The Best Winter Destinations in Croatia

Stradun, the main street in Dubrovnik, gets in the festive spirit
Stradun, the main street in Dubrovnik, gets in the festive spirit | © Stefano Politi Markovina / Alamy Stock Photo
Peterjon Cresswell

Summer brings hordes of tourists, but winter can be a great time to visit Croatia. The main towns are busy with travellers, particularly those in the north, including Zagreb and Rijeka. Realising that tourists want city breaks as well as beach holidays, even Dubrovnik is going bigger on its offerings around Christmas and New Year.

1. Istria

Natural Feature

Arena Pula historic Roman amphitheater view, Istria region of Croatia
© Dalibor Brlek / Alamy Stock Photo
Winter can be the best time to visit Istria, the verdant peninsula of coastal resorts and traditional hilltop villages between Italy and mainland Croatia. Ruled from Rome before World War II, the region still has many Italianate influences, seen in the cuisine and architecture, but a newly revived Istrian identity has been influencing the resurgence of the local wine industry, olive oil, gastronomy and rural accommodation. Istria is a destination for winter walks, clear panoramic views and mistletoe- or honey-flavoured rakija (fruit brandy) at the end of every hike or meal.

2. Zagreb

Natural Feature

The colourful Church of St. Mark is one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb and one of its symbols
© Inge Johnsson / Alamy Stock Photo
Very much a year-round destination, Zagreb has long known that international travellers need something to do when visiting the Croatian capital during the colder months. A prime foreigner-friendly attraction is Advent, running from late November or early December to early January, with an open-air skating rink, stands, stalls and stages set up around the city centre. New Year’s Eve is also a money-spinner, though other festivals, such as Zagrebdox for film documentaries, tend to be of niche interest.

3. Dubrovnik

Architectural Landmark

Dubrovnik, Croatia
© Spencer Davis / Unsplash
Heaving with crowds in summer, Dubrovnik is very pleasant during winter. Temperatures and hotel rates drop, but you should still be able to sit outside in a T-shirt sipping coffee on a December afternoon. Key high-end hotels offer attractive spa packages. Christmas stalls are set up along the main street of Stradun, and live acts are organised on New Year’s Eve. Those planning to come here afterwards can time their visit around the traditional Feast of St Blaise parade every 3 February.

5. Rijeka

Natural Feature

Rijeka, Croatia: Trsat castle sourrounded by green trees.
© Julia Lavrinenko / Alamy Stock Photo
Perceived as a workaday port, a setting-off point for the ferry that weaves down to Dalmatia, Rijeka has attractions worthy of exploration out of high season. It stages the most elaborate and best-attended Mardi Gras celebration in Croatia. Devil-costumed bellringers known as zvončari entertain huge crowds lining the streets, and parties run all weekend. Other key sights include Trsat Castle, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Coast in the grand Governor’s Palace.

6. Istarske Toplice

Natural Feature

Natural Landscape And Well-Known Spa In The Mirna Valley In Istria
© CHROMORANGE / Hans Eder / Alamy Stock Photo
Could there be anything better than sitting outdoors in the hot thermal springs of Istarske Toplice near Motovun in Istria while cold winter air whistles all around you? A health resort back in the Habsburg days, today’s Istarske Toplice also offers modern-day massages and treatments in its contemporary beauty and wellness centre.

7. Samobor

Natural Feature

Town of Samobor square view, northern Croatia
© Dalibor Brlek / Alamy Stock Photo
Another regular destination for people from Zagreb, Samobor is an attractive day trip all year round but is particularly popular in autumn and winter, when hikers hit the hills around it. They then descend upon this picture-postcard community – a gathering place for writers, artists and musicians in the 1800s. Franz Liszt was one visitor. Cosy cafes serve samoborska kremšnita (cream cake), a local speciality, while restaurants offer seasonal game and hearty soups.

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