For centuries, Croatia has been at the crossroads of East and West. The country was once a Greek colony and later became a Roman province. It has been influenced by Napoleon, the Ottomans, Austro-Hungarians, and the Byzantines to name a few.
Croatia’s turbulent and diverse history has made it a cultural gem; its heritage is rich in influences from these periods.
We’ve compiled a list with nine places to visit in Croatia to experience the culture.
9. Rijeka, EU Capital of Culture
Why it’s so great: Rijeka boasts a beautiful neoclassical architectural design, a lively city centre, and a bustling central market.
What to Do: The mountains of Rijeka reach out to the ocean, which creates a unique juncture with many gastronomic possibilities. You can try everything at the main market, which has been the spot to eat since the 19th Century. It’s also an Art Nouveau architectural gem.
You’re more likely to be there in 2020, because the city has been chosen as Europe’s Capital of Culture 2020. This means that you will find a wide range of cultural activities.
There will be over 600 events, including shows, operas and conferences, concerts, festivals, concerts and more. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and Children’s House will host new cultural exhibitions.
Try Istria’s truffles. This town is known for its black-and-white fungi that are found in Croatian oak forests.
Why it’s so special: Zagreb is an ode to the Austro-Hungarian empire.
How to get there: Most of Zagreb can be reached by foot. Visit the Neo-Gothic Zagreb Cathedral. It is an iconic landmark. Also, Saint Mark’s Church, which is one of the oldest buildings within the city, can be seen.
Zagreb boasts the highest number of museums per capita. You won’t be able to visit all of them, but you should still see Mimara, the city’s famed fine arts museum, and the Zagreb City Museum to soak in the capital’s rich history.
Walking around Tkalciceva Street is a great way to see the city. Then, you can stroll around Bogoviceva Street. This street is a great spot to watch people while sipping a cup of Croatian coffee. Croatia is known for its olive oil and coffee.
Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is where you will find many regional cuisines. You can try them all at Dolac, the city’s central marketplace. You can also find the traditional “konoba”, a casual trattoria-style restaurant that serves local delicacies.
Grenadir Marsa is a delicious pasta dish with cheese and onions; Kajzersmarn is an original dessert made with caramelized pancakes; Strukli, the local cheese-stuffed pastries; and the famous pepper biscuits.
Bonus: You will most likely encounter ‘Cestis d’best’ a street festival that transforms the city into an open stage for street theatre, music and performances in late spring.
Why it’s so great: Explore 3,000 years worth of history in Zadar.
Explore the ancient city on foot to see its many monuments. The Church of St Donatus is Croatia’s largest pre-Romanesque structure. It dates back to the 9th Century. It is primarily used as a venue to hear medieval renaissance songs. Check out the programme at your local tourism office. It is worth a visit to the Cathedral of Anastasia. This cathedral was built in the 12th- and 13th centuries.
Zadar, once the largest city-fortress of the Republic of Venice was once a landmark. Together with other cross-border elements, they formed the Venetian Works of Defence, which were built between 15th and 17th centuries. These are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as an exceptional monument of modern maritime fortification. Head to the Land Gate from there, which is the historic entrance to the city. It was built in 1543. It is one of the most important Renaissance monuments in Dalmatia.
Try it! The famous Maraschino cherry liquor, a 100-year-old recipe made only from Marasca sour cherries. The cheese from Pag is the most sought-after cheese in Croatia. The cheese is infused with Mediterranean flavours and soaked in oil. The brodet is a fish-and-crab stew.
Why We Love It: The Historic Sibenik is a UNESCO site.
What to Do: St James’ Cathedral is the first UNESCO-listed landmark. It is a basilica dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Its fusion of Gothic art and Renaissance art is what makes it so popular.
The Ottomans were feared by the Croatians for centuries. Therefore, Sibenik had four defensive fortresses. The most powerful was St Nicholas (Tvrdava Sv Nikole), whose defense architecture is also protected under the UNESCO World Heritage.
Take a walk through Sibenik’s Medieval Mediterranean Gardens, designed by Dragutin Kis, an award-winning architect. They are situated around the former St Lawrence Monastery. It is worth a visit. They are open all year and often host open-air events during summer.
Another reason to visit is to sample Dalmatian cuisine.
Try Crni Rizzot, a black risotto made with squid and served with grated cheddar.
Why it’s so special: Primosten, an island in its past lives, has retained the architectural characteristics of a medieval Mediterranean fishing community.
What to Do: In order to defend the city from Turkish invasions five centuries ago, the residents of the island built walls, towers, and a bridge connecting to the mainland. The bridge was destroyed by the Turks and replaced with a causeway. It is worth visiting the city for its Croatian village-like atmosphere.
