I’ve been living in Croatia for a couple of years now, and I’ve seen it all, from the amazing sights to the crowded summers. So I’ll let you in on a secret, Croatia is not only sun and beaches, it has a lot to offer also in winter! Sure, the vibe is different from what you’d experience during summer, but if you come for the interesting history and the stunning nature, then you’ll enjoy it off season much more than in summer (and you might even catch a few sea-worthy days in the coast!). Here’s a guide with all the amazing things you can do if you visit Croatia in winter.
Croatia winter holidays
Looking for the top activities to do in Croatia in winter? From gorgeous crowd-free sunsets in the coast to snow-covered castles in the hinterlands, Croatia offers plenty throughout the winter. Keep in mind that visiting off season will also make you a more sustainable traveler!
RELATED POST: Croatia travel tips (from a local)
Hot springs in Croatia
If you want to spend your winter holiday soaking in a thermal spa, look no further, Croatia has some beautiful natural hot springs.
Located within Istria’s stunning countryside, near Motovun, surrounded by rich flora and fauna, and beneath an 85-meter (278 ft) high rock with the mineral spring Sveti Stjepan on the underside, the Istrian thermal resort is a lovely place for the body and the soul.
Ancient Roman artifacts have been found around the spa, so it’s seems like it’s been providing relaxation for centuries. The wellness center today offers a 32-34°C (90-93°F) hot indoor pool, saunas, a fitness center, and all sort of massages and beauty treatments, as well as accommodation on site.
Only 50 km (31 mi) north from Zagreb you’ll find one of the largest spas in Croatia, surrounded by rolling green hills. It offers thermal water and healing mud springs, with pools at the actual spring, and a variety of Finnish and steam saunas. They also have 11 relaxation rooms, and they offer accommodation in their Hotel Well.
With 5 indoor pools, a water slide, a wave pool, and a diving pool, Aquae Vivae water park caters to adults and children. For relaxation they offer Finish and bio sauna, an ice room, and hyper-thermal springs at a temperature of 41°C (106°F) containing calcium and magnesium. Located in the Krapina-Zagorje county, 45 km (28 mi) north of Zagreb, the green surrounding makes you disconnect from the city. Stay in their 4-star hotel Villa Magdalena.
Tucked in the border with Slovenia and Hungary, in the green Međimurje county, you’ll find LifeClass Sveti Martin. It offers healthy and locally produced gastronomy, on-site accommodation (featuring a 4-star hotel and apartments), thermal bathing, 4 types of sauna, an ice cave, and an array of wellness treatments, including a “detox retreat”.
Other thermal spas to spend your winter in Croatia include Daruvarske Toplice, Jezerčica and Varaždinske Toplice. As you can see, there’s plenty of warm and cozy relaxation around the country!
Castles in the Varaždin county
Varaždin is a medieval-renaissance-baroque city in northeast Croatia, home to one of the most known castles in the country, that shares the name with the town. This place is not too popular even among Croatians, but it’s absolutely worth it! The Old Town and castle are even on the tentative list to become a UNESCO Heritage Site.
But the Varaždin county is hiding many more treasures in plain sight! One of the most beautiful ones is Trakošćan castle, built in the 13th century as small medieval fortress. In the 19th century it was transformed into a residential manor-house in Neo-Gothic style. Its Romanticist gardens extend into a lake, which gives the whole property a postcard feel.
More stunning castles in northern Croatia
Another must is Feštetić castle, in the town of Čakovec. It’s latest renovation in the 19th century gave it the Neo-Gothic style we see today. Nowadays it houses a primary school. Yep, kids go to class in a castle in this area of Croatia!
Maruševec castle used to be a medieval burg in the 14th century, but it was enlarged in the 17th century. Today is sits in a 7-hectare park. Nearby Veliki Tabor castle was built the 15th century in Gothic-Renaissance style. It sits atop of Mount Hum Košnički, at 333 meters (1090 ft) above sea level.
Only 39 km (24 mi) north of Zagreb there’s Oršić castle, a Baroque fortress that houses the Museum of Peasants’ revolt, an event that took place in the 16th century. From the capital towards the coast, you can also visit Ozalj castle –located on the cliff above the Kupa River, which was first built in the 6th century, but converted into its current form in the 18th century; and Stara Sušica castle, a 16th century fortress renewed into a Romantic style in the 19th century, surrounded by a leafy forest.
