13 Reasons To Love Croatia in the Winter
And just like that, our month in Split, Croatia has come and gone. Another four weeks of winter sun, adventures with friends and living like locals in one of our favourite cities in Europe. You see, we don't know the Croatia of crowds, yacht parties, heat waves and line-ups. We haven't met her (yet). Instead we know the Croatia that welcomes us back each winter like guests at an exclusive event. Today we're sharing 13 reasons why we love Croatia in the winter and why we'll keep coming back!
1. WE GET THE STREETS TO OURSELVES
Nothing puts a damper on a trip like being shuffled along like cattle on a crowded street full of selfie sticks. But visit Croatia in the winter and you'll find it surprisingly easy to end up walking through the most beautiful cobblestone alleys with no one in sight. Even main streets and squares in smaller towns like Omiš, Trogir and Imotski may be free from people in the middle of the day. For Wes and I, it means we can film in town freely without having to wake up at the crack of dawn to avoid getting others in our shots. And you guys know how much I like my sleep!
2. IT'S LESS EXPENSIVE
A visit to Croatia in June, July or August will no doubt be spectacular but peak season also means peak prices. Room rates, admission fees and even some restaurant menus offer considerable discounts from November to April. The hotel room charging $145/night in the summers months can go down to $55/night in the winter! The fluctuation is almost startling but we're big fans of prices in Croatia during the winter. Even national parks like Krka offer reduced admission of 30 kuna instead of the 200 kuna tickets for July and August.
3. THE TRAFFIC-FREE ROAD TRIPS
A scenic coastal drive is going to be beautiful at any time of the year in Croatia but I imagine it is way more enjoyable without heavy traffic. Twice now we've rented a car (last-minute, of course) and hit the road in Croatia with both experiences being stress-free. Last year we enjoyed a day trip to Krka National Park followed by a delicious peka lunch with friends. This year we hit the road to explore Imotski and Omis one weekend. Wes does most of the driving in Europe since we usually rent a manual car to save money (one day I'll learn to drive stick!) and I help navigate. We like to opt for the toll road to save time and found that it's a heck of a lot easier than driving in Ireland!
4. CROATIA'S NIGHT OF THE MUSEUM
I won't lie and pretend Wes and I are big on museums but we're more likely to visit them if they're free! On the last Friday in January, museums throughout the country come together for Museum Night in Croatia when entrance is free to all visitors between 6pm and 1am. We had a great time with friends last year at Star Village, the observatory on Mosor mountain near Split. The annual event started back in 2005 with only 6 museums and has since grown to over 200 participating museums so even non-museum-goers will find something that peaks their interest!
5. MORE INTIMATE TOURS AND SERVICE
While tour options may be limited in the winter, those that are available will inevitably be less crowded. Walking tours might see upwards of 30 people during peak summer months while winter groups can turn into private tours at no extra charge! Group excursions become more personalized and memorable this way giving you the chance to ask more questions and learn more from your guide. The same can be said for service in restaurants that would normally be packed in the summer. Throughout the Balkans we've noticed that restaurant service isn't as quick and, erm, courteous as we're used to in North America but a few times we've found ourselves to be the only table seated in a restaurant. In most cases this meant quicker service, personalized recommendations and even local tips and advice from wait staff.
6. THERE ARE MORE ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS
Wes and I have a tendency to make last-minute, spontaneous travel plans. A frequent downside with this style of travel is that, by the time we've decided where we're going next, there aren't many accommodation options for us to choose from on Airbnb. Instead we get notifications like, "Only 8% of listing are left for those dates" because we're booking less than a week ahead. The great thing about visiting Croatia in the winter is that you can still find a variety of available accommodation options in different neighbourhoods and for different budgets. If you're booking for a future trip, our discount link on Airbnb will give new users up to $45 CAD off your first booking (in Croatia or anywhere else in the world!). This year we decided to rent a place near Marjan hill in Split and were a short walk away from both the centre of town and the beautiful Marjan Park.
