Southern Europe is blessed with sparkling holiday destinations and Croatia and Turkey are just two of them. Both complete with beach resorts, ancient history, and great climates, they may seem alike, but there’s more to these vacation meccas than meets the eye, and choosing between them is no easy feat.
Located at the crossroads of western and southeast Europe, the Balkan nation of Croatia is best known for its medieval history, scenic pebbled beaches, and party islands. Turkey also occupies a unique geographical position, partly in Europe and partly in Asia, but its transcontinental quality isn’t the only thing that has helped to put it on the map. Empire, art, religion, and cuisine all contribute to Turkey’s idiosyncratic appeal.
Comparing everything from the costs to the food to the entertainment on offer, our guide is here to help you decide between these two countries once and for all. Will it be Croatia or Turkey for your next Mediterranean getaway? Let’s find out.
Croatia or Turkey: Ease of Travel
The first thing to consider before any trip is how you’ll get there, and how you’ll get around. During the peak summer months, you should have no trouble getting to Croatia or Turkey, but the ease and price of travel all depend on where you’re coming from.
Turkey is the much bigger country of the two, with half of the nation straddling Southeast Europe, and the other half, Southwest Asia. In fact, Turkey is around 14 times bigger than Croatia and has 35 international airports. While this means there are plenty of points of entry, it can also mean that getting around will take longer.
You can fly direct from pretty much anywhere in Europe to Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antalya, and Dalaman, the most popular tourist spots in Turkey. However, if you’re coming from western Europe, or across the pond, it could take a few hours extra in the air and a few extra dollars to reach them.
Croatia only has seven large international airports in contrast, but they’re conveniently located along the Dalmatian coast, near the capital of Zagreb, and on the Istrian Peninsula. The number of entry ports shouldn’t hinder travel in Croatia, thanks to its smaller size, but with so many islands to visit, you might find yourself having to hop on a ferry before your journey is over.
Both countries are well covered by public transport like long-distance buses and trains. However, you might find yourself having to journey much further distances in Turkey thanks to its sheer size.
What pits Croatia ahead of Turkey is its connections to the rest of Europe. Turkey might be connected to mainland Europe, sharing borders with Greece and Bulgaria, but Croatia is bordered by Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, while also being within a few hours’ drive of Italy, Austria, and Romania. Croatia is an easy choice at the end of a European road trip or interrailing adventure, and much closer to western Europe.
Croatia or Turkey: Beaches
After travel, it makes sense to look at two of the biggest draw factors to both Croatia and Turkey – the beaches. Croatia is one of the most lusted beach destinations in the Mediterranean. The mainland coast from Istria to Dubrovnik stretches for 1,700 kilometers, while its offshore archipelagos and picturesque islets amass a further 4,000 kilometers of coast, making Croatia home to the most indented shores in all of the Mediterranean.
Croatia is most famous for its pebbly coves and deep sparkling waters on the edge of jagged rocks, which make the perfect swimming locations. You’ll find some softer sands at Sakuran Beach and the iconic cone-shaped cape at Zlatni Rac, but the water is so inviting that the rocky shorelines characteristic of the Croatian coast doesn’t matter.
Croatia’s magical islands and hidden pine tree-lined beaches are best explored from the Adriatic and boat charters are a popular way to enjoy Croatia’s coast in the summer months. Croatia is also a huge destination for water sports, with windsurfers hailing from all around Europe for the perfect conditions. Still, it’s hard to compare with Turkey’s 8,000 kilometers of coastline, bordered by four different seas. Turkey might be better known for its distinct culture and ancient empires, but that only makes the dynamic beaches more impressive.
To the west, Turkey’s coastline laps both the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Turkey’s waters are also home to around 500 islands and islets with spectacular white sand beaches, jagged mountains, and rolling dunes. One of the most beautiful beaches is Kaputas, between Kalkan and Kas on the Mediterranean Coast in southwest Turkey. It is set beneath two forested cliffs at the edge of Kaputas Canyon. Patara is another top contender, flanked by sand dunes on one side and the warm turquoise waters of the Turkish Riviera on the other.
Turkey’s most popular beach resorts can be heaving with tourists in summer, and well into the shoulder seasons, with Turkey’s year-round warm temperatures. While the hotel-lined beaches and noisy water parks can be off-putting, Turkey is brimming with diversity. With so much coastline to explore, the resorts can be avoided and you could visit a new beach every day for a month and still not see it all.
Croatia or Turkey: Food
Although they have their similarities, the culinary traditions of Croatia and Turkey is where these two destinations divert. Croatia’s cuisine is a melting pot of European influence. Thanks to its location on the Balkan Peninsula, its food has long been infused with Italian and Slavic elements, but also some Greek influences from the south.
The result? Croatian cuisine is hearty and comforting, with a lot of seafood the closer you get to the coast. Istrian food is distinctly Italianate, with pasta and risottos adorning every menu as well as truffle-infused oils and delicate fisherman’s soups. Inland, near the capital, the cuisine is more quintessentially Balkan with stuffed vegetables and meaty stews, while, on the Dalmatian Coast, you’ll find red snapper, citrus flavors, and salty local cheeses.
Still, Turkish food has a lot more to offer. While being influenced by surrounding nations, Turkish food is also distinctly its own. The cuisine can be traced back to the Ottoman empire and is engrained in the heritage of the country. European and middle eastern culinary techniques from the ages were meshed together to create Ottoman cuisine.
Kebabs might be one of the most globalized and well-loved elements of Turkish cuisine, but the nation is a lot more than its meat skewers. Rich ingredients, abundant spices, and intensive labor all go into Turkish cooking. Dinner is an important affair in Turkey and has a lot of components. In fact, even breakfast is enjoyed in mezze form and you’ll enjoy multiple vegetable dishes, meaty stews, legumes, and rice at every meal.