Castles in the Slavonia region
In the Slavonia region the most beautiful ones are Prandau-Mailath castle, a manor built in 1903 in the English Tudor style, that nowadays houses the Donji Miholjac city government (but can be visited upon request), and the Pejačević castle, built in the 19th century in Neo-Baroque style, surrounded by a park with a lake.
→ Even though they’re beautiful to visit all year around, during winter they all transforms into a fairytale, all dressed in white.
Croatian National Parks
Croatia has eight National Parks: Brijuni, Kornati, Krka, Mljet, Paklenica, Plitvice Lakes, Risnjak and Northern Velebit. During wintertime my favorites to visit are Brijuni, Krka and Plitvice, because these are the ones that are impossible to see during summer due to the crowds that they attract.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice is the oldest and largest of Croatia’s National Parks, and also one of the most visited destinations in the country. It’s known to be amongst the most beautiful parks in Europe, and it truly deserves the attention!
It’s located in central Croatia, and it showcases a chain of 16 terraced lakes joined by waterfalls of crystal clear, turquoise waters, surrounded by a lush forest.
There are plenty of well-marked hiking trails and beautiful boardwalks above the water. The main sight is Veliki Slap, a 78m-high (255 ft) waterfall.
Beyond avoiding the crowds, visiting Plitvice during winter can reward you with the most incredible natural frozen wonderland. If you’re lucky, the temperatures will be low enough to make the lakes freeze. It doesn’t get more stunning than that!
Brijuni National Park
Brijuni is located in an unspoiled, lush set of islands in the Adriatic, across from Pula, in the south of the Istrian peninsula. It can be reached by boat: there’s a public one that departs for the small town of Fažana, or you can book an organized full day tour from Pula, like this one.
The park offers many sights, like one of the oldest trees in the Mediterranean, a geopaleontological site where more than 200 footprints of dinosaurs have been discovered, Roman ruins from the 1st century BC, and the 6th century St. Mary’s basilica. A cute little ‘tourist train’ will guide you around the main island. The park was also the summer residence of late Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito, and there’s a permanent exhibition depicting his life on the island.
There are also 13 kilometers (8 mi) of bicycle trails, an underwater trail, and a serene foot trail called the path of good vibrations.
As for lodging, the National Park’s recommendation is Istra Hotel.
Krka National Park
Due to its location near Split, Krka also gets many tourists during the summer. The main hike around the park is in a 1.9 km (1.2 mi) boardwalk, which means elbowing your way around, or waiting forever until people finish taking their selfies. None of that nonsense happens during winter. I have visited in numerous occasions from December to March, and I always have the park to myself.
The aforementioned trail will take you through travertine barriers, islands and lakes to Skradinski buk, the longest waterfall on the Krka River.
Don’t miss the Visovac Island, a picturesque little isle that houses a Franciscan Monastery and the Church of Our Lady of Visovac, that have stood there since 1445.
After your visit, stop by the town of Skradin for a meal or a cup of coffee and some people watching.
The park is located about 80 km (50 mi) both from Split and Zadar, so it’ll take you about an hour and a half to drive there. Alternatively, you can book a tour. Some will include only the transport, like this one, or you can get one that also includes a guided tour, like this one.
Wine tasting in Croatia in winter
Croatian wine is a pleasant surprise, even for those who know a lot about the world of wine.
The country is small, so most of the production is consumed domestically. This means that during your visit you need to try as many labels as you can, considering it’s most likely your only chance to drink Croatian wine. And this happens to be a perfect activity for winter! Regardless of the weather, you get to be cozy indoors with a glass in your hand.
The wine regions in the country are diverse, so most likely you’ll have a winery close by, no matter where you’re visiting.
The Istrian peninsula
In Istria, the moderate Mediterranean climate, combined with the sea currents and constant breezes has produced a soil that grows a large variety of grapes, the main one being Malvasia. There are plenty of boutique, family run wineries that open their doors to visitors in wintertime.
Make sure you call or drop them an email ahead to let them know you’re coming, and they’ll be happy to organize a tour or a tasting for you. On our last winter visit to central Istria, my boyfriend and I stopped by Vina Matošević, and the owner kindly and patiently walked us through all their labels. We had a blast and learnt a lot –I certainly recommend it.
