A very thorough guide to the Adriatic paradise that is Croatia.
By Nada Alic
Photos by Ana Alic
Ok, so I’ve been going to Croatia ever since I was a kid because that’s where my parents are from, but I’ve been keeping it on the DL for several reasons: my cousins are all six foot tall legit-looking supermodels and no one needs to know about that and more importantly, I don’t want my pristine, idyllic motherland being overrun by tourists! But ever since they started filming Game of Thrones out there, the word is out and everybody knows and I am no longer the exotic Amerikanka that I used to be. If you don’t know anything about Croatia, it’s a v chill little country on the Adriatic across from Italy surrounded by over a thousand islands, many of which you can now get to via UberBOAT, lol. So this summer, my sister Ana and I embarked on our annual pilgrimage to the Croatian coast to binge on cheese burek, Ozujsko beer and techno beats to bring you our official Croatia travel guide.
First stop: Zadar. Zadar is a coastal town that is old AF with ancient ruins dating back to the 9th century and home to the world’s most beautiful sunsets according to Alfred Hitchcock and my mom. Our house is located about ten minutes outside the city center where everyone is allegedly related to me. This was our homebase for most of the trip because helloo it was free and my mom makes bomb palacinke (crepes) every morning.
There are so many cool things to check out in Zadar like the Sea Organs at the waterfront with 35 organ pipes underwater that play music to the waves, or the Church of Saint Donatus which is where you’ll take your obligatory “I’m in Zadar” ‘gram, since it’s so iconic. Hands-down the best restaurant in Zadar is Restoran Šime, they have the best pizza you will ever eat but make a reso because they’re always packed. Then, cruise down the Kalelarga (the main strip) where you can haggle gold dealers, get some gelato and wander over to Kult bar for some dranks. There will be a soccer game playing on a big screen while a rogue saxophonist walks around playing to Umbrella by Rihanna. If you’re still alive after that, head over to The Garden Lounge and take a nap under a white canopy that makes you feel like you’re in a Rihanna music video.
Paklenica National Park
The good thing about posting up in Zadar is that there are 8 national parks within driving distance. If you’re into hiking, check out Paklenica National Park. My dad will tell you it takes an hour but in reality it takes 5 hours to hike and there is nowhere to pee along the way. Paklenica is in the Velebit mountain range which is Croatia’s largest mountain range. This spot is a huge attraction for rock climbing hotties so if you’re not into hiking, just chill at the front entrance and ask anyone if they need a spotter or w/e. Fun fact: if you do make it up the mountain, there is a very chill old dude up there waiting for you with several flavors of moonshine. In all likelihood he is also probably related to me.
Ok so I’m not into being a tourist BUT I highly recommend leaning into that lyfe for the Kornati tour because it is epic. There’s a ferry that leaves in the morning and brings you back around 5. You’re going to learn so much about this cluster of 89 islands because for the 3 hour journey there will be a woman on a loudspeaker reciting said fun facts over and over again in about 8 different languages. No one mentions this. They also start you off with a shot of moonshine which was just a general theme of the trip. Kornati has no full time inhabitants, only a few simple houses that you can rent out if you really want to rough it because there is no electricity or running water. Cool. Once you approach the islands it feels surreal, like a big constellation of rugged, undisturbed land surrounded by the bluest water. When you finally get to the island they’re all like, “byeee/ hope you come back in 3 hours because if not we’ll leave you here forever.” So you sort of just walk around and the just happen upon the most insane beaches you’ve ever seen. Basically a Carter family-level vacation destination. They probs own one of them.
If you’re over all that peace and quiet and you’re like, cool cool cool cool cool but where can I rage? Hvar, babies! I was just talking to my sister about how insanely overrun Hvar is with tourists when I came across this NY Times article LOLOLOL. It’s true, Hvar has gotten out of hand with young tourists but if you’re into hot young yacht bros then this is the place for you.
There’s a reason it’s so popular, it really is idyllic: cobblestone streets, cafes, luxury hotels, gorgeous beaches, it’s the stuff of a young man with a popped collar’s dream! We attempted to pass through the narrow alleyway packed with sweaty bodies and stood there for a while being all like, this is partying?? Ok we did it, let’s go. If you’re younger and less jaded than me, you should check it out! Two highlights: we stayed at the Pharos hotel which was v fancy and ate yummy vegan food at Cafe Vita so who says we didn’t party?
I know, I know, tourists AMIRIGHT? Split is located an hour from Zadar and is a major port for a lot of the ferries and also the airport. It also feels the most like a city to me, the waterfront is lined with busy cafes and a massive outdoor market that sells all of the fidget spinners your heart desires. There are so many little alleys to get lost in (see: makeout in) and so much good people watching. Sometimes you just need a break from all that nature so you can stare at a faded TAGHeurer ad with Cara Delevingne’s face on it. If you’ve only got one day here, hit up the city’s main beach: Bačvice, grab some food at the NoStress Bistro and hit up Academia Ghetto Bar at night, wow ok I’m so sorry about that name.
Honestly you guys, there are so many beautiful beaches but we kept coming back to Razanac so let us live our truth. It’s a quick 15 min drive from Zadar and the water is clear AF. The Velebit mountains line the background and it’s generally peaceful and not too busy. This beach is the ideal place to recover from your Hvar-induced party PTSD.
Ok, so I missed a few key spots, so here are my honorary mentions:
Dubrovnik – The only reason we didn’t go is because it’s located at the southern tip and I was too scared to drive stick shift all the way there. Dubrovnik is probably the most well-known city in Croatia mostly because of Game of Thrones but also because it’s insanely beautiful and historic.
Pag – Pag Island is home to Zrće which is also home to all of the regrets of my teenage years. It’s basically a 24/7 dance party where many EDM music festivals happen. If you’re into drinking tropical cocktails while waist deep in pool water until you forget who you are, this place is for you!
Zagreb – Zagreb is Croatia’s capital city and it’s further inland which is why it’s a little quieter during the summer season but it’s definitely worth checking out.