In August 2022, I had the absolute pleasure of touring the Balkan region of Europe for the very first time. I hit 6 new countries in one trip, and, as always, it was life changing. I can’t express enough how much I adore exploring a new country, especially ones like these that I had never experienced before. Croatia will go down in history as one of the most unique and incredible places I’ve been. I have officially crossed off 25 countries on the map after this trip, and every single check mark was perfect. I did the Best of Balkans tour from a travel company called Contiki. If you’re between 18 and 35 years old and you want to travel and get out there, but don’t want to go solo? This is the perfect thing. It’s how I’ve seen so many countries over the last 7 years and made so many international friends. I’ll be aging out later this year, and I’m super sad about it, but it’s taught me so much I needed to know about international travel. And set me up for a lot more comfort in traveling solo and planning my own trips, too.

Instead of making a blog post about all 6 countries I visited on this trip, I’m putting Croatia in its own post, because I spent the most time there, in different cities.

I arrived in Split, Croatia, as my first stop. I arrived a day before my tour started, which I’m learning that I prefer, to give myself a day to rest and catch up on jet lag, and accommodate myself with the city. Split was incredibly welcoming. It was summer, and it was on the verge of rain, and getting dark out, as I ventured out for the first time to go meet up with a few new friends who were to join my trip tomorrow, and the place seriously felt like a big warm hug. The streets were full of people, but not in an overwhelming way, in a way that showed how much life there was in this place. The people were friendly and kind, The man who I was renting my room from for the night had carried my large bag all the way up to the top of the stairs. I had all kinds of hilarious and heartwarming interactions with the owners of the local places when I stopped for food or for coffee. One of the coffee shop owners even reached across his counter to hug me. I even befriended the tattoo artist I went to later on my last day of the trip, and taught her my favorite place to get a drink! I liked Split. It made me feel like a local and it was so easy to get my bearings in this place. While a lot of the streets look the same, you start to get your feel of the place right away. Also – the beautiful marble streets are SLIPPERY when it rains. I learned this many times. Favorite things to do in Split:

– Wander the “Riva,” their lively boardwalk right along the water with restaurants and bars.
– Charlie’s Bar – we discovered alcohol in bucket-form here and it changed the course of the rest of our trip to always be on the lookout for buckets. Literal sandcastle buckets full of tasty drink. It was hilarious and wonderful.
– Lobster Tattoo – where I went and got my tattoo on my last day! 10/10 experience and it looks STUNNING, I’ll include a photo below!
– Head to one of the beaches! Keep in mind that water shoes are almost necessary at a lot of these places, the places that you’re swimming are tough on your feet, I was VERY grateful to be traveling with a pair of Teva’s for those purposes. My favorite beach hangout was the Jadran Beach Bar. Loud music, plenty of drinks, and a great view out over the water. Not my favorite spot to swim but the vibes were great to hang and lay in the sun, here.
– My hotel on my last night in town (we circled back to Split again at the very end) was called Prima Luxury Suites and it was affordable, I had my own room with the best shower I had YET on the entire trip, and it was walkable to EVERYTHING and I seriously felt like a local there. I absolutely loved that spot! I would stay there again in the future. No included breakfast or anything like that but it didn’t matter when you were just footsteps from the city. 

After Split, we headed off to Dubrovnik. I was excited about this because I am a Game of Thrones fan, and I know that King’s Landing is basically just Dubrovnik. It was pretty cool to walk around and actually recognize some places, including walking down the same steps at Cersi when she did the naked walk! Fun fact: did you know Croatia had to update its laws about public nudity because of that episode? Tourists try to walk down the steps naked all the time, so they had to change the laws! LOL. Dubrovnik was a ridiculously magical place, unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. You basically just start out by entering a castle, but the castle is an ENTIRE CITY. It’s also stupidly expensive because it’s grown so popular. Don’t expect to pinch your pennies here. I went to a club one night (a club inside of a castle) and I think one mixed (literally vodka soda) was somewhere around $20? I much preferred a nice drink with a nice view, but if you love clubs, Dubrovnik is your place.

Favorite highlights of Dubrovnik:

– We started with a sunset cruise along the water, and it was the best intro I could’ve asked for in Dubrovnik. It picked us up right outside our hotel, fed us dinner, gave us wine in paper cups, and gave us the perfect group bonding before a night out.
– The next morning was one of my favorite activities of the entire trip: after a quick walking tour around the city, we hopped into kayaks and paddled ourselves around King’s Landing. We went all the way out to a blue lagoon, got out and swam, cliff jumped, then hopped back in and came back to land for lunch. Those are just some views you cannot experience from land.
– With the rest of our day free, we took the cable car up to the top of Dubrovnik and took in the views, which is another thing I highly recommend doing. You can either hike or cable car, and let me tell you, the cable car got me there in just a few minutes. LOL.
– After the views we wanted to locate one of the epic “cliff bars” aka Buzabar (there are multiple). The one we found HAS to be the coolest one, unless they are just all that cool, but I was blown away. Not only was it insanely hard to find the entrance (that was on purpose) but once we did, it was like our own secret spot to enjoy a cold beverage and watch the sunset, while honestly just attempted to not fall down the cliff.
– We ate delicious Italian food that night for dinner at a place I will never know the name of, and that was really all the time we had in Dubrovnik. I always want more time in the places I go, but I love being able to see as much as possible. So the next morning, we were off again.

From Dubrovnik, we continued onto Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia (all of which will get a separate blog post), and then we circled back to Croatia again to finish off the tour. Our first stop back in Croatia again was Plitvice National Park and the Krka Waterfalls. Plitvice gave us somewhere along the lines of 4 hours of hiking after a long night out drinking the night before. We had all been in better places physically, but that doesn’t stop you on trips like this. You don’t miss out on these things. We picked what we thought would be the easier hiking paths, only to discover we actually took the most difficult one, so we turned around, but not after hiking to what felt like the very top, anyway. LOL. Doesn’t make any of this place less beautiful. We stayed in this super tiny town (I don’t even know what it was called) just for one night before we headed back towards Split for our last night together. Things were getting bittersweet with our new travel pals and realizing the fun was coming to an end. We called our quaint little hotel in the country “Grandma’s house” because it looked and smelled like a Grandma ran it – along with full taxidermy animals set up like they were in the middle of a poker game in the lobby. We left Grandma’s house with a little stop over to see the Krka Waterfalls which were also stunning, but I definitely remember a lot of bees trying to eat my food, and so many people it was less enjoyable, but again, still stunning. And SUCH easy walking paths this time, much smaller than Plitvice. But, I definitely preferred the views of Plitvice.

Another trip well spent, and more info on the rest of the countries coming on another post soon!