All in all, after receiving $3,000 in gifts from friends and family, we enjoyed two full weeks in Europe, taking excursions in nearly every port, toasting to our marriage with rivers of wine, eating some of the best food imaginable and seeing some of the greatest sites in the world, all for about $200 out of pocket - total!
Alex and I missed the first week of the semester in order to stay longer on our honeymoon. It was worth it. We’ve opted out of having thicker towel sets and matching dishes so we can travel. It’s worth it.
As we began to consider registering for gifts, we realized we didn’t need the slow-cookers, the towels and the wine glasses typical of a wedding registry. We truly believe that money is best spent on making memories and good stories, so we were elated to find Traveler’s Joy!
Croatia enjoys a prime position along the Adriatic Sea across from Italy, at the intersection of Central and Southeast Europe. This hospitable Mediterranean nation offers romance at every turn, with unspoiled beaches on hundreds of islands, wondrous architecture throughout ancient cities, and enchanting wilderness across its vast countryside. Bordered by Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Hungary and Slovenia, Croatia embodies a rich culture influenced by its many neighbors while still remaining wholly unique and instantly recognizable.
Take in the best of Croatia’s offerings by walking the elevated forts and towers of its historic port cities, celebrating on a luxury yacht in a new bay every day, hiking scenic inland lakes and waterfalls, or just lounging on a picture-perfect beach while sampling through rich food and wine offerings. With no shortage of activities throughout the country and across its changing seasons, Croatia is sure to intrigue and excite any honeymooning couple.
Dubrovnik is a gem of a city along the Adriatic Sea, and understandably the most visited destination in all of Croatia. Its Old Town is a delightful labyrinth of alleyways and limestone streets, dotted with cafes, bakeries, restaurants, shops and plenty more. Over one mile of walkable stone walls surround the city, built in the Middle Ages to protect the city and preserve its sophisticated civilization. Today, Dubrovnik’s stone walls are a UNESCO world heritage site and provide one of the greatest ways to experience the beautiful city otherwise knows as the pearl of the Adriatic. Outside of the city’s stone walls, visitors will be delighted by Dubrovnik’s abundant nature, such as swimmable beaches, mandarin valleys, wine routes and beyond.
But perhaps uncovering Croatia’s true Adriatic pearl is only possible by visiting the Southern Dalmatian Islands. Dalmatia is one of four historic regions across the country, spanning from central to south Croatia down the country’s Adriatic coast. Dozens of islands of varying geography dot the sea, many of which marry Mediterranean traditions with modern amenities much to the delight of a honeymooning crowd. Whether it’s picture-perfect beaches on Brac, a chic and exciting scene on Hvar, medieval remnants on Korcula, or a far-flung relaxing paradise on Lastovo, the Southern Dalmatian islands vary as much as they invite for adventurers of all kinds. Catamaran cruises and luxury yachts make touring multiple islands in a short period as easy as the summer’s sea breeze.
The city of Split is the heart of the Dalmatia region and Croatia’s second largest city. Its location makes for a perfect base when visiting the Dalmatian Islands or if traveling across the coast. The city moves to a beat that is defined by local living, while still being arranged in a manner that is perfectly suitable for visiting travelers. Split’s downtown houses Diocletian's Palace - a maze of ancient alleyways, and one of the greatest remaining Roman ruins, originally built in the year 305 A.D. by its namesake emperor who favored the location out of the entire known world. Here, you’re invited to shop, eat, and dine in modern luxury while admiring the city’s historic past. Just seven miles off of Split’s coast, the island of Brac is home to Croatia’s most photographed beach, Zlatni Rat, which juts into the ocean like an upset tongue. Access to the island and dozens of nearby others is simple with fast, frequent, and affordable ferries from mainland Split.
Further north, capital city Zagreb is Croatia’s thriving political, commercial and cultural center. Whether wandering cobblestone streets, people-watching from a cozy cafe, or sightseeing some of the historic structures across this city’s 1,000-year-old city, the fabric of Zagreb is evident at every turn. Continue to Croatia’s northernmost Zagorje region to discover easy living, with medieval castles, rolling vineyards, and hearty local restaurants aplenty. This side of Croatia sits in comfortable contrast with its southern Mediterranean counterpart, and exploring it at length makes for an unforgettable road trip.
