After visiting Croatia in 2015 we loved it so much we knew a return visit was in our future; as we sat down to plan our 2019 travel schedule, it became clear we would need to find some non-Schengen countries so we would not overstay our visa, and Croatia was an obvious choice (the UK is also a non-Schengen country and I have numerous trip summaries if you’re interested).
On our first visit we started in Split and traveled south; this visit we would arrive in Split and travel north. We spent a total of 12 days and rented a car this time, so we were able to experience driving through the countryside (which was very easy, by the way), and had more freedom to explore.
We were really excited to return to Split. The first time we visited, we only spent a night in Split as a starting point on our trip to Hvar, and we realized we needed a few more days. This trip we booked a two-night stay at the Luxe Hotel and had an amazing time. With an extra day, we were able to take our time wandering around the Diocletian’s Palace, exploring the park and the dozens of small marble lanes that create the maze of the ancient site.
We took an afternoon to climb the top of the hill (near the zoo) for cocktails with a view at Caffe Vidilica. We got our steps in that day, but the rewarding view was worth the workout! We spent more than a few hours sitting at the many cafes along the Riva, watching the palm trees sway, the boats coming and going and the sun shining off the marble streets. We also took a long walk to Bacvice Beach and although we didn’t swim, we enjoyed watching the sunbathers from the Café Bar Zbirac.
We had two fabulous meals in Split, one at Bokeria Kitchen & Wine Bar and the other at Chops Grill & Seafood. We had eaten at Chops on our visit in 2015 and liked it so much we wanted to return. Our second visit did not disappoint.
When it was time to depart Split, we picked up our rental car to start our drive to our next destination, Zadar. When you rent a car in Croatia, you do not need an international drivers license (we have actually never needed one), but you will need to have your passport.
We arrived in Zadar for a three-night stay at an Airbnb near the green market, which is very central to everything. After dropping our luggage, we were excited to check out the town. Like Split, Zadar is covered in marble and the streets and walkways shine. We made our way down the wide Siroka ulica to the Roman Forum where you can pose for pictures amongst the ancient church and ruins.
Along the Riva there are numerous places to swim (be prepared to jump from the embankment or use the ladders), and at the end of the point you will find the Sea Organ creating its haunting music, and the Monument to the Sun. In the daylight, this monument looks like a giant solar panel, but at night it entertains passersby with a brilliant light show.
One morning we took at walk to Kolovare Beach, walking through the city Land Gate on our route. Be sure to stop to notice the winged lion of Venice carved in to its façade. There’s also a small marina here were you may be able to charter a boat for the day if you want to get out on the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic.
We were anxious to find a good beach for swimming and getting some sun, so we drove to some of the beaches close to Zadar in pursuit. Our first stops were at Nin and Queen’s Beach. There was plenty of parking, sand, cafes, and playgrounds, but also lots of people. If you’re looking for a quiet, secluded beach in Zadar, these won’t work for you. We ended up Borik Beach where we were able to rent chairs in a quiet spot and have a lazy afternoon soaking up the sun and sea.
Our next destination was Rovinj, but we decided to take a detour to Plitvice Lakes on the way. It was a little out of the way, but a must-see when in Croatia and we were glad we were able to fit it in the itinerary. If you desire a visit to Plitvice there are a few things to know. First, there are two entrances. Entrance one is more popular and has the more spectacular waterfalls and lakes. Entrance two is less crowded and should be easier to get tickets. The sights may be slightly less grand than at entrance one, but they are still breathtaking. Regardless which entrance you select, you can hike or take a boat to the other. As far as tickets go, book online in advance approximately two days ahead of your visit. Do not expect to buy tickets on site. It is not advised to wear flip flops or sandals because the walkways have wide open slots and it would be easy to lose a shoe. We opted for a two-hour walking path so we could arrive in Rovinj before dark. There are trails for every level, some up to 18 km so you can bite off just as much as you want. There is an electric bus at entrance two that allowed us to walk for 90 minutes and take the bus back to the entrance.
