Are you into water sports? Visit Croatia from June to September when the Adriatic Sea is warm. Do you want to hire a guide and his dog to go truffle-hunting or join a grape harvest in Istria? The season for that is autumn. Dreaming of attending an al fresco opera in Split in what’s left of Diocletian’s palace living room? Plan to be in Croatia sometime between July 14 and August 14, 2018.
Whether you’re itching to hike up Istria’s Mt. Ucka or just inhale the intoxicating scents emanating from the budding birches, shrubs, and flowers that line Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe in Zagreb, in Croatia, there’s a season for that.
Seasons and Regions in Croatia
Two distinct climate zones dominate Croatia’s weather, and they happen to coincide with the country’s two major cultures. Venice’s long occupation of the islands and southern coast has influenced customs, architecture, and tastes on the coast, while Habsburg rule and sensibility is evident in the traditions and style in the rest of the country.
Historically, the mountains that run north to south just inland along the coast were a barrier to both cultural migration and the weather. The mountains block the extreme cold weather from reaching the coast, where the climate is primarily Mediterranean.
Croatian coastal temperatures range from the mid-40sF in winter to the high-90sF in the height of summer (7C to 35C). Spring and autumn are mild there, especially south of Split. Inland communities and Northern Croatia have a Continental climate with winter temperatures ranging from freezing (plus ice and snow) to 80F in summer (0C to 26C). Spring and autumn there can range from wet and chilly to dry and pleasantly warm.
Read on for a breakdown of Croatia’s “seasons” and the highlights you can expect to find during each.
High Season (July & August)
Summer is the busiest tourist season on the Croatian coast and the islands. For good reason: The weather is consistently sunny and warm (80F/26C or more), the sea is warm and calm, sporting events abound, and the festival season is in full swing. European travelers, who are off work the entire month of August or longer, flock to Croatia at this time of year.
Expert tip: Reservations are a must for lodging, restaurants, ferries, trains this time of year.
A few of the better-known festivals and events during summer:
- Šibenik hosts its annual International Children’s Festival celebrating kids’ theater and art in venues all over the city from late June through early July. Šibenik is a good base if you also want to visit Diocletian’s Palace in Split, the venue for a Summer Festival of Music or Zadar and its quirky Riva.
Expert tip: Both Zadar and Šibenik are easy departure points for the Kornati Islands where diving and snorkeling are superb. Also near Šibenik: Krka National Park for hiking and spectacular waterfalls.
- Pula’s 2nd-century amphitheater is home to summer musical performances ranging from classical to pop. Big name artists like Sting, Elton John, and Andreas Bocelli have performed there. Come for the show; stay for a day trip to Brijuni National Park, Tito’s summer hideaway. A golf course and historic structures await. Or beat the heat by driving north into Istria’s hilly interior to the medieval town of Grožnjan and its artists’ colony. The sounds you will hear on the streets are courtesy of music students from all over the world who come to Grožnjan every summer to hone their skills.
- Zagreb, practically crowd-free in summer, is home to non-stop festivals, beach bars, museums, and sporting events are non-stop in summer.
Shoulder Season (Late May to mid-June & September-October)
Crowds on the Coast and Islands thin this time of year, temperatures cool and prices fall. Most attractions are still open and the sea is still warm enough for water sports.
- Marunada in Lovran is a festival celebrating all things chestnut.
- Istria is the site for truffle-hunting—with dogs, not pigs.
- Zagreb hosts its International Jazz Days and an International Trade Fair.
Expert tip: Check schedules to be sure the ferries are still running and the attractions you want to visit will be open.
Winter (November to early May)
Winter on the continent can bring snow and ice, while the Adriatic coast and islands get heavy rains and the bura, a strong, northeasterly wind that sweeps up the Adriatic Coast and can reach hurricane strength. When the bura blows, people stay indoors, ferries are canceled, and bridges are closed.
This is the time to head to Zagreb to celebrate winter. You can head the slopes at Mt. Medvednica and its major resort, Sljeme, just 20 minutes outside Zagreb, home of the FIS World Ski Cup competition each year. Or stay in the city to visit Zagreb’s Christmas Market; it was named the best Christmas market in Europe in December 2015.
In February, Croatia kicks off the approach of spring with Mardi Gras celebrations all over the country. The biggest celebration is a weeklong party in the port city Rijeka in the Kvarner region northwest of Zagreb.