Croatia experiences a brief but strong high season of tourism in July and August when visitors flock in droves to the Adriatic Coast to enjoy summer activities. Travel in the surrounding months of June and September to take advantage of lower rates and fewer crowds, while still enjoying the best of Croatia’s Mediterranean attributes. If your Croatian excursion doesn’t involve much activity around the coastline, expect consistent hotel rates with a more dramatic continental climate when visiting inland.
Zagreb and Split host Croatia’s busiest airports, with year-round direct access from most international destinations. From May through September, air traffic routes increase to Croatia, which adds direct access to other popular cities like Dubrovnik and Zadar. Once in the country, domestic flights are easy and affordable, but journeying across the terrain is a worthy experience in itself. Go at it on your own by renting a car, or utilize Croatia’s sufficient bus and train system to stick with pre-planned routes. Taxis and rideshare vehicles are prevalent in cities, and public ferries with frequent trips give way to Croatia’s 1000+ islands. Consider a private catamaran trip to arrive at your favorite island in style.
Find Your Island – Although Hvar gathers most of the fame, Croatia boasts over 1,200 islands blessed with endless coastline and characterized by their unique offerings. Brac – a perfect natural retreat just off the coast of Split – is covered with rolling hills and fig trees. Croatia’s largest island, Cres, has hiking and cycling routes to explore its many landscapes at your own leisure.
Korcula may be covered in dense forestry and dotted with fishing villages, but is an historic island with enough cultural attractions and local traditions to be dubbed “little Dubrovnik.” The sleepy Kornati islands are mostly uninhabited, but waters here are teeming with life – perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving excursions. The offerings are endless, as there indeed is an island for everybody throughout Croatia.
Hire a Private Yacht– With hundreds of islands packed together in relatively close proximity, Croatia and yachting go hand in hand. Island hopping on luxury yachts has turned Croatia’s coastline into an annual adult playground, where more than 40 yachts travel together as part of the Yacht Week. You can craft an itinerary to coincide with the party crowd, or zag when they zig by sailing in an opposite direction.
Either way, zipping over to secluded beaches by day, dining on freshly caught seafood aboard, and enjoying front-row sunset views from the privacy of your own boat with Sails of Croatia is an unforgettable honeymoon experience.
Coffee in Zagreb – Zagreb’s coffee culture has been brewing steadily for years and is now a steady anchor of the city’s urban landscape. The culture combines remnants of Croatia’s Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Italian roots. That means a trip to the local cafe will be social, comfortable, and sure to deliver excellent espresso-based coffee. Stretching well beyond just a hot drink, coffee keeps Zagreb moving – it’s how locals communicate, businesses operate, and tourists integrate.
For a quintessential cafe and superb quality coffee, consider Cogito. For a more luxury experience in an art deco ambiance, head to Esplanade 1925, where you can also nosh on Zagreb’s signature pastry, strukli. If you’re just in this for the java, look no further than Eli’s Cafe for the best cup in town.
Wander Plitvice Lakes National Park – Plitvice Lakes is a UNESCO World Heritage site and rightfully sits atop Croatia's most popular tourist attractions. The park is set amidst the stunning mountainous landscape of central Croatia, and its 16 namesake lakes are interconnected by a series of waterfalls, all of which can be visited on foot via walking trails and wooden bridges. The entire experience is breathtaking, begging to be photographed, and can easily be enjoyed in one day. Croatia's bus system can get you there cleanly and efficiently, but a guided tour with transport is an even more efficient way to visit.
Walk the Walls of Dubrovnik – Walk the mile-long white stone walls which surround Dubrovnik’s medieval old town to be rewarded with sublime views of the orange-roofed village (this is the set of King's Landing, for any Game of Thrones fans). Soak in the scenery, which includes distant islands deep into the horizon, before diving back into the labyrinth of shops and restaurants that dot the city’s streets. A few solid hours will get you familiar with the city from above.
Craving more? Take in Dubrovnik from a different perspective by kayaking around its coastline.
