Adorned with picturesque coastal towns and dazzling white sand beaches, the Mediterranean wonderland of Croatia beckons with a million stories. And what if you could experience all of it without having to spend much? Hand-picked by our travel specialists, here are the top free things to do in Croatia.
1. Diocletian’s Palace
Built as a retirement residence for Emperor Diocletian in the fourth century AD, Diocletian Palace is one of the prominent structures in Split, Croatia. But the massive complex is not just a palace, it is also where the military troops were stationed in the past.
Today, there are over 220 buildings within the walls and Diocletian Palace is also home to over 2000 people. Walk along the narrow alleyways admiring the impressive architecture, feel the walls echo with history on a guided tour and stop by a coffee on a quiet Sunday morning.
While the original Diocletian Palace structure has undergone several alterations over the years, the essence of it still remains.
Gifted with a spectacular coastline, Croatia is a land of beaches – beaches which are remarkable and offer a slice of nature. On top of it, you can experience nature as it is for free here.
Resembling a triangle from the top, the pristine white sand beach of Zlatni rat in Croatia is one of the top beaches in Europe. Not just in the country but in the whole of Europe! Immensely popular with the locals & the tourists, the beach is as beautiful as is seen in the pictures. Lay back on a chair, toast to a mesmerizing sunset and rent a paddle boat or a jet ski. Zlatni rat is picture-perfect.
On the south shore of Hvar is the charming pebble beach of Dubovica beach. Camouflaged by stone buildings on all its sides, Dubovica beach is well protected and the steep landscape is something very different. Gulp down freshly-squeezed lemon juice from the bar, snorkel in the crystal clear waters and dine at the restaurant in the beach.
The sandy Bacvice beach is for families. Set at the heart of the city of Split, the beach is wonderful throughout the year and it is great for children.
Churches in Croatia are of an entire different kind and they are a pleasant surprise.
Topping the list of impressive churches to see in Croatia is St. Mark’s Church. The 13th-century old Parish church is a landmark attraction in Croatia and the colour-tiled roof of the church is easily recognizable. Take a closer look at the roof and you will spot medieval coat arms of Dalmatia, Croatia and Slavonia. At St. Mark’s Church, gaze at the meticulously decorated altar and spot the Romanesque window in the south facade.
Dominating the neighbourhood of Kaptol is the Gothic-style Roman Cathedral of Zagreb. Like the colour-tiled roof of St. Mark’s Church, the twin spires of Zagreb Cathedral soar into the sky and is visible from anywhere in the city. Baroque marble altars and the frescoes from the 13th century are a huge hit in the cathedral.
As you climb an elegant flight of stairs off the Gundulićeva poljana, you will come in face with the most amazing sight of Saint Ignatius church. You sense a familiarity and think it is just a deja vu feeling. No, it isn’t. The Jesuit church was the backdrop for one of the most popular scenes in Game of Thrones – ‘The walk of shame’. But unlike the commotion that was there on the scene, Saint Ignatius exudes a soothing aura. The ornately decorated, the church offers plenty of photo opportunities.
The UNESCO world heritage basilica of Šibenik Cathedral and the Romanesque baroque Trogir Cathedral are also worth the visit.
The best way to get a glimpse into the life of the locals in Croatia is to go shop in the outdoor markets. While they are not immensely big, these markets buzz with the crowd of locals all the time.
Talking about the markets, the most popular of them in Croatia is the Dolac Market. A collection of traditional open and sheltered stalls – Dolac Market opens as early as 5 in the morning and is painted with bright colours of fruits and vegetables. Farmers and traders from all over Croatia gather here to sell their fresh produce. Some of the products include fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, honey, handmade souvenirs, fish and cheese. Dolac Market is located right in the main square of Zagreb.
Set next to the Diocletian Palace in Split is the open-air Green Market. Commonly referred to as Pazar, the market is where you can stock on souvenirs, fruits, vegetables, flowers, clothes, and bread. While the ideal time to visit the market is early in the morning, some vendors do keep their stalls open through the afternoon.
For all things charming and lively, the City Market in Rijeka is your best bet. Overflowing with seasonal produce, the City Market offers an authentic atmosphere and provides a window into the life of the locals.
Bustling with so much character and history, the squares in Croatia are the best places to get the authentic taste of the local life.
The Austro-Hungarian styled Ban Jelecic square is the main square in the city of Zagreb. The landmark square with the statue of Ban Jelecic in the centre receives a huge number of visitors every day and the energy is contagious. Check out the array of souvenir shops & the restaurants around and enjoy the local musicians play.
At the crossroads of the major attractions in Dubrovnik is the culturally extravagant Luza Square. Wonderfully located, the square provides access to all the famous attractions in Dubrovnik and is a great starting point.
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6. Street Art
Checked out all the mandatory attractions to see in Zagreb and wondering what to do next? Why not go on a stroll across the city and admire the urban art? During a time when art was used as means to express protest, grief and anger, Zagreb embraced the culture of art and turned it into something positive. You might not notice this immediately.
Take a stroll across Zagreb and you will find the fantastic collection of murals and graffiti scattered all around. Waiting to be discovered, these intriguing collection of artwork is ever flourishing. Go on a walking tour, exploring these out and you will realize how much of it you were missing in the first place.
7. Zagreb Botanical garden
A part of the faculty of Science at the University of Zagreb, the botanical garden in the city of Zagreb is an excellent place to relax and ponder about life. Perched at a height of 120 metres above the sea level, the Zagreb botanical garden is home to over 10,000 plant varieties from different parts of the world which includes rare and exotic varieties. As you stroll around the garden, whiff in the enticing fragrance of the plants which blend together to create something magical.
Operating since 1889, the garden is filled with trees from the prehistoric times and there is plenty of space for you to rest.
Interesting read: Picturesque towns in Europe you should explore
8. Maksimir Park
From one lush expanse to another, Maksimir Park is the place for strollers who wander aimlessly. Founded in 1787, the greenery of the park is unparalleled in Croatia and is one of the top-rated urban parks to visit in Europe.
Click photographs of the Bellevue Pavilion, go on a peaceful walk with your family, spot the turtles in the Maksimir lake and create poetry under the stars. Maksimir Park also has a zoo but you have to pay to get in.