This summer, myself and the lads chose Croatia as the follow up to our previous antics in Thailand, and I’m here to tell you everything you need to know so you can do it yourself.
Whether you’re interrailing, going to Yacht Week, or flying here on a getaway, Croatia is one of the most amazing destinations you can pick. It’s rapidly become a go to destination for Generation Y, and with good reason.
WHERE TO GO
We flew from Dublin, Ireland to Zadar, Croatia with Ryanair, and our journey took us to Pag, Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik before flying from Dubrovnik to Dublin with Aer Lingus. We paid about €250 in total for the flights, but we booked late – you can get Croatia flights for a lot cheaper if you plan and book in advance. Use Google Flights to find the best fares. We arranged mini buses to take us on all land transfers and day trips, and took ferries when necessary with Jadrolinija (Split to Hvar) and Krilo (Hvar to Dubrovnik). You can book your ferries on the day of departure at harbour ticket offices.
Apartments are good for groups because the divided cost is usually reasonable – as long as your apartment is nicer than a hostel otherwise would be. Hostels in Croatia are a good choice if they’ve got a good reputation and you’re looking for a great atmosphere in a lively destination – especially in Hvar and Brač. For Zadar and Dubrovnik, we rented apartments within the old city walls, and I would recommend you do the same to get a real feel for these cities. If you’re on the fence about hotels, the only place that I would recommend staying in one is Hvar (see below).
Zadar: Stay within the walls of the old town – use Airbnb or Booking.com to find an apartment. The architecture is phenomenal, clasically Croatian and the streets are packed with plenty of outdoor cafe’s and bars. Try The Garden – a cool bar on top of the city walls, and Svarog Bar. Make sure you go to the Plitvice Lakes national park – they are only an hour and a half from here. We opted to organise a private minibus rather than slowly losing the will to live on a coach service – there was a tiny price difference. Here is what is waiting for you at the lakes:
Pag: Make no mistake, Pag is a complete shit hole. It is not what Croatia is really like. It is a desolate wasteland, with the only reason to visit being Zrce Beach. We were more than a little bit shocked to find Pag overrun with 17 year olds who were there for their first ever holiday with friends sponsored by Daddy’s Deep Pockets. You would be much better off watching an episode of “Sun Sex and Suspicious Parents” than actually travelling here. No no, I promise you.
If you are below the age of 21 or so, there is a good chance you might enjoy Pag, but do not waste your time staying here for more than two full days unless you want to be stuck in the nightlife equivalent of the Early Learning Centre. Rent an apartment with air conditioning – be aware that many hostels don’t have A/C here. (Shout out to the big group of Dublin lads we met in Pag. You guys were a good bunch – this Pag scolding doesn’t apply to you.).
Hvar: I fell in love with Hvar. THIS is Croatia. It even sounds cool to say out loud. “Hvar”. One of Croatia’s most popular islands, just stepping off the ferry is enough to convince you why. Hvar is reminiscent of an old Monaco crossed with a venetian style charm and incredible views to boot. The majority of the Croatia video above is made up of scenes from Hvar and Dubrovnik. Stay in the old town or very close to it – this is essential, unless you want to walk up and down a lot of steps. We stayed in Hvar Out hostel, and had a dorm to ourselves. We were right beside the Old Town harbour, the staff were incredibly friendly, and it was great value for money. If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, then I can’t recommend enough the Amfora Grand Beach Resort – this actually hosts part of the Ultra Europe Music Festival. Be sure to book early if you plan on staying here – it fills up fast.
There are a lot of great restaurants and bars to try out in Hvar – I’m not going to recommend any in particular here. What I will recommend is strolling around to take in the sights and sounds of the town and trying out whatever place you like the look of – it will be good.
As for clubs, Carpe Diem Beach Club is an essential place to tick off the bucket list because it is a small island in the bay of Hvar. A club which is literally a small island. In Hvar, which is literally now my favourite place in the world. Free taxi boats come and go every 10 minutes and take about 5 minutes to reach the entrance. Entry can be expensive – between €20-€30 depending on the night in question – but the club runs until about 6am.
Dubrovnik: Also a firm favourite of mine after Hvar. Dubrovnik is basically Game of Thrones with less gore/nudity and better scenery. Make sure you do the Game of Thrones walking tour – buy your ticket on the day instead of online and you’ll save upwards of €25. Get the cable car at sunset if you can – there will be queues, so buy your ticket early. Take the ferry to Lokrum – if you’re as much of a Game of Thrones fan as I am you’ll be happy to know that the actual Iron Throne is kept there. Don’t waste your time staying in a hotel outside the old city walls of Dubrovnik – you and your bank account are much better off finding an apartment within the old city – we used Booking.com. There are some good value day trips to Montenegro and Mostar from Dubrovnik – they’re both incredibly scenic, Mostar is especially worth doing.
