One of the best things about travel is finding new experiences that I cannot have at home. Croatia is no exception. There is no shortage of things to do in Croatia. Whether you are an adventure traveler, a beach traveler, a foodie traveler, or a history and culture traveler, there really is something for everyone. And, there are a lot of things to do outside. For this reason, I encourage you to put Croatia on the top of your list for return-to-normal travel consideration.
We aren’t your typical outdoorsy travelers, so this post will focus on land-based tours related to history, culture, and foodie activities in Croatia. If outdoor adventures are your thing, there are so many national parks and islands to explore as part of your Croatia itinerary. Make sure to check out these destination ideas for sailing in the Dalmatian Coast! You could very easily create a trip of the top tourist attractions in Croatia while finding quiet, slower places to relax. (I believe these are the best kinds of trips!)
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for tours and products I love at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Why Book with Viator
Viator works really well for last-minute travel for us. (We love a spontaneous trip. Our trip to Istanbul was planned in six days.) One of the things I love about booking tours on Viator is the flexibility. You can pay when you book or wait until closer to your departure date. It’s easy to make schedule changes or modify dates, and when we’ve had to cancel, it’s been easy to get refunds.
Viator makes it easy to put together a robust itinerary because of the sheer number of tours and activities on offer. We’ve booked everything from Christmas market tours in Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava, to cooking classes in Italy, Paris and Salzburg, to wine tasting in the Alsace, to walking tours in Venice, Florence, and Rome. It’s always the first website I check when I start brainstorming how to spend our time on vacation.
Things to Do in Dubrovnik
One of the most frustrating things when I started to plan our trip to Dubrovnik was how all the guidebooks talked about was getting out of Dubrovnik. This didn’t entirely make sense to me and I really didn’t understand once we got there. Dubrovnik is gorgeous. The history of Dubrovnik as a republic is fascinating. It certainly deserves its own time.
Unpopular opinion: Just because Game of Thrones was filmed here doesn’t mean that should be your focus. Game of Thrones has nothing to do with Dubrovnik. I suppose if you’re a fan, I can understand wanting to take a tour… but don’t forget to learn something about Dubrovnik while you’re there. I was surprised at how many tour guides shared that their tours on the history of Dubrovnik were disregarded and people only wanted to ask about Game of Thrones. Book the tour that makes sense for your interest – don’t expect the tour guide to cater to you unless you book a private tour.
Our guides in Dubrovnik were ripe with knowledge about the history of Dubrovnik to the its present day independence. I found their discussions incredibly thought provoking, and I’m so glad that we booked these city tours to learn more.
Despite its small size, you’ll want make sure you prioritize what are the most important things to do in Dubrovnik for you.
Check out where to stay in Dubrovnik!
Old Town Dubrovnik Walking Tour
Book a walking tour of Dubrovnik on your first morning in town. This is not a Game of Thrones tour. Our guide was Elvis, and he was incredible. (His daughter offers a Game of Thrones tour if that is your thing.) This tour walks you through the history of the Dubrovnik republic to present day Croatia. It covers a lot and is the perfect introduction to the city. Elvis is incredibly knowledgable, very engaging, and extremely candid about his life experiences and the changes in Croatia.
This tour is a great introduction to understanding the Venetian influence on Croatia. Dubrovnik is unique because its position and wealth, so it was more of rival for Venice than other parts of the country. This Dubrovnik tour gave me a better understanding of the history between the Romans, the Venetians, the Austrians, and Croatians, all of which came up regularly throughout our time in Croatia. Elvis also shared a number of ways in which the republic of Dubrovnik was very progressive, even as early as the 1400s, with an anti-slavery stance that was unheard of at the time.
As Americans, we have very little knowledge of the recently conflict in this region (the Homeland War) and how the present countries were formed. It is staggering to realize how little history we are taught about how parts of Europe were settled after World War II. Our understanding of world history is so limited and far from complete; it feels as if it might need to stretch across a couple of courses if we are ever to understand the world as we presently know it.
Elvis was in Dubrovnik during the Homeland War and he was able to share more about his experiences during that time. It is incredibly enlightening to hear first-hand knowledge about the former Yugoslavia and the current situation in Croatia.
Dubrovnik City Walls Tour
If you stay in the old town of Dubrovnik, you’ll quickly find out that there are three entrances to the city. We arrived at Pile Gate, which I would argue is the most grand entrance to the city. You’ll walk through the first fortification only to find a second entrance on the other side. I didn’t think much of it until we took a tour of the Dubrovnik City Walls.
You can walk around the walls on your own, but you will not understand the significance of what you are seeing. Again, none of our guidebooks provided the depth and perspective of our tour guide, Ivo.
Not only was Ivo able to point out numerous of points of interest around the city, but he was also able to help us understand more about the construction of Dubrovnik. It is very interesting to see the construction history of the city from above – from founding to present. One of the things that I found most interesting was how the roof tiles vary in color. While I originally thought this was a design choice, it’s actually due to the age of the tiles. Some were replaced after an earthquake in the 1600s. Others were replaced more recently after the Homeland War. All come from the same place where the original tiles were created. The hope is that they will all eventually look the same. Understanding the history behind the tiles gives you a better perspective about Dubrovnik’s history.
