Typically in Finland, you get 4 weeks of summer holiday (vacation) and 1 week off in winter. It’s common for businesses to shut down in July, and for Finns to take all of July off. I work for a company with international customers, so we stagger our vacations a bit. In any case, since I didn’t start my new job until close to May, I only had 1 week of holiday this year, so I wanted to make the most of it. That’s where Croatia came in.
I spent 9 days in Croatia with Kimmo. We flew into Split, then island hopped to Brač, Hvar, and Korčula, and ended in Dubrovnik. For me, it was the perfect mix of a beach and city vacation. One thing to note about the beaches in Croatia is that most of them are rocky. I managed to swim and walk around barefoot, but many people wore water shoes. Also, if you’re not renting a sunbed, be forewarned you’ll be laying your towel on rocks, and not sand. We found a couple sandy beaches in Korčula, although they were quite small. But, what the beaches lacked in sand, the Adriatic Sea made up for with the ocean. It was some of the most turquoise water I had ever seen. And it was the perfect temperature for a swim. My favorite thing to do was just float around in the ocean in complete peace. Besides the beaches, I was awe struck by the old architecture in Dubrovnik and Split. My mouth literally dropped open when I first walked into the Old City of Dubrovnik. It’s definitely a site to see, especially with the backdrop of the sea against it.
In the last several years, Croatia has become a much more popular vacation spot because of Game of Thrones and Yacht Week, which means it has also become much more expensive. It still wasn’t overly expensive, but definitely not as cheap as we were expecting. On average we spent about €100 per day for food, drinks, transportation, etc. Split and Dubrovnik are pretty good about accepting credit cards, but on the islands we mostly used cash in their local currency (Croatian Kuna HRK). Below is a guide of the things to do in Croatia, specifically Split, Brač, Hvar, Korčula, and Dubrovnik.
- Jadrolinja ferries to get to the islands
- Uber in Split and Dubrovnik
- Renting bikes or scooters are a great way to get around the islands
- Taxi boats are good to get to nearby islands
Also, be aware of pickpocketers. We didn’t experience it, but heard about a few people who did while we were in Split and Dubrovnik.
We flew into Split and only stayed there for 1 night. It was enough to see the Old Town and Diocletian’s Palace, but my only regret was not staying for 1 more day to be able to see at least 1 of the national parks. Plitvice Lakes and Krka National Park are the two most well-known and from the pictures, both have awe-striking waterfalls and trails. Krka Park is smaller than Plitvice, but it’s closer to Split, and you can also swim in these lakes. If you only have time to see one, this site is a good reference to help you decide.
Hotel in Split
Villa Olea 1 – This was a no frills hotel, in the middle of Old Town. You can’t drive up to it, but it’s a short walk from the port. It had everything we needed for 1 night and a good location to see the town, yet not in a crowded area where it was too noisy.
Things to do in Split
- Old Town & Diocletian Palace – The old stone architecture is beautiful. There are a few scenes from Game of Thrones filmed around this area as well.
- Riva Seafront Promenade – This is where the ferries and yachts dock, but it’s a lovely promenade filled with restaurants facing the sea. The perfect place to people watch and catch the ocean breeze.
Restaurants and bars in Split
- Villa Spiza – Hole in the wall that servers fresh, local Dalmatian food. Dalmatia is one of the four historical regions of Croatia, and all the places we went to in Croatia are part of Dalmatia.
- Zinfandel – Even though California vineyards made the Zinfandel famous, the origins are from a Croatian grape. Zinfandel had several wine tasting options to showcase Croatian wine, along with local Dalmatian tapas, and to top it off, live music. We got the 3 tier platter for two, which was delicious, especially the hama ceviche.
- Bokeria Kitchen & Wine – This was another great wine bar in Split that’s a little more upscale.
- Academia Ghetto Club – Bohemian bar where the locals go. It has an outdoor terrace and DJ playing good music.
Other things to do in Split – that we did not get to do
- Restaurants & Wine Bars: Buffet Fife, Uje Oil Bar, Konoba Matejuska, Tavern Tri Volta (Zalogajnica Dioklecijan)
- Bars: Wine & Cheese Bar Paradox, Charlie’s Bar, To Je To, Gaga
We wanted to start our holiday just chilling at the beach, doing a whole lot of nothing. So, we decided to stay in Brač (pronounced Bra-ch) for 3 nights, because we heard it had the best beaches, and we wanted to stay in one hotel for the first few days before hopping around. If I could do it all over again, I would have stayed in Brač for only 1-2 nights, but this is without seeing the other parts of the island. We stayed in Bol, and didn’t venture out to Supetar, Skrip, or Vidova Gora. The island did have the most beautiful beaches (all rocky), but I found the crowd to be mostly families.
