Ever since I'd seen a picture of Plitvice Lakes on Instagram, I knew I wanted to be there. Even if it meant it a 2 hour journey from Zagreb (each way), I didn't wanna miss it. The question was - how do we go there? There were a number of guided tours on the internet and they were expensive. I was pretty sure that this was definitely something we could do ourselves.
We looked up on BusCroatia.com and saw are a number of buses going to Plitvice Lakes. We ended up booking a return trip on one of those. This was way cheaper than a guided tour. We gave ourselves about 5 hours at the park. Unless you wanna hike, 5 hours is pretty decent to see a bit of both the upper and lower lakes.
The bus dropped us near the entrance of the lower park. After we bought our tickets, we hopped on a boat that took us to the starting point of the lower lakes.
Even though we reached there early, the park wasn't all that empty, however, we did get a few secluded spots. The water at Plitvice Lakes is just so green and clear. It was like a dream. Whichever direction we walked, we saw something beautiful - little waterfalls, wooden paths, turquoise ponds, etc. It was hard to believe that a place like this actually existed!
After walking around for nearly 2 hours, we decided to head to the upper lakes. There was a particular picture of Plitvice Lakes that I'd seen on the internet (which I hadn't see at the lower lakes) and I was determined to find it. I was hoping I'd find it at the upper lakes. We boarded a bus at the exit of the lower lakes which took us to the entrance of the upper lakes. As most of my group mates were pretty exhausted by then, they just did a bit of the upper lake before giving up. However, I walked a bit further and witnessed some incredible sights.
The upper and lower lakes actually consist of a number of lakes, and people spend 2 days hiking and exploring all of it. It all depends on personal interest. The main difference in both the lakes is that in the lower lakes - you are kinda on the ground level looking up or looking at things that are at ground level. Whereas, for the upper lakes, you're looking down at everything.
After we were done, we had lunch at a restaurant in the park but the burger was so dry! I wouldn't recommend it unless you're really hungry. Plitvice Lakes is totally gorgeous and a must visit when you are in Croatia.
Zagreb was the last leg of our Croatian journey, and it was only included in our itinerary because we had to catch a flight back home from there. After visiting Zagreb, I completely regretted not spending more days here. It also made me realize that I am a "city girl" and not a "beach girl". It was typical European city, and it was cold ... like really cold! Basically, we had to change our entire wardrobe! We tried to squeeze in as much as we could in 2 days.
We stayed at the Hilton Zagreb which had a beautiful view of the city and was pretty close to a tram stop. Even if we decided to walk, the centre wasn't too far away (about 10 minutes or so). Being a lazy lot, we bought tram day tickets to get around. Since none of us were the normal "museum" kinda people, we decided to explore some quirky museums in the city as well as cafes, churches and markets.
The first museum that we visited was the "Museum of Broken Relationships". As weird as it sounds, thats what the museum was all about. In this museum, you'll find artifacts submitted by men/women who's relationship didnt turn out ... well, as well as the story behind it. It might sound sad, however, its quite amusing too.
The other museum that we visited was the "Museum of Illusions". If you have already visited the Trick Eye Museum anywhere in the world, I wouldn't recommend visiting it. The artifacts are comparatively less as compared to Trick Eye. Of course, if you still want to have some fun, you can visit.
Zagreb is divided into 2 parts - "Upper Town" and "Lower Town". We took the funicular to the upper down (coz we didn't have all the energy to walk up the slopes). With our tram day ticket, the funicular ride was free. This funicular also happens to be the shortest one in the world. Once we reached the top, we had a beautiful view of Zagreb. The Upper Town also happens to be comparatively quieter than Lower Town.
Zagreb has an amazing cafe culture and we loved exploring cafes and restaurants. Two cafes that we highly recommend visiting are - Kava Tava and Johann Franch. Kava's Tava's stacked nutella pancakes is da bomb! Make sure you go there on on empty stomach.
Johan Franck serves amazing breakfast. We enjoyed a breakfast plate for two! 3 of us could have easily shared it! Talk about huge portions! The interior of this restaurant will surprise you.
We would also recommend visiting Restoran Lanterna na Dolcu for amazing food and a unique dining experience (inside a cave!).
Since we were there over a weekend, we got to see some outdoor markets. At these markets, they sell everything from fruits to handicrafts, homemade cheese to cured meats .. and much more. We sampled homemade Croatian cheese and it was really good!
