Charming cities, temperatures warmer than most of Europe and off-season prices on accommodation. Come and experience Croatia in winter!
The mention of Croatia brings up images of a stunning rocky coastline washed by glittering, crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. But the secret I’m about to reveal is that this Balkan nation blessed with more than 1000 islands actually offers some of its best travel experiences outside of the hectic summer season.
Discovering Croatia in Winter
Croatia in winter is a land of ancient palaces, energetic cities and epic views along the shore. During my Croatia road trip, I explored various cities along the Adriatic from north to south, and all of this in the off-season with pleasantly sunny weather and no tourists to be seen.
Things to know about Croatia in winter
-There are amazing Christmas markets in all big cities in Croatia during the Advent. Most of them are running until January 6th. The most famous one is in Zagreb.
– Looking to spend New Year’s Eve in Croatia? Dubrovnik is said to have the best celebration in Adriatic. Pair relatively mild temperatures with cheerful revelers warm from rakija and kuhano vino, and you’ve got yourself a party. All other big cities will be alive, too.
– There are other smaller festivals throughout the winter months, such as a carnival in Rieka or Dubrovnik procession in February.
– Zagreb hosts Zagrebdox each year, an international documentary film festival at the end of February.
Weather in Croatia in winter
There are two various climates in Croatia: one along the coastline, and one for the interior of the country. Winters are rather mild, temperatures never really get below about 5°C. Anything colder than this is considered freak weather, though technically not impossible – in the last ten or so years, there have been occasions of snow in parts of Dalmatia, such as Zadar and Split. In some winters, even Dubrovnik (one of the most southern points of Croatia) has seen a light dusting of snow.
Why should you visit Croatia in winter
Here are my 8 reasons to visit Croatia in winter:
01 | You can enjoy the main attractions in solitude.
With its fine beaches and clean waters, Croatia has made its name as a popular summer destination. The peak months are July and August – this is when just about everybody goes to Croatia. Beach-hopping, ferry rides and sightseeing are what it’s all about, and much of the coast can become overwhelmingly crowded.
Winter is a great choice for anyone whose trip is led by the joy of exploration and the ultimate goal isn’t just lying on a (crowded) beach. The season really makes a big difference in Croatia. During my trip, I was lucky to have major sights such the Sea Organs in Zadar, Diocletian’s Palace in Split and Dubrovnik City walls almost entirely to myself. It enjoyed a deeper, more immersing experience.
Visiting most beautiful cities in Croatia
- Dubrovnik: All Game of Thrones fans will definitely appreciate this guided tour to the movie locations including the tickets to the ancient wall. Of season is the only time to see those without crowds.
- Zagreb: Visit the colorful Christmas market in a small group with a fun local guide. This recommended excursion is for 3,5 hours and you will visit all the highlights.
- Split: Take a one day trip from Split to amazing Krka national park. On this excursion, you will travel by bus and boat and visit the best viewing points.
Last but not least, you can also visit some of the many islands od Croatia. I personally enjoyed Vis, off the beaten track island that can be reached from Split. You can read my detailed guide to Things to do in Vis.
02 | The highways are free of traffic.
Among Croatia’s many winding roads, one of them is a must-do: the breathtaking Adriatic Highway, often compared to California’s famous Hwy. 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This road (known locally as Jadranska magistrala) along the eastern section of the Adriatic Sea is curved along limestone mountaintops, offering panoramic views of the blue sea far below.
Once you see the collection of serpentine twists and turns, you will understand why it’s better to be here outside of the touristic chaos of the peak season. It’s just much safer to drive in Croatia in winter when most highways are largely traffic-free.
If you are looking to travel in Croatia by car, you should check out my Croatia road trip itinerary that allows you to visit the highlights on the coast from Zadar to Dubrovnik.
Croatia is slightly more expensive compared to the rest of the Balkans. Nevertheless, going here in the low season can make your trip a lot cheaper. You can get some great value for the money you pay, especially when it comes to accommodation. Even if you book at the last minute, you’ll never find even the best places fully booked.
