Before You Dive In:
Why go? Despite its stunning coastline and “Game of Thrones” connections, this dazzling gem on the Mediterranean has somehow avoided becoming entirely swamped with tourists. And there’s a reason so much of a high-budget fantasy series was filmed here: Croatia’s a truly beautiful country straight out of a fairy tale.
Best ideas: Avoid any urge to take a themed “Game of Thrones” tour and stick to the basics. Croatia has so much natural beauty, so build in a hike or two and plenty of time exploring the beaches and islands. And if you really filled the honeymoon pot with wedding gifts, consider a totally over-the-top sailing trip on a yacht (more on that later). Oh, and you’ll be navigating some hairpin turns on coastal roads, so this is a good time to upgrade your car rental to sporty coupe.
Good to know: Croatian isn’t an easy language to pick up for an English speaker unfamiliar with Slavic languages, and you are expected to tip at meals.
If, between cake tastings and tux fittings, you’ve been fantasizing about a honeymoon spent snoozing on a beach at an all-inclusive, you can stop reading now, because Croatia probably isn’t for you. Or, at least, it could be. But then you’d be missing the point.
Croatia — despite its mushrooming popularity — remains one of the best-kept secrets in Europe, especially if your idea of a honeymoon is a trip filled with adventure. Though the crescent-shaped republic on the Adriatic was propelled to Instagram fame after appearing as a frequent set on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — you know, the city of Qarth, the Red Keep, etc. — it’s still largely unchanged by the tourism boom. Visit one of the lesser-known cities or national parks and you could easily find yourself the only visitor (or native English speaker) in sight. And if you’re not deterred by the idea of sharing your honeymoon photos with another tourist or two, even the most in-demand regions of Croatia could be a fit. It’s a country with mountains, thousands of miles of coastline speckled by beaches, and more than 1,000 islands. If you can’t find a honeymoon destination here, you aren’t looking hard enough.
In This Article
Travel & Getting Around in Croatia
If you’re familiar with Croatia, it’s probably because you’ve been following the drama of Westeros since 2011. Croatia as we know it today has only been around since the early ‘90s, so it almost certainly isn’t where your parents or grandparents went to celebrate their nuptials. Despite its location, Croatia isn’t as much like Italy or Greece as you might expect. But this sliver of Central Europe contains remnants of both, as well as vestiges of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and all the nations that once comprised Yugoslavia, meaning you can find everything from Roman ruins to Byzantine basilicas. It also means excellent cuisine with plenty of seafood and olive oil, but an intractable language — unless you’re familiar with a Slavic tongue. Fortunately, most Croatians know excellent English, at least in major cities. And don’t be surprised if you see a menu with four listings for one dish: in English, German or Czech, Italian, and Croatian.
When to plan your honeymoon: This decision has a lot to do with whether you prefer perfect, balmy weather or perfectly crowd-free attractions. Visiting during peak season means battling with other travelers, but you’ll be rewarded with flawless weather. Because so much of Croatia’s allure continues to be shouldered by its beaches and azure waters, you’d do well to plan your honeymoon during late spring or early autumn (April and May, or September and October). Just know that, though much of Croatia enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate, the inland regions can get quite cold in the winter and snow is not uncommon. Summertime is also when Croatia hosts its music festivals — there are many, though dance hall and electro probably draw the biggest crowds — and Yacht Week, so expect higher prices and an aggressive influx of partiers.
Avoid an awkward dinner by remembering to tip between 10% and 15% of your meal, even if you’re not dining at a hotel restaurant in the middle of summer. Try the local wines, including the white Pošip from Korcula and, if you prefer red, Dingač, from the Plavac Mali grape. Mixology hasn’t really taken off here, so you’re best bet will always be to stick with a glass of wine, a pint, or a stiff pour of something straight.
For the first time in 30 years, Americans can book a nonstop seasonal flight from Philadelphia to Croatia (specifically, Dubrovnik), which is a strong enough argument for a September honeymoon. Otherwise, most travelers will probably find themselves connecting through a major European gateway such as London, Vienna, or Paris before continuing on to Zagreb, home of Croatia’s biggest international airport. Once in Europe, travelers can also easily connect to airports in Dubrovnik and Split.
Even if you plan to stay put for most of your honeymoon, you’re definitely going to want to rent a car. Consider this mandatory. You will be able to book an Uber and, during the summer, the Croatian-only Uber Boat service (let’s be honest: You’ll do this once just so you can say you did), but Croatia really is best seen by car and driving will give you more flexibility about where you go and when. The roads are excellent and the driver sits in the left side of the car, so you can stop panicking now.