Split: For me, the only thing actually worth seeing in Split is Diocletian’s Palace. The city is far too built up and westernised to be worth staying a night in; I look at it purely as a transportation gateway to the islands of Hvar and Brce. If I were you, I would fly into Split and get a ferry to Hvar, and then a ferry can take you to Dubrovnik whenever you want. Or, you can fly to Dubrovnik first and then get the ferry to Hvar, and travel to Split/Dubrovnik airports whenever you are ready to leave.
Pula: It has an incredible roman amphitheatre that is a must see if you choose to visit. An annual film festival takes place in mid July – and is held inside the amphitheatre. 10 minutes walk from Pula’s train station – this is an easy stop to make if you’re interrailing.
Zagreb: Generally not as popular for interrail routes, Zagreb is the built up medieval capital of Croatia with a strong cafe culture. The upper town has the city’s best scenes – cobbled streets, medieval architecture, and a cemetery thats especially worth visiting – seriously. It’s called Mirogoj, and it’s beautiful.
For our trip, we opted to stay on the mainland and do some island hopping – but Yacht Week is definitely on the cards in the future.
If you want to go on Yacht Week, you have to be at least 20 years old – the average age is about 25/26. In Croatia, it takes place every week from the start of June until the end of September. It certainly looks incredible, but the videos aren’t exactly what they seem. Even if you have paid for a skipper, you’ll be expected to help out with the sailing. This shouldn’t be a big deal for most people, but some people don’t expect it and come away unnecessarily disappointed because they weren’t fully informed. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of the time you will be having fun – but it isn’t a pampering experience where you someone is assigned to your every beck and call. You need to have an open mind and be prepared to get involved in the outdoors action of it all. I love the idea of it all, but for some people it just isn’t their cup of tea.
There are three simple factors that will affect your experience of Yacht Week: Your friends, your boat, and your skipper.
- Friends: You will be living on top of one another for a week and sharing everything. Everything. 24 hours a day, for 7 days. Be sure you have a great group for a great week – and if you can’t get find enough friends to fill the boat you want, find people through the Yacht Week Facebook page.
- Boat: The bigger, the better. Spend as much money on it as you possibly can afford. Get the cheapest flights you possibly can find, and invest everything else in making sure you have the best boat you can get. Make a playlist on your phone so you can play it through your yacht’s speakers. Oh yes.
- Skipper: Booking one is optional. It should be mandatory. Make sure you have a skipper. End of story.
WHEN TO GO
July. Plain and simple. So many incredible events happen in July across Croatia that you would be foolish not to try and fit in at least one of them. There are too many to list, but the highlight is definitely Ultra Europe in mid July.
WHAT TO PACK
Clothing: For guys: swim gear, tank tops, shorts, some plain t-shirts, one or two shirts, and a beach towel. For girls: swim gear, shorts, sundresses, flip flops, flats. Standard.
Toms, flip-flops and converse are all solid shoe choices, but bring something comfortable to walk in for Hvar, Dubrovnik and the Plitvice lakes – Nike Free and Roshe Run shoes are the go to for us.
Everything here applies if you’re just going on Yacht Week, but ditch the walking shoes, and be sure to pack something patriotic – people love to bring their nations flags to Yacht Week, and fancy dress is a common theme for regattas.
Money: Croatia is not expensive, but not cheap. You’ll get more bang for your buck in restaurants here than at home (especially seafood), but expect to pay the same here as you do at home for drinks in clubs and most bars. Food and drink in supermarkets is outrageously cheap – ideal if you have your own apartment or you’re on yacht week and willing to cook your own food. Expect to pay between €25-40 per night for hostels depending on the location.
Life Pack: As I’ve mentioned before in my Thailand guide, a life pack is a great thing to have, but you won’t need a tropical standard one for this trip. Pack the usual essentials; suncream, aftersun, deodorant, and aftershave/perfume to make yourself smell pretty. Bring shampoo and shower gel or buy some over there. Dioralytes are a saviour in the morning after the night before when you wake up feeling like a dehydrated prawn cracker.
And that is pretty much it. If you’ve any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them either here or through Facebook. I hope you found this guide useful – Enjoy your trip.