In Makarska, I rented a whole 130-square-meter apartment (Mimoza Apartments) with a terrace facing the sea for only 30 euros per night. You would never be able to get it for the same price in summer, if you could even get a booking at all.
TIP: Most accommodations in Croatia is private. For booking on Air BnB, use my $20 travel credit!
04 | It’s the mandarin harvesting season.
With the harvest season starting in late September, autumn and winter are the perfect time to enjoy this vitamin D-bomb. You can get mandarins everywhere and for cheap. For some reason, they taste so much better than anywhere else I have experienced before. In must be the Croatian sunshine or something!
The best place for mandarins is Neretva valley (about 100 km from Dubrovnik), where they produce the most mandarins and one can get them for very cheap. In the villages of Oputzen and Metkovic it is even possible to join the locals collecting the harvest. With the stunning views, abundant greenery and rural touch, Neretva valley is one of the quaintest places to visit in Croatia.
From there, Bosnia and Herzegovina are just stone’s throw away. If you have extra time, make sure to explore it: my detailed guide on What to do in Bosnia is here.
If you are seeking an escape from the freezing cold that embraces much of Europe during winter, Croatia is a great place to get warmer. The Adriatic coast has a typically Mediterranean climate known for its hot and sunny weather during summer, and relatively mild weather in winter. Even during the coldest month (January), temperatures never really get below about 5°C.
The climate in the interior of Croatia is a bit different and cooler. This is why I stuck to the coast during my Croatia road trip – to chase the best weather possible. Would you believe that the images in this article were actually taken during November?
06 | Swimming is still…possible.
Yes, it’s still possible to jump into the Adriatic, even in the winter. It’s rather for hardcore swimmers. But on the other hand, why not? The sea doesn’t get all that cold.
For example, here are the average temperatures for Makarska:
During our trip, I didn’t have the courage to actually go swimming, but my father went three times. I’m not kidding!
07 | Enjoy Advent and New Year’s Eve festivals.
Croatia in winter equals a lot of celebrations! There are several festivals and carnivals taking places across the country, making it possible to experience local culture and taste some regional specialties. And of course, make friends with the local people!
When I visited Dubrovnik, there was a winter festival taking place. It really gave the city a nice atmosphere, although I believe this city is one of those places that can be enjoyed at any time of the year. By the way, Dubrovnik is said to have the best New Year’s Eve celebration on the Adriatic coast, too.
Note: If you have more time, I totally recommend spending more time in Dubrovnik. You can choose from plenty of budget hostels or luxury hotels in Dubrovnik)
08 | Frozen Plitvice lakes are stunning.
National parks is Croatia are open all-year-round and the trance fee in winter is usually lower. Also, there is a fewer crowds, so you are allowed the time to truly appreciate the natural splendor.
Many find Plitvice lakes even more spectacular when frozen as the streams of water are turned into massive icicles. Thanks to its location near the mountains, it gets always colder in Plitvice than in coastal Croatia. And more snow and ice equals more enjoyment here!
Planning your trip to Plitvice lakes
- The park covers 29,685 hectares (it’s so huge!), and it takes time to move around: you will need at least one full day to visit the highlights.
- In the wintertime, it’s definitely a good idea to have a guide with you: he or she will be able to plan the time and program according to your needs. I totally recommend this value tour with a private guide. You can choose between 3- and 6-hour options.
- Are you traveling Zagreb? Then check out this guided tour to Plitvice starting from the Croatia capital. A stop with the visit of a beautiful village of Rastoke is included.
- Remember to dress warmly, inlcuidng gloves and scarf. I recommend adding an umbrella or a raincoat to your backpack as well – just in case!
DO YOU ENJOY TRAVELLING IN WINTER?
These were my 8 reasons to experience Croatia in winter. Of course, there are many cities to choose from: for example winter in Dubrovnik is simply amazing. Have you visited any popular tourist countries in the off-season? What was your experience like?
PS: Did you know that there are as many as
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Edited by Nick Kembel.
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My trip was in partnership with Balkanvibe.