From the city walls, you can see how Dubrovnik’s positioning significantly influenced its history. I don’t know if this is something that you could take away by just walking the walls yourself. Ivo is a very engaging guide who encourages questions, and is very thoughtful in his commentary about Dubrovnik and Croatia. He was also happy to provide numerous local recommendations and point them out along the route.
This tour does cover the city walls in their entirety. You should be ready for stairs and some physical exertion. It’s far easier than some of Cinque Terre hiking we’ve done, but it does require some physical stamina. We visited on an overcast day, so it didn’t feel too warm. You’ll want to take water with you though. Definitely do it though. There is so much that you cannot see, even if you climb the stairs to the highest points in Croatia.
Things to Do in Zadar
When I read that Zadar had the most beautiful sunsets, I didn’t see how that could be true. I consider myself a sunset chaser, but Zadar didn’t ever show up on the lists I was reading. Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention. Either way, when deciding between visiting Zadar and visiting Split, I chose Zadar for two reasons: 1) the sunset reputation and 2) a tour that covered both Roman and Venetian influences on Zadar.
I wasn’t disappointed in our choice to add Zadar to our itinerary. The sunsets are stunning and the ability to see the various influences on Zadar over the years is fascinating.
Zadar Walking Tour
One of the most challenging things to
The small size of the old town of Zadar shouldn’t keep you from booking a tour. When we started our walking tour of Zadar, Dorja let us know that we had a lot to cover, so we would be moving briskly. She asked if we had specific interests, but honestly, we wanted to learn as much as possible, so we let her lead the way. (This is the best way to approach a tour, I think.)
In Zadar, you can easily find history dating from the Roman times, the Venetian Republic, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Communist Yugoslavia, and, of course, present-day Croatian history. If you chose to merely walk around the city, you might feel like you’re examining a living museum. I say living because you’ll see children playing on the Roman ruins in the main square. Dorja makes all of that history come alive and becomes easier to picture the parts of the ancient city.
This Zadar tour covers the entirety of the old town. Dorja took us into churches to see significant pieces, showed us ancient Roman ruins not visible from the street, and moved through the centuries seamlessly. With every corner we explored, the city took on a completely different personality. Though we had walked the city (with a guidebook!) prior to our tour, Dorja showed us so many things that we had missed on our own.
One of the other things that made this tour helpful was how Dorja was able to communicate how each of these time periods had contributed to present-day Croatia. Further, she was very candid about the more recent history in Croatia and shared her personal experiences. Her honesty and candor was much appreciated, since we came in with such limited knowledge about this area of the world.
Like many of our tour guides in Croatia, Dorja was willing to share many recommendations for the rest of our trip, which we found very helpful. (She was also right about the best ice cream in Zadar!)
Check out where to stay in Istria!
Things to Do in Rovinj
We opted to the make the Meneghetti Wine resort our home base while we were in Istria, so we ended up taking quite a view day trips to nearby towns. The Venetian influence throughout the Istria coastal towns is so significant that you could come here and experience some of the magic of Venice without the crowds. The Porec Euphrasian Basilica and its mosaics rival St. Mark’s in Venice, in my opinion. They truly took my breath away.
That said, one of my favorite day trips was Rovinj. Rovinj is a coastal town with significant Venetian influence, a beautiful harbor, and an incredible old city center that winds around beautifully. While I truly loved our stay at the Meneghetti, I wouldn’t mind spending a couple nights in Rovinj to explore more and enjoy the beautiful harbor views a little bit longer.
Make sure to check out this Rovinj travel guide for all the things to see and do!
Rovinj Walking Tour
While I love a beautiful destination, it’s far more fun when I can go beyond the superficial beauty of a place. I cannot recommend taking a walking tour of Rovinj with Goran enough. This tour winds through the historical core of Rovinj effortlessly while providing commentary about both the history and the present-day challenges. Goran is one of the first tour guides who has made a case about the necessity of renting out the rooms in the city center because the locals don’t want to live in the city center because of the daily life challenges. I appreciated his candor about why it would be good for Rovinj because I’m generally very opposed to that since it hollows out cities and drives up housing costs in some places.
This tour starts at the bottom of town, near the market, and covers both sides of the original canal that separated Rovinj from the mainland. Starting in the “new” town, Goran taught us how the other side of Rovinj was settled and how they enticed people to move there. We learned about ways the city adapted to accommodate these changes before eventually filling in the canal. The tour ends at the church at the top of the town with incredible views of the Istrian coastline.
Goran was able to give us great recommendations on where to purchase traditional Istrian products. We took advantage of his recommendations for olive oil, truffles, as well as restaurants around the peninsula, all of which were outstanding. If there’s something you want to know, I’m pretty sure he has the answers.