7. THE WEATHER IS PERFECT (USUALLY)
For those wanting to escape cold, Canadian winters, the most viable option would be to head south but, naturally, Fel and Wes head to Europe instead 🤷🏻♀️. There are a surprisingly large number of warm winter destinations in Europe but the Croatian coast is our top choice for a couple of reasons. Firstly, our Canadian passport limits how long we can stay in warmer Schengen nations like Portugal, Spain and Italy (90 days for every six months). Second, we like spending time in Central Europe so Croatia is close enough to get to without having to board a plane (Wes hates flying). And third, Split is beautiful during the winter months and we've seen temperatures reach up to 16 degrees (which is warm enough for us). Hot or not, what we love about winter on the Dalmatian coast is the number of sunny days. Even if you need a light jacket, we can swap pine trees for palms and hibernate by the water. We've seen mostly sunny days in Split but, like anywhere in the world, the weather can be unpredictable. Last year we had a few days where the temperature dropped below 0 and the pipes in our building completely froze so we were without running water for a few days. This year we had more rainy days than we would have liked but it still beat the brutually cold winter Canada had so we can't complain!
8. CROATIA KNOWS HOW TO DO CHRISTMAS
My very first steps in Croatia were walking out of the train station in Zagreb last December and I remember telling friends that it felt like Christmas itself had hit me right in the face. I don't think I've ever visited a city with more lights, decorations and overall festive spirit and it's no wonder the Croatian capital has won Best Christmas Market in Europe for three years in a row. Though Zagreb is the most impressive, holiday markets take place throughout the country with some starting as early as late November and often running until the first week of January. Cities transform their boardwalks and town squares to bring locals together for live music, mulled wine and festive activities for all ages.
9. 'TIS THE SEASON FOR CITRUS FRUITS
This year we joined local friends at their family home on the Peljesac Peninsula and learned so much about the seasonal offerings in Croatia. Winter means that oranges, clementines and mandarins are all in season so keep an eye out for them at the market. We had the chance to pick local fruit straight from the trees which made for some fresh orange juice and even better mimosas.
10. WE GET TO ENJOY FRITULE
Try as we might to avoid eating sweets while travelling, Wes and I both find it hard to resist fritule, a Croatian pastry that is most popular around Christmas time. If you're familiar with Tim Horton's, then fritule are essentially timbits but way better. These deep-fried balls of delicious dough are served warm, topped with icing sugar and highly addictive. I bet you'll smell them before you see them at the Christmas market stalls.
11. THE SPECTACULAR SUNRISES AND SUNSETS
Have you ever noticed that sunsets in the winter are more impressive? Even though you'll have shorter days during winter months, the crisp, clear air allows for even more vivid colours. Gorgeous orange, pink and purple hues fill the skies with a new picture-perfect painting each day. Check sunrise and sunset times online beforehand and make sure you've got your bearings right to pick a prime viewing location (due east for sunrise and due west for sunset). Rumour has it Zadar, Croatia is where you'll find the best sunsets in the country!
12. THE FESTIVALS CONTINUE AFTER NYE
Things quiet down considerably after New Years but Christmas markets will be up and running until at least January 6th. And the celebrations keep going throughout the winter months. Dubrovnik has an impressive procession each February 3rd for Saint Blaise, the city's patron saint. For Mardi Gras festivities, head to the port city of Rijeka for a colourful carnival and parade. Zagreb hosts Zagrebdox each year, an international documentary film festival at the end of February. Experiencing these smaller festivals throughout the winter months will help you appreciate the local culture and add to your memories in Croatia.
13. GOOD THINGS COME WITH THE RAIN
This year in Split, we had our fair share of rain. Luckily it was usually overnight or early morning but it was definitely more rain than we'd seen the year before. It's impossible to predict the weather patterns and how they'll affect your travels but we knew all the rain would be great for visiting the sinkhole lakes near Imotski. During the summer months, they're often completely dried out but we got to see them both filled with water. The downside? During our winter visit, the sun didn't quite reach high enough in the sky to give the water that crystal clear light. We waited patiently but still only saw the tree shadows over the water. You win some, you lose some, I guess!