Planning Your Family Trip to Croatia
Traveling with kids can be one of life’s most rewarding, hilarious, and occasionally frustrating experiences. What’s more, for families with packed work and school schedules, it can be their best chance of spending quality time together while gaining new experiences that the youngest members will look back on forever. But making it all go smoothly can take some planning and ingenuity.
Here are Croatia’s best kid-friendly destinations and activities, plus travel tips to get you started on planning the perfect family vacation. For more planning info, check out the Best Time of Year to Visit Croatia, and our Croatia FAQ.
Istria: Roman Ruins and Adrenaline Activities
For kids who appreciate history (especially when learning about it involves visiting some very impressive Roman ruins), head to Istria; the peninsula at the northern end of Croatia’s coastline that once belonged to the Venetian empire. The good news is, Istria is filled with so many historic wonders that will delight both kids and adults alike, you won’t have to deviate far from your regularly scheduled program to make the entire family happy.
Start off with the Pula Arena, an ancient amphitheater and a good substitute for the Colosseum in Rome, where kids can explore, run around, and pretend to be gladiators. If your kids show a propensity for archaeology, indulge that with visits to other epic ruins like Hercules Gate and the Temple of Augustus.
If history isn’t their thing (or yours), enjoy the wide range of nature on display in this part of Croatia, but give it a special twist! That can mean gaining a new perspective on the forest at Glavani Park, where kids can clamber through Croatia’s biggest high ropes climbing course and feel like giants looking down from the treetops. Or if they’re older (and you can bear to watch) take them to Pazinska Jama, where they can speed across canyon on several lengths of ziplines. If your kids are into marine life, they can get up close and personal with crabs, turtles, seahorses, and small sharks at the Pula Aquarium.
Split: Mountains and Beaches
If you’re in Split for even a day, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll visit Diocletian’s Palace. This 4th-century Palace built by a Roman emperor is an exciting labyrinth of alleys and passageways, opening up onto bustling squares and leading to centuries-old buildings where hotels, shops, and restaurants are still in business to this day. In other words, it’s the perfect place to take intrepid kids to explore, learn, and blow off steam (just make sure you let them loose in open spaces where you can keep track of them!).
Just a short drive from Split is Biokovo, the tallest mountain in Croatia and the perfect place for a day trip from the city. Make sure your kids have good sneakers or hiking boots and pack food for a picnic at the top tp celebrate your assent. If you want to stick closer to home for a half-day trip, Marjan Park, just outside the city center, is another place where kids can enjoy the great outdoors, run freely, tumble on the grass, clamber on the playgrounds. Climb up to its high point Telegrin for panoramic views of Split, the mountains, and the sea beyond, or choose one of several hiking loops if your kids are big on exercise.
Once you’ve sweat the morning out, there are plenty of bustling, family-friendly beaches around Split where you can cool off, picnic, and relax in the sun as your kids build sand castles and swim.
Dubrovnik: Ride a Cable Car & Walk the Old City Walls
For kids, Dubrovnik can feel like a golden fantasy land. Its old town is pedestrian-only, and its gleaming main street is flanked by secretive stairways and elusive alleys which kids can explore, ice cream in hand, past flower-bedecked windows and under old-timey laundry-lines hanging overhead.
But it’s also holding an ace in its pocket, and that would be its intact 15th- and 16th-century city walls, nearly 2 km long, which encircle the old town and link several round forts. Simply buy tickets at the entry point near the old town’s main gate, or book a tour for the entire family with a guide that can help bring stories of the city and its architecture to life. Kids will love the looking down on the city, the harbor, and the people below.
If you want to take them even higher, grab a cable car up Srđ Hill and have them point out the parts of the wall they were just walking on. Once at the top, you’ll be only a short walk away from Honey Valley, a farm and petting zoo where kids meet horses, donkeys, and sheep.
If you find yourself with an unexpectedly gray day on your hands, keep intrepid kids indoors with a visit to the Maritime Museum, where they can learn about sea exploration through old maps, model ships, steering wheels, and navigators tours, or at the small aquarium inside St. John’s Fortress (part of the wall!), home to eels, octopi, seahorses, and starfish.
To escape the summer crowds and heat, head to Lokrum Island, the closest of several islands that are just a quick trip from Old Town Dubrovnik (so close, in fact, you can see it from the walls). Once off the ferry or sailboat, take your kids to wander through 19th-century botanical gardens, explore a Benedictine monastery, or spot wild peacocks roaming lush, jungle-like surrounds, or take a swim at beaches that aren’t quite as overrun by mainland crowds.