We visited only two churches in Zagreb. One of them was the Church of St. Mark. More than the interior. it was the rooftop that impressed us. We saw quite a few people get married in there.
The other was the Zagreb Cathedral - a 13th century cathedral with a Gothic interior.
Don't forget to visit the chapel at the Gradec Stone Gate! This tiny chapel is located where you least expect it!
The highlight of our trip was a visit to Mirogoj Cemetry. This place looked more like a palace than a cemetery with ferns all over. It is considered as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe, and once you visit you'll see why. Many famous Croatians are said to have been buried here.
When you ask someone about the best places to visit in Croatia, you may often hear them say "Go to Zagreb, Split or Dubrovnik" ... but how often do people tell you to visit Pula or Rovinj ... or anywhere is Istria? To be honest, I didn't know this part of Croatia even existed, until I did a little research. Although, I have to admit, the main reason for visiting Istria was the truffles! Istria (or the Croatian Pensinsula) is a well know producer of truffles! We spent 2 days in this region.
We decided to stay in Pula, at the Park Plaza Arena Pula, mainly because the airport was based there & because we wanted to collect points. Although, it turned out to be quite an awesome hotel ... with a private beach. This hotel just was a 10 minute ride away from the centre. We opted to use the bus, that stopped 7 minutes outside the hotel to get around.
Pula is mainly popular for 3 things:
Arco dei Sergi - An ancient Roman arch located in downtown Pula, which serves as a reminder of Pula's past.
Temple of Augustus - Another well preserved Roman structure with long columns. Unfortunately, we didn't go inside. It was supposedly built between 2 BC and AD 14.
Pula Arena - The most popular monument in Pula, built in the 1st century. To appreciate its beauty, you need to visit the arena both during day and night. It kinda resembles the Colosseum in Rome ... although I haven't visited that one yet. Once a battlefield for gladiator fights, this arena is now used for operas, concerts, sports, etc.
The city centre lies on a straight road filled with shops and restaurants on either side. We walked along and stopped at restaurants for gelato and truffle dishes.
Because there wasn't much to do within Pula itself, we decided to explore a neighbouring town and village the following day. If you are spending more time in Istria, there are a lot of little villages that you can visit. And if you're a big group, I suggest hiring a private vehicle. We were lucky because we got an excellent driver to drop us to the hotel the previous day, and ended up hiring him to take us around Motovun and Rovinj. Even more lucky, because he looked like Adam Levine!
Road-tripping to Motovun & Rovinj
Motovun is a small village situated on a hilltop, located an hour away from Pula.
It also happens to be the HOME of truffles ... so if you want to buy or try anything truffle, this is the place. People go truffle hunting here! The village itself in small, however, the hilly terrain makes it difficult to walk. Cars are only allowed until a certain point. We stopped by various truffle shops picking up truffle paste, truffle oil and even truffle alcohol!
Everything about Motovun was picturesque - the buildings, shops, etc. Even the view from Motovun wasn't too shabby!
I even saw the prettiest outdoor vegetable shop overlooking a green valley.
A 50-minute roadtrip from Motovun brought us to Rovinj ... a fishing town situated on the sea. They say that, on a clear day you can see Venice from Rovinj. Some folks even do a daytrip(by boat) from here. We didn't see Venice nor do a day trip, instead we spent our entire time wandering around the beautiful old town.
First, we visited an outdoor market in Rovinj. I was surprised to see the way they hung chillis!
Just like Motovun, Rovinj isn't a very easy place to walk around because of its cobblestone roads and slopes. However, that didn't stop us from exploring it. There was prettiness almost everywhere! When you are in Rovinj, don't forget to look up!
Clearly, 2 hours isn't enough to see everything. That's why some people prefer to stay here. Since we had only 2 days in Istria, we could only manage a day trip. Rovinj also happens to be very touristy.
We visited Saint Euphemia Cathedral, the building with the striking tower that can be seen from anywhere in Rovinj. I assumed that this church was situated at the highest post in this town. It also had a nice view of the sea.
We spent the next few hours eating Istrian food, listening to live music and admiring this beautiful town.
