What NOT to do in Croatia: Biggest Mistakes Travelers Make

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Croatia is one of my favorite destinations on the planet. I’ve explored the country in depth and consider myself a Croatia expert. It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful and an absolutely divine place to spend the summer!

Which is why it drives me crazy when I see travelers making big mistakes in Croatia — mistakes that I’ve learned the hard way during my own travels in Croatia. A list of what NOT to do in Croatia.

It’s okay if you make mistakes! I don’t expect anyone to know Croatia like a native, and mistakes often turn into great memories.

But my ultimate goal is for you to have a Croatia trip that you’ll remember fondly for the rest of your life. Follow these tips and you will be well on your way.

Here is my list of what NOT to do in Croatia!

The stone city of Grožnjan, Croatia, with a courtyard, some buildings with pillars, one building with bright blue shutters.
Croatia has more in common with Italy than Ukraine.

Assuming Croatia is in Eastern Europe.

The easiest way to piss off a Croatian is to tell them you visited because you’ve never been to Eastern Europe before. Yikes.

Eastern Europe is great. But Croatia is not Eastern Europe.

A lot of travelers tend to think that anything east of Germany is considered Eastern Europe. Not so. Central Europe is a huge region that doesn’t get enough attention as its own entity. While Eastern Europe includes countries like Romania, Latvia, and Ukraine; Central Europe includes countries like the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.

Some people refer to the countries of the Former Yugoslavia and Albania as the Balkans or the Western Balkans; I am one of them. The Balkans are also considered part of Central Europe.

(Then again, it can be complicated. Some Croatians reject the name “the Balkans” due to the history of war. Many Croatians prefer the term “the Adriatic.”)

Don’t expect Eastern European prices, either. It’s often said that if you want to save money in Europe, head east. And you can often get much better value for money in Central Europe than in Western Europe.

But Dubrovnik, Hvar, Rovinj, and Vis can be remarkably expensive. Like most other countries in Europe, the cheapest places tend to be in rural areas away from the coast. And if you’re looking for a cheap Croatia beach trip, you’re best off renting an apartment in an area more popular with Europeans, like the Makarska Riviera.

If you’re coming to Croatia for Eastern European prices, get ready for your eyes to pop out of your head.

An aerial view of Gruz Harbor in Dubrovnik seen from the top of a mountain. You see three GIANT cruise ships parked in a line. In the background, you see the Kornati Islands poking out of the ocean.
You do not want to be on one of those cruise ships! Image via DepositPhotos.

Visiting Croatia by cruise ship.

If I had to pick out the single worst thing about tourism in Croatia, it would be the impact of large cruise ships. If I could wave a magic wand and make all the megaships disappear from Croatia, I would.

Croatia is a popular cruise destination, and there are many cruises from Venice to Greece that stop along the Croatian coast, particularly in Dubrovnik.

But in the last few years, megaship tourism has surged, and Croatian cities are too small to accommodate these crowds. They can’t handle an extra 3,000 to 6,000 on top of the regular travelers they get. Go to Dubrovnik on a July day and the old city will be packed from wall to wall with sweaty people.

If you’re on a cruise ship, this is the only way you’ll experience Dubrovnik — during the hottest part of the day with all the massive crowds. If that’s the only glimpse of Dubrovnik you get, I don’t blame you for not enjoying yourself. That’s the reason why it’s best to avoid Dubrovnik when cruise ships are in port and it was extraordinary exploring an empty Dubrovnik in summer 2020.

Additionally, cruise ship passengers make a negligible economic impact on the destinations they visit. They don’t spend money on accommodation. They might not spend money on restaurants — why eat off the ship if it’s free on the ship?

That said — small sailing trips can be a wonderful way to see Croatia! It makes a much gentler impact on the environment, you spend more time in the ports and dock closer to town, and sailing the Adriatic is something you need to do once in your lifetime, even if it’s just for one day.

I did a sailing trip with Busabout that was a LOT of fun, though very much for young backpackers. (A great trip to take in my twenties, but I’ve aged out of that kind of trip. I’d go with G Adventures if I went today. You can see their Croatia sailing trips here.)

Just keep in mind that even with a small sailing ship, you’re on someone else’s schedule, not yours. You give up flexibility in exchange for that kind of trip.

