There's more than a dash of Vienna to Zagreb's cafe vibe, with a pinch of Venice and Turkey added to the mix. For many, the peak of the social week is the coffee-sipping and people-watching ritual known as špica, which happens on warm-weather Saturday mornings.
Zagreb is an architectural onion, with a medieval centre ringed by a Habsburg and then a Socialist layer. A short stroll can reveal Gothic churches, grand 19th-century administrative buildings, secessionist town houses, art deco hotels and brutalist apartment blocks. Colourful street art brightens up the greyest corners.
Modern Croatian Cuisine
On the food front, there is plenty to explore in Croatia’s capital, where the culinary scene has diversified in recent years. A handful of destination restaurants showcase Croatia's unique style of cooking, prepared with high-quality ingredients from around the country.
Fairy-tale castles dot the wooded hills of this bucolic region. The neo-Gothic Trakošćan offers an intimate insight into the life of former Croatian nobility, while the formidable Veliki Tabor, complete with towers, turrets and other castle trimmings, looks down from a hilltop. There are further examples in Varaždin, Varaždinske Toplice, Vukovar and Ilok.
One of Europe’s most important wetlands, Kopački Rit Nature Park occupies the floodplain where the Danube meets the Drava. Internationally famed for its diverse birdlife, the park is best visited during the spring or autumn migrations.
The pretty pastoral panoramas of Zagorje’s vineyard-covered hills and dense forests, and Slavonia's verdant fields and gingerbread cottages are the stuff of storybooks. Savour traditional Croatian farm life as it unfolds away from the tourist hullabaloo down south.
Indulge in la dolce vita Istrian-style, feasting on meals prepared in creative ways using top-quality local ingredients. From white truffles and wild asparagus to award-winning olive oils and wines, dining and wining is a highlight of any stay in Istria, Croatia’s most foodie-friendly place.
Istria’s hotchpotch of architecture includes a world-famous Roman amphitheatre and a Byzantine basilica, along with Venetian-style town houses and medieval hilltop towns, all packed tightly and prettily into one small peninsula.
From pine-fringed, activity-packed pebbly beaches a hop and a skip from Pula, Rovinj and Poreč, to the wild landscapes of Cape Kamenjak and its string of secluded coves, Istria has some wonderful beaches – just no sandy ones.
Krk Town has a beautifully preserved medieval core, while the small but perfectly formed Rab Town features a string of historic churches and bell towers. The town houses in Cres Town, Veli Lošinj and Mali Lošinj all show strong Venetian influences.
The island of Lošinj boasts worthy wildlife projects: in Veli Lošinj you’ll find a fascinating Adriatic dolphin research centre, while up in Mali Lošinj there’s a centre devoted to rescuing sea turtles. Brown bears roam freely in Risnjak National Park and Učka Nature Park.
The tiny villages of Volosko and Kastav, between Opatija and Rijeka, are gastronomic hotbeds of Croatian cooking – both traditional and modern – with a clutch of high-quality, atmospheric konobe (taverns) and restaurants.
Mountains & Lakes
Most visitors come to Dalmatia for the coast, but this region also has a highly appealing hinterland. Krka and Plitvice National Parks showcase lovely lakes and exquisite waterfalls. Head to Paklenica for soaring mountains and great hiking.
Living Historic Cities
Northern Dalmatia’s two cities both offer culture and history while being far from touristy. Šibenik arguably has Croatia’s most elegant cathedral and a remarkable old quarter, while the walled town of Zadar offers up Roman ruins, intriguing sights, hip bars and restaurants.
See the Mediterranean as it looked to the ancients, sailing between the isles of Kornati National Park, the largest and densest archipelago in the Adriatic, with 140 uninhabited islands.
From fun-filled Bačvice, Split’s adored city beach, to horn-shaped Zlatni Rat on Brač Island, to the adorable pebbly and sandy coves of Vis Island, Central Dalmatia has some of Croatia’s best beaches – both popular and off the well-worn trail.
Ancient Town Centres
Two Unesco World Heritage Sites sit a quick drive from one another in Central Dalmatia: the buzzing Roman-era quarter that is Diocletian’s Palace in Split, and the architectural medley of Trogir’s compact old walled town, set on its own tiny island.
Be it sailing, mountain biking, sea kayaking, diving, hiking, rafting, rock climbing, zip-lining or windsurfing, active travellers will find plenty of distraction in Central Dalmatia’s varied environment.
Old Walled Towns
One of the world’s most evocatively situated and historic cities, Dubrovnik is a dream to look at, a delight to explore and a wrench to leave. Much smaller but almost as gorgeous, Korčula Town and Ston offer similarly affecting experiences.
The thinly populated, pine-forested islands of Mljet and Korčula are rightfully acclaimed for their natural beauty and beaches. But don’t neglect little Lokrum and the lovely Elafitis.
The Pelješac Peninsula is Croatia’s premier wine region. Try the rich, vibrant, local red plavac mali while visiting vineyards in the prestigious appellations of Postup and Dingač. Neighbouring Korčula is renowned for its white wines from the pošip and grk grapes, while the Konavle region, south of Dubrovnik, has its own endemic white, malvasija.