Croatia has always been a vacation destination for Europeans, but it has gained enormous popularity in the last decade with the success of the Game of Thrones series.
In addition to the scenery that almost instantly transports us to the world of the show for admirers, Croatia is a perfect place to enjoy the beautiful weather, learn about Central European history, gorge on seafood, and wander through any number of streets with a medieval feel.
Croatia can be separated into two distinct regions: Dalmatia along the Adriatic Sea and mainland Croatia. This country is not too expensive by European standards and credit cards were accepted almost everywhere! A destination of choice for those who want a budget trip in Europe!
Croatia: the must-sees
The old town of Split is the perfect place to satisfy your appetite with the regional delicacies of Croatia on a beautiful walk along the waterfront, in the hidden alleys or in the local markets.
Before our arrival, some friends told me that in one day, we could do the tour of the tourist places of Split, but that it would take more than a week to take the gastronomic pulse!
Indeed, there is not a large number of sites to visit in Split:
The wide variety of restaurants in Split allows you to try Croatian specialties according to your price range: prosciutto dalmatian, black risotto with cuttlefish, octopus salad, gnocchi with pasticada, etc.
The most popular high-end establishments are: Bokeria, Zinfandel and Zoi. On our side, we really liked the super modest bistro Fife. We went back there twice during our stay whereas we could have tried another one!
Trogir is a small municipality in Dalmatia located north of Split. This is a day trip that is easily done from Split.
The old town is small, but the medieval architecture has been very well preserved.
Zadar looks a bit like Split in terms of old town, but Zadar has some of the most beautiful spots for a dip just a stone’s throw from its promenade!
This place also hosts many dance and music festivals.
Hvar is close to Split which explains its popularity with day trips. However, we really enjoyed the atmosphere of the island in the morning and evening without the crowds of daytrippers. The beaches are full of rocks (so bring water shoes), but the water is perfectly clear and very refreshing.
At the end of the afternoon, you can go up to the fortress of Hvar and admire the sunset and the magnificent panorama.
Mljet is an island known for its nature activities; hiking, biking and swimming. The landscape of Mljet is very green and it is a great getaway for some peace and quiet away from the city.
The “Pearl of the Adriatic” or Dubrovnik was my favorite part of the trip to Croatia and ranks among the most beautiful places I visited. I definitely want to go back!
The old town of Dubrovnik is surrounded by walls which gives it its charm. Indeed, inside the walls of the city, we are immersed in a medieval atmosphere.
The most common activities in Dubrovnik are:
- walk the top of the city walls
- take the funicular
- kayaking on the crystal clear water
- take a trip to the haunted island Lokrum
Game of Thrones
For fans of the series, references can be seen left and right in Croatia, but especially in Dubrovnik.
Most of the locations have not been greatly altered; the producers have only made a few additions to the computer.
I strongly suggest you join a free tour of the city with the Game of Thrones angle. You won’t be disappointed! This kind of tour can be found on the Guruwalk directory; they are free of charge, but the guides are paid on a tip system. It’s a great way to save money when travelling without tightening your belt too much.
The guide Darko was excellent, as he told us about the history of Dubrovnik and the filming locations during his 2-hour tour!
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia. The old town of Zagreb is a very charming place with many museums to learn more about the country’s history.
Indeed, Croatia has been at the center of several conflicts in the last millennium. Therefore, we can see an amalgam of elements of different civilizations that have integrated the Croatian culture: Venetian, Napoleon, Roman, Slavic, Viennese, etc.
For hundreds of years, the water of the rivers has flowed over limestone, which gives the area a unique appearance today. These rock formations have sculpted the beautiful turquoise lakes and the many mystical waterfalls.
In this national park, there are many opportunities to hike or to rest in this setting.
Organize your trip to Croatia
When to visit?
The best time to explore Croatia is in spring and autumn, i.e.
- mid-April to early June
- from September to October
The climate in Croatia during these periods will be perfect for discovering the country without having to face too many tourists.
This country has gained tremendous popularity over the past decade with the success of the TV show Game of Thrones. In addition, Split and Dubrovnik are cruise destinations. So, during the tourist season, the crowd is quite large.
Winter in Croatia is still mild, but many restaurants are closed, and not all ferries are running.
How much time is required?
Although Croatia is a small country, you can easily spend a lot of time exploring all its corners. I would recommend focusing on the Dalmatian coast for a trip of 10 days or less.
Then, with a little more time, you can venture into the rest of Croatia and even into the neighbouring countries. Indeed, you can easily make small escapades in Montenegro or Bosnia-Herzegovina independently (ideally with a car) or with organized tours on Viator.com.
How to get to Croatia?
Air Canada used to operate direct flights between Toronto and Zagreb, the Croatian capital, but these flights were suspended with the pandemic. On the other hand, Croatian Airlines is a partner in the Aeroplan program and several Star Alliance hubs are connected to the main cities in Croatia with frequent flights.
For a round trip to Croatia, you can expect to pay 80,000 Aeroplan points in economy, which is the partner’s flat rate. Sometimes you can find cheaper flights when Air Canada operates a segment.
|Flight||Cost in points||Cash cost|
|Montreal-Munich-Split||40,000 Aeroplan points||$200,55|
|Dubrovnik-Paris-Montreal||40,000 Aeroplan points|
|80,000 Aeroplan points||$200,55|
This kind of route is excellent for taking advantage of the Aeroplan 5,000 point stopover rules since you will inevitably have to connect to reach Croatia!
