There are many scenic sights and majestic parks teeming with wildlife and adventure thrills in the world. However, where Croatia trumps most of them is the offer of mostly undisturbed and well preserved natural life in conditions they were in eons ago. The country has an ideal landscape for some stunning havens several which have become World Heritage Sites.

The long extensive mountain ranges, lakes and a seemingly unending coastline have gifted the nation with plenty for everyone visiting it. Here is a curation of the best national parks in Croatia you should visit on your trip!

1. Plitvice Lakes National Park

Pltivice Lakes National Park

Plitvice was designated as a national park in 1949 and later on, was bestowed with the UNESCO’s World Heritage status. It is the largest and most famous of Croatia’s national parks attracting over one million tourists annually. It consists of dense forests, and 16 interconnected lakes whose biggest attraction are the majestic waterfalls and cascades which fall from 28 meters to 78 meters tall. The water in the lakes changes its hue from blue, to grey and green depending on the minerals present in the time, the angle of sunlight, the season and even organisms.

Beyond the allure of the lakes, there are forests and grasslands for hikers with four trails offering the challenge and adventure you may need. One of the routes used most has three peaks ranging from 800 to 900 meters and cuts through land that has wolves, lynx, and brown bears. Over winter the park is famous for skiing, and there are even facilities for floodlit skiing. Much of the touring around the park is done using tourists trains and speed boats. Cycling is restricted to the edges of the national park on given roads. There are walking tours too.

2. Krka National Park

Krka National Park

While the Plitvice National Park gets all the attention for its water, the Krka National Park boasts the more massive waterfalls. It also offers easy access to them, especially the most famous Skradsinski Buk which has 17 cascades preceding it. Krka National Park also provides a different package for tourists. If you love boat tours, the long Krka River is an adventurous way to experience the park. There are also historical tours that take you through early man settlements as well as the camp set for Roman Empire legionnaires for retirement.

Guided walk tours pass through the several fortresses found on the park and the Krka Canyon. There are 200 bird species in the park which make for compelling viewing. Accommodation options are not in the pack, but you can find several at the entrances.

3. Mljet National Park

Mljet Nationa Park

These idyllic islands are full of legend and myth as they are of beauty. Many believe it is the island where the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked while other myths point it as the location of where Oedipus the Greek Hero was captured by the goddess Calypsos. The association with early Christianity is given further proof by the presence of a Benedictine monastery established in the 1100s. The lack of any industry nearby means the waters and life of the island has been spared the pollution effects of human activities leave the waters pure blue.

There are two inland lakes Malo Jezero and Veliko Jezero which is the larger one and the location of the St Mary’s Islet where the monastery is located but now serves as a restaurant. Besides the watersports and touring using a canoe or boat, you can take part in a hiking trip that ends at the peak of 253 meters which offers excellent views of the surrounding areas and the dense forests.

4. Brijuni National Park

Brijuni National Park
Photo by NP Brijuni

Brijuni National Park is almost as famous as Plitvice and Krka but not for majestic waterfalls but its history. It is made up of 14 islands, although most are not open to tourists. Still, the most famous one the Veliki Brijun is open, and it is the site where 200 dinosaur footprints were discovered. It is also renowned as the island where former Yugoslavian leader Tito called home and from here received leaders from the rest of the world from India to Africa and South America.

These visitors brought exotic animals as presents to him, and he created his private zoo, which has now been turned to a safari park. Some of the animals present include elephants, llamas, and zebras. You can also visit several archeological sites for ancient Roman villas and another St Mary’s church which was set up by Knights of the Templar during the crusades.

Cyclists will have more fun in this park than anywhere else as there is a specific 13-km route designed to take you through the main attractions of the island including the first 18-hole golf course to be set in continental Europe.

5. Risnjak National Park

The National Park is one of the least known parks in Croatia, which is both an injustice as well as a good thing since you will not have to contend with teeming crowds. It offers plenty of activities from bird watching to hiking and mountain climbing to water sports as well as the unique attraction of fly fishing.

Besides that, it has a unique combination of flora and fauna – from wild boars to lynxes, eagles, and chamois to bears and feral cats – and a vastly diverse landscape which includes valleys, mountain ranges, deep springs, canyons, and caves. There are plenty of accommodation options, which include private lodgings and chalets.

When you traverse the hillside and woods of continental Croatia, you’re likely to spot dark violet flowers spotting whitish yellow beards. This branched-stem plant is the iris Croatia aka the bearded iris. It’s Croatia’s national flower – a symbol of national heritage, hope, bravery, wisdom, and faith. Here’re some fun facts about it.

Croatians call it the Perunika – Sorry Thor but Perun, the Slavic god of Thunder and lightning has a flower named after him. In Slavic mythology, Perun is the god of the pantheon; his attributes are thunder, lightning, fire, and more. He was honored by having this flower named after him. This makes this flower a symbol of national pride to Croatians.

Its religious background makes it divine and magnificent – legend has it that it only grows on the grounds struck by Perun’s thunderbolt arrow. People take a walk in the fields where the flower blooms in the hope of receiving divine messages from above conveyed through these heavenly messengers – the divine offsprings.

