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Which Island (Hvar, Brac, Vis) and How Many Nights Split vs Zadar?

So, we are in the process of planning our trip to Croatia and Ireland (weird combo, I know). We are essentially following the same itinerary as we had planned for 2020 and had to cancel, but I'm rethinking a couple of pieces. Flights are booked, flying into Dubrovnik and out of Zagreb.

Dubrovnik - May 7-10 - 3 nights. We arrive the morning of May 7. Jet lag is not usually a huge issue for us, except that we go to bed fairly early and get up early the first few days.
Island -May 10-13 - 3 nights - we had originally planned for Brac, but I'm rethinking this. I read in another post here about crowds of people partying at Zlatni Rat, and I would not enjoy that sort of atmosphere. However, Brac is fairly easy to get to, and there are excursions to the Blue Cave we can book. (Seeing the Blue Cave, having some beach time, weather permitting (we're Canadian, so anything above 75F will work for us), maybe some easy-ish hikes with nice views, and seeing some charming townsites and/or cultural/historical sights are of interest for this part of the trip.) Also Zlatni Rat seems like something worth seeing, as it is such an unusual formation.
We have considered Vis, which we know to be quieter and the closest to the Blue Cave, but it is also more difficult to commute to and from. Hvar sounds interesting, is easy to get to, has lots of accommodation options, has a fortress, but we hear it is a party place.
Split - May 13-15 - 2 nights? Here, we are considering 2 nights in Split and one in Zadar, or vice versa. Zadar is very appealing to me--again, it's supposed to be a little less busy, and I like the idea of the sea organ and the sunset thingie. Split seems interesting because of the ancient palace, although we were in Italy this past November, so Roman ruins and artifacts are not a top priority for this trip. However, swimming at the nearby Krka Park might also be of interest.
Zadar - May 15-16 - 1 night?
Plitvice-May 16-17 - 1 night - this is already booked.
Zagreb-May 17-19 - 2 nights We fly out of Zagreb.

So, the parts I am struggling with are which island to stay at for 3 nights, and to which place to allocate 2 nights vs 1 night--Split or Zadar.

Thoughts?

Posted by
4293 posts

Well, first - let me say there is no bad answer. Except perhaps choosing Hvar. Also, for comparison, I was there in September and did not visit either Brac or Vis. I stayed 2 nights oh Hvar, followed by 3 nights on Korćula. Hvar was definitely lovely but much louder at night, with more people. But there was a nice walk/hike up to the fortress than I didn’t do but it didn’t look very crowded.

Split and Zadar were, for me, different. Zadar’s old city center is flat, has a day’s worth of walking and things to see. Split is interesting and I liked wandering Diocletian’s Palace (it seemed alive) and a guide would have enhanced that. I visited both with a car and spent 3 nights in each. While in Zadar, one day was a trip to Krka Nat’l Park - but I don’t think you can swim here anymore - and one day was for wandering Zadar itself.

With 3 nights, that you know you are dividing, I might say 2 nights (which is only one full day) in Zadar. You could go to Krka and still have 2 evenings for Zadar itself. (Note: be sure to know ahead what you are doing for parking.) And thus one night in Split. But there isn’t really a wrong answer. :)

Maybe I have more info here. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/croatia-it-s-been-nice

Posted by
3945 posts

We were just in Split (3 nights) and Zadar (1 night). I would keep your itinerary as is. In Split Diocletian’s retirement palace is nothing like the Roman ruins in Italy. People live and work within the palace. Think of it more like a little city, not just a large home. Quite different from Dubrovnik which is more medieval. In Zadar The sea organ and greeting to the sun are along the Lungo Mare. You can listen to the sea organ as you walk or sit and listen. You cannot see it. The greeting to the sun is a large solar circular disc which lights up in the evening. Again. 5 minutes or longer, your decision. Much more to see in Split. Also they have tours to the blue caves from there. I always recommend Korcula, same ferry as to Hvar. In Split We always stay at the Hotel Peristil and I can recommend a great guide in Split, let me know.
PS. Check krka’s website. I believe they have banned swimming there as of last summer.