Overall, you don’t need a tour in Croatia. It’s a very easy country to travel independently and you’ll be able to tailor a trip closer to your tastes if you rent a car and explore on your own.

Bol is a lot steeper than it looks in this photo.

Underestimating the steepness of the coastline.

On my most recent visit to Croatia, we started in the town of Bol on the island of Brač. We booked an apartment that was a bit further from the seafront because it was cheaper than the ones by the water’s edge.

Little did we know that walking back from the waterfront would be a 10-minute nearly-vertical uphill walk! And Bol was not the only place where we had that experience.

Croatia’s coastline is dramatic, jagged and mountainous. This steepness is why there are so many islands in the first place; it’s a world apart from the Italian side of the Adriatic.

And these old cities in Croatia are often not super-accessible. In Korčula, the old city itself is elevated like a wedding cake and accessible only by stairs. Rovinj is curvy and cobblestoned in addition to being steep. Even on the small island of Vis, parts of the town are walled off by steep inclines and staircases.

If you have mobility difficulties, Croatia can be very challenging. It’s not impossible to enjoy a trip here if you have mobility challenges, but I would do further research to make sure you’re able to get around easily.

And if you’re looking for a lazy trip without any multi-staircase climbs or trudges uphill, book accommodation close to the water!

Split’s worth exploring — but only for an afternoon.

Spending too much time in Split.

A lot of travelers choose to base in Split — and at first glance, it seems like a good idea. Split is Croatia’s second-largest city, home to the most flights in the country. It’s the main hub for ferries with easy access to lots of islands. It has a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Why not Split?

Well. It’s a big city. It gets horrendously hot in the summer. Diocletian’s Palace, which comprises much of the old city, is filled with price-gouging souvenir shops. And the only decent beaches are a ways away.

Split also tends to attract lots of wild, lads-on-holiday, drink-all-the-alcohol type travelers from within Europe.

Is Split worth visiting? Yes. Diocletian’s Palace is especially worth visiting, and it’s nice watching the sun go down on a square while having a glass of wine.

But Split is not the type of destination that travelers envision when planning a coastal holiday in Croatia. If you’re looking for a more peaceful atmosphere with nice beaches, the islands have more to offer. Zadar is lovely, too.

Someone on Reddit the other day asked for advice for their Croatia trip which had 10 days in Split and I spent a few hours convincing them to change their plans.

What’s the perfect amount of time to spend in Split? An overnight. I recommend arriving in the afternoon, exploring a bit, having a nice dinner, maybe dropping into a wine bar, and leaving in the morning by car or ferry. That’s all you need.

Croatia is best explored by car. Image via DepositPhotos.

Getting around Croatia by public transportation.

Croatia is one of my favorite places in the world to explore by car. Seriously! Croatian roads are in excellent condition (though you do pay for that, with pricier-than-average tolls on the big highways), and the drivers are far more sane than their Balkan neighbors.

One of the pleasures of traveling around Croatia is stopping in randomly cute towns and pulling over to take photos of gorgeous viewpoints. And the drive along the Adriatic is one of the most stunningly beautiful journeys you can take! It’s much harder to enjoy that when you’re taking public transportation.

Some of Croatia’s islands, like Korčula, are good to explore by car. They’re a lot larger than you think. For example, it’s a 40-minute drive from Vela Luka to Korčula’s old town, and there are plenty of interesting places to explore along the way.

There are buses that criss-cross Croatia, and they’re in good shape. If all you need is a life from Split to Dubrovnik, you’ll be fine. Though keep in mind that island public transit is more limited.

Also: there are some trains in Croatia, but there’s no train to Dubrovnik. Lots of travelers come to Croatia expecting to be able to hop on a train to Dubrovnik, and nope, that doesn’t exist!

Dubrovnik will probably be the beginning or end of your trip, and you don’t need a car for your time in Dubrovnik. It’s a pain to park and it’s easy to get by with taxis.

Definitely rent a car. Make sure it’s an automatic if you don’t drive stick. And get ready for one of your best road trips ever!

A cast iron pan filled with cooked octopus and potatoes for a peka dinner in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Why have pizza when you could have an octopus peka?