Discover the various benefits of Iris flower

In the Greek language, Iris is a word meaning “Rainbow” – The iris flower can have various colors such as lavender, orange, white, pink, and more. If the perunika gets mixed with other iris flower variants in the same garden, they bloom to the delightful colors of the rainbow spectrum.

It has several uses – Since time immemorial, the iris flower has held divine, medicinal, and ornamental values. No wonder it has been chosen as the symbol of national pride not just by Croatia but France and Jordan too. Here’s how the flower is useful:

  • Attracting hummingbirds and bees
  • Decorating lawns and parks
  • Preparation of perfumes
  • Making of medicines for stomach aches, skin infection and more
  • As an emblem for faith, hope, passion, and bravery through its colors

Enjoy parks filled with Iris in Zagreb

Image by Arvid Olson from Pixabay

Don’t forget to take a walk in Zagreb’s park, smell the flowers and relax in the gentle violet shade of this little gods. This is what attracted the Croatian natives to the flower, and in the year 2000 it was declared the national flower of Croatia

Its blooms during the summer – During May, the flower is in full bloom; lining the parks and countryside with shades of dark violet.

It’s endemic therefore protected – It only grows in Europe’s temperate zones and after it blooms its foliage wither just after 3 days. It flourishes in limestone and dolomite-rich soils so you’ll mostly spot it when hiking through the hillside of Croatia. But you can also spot it in parks and homes where folks have introduced it to special conditioned gardens. It’s among the nine strictly protected plants in Croatia, therefore, avoid picking it.

Growing and maintaining Bearded Iris

The bearded iris grows in rich, moist soils that are well drained. Limestone and dolomite deposits are essential for blooming, so make use of conditioners such as Gypsum in your garden – 7 is the ideal PH level. You should plant a bearded iris on slopes or elevated beds for proper drainage.

The best period to plant them is before the frost – usually 7 weeks before the frost hits. You can plant them in late summer so that by the time winter hits, they’ve already spread their roots in the ground. Another time to plant is as soon as spring hits.

When planting just make sure to leave rhizomes exposed unless it’s a hot climate where slight covering with soil is okay. The roots should be spread out and downward facing, so they get established in the ground faster. Plant the flowers 12 inches apart and water to ensure roots settle in the ground. Expose the iris plants to up to 6 hours of sun for better blooming. But in hot climates, shades come in useful.

When the foliage dies after blooming, remove it from the garden to prevent pest infestation. Cutting off the foliage also directs the plant’s energy to the rhizomes which it will use to make it through the frosty winter. Additionally, remember to do thinning often to eliminate crowding which encourages pests. You can use fertilizer by composting it around your plant.

In retrospect, Bearded iris are the staples of Croatian gardens. They’re easy to maintain and can re-bloom too gracing the lands with their gentle shade of dark violet twice a year – conveying a message of bravery, hope, and faith.

Featured photo by Marijana195 / Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Exploring Croatia, you can see the influence of Romans, Greeks, Venetians, Illyrians, Hungarians and get the extensive knowledge of history in this area. You know when the UNESCO has marked seven places in Croatia as World Heritage Sites that Croatia has a great culture and it is the country worth seeing.

The Pula Arena

The Pula Amphitheater is the sixth largest surviving Roman amphitheater. It is one of the must-see places worth seeing when visiting Istria. You can go inside, take a seat and imagine the scene that there was for more than 2000 years ago.

It was designed to host gladiatorial contests but now it’s Istria’s main tourist attraction. Still serves the mass entertainment needs of the local populace in the shape of various concerts, opera, ballet, sports competitions. During the summer months, you can see gladiator fights as part of the historical and entertainment spectacle “Spectacvla Antiqva”.

Diocletian’s Palace

Placed in Split, Dioklecians palace is one of the best-preserved monument of Romans architecture in the world. It was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.

The palace itself contains many attractions and one of the most impressive is the Cathedral of St. Duje, which is actually built as the mausoleum of the famous Emperor. There is also the corresponding bell tower which dates back to the 13th century and is considered to be the most prominent Dalmatian medieval building.

Even today, the people still live in the palace, and this is something that fascinates every tourist who walks in the narrow streets that are here for more than 1700 years.

The Euphrasian Basilica

Walking through the city of Poreč you will find the majestic Euphrasian Basilica which represents the cultural good for the city of Poreč. In 1997, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

And even today, you can see main features of the basilica, wonderful mosaics dating from the 6th century. With magnificent underfloor mosaics and preserved inscriptions, it is possible to monitor all stages of construction, adaptation, and renovation.

We recommend you to climb up to the bell tower for a look at the bells as well as worth seeing a landscape.

Church of St. Donatus

If you are visiting Zadar, then you can’t miss the church of Saint Donatus. Church of St. Donatus today is a recognizable symbol of the city of Zadar and an unavoidable stop for all visitors.

Dating from the beginning of the 9th century, this oddly circular church, built in Byzantine style, owes its name to the bishop who has given it to build it. Because of its cylindrical shape, this building belongs to the most famous and most significant European pre-Romanesque churches.