Pelegrini – Sustainable gastronomy is the driving force of this innovative restaurant in the town of Sibenik, known as the gateway to the sleepy Kornati islands. The recent recipient of a Michelin star, Pelegrini is also often touted as Croatia’s most celebrated restaurant, where staple entrees like pappardelle pasta with black truffles and prosciutto, and cod fish tempura shine among a rotating menu which highlights the local bounties of both land and sea. Visitors in the off-season months of November–April can enjoy the opportunity to book a hands-on culinary class with head chef Rudolf Stefani.
Restaurant 360 Dubrovnik – Wholly deserving of its name, the dining room terrace of Restaurant 360 offers some of the best sweeping views of Dubrovnik. Guests can expect the best of Croatian and Mediterranean dining served with a French flair, deserving of a Michelin star. Enjoy a la carte, or opt in for one of two available 5-course dinner tasting menus.
Dubravkin Put – A 15-minute walk from Zagreb town center will bring you out to the abundant greenery of Tuškanac Park, where this quaint seafood-focused restaurant awaits. Famed for their fresh Adriatic fish and other classics like steak tartar and duck over pumpkin gnocchi, guests can try as they choose with 5, 7, and 9-course tasting menus. Complete your meal with wine pairings, or venture to the adjacent wine bar if you fancy staying a while.
Dalmatino – This self-proclaimed steak and fish house introduces spontaneous brandy tastings throughout its meals. The result is one of the most lively dining rooms in an already energy-infused Hvar Town. Couple the vibrant atmosphere with an elegant dining room and friendly staff, and this restaurant earns itself a must-visit status when on Hvar.
Paradox Wine & Cheese Bar – Set in the historic center of Split, this modern wine bar and lounge was created with the sole intent of serving amazing products in a pleasant atmosphere with a smile. With core hospitality values intact, Paradox has become a mainstay in Split’s social and dining scenes. Mingle with locals at the lounge’s long bar or head to the rooftop with views towards Split harbor to enjoy a selection of over 100 wines along with local cheeses, Dalmatian charcuterie, and baked goods.
Villa Dubrovnik – Set amidst peaceful pine trees, this luxurious cliffside hotel nestled beside the Adriatic Sea is steps away from a private beach. Its included free and frequent boat transfers into Dubrovnik’s Old Town for guests allow you to pamper yourself without skipping any of the sights. A 20-minute transfer (organized by the hotel) from Dubrovnik Airport makes your arrival quick and simple, while the hotel’s on-site spa and multiple restaurants will refresh and revitalize you throughout your stay.
Esplanade Zagreb – This art deco beauty was erected in 1925 and served as a glamorous overnight accommodation for travelers along the Orient Express route. Recently restored to its original high standard, it remains the most luxurious accommodation in Zagreb, and undoubtedly one of the most opulent hotels in the entire country. A true five-star hotel through and through, expect to be pampered at every turn with indulgences like overnight shoe-shines, a library of 3000+ newspapers and magazines to peruse, segway city tours, and all-marble bathrooms.
Hotel Lone – This stunning member of Design Hotels is located on a secluded bay in Rovinj and modeled after a luxury cruise liner. The physical resemblance is striking, and included amenities keep this contemporary Croatian accommodation right on par with its cruise counterparts. Multiple outdoor pools and waterfalls, a full spa, three restaurants, and bicycles to explore the surrounding area offer guests of all 248 rooms and suites plenty of options. All room rates include breakfast, and each category features a private terrace overlooking the abundant scenery. Opt for a Jazz room to enjoy a whirlpool right on your terrace.
Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel – Completely renovated in 2018, the Adriana is close enough to the exciting action of Hvar Town while remaining distanced enough to enjoy its own private oasis on the island. With an on-site spa, rooftop pool, and gorgeous rooms equipped with balconies, it is among this lively island’s finest options. The rooftop bar, The Top, offers the best views of Hvar Town, and remains one of the hottest bars on all of Hvar.
Heritage Hotel Antique Split – This hotel in Split’s Old Town ticks all the necessary boxes for an authentic honeymoon stay in the heart of the city’s ancient Diocletian Palace. Old world charm matched with new age amenities set the tone for this boutique property. The family-run staff will spoil you from the entirety of your stay, beginning with a personal golf cart pick-up anywhere in the old town upon arrival.