We arrived in Rovinj while it was still light and started the tedious task of finding our apartment rental office and a place to park our car. Rovinj is a pedestrian-only town (although there are some people with special permits to pass through the town for deliveries, etc.). If you have a car, the parking lots close to the marina cost €8/hour but we found a lot about .7 miles from the city center for €15/day. If you go this route, don’t buy a ticket at the parking machine. Instead, download an app called PayDo where you can register your vehicle, select the exact number of days you’ll need, and pay by credit card. The machine in the lot will only allow you to purchase parking up to 11:00 PM.
Rovinj is a dreamy place; it reminded us of somewhere in Italy, although we couldn’t say where. It’s small enough to walk end to end in an hour, but the alleys and backstreets will keep you pleasantly lost for days. We could barely turn a corner without having to stop and absorb what we were seeing. It’s so perfectly beautiful it looks like a movie set. One of the top sights for visitors is St. Euphemia’s Basilica. From there, take a side alley down to Monte Plaza where you can take a swim, or just find a café by the edge and watch the waves. We were here three days and never got tired of just walking and sightseeing. There is a thriving artist community here and a large outdoor market, so those in search of souvenirs will have a lot of unique options.
There is no shortage of great food and outdoor cafes in Rovinj and you will have your choice of Italian or Mediterranean cuisine. Our favorite meal was at Tipico Old Town where we enjoyed a mountain of delicious courses, including homemade pasta with walnuts, cheese and truffle, tender steaks, and our favorite, a cod pate that was so rich and creamy we could have eaten three portions!
Our final stop was Pula where we would be for four nights. Upon arrival we dropped off our rental car and proceeded to get acquainted with our home for the next few days. The first thing we noticed about Pula is that it’s much busier than Rovinj. There were lots of cars, buses and scooters, as well as a huge industrial shipyard. We made a visit to the imposing arena that crowns the edge of town and caps off the Old Town. If you’ve visited the colosseum in Rome, you may really appreciate this arena. It’s about the same age, and may not be as well preserved, but it’s much more accessible (and affordable) to explore.
After the arena, head south along the Kandlerova ulica to take in the Old Town. Here’s where you’ll find many restaurants and bars, as well as tourist shops selling souvenirs, honey, and wine. Find your way to the Temple of Augustus, which was built sometime between 27 BC and 14 AD. There is a large, sunny square here where you can stop to enjoy some refreshment. Further along the street you’ll walk under the Arch of the Sergii, a triumphal arch that commemorates three members of the Sergii family. The arch was constructed in 27 BC and has retained a remarkable amount of detail.
If mosaics interest you, there are some well preserved examples very close to the City of Graz Park. The Google Map directions seem to lead you to the back of a parking lot, and as wrong as it feels, that is exactly where the mosaics are located. There is no fee to view them (if you can find them!).
There are quite a few ancient churches in Pula; the monastery was very close to our apartment so we stopped in one morning (there is a small fee) and took a few photos of the nave. In the courtyard there are dozens of resident turtles being cared for so be on the lookout for them!
Before we departed Croatia we needed to dip in the ocean one last time, and found our way to Hawaii Beach. We took a taxi that dropped us near the Brioni Hotel, and took the walkway to the beach. There is a place to swim at Brioni, but it’s quite rocky. Hawaii Beach is closer to the Park Plaza. This is a pebble beach that was quite lively during our visit. After laying in the sun for about an hour, we moved to a flat rock that was much quieter.
Pula seems to have a shortage of good places to eat, but we found two places we liked: Jupiter Pizza and Konoba Boccaporta. Jupiter was down the street from our apartment and we ate there twice. In addition to great pizza, they also have big, fresh salads and nice gnocchi. At Konoba Boccaporta we stuffed ourselves with fresh seafood, homemade ravioli and the most amazing fresh baked bread.
The country of Croatia has once again captivated us and as we packed our suitcase to leave this sunny paradise, the thought on our mind was, next time we should stay for a month… a seaside cottage on the crystalline water sounds perfect to me!