Today, for its exceptionally good acoustics, the church is using for performances of various music programs, and the most famous of them is the ‘Musical Evenings in St. Donatus’.

Cathedral St. James in Šibenik

We recommend you to see the cathedral of St. James in Šibenik. It is certainly one of the most beautiful and significant architectural and religious objects in Croatia.

Cathedral St. James stands out for a piece of Dalmatian art, as a collection of 72 sculptures of the heads of different people in the apses, it is a unique example of Renaissance realism. You can see the faces of men, women, children, and maids. It is assumed that many of them were famous people of that time.

Despite the fact that many masters have changed during the construction of the Cathedral is a very harmonious building, because it was built exclusively of stone.

Walls of Dubrovnik

While you are visiting Croatia, you must see the majestic city Dubrovnik. Walk down by the walls of Dubrovnik and see where is filmed the famous HBO series Game of Thrones.

In 1979, the old city of Dubrovnik, which includes a significant part of the old walls of Dubrovnik, joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

You can choose to climb the walls in three places. When you are heading on the street Stradun, on the left from the direction of Pila. The second way is from the west side of the entrance to the old town at the fortress of St. John. Third and the last way you can climb the walls at the fortress of St. Luke on the east side of the entrance to the city.

Do you know that the TripAdvisor placed Walls of Dubrovnik based on a review of millions of travelers in a list of ten monuments to be visited before deaths?

St. Mark’s Church

After you see the main square take a walk to the Gornji grad, you will find a beautiful St. Mark’s Church, one of the oldest architectural monuments in Zagreb. It is located on St.Mark’s Square and recognizable by its spectacular colorful tiled roof. It is now protected as a cultural heritage by the Republic of Croatia.

The spectrum of colors displayed on the roof beautifully depicts the coats-of-arms of the Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia on the left and the emblem of Zagreb city on the right. Unfortunately, the creator of the coat of arms is not known.

The Baška tablet

While you are visiting the island of Krk, it would be a real shame if you don’t seek the Baška tablet. Located in Jurandvor, it represents the most significant monument of Croatian culture.

Although the monument is impressive, it’s also very old and its size is enormous: 2x1m, 800kg. The original tablet is kept at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb, while a copy remains at the Church of St. Lucy in Jurandvor.

The oldest known document (from about 1100) in which is the first mention of the ruler’s name in the national language, and even more, in the Croatian Glagolitic script called Glagoljica.

Trakošćan Castle

One of the most beautiful castles in Croatia is hidden in a region called Hrvatsko Zagorje and dates back to the 13th century.

The castle has four levels: low and high ground floor, first and second floor. The objects in the castle originate from the period from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Beautifully arranged in individual rooms represent the life of the nobility of Croatia through the history of the place Trakošćan and famous Drašković family.

From the beautiful castle, there is a stunning view, and all around the castle are the magical lake and woods. Interior has been preserved just like hundreds of years ago. Well decorated with original furniture, so you can feel the taste of history.

Historical Core of Trogir

The beautiful city of Trogir is placed near the Šibenik, and its beauty lies in the sculptural art of stone. Walking along the streets of Trogir is like a trip to the past, you can see the influence of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Venetians.

is placed near the Šibenik, and its beauty lies in the sculptural art of stone. Walking along the streets of Trogir is like a trip to the past, you can see the influence of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Venetians.

Its historical core formed back in the period of 13th to the 15th centuries. The town of Trogir lies on an island between the mainland and the island of Čiovo. Because of its beauty and value, UNESCO included the old city center of Trogir into a World Heritage List.

In exploring the town, don’t miss the stunning Cathedral of St. Lovro with a portal to the west it represents the great Radovan’s masterpiece.

Opatija, the main Croatian tourist destination in recent history, has many things to offer. Previously favorite winter destination for aristocrats and important people such as politics, artists and writers, today one of the most popular summer destinations for all generations. Families, couples, young people and seniors, everyone can find something of their interest in Opatija.

The town was first discovered by Iginio Scarpa, a merchant who built Villa Angiolina in the center of Opatija in 1844 which was the beginning of Opatija tourism.

The first hotel in Opatija was hotel Quarnero, today known as hotel Kvarner. It was built by the director of the Australian Southern Railway Company. That company also built the famous coastal promenade Lungo Mare that connects Volosko to Lovran.

Opatija was officially declared a climatic health resort in 1889 and it offered numerous sanatoriums and promenades where people could relax and enjoy. This launched Opatija to the European’s top health resorts, along with big cities such as Nice and Cannes. Opatija was a perfect sanctuary because of its mild climate and great location by the sea, in the center of the Kvarner Bay.

Many famous people were visiting and staying in Opatija on a regular basis: emperors Franz Joseph and William II, the ballet dancer Isadora Duncan, Queen Elizabeth of Romania that wrote poems under the name Carmen Sylva, the Empress Sissi, the writers A. P. Chekhov and James Joyce, to only name a few.

If you want to learn more about the history of Opatija, you can visit Croatian Museum of Tourism which is located in Villa Angiolina, Juraj Šporer Art Pavilion and Swiss House.

Image source: Visit Opatija.