Posted by
6113 posts

Hvar. Early May and September are like chalk and cheese. September is still quite busy, as university students are still on holiday, but the issue in early May is more likely to be what’s open. Also, there is far more to the island of Hvar than Hvar town. I have visited Hvar three times and never stayed in Hvar town. I have stayed in the hill villages above Stari Grad - great walking but you would need a car or scooter.

Zlatni Rat is also likely to be quiet in early May - it’s hideous in July and August. I don’t know if many boat trips run at that time of year.

Getting from Dubrovnik to Vis is a toil and IMO not worth the hassle for only 2 days there (3 nights), particularly when there are good easier options - northern Hvar or Brac or Korcula.

Split is worth a full day as is a half day in nearby Trogir. I would have 2 nights in Split.

Posted by
4293 posts

Also I will say Jennifer has WAY more knowledge and experience! So if in doubt, listen to her with both ears. :)

Posted by
1685 posts

Okay. Wonderful feedback! Thanks everyone. I'll chew on this.

Posted by
6 posts

Admittedly I did not go to Zadar, and instead spent one night in Split, but I would still probably recommend an additional night in Zadar. It all depends on your interests and what you're looking for, but personally I found Split to be a bit disappointing. In some aspects it reminded me of Rome (just extremely crowded and touristy, even compared to other places like Dubrovnik - although we went in September so May could be less crowded), without the enjoyable aspects of Rome.

Diocletian's Palace is certainly interesting, and I would agree with the other poster who said a guided tour would have improved the experience. But frankly I wish we would have chosen Zadar instead of Split for this one-night stop on our drive from Rovinj to Dubrovnik. I seem to recall that Split was also a lot more expensive than pretty much anywhere else we went in Croatia, and harder to avoid tourist trap type of restaurants without paying a ton for a decent meal/getting pretty far away from the old city. Overall, our stop in Split was one of the more forgettable parts of our trip.

Posted by
2145 posts

Here's another option: 3 nights in Dubrovnik, then 2 nights in Split, then 3 nights on the island of Vis (which we prefer to Hvar or Korcula). I've not visited Zadar but I generally minimize one-night stays so I would probably add that night to Dubrovnik or Vis.

Logistically, this is an easy trip. You can make it even easier by staying in Cavtat, a little village very near the Dubrovnik airport (instead of staying in Dubrovnik). Cavtat is a pretty little town with a lovely harbor; very peaceful ... a wonderful place to sit with a glass of wine, admiring the sunset, while you recover from jet lag. You can easily get a bus (or take a boat) into Dubrovnik to walk the walls and see the city, but then can come back in the evenings and enjoy peaceful Cavtat. From Cavtat you can also take a bus trip to Montenegro to see the Bay of Kotor, or you can take boat trips and visit little islands around Dubrovnik.

When you're ready to move on, you can take a bus to Split. Spend two nights in Split, then walk to the ferry and go to Vis (i think it's around 10 am -- check times the day before). Vis is a gorgeous little island; you can stay in the harbor town (Vis Town, or Luka) or you can stay in (or visit) a beautiful little village of Komiza on the other side of the island. From Komiza you can catch a boat to the Blue Hole.

You might want stay in Vis Town for your last night, as the return ferry to Split leaves very early (5 am??). You'll get off the ferry right across the street from the bus station and then can make your way onward to finish your trip.

We did this exact trip a few years ago and it was wonderful.

Posted by
3945 posts

We took a cooking class in Split. It was a fun way to spend the evening and have a great meal. Just something else to think about.

Posted by
1652 posts

It's interesting how people have such differing opinions of places. We loved Split, and it was one of our favorite places in Croatia. We spent 4 nights there. We did take a day trip to Hvar Town (which we loved) and then another day we visited Trogir. Split boasts beautiful architecture and it's location on the water is lovely. We enjoyed some delicious meals there. And we did hire a private tour guide for Diocletian's Palace, which is well worth it. Her name is Maya Benzon, recommended by Rick. We also enjoyed the Ethnographic Museum. We don't like to rush through places any more, and I always allocate some time just for wandering and taking photos, and we found Split to be the perfect place for this.

