[Croatia] Travel Guide to Split and Plitvice Lakes National Park

Our next stop in Croatia after Dubrovnik is Split which is the second largest city in the country and a popular stop due to its central location for visiting the beautiful Croatian islands along the coast! But that's not to say that Split itself doesn't have its own charm. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site with the imposing Roman ruins of the Diocletian's Palace and the city just feels a lot more "real" compared to Dubrovnik which is very touristy compared to Split. Because of its central location, we took a few day trips while we were in Split including visiting some of the most popular islands along the coast and the Plitvice Lakes National Park - the largest national park in Croatia!

How To Get There: You can arrive by car, ferry, bus or plane into Split. From Dubrovnik we actually took the Krilo high-speed ferry which took about 4.5 hours into Split. I was initially debating between taking the bus or taking the ferry and in the end chose the ferry because I thought the views would be better from the sea. While you do get nice views of the various stops at different islands along the journey, the ferry ride itself wasn't so pleasant - it was crowded and very stuffy with barely any AC. I think driving by yourself or arranging a private transport would make the long journey more comfortable. 

Where To Stay: We stayed at the Cornaro Hotel which is conveniently located near the Old Town in Split and has gorgeous views of the city center from its rooftop bar! The rooms are modern and clean, and our stay included a breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant.

Where To See: The main attraction in Split is the imposing Roman ruins of the Diocletian's Palace which was built in 4th Century AD as the retirement residence for the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Nowadays, the ruins form half of the city center with many restaurants and shops built around it - integrating the new and the old, the ancient and the modern. The basement of the palace was also used to film where Daenerys kept her dragons in Meereen for Game of Thrones! Located by the palace's peristyle (or courtyard), you can also visit the Cathedral of St. Domnius and climb the cathedral's bell tower for nice views of the city center.

One of the four gates into the palace - the Golden Gate (north), Bronze Gate (south), Silver Gate (east) and Iron Gate (west).

The basement halls are the best preserved area of the palace and a part of it is used as a market place for touristy stalls and shops. 

Right outside the south gate of the palace is the Riva - the main waterfront promenade in Split with many restaurants offering alfresco dining!

One of the day trips we took was to visit the islands around the coast and one of the most famous attraction is the Blue Cave on Bisevo island. After arriving on the island, we had to get on another small boat to tour the Blue Cave where we got to see beautiful hues of blue and green from the sunlight reflecting from the white floor of the grotto. The cave itself was no doubt beautiful but just a word of warning that it can get very crowded during the summer season with lots of tourists waiting to get on the small boats. We had gotten there early in the morning and we still had to wait 45 minutes before it was our turn. The boat ride was quite short and also disappointing since we didn't get to swim in it unlike the Blue Cave in Okinawa so I would say visit at your own risk in peak season. 

After the Blue Cave, our boat made a quick pit stop at Stiniva Cove on the island of Vis which has been hailed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe! It's a secluded beach surrounded by two tall cliffs and only accessible by boat or by hiking on a steep and narrow path. 

Our last stop on our boat trip is Hvar which is probably the most popular island destination for tourists in Croatia! The Town Square is the largest in Croatia and one of the attractions is to climb up to the fortress for beautiful views of the island. 

The other day trip that we did was to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park - the largest national park in Croatia with 16 lakes that are interconnected by a series of waterfalls! The park is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Croatia after Dubrovnik and while you can explore by yourself, we chose to join a tour to help us navigate the busy park during the peak summer season. The park was super crowded but our tour guide did a great job of shortening the queues for us and even leading us to a secluded area of the park that most people don't know about! There are a number of different routes and trails that you can take and most of them includes a combination of boat and tram ride which are included in the entrance ticket. No swimming is allowed unfortunately. 

We entered the park at Entrance 2 and started our day with a short electric boat ride across the Kozjak Lake before walking upstream to explore the Upper Lakes. 

The trails in the park are mostly wooden planks that are only 3-4 feet wide with no railings over the lakes. 

We then took a sightseeing tram ride downhill to continue our exploration of the Lower Lakes.

Our journey ended at the Great Waterfall with a height of 78 meters where we then made our way to Entrance 1 for our departure. 

While the park was beautiful, I was expecting more from the waterfalls which were not that grand but perhaps it was due to the low water levels in the summer. With so many people it was nearly impossible to take a nice waterfall picture with a tripod so if your main goal is photography, it's best to visit in the off season where you can take your time on the trails.

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