When I say the word "Dubrovnik", the first thing that comes to people's minds are "Game of Thrones" or "Star Wars" and all the related stuff. I on the other don't have clue about "Game of Thrones" nor have I watched Star Wars! I was there in Dubrovnik because it looked good in pictures! We had a 4 hour bus journey from Split which passes through Neum Corridor (a part of Bosnia that spans upto 20km) until we were in Croatia again. Weird but true ... if you're travelling by land, you have to pass through Bosnia when you're travelling from Split to Dubrovnik of vice versa. Or else, take a boat!
Let me warn you, if you have health issues or are unable to climb slopes, forget about the apartments with a view and stay close to the Old Town. Being a young & fit couple even we had trouble walking to our apartment (slopes and 150 stairs guys!). And thats not it ... we were stayin in a penthouse which was another 50 stairs. By the time we stepped into our apartment, we we exhausted! And anthing thing - never opt for penthouses in summer! In our apartment, only the living room had AC and we had to literally carry the mattress from the bedroom to sleep there. Tough life but we survived! Otherwise, the apartment was very good and so were our hosts. We stayed at Villa Kala Apartments.
We spent 3 days in Dubrovnik and did a couple of day trips as well. I'm gonna let you know all about it here.
1) Things to do within Dubrovnik
There are not many things you can do within Dubrovnik itself. Basically, we wandered within the Old Town Walls looking up at ruined buildings and churches whilst enjoying some gelato (which btw its more expensive here than anywhere else in Croatia). There are a number of restaurants hidden in alleys where you can enjoy good food. Beware of the restaurants that have a cover charge.
Another thing we did was take the cable car right to the top of Mount Srdj. We enjoy a marvelous view of The Pearl of the Adriatic Sea from a totally different angle. There's a lovely cafe on top as well.
There are a couple of walking tours that you can do as well like the Old City Walls Walk or a visit to the Lovrijenac Fortress. We did the latter. Apparently, Lovrijenac Fortress was one of the filming location of Game of Thrones. Oh well.... I went there to get a feel of history and enjoy some views of the Adriatic Sea and the City Walls.
We also had a peek of the beautiful Banje beach.
2) Visit a neighbouring town
We spend half a day at Cavtat, which was just a 45 minute bus ride from Dubrovnik. Make sure you sit on the right side of the bus while going to Cavtat or on the left while returning for a nice view of the coast.
We strolled around the town (which is very small btw) stopping at restaurants, photogenic alleys, a church and a beach. (P.S. The ice cream is so much more cheaper here than in Dubrovnik!)
3) Visit a neighbouring country
Although this wasn't in the agenda till until a day before, we ultimately ended up going to Montenegro. My suggestion would be to book a day trip in Dubrovnik itself and see which travel agent gives you the best rate. Since there were 6 of us, we actually had the whole vehicle to ourselves.
The Montenegro border is just an hour away from Dubrovnik, so hey, who not see another country? I am in no position to give a lot of details on Montenegro, because, well this was a day trip and we barely spent 1.5 hour is each place .... you could say that we lightly brushed on it! But yes, I will be going to Montenegro ago this year and seeing it properly.
We visited Kotor Old Town which was mainly like any Old Town in Croatia, except for the fact that they used Euros instead of Kuna and speak a different language. Sadly, we didnt have enough time to climb the Castle of St. John.
We also visited Tivat, where we stopped at an amazing seafood restaurant for lunch. Our driver/guide then took out around the Old Town which barely took 15 minutes. Basically, we spent about 5 hours in Montenegro itself before heading back to Dubrovnik.
If you want to add more to the list above and maybe replace it with something else, you could visit one of the neighboring islands in Dubrovnik like Lokrum, The Elafiti Islands, Mljet, Korcula, etc. We skipped this as we we'd already done island hopping in Split.
Obviously, there are more than just two day trips that you can do from Split, however. since we were there for a short period I had to choose carefully. We decided that one would be an island trip and the other a city trip.
Blue Cave, Vis & Hvar Island Tour
After doing a lot of research on the best tour companies, we decided to go with Pelican Tours. They seemed reasonably priced and the itinerary looked good (not cluttered) The more islands you visit, the more rushed you'll feel. So, the lesser the better. In our case, we would be visiting Blue Cave, Green Cave, Stiniva Bay, Budikovac, Palmizana and Hvar.
We had a little boat which carried about 15 people (including 2 skippers). I cannot say that the seats were very comfortable. Lets say that, if you're a bit bulky ... you might not fit onto the ones in the middle. Other than that, it was okay. The boat doesn't have a roof, but we were okay with it.