The Dalmatia region
The main star in the wine world that is Dalmatia, is the Pelješac peninsula. This is where Dingač, the finest of Croatian wines, grows. An abundance of sun’s heat and a karstic soil blessed this region with many quality varieties, but the triple insolation of the Dingač slopes –from the direct effect of the sun, and from its reflection both in the rocky soil and the sea– makes this grape a world-class wine.
The area houses many wonderful wineries, but my main recommendation goes to Vina Miloš. In this family-run winery you’ll get to visit the cellar and learn about their classic way of winemaking, followed by a tasting. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality. Even their entry level label is beautiful!
The Slavonia region
In the middle of infinite fields of wheat enclosed by the Danube, Drava and Sava rivers lies Kutjevo, where some of the finest Graševina in the world is produced. This golden elixir ranges from delicate and fresh to full bodied and dry.
My personal favorite daily wine is an inexpensive Krauthaker. At their cellar, a sommelier guides guests in a tasting, after giving them information on vinification and details of the grape varieties and the wine production.
Skiing in Croatia
Granted, with the Alps so close by, Croatia is not among the top ski resorts in Europe. But if you’re looking for a day or two of mellow and cheap skiing or snowboarding, or you want a place to enjoy with your family, then spending your winter in Croatia is a great alternative.
Bjelolasica Olympic skiing resort
In the southeastern slope of Mount Bjelolasica, in Gorski Kotar, you’ll find the largest winter sports complex of Croatia. It features 6 km (3.7 mi) of tracks, divided in green, blue, red and black, with an altitude difference of 800 meters (2625 ft). All paths are connected by a system of cableways with three double chair lifts and three ski lifts. Sledding is also popular in the area. And the most adventurous ones can try cross country skiing.
Sljeme ski resort
Located 15 km (9 mi) north of Zagreb on mountain Medvednica nature park, Sljeme offers a bit over 4 km (2.5 mi) of pistes divided into white, green, blue and red, with a maximum height difference of 300 meters (985 ft). The resort features two ski lifts and a triple chair lift. If you want to stay here, Tomislavov Dom Hotel is within walking distance of the ski tracks.
Platak ski resort
This family-friendly ski resort is located 26 km (16 mi) northeast of Rijeka. Its main characteristic is that from the top of the ski lift, at 1363 meters (4472 ft), you can enjoy views of the sea. The total length of the tracks is 9 km (5.6 mi). The resort offers 5 lifts and a chairlift, plus a lift for children. The maximum altitude difference is 263 meters (863 ft). A couple of days a week they offer night skiing. There are also trails for motor sledging, and two trails for sledding, from where you will descend snow-tubing. A lovely place to stay is Great Mountain B&B Platak, located right on the slopes.
There are three other alternatives that are more of a cute piste than a resort: Mukinje, located within the Plitvice Lakes National Park; Petehovac about 3 km (1.9 mi) away from Delnice; and Velebno, found in Velebit, only 12 km (7.5 mi) away from the seaside.
Crowd-free coastal towns (and a bit of swimming too)
Wintertime is perfect to visit the delightful Adriatic coast. While it’s snowing in the hinterlands, the seaside enjoys a lovely weather. There’re no guarantees on sun, but the odds are in your favor. After living in Split for years I can assure you that even swimming in the winter is possible!
Dubrovnik in winter
After Game of Thrones made already popular Dubrovnik even more of a hotspot, visiting during summer turned into a bit of a nightmare. Personally, I consider it to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe –and judging by the crowds, I’m not mistaken– but the stunning town becomes unbearable when thousands of people coming from several cruise ships are added to the already large amount of vacationers staying over.
During winter you’ll still see tourists, but you’ll be able to see the town, not only selfie sticks in front of you. What I find more delightful is to have parts of Dubrovnik’s main attraction, the City Walls, to myself. This 1940-metre (6365 ft) long wall encompasses five forts and sixteen towers and bastions, and offers views of the picturesque red tiled rooftops, the city harbor, and the emerald green and dark blue crystal-clear sea.
With more than 250 sunny days per year, you might even be able to go for a swim! Enjoy the popular Banje beach crowd-free. You’ll get a beautiful view over Dubrovnik Old Town while soaking in the calm Adriatic.
