Roadtrip! Part 1: Croatia's Dalmatian Coast
A few months ago, I did a podcast episode on the best places history lovers should visit to avoid the crowds. I’m making my way through those cities and countries, and, of course, had to podcast about it. On a two-part episode of the Postcard Academy — Roadtrip! Croatia + Albania — I chat with my travel friend Cristal Dyer to reminisce about our trip, talk about what we enjoyed the most, and also what we’d do differently next time. Part 1 takes you down Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast.
Subscribe to the Postcard Academy for free to hear us talk through our travel itinerary and favorite stops. Here are the highlights.
Zagreb + Plitvice Lakes National Park
Cristal and I were originally supposed to meet in Zagreb and go to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Unfortunately, we didn’t do either because she missed her flight due to reasons beyond her control and British Airways was not at all helpful in rebooking her flight to Croatia. She eventually found a cheap flight to Croatia thanks to Norwegian. If you want to hear about all the cool things to do in Zagreb, listen to that episode of the Postcard Academy.
Also, top tip: If you want to go to Plitvice Lakes National Park, you need to buy tickets and should do so in advance. If you don’t, you could be waiting for hours to get in.
Sibenik is a lovely coastal town with dotted with imposing fortresses. While waiting for Cristal to arrive, I stayed at a sweet little hostel called Hostel Globo, which was right near the bus station, making it convenient to do a day trip to Zadar and easy to get to Split. I spent about 31.50 euro for one night in what was essentially a hotel room with shared bathroom and kitchen.
My friend Elke and I took the ferry to Zlarin and Prvić Luka on a brilliantly sunny day. We walked along the sea and had coffee outside at Restaurant Koralj then ate lunch at Konoba Aldura, the only restaurant open on the little island. Thankfully it was delicious and started me on my Croatian diet of grilled vegetables, tomato salad, local cheese and bread, and cherry liquor. Perfect.
Cristal arrived a few days later. We ran around the town, ate lunch, then took a bus to Trogir.
Buses and in Croatia are cheap and convenient, but usually late. However, from our experience, the ferries always run on time.
Trogir has UNESCO World Heritage status because of all its Romanesque and Renaissance buildings built between the 13th and 15th centuries. Definitely check out the cathedral, which dates back to the 1200s. At the entrance, you’ll see a fascinating arch that tells the story of local life hundreds of years ago, with carvings to represent the wine harvest in September and (sadly) the killing of pigs in December.
Trogir is lovely but tiny. If I were roadtripping down Croatia’s coast, I’d stop here for lunch and continue on. Cristal said it was her favorite place. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder :)
Do you like eating cake for breakfast? You can do so at Dovani and it’s lush.
Easily my favorite place in Croatia. Split is a gorgeous seaside town with a lively buzz to it, but it’s not as overcrowded as Dubrovnik (and it’s less pricey).
We did an excellent walking tour with Split Walking Tour and learned all about Diocletian and walked through the ruins of his palace. He was born into a common family but rose in the ranks of the military. Supposedly he assassinated his ruler’s assassin, and the military voted him emperor. After he had ruled for 20 years, he wanted to retire to his home of Salona, but it was easier to build his massive retirement palace in what is now Split.
Diocletian retired around 305 a.d. And his pensioner’s palace was built in about 10 years. It was a pagan palace because Christianity hadn’t taken hold yet. But when the Christians came later, they didn’t want anything pagan, so they destroyed or converted buildings. Diocletian’s mausoleum was turned into a cathedral. The temple of Jupiter was turned into the baptistery. Historians say the Temple of Jupiter and the basement of the palace are among the best preserved Roman ruins in the world.
We stayed slightly outside the Old Town at an AirBnB that we loved. Our host recommended a nearby restaurant for dinner called Duje, which we liked and we were also the only tourists there so we felt a little bit rad. I ate my standard grilled vegetables and cheese. We tried walnut brandy, that tasted like maple syrup and floated us to heaven.
Bonus: On our walk there, we saw peacocks screaming in the trees. What? Did you know peacocks could fly?
Split day trips
Based in Split, we did two day trips to nearby island:
Brac. A quiet island that’s pleasant to stroll around. Throughout our trip, Cristal used an a called Happy Cow to find us restaurants that had veggie options. On Brac, this led us to Konoba Vinotoka, where I ate my favorite meal of our whole trip. I broke from my habit of grilled vegetables and indulged in some delicious veggie pasta, sparkling water, and orahovica, a walnut liquor that tastes like maple syrup. We sat outside in the shade enjoying a serene lunch, occasionally punctuated by screams being orchestrated for a music video being filmed down the street in front of the town church.
Hvar. My favorite island. Hvar. We walked around the port then Elke and Cristal went to the lace museum at the Benedictine Convent to see the decorations nuns make out of agave fiber. While that sounded cool, I was on the hunt for pastry. Plus, the weather was perfect and I wanted to partake in my favorite activity, which is drinking coffee and spacing out at an outdoor cafe, which I did. We then walked up to the fortress before taking a bus to Stari Grad, the main town on the island. We went to Tvrdalj Castle, the summer home of noble Petar Hektorović, who wrote the first non-religious poetry in the country. One of his descendants lives there and told us about Petar and how his home had a section for poor people and travelers. The Ottomans were attacking Hvar at that time in the 1500s and Petar sheltered locals. He didn’t have any boys so his property got handed down through his brother. About 10 or so families now co-own the palace, which includes a garden and fish pond. We ate lunch at Kod Damira. Spaghetti and Greek salad :)
Last stop on our Croatia trip: Dubrovnik. Instead of busing it from Split, we took the ferry. This was a very comfortable ride until the last 30 minutes, when the sea became so violent that I became physically ill. Stormy seas and all that.
The capital of Croatia is one of the city’s suffering the most from over-tourism. In the high season, thousands of people pour off cruise ships and pass through the fortified city’s walls, which are hundreds of years old. UNESCO has warned Dubrovnik that it needs to manage the number of tourists entering its city walls or risk looking World Heritage status.
Despite all that, Dubrovnik is an absolute must if you’re in Croatia. Walking the walls is an unforgettable experience, and if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll hear the theme song everywhere you go. If you’re there in summer, walk the walls early in the morning or in the evening to avoid crowds and blazing heat. Better yet, go slightly off season, in May and September.
I’d give Dubrovnik at least a day or two, perhaps more if you stay outside the walls and want to enjoy the sea. On a previous trip, I spent a lovely little day of island hopping. For 250 kuna you can enjoy a gorgeous boat ride on the Regina Maristo, which includes lunch with wine as you sail around 🙌 🇭🇷
If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 8 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.