Croatia Is the Affordable European Destination You Need to Visit

Friends exploring the Old town, Split, Croatia
Photo: David Clapp/Getty Images

Tourism is on the rise in Croatia and there’s no wonder why.

This beautiful Central European country along the Adriatic Sea was Travel + Leisure’s Reader’s Choice Destination of the Year in 2016 due to its gorgeous beaches, historical points of interest, picturesque national parks, and delicious food.

And frankly, there’s no sign of the country’s popularity waning amongst international travelers after only a few short years.

One of the crowning jewels of Croatia still has to be its Dalmatian Islands, one of the country’s four historical regions known for its pristine beaches, limestone cliffs, crystal clear waters, and beautiful vineyards and olive groves. Chances are if you’re planning a Croatian trip, whether it’s by air or by cruise ship, you’re probably going to stop in this idyllic location.

But Croatia is so much more than just pretty beaches. Plitvice National Park, one of the best national parks in Europe, is also a bucket-list destination for the nature lover or adventure seeker. Throughout the country, foodies, wine connoisseurs, and coffee lovers can find fine food, delectable wine, and strong java to enjoy. And if you’re a history buff or TV addict, many of Croatia’s ancient sites have served as filming locations for the HBO show "Game of Thrones."

You might think all this beauty, history, and Hollywood appeal might come with a hefty price tag, but arguably the best part about traveling to Croatia is how budget-friendly it is. Because it was part of Yugoslavia until 1991, the country has stayed off the beaten path for many travelers, making it an often over-looked vacation option.

Frankly, if you’re looking for a destination that literally has it all while still saving your wallet, you can’t do better than this sunny Mediterranean spot. But if you’re still not convinced, here are some very good reasons to make Croatia your next holiday.

The Idyllic Beaches

A beach on the Makarska Riviera - Brela, Dalmatia, Croatia
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The number one reason to go to Croatia has to be the beaches. If you’ve ever wanted to soak in the sun on the Amalfi Coast but never quite had the budget, beaches along the Dalmatian Islands, the Golden Cape, and coastal cities like Dubrovnik are the perfect alternative.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park
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Located only two hours from the city of Zagreb, this national park is arguably one of the most beautiful in the world. It’s chock full of lush moss, turquoise lakes, gorgeous canyons, and spectacular waterfalls. It’s also an incredibly walkable park since many of the paths are well-marked and even constructed with wood for easy accessibility.

Aromatic Coffee in Zagreb

Croatia, Zagreb, Barkeeper making coffee in cafe
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Coffee lovers, take note: Zagreb should be on the top of your bucket list when it comes to delicious brews. The capital city is overflowing with craft coffee cafes – and you probably won’t find an overcrowded Starbucks here. Coffee (or in Croatian, “kava”) culture here is all about sitting, sipping, and enjoying rather than getting a quick cup of joe on your way to work.

The Exchange Rate

Friends exploring the Old town, Split, Croatia
David Clapp/Getty Images

Did we mention this place was affordable? Many people save up for an expensive Mediterranean vacation, but perhaps budget-conscious travelers should consider what’s on the other side of Italy’s boot – on the Adriatic Sea. While flights to the country can be as expensive as any other in Europe, travel, accommodation, food, and activities within the country are surprisingly cheap thanks to the favorable exchange rate.

There's Delicious Food

Black risotto
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Croatian food is both unique and familiar at the same time, making it a foodie paradise. Some of the best dishes are fresh, handmade pasta called fuzi covered in white truffles and butter in Istria, black seafood risotto along the coast, and many other Mediterranean-style foods. Basically, if you’re a fan of Italian cuisine, you’ll also love Croatian food.

One Word: Wine

Smokvica vineyards on Korcula in Smokvica village on Korcula island. Vinarija Toreta Winery, Smokvica town. Peljesac peninsula. Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Speaking of food, no Croatian meal is complete without good wine. Istria is particularly known for its wines, and would-be sommeliers should definitely take advantage of wine trails in Pelješac, Dingač, Plavac Mali, Korčula Island, and throughout the country — many of which are offered through organized tours. According to Essence of Croatia, the country has 64 distinct grape types and more than 800 wineries in the country so you’re guaranteed to find a vino you’ll love.

You Can Pretend to Be in "Game of Thrones"

Croatia's mediaeval walled city of Dubrovnik, also a set for the HBO series
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If you’re a fan of the HBO show "Game of Thrones," visiting Dubrovnik and Split have to be on your bucket list. Most of King’s Landing was shot in these two cities, and you can see many of the areas where iconic scenes took place. You can either put together your own list of sights to see or even take local tours to do some in-depth exploring.

There's Plenty of Adventure

Croatia, Dalmatia, Dubrovnik
Tuul & Bruno Morandi/Getty Images

Croatia sounds like a fun and relaxing place, of course, but it’s also the ultimate destination for thrill-seekers. Along with its beautiful beaches and fabulous food, it’s also home to some exciting adventure areas where you can soar on a zip line, or go hiking, biking, climbing, or kayaking in its many national parks.

Centuries of History

Pula Arena Amphitheatre, Croatia
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According to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, Croatia is home to eight cultural and two natural UNESCO sites. The country’s ancient heritage rivals that of any other country in the region, so if you’re a history buff you can find many sights to see, tours to take, and intriguing architecture that’s been preserved for hundreds of years, including a first-century Roman amphitheater in the city of Pula in Istria.

Diocletian’s Palace

Diocletians Palace at dawn, Split, Croatia
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Perhaps one of Croatia’s most historic and popular sites, this ancient Roman ruin is the ultimate destination for history lovers and "Game of Thrones" superfans. Located in Split, this ancient site was a filming location for the HBO show, but its appeal goes way back. It’s a beautiful send up to Roman architecture with its well-preserved columns and arches, and modern tourists can enjoy some of the city’s nightlife at nearby restaurants and bars when they visit.

The Ston City Wall

Tourists climbing stairs on Great Wall, Ston, Peljesac Peninsula, Dalmatia, Croatia
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The Ston City Wall (located in Ston, of course) is the second-longest city wall in Europe, measuring at 7,000 meters (just under 23,000 feet). The longest wall in Europe is actually Hadrian’s Wall in England. These stone walls protected the city-state of Dubrovnik’s independence for centuries.

People You'll Never Forget

Woman Walking Towards Pile Gate Entrance to Old Town Dubrovnik
Melissa Tse/Getty Images

One of the best parts of any destination is meeting new people, and Croatia is known to have some pretty friendly locals. Croatian culture is a melting pot of other different cultures and histories, including Hungarian, Austrian, Venetian, and Mediterranean to name a few. People there are warm, social, and are all about soccer, style, family, and food.

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