Located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, Croatia has a bit of something for everyone with Western European charm, rich Balkan history, and delightful Mediterranean weather. Backpackers, honeymooners, and party-seekers can all bask in her year-round sun, but you might be wondering, is Croatia a good family holiday destination?
With a diverse landscape, thousands of years of heritage, dozens of islands, and a vibrant atmosphere, if you haven’t considered Croatia for your next family break, you’re about to. In fact, there are very few European destinations that we think are more suited to vacationing with kids than Croatia, and we’re here to tell you why.
Our guide looks at everything from the ease of the travel, to the glorious seasons, varied accommodation, and no shortage of adventurous experiences, to show that Croatia certainly gives Italy and France a run for their money when booking a family holiday. Let’s get into it.
Croatia with Kids: Getting There
Croatia offers something to suit every family. Outdoorsy, adventurous types will revel in the national parks, dense forests, and water sports, history buffs in the ancient fortresses, UNESCO sites, and beloved arts and culture scene, while a lazy week on the beach is always a good idea for those looking for a slower pace on their vacation.
The Balkan nation harbors over 6,000 kilometers of coastline, including its 78 islands, meaning there’s a lifetime of seaside fun to be had, but further inland, it only gets more exciting. Waterfalls, canyons, mountain treks, and ancient monasteries, it’s all waiting to be explored, but how you’re going to get there is the first point of call.
Croatia is all about authenticity, so you’ll find that crowd-choked resorts are replaced by boutique hotels and self-contained apartment rentals in most regions. Still, there are a number of all-inclusive options scattered around the country if you want to leave all your planning and travel in the hands of a tour operator.
That said, it’s easy to take matters into your own hands. It might be more rustic and less developed than family hotspots like Spain, but getting to Croatia, and importantly, traveling around, is no more of a hassle.
Getting to Croatia is easy by plane, but it’s good to note that Croatia borders Hungary, Slovenia, and Montenegro, and is just one hour by car from northeastern Italy across the Slovenian portion of the Istrian Peninsula. This means you can include Croatia in a European road trip, or quite easily catch a train if you are coming from Central Europe. Croatia is well-connected by efficient highways and although the popular islands will take some extra travel, the busiest airports are located close to the coast to make matters easier.
Croatia has five main international airports, namely Zagreb, Pula, Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. These entry ports handle the majority of flights from Europe and North America and prices shouldn’t differ too dramatically depending on where you go.
Zagreb is Croatia’s Gothic, northwestern capital. The airport serves inland Croatia and is a springboard to the national parks on the Slovenian border. Pula airport serves most of Istria. The bustling city is the largest in the region and brimming with history itself, but the quaint seaside town of Rijeka, a gateway to the Kvarner Bay islands, is also just one hour and 40 minutes away by car. This route is also easily traversed by bus. Zadar is your gateway to northern Dalmatia, while Split and Dubrovnik are stepping stones to Croatia’s best-loved islands, including Brac, Hvar, and Korcula.
If you plan to stay put, all of these cities offer a taste of the Croatian way and a different adventure. But we recommend moving around in order to get the most out of your holiday, and this is best done with a car. The bus network in Croatia is extensive and fairly reliable, frequented by locals and backpackers. However, navigating local busses with kids and lots of luggage is not ideal. What’s more, most of the ferries serving Croatia’s popular islands welcome cars so hiring one off the plane is a good idea.
That said, all of the cities in Croatia are very walkable. You won’t need transport to see all of the best sites, but it will come in handy for exploring the national parks and rural parts of the country.
Where to Stay in Croatia with Kids
After getting there, deciding where to visit is the most important part of your trip. You know you want to see as much of Croatia as possible, but where should you do it? Croatia is a hotspot for beach holidays, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to the coast.
Split, Hvar, and Dubrovnik are Dalmatia’s most popular cities, but we think you should only choose one if you’re strapped for time, especially if you want to enjoy some of inland Croatia and the mesmerizing islands.
Split is the largest coastal city and sprawls over a central Peninsula with Venetian, Austrian, French, and Yugoslavian influences. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and some great landmarks include the Diocletian Palace and Grgur Ninski Statue. The Green Market with its craft stalls and souvenirs is great fun with kids, but Split is also surrounded by Blue Flag beaches that shouldn’t go amiss.