The main reason for booking this trip was because we wanted to visit the Blue Cave. Unfortunately, we couldn't! The tide was high and the boat just wouldn't enter the cave. You can imagine how disappointed we were. By the way, it was a 1.5 hour journey to get to the Blue Cave from Split!
Instead we were taken to a nearby island called Komiza. There's nothing much to do on this island, except for strolling around. Make sure you visit Fisherman's Museum for a view of the island.
The Green Cave wasn't as fancy as the Blue Cave (according to me). There's an opening on the top of the cave with light peeping through. Our boat took us in from one side and got us out from the other. Also, you'll see a bunch of people cliff diving.
If you're a good swimmer, the boat stops near Stiniva Bay (a bit away) and you can either dive into the caves or visit the island. We were on the boat because we didn't know how to swim!
Budikovac was my favourite part of this trip. Before we could get off the boat, our skipper told us that there was only one restaurant and one house on the island, and that we should beware of the grumpy owner! So, we tried to keep out distance. The water on this island was amazing! A tip - walk across to the other side of the island.
We stopped at Palmizana for lunch and wine. We had to pay for lunch, however the wine was complimentary with our tour package. There's a beautiful beach on this island as well, however, it was packed. And obviously, we were full!
The last island we visited was Hvar. Some people prefer to stay in Hvar, other than in Split. But I'm glad we chose to stay in Split ... as Hvar seemed a bit expensive. Hvar is filled with many cafes and restaurants and provides excellent photo opportunities. We got lost in those alleys. It is also popular for its lavender fields, which can be visited during the summer season. If you want to buy lavender, buy it at one of the kiosks located away from where the boat docks.
By 6pm, we were back in Split.
Trogir is located about 45 minutes away from Split. If you've managed to cover most of Split and wanna do a short day trip ... Trogir is is good option. We caught a bus from Split main bus station.
Trogir is a historic town connected to the mainland and the island of Čiovo by bridges. Its charming old town is filled with cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, monuments and old churches.
We had lunch at one of the restaurants located on the waterfront. There's a fort here as well. We spent a total of 2 hours in Trogir.
Getting to Split :
Throughout our Croatian journey, we used the bus to get around, and the journey from Zadar to Split was no exception. You do not really have a choice to take a flight because there isn't one, however, the journey takes only 2 hours or so & there's wi-fi onboard (YAY!). We booked our ticket from the Bus Croatia website well in advance. I do think its possible to book it on the spot as well.
Where we stayed :
It was tough deciding where it stay - Split or Hvar, however, Split won. We decided that we'll stay somewhere on the mainland and do day trips to the neighboring islands & cities. We stayed at Apartments Lili's Place which was just a 10 minute walk away from the the centre. We realized how difficult it was to walk only when we started pulling out bags towards our apartment. Split in full of steep slopes, and our apartment was right on top.
We stayed in a studio apartment on the ground floor of a two storey brick building. I couldn't get over how cute the building was! If you want to feel like a local, this is the perfect place. The owner kept fruits, wine and water for us at no extra cost. The bathroom was a bit tiny but it was okay for 3 days. He gave us suggestions about what we could do in and around Split.
What we saw :
The main attractions in Split were within walking distance from our apartment ... so you definitely don't need fa car to get around. There are not many things to see within Split itself, so we did a couple of day trips we well (will let you know more in a separate post).
For starters, we had the closest access to the viewpoint, i.e Marjan Hill. Although it seemed close, the slopes made it a little tough to reach there without panting. Atleast we were free from our bags. Even from the lowest point of the viewpoint, we did manage to get a nice view of Split. If you're more adventurous, you can walk up further.
The rest of the places are within the Old Town ... where we spent most of our time (besides the day trips). The first place we visited was the Peristyle at Diocletian Palace. There's a restaurant right in front of it called "LUXOR". They place cushions on this Roman structure and you can dine there.
Everything here revolves around Diocletian's Palace, which is a 4th century Roman palace. You'll see a lot of Roman ruins in this area. We didn't get into much details about the history of the place.
You can even click a picture with these two Roman soldiers ... just like how we did. They're just outside Luxor.
We also visited the Crypt (chapel of St. Lucia) and the Cathedral of St. Dominius. The crypt is located just below the cathedral and is dedicated to the martyr St Lucia.
The cathedral on the other hand is tiny, however, the interior is quite pretty. You'd have to pay a fee to enter into both these places.