Split in winter
Due to its Mediterranean climate, winters in Split are mild and short, with lower temperatures and rain concentrated mainly on February. This is one of the reasons Roman Emperor Diocletian chose Split as his retiring home.
The (mostly) sunny winter mornings are a great opportunity to explore the 1700-year old Diocletian’s Palace, and get lost in the alleyways that surround the Emperor’s fortress. Enjoy the sunshine sipping a cup of coffee in one of the many outside terraces of the cafés in Riva, or soak in the sun immersed on nature in Marjan Forest Park.
Bačvice beach, close to the Old Town, always witness some locals swimming, so you won’t be the only crazy one taking a dip in the Adriatic in wintertime!
Pula and Rovinj in winter
The most visited Croatian destinations are in the Istrian peninsula. This means that even off season they receive visitors, which translates into fully operational destinations during wintertime, with most restaurants, hotels and attractions being opened –but with prices much lower than in summer.
On my last trip to Pula, during January, I had the joy of having an entire beautiful cove to myself, where I could wait for sunset with only the sound of the sea accompanying me. What a luxury! Being able to visit the main sights of the town crowd-free was also a bless. The Pula Arena, an exquisitely preserved Roman amphitheater, is the city’s main attraction, and the Old Town also houses other Roman remains, mixed with Venetian-influenced architecture.
Rovinj, the main touristic destination of the country, is also marvelous during wintertime. A hilly peninsula tightly crowded down to the seafront, with its skyline dominated by the church of St. Euphemia, siting at the top, is a postcard more than a town. Stroll around its cobbled streets, enjoy the local gastronomy, and visit the Golden Cape forest park for sports and leisure activities.
Croatia in December
Christmas in Croatia
From Zagreb’s winter wonderland to a sunny celebration in the coast, Christmas in Croatia is a treat. No matter the destination you choose to spend your winter in Croatia, try the local spirit, rakija, in any of its many flavors. For those with a sweet tooth, try fritule, a pastry that resemble little doughnuts, usually served with Nutella or chocolate sauce.
Christmas in Zagreb
Even though most people associate Croatia with sun and beaches, the capital city, Zagreb, has put it in the map when it comes to Christmas. Its three years in a row “Best Christmas market in Europe” award-winning Advent in Zagreb is a must.
This magically decorated, Slavic-speaking fairytale covers Zagreb’s center with booths offering seasonal food and beverages for all tastes, and dresses all the landmarks with Christmas spirit. The main markets fill Ban Jelačić square, continuing all the way to King Tomislav square, and go up through Zagreb’s Cathedral and St. Mark’s church. The Upper Town is ideal for photo opportunities, with the lighted city at its feet, and with decoration framing the landmarks.
This winter wonderland also offers an ice skate ring with the beautiful Art Pavilion in the background, concerts in pergolas scattered around the different market areas, and stalls with handcrafted decoration and presents.
Christmas Village of Gornji Dolac
The small village of Gornji Dolac, 40 km (25 mi) from Split, is home to around a hundred people, but it manages to bring the Christmas spirit to the Dalmatian hinterlands. With 2.3 million light bulbs, the whole settlement brightens up. Visit to explore the decorations, an to try local food and drinks.
Christmas by the Adriatic coast
Pretty much every town will have Christmas markets with music and local delicacies.
Rovinj hosts “Holidays at the House of Batana”, a gastronomy, wine and music two-week long event. Rijeka offers various cultural and entertainment events in its Korzo throughout December. Also during the whole month, Zadar’s Petar Zoranić square features stalls with food and fun, and Split dresses up its main promenade, Riva, and Diocletian’s Palace all the way to Đardin. Trogir started a new tradition, Winter Adventura, that plans to rival the nearby towns with the best Christmas celebrations.
Dubrovnik Winter Festival
The southern Dalmatian city of Dubrovnik offers “culture, enjoyment, gastronomy and art” in its holiday event. You’ll witness the main street of the Old Town, Stradun, full of decorations and completely lighted up. Expect ice skating, festive cakes and sweets, mulled wine and rakija, old-fashioned craftsmanship, games, live music and theater.
Make sure you don’t miss the Dubrovačka kolenda, the city’s own caroling, a tradition that goes back to the 13th century.
Croatia in January
Snow Queen Trophy
Even though skiing in Croatia seems modest next to the Alps, the country hosts the World Cup alpine ski race “Snježna kraljica”, translated as “Snow Queen”. It features men’s and women’s slalom races in the Medvednica mountain –at the Sljeme ski resort. The event usually takes place in early January.
