Tourism in Croatia comprises of two types of destinations. Firstly, it is the mainland attractions, especially in Zagreb. Secondly, it is its coastal region: Dubrovnik, the coast and the islands. In reality, Croatia is so much more than its capital, islands, beaches and yachts. A totally different world is hiding outside the paths of tourist guides. Here are some of the most exciting, unspoilt and unexplored gems in the secret Croatia. Perfect for any traveller, whether you’ve already been in Croatia or not!
Oh, did I just say Braavos? I meant Šibenik, a historic town on the coast in Southern Croatia. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan like me, you’ll understand my confusion. The fictional setting of Braavos in the renowned TV show was filmed in Šibenik. If you know what I’m talking about, that alone is a reason enough to visit this place.
If you don’t, Šibenik is still a majestic settlement in its own right. Almost 1,000 years old, it has unique spaces that you’ll find nowhere else in the world. Steep pathways, streets, stairs, narrow hallways entering into secret niches and gardens. Just walking around will leave you breathless. Enjoy the sea breeze and visit the numerous other attractions while you’re at it. There are many historic fortresses and a UNESCO-protected Cathedral of Saint James.
Just a little further south in the town of Split, there is Froggyland. A museum of stuffed frogs doing human things. A frog fisherman (or should I say fisherfrog)? Frogs playing tennis? Frogs rowing boats? Or snapping pictures with a tiny camera? You name it. The collection has over 500 stuffed frogs, so there’s a lot to look at. Initially, the author made over a 1,000 of these unique exhibits in 10 years. They passed from hands to hands until their journey ended in this museum.
You don’t have to look for the secret Croatia in the furthermost corners of the country. One such gem lies just outside of Zagreb. Everyone visits this booming city, yet barely anyone takes time to travel a few kilometres north to Zagorje region. Here a magnificent nature blends with impressive history. Medieval castles from the Austria-Hungary Empire era dot the countless hills and forests. For example, visit a 13th-century Trakošćan castle, a perfect example of medieval fortification.
The region is probably best enjoyed during autumn. All the hills are coloured red and yellow. You won’t be able to look away, even after riding the windy road among the hills for a few hours.
The Sea Organ and Zadar
Let’s get back to the coast. There’s a unique public art piece in the coastal town of Zadar. The Sea Organ is significant because it uses nature to create music. In other words, the music just flows, powered by sea waves. Don’t except to hear ancient tunes, though. The sea organ produces unharmonious sounds that create eerie and unforgettable atmosphere! This instrument is quite famous, so it foreshadows the place it is in.
Zadar itself is the secret Croatia. If the sea organ actually played ancient tunes, it would be totally relevant. Why? Zadar is the oldest town in Croatia. It is thousands of years old. In fact, nobody even knows how old it actually is! So while you’re visiting the mysterious sea organ, don’t forget to look around. There’s the Forum from the times of Roman Empire. Complement it with a trip to archaeological museum full of bits of antiquity. Then, appreciate the ruins of ancient town and a medieval city built on top of it. You can actually see the history everywhere. Many building walls still have medieval layers intact.
Walls of Ston
Not far from Dubrovnik is a village of Ston. It is important (but not famous) for having a European equivalent of Great Wall of China! Just like Chinese had to protect themselves from nomads, Croatians were irritated by the Ottoman Empire. So, they built Walls of Ston. These walls are 500 years old. And while they aren’t as long (just 5km) as its Asian counterpart, this is the longest fortress system in Europe. And its similarity to the Great Wall is striking! Definitely a must see!
Many people visit Varadzin without having an idea about all the amazing events that take place there. And that’s a shame because these festivals are really amazing. You shouldn’t miss them. For example, baroque evenings with classical music concerts. Two weeks of each autumn have been celebrated like this for 40 years now. Alternatively, how about Špancirfest?
“Špancirfest provides events over a ten-day period to engender a sense of belonging to a community that fosters creative thinking and freedom of expression. The Festival brings together professional and amateur artists from around the world – from musicians of various genres to street theatre and multimedia performance”.*
You can let yourself go in Špancirfest during late August. Not the artist type? Why not take a look at an international frisbee golf tournament “Drava Forester”? All you have to do is happen to be in Varazdin in November. Perfect for those visiting Zagorje region, since that’s where Varazdin is!
Karlovac War Memorial
Among many war memorials in Croatia, this one is probably the most impressive. Midway between Zagreb and the sea, this hidden open-air museum has much to show and is totally free. Military tanks, jets, planes and weapons. Some are intact and others are destroyed past recognition. You can even walk in the ruins of bombed-out buildings. The recent war is something that locals don’t talk so openly with tourists. Therefore, this is the most secret Croatia you can find.
This sums up our list of unexplored and secret Croatia. Almost every attraction costs nothing at all. So, it’s cheaper and better, unless you’re here just for the beach.