Hotel in Brač
Bluesun Hotel Elaphusa – All of the hotels on the main strip seemed to be owned by the same company, Bluesun. The hotel did include a daily breakfast buffet, which was really convenient, but it felt a little bit like a cruise ship. They had a couple restaurants, swimming pool, wellness spa, bowling alley, night club, etc. Basically, if you didn’t want to leave the hotel, you didn’t have to, which makes it really convenient for families. One feature we really enjoyed though, was the wellness spa, because they had a few different saunas, jacuzzi, and heated swimming pool. After now getting used to the Finnish sauna culture, the sauna etiquette was a bit confusing here. In Finland, it is typical for men and women to have separate public saunas, but if it’s mixed, then people typically wear swimsuits. At this spa, it was one facility for both genders, and you were not allowed to wear clothes in the saunas, which was a bit awkward for me, and I could tell the other guests were confused too.
Beaches in Brač
Zlatni Rat is one of the most famous beaches in all of Croatia, and why we decided to start our vacation there. It is beautiful, with lots of areas to lay out and swim. You can rent sunbeds and umbrellas here. It’s also convenient because there are many restaurants and bars around. We rented bikes on the other days we were there, and visited Murvica Beach and Martinica Beach, which were smaller and less crowded. There was also a nudist beach nearby called Paklina (goodbye tan lines).
Restaurants and bars in Brač
- Stina Winery – The island of Brač is unique for its white stone (Stina), which is also why it is an interesting place to cultivate grapes. This winery had a lovely wine tasting, which included a very informative tour of the facilities and process.
- Restaurant Borak Beach – This restaurant was owned by the same group as our hotel, but we had a table for 2 right on the beach. You just can’t get more romantic than that! The black cuttlefish risotto was delicious as well.
- Varadero – This is a cocktail bar, that’s good for day drinking or a night out. They were playing some good house music when I went. Probably one of the few places to go out at night.
Things to do in Brač – that we did not get to do
- Areas: Vidova Gora, Skrip, Supetar
- Restaurants: Palute and Vinotoka
Hvar is known as the expensive, party island, so we only booked 1 night here because we were more on a mission to relax. As soon as you arrive at the port, you can see lines of extravagant yachts, with people partying on them. This island had the most night life of all the places we went in Croatia, along with a younger crowd. Although Hvar was all those things, I actually enjoyed the beach clubs during the day, so I wouldn’t have minded staying an extra day. Oh and there’s a short hike to the Spanish Fortress which has a gorgeous view of the city.
Hotel in Hvar
Pharos Hvar Bayhill Hotel – This was a very hip hotel with a younger crowd. There was a comic book theme, super modern amenities, but the rooms are a bit small. A breakfast buffet was also included with our stay. The hotel actually looked better than the pictures on hotels.com. I would definitely stay here again.
Beach clubs in Hvar
- Hula Hula – Sunbeds here are 100 HRK (about €13) without service, and 200 HRK with bar service. We went earlier in the day around 11am, so it hadn’t turned into a day party yet. It was the perfect place to splurge and hang out at a beach club while getting served up. At night it turns into a wild night club that goes from 2am-6am.
- Bonj Les Bains – This is a fancier beach club, that’s more chill than Hula Hula. It’s also a good place to get a drink and catch the sunset.
Restaurants and bars in Hvar
- Giaxa – The traditional dish of Hvar is Gregada, a fish stew. This is one of the most popular places to try it. The restaurant is a bit more upscale, but the food was excellent and worth it. I loved the presentation of the food as well.
- Odos – This was a hip restaurant with great cocktails and modern mediterranean cuisine. Good prices and also rated #1 on Trip Advisor.
- Tri Pršuta – One of my favorite wine bars in Croatia! It’s a tiny bar, but good prices, and good wine. The son of the owner served us and he had an immense knowledge of wines. He let us try a bunch of different wines, while educating us about each of them.
We spent 2 nights in Korčula (pronounced “core-chu-luh”) but could have stayed longer. It was our favorite island because it had some sandy beaches, wineries galore, relaxed night life, and a mixed crowd.
Hotel in Korčula
Hotel Liburna – This was our favorite hotel. We were pleasantly surprised getting a huge 2 story hotel room, with a large balcony overlooking the sea. Breakfast buffet was also included here, and had the best food.
