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Croatia – Backpacking Through the Most Touristy Country in the Balkans

After a fantastic week in Bosnia, I spent the next 10 days of my trip in Croatia. In this post, I will be talking about Split, Zadar, Rijeka, Pula and Zagreb. I will tell you that Croatia has some incredible places. At the same time, it is not a cheap destination and there are some things you must know before going. 

Split – Croatia’s Coast

My journey to Split started with waking up in Sarajevo at 4AM to get my bus at 6AM. On the bus I felt half asleep and I felt like the bus stopped 50 times. Once I got to the Croatian border, the customs officers didn’t even check my bag. Despite the fact I thought I looked suspicious.

After a few hours I arrived in Split and I have to say that it is heavily overrated. The main thing to see in the city is the Diocletian’s palace. However, in my opinion it is not that special. Split in general feels overrun with tourists and there is not much. There is also a nice park, Šuma Marjan. Where you can walk up and get some seaside views of the city. 

Idyllic Trogir

You can visit Trogir by 40 minutes on the bus from Split. The town of Trogir feels much nicer than Split and it you can feel the quintessential Dalmatian vibe. If you go here, I recommend paying a visit to Kamerlengo Castle. You can go to the top of the tower to get some great views of the town. It only costs 25 kuna which about £2 and I would say that the castle itself isn’t too remarkable. 

So what I can say about Split is that it is most definitely nothing special. It’s too touristy and the prices make it simply not worth visiting. It doesn’t really feel like an authentic part of Croatia either. The bars and restaurants are quite pricey and outside of the main area it looks quite ugly. If you want to chill out on the beach there aren’t any beaches here. There are none within 5 minutes walking of the main part of the city. 

Zadar – A Much Better Croatian Experience

What I must mention about Croatia is that travelling between cities without a car is far from fun. You only really have the option of travelling by bus and it takes a long time. When you get a ticket for the bus, you also have to pay a pound for putting your bag in the luggage compartment. Many buses seem to stop randomly and frequently. 

On a more positive note, I would say Zadar is worth visiting, maybe just for one or two days. It doesn’t feel overrun by tourists and it feels more authentic. I had a funny encounter when I met some drunk Croatians celebrating a wedding. They started chanting next to me. You can also get some fast food or eat from a bakery for good value for money.

When I arrived, I met some compatriots and we discovered the decent nightlife that Zadar has. Compared to the UK, drinks are much cheaper in Croatia, however during the time of the pandemic everywhere just closes at midnight. 

Zadar also feels much more laid back than other places I had been to in Croatia. It has the nicest old town on the coast in my opinion. One of the notable things to see in the city by the sea is the Sea Organ. It’s a machine that uses the tide to create organ sounds and it’s a great place to watch the sunset.

The bell tower is also worth a visit as up the stairs. You can get some great views of the architecture and the roofs of the city. In general, I’d say I enjoyed Zadar much more than Split and Dubrovnik. It felt less touristy and I would recommend spending a little bit of time here.

Rijeka – Italian Vibes on the Coast

This place is a small port city which was part of Italy. The architecture feels very Italian and it is very quaint. I only spent a night here. However, I recommend coming here and I was told that there are some nice beaches nearby to the city.

Because I was there on a Sunday, most places were not open. This is something that you should know that most places close on Sunday in Croatia. It also did not feel overrated. My hostel only cost £10 for the night, so I’d say it’s good value for money. 

If you come here, I recommend taking the stairs up to Trsat Castle. A 20 minute walk from the centre of Rijeka. It is an incredible castle. It feels very clean and the sunset along with the view was fantastic.


I was told a lot about the Istria region, before the Second World War, Italy had this city and has some Italian influence. With the architecture in Pula, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Italy.

The food you can get here also feels very Italian. You can get good pizza, pasta and ice cream and it is good value for money. Istria even has it’s own kind of pasta, fusi and it’s worth having in one of the restaurants. 

