are traveling with a group or a family, renting a car is your best bet. Buses will also be less frequent around the islands and Istria.

Is Croatia expensive?

For years Croatia has been dubbed the place to be on a budget. Naturally, this lured more and more people to this stunning country and has caused prices to go up. That being said, traveling to Croatia is still pretty affordable. Other than the capital and 5-star resorts, accommodation price depend on which season you choose to travel. So if you are looking to save some money, try to avoid traveling during the summer months. For example, in high season you can expect to pay around 50 USD per night for a 2-star hotel (double that for 3 stars). If you travel during off-season, these prices will drop up to an incredible 40 %. Meals in a mid-range restaurant will cost you around 15 USD per person, but you can save quite a bit of money by shopping in supermarkets and weekly markets.

The Best Time To Travel To Croatia – Final Thoughts

Your perfect trip starts with one question: “What do I want to experience?” While the summer months will give you endless entertainment, sunny days and every possible tour within your grasp, you will also have to deal with the price increase and crowds. If the bustle, sun and ready-made trips is what you are after, the summer months will be a good choice for you. For those who are looking for a balance between sun and some quiet, but still want to go on tours, the months of June and September should top the list. However, if you prefer to have a more authentic experience with the locals, do not need a beach holiday and want to escape the crowds at all costs, consider the other months on the list. You will have to take more responsibility and more planning will be needed, but your experience will likely be all the more rich because of it. Further read:

Mieke Leenders

Mieke is a writer and traveler from Belgium. After obtaining her master’s degree in art history, she spent several years working as a freelance writer, project worker, animal volunteer and hotel shift-leader. After she saved enough money, she quit her job and decided to travel through Asia and Latin America. While she was working as an assistant teacher in Costa Rica, she met her favorite student and now husband during an English conversation class. Mieke is currently residing in Costa Rica where she reconnected with her love for writing and is eagerly planning her next adventure.
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