Actually, my favourite card for earning Aeroplan points daily is the American Express Cobalt® Card. Membership Rewards points provide great flexibility, as they can be used as cash back or with the Aeroplan program.
Airline prices to Croatia seem to vary greatly. According to my research, when paid in cash, they can cost around $1,000 and go up to $2,000 during the summer months. Depending on the fares you find, the decision to use Aeroplan points or not will depend on your ability to earn these points and your valuation calculation.
Sweetspots to get to Croatia
There is a sweetspot to get to Croatia (or any other destination in Europe). Indeed, low-cost airlines dominate the European sky, so once you are in the Old Continent, it is easy and cheap to go anywhere. So the cheapest flight to Europe (in points or money) with a low-cost flight can often be the winning combination.
For example, a round trip between Montreal and Lyon (direct route) is still subject to Air Canada’s dynamic pricing and can cost 60,000 Aeroplan points. This is a situation where the dynamic pricing of the Aeroplan program can work in our favour.
So, the summary of this strategy? Less expensive in points and less costly in cash!
|Flight||Cost in points||Cash cost|
|Montreal-Lyon (return trip)||60,300 Aeroplan points||$120,05|
|Total||60,300 Aeroplan points||$179,05|
The disadvantage of buying two airline tickets is that if something goes wrong, the airlines will not take you to your actual final destination.
However, you can make stops to explore Lyon or give yourself enough time (flight segment spacing) to complete your itinerary comfortably! You can be covered if you have allowed enough time between the two flights (e.g. 4 hours)!
In this situation, travel points such as NBC Rewards with the National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard® can help offset the cost of your tickets. In addition, the card’s travel insurance can help you in the event of a glitch when coordinating your separate flights. You benefit as soon as a portion of the trip (such as taxes and Aeroplan fees) is charged to the card!
Then, for low-cost flights, you will most likely be charged for checking in your luggage. To save money here, it is possible to request reimbursement of baggage fees with the National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard®.
Finally, you must ensure that you have compliant luggage for all flights on the itinerary and arrange for the transfer.
How to get around in Croatia?
Public transportation in Croatia is mainly based on a bus and ferry network.
A trip without a car is quite feasible in Croatia, but you will be subject to bus schedules. During the summer period, the connections are more frequent.
Here is an example of an itinerary that can be done comfortably by public transport:
|Zagreb-Plitvice Lakes||Bus||2 hours|
|Lakes of Plitvice-Zadar||Bus||2 hours|
|Zadar-Split||Bus||2 hours 30 minutes|
|Split-Hvar||Vacation ferries||60 minutes|
|Hvar-Korçula||Vacation ferries||75 minutes|
|Korçula-Mljet||Vacation ferries||40 minutes|
|Mljet-Dubrovnik||Vacation ferries||40 minutes|
These ferry (Jadrolinija) and bus (FlixBus) tickets can be purchased online with a credit card. By using a no-conversion-fee credit card like the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®, you will save 2.5% on foreign currency transaction fees.
Plus, you’ll be able to earn 6X points on your purchase and use your HSBC Rewards points on those “travel” categorized expenses!
Another way to plan your trip to Croatia is to base yourself in Split and/or Dubrovnik to visit the islands for a day.
Some connections in Croatia are not at convenient times, so you can lose a lot of time waiting for the bus.
Then, on the islands, it is better to have a vehicle to go in all the corners. We were lucky because the owners of the apartments where we stayed offered free transfers to the island. However, we favoured slow travel and often stayed only in the pedestrian zone and the beach.
Where to stay in Croatia?
Independent hotels and Airbnb
So the points to be prioritized will be travel rewards you can redeem on expenses charged to your card. The prices of hotels in Croatia vary greatly depending on the season and location. However, we were always able to stay in the center of the action at a low price.
Our credit card strategy for accommodations on this trip was straightforward.
Travel credits are charged instantly upon booking. We love this method since we have no (or almost no) balance to pay when we get home.
Marriott Bonvoy Hotels
In Croatia, Marriott Bonvoy hotels are present in the major cities. There are five of them:
|Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel||Dubrovnik|
|AC Hotel Split||Split|
|Le Méridien Lav, Split||Split|
|Sheraton Zagreb Hotel||Zagreb|
|The Westin Zagreb||Zagreb|
Personally, the location of the Marriott hotels was not at all suitable for our trip. For example, the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel is a beautiful hotel located 3 minutes from the beach, but it was 10 kilometres from the Old Town where we spent most of our time. Since we were without a car, it was not a good choice for us.
However, the previous example is a good use of free night awards! You can use it to book a night costing up to 35,000 points with the possibility of topping up with points up to 50,000. These certificates are earned with the Marriott Bonvoy®American Express®* Card or the Marriott Bonvoy™ Business American Express® Card.
So, you can stay at hotels like this one when you renew your cards and after paying the $120 or $150 annual fees depending on the card. This is a great deal, as the Free Night Award (+ 2,000 points) will save you €333 or $450 at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel.
Croatia is a country that is not always on the bucket list of travellers, but it is a perfect destination for a great vacation with friends, family or friends.
Follow my adventures on my Instagram account @wanderingaline!