Hvar Town, on the island of Hvar, is a labyrinth of cobbled alleyways that will keep the family entertained for hours. Overlooked by a hilltop fortress and encircled by 13th-century walls, Hvar is a medieval playground and its historical attractions are well suited to family days out. Hike to Milna Beach and enjoy a day of snorkeling and swimming and finish the day with an ice cream on Hvar’s oceanfront promenade.
Likewise, Dubrovnik benefits from a lusted seafront location with a clustered historical core, incredible architecture, and an ancient fort that was actually used as a filming location for The Game of Thrones.
One of the best things about visiting these cities is their convenient proximity to some of Croatia’s smaller islands. Korcula is a three-hour ferry from Split, and one hour from Hvar. The ferry to Brac Island from Hvar takes just 50 minutes, and Dubrovnik is 20 minutes by boat from some of Croatia’s most picturesque islets, including Kolocep of the Elafiti Islands with its sun-drenched olive groves and swathes of pine forests.
Still, head north to the Istria region and you’ll find two more of Croatia’s top-rated family-friendly destinations. Pula and Rovinj are brimming with exciting day tours, beaches, landmarks, and evening entertainment. Rovinj is Croatia’s second-most visited town, and for good reason. It boasts its own archipelago, with 14 picturesque islands located just off the mainland shores that can be reached in a matter of minutes for idyllic day trips.
Like Pula, Rovinj is quintessentially Istrian. Located strategically close to northeastern Italy, most towns exude Italianate elegance, with warm-hued seafront houses and a jagged coastline. Kamenjak National Park in Istria is also home to some of Croatia’s best beaches with its wild, indented shores and sparkling Mediterranean seas. The cape is just 30 minutes by car from Pula and even closer to some of Istria’s other resort towns like Medulin, at the southern tip of the Premantura peninsula. The protected nature park is a wild treasure with walking trails, swimming spots, and a Safari Bar.
Still, inland Croatia shouldn’t be forgotten. Equidistant to Dalmatia and Istria, close to the Bosnian border, is the Plitvice National Park. This area of outstanding natural beauty is punctuated with crystalline lakes, majestic waterfalls, and exciting walkways. Nearby are the ancient ruins of Bribirska Glavica. Both sites are worth a day trip or including a Zagreb getaway.
If you’re wondering how best to split your time, check out our example two-week itinerary below:
- Days 1-3: Pula and Rovinj
- Days 4-5: Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Days 6-9: Split
- Days 10-13: Korcula
- Day 14: Depart from Dubrovnik
Things to Do in Croatia with Kids
On top of all the main attractions in the towns mentioned above, there are tons of other things to do in Croatia with kids to fill up your itinerary. Croatia is brimming with open spaces, playgrounds, pedestrian zones, and beach walkways. Many town centers are completely pedestrianized and tend to harbor a riva (seafront promenade) where there’s also no danger of traffic.
You can easily get around with a stroller in these areas and let youngsters free. Zadar, for example, boasts two nature-powered installations, the Sun Salutation and Sea Organ. These are bustling places where toddlers love to race around while parents and bigger kids can enjoy an ice cream while the sun sets.
If you want a day of organized fun, Croatia also has a few waterparks such as Aquapark Istralandia. This place is a big hit for families and its offers great discounts, especially in the low season.
Croatia is also full of great museums that the whole family can enjoy. The Museum of the Krapina Neanderthal houses enlightening and interactive exhibitions of the universe, earth, and humanity. While science buffs will revel in the mirror rooms, holograms and optical illusions in Zagreb’s Museum of Illusions, which also has a location in Zadar.
There’s the open-air museum of Kumrovec Staro Selo in Zagorje for a slice of 19th-century village life in Croatia, and Zagreb’s 80’s Museum gives an insight into the country’s contemporary history with gadgets, toys, and fashion from this era.
The beaches are an undoubted pull factor for all travelers to Croatia, especially families. What delineates a beach can be somewhat blurry in Croatia with steep drop-offs, wild waves, and rock indentations being characteristic of some regions – great for teenagers, but not so much for toddlers. However, Croatia’s open bays are synonymous with clear and warm shallow waters, with pebbly shores instead of cumbersome sand. You just have to know where to find them.