Things to Do in Pula
If Porec and Rovinj are Venice light, then Pula is Rome light. With its incredible amphitheater, you might wonder if you took a wrong turn and ended up in Rome. This Colosseum is gorgeous. Similar to Rovinj, Pula has an old town and a new town, and you can see Roman ruins and mosaics throughout the city. (You can also see some Byzantine mosaics, too.)
I found Pula to be utterly charming, and it definitely felt more bustling than some of the other smaller towns that we visited in Croatia. I’m still kicking myself for not stopping in at Max&Co to look for a coat that I want. I thought I would get it in Zagreb, only to find that the store in Zagreb had closed. The market was also bustling, and we could have taken even more time to enjoy its many offerings.
Pula Walking Tour
Pula has preserved its Roman influences very well, and this walking tour of Pula is the best way to see everything up close. While you can see the Colosseum up close in Rome, I don’t think that you can get a good sense of the inside from outside the structure. Pula is different. You can walk right up to the arcades and see the inside. The design is breathtaking, and the landscaping around it is gorgeous. It is the perfect place to start your tour.
From there, we headed up to the fortress to better understand how Pula’s position protected it from sea invaders. After descending, we wandered through the ancient Roman city and observed both Byzantine and Roman artifacts. I was impressed with how well-preserved the remains are, especially the mosaics that are encased around the city. (They are not mentioned in the guidebooks either.) One of the things that makes Pula special is that much of the original design has been preserved, so it feels like you’re seeing the city how the Romans saw it.
Pula does have some of the original Roman gates still standing, so when you cross into the “new” town, you can see the difference. The new town has more of the Austro-Hungarian influence, with wide streets, modern architecture, and more green spaces. While there are plenty of cafes throughout Pula, I found the new town to be more energetic and livelier.
This tour allows you to see both sides of Pula. Our guide offered recommendations on both sides, as well as ideas for additional things to see in Pula and the area.
Things to Do in Zagreb
Zagreb is such an underrated European capital. I felt like it took the things I loved about Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest and wrapped them into one lovely city. One thing I loved the most was the outdoor cafe culture. We regularly stopped for a drink, a snack, or a dessert and watched the world go by.
I was also really impressed with the market in the middle of the old town. You could tell that it was very local based on the products they were selling. Below the open air market, there is an indoor food market (with the most amazing chili-olive cheese), as well as an outdoor flower market. All are worth watching, if not just for the people watching opportunities!
I would love to go back to Zagreb for their award winning Christmas markets. Apparently they are constantly coming up with new themes for their markets, so there’s always a reason to go back!
Zagreb Walking Tour
One of the things we learned on our walking tour of Zagreb was about the slowly rising popularity of the city. In the past, most people just used Zagreb as an airport, so the city mostly catered to business travelers. That’s a shame because it is really a lovely city. Petra took great pride in helping us understand how modern-day Zagreb came to exist, more about its history, showed us many of its beautiful views. I particularly enjoyed her story about the weather station (and it is truly fascinating to see) at the start of the tour.
This tour covers a lot of information that is not in guidebooks and Petra introduced us to a lot of places that we did not find on our own. While I felt like that about many of the tours we took in Croatia, it was especially true in Zagreb. With Petra, we saw murals that commemorated famous Croatians, some of the darker moments in Zagreb’s past and some stunning views of the city. The funicular wasn’t running while we were there, but Petra assured us it shouldn’t be missed. (It’s generally included as part of the tour.)
Petra did an incredible job of highlight Zagreb’s rich history and traditions. I know we would not have gotten nearly as much out of our visit had we not booked this tour of Zagreb, so I strongly encourage you to check it out.
So Many More Things to Do in Croatia
Through a two week trip through Croatia, we barely scratched the surface of this incredible country. We had a number of food and wine experiences, however informal, that blew our minds. Croatian products aren’t exported at the same rates at Italy, Spain, or Greece, so I think they remain a relatively hidden secret. Trust me, there are more posts coming on the delicious side of Croatia.
While we didn’t get to visit many of the small museums, those are also hidden gems in Croatia. The story behind the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb pulled at my heart strings, but our guide was able to point out of some of the more entertaining pieces that have made it there, too.
There are so many national parks to see, islands to discover, and, of course, more towns and villages to visit. The sheer beauty of Croatia makes it an ideal destination to return to travel because you can spend your entire vacation outside and never see it all. (I know we sure did.) I would love to go back to Zagreb for their award winning Christmas markets, too.
If you’re thinking about traveling Croatia soon, the best advice I can give you is to hire local guides and engage the locals as much as possible. Everyone – from our hotel staff, to our waiters, to our tour guides, to the grocery store staff – was happy to give us advice and ensure that we had the best trip ever. I was blown away by the open and friendly nature of absolutely everyone we encountered. There is no shortage of things to do in Croatia, so figure out what you’re interested in, book your tours, and go! It really is the perfect destination to re-start your wanderlust.