Beaches in Korčula
Finally we found some sandy beaches! There are a few islands that make up Korčula, and you can take a boat taxi to hop around to them. I think the only one worth visiting is Lumbarda because that’s where most of the wineries and sandy beaches are.
- Rocky: Banje and Zakrjan (both in Korcula Town)
- Sandy: Vela Przina and Bilin Zal (both in Lumbarda)
Wineries and Bars in Korčula
In Korčula, you’ll find Grk, a native grape variety only cultivated on the sandy soils of Lumbarda. We learned that only around 50,000 bottles of Grk wine are produced per year in that area, with about 80% of it being sold in Croatia. So, that’s probably why we had never heard of it.
- Bire Winery – This is the most well known winery in Korčula, and we got to try their Grk white wine and Plavac Mali red wine and rosé. Plavac Mali is a local grape of the Dalmatia region of Croatia. If you can’t make it to the wineries, many of the wine bars in Korcula Town serve Bire wine.
- Popić Winery – This is a small family owned winery overlooking a beautiful landscape. They also served their own Grk white, Plavac Mali red wine and rosé with some light snack pairings. We really enjoyed this spot and the owner was really sweet and informative.
- Winery Grk – Right next door to Popić, is Winery Grk. We didn’t spend too much time here because we wanted to check out Bire before it closed, but the Grk wine here was excellent.
- Massimo Cocktail Bar – This is a bar on top of a 15th-century medieval tower. You have to climb up a ladder to get there, and your drinks come up via a pulley system from the bar downstairs. It was a bit chilly when we went, but no worries because there are blankets and a beautiful view to keep you warm. It might be a little hard getting down though when you’ve had a bit to drink.
Other things to do in Korčula – that we didn’t get to do
- St. Mark’s Cathedral
- Marco Polo House
I was blown away when we first walked inside the walls of Old Town. You just can’t find any buildings that old and beautiful in the US. I love that you can find Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture all in one place.
Where to stay in Dubrovnik
Since Dubrovnik was our last stop, and we were going to be on the go, doing touristy things, we decided to skip the nice hotel, and get an Airbnb. A few friends had recommended to not stay in the Old Town because it is not accessible by car (so good luck lugging around your luggage), and can be quite noisy at night, with the old, thin walls. We found a convenient Airbnb for about €75, which was a 5 minute drive to Old Town, and close to the ferry port where we arrived.
Things to do in Dubrovnik
- Game of Thrones Tour – We found this via Trip Advisor, and it was totally worth it! Our tour guide was a true GoT fan, and it made it all the worthwhile. You also learn some history about Dubrovnik along the way, while exploring the Old Town.
- City Walls – I can’t believe that these defensive walls have survived since about the 14th century. Entrance to the city walls is not included in the GoT Tour, but you do get a discounted ticket from the entrance to the Red Keep/Fort Lovrijenac that is part of the tour, so if you do the GoT Tour, it might be a good idea to do this afterwards. It’s definitely worth it to walk along the walls. The views are spectacular.
- Lukrom – This is a nature reserve island that is a 10 minute ferry from Dubrovnik. There are peacocks and rabbits roaming all around the island. There are also a few scenes from GoT filmed here, and the 1st official HBO iron throne replica is here.
- Cable Car – We didn’t have time to do this, but heard you can see stunning views of the city from here.
Restaurants and bars in Dubrovnik
- D’Vino Wine Bar – This was our favorite wine bar in Croatia, where we also found our favorite wine, a 2014 Matusko Postup Potomje. It was rich and tasted like chocolate!
- D’Poets Live Bar – We stumbled upon this bar, upon hearing live music and trying to escape the rain. There is a cave inside, where a live band was playing both nights we stopped by. Yes, I liked it so much, I went twice!
- Lady Pi Pi – We went to this spot right when it opened, because space is limited, and they cook all their food on a single outdoor grill. The tuna was exceptional!
- Buzz Bar – This is a local pub, that played great music and had decent cocktails.
Souvenirs from Croatia
Thought I’d end this guide with some cool things we took home with us:
- Lavendar & Olive Oil – Croatia is filled with lavendar and olives, so we had to take home some lavendar essential oil and award winning olive oil.
- Wine – We found our favorite wine from D’Vino Wine Bar at the duty free shop in the Dubrovnik airport.
- Game of Thrones – Had to get a t-shirt of my favorite dude, and Kimmo got a Winter is Coming mug
- Accessories – Coral and turquoise is pretty abundant in Croatia, so I found a cute turquoise necklace, along with a basketweave bag, and a Turkish towel which packs up nice and small for taking to the beach.
Now go plan your trip to Croatia!