Croatia is dreamy. It's vast coastline, medieval castles, lush forests, and rolling hills leave a lot of travelers craving to see more. I know it did that to me.
I first visited Croatia back in 2016 with my now husband then boyfriend. We rented a car and road tripped the country from Pula in the north to Dubrovnik in the south. It was the first country we had traveled together after meeting in Panama and it really cemented our relationship and our love for travel, something we haven't stopped for even a minute since then.
Lucky for us, we had the opportunity to get back to Croatia in 2023 after spending much of the last year and a half in the Balkans. We bounced from Albania to Montenegro, up to Serbia, over to Bosnia, and west to Croatia.
All this time in Croatia showed us that no 2 seasons are quite the same here and while of course the places you visit in Croatia will affect your trip greatly, so too will when you come.
Before I dive into the seasons of the year and when you should visit Croatia, we have some basics to cover first.
How to See All of the Seasons in Croatia
Unfortunately for us with a serious case of wanderlust, it's not as easy as picking a country and settling in for a year without any further thought or planning. Even if you dream of living in Croatia for a year or longer, you'll need to do some forward planning to make this dream your reality.
As of January 2023, Croatia joined the Schengen Area. The Schengen is the name given to the collection of countries in Europe that are borderless. In general, this area includes the countries in the EU but there are some exception. In this area, most nationalities can stay 90 days every 180 days visa free.
So that means you can enjoy a full 3 months here, so long as you're not coming from or going to another country that belongs to the Schengen directly before or after your trip.
If you want to to stay longer than that, Croatia offers a handful of long-term residency visas that suit a variety of applicants. They're even one of the European countries offering a digital nomad visa. To see the full year in Croatia, you'll need to apply for one of these visas prior to arriving in the country.
If you want to cover a lot of ground in Croatia, consider renting a car. That's how we were able to see so much of the country. While there are public buses, you'll get to your destinations quicker and a lot more comfortably if you opt to drive yourself. Note that although in Europe, Croatia's train system isn't as advanced as you might assume compared to it's neighbors.
For those that don't plan on living in Split or another part of the country and just want to visit Croatia, let's dive into the best time to visit.
Things to Know Before You Go
Now that you’re gearing up for your trip and planning the specifics of where and when you’ll go, there are a few things you don’t need to overlook.
I know just how easy it is to look towards the big hike, bucket list city, or beach of my dreams and forget about all of the little things in between that’ll make your trip run as smoothly as possible. Be sure to take into consideration these few things before you go to make sure you get all the good bits of your trip without the stress.
- Make sure you have travel insurance. A good travel insurance, like SafetyWing, will ensure you’re covered in case of emergencies. While you will have to pay upfront for your doctor or hospital costs, unless it’s for a pre-existing condition, you can file a claim and should be reimbursed. For any Americans reading this, fear not, healthcare in pretty much every other country is far more affordable than ours, even if you’re paying out of pocket.
- Do your best to learn a few local phrases in their language. No, I’m not expecting you to be able to have a fluid conversation with locals at the bus stop if you’re just visiting their country for a week but knowing your numbers (for prices), how to order something (“I would like…”), and basic greetings really will take you a long way. Mondly is a great app for phrases and vocabulary.
- Last tip certainly isn’t mandatory but it is helpful. Before you start booking your flights, hotels, and tours, consider opening up a travel credit card. Thanks to our Capital One Venture card, my husband and I have gotten countless free flights just by gaining points on everyday expenses.
Spring in Croatia (Shoulder Season)
Early spring is a bit chilly in Croatia, especially when you get those heavy winds off the Adriatic Coast. But as winter wears away and warmer temperatures become the norm, spring is a wonderful time to visit Croatia.
To me, there's something so relaxing about being on a quiet beach in a sweatshirt with hardly any other people around. That's what spring in Croatia means to me.
It's warm enough to get outside and enjoy the fresh air but not so warm that hordes of tourists and locals alike have started flocking to the coastal towns and taking up precious space on the small, usually rocky shoreline.
March may still be cool, but by April, the weather becomes pleasantly mild, making it ideal for exploring historic cities like Dubrovnik and Split without the crowds of summer. The Adriatic Sea begins to warm up, making it possible to enjoy early swims and water activities along the stunning coastline. Although swimming really depends on how desperately you want to get in and how warm of a day it really is. We spent all of April and May in Northern Croatia this past year and I couldn't bring myself to go for a real swim once.