Paradise Beach near Lopar Village on Rab Island boasts white sands, perfect for digging and building sandcastles, and crystal clear shallow waters lap at the shore. Baska and Krk Island also have sandy coastlines, with beachside, family-friendly camping spots for different kinds of holidays. Zlatni Rat beach in Brac is also a must-see. The cone-shaped cape is paradisical, and depending on which side you choose, the sands can be protected from strong wind and waves. Check out Punta Rata in Brela too for golden sand set to a mountainous backdrop.
The lakes, waterfalls, and mountains scattered across the country are the best places for enjoying nature in Croatia, but Zoo Osijek and Zagreb Zoo make for great days out. You can also spot 300 different species of bird from Kopacki Rit Nature Park and its wetlands, while the majestic griffon vulture soars high above the islands of Cres, Krk, and Prvic, so keep your eyes peeled if you harbor any wildlife enthusiasts in your midst.
When to Visit Croatia with Kids
The high season in Croatia runs from June to August and the summer months are the hottest and sunniest time across the whole country. Croatia benefits from year-round sunny weather, but it gets cooler during winter and heavy rains are characteristic of the inland, mountainous regions.
With a Mediterranean climate on the coast, you can expect dry, hot weather in the peak season. Average highs hover in the mid-80s and the warm sea tempts swimmers until early autumn. The continental inland climate sees slightly lower averages, but you can still expect highs of 80 degrees Fahrenheit across the country.
Istria and Dalmatia see the occasional afternoon thunderstorm, but July and August are still the sunniest months along the coast, conveniently lining up with the school holidays. Although, you won’t be the only family with this idea. Croatia is crowded in summer and accommodation is more expensive. If you’re set on visiting during this time, consider spending more time in the rural northwest where you can expect great weather but fewer people, as well as cheaper deals.
Alternatively, the shoulder season is great for a Croatian getaway. With averages of 41 degrees Fahrenheit in December and January, you won’t be able to get much out of the landscape over the festive period, but May, June, and September are great times to visit. Average highs hover in the late 70s and you can expect plenty of sunshine and opportunities for sea-swimming. Better yet, tours, hotels, and attractions will still operate good low-season deals at this time.
Is Croatia a Good Family Holiday Destination? Our Top Tips
- Use a sling – If you’re navigating Croatia’s ancient towns with very small children, use a sling rather than a stroller which can be hard to manipulate in the narrow, steep, and cobblestone streets of old cities like Dubrovnik and Split. That said, Zagreb has a great infrastructure for strollers.
- Rent an apartment with a kitchen – Self-contained AirBnbs in Croatia are lifesavers when it comes to holidaying with hungry kids. Better yet, you won’t struggle to find them, and at a good price, all over the country. Having a kitchen allows you to stay in more remote areas without worrying about hauling the whole family out for meals every night.
- Utilize the discounts – Children under nine years old get great discounts for attractions in Croatia, and toddlers usually go free. Don’t be deterred from water parks and treetop adventures just because of your budget.
- Rent a car – It’s easy to get around all of Croatia’s cities on foot and via public transport, but you’ll want to travel further to get a taste of real Croatia and this is best done by car. Off-the-beaten-track highlights, like the ancient ruins of Bribirska Glavica and Istria’s Kamenjak National Park, are only really accessible by car.
- Avoid summer – July and August are horribly busy, especially in places like Split and Dubrovnik. Visit in the shoulder seasons to avoid summer holiday crowds, or head inland if you’re set on summer in Croatia.
How long do you need in Croatia with kids?
However long you spend in Croatia depends on what you want to do and how much time you have to spare. If you live in Europe, a short weekend getaway is definitely possible, but to get a real taste of the country you need at least one week in one destination or 10 days split between two for a great family vacation.
Which part of Croatia is best for families?
The Istria region, particularly Pula and Rovinj, which is rugged but Italianate, is perfect for families with great restaurants, day trips, and attractions. The Dalmatian Coast also provides perfect beach getaways with fascinating heritage and picturesque islands for the whole family to enjoy. Don’t forget to venture further inland for the lakes, waterfalls, and mountains of the national parks.
Is Dubrovnik child friendly?
Dubrovnik is the most visited city in Croatia and its accessibility to families is one of the main reasons. You can fly into the international airport with little hassle, and won’t need a car if you’re staying in the walkable city. Beach promenades, green spaces, and a pedestrianized main square are great places to let the little ones go. The incredible Lovrijenac Fortress, a prominent Games of Thrones filming location, is also a great place for kids to play pretend, while the beaches boast shallow waters with many island day trips to be had.