Dalmatian Islands: Outdoor Activities and the Blue Cave
With their varied terrain, wealth of natural and man-made sights, and relatively small sizes, the Dalmatian Islands can feel like an exciting activity grab bag, with something for everyone in every age group, regardless of what they like to do. If you have kids, though, the islands will be particularly enticing, like miniature version of Croatia that are even more easy to navigate than the mainland. Vis, for example, can be reached in a day trip from Split, and includes the tiny island of Biševo at its tip, home to the Blue Cave. The cave got its name from the ethereal blue tone that results when the sun’s rays illuminate it through an underwater, and can only be visited by boat.
Although known for its chic hotels and ever-thriving nightlife scene, Hvar offers plenty of opportunties to relax on pebble beaches like Dubovia or Sveti Nedelja, thought to be among the island’s most beautiful. Charter a sailboat or catamaran over to the Pakleni Islands, tiny speckles of land just off the coast, for some easy snorkeling in crystal clear waters, where kids may even be able to spot the fish they saw at one of Croatia’s many aquariums. Kids will be charmed by the island’s lavender fields and olive groves, as well as coastal villages like Jelsa and Vrboska that feel like they’ve been frozen in time.
With its charming, walkable old town and plenty of easy hikes or bike rides through less-traveled interior forests, Korčula may be among the best and easiest of the Dalmatian Islands to visit with kids. Take a boat out to follow the beaches, coves, and inlets of this large, magnificent island, or moor just off the coast and teach your kids to fish, then have the fish prepared on board for you as part of a delicious lunch with a great view. If there’s rain on the horizon and you have to stay close to home, consider a visit to the Marko Polo Museum, where kids can learn about the explorer they no doubt know from school is a museum where he was supposedly born.
National Parks: Plitvice Lakes and Krka National Park
For kids who love the outdoors, nothing can quite compare to Croatia’s majestic parks, which are vast, plentiful, and in many cases, far less crowded than parks of similar stature in other parts of Europe. The most popular, of course, is the Plitvice Lakes National Park; a landscape of lakes and waterfalls laced through with safe, secure wooden walkways perfect for viewing and picture-taking. Although the park does not allow swimming, the coast isn’t far away, so there are plenty of beaches to enjoy after your visit.
If you’re looking for equally beautiful lakes and waterfalls you can actually swim in, head farther south to Krka National Park, a reserve with waterfalls that cascade into swimming holes where in-the-know local families cool off, interspersed with man-made structure like Krka Monastery, which you can visit on a boat tour of the Krka River, Visovac Island, home to a Franciscan Monastery that has been there for centuries, and Ključica, a huge fortress ruin, all of which will have the imaginations of your children running wild, and get them ready to delve into the backstories of the many impressive, centuries-old structures they’ll visit elsewhere in Croatia.
Croatia Family Travel Tips
Croatia is a friendly, laid-back country, full of plenty of places for a family to enjoy activities together. Kids are welcome in most spaces and often given special attention, and English is widely spoken.
As tourism has increased in Croatia, there are more and more options available for family stays, including the old-fashioned room and board provided by locals in their very own homes (a great immersion experience for older children), as well as guesthouses and apartment hotels that offer kitchens and living spaces. See these Unique Lodging Options for inspiration.
Finally, make sure you give your kids, whatever their ages, the chance to tell you what they're interested in. Vacations are the most enjoyable and fulfilling when everyone has a chance to plan them, and that includes the youngest members of the family.
Ready to plan your family trip to Croatia? Check out these itineraries.
Dalmatian Coast Family Adventure - 7 Days. Tailor-made for small families or groups of friends, this multi-sport tour delves into the best that Croatia's famously beautiful Dalmatian Coast has to offer. Swim, cycle, hike, paddle-board, and snorkel your way from ancient seaside Split to the walled city of Dubrovnik, stopping on the arid, hilly islands of Hvar and Korčula along the way.
Highlights of Croatia - 8 Days. Croatia has something for all interests, with historic old towns, sparkling sea for swimming and kayaking, and beautiful hiking trails. See a bit of them all on this 8-day itinerary that takes in some of Croatia's gems: the lovely cities of Split, Dubrovnik, and nearby national parks and islands for wilderness adventures.