The Old Town Gate is the location of the stone remains of the old walls. To enjoy the breathtaking view of the ocean, head uphill to the church of St. George. It was built in 15th-century.
Primosten is another great place to taste Dalmatian cuisine. The red Babic wine is paired with goat cheese and prosciutto, all Primosten natives.
Try this: A shot Rakia, a local specialty, is a popular Balkan fruit brandy.
Why it’s so great: This is a well-known ‘town museum’.
What to Do: Trogir is one of the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic cities in Central Europe. UNESCO protects the historic centre of Trogir.
You can visit the stunning Romanesque-Gothic churches and the Cathedral of St. Lawrence. Also, you will find the Kamerlengo medieval castle, which was built by the Venetians around 1400. The fortress can also be used for concerts, festivals, performances, and open-air cinema screenings in the summer. Visit the local tourism office for more information.
Pasticada is a type of Dalmatian beef stew that you must try. Every family has their own recipe.
Enjoy a Klapa performance in the town’s loggia, which is UNESCO-listed. Two tenors, one bass, and a baritone are the traditional singing group, which performs a capella songs to celebrate love and wine, the homeland, and the sea.
Why We Love It: A historic jewel with its old city and the 1,700-years-old Diocletian Palace.
What to Do: Stepping back in time is the essence of the ancient city center. The Diocletian Palace, UNESCO-listed and remarkably well preserved, is the first stop. Next, make sure to visit St Duje’s Cathedral. It was once the Diocletian’s mausoleum. It is one of the oldest cathedral structures in the world, with its central section dating back to 350AD.
Peristil Square, an original Roman court that allows you to admire the outstanding architecture of Split, should be added to your list. It is surrounded by stone monuments that have made the square very acoustic. Look out for theatre and opera performances in the summer.
It’s easy to get lost in the Old Town, a maze made of cobblestone streets that surround the Diocletian Palace. But make sure you find your way to People’s Square to gaze up at the clock. End your day by strolling along the Riva Promenade in Split, which is the harbour. It’s a great place to stop for a bite to eat.
Try Soparnik. This is one of Croatia’s most authentic traditional dishes. It’s a thin, sweet, and filling, filled with Swiss Chard.
Bonus: Don’t miss Sinjska Alka, a UNESCO-recognized equestrian event that takes place in Sinj (about 45 mins from Split) every August.
2. Stari Grad and Hvar
Why We Love It: Hvar was inhabited since prehistoric times.
What to Do: Hvar is a cultural and artistic hub that lies at the heart of the Adriatic sailing routes. Hvar Public Theatre is located in the city. This theatre was one of Europe’s first and is back in business after 20 years of restoration. It is free to visit and you can enjoy the ongoing performances throughout the year. For the most recent programme, visit the Hvar Tourist Board.
In 384 BC, the ancient Greeks established the colony Pharos on the northern island. Stari Grad is one of Europe’s oldest towns. The Stari Grad Plain is a landmark that displays the ancient system of land division used in Greece. It has remained nearly intact for more than 24 centuries. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Try this: Gregada is a simple fish stew made with potatoes. It is believed to be the oldest method to cook fish in Dalmatia. This dish was probably introduced by the Greeks. The Octopus salad is a traditional dish in Croatia and Hvar. It can be paired with Bogdanusa wine (a white grape native to Hvar).
Why We love it: This is why it’s called the Pearl of the Adriatic.
What to Do: Dubrovnik is surrounded by fortresses and offers cultural and architectural treasures that have been preserved for centuries. Begin your walk at Stradun’s magnificent main pedestrian street, the Pile Gate.
The cathedral was built on the remains of a 12th century church. Take a walk around the limestone streets and admire the baroque architecture. At dusk, climb up the steps to the city walls for a panoramic view of the old town, sea, and sunset over the Adriatic. Soon you’ll see why this city was used to set multiple scenes in the medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik has a rich cultural scene, including festivals, open-air concerts and performances, as well as gardens, performances, exhibitions, and many historical venues such Sponza Palace that host the events.
The Dubrovnik Summer Festival is the cultural highlight of the year. This festival transforms the city into a major stage for performances, jazz, dance, and other arts. You should also follow the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra, which organizes year-round concerts as well as seasonal events.
Try Zelena Menestra or the green soup, a traditional dish that has been around since at least the 15th century. This dish is made with smoked bacon, ham hock, homemade sausages and sometimes other vegetables. Rozata is a Dubrovnik-based traditional medieval dessert that’s similar to crème brulee, but with an extra special ingredient: rose water or rose petals liqueur.