Eating nothing but pizza and pasta.

When you say “Croatian food,” what comes to mind? Probably not much. And when you stroll through touristy areas, it seems like everyone is sitting down to pizza and pasta instead. Especially if you’re not a seafood eater.

There’s a lot more to Croatian food than you think! Superb fish dishes, enormous shrimp, squid ink risotto, pastas with Istrian truffles, rich grilled lamb, Pag cheese from the island of Pag. In Croatia I ate my weight in octopus salads and marinated anchovies!

But the single best food experience you can have in Croatia is enjoying a traditional peka, where dinner is cooked “under the bell.” You choose either veal and lamb or octopus, and it’s cooked under a bell in an oven for hours, with potatoes and other vegetables, until it becomes tender and glorious.

One of my all-time favorite Croatia experiences was attending a peka with Dubrovnik Eat With Locals. You get to have dinner in a local couple’s backyard, share outstanding food with people from around the world, and you’ll leave stuffed with delicious food and grateful for new friendships. Marija and Zlatko are wonderful hosts.

And if you really want to blow your mind, head to Slavonia in the far northeast of the country and see what they have on offer. In the town of Osijek I enjoyed perkelt od soma, a stew of catfish cooked in tomatoes with lots of paprika, served with a side of pasta with bacon and soft white cheese. Then you put them both in a bowl and mix them together.

View of Hvar Town from the Spanish Fortress: a view from above, you see a small harbor surrounded with white buildings topped with orange roofs. In the distance are the green Pakleni Islands.
Hvar is nice, but it’s not your only option.

Only visiting one island: Hvar.

Hvar is the most famous of Croatia’s islands. It’s a lovely place — but it’s not the only Croatian island worth visiting, nor is it necessarily the best island for every traveler.

Hvar is perhaps most famous for its party scene. The partying is concentrated in Hvar Town with some clubs on the Pakleni Islands just off shore. Hvar is also home to some of the most high-end hotels and restaurants, particularly in Hvar Town.

As a result, Hvar is eye-waveringly expensive, and I don’t think the prices are worth it. I also wasn’t a fan of the trendy and wealthy party crowd that dominates in peak summer months.

There’s more to Hvar than just Hvar Town, though. I enjoyed Hvar more when I got outside the town. Maslina Resort is the most inspiring boutique hotel I’ve experienced. Jelsa was low-key and a good base for exploration. Canal-filled Vrboska was a lovely surprise.

So which Croatian island should you visit instead?

If you’re looking for a great all-around island with culture and interesting things to do, head to Korčula. Korčula packs a ton in, with history, island-hopping, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town, hidden beaches, sword dancing, and some wine varietals you can’t find anywhere else. See my Korčula guide here.

If you’re looking for a peaceful, nature-filled island, head to Mljet. You’ll enjoy an expansive national park, mountain views, and streets that are easy to explore by bicycle. And if sleepy Mljet is too active for you, head to remote, forest-covered Lastovo instead!

If you’re looking for an easy island vacation with young kids, head to Brač. Brač is the fastest and easiest island to get to from Split, and the Bol area is filled with nice beaches (including world-famous Zlatni Rat), a boardwalk, and tons of kid-friendly amenities.

If you’ve done Croatia before and you’re looking for something truly special, head to Vis. This island is small and far out — but it’s upscale and feels a world away from the mainland. There aren’t as many activities but it’s good for relaxing.

Finally, if you want an unpretentious, low-key escape with lots of wine, head to Pelješac. It’s actually a peninsula, not an island, but it’s such a distinctive area that it deserves to be on this list. Come here to road trip, drink Dingač red wine, and enjoy spectacular beaches — maybe even some windsurfing!

Kate in a one-piece bathing suit, shot from behind, alone on a pebble beach in Croatia, the ocean looking clear and aqua. She holds her hands out and walks into the sea.
See, you can see a tiny corner of water shoes on my left foot!

Swimming without water shoes.

Are water shoes really necessary in Croatia? ABSOLUTELY. I don’t think I’ve worn water shoes in my life, ever, except in Croatia. But if you’re in Croatia, you will be so glad that you packed water shoes.