Another thing to check out is the Vestibule at Diocletian;s Palace. In the past, this area was used to enter the residential part of the palace. Now, you will see Capella singers performing.
Just below the palace are the Cellars. I might have totally missed it had I not paid attention. I do not know the history behind this place, however now, there are a number of souvenir shops. I didn't buy anything though, just admired the design.
One thing that no visitor would miss out in Split is the Riva, which is basically a seaside promenade with a number of beautiful restaurants and cafes. My favorite one was "Bobis", one of the local cafes that serves nice hot chocolate and pastries.
Besides the restaurants on the promenade, there's plenty of places to eat within the Old Town & outside. Another place that I'd recommend is "Matoni". Make sure you reserve a table in advance. They're food is amazing!
If you've not booked your island trips, there are a few kiosks on the Riva where you can book them from. You could go around & compare prices.
That's what we did in Split basically for 3 days. Most of the time, we wandered around the Riva & Old Town trying out different restaurants and bars and photographing old buildings.
When I told people that I would be visiting Croatia, I heard stuff like - "Where's that?" I had to actually open a map and point it out for them and tell them about former Yugoslavia. The rest of people who did know where Croatia was, exclaimed "Don't go to Zadar, its boring". Apparently, they've been to the other popular beachy parts of Croatia like Split, Dubrovnik, etc.
If you know me, you know very well that I wont listen to anyone. I'll research about a place and even if I like one thing it it, WE ARE GOING! So yes, we were going to Croatia & Zadar would be a part of it! This city was the start of our great Croatian adventure.
Getting to the city from Zadar airport:
Here's how the entire trip started - we landed in Zagreb, then took a domestic flight from Zagreb to Zadar. Our international flight was from Abu Dhabi to Zagreb via Belgrade, so you can imagine that amount of travel in those 24 hours. Once we reached Zadar, we took the airport bus to reach the city. Its probably the cheapest way (25 Kuna) to get to the city & takes almost the same time as a taxi. Our accommodation was located within old town & the bus stopped just 5 minutes away from Old Town.
Where we stayed
We stayed at Apartments Blue Ivy - a 1BR apartment owned by a lovely lady. It was clean and tastefully designed. The only problem was the walk upto the apartment. There were no elevators, so poor Mr. D had the painstaking task of carrying 2 suitcases up & down. I wouldn't recommend it for older people or people with health issues. Otherwise, it was perfect and right in the centre of Old Town. Our host was very helpful too in guiding us through the popluar attractions in Zadar.
What to see ...
The good thing about Zadar is that, all the attractions are within walking distance to each other. Remember me telling you at the start of this post, that it just takes one thing to catch my attention before visiting a place? Well, in Zadar it was the Sea Organ.
Sea Organ - The Sea Organ in Zadar operates like a normal organ, and is one of the most spectacular thing I've seen in my life. There are stairs with holes in them, and when the waves crash through them, they make sweet music. Its unlike anything I've ever seen.
Sun Salutation - Right next to the Sea Organ is this huge circle with lights on the ground. My suggestion is to come here just before sunset. The sunset in Zadar in considered to be one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. What basically happens here is the lights on the ground harness the sun's rays & put up a show at night. Its an amazing sight.
Church of St Donatus & Zadar Cathedral - We saw a 15th century church called the Church of St. Donatus from the outside, as they had an exhibition going on, however, we visited the bell tower of St Anastasia Church (Zadar Cathedral) which was next to it. The stairs are very narrow and not the most comfortable, but you'll be rewarded with a wonderful view of the city. (P.S. Its a good idea to cover up a bit before entering a cathedral as you may not be allowed in)
The Forum - The area next to the cathedral has some Roman ruins and offers great photo opportunities. There are some souvenir shops around there too.
Zadar City Gate - Its a nice walk along the harbour, and at the end of it you'll find a Roman style wall with various designs. This serves as a reminder of the country's history.
We barely spent 24 hours in Zadar and still felt like we covered a lot. Just walking around Zadar old town was quite an experience. You'll find gelato, pizza shops and cafes at every nook & corner. Zadar also serves as a base for many day trips eg. Plitvice National Park, Krka National Park, Pag, etc. The main bus station is barely a 10 minute ride away from Zadar Old Town & the bus network is excellent! For those of you visiting Croatia, make sure to spend atleast one day here. You wont regret it.
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