Istrian supa festival
Around mid-January wine and olive oil producers get together in Rovinj to showcase their products. The exhibition is also a competition where the best wines and olive oils of both professional and amateurs wine makers are graded. The tasting is accompanied by live music.
Rijeka carnival takes place from mid-January to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. During 2021 it’ll be held between January 17th and February 14th. It attracts over 100,000 spectators, making it one of the larger carnivals in Europe. Balls and parades were happening in Rijeka over a century ago, but the rebirth of the Carnival began in 1982.
It starts with the mayor handing over the city key to the Meštar Toni, the “maestro” of the carnival, who figuratively becomes the mayor of the city during the festivity season. Also, at the beginning a carnival queen is elected, and there’s a Charity Masquerade Ball held in the Governor’s palace, attended mostly by politicians and socialite.
The main event, the International Carnival Parade, a procession of thousands of masked people and allegorical floats, is held on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
That night there’s also an event known as the burning of the Pust, where a puppet with a satirical name (usually after a politician) is blamed everything bad that happened during the last year. The Pust is taken to the harbor, a spokesman reads all the charges he’s being accused of, and then it’s set on fire and sent to the sea.
Night of the museums
More than 200 museums and galleries in over 100 towns in Croatia open their doors free of charge during one night every winter, at the end of January, in a tradition that has been taking place for more than a decade.
There are many museums that are worth visiting throughout the country, but my personal favorite is the quirky Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. It describes itself as a “unique emotional journey around the world through hundreds of break-ups”, which happens through an exhibition of personal objects from former lovers along with brief synopses of what occurred to them. Sounds odd, but it’s fascinating!
Croatia in February
Dubrovnik’s Festival of Saint Blaise
On the 3rd of February Dubrovnik celebrates its patron saint, Saint Blaise (Sveti Vlaho in Croatian), a festivity that took place for the first time in 972, and commemorates the saint that helped defend the town against the Republic of Venice. The date is considered the “City of Dubrovnik Day”.
In several ceremonies, the people of Dubrovnik pay their respect to the saint. The city gates open to churchgoers arriving from around the region. Usually they dress in traditional costumes and carry their church emblems. The patron saint is saluted by twirling banners, a mass is celebrated, and there’s a procession, in which several important relics are carried.
Croatia in March
International Documentary Film Festival
ZagrebDox is an international documentary film festival that takes place in late February or early March. It showcases recent documentary films, focusing on creativity.
The festival features an international and regional competition. The international one presents the best auteur and creative documentary films from the world, while the regional one presents films from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Slovenia and Serbia.
There’s also a number of non-competition exhibits, like retrospectives and films focused on specific subjects, genres, techniques and esthetics.
Restaurant Week (Tjedan Restoran in Croatian) takes place in many cities all over the country. Several eateries offer a special three-course menu for a discounted price –100 kunas for lunch and 100/125 kunas for dinner. This allows locals to indulge in fine dining, that’s usually outside of their budget, but can be enjoyed by visitors too –a menu in English is often available.
Tips to travel through Croatia in winter
If you’re traveling on a budget, off season is the perfect time. This applies to pretty much every place in the world, but here it’s worth to make a specific point. The entry fees for National Parks go down up to 75% – from 200 to 30 kunas for Krka National Park, and from 300 to 80 kunas for Plitvice, to name a couple.
Accommodation prices also plummet. You can find an entire apartment overlooking Dubrovnik for 20€. In summer you can’t even find a bed in a dorm of a hostel for that money. If you want to splurge in a nice stay, I can recommend 5-star Hotel Lone in Rovinj. The prices are steep in summer, but in winter my boyfriend and I got a room for less than 100€ (about a fourth of the price during high season).
Mind that tourism in winter might be limited in some places, which means that certain restaurants could be closed and the attraction’s open hours might be reduced. Check the website or social media pages of your chosen activity before you go. Some places will even open especially for you if you let them know you’re going. This has been the case in several wineries that I’ve visited in wintertime.
→ Do you want more advice about visiting Croatia in winter or summer? In this link are the best Croatia travel tips I’ve learnt during years living in this beautiful country.
See? Plenty to enjoy Croatia in winter! : )