The only island we visited is Hvar, and we spent the day in Hvar Town. In September during the day at least it was not party central. We took our time hiking to the top of the hill to visit the fortress. The views along the way are stunning. Then we had lunch by the harbor, had ice cream, and then walked along the coastal path and enjoyed more gorgeous scenery: the blue Adriatic Sea, green pine trees, a cactus garden and children's playground. And relaxed with drinks at a cafe/bar. This walk was one of the highlights of our trip. We regretted not spending a couple days on Hvar.

I have read that some people prefer Korcula to Hvar, but we didn't visit Korcula so can't give an opinion about that.

Posted by
20348 posts

Zadar, by the way, is the hometown of Captain Von Trapp. Since it was part of Italy at the time of the Anschluss, Captain Von Trapp was able to get an Italian Passport and get the family out of Austria in the open, Broadway theatrics not withstanding. So those nuns never had to steal the distributor caps off the Gestapo's cars.

Posted by
5450 posts

Weather. It will still be quite cold and swimming or beach going won't really be a thing yet on the islands, for sure. I don't think that you concern about a crowded Zlatni Rat is warranted. We were there in late April and it was shut down and desolate.

Split is like nothing you have seen in Rome. Make time for Trogir.

Zadar is charming and small.

Posted by
3945 posts

If you go to Korčula, eat at Adio Mara Konoba. You will not get fresher fish anywhere and the food is fabulous. We took cousins there, from Florida, and he said it was probably the best fish meal he has had in years. PS, our cousins who live in Korčula were with us. It’s their favorite place.

Posted by
1685 posts

Some great ideas and information here. Thanks so much!

Posted by
1685 posts

Sam, you have destroyed my illusions. The nuns rendering the car undriveable is my favourite part! :)

Posted by
3961 posts

After reading the positive comments about Zadar, it just might merit a return trip to wonderful Croatia! We enjoyed Split, but would appreciate a quiet change in Zadar. I also didn’t realize Von Trapp was from there. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by
1685 posts

Thanks for all the feedback and suggestions.

We ultimately decided on Hvar for our island. This was based on practicality/ferry schedules as much as on how much there is to do there. It seems the busy time really ramps up at the time of the Feast of Corpus Christi, which is in mid June this year, so I'm thinking it might not be too crazy there yet in May. Also, I found a place to stay that is outside of the busiest area but still convenient and on the water (and has hot tubs, in case the sea is too cold for our liking). :) I really hemmed and hawed and went back and forth and did give serious consideration to Korcula, but ultimately decided that Hvar or Brac would fit our itinerary better.

Then, since the ferry from Hvar to Split is very early in the morning, I've decided on one night in Split and two in Zadar. We will have the whole day in Split the day we arrive (will store our small bags until we can check in), and we can spend part of the next day, too, if we wish, or head to Trogir on our way to Zadar.

Thanks again!

Posted by
247 posts

I loved Zadar and especially loved watching the sunset there every night. Definitely had the best vantage point for one over Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split. If you like hiking, take a ten minute ferry to Preko and hike about 4.5km up to Fort Saint Michael. Its an easy hike and the road is completely paved (you can drive it if you have a car) and it quite scenic through some olive groves. Saint Michael is the ruins of a 13th century Venetian fortress and the views from the top are magical. Not many people know about this place and I only ran into a handful of people while up there. There is also a beach you can hike to on the other side of the island but I didn't have the time to explore.

I would also skip Krka if you're doing Plitvice. You can't swim in it anymore and I really did not think it was worth the price it is in high season. The waterfall is beautiful but its the only real attraction. Walking around the rest of the park was mediocre.

Posted by
1652 posts

BB, we have friends who visited Hvar in May, and they said it was not crowded.

Posted by
1685 posts

Even for a Canadian? :) My husband and I swam in the unheated pools in Namibia during their "winter."

But, yes, I realize May in Croatia is not typically a great time for swimming. However, depending on the air temperature and how hot and sweaty I get, I don't mind the odd wade in chilly water to cool off. Anything over about 74, and it's verging on too hot for me.