Honeymooning in Croatia: Pros & Cons
- Buses run regularly in major Croatian cities and Zagreb has a popular tram system, but the best way to get around is with a car rental. After all, Croatia is long and narrow and though it’s only half the size of New York State, it would take you more than seven hours to drive south from the Istrian peninsula to Dubrovnik. Try to settle on one or two regions, otherwise you’ll spend your entire honeymoon in a car.
- One U.S. dollar will get you nearly 7 Croatian kuna right now. It’s a great exchange rate, which is helpful because goods in Croatia aren’t priced all that cheap.
- Don’t underestimate how disorienting it is to deal with a language and currency you’ve probably never seen or heard before — Croatia is a member of the EU but they don’t use the euro. Don’t let that deter you, but be prepared to struggle through the local greetings and stick with credit cards when you can.
- Despite a pretty broad smoking ban, it’s not uncommon to walk into a tavern or bar and find it completely filled with cigarette smoke. If you consider this a pro, well, you’ll be in good company in Croatia.
If you can picture Croatia in your mind, you’re probably imagining Dubrovnik. This ancient seaport may be one of the most popular cities in Croatia, especially during the summer, as it’s the gateway to many islands and, importantly, Yacht Week. But skip Dubrovnik during peak season and you can have the ancient city, with its remnants and relics of the 11th century, largely to yourself. (Photo by @agnsy)
If you do visit Croatia during the summer, head to Hvar and be rewarded by blooming lavender fields across the island. It’s like Provence only smaller and not French. There are lovely beaches and buildings, but it’s also got a reputation for nightlife if your idea of a honeymoon includes at least a few late-night parties. (Photo by @visitcroatiarightnow)
Split21000, Split, Croatia
You’ll also want to make time to explore the extensive Roman ruins in Split, which happens to be the second-largest city in the country and is something of a gateway to southern Croatia. You can even get here via a quick 45-minute flight from Zagreb. (Photo by @modakomoda)
Unless you’re flying nonstop to Dubrovnik during the summer, your flights will almost certainly take you through Zagreb. You might be inclined to skip the capital, but you’d be missing out on excellent restaurants and hundreds of years of history. There’s a very popular Museum of Broken Relationships, where you can either go alone to console yourself if they say no — don’t worry, they won’t! — or go as a newly betrothed couple to make fun of all of history’s doomed singletons and revel in how you’ve just escaped a lifetime of TV dinners for one. (Photo by @brianorcos)
On especially foggy nights, the entire city of Zadar feels like a film set emerging from the Adriatic. But despite the remnants of past empires and arguably one of the best beaches in Croatia — in a country that’s mostly lined with pebbles, you can find real sand on the long ribbon of beach called Sakarun near here — Zadar remains significantly less crowded than the south, even during the summer. (Photo by @amberoliviadowling)
IstriaIstria County, Croatia
Honeymooners can also ditch some of the crowds on the Dalmatian Coast and head to Istria, the peninsula that, we kid you not, is shaped like a heart. Need we say more? Like most of coastal Croatia, travelers are drawn here for the beaches, islands and ancient ruins. (Photo by @oprrosti)
Best Attractions & Activities in Croatia
Doing Croatia right requires a bit of legwork, so expect to hit at least a few national parks and monuments during your honeymoon. And no, we’re not going to talk about Yacht Week, because you’re married now and they probably wouldn’t let you on a boat anyway. But don’t worry: We’ve still built in plenty of time for you two to relax at the beach.
First, let’s talk about the national parks. There are eight, and they range from karst rock formations to impossibly blue seas and lakes, and black pine forests.
Plitvice Lakes National ParkCroatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park is easily the most well-known, but it’s also the most manicured and, on a peak summer day, completely filled with tourists. You could skip it in favor of the less impressive but accordingly less crowded Krka National Park, or stay in the national park so you can hit the trails first thing in the morning before the buses arrive en masse. (Photo by @plitvicelakesnp)
Brijuni Islands52100, Brijuni Islands, Croatia
If you’re venturing to the Istrian peninsula, board a boat in Fazana (there are departures roughly every hour during peak season) and explore the Brijuni Islands, a smattering of 14 isles blanketed in meadows, forests, and Roman ruins. (Photo by @npbrijuni)
Paklenica National ParkStarigrad, Croatia
Famous for its climbing, challenging hikes, and extensive network of caves, you can easily spend days exploring Paklenica National Park, which is basically Croatia’s version of Yosemite. Plus, you just took the plunge, so we’re pretty sure you can handle dangling from a cliff in a harness. Piece of cake!
