When my sister learned that she would be living in Europe for six months, one of the first things on our agenda was to plan a “sister trip”. After some research that - I’ll be honest - largely consisted of us finding out which locations would be warm enough to get a tan in October, we settled on Zadar, Croatia as our destination. Having never been to Croatia, I was absolutely determined to see and experience everything we could in the five days we had. While we had an amazing time, five days wasn't nearly long enough to explore this beautiful country - it's now high on my list of places to revisit!
Flight from London to Zadar: 2 hours
£78 round trip from London Stansted (Ryanair)
£25 pp/night accomodation in Zadar Old Town (AirBnB)
Our five days were jam-packed with loads of activities and sightseeing and eating literally all of the local food we could find. Since we went mid-October, we were lucky enough to not need to contend with hordes of tourists, but we still had amazing weather.
Krka: One of the most famous tourist locations in Croatia, the natural beauty of Krka National Park certainly lived up to expectations. Because we went in the off-season, it wasn’t too packed, but I would still recommend getting there early to beat the crowds. From Zadar, we took a bus to the town of Skradin, which sits on the outskirts of the national park. The bus was something like £5 each way, and took about an hour. Once you’re there, you can walk from Skradin and pay the entry fee to get into the park, which includes the cost of a ferry ride up to the main part of the park, where the waterfalls are. If you have a valid student ID, make sure you bring this along, because it’ll get you a discount on the park entrance fee. If you’re going for the day, make sure to bring your bathing suit, shoes you can easily remove and have enough grip to walk on rocks by the waterfront, and a picnic lunch. There are options for food there, but as we discovered, they’re all majorly overpriced and definitely not vegetarian-friendly.
The main falls ‘Skradinski buk’ are at the base of a path that will take you all around the park and past several waterfalls and wetland areas - while the swimming area at the main falls is definitely the most famous part of the park, make sure you don’t miss the trail as it allows you a chance to get away from tourists, and offers some beautiful views of the waterfalls.
Paklenica: I think we were most excited to see Paklenica National Park, with its sheer cliffs famous for incredible rock climbing and dramatic landscapes with its canyons and rock formations. However, about a week before our trip, my sister sprained her ankle badly hiking elsewhere in Croatia, so we were a bit limited based on her hobbling abilities and the strength of her painkillers. Even though we didn’t get to embark on the epic hike we’d planned, Paklenica was an amazing day out. We went on a pretty gentle trail that brought us to Velika canyon, where we saw more rock climbers than I’ve ever seen in one place. It wasn’t hard to see why - the cliffs in the area went straight up to the sky. From speaking to a few other hikers, we were told about a trail that led to a mountain hut with a friendly owner, where you could stay the night, and of caves and clear blue pools you can hike to. Needless to say - Paklenica is definitely on my list of places to come back to!
Sailboat Tour: We decided early on that we wanted to spend a day out on the water, to make the most of the beautiful weather in Zadar. Because the city wasn’t too overrun with tourists in October, we were able to book a sailing tour through the AirBnB app that would have usually been designed for 8 passengers all to ourselves. Our guide was incredibly friendly and tailored the day to whatever we wanted - which included a lot of sunbathing and messing around on the stand up paddle boards they had onboard the sailboat. It was an amazing day, and the islands surrounding Zadar are gorgeous, with clear blue water full of little fish. On our journey back to Zadar, we enjoyed a glass of local wine, courtesy of our tour guide. It doesn’t get better than that!
Zadar Walking Tour: I knew very little about the Dalmation coast before this tour, and found it all fascinating. The town of Zadar is steeped with history dating back to the Stone Age, with periods of Roman, Austrian, and French rule, and the architecture shows clearly the mix of influences on the city. We booked the tour through Free Spirit Tours, which was free of charge (besides optional gratuity) with an incredibly knowledgeable tour guide, and lasted for two hours.
Pašticada: Traditionally a beef dish with local Dalmatian origins, I found a pescatarian version of pašticada at a restaurant in Zadar Old Town that was done with tuna steak and polenta. The sauce is made of several key ingredients, including prunes and prošek, which is a sweet Croatian red wine. I am not kidding you when I say I still occasionally think about this plate of food - it was that good.
Squid Ink Risotto: There are few words in this world that give me more pure delight than “squid ink risotto”. Fortunately, in Croatia you can’t sit down at a restaurant without being handed a menu with this dish on it. Don’t let the black color put you off - it’s an incredibly indulgent plate of food, usually paired with large pieces of cuttlefish, and goes great with a glass of local white wine. Be warned, though, that it’ll turn your teeth and tongue a lovely shade of black after eating! 100% worth it, in my opinion.
Pag Cheese: This cheese is famous in Zadar - it was one of the main things we were determined to taste while we were visiting. Pag is an island, just under an hour’s drive from Zadar, that’s famous for its hard sheep’s milk cheese. So determined were we to try this cheese that we rented a car and drove to the town of Pag, hoping to visit the Gligora cheese factory to do a tour. Unfortunately, we hadn’t done our research, and ended up visiting on a Sunday, where most everything in the town was completely shut, including the factory. After a couple of hangry sisterly spats (obviously induced by the lack of cheese in our systems), we found a Gligora store open nearby that was due to close in the next half hour. By some stroke of luck, we made it there ten minutes before closing time, and were able to purchase three different varieties of the cheese - an original flavor, one with herbs, and an amazing truffle one. Of course, when we were on our Zadar walking tour the very next day, we realised there was a Gligora store about five minutes’ walk from our AirBnB, and would have saved us the trip! At least the story was worth the experience!
LANGUAGE AND KEY PHRASES:
In general, the Croatians we came across spoke English nearly as well as we did, and were happy to have a reason to practice with us, so we didn’t have many opportunities to speak the Croatian language. However, as is the case with any country I visit, I do try to learn a few key phrases and words that will help me get by and show that I’m making an effort to learn their language.
Cheers: Živjeli (jee-vo-li), which translates literally to “let’s live”
Please/Thank You: Molim/Hvala
Is Croatia on your bucket list? I would love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below!