The vast majority of Croatia’s beaches are either pebble beaches or slabs of rock. And when I say pebbles, it’s more akin to large round rocks. Sandy beaches do exist here and there, many of them on the island of Rab, but rocks and pebbles are the norm. Even famed Zlatni Rat on Brač, commonly believed to be sandy, is made of rocks!

The first time you try climbing out of the water on a pebble beach without water shoes, you’ll be wincing and toppling over before crawling your way out of the ocean like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. It’s not fun — and you may make a spectacle of yourself to the more experienced Croatian beachgoers.

As for rock slab beaches, people often cut their feet by accident when they hit a sharp rock. Water shoes keep you from injuring yourself this way and leaving a trail of blood behind you.

You can get a pair here.

A bright pink and yellow sunset over the island of Sveti Stefan, just off the coast of Montenegro.
Sveti Stefan, Montenegro, is best at sunset! You won’t get that on a day trip.

Day tripping to Bosnia, Montenegro, or Slovenia.

I LOVE the Balkans, and many cool international spots are within close proximity to Croatia. I completely understand the impulse to visit as many countries as you can on a single trip. But international destinations like Mostar, Kotor, and Ljubljana are much better if you stay overnight.

If you visit during high season, as most Croatia travelers do, you could be spending hours of your day trip waiting at the border. An eight-hour trip, three or four hours of it at the border? Not very fun.

During high season, you’ll be crossing borders twice in a single day. (And in the case of Mostar, four times, due to passing through Neum, the little slip of Bosnia that bisects Croatia.)

Mostar, an incredibly moving town in Bosnia, works better as an overnight trip from Dubrovnik. I stayed overnight in Mostar and nighttime was magical — all the day trippers left, the bridge was lit up beautifully, and the city felt so light and airy.

Montenegro is one of my favorite countries — I adore it there. Many travelers do a day trip to Kotor, but I recommend staying for a few nights if you can. (Just don’t get haunted by a ghost like I did.) There’s so much to see, from whitewater rafting in Tara Canyon to city-hopping in Budva and Herceg Novi to catching a glimpse of Sveti Stefan at sunset.

As for Slovenia, many people visit Ljubljana or Bled for a day from Zagreb. That’s doable, but I honestly think Ljubljana and Bled are charming destinations that deserve more time. (And frankly, I prefer Ljubljana to Zagreb.) Slovenia is a very compact country and you can see a lot in a few days.

Two giant, multi-tiered waterfalls overflowing into bright teal water, surrounded by forest.
Krka National Park is a worthy inland spot.

Sticking to the coast and ignoring the rest of the country.

Croatia is known for its beaches and coastline. You could easily spend your whole trip on the coast, but there are some wonderful inland destinations worth visiting as well.

There are the Plitvice Lakes, of course — the waterfalls that dot many a Pinterest board, and the most famous pit stop between Zagreb and Split! Far and away the most famous nature getaway in Croatia.

Krka National Park also has spectacular waterfalls — with the bonus that you can actually swim in them!

Zagreb is a nice, fun Central European city. Worth visiting, but I don’t think you need to spend much time there beyond a walk through town and a visit to the superb Museum of Broken Relationships.

But best place to enjoy inland Croatia is Istria — the heart-shaped peninsula at the northwest of the country. Grožnjan is a hill town filled with music and art. Motovun is spectacular, erupting from the land and surveying everything around it. Vodnjan is filled with art, blood-red buildings, and ancient mummies. Just driving around Istria can be a lot of fun!

You’ve got plenty of options.

Cafes along the waterfront in Rovinj underneath umbrellas; bright yellow buildings with orange roofs behind them.

It’s okay if you make a mistake!

This piece is tongue-in-cheek — I don’t expect you to be what my idea of a perfect traveler is. God knows how many mistakes I’ve made, both in Croatia and around the world. Please don’t take everything as gospel!

But Croatia is a very special place. I want you to have the best trip possible there — and I think following these tips will give you a Croatia trip to remember.

More on Croatia

Solo Female Travel in Croatia: Is it Safe?

How to Spend Three Days in Dubrovnik

Exploring Rovinj, Croatia’s Prettiest City

See all Croatia posts here.

Have you been to Croatia? Have any mistakes to add?


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