Croatia’s capital is a medley of red tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, pleasant parks and fascinating monuments and museums that hint at the city’s rich political and cultural history. Often overlooked by beach-seekers making a beeline for the coast, Zagreb is in fact full of its own charms, a blend of old world in its medieval architecture and squares and cosmopolitan in its outdoor cafe culture, live jazz scene and vibrant nightlife. Sample the local fare at the Dolac Market, take a stroll through Maksimir Park, the country’s oldest public park, and take a dip in Jarun Lake, the city’s summer playground.
Croatia’s most-visited national park, the Plitvice Lakes is an area of breathtaking natural beauty, a 2.5 hour drive from Zagreb. The area around the lakes was designated a national park in 1949, and is listed today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits in a valley flanked by high, forested mountains, and comprises 16 beautifully clear blue-green lakes. Small streams and brooks wind down the mountains and feed into the lakes, which spill over into one another in tumbling waterfalls and foaming cascades. Whether you choose to take in the scenery with a gentle stroll along the extensive network of wooden paths and bridges or up close with a boat ride, it’s sure to make a lasting impression.
Where Plitvice is green and watery, Paklenica National Park is rugged and stark, covered in dramatic limestone mountain peaks. The mountains descend into two karst river canyons, one of which is now completely dry, which are home to a rich array of wildlife. This includes leopard snakes and the rare Orsini’s viper; golden eagles and peregrine falcons; and brown bears, wolves and wildcats. Velika Paklenica is popular with climbers for its sheer rock faces and craggy peaks; Mala Paklenica has deliberately been largely left free of development, meaning it is untouched but more difficult to explore.