Having been hidden behind the Iron Curtain until the end of the Cold War, and then embroiled in the Croatian War of Independence with Yugoslavia until 1995, Croatia has become one of the hottest travel destinations in the Mediterranean with a total of 19.6 million tourists visiting in 2019.
Croatia’s sunny Mediterranean climate and 1,104 miles of picturesque Dalmatian coastline along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea make it a popular haven for summer vacationers. Dotted by more than 1,200 islands and islets, it’s one of the most intricately indented coastlines on the planet, and with more than 50 marinas and 1600 berths, it’s a sailor's paradise. Pristine beaches, limestone cliffs, crystal clear waters, hidden caves, beautiful coastal vineyards and olive groves, medieval harbor towns packed with Venetian-era stone buildings, and gorgeous sunsets make it one of the most beautiful shorelines in the world and the crown jewel of Croatia. Over 100 of its spectacular sand and fine pebble beaches have attained Blue Flag status for their extreme cleanliness and beauty.
The country is home to 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites and eight national parks. Its most popular national park, UNESCO-listed Plitvice Lakes, is arguably one of Europe's most breathtaking natural wonders. Located in a forested canyon, two hours from Croatia’s capital of Zagreb, its 16 emerald-blue cascading lakes are intertwined by more than 90 waterfalls, numerous caves, natural springs, and flowering meadows. The dolomite and limestone minerals in the water create distinctive, awe-inspiring colors ranging from turquoise to mint green, gray and blue, attracting visitors from all over the world. The surrounding steep forested hillsides are a haven for wildlife including wolves, bears, owls, eagles, and falcons, though they are timid so you are unlikely to see them. A network of footpaths and wooden bridges crisscross the park and the entrance fee includes both electric tram/shuttle service around the park and noiseless electric-powered boat rides across the lakes.
For history buffs, there are many intriguing, well preserved, Medieval architectural sites to behold throughout the country, including a first-century Roman amphitheater in the bustling city of Pula in Croatia’s most Italian-feeling region of Istria. Dominating the city center for thousands of years and still in use today, this ancient venue plays host to numerous music concerts, festivals, and even an annual film festival. Called the Venice of Croatia, Pula’s ancient ruins are some of Europe’s most stunning.
Heading south of Pula to the heart of the Dalmatian coastline, you will find Croatia’s second-largest city, Split. With some 180,000 residents, it offers an exciting urban experience and its seaside promenade is bustling at all hours. At the center of Split lies a massive, ancient Roman structure, Diocletian’s Palace. As the world's most complete remains of a Roman palace, it holds an outstanding place in Mediterranean, European, and world heritage. The ultimate destination for history lovers and Game of Thrones fans, this ancient site was a major filming location for the HBO show. Built by Emperor Diocletian in 305 AD and extremely well preserved, it’s an imposing walled fortress from the outside. However, stroll inside and make your way along its winding narrow cobblestone streets and centuries-old buildings and you’ll experience a beehive of activity full of small pubs, restaurants, and shops aplenty.
Game of Thrones enthusiasts will also love Dubrovnik, the walled seaside city at the southern end of the Dalmatian coast. It's Croatia's most glamorous destination, and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. While Dubrovnik’s city walls and forts became Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing, its beautiful Trsteno Arboretum on the outskirts of the city became the Red Keep’s gardens. Surrounded by 1.2 miles of thick stone medieval defensive walls, turrets and towers, the city’s famous collection of baroque buildings on marble streets make it one of the most beautiful and popular cities to visit in Europe.
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