Expats living in Croatia should have no difficulty finding their favorite leisure activities. Most expatriates relocate either to the big cities, especially Zagreb, where nightlife and cultural life in Croatia are booming, or to the seaside resorts on the Adriatic coast.
If you are free to travel around and choose where you’d like to be living in Croatia, you should take one thing into account. Small coastal towns, or smaller islands, are very picturesque locations in summer. Since a large part of their economy focuses on seasonal tourism, though, they can seem rather deserted and dull in the winter months. Unless you prefer leading a very quiet life in Croatia for half the year, you might be better off in coastal cities like Dubrovnik or Split.
The above advice aside, though, there should be available leisure opportunities for everyone living in Croatia, regardless of their personal taste. The country boasts beautiful scenery and a rich cultural heritage, as well as a varied cuisine.
People who enjoy outdoor activities will really appreciate the countryside in Croatia. Rivers like the Kupa or the Mreznica invite the adventurous to try kayaking and white water rafting. Amateur speleologists visiting or living in Croatia can explore the Velebit caves, which are among the deepest in Southeastern Europe. Weekend travelers from Zagreb might prefer to take a guided tour round Veternica cave. Moreover, Croatia’s eight national parks and eleven nature parks are attractive destinations for hikers, mountaineers, climbers, anglers, and bird-watchers.
The most famous of Croatia’s nature reserves is Plitvička jezera, Plitvice Lakes National Park, which was one of the first natural sites worldwide to qualify as UNESCO World Heritage. Its lakes are popular for their distinct jewel colors, ranging from jade green to azure. In the dense forests, you may spot an eagle, lynx, or brown bear. Visitors from Germany, or German expats living in Croatia, might wonder why some of the scenery in Plitvice looks surprisingly familiar. In the 1960s, the area was used as a filming location for popular German “sauerkraut westerns”, which are still broadcast on TV nearly every Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas, many mountain ranges contain numerous skiing resorts for winter sports lovers living in Croatia. Medvednica is the closest location to the capital. It is also the venue for the Snow Queen Trophy, an annual slalom race in early January.
In summer, you can go diving and sailing on the Mediterranean coast. Expats living in Croatia’s northeastern parts, near the Slovenian border, are also in for a treat. It is here that you can find the village of Lipica, home to the original stud farm where the famous Lipizzaner horses are bred. And yes, you can take riding lessons there.
If sports or hikes aren’t your thing, you may feel more at home in Croatia’s cities. The country’s fascinating heritage illustrates the many influences on Croatia’s long and eventful history: Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines in Antiquity; the Golden Age of free Dalmatian cities in the medieval era; and traces of the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, and Habsburg rule in later times.
There are some historical highlights you should not miss out on. In Split, you won’t be able to avoid Diocletian’s Palace, once a massive building right in the center of the city. In the centuries after the Roman era, parts of the medieval city were built inside the former palace grounds. Today’s UNESCO World Heritage Site is a protected complex that encompasses the historical core of the town, with Roman ruins, Romanesque churches, Gothic buildings, and sumptuous Renaissance and Baroque palaces all over the place.
From Split in southern Dalmatia, it is easy to travel to the city of Trogir, as well as Dubrovnik, both of which are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Lovers of medieval churches and fortifications will love taking a walk round their historical town centers, against the spectacular backdrop of the Mediterranean. Ask about guided tours at the official tourist information in Trogir or Dubrovnik!
If you happen to be walking around Dubrovnik and feel it looks familiar, you might be a Game of Thrones fan. The city plays the fictional metropolis of King’s Landing in HBO’s TV series. Some entrepreneurial locals have even started giving tours featuring all the famous spots.
If you’d like to know what else is currently going on in Dubrovnik, be it the Dubrovnik Summer Festival or the annual Shakespeare Festival, check the Time Out Dubrovnik site. There is a similar webpage for attractions and events in Zagreb.
Last but not least, you should definitely try the local cuisine. Vegetarians might be a bit disappointed, though. Depending on where exactly you live, traditional dishes tend to make frequent use of grilled meat or seafood. Everyone knows cevapčići, the local version of meatballs, usually served with rice and ajvar (a relish made of red peppers and garlic), but Croatian cuisine has so much more to offer! The ingredients include plenty of fresh produce, and the various regional specialties are an interesting mixture of Central European and Mediterranean recipes.
For example, pasta often comes with gulaš, a thick sauce very similar to Hungarian goulash stews, while tartufi (truffles) are an Istrian delicacy that will delight gourmets. You should also taste crni rizot, black seafood risotto from Dalmatia, or venison and wild boar as seasonal highlights of the hinterland. Even if you are not a carnivore, you may enjoy Croatian pastries and desserts, for instance, rožata, a famous, custard-like pudding from Dubrovnik.
Wherever you start your new expat life in Croatia, make sure you travel around the Croatian cities, country, coast, and islands. Most expats start with Zagreb and Split, and then get more adventurous!
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