Where can you see the best sunsets in Croatia? Even if you don’t want to rope up, Paklenica may be one of the most underrated places in Croatia to watch the sunset, especially from the top of Anika Kuc (a short, steep trail goes straight up the back of the monolith). All the white karst rock formations are transformed by the colors of sunset. You just might find yourself thinking this would’ve been a great place to propose. (Photo by @np_paklenica)
Zlatni RatPut Zlatnog rata, 21420, Bol, Croatia
Zlatni Rat, often called the Golden Horn, is a famous windswept wedge of beach. It’s extremely popular in the summer, but there’s enough pebbly sand and surf to go around. Be ready to rent a beach chair, because lying on little rocks all day long can be kind of unpleasant. (Photo by @timotej)
Greeting to the SunIstarska obala, 23000, Zadar, Croatia
Oh, and in Zadar, there’s an entire monument dedicated to the sun called Greeting to the Sun. The installation comprises 300 multilayered glass plates arranged in a circle along the waterfront. At night, it basically becomes a nightclub, as the so-called solar modules beneath perform a light show. But for sunrise or the beginning of sunset, it’s mostly a giant glass pool along the coast that creates a stunning reflection. (Photo by @3nn3iv)
Walls of StonSton, 20230, Ston, Croatia
Where are the best places to take the best Instagram photos in Croatia? For photos worthy of your Instagram feed and an experience that’s like an interactive history lesson, visit the Walls of Ston while in Dubrovnik. You’ll get fantastic photos from above, capturing the city’s iconic red-tile roofs and glittering shore. (Photo by @vrilouss)
Diocletian's PalaceDioklecijanova ul. 1, 21000, Split, Croatia
Visiting monuments and historical sites might seem like a drag on your honeymoon, but Diocletian’s Palace is, (a) sort of impossible to miss if you’re visiting Split, and also, (b) a really key addition to your Instagram feed if you’re traveling to Croatia. This ancient Roman palace forms about half of Split’s historic district, so either way, you’ll probably find yourself strolling past an Egyptian sphinx or Corinthian column or two. (Photo by @bentonli)
Best Hotels, Resorts & Airbnbs in Croatia
Booking a vacation rental in Croatia is easy — and, in some areas, hard to avoid. If you’re venturing into less touristy areas like Stari Grad or traveling in the off-season, when many resorts close, expect to find your honeymoon villa on Airbnb or Booking.com. Just keep in mind you should expect to meet your host at least once (this is very common in Croatia), especially if he or she drops by with a plate of Croatian desserts.
For a more traditional honeymoon experience, there are plenty of hotels and resorts scattered across the country, but you won’t see many from brands you recognize, unless you’re content spending the most romantic vacation of your life between Best Westerns and Sheratons. You’re not.