Spring is also the season for Easter celebrations, with colorful festivals and traditional customs adding a cultural charm to your visit.
If you're looking for a laid-back environment that allows you to enjoy all the beauty of Croatia without having to fight for a view and are OK with some shops and restaurants in small towns being closed for the season, spring is the best time to visit Croatia.
Best Place to Visit in Croatia in Spring
While much of the country is enjoying fresh temperatures this time of the year, there are a few places that are especially good to visit in spring. Other than Rijeka for Carnival, I recommend you add these places to your spring itinerary:
- Dubrovnik: Spring is a fantastic time to visit this historic city on the southern coast. With pleasant weather and fewer tourists, you can explore the Old Town, walk along the city walls, and enjoy the stunning views of the Adriatic Sea.
- Plitvice Lakes National Park: Spring is ideal for visiting this natural wonder. The lakes and waterfalls are at their most spectacular, and the lush greenery adds to the enchanting atmosphere.
- Zagreb: Croatia's capital comes to life in spring with blooming flowers and outdoor cafes. Stroll through the charming Upper Town, visit museums, and enjoy the local cuisine.
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Summer in Croatia (Peak Season)
Croatia's summer is the peak tourist season and for good reason. The weather is hot and sunny, with temperatures often reaching the mid 90s°F (30s°F). The peak season really is July and August so June is a great time to enjoy the summer heat with far less tourists around.
This is the perfect time for beach lovers and water enthusiasts, as the Adriatic Sea is crystal clear and inviting for swimming, snorkeling, and sailing. Croatia's numerous islands come to life with vibrant nightlife, festivals, and outdoor events. You'll be eager to explore the historic old towns, dine al fresco at seaside restaurants, and indulge in the Mediterranean lifestyle.
From experience, do know though that not everywhere in Croatia will have air conditioning, so if you're used to that and need it for a good night's sleep on a hot summer night, double check your hotel or Airbnb listing to make sure they have it.
The summer months are called peak season for a reason. Tourists come in droves to the now super popular Croatia and that means you'll have to share your experience with them. This also means that in tourist season, prices are at their absolute highest so you might pay more for really everything in these months than you would in the rest of the year.
If you're willing to fight the crowds, Dubrovnik Summer Festival runs from July to August. This renowned cultural festival transforms the historic city of Dubrovnik into a stage for various performances, including theater, music, dance, and opera. The festival's program features both local and international artists and takes place in stunning venues like the Rector's Palace and open-air spaces within the city walls.
If you're looking for days spent swimming and island hopping and nights full of buzzing bars, lively streets, and a high level of energy every night of the week, summer is the best time to visit Croatia.
Best Place to Visit in Croatia in Summer
Although you really can't go wrong with any coastal city or island during summer in Croatia, I do have a few favorite places to add to your list.
- Hvar: The island of Hvar is famous for its vibrant nightlife and beautiful beaches. In summer, it's a hot spot for partygoers and sun-seekers. Explore Hvar Town and its lively atmosphere. If you don't mind traveling a little bit far, Vis Island is a fantastic place for beach days.
- Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn), Bol, Brač Island: Often considered one of Croatia's most iconic beaches, Zlatni Rat is known for its unique shape and crystal-clear waters. It's a great spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
- Sakarun Beach, Dugi Otok Island: Located off the coast of Zadar, Sakarun is known for its powdery white sand and shallow turquoise waters. It's a peaceful spot to unwind and swim in the Adriatic.
Fall in Croatia (Shoulder Season)
Fall in Croatia is a real gem. The weather remains pleasant well into September, with warm days and cooler evenings, making it an excellent time for outdoor activities, such as hiking in the national parks or cycling along scenic routes.
This is the perfect time of the year to visit the mountains in Croatia that run up against the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The crowds thin out after the summer rush, allowing for a more peaceful exploration of cultural and historical sites. Wine lovers will appreciate the grape harvest season, with opportunities for wine tasting in the vineyards of Istria and Pelješac Peninsula. Fall's rich colors, from golden vineyards to picturesque foliage in Plitvice Lakes National Park, make it a photographer's paradise.