As Pula is very small there are only a few things to see, it’s right next to sea. However, there aren’t really any good beaches nearby. The main two things you should see are the Fortress Kaštel and the Roman Amphitheatre. The fortress is an interesting building and you can get a decent view of the amphitheatre from its battlements, the admission is about a pound and there are even old machine guns lying around which are great for a photo op. 

Within the city of Pula you can see an ancient Roman temple which lies in the centre and the main attraction is of course the amphitheatre. It’s like a mini Colosseum and like the one in Rome, the Romans used it for the viewing of gladiator fights. It dates back to 68 AD. You can spend your evening in Pula in one of the many bars in the town and I fondly remember watching England play Poland with some friendly Polish lads. 

Zagreb – Croatia’s Captial

The Croatian capital was my last stop on my tour of the Balkans and unfortunately, the UK and Scottish government turned getting back home into a real life game of Papers Please. Before hoping to get back home, I needed to get an antigen test done, which was really inconvenient as they provided literally no guidance on where to get one.

A Ordeal to Return Home

I decided to get one from a Croatian hospital which I had to book 3 days in advance and this meant I had to miss my flights home and book a new flight a day later. 
The Scottish government also required me to pay £68 for a PCR test from a dodgy company (thanks Nicola) and I also had to fill in a PLF which in my opinion is just excessive.

My phone had died and I couldn’t recharge it because the charging port broke which made this ordeal even harder. I had to get the staff in the hostel to get me a taxi to the hospital for my test and once I got there I had to speak the little Croatian I knew.

Thankfully the doctor there spoke English and even talked about how ridiculous this requirement was as I was already vaccinated. After I got the piece of paper, I had to walk an hour back to the hostel. 
Anyway, despite that nightmare of a situation, I did enjoy the time I had in Zagreb. I definitely recommend coming here, it might even be my favourite part of Croatia. While the coastal cities have a Mediterranean vibe. Zagreb feels more like Central Europe and it is full of historical sites and decent museums.

Backpacking in Zagreb

One of the interesting places you can see for free is the Grič tunnel which you can walk through and it feels very big. The Croatians built this during the Second World War as a place for civilians to protect themselves from bombing and nowadays they even hold raves there. 

The hostel I stayed in I also highly recommend if you want to drink loads of beer and play beer pong, it is called the Whole Wide World Hostel and is owned by an Aussie lad named Cracker who is a complete character.

Zagreb also feels very walkable and one of the most iconic buildings in the city is St Mark’s church which is famous for having a mosaic on its roof. Nearby around this area, there is lots of decent places to eat and some bars and it has a very chill vibe.

What makes this place interesting too is that there is the world’s shortest funicular. At the top of the place the funicular take you, there is a nice place with lots of views of the city. Within this area as well are loads of interesting museums, but unfortunately I only had time to visit one of them. Which was the Zagreb City museum which has a comprehensive history all about the city from ancient times to present day, it cost only £5 for admission, so I’d say it was worth the price. 

Football in Croatia

I was also lucky enough to be in Zagreb to be able to go to a Dinamo Zagreb game, I saw Dinamo Zagreb beat Šibenik 2 nil and getting a ticket was actually really easy. You can get to Maksimir stadium from the centre by tram within 10 minutes and with some time before the game, you just need to buy a ticket at one of the ticket offices, it only cost about £5 which is insanely good value for money.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend going to experience Croatian football, however don’t expect a crazy atmosphere, at this game, there wasn’t a huge attendance and the stadium itself feels very rustic.
So I have to say is that Zagreb is very much a city I would recommend visiting and I feel like I need to come back as my time was kind of interrupted by the fact I had to sort out everything I needed to go home.

From reading this you can tell that Croatia as a small Central European country has a lot to offer, however you must keep in mind that it is expensive and the most touristy areas are in some ways overrated in my opinion. 

If you enjoyed reading this, be sure to check out:

My time in Belgrade

My time in Bogotá

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