Hotel Bellevue DubrovnikUl. Pera Čingrije 7, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia
In Dubrovnik, choose any property from the Adriatic Luxury Hotels portfolio, like Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik, which clings to a cliffside and just emerged from a major revamp. Rates start at $470 during peak season, but you can score significant savings in the off-season. (Photo by @adriaticluxuryhotels)
Fenomen PlitvicePlitvice bb, 53231, Plitvička Jezera, Croatia
Located within Plitvice Lakes National Park, the year-old Fenomen Plitvice feels more like a tiny village than a resort, with individual wood cabins including six studio rooms, eight suites, and four lodges, though the latter are better for families. Pro tip: Request a room with a fireplace. Rooms are available in the off-season from $126 per night. (Photo by @fenomenplitvice)
Esplanade Zagreb HotelUl. Antuna Mihanovića 1, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia
Whether you’re passing through or making the capital city your home base, consider a night at the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel. Expect lots of dark wood, marble and gold, as well as the occasional model or dignitary in the lobby. Rooms can be booked from $150 per night. (Photo by @esplanadezagreb)
Grand Park Hotel RovinjSmareglijeva ulica 1A, 52210, Rovinj, Croatia
Grand Park Hotel Rovinj would fit right in on a Greek Isle. You’re here for the freshwater swimming pools and the spa treatments, which all begin with a shot of traditional Balkan moonshine called rakija. This is, after all, a celebration. Don’t expect to spend less than $200 per night here, even if you’re staying in the middle of winter. (Photo by @misslisamorales)
Palace ElizabethTrg Sv. Stjepana 5, 21450, Hvar, Croatia
If your honeymoon travels take you to the resort island of Hvar, stay at its first five-star property, Palace Elisabeth. This is a place you come to really splash out (from $415 per night), so ask the concierge to arrange a yacht for the day. (Photo by @wanderlux_journeys)
Hotel BastionUlica, Bedemi zadarskih pobuna 13, 23000, Zadar, Croatia
Hotel Bastion is a Relais & Chateaux property built into the ruins of a 13th-century fortress in the historic center of Zadar. Expect excellent service and an absolutely terrible website, so book through Relais & Chateaux instead. (Photo by @hotelbastionzadar)
Honeymoon Packages & Cruises in Croatia
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht CollectionDubrovnik, Croatia
Think cruising isn’t for you? It probably isn’t. But, then again, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is promising to completely redefine the genre. Rather than renting a boat to explore Croatia’s dizzying number of islands, you can cruise along the coastline with Ritz-Carlton starting in 2021. Fares for seven-night itineraries originating in Dubrovnik start at $6,100 per person, so … have you considered crowd-funding your honeymoon? It’s just a thought. (Photo by @ritzcarltonyachtcollection)
Best Restaurants & Bars in Croatia
Croatia is slowly making its way onto the culinary scene, adding two new Michelin-starred restaurants to its guide this year for a total of five. But Croatian cuisine is as varied as the nation’s history, and you can just as easily find Serbian cevapi sausage sandwiches at roadside bars as you can Neapolitan-style pizzas and upscale Mediterranean seafood.
VinodolUl. Nikole Tesle 10, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia
Enjoy moderately priced fare at Vinodol in Zagreb, which has barrel-vaulted brick ceilings, a very smoky patio, and a lengthy wine list. The menu is dominated by meat, but you won’t be disappointed with the seafood if you’re lured by the sea bream or octopus-and-potato salad. (Photo by @restoran.vinodol)
MonteUl. Montalbano 75, 52210, Rovinj, Croatia
Michelin-starred Monte offers three versions of a six-course degustation menu, which, at $133, isn’t cheap, but is a fraction of the cost it would be elsewhere in Europe or the U.S. It’s also the place to go for vegetarians, as there’s an entire set menu dedicated to locally farmed vegetables and cheeses. Sticking to a vegetarian diet in Croatia can be challenging, so don’t dismiss the stuffed bell peppers, oyster mushroom katsu, and eggplant-tomato terrine just because of the price. (Photo courtesy of Dalibor Talajic)
PassarolaDr. Mate Miličića 10, 21450, Hvar, Croatia
Request a table on the terrace at Passarola in Hvar, and don’t miss the tuna steak with tomato marmalade and a glass of Dalmatian wine. Afterward, head downstairs to the subterranean night bar, which is open until morning and has live DJ performances. (Photo by @restaurantpassarola)
Kod JozeČetvrt Ž. Dražojevića 4, 21310, Omiš, Croatia
Need a break from fancy romantic dinners? Grab lunch with the locals at Tri Volta in Split. The sliced-to-order prosciutto platter and Adriatic views compensate for the interior. For dinner, you might head to tucked-away Kod Joze, which has substantial plates of excellent but unfussy game and seafood. (Photo of food at Kod Joze by @roberteklund74)
Nostalgie Restaurant & BarUl. Elizabete Kotromanić 11, 23000, Zadar, Croatia
Nostalgie Restaurant & Bar in Zadar is known for its pizzas, which you can split for a casual dinner in a warm, somewhat industrial atmosphere. Just be sure to start with the octopus carpaccio with caper berries if you see it on the menu. Service can be a bit slow but, hey, you’re not in a rush. You just got married. You’ve got the rest of your lives ahead of you. (Photo by @nostalgiezadar)
Croatia is the kind of rare destination where — thanks to its relatively small size and incredibly diverse culture — you can hike, climb, lounge on a beach, sail around on a yacht, and hit the club all in the same day. If the key to a happy marriage is excitement and spontaneity, you’ll find that in spades during a honeymoon to Croatia. And if it’s not, well, all that fresh seafood and sparkling blue water certainly won’t hurt.