Turkish food is more iconic and dynamic than Croatian food, and even though it’s more globalized, you haven’t tried the real flavors of Turkey until you’ve visited the country. Each region has its own variations, whether it’s seafood-heavy Mediterranean favorites you’re after or hearty lamb stews in the mountains.
Croatia or Turkey: Nightlife
Turkey’s nightlife is mostly isolated to the European side, but this still encompasses a vast portion of the country and the resort towns couldn’t be better for a bit of hedonism. Cities like Antalya are dotted with thumping discos, elegant lounges, and low-key bars. Most of the nightlife on the Mediterranean coast is tailored towards tourists and might be lacking in authenticity, but local crowds still enjoy the nightclubs and you can party until the sun comes up in the summer months.
Istanbul is where to go if you really want to enjoy Turkey’s nightlife like a local. You’ll find everything from late-night shopping to raucous clubs, grungy bars to live local music, and always a magical atmosphere that isn’t diluted by tourist crowds. The center of the nightlife in the capital is Taksim square, where you can savor a lively meal accompanied by Turkish dancing, before lounging at a rooftop bar and finishing in a basement jazz café.
Still, Turkey can’t compete with all that Croatia has to offer. Croatia is small but mighty and prevails as one of Europe’s premier nightlife destinations. From the bustling capital with its cheap drinks and energetic student population to the sun-soaked islands overthrown with international DJs and festival-goers in the summer months, you can find something to do wherever you go.
Split and Hvar are two of Dalmatia’s party hubs. The nightclubs blast all genres of music, while the sultry beach clubs, graced by A-listers, are the perfect places to enjoy a sunset cocktail.
Croatia or Turkey: Cost
If you’re still undecided on which country gets your vote, the difference in price might just clinch the deal. Historically, neither Croatia nor Turkey has been known as a particularly expensive holiday destination. While fancy resorts and seafood meals can ramp the costs up in both countries, you can still visit either on a budget.
In the current economic situation, Turkey could be decidedly cheaper for a lot of things, but it’s not as simple as that. In 2022, Turkey is in the midst of an economic crisis, with the Lira having crashed. This means food, accommodation, and even flights are very affordable by European standards. For example, a meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant in Croatia would cost you around kn300, that’s €40. Yet, the same three-course meal, without alcohol, would set you back just TKN300, the equivalent of around €16 in Turkey – less than half the price.
The same can be said for all of your expenses in Turkey. The average price for a budget double occupancy room in Croatia is around kn295 (€30), while the same room could cost just TKN173 (€10) a night in Turkey. On average, consumer prices are 56 percent higher in Croatia than in Turkey, with groceries costing 60 percent more in the Balkan nation, and restaurant prices as much as 100 percent higher.
Nevertheless, this isn’t to say Turkey should be your immediate choice. Croatia might not be the shoestring destination it once was, but it sells the western European dream for a discounted price. Even Croatia’s most expensive cities like Dubrovnik and Zadar can be as much as 30 percent cheaper than equally popular destinations in Italy, France, and Spain. For what Croatia offers, it’s still an affordable dream, and Turkey’s unstable economic situation isn’t anything to revel in. That said, if you’re looking for a true budget option, Turkey is the undoubted front-runner.
Croatia or Turkey: Weather
Both Croatia and Turkey benefit from temperate Mediterranean climates with warm, dry summers and mild winters. Turkey’s climate might have some subtropical features along the southern coast, but things are very different in the north and it can even get much colder than Croatia, depending on the season.
Croatia is home to some of the sunniest destinations in Europe, with average summer highs reaching 86 degrees Fahrenheit in July. The coldest month is January, with an average low of just 45 degrees Fahrenheit across the country. However, the Dalmatian coast is sun-soaked all year, and even in the depths of winter, you can expect highs of 55 degrees.
Summer in Turkey is just marginally warmer on average, with August highs hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The Mediterranean coast experiences similar weather to Croatia’s sunny shorelines, but areas on the black sea coast in Turkey experience annual snowfall most years, and temperatures often dip below freezing.
Turkey is much bigger than Croatia and so the climate is decidedly more diverse. Although their average summer highs are on par, Turkey has some much hotter destinations, like Cizre in the south, which is no stranger to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Antalya is also one of the warmest regions in the country, with highs above 60 degrees Fahrenheit in January, making it perfect for some winter sun.
Whether you’re not ready to say goodbye to summer, or you’re after snow-capped mountains and underrated skiing, Turkey’s temperatures mean there’s something for everyone at every time of year.
Is Istanbul safe?
Like all major cities, Istanbul has its dangers, but there’s no reason you can’t have a problem-free trip. Tourist hotspots are hotbeds for petty crimes like pickpocketing and money scams. You should exercise extra caution in restaurants, bazaars, landmarks, and on public transport. You can walk alone at night if you’re in company, but Istanbul can be dangerous for solo female travelers after dark.
Can you drink alcohol in Turkey?
Although Turkey is a majoritively Muslim country, drinking alcohol is an individual decision, and tourists, as well as locals, can legally drink alcohol as long as they are over the age of 18. Since the Turkish Republic was founded, drinking alcohol has been lawful, although it was banned for a period in the 1920s. Public drunkenness, however, is not tolerated anywhere and is punishable by law.
How many days do you need in Croatia?
Croatia might be small, but with so many historical sites, sprawling beaches, and secluded islands to explore, you don’t want to limit yourself to only a few days in the country. If you’re short on time, we recommend at least one week in Croatia, splitting your time between two locations. However, two weeks will allow you to explore at a more relaxed pace with plenty of time for a few lazy beach days thrown in.