Personally, I think September is the best time of the year almost regardless of the country you're in, so long as that country gets 4 seasons. Although the leaves haven't started to change yet, the weather is still warm but you're not sweating from even the shortest of walks. The days still last long and it's the perfect time of the year to spend ample time outdoors. Like most places in the world, Croatia's September and sometimes even October and November are perfection.
If you're looking for warm days followed by cool nights, are looking to enjoy a lot of outdoor activities, and prefer far fewer crowds, fall is the best time to visit Croatia.
Best Place to Visit in Croatia in Fall
Fall is the time of the year to get outside and soak up the cooler temperatures. Although I personally like spending this time in small picturesque towns or hiking, it's also a great time to visit Croatia's cities like Split and Zagreb, too.
To narrow down your list of places to visit in fall, I recommend adding these 3 spots to your travel itinerary:
- Istria: The Istrian Peninsula is known for its picturesque countryside, charming hilltop towns like Motovun, famous for it's truffles, and excellent wine. Autumn is grape harvest season, so indulge in wine tasting.
- Zadar: Visit the coastal city of Zadar in the fall for a more relaxed experience. Enjoy the unique Sea Organ and Sun Salutation installations along the waterfront.
- Krka National Park: Fall is a fantastic time to visit Krka National Park. The weather is still pleasant, and the foliage begins to change colors, creating a beautiful natural backdrop. The water levels in the park remain relatively high, making it a good time for waterfall viewing and photography.
Winter in Croatia (Low Season)
Do you want to enjoy the cheapest time to visit Croatia? Come during the winter months! Once winter rolls around, not as many people decide to visit the country, leaving you with more choices in accommodation at far lower prices.
Keep in mind though that with this means less places will be open and small towns can even feel relatively abandoned. In big cities, you should be able to find everything you need for a quiet stay.
Keep in mind that many bars still allow people to smoke indoors. The rule is that if the place serves food, smoking is banned, but if it doesn't, you can smoke freely. Since you'll most likely want to enjoy your coffee or beer indoors during these months, it's an important thing to be aware of.
Coastal cities like Dubrovnik and Split have a milder winter climate, while inland areas and mountain regions offer opportunities for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. You shouldn't see much or any snow during this season unless you're in the mountains or the northern bit of the country. Now before you start thinking these mountains are like the Alps, think again. The most famous mountain is just outside of Zagreb and is better suite for beginners, like nearby mountains in Zlatibor and Jahorina.
The Christmas markets in Zagreb and other cities create a festive atmosphere, with delicious seasonal treats and handmade crafts. It's also a time to savor hearty Croatian dishes, such as stews and roasted meats, at cozy local restaurants.
If you prefer a quieter, more authentic experience, winter in Croatia can be a charming and tranquil experience. It's the best time to visit Croatia for those that prefer to save money on accommodation, learn to ski, and otherwise relax indoors.
Best Place to Visit in Croatia in Winter
Unless you simply want to enjoy the views of the Adriatic coast from your window, the coast isn't the best time to visit during the winter. With strong winds and less than ideal weather, it's actually preferable to be in the country's capital or nearby cities during this time:
- Zagreb: Experience the festive atmosphere of the Zagreb Advent in winter. Explore the Christmas markets, ice skate in King Tomislav Square, and enjoy warm winter drinks. You'll also want to head to the nearby mountain of Sljeme for skiing or snowboarding.
- Rijeka: Rijeka hosts a lively carnival in winter, making it an exciting destination during this season. Rijeka, one of my favorite places in Croatia, is most famous for it's carnival celebrations. The Rijeka Carnival (Riječki karneval) is known for its colorful parades, elaborate costumes, and lively street parties. Samobor, near Zagreb, also hosts a charming carnival.
When Will You Visit Croatia?
As you can see, Croatia enjoys 4 distinct seasons with the weather ranging from hot hot summers to snowy winters. While I've been lucky enough to visit Croatia a few times in different seasons, the best time to visit Croatia always comes back to one thing for me: What am I trying to accomplish?
Boat tour and island hopping? Let's go in summer. Getting some work done? Spring and winter will do the trick. Hiking, biking, and outdoor activities? Fall, please.
The best time to visit Croatia for you will come down to just what you want to see and do in the country. But if you ask me, you need to come during all of the seasons to really understand the magic of this country.
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