If you’re wondering if it’s worth it to spend winter in Croatia – our answer is a resounding yes!
From the Zagreb Christmas Market (arguably one of the best in the Balkans) to the ski resorts of Gorski Kotar to the quiet, tourist-free beaches, there are countless things to do in Croatia in winter – we’ve listed just 13 of them.
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Things to Do in Croatia in Winter
Get festive at the Zagreb Christmas Market
The Zagreb Christmas Market is one of the best and most beloved Christmas markets in Europe – it was voted three times as the best, beating out some pretty stiff competition.
The main festivities are centered around Ban Josip Jelačić Square, where you’ll find an enormous Christmas tree, a festively lit-up fountain, live music, and a heated and covered public area serving deliciously Christmassy food and beverages.
You’ll also find smaller but equally cheery branches of the Advent celebration at the European Square, King Tomislav Square, and Zrinjevac Park.
This year, the Zagreb Christmas Market runs from November 30, 2019 to January 7th, 2020 — so you have over a month to do all your shopping, eating, and exploring.
Catch a beautiful, people-free sunset
Bundle up warm, grab a Thermos full of hot tea or coffee (or mulled wine if you prefer!), and have a picnic on the beach watching the sunset for a magical and private moment.
One of the best things about visiting Croatia off-season is that you can avoid the crowds that normally come part and parcel of being a country that sees roughly 20 million tourists a year.
While you certainly won’t want to swim in the winter, with water temperatures being around 13-16°C/56-59°F in January, that won’t take away from the beautiful sunsets you can witness entirely people free.
Ski your heart out at one of Croatia’s winter resorts
There’s a number of wonderful ski resorts in Croatia that are suited for virtually every kind of traveler, from luxury seekers to families to active adventurers.
The largest number of ski resorts can be found in Gorski Kotar – the “green lungs” of Croatia which turn into a snowy wonderland each winter – but you can actually combine a Christmas-market focused city break with some ski fun by visiting the ski resort of Sljeme, just about 15 kilometers or 30 minutes’ drive away from Zagreb.
See an otherworldly icy landscape at Plitvice National Park
While Croatia’s national parks are beloved (and exceedingly crowded) in the summer, don’t discount visiting in the winter — especially if the weather has been cold enough lately to make the waterfalls freeze, which is a magical sight. I still remember the first time I saw frozen waterfalls up in the far north of Sweden – it was truly breathtaking.
Croatia has a number of waterfalls, but Plitvice National Park will probably have the most beautiful landscapes due to its higher elevation and taller waterfalls.
The combination of turquoise blue water that looks like a gemstone, pale baby blue frozen waterfalls, and white untouched snow is incredible: I can hardly think of another winter landscape more beautiful.
Escape Dubrovnik’s usual crowds
While Dubrovnik can be borderline hellish in summer, with insane crowds, sky-high prices, and cruise ship tourists clogging the streets during the daytime, winter in Dubrovnik is another story entirely.
While winter won’t magically turn Dubrovnik totally tourist-free, you will hardly see crowds and prices should come down significantly. The weather is also rather mild in winter, with average highs roughly around 12°C/54°F and average lows around 7°C/45°F — hardly bikini weather, but also not heavy coat and boots weather!
If you are lucky enough to visit Croatia near Christmas, don’t miss the Advent celebrations in Dubrovnik! While not quite as grand as what you’ll see in Zagreb, it’s definitely worth a visit. The dates for this year run from December 2nd, 2019 through to January 6, 2020, so you have quite a big window of available dates to celebrate and get festive.
Visit snow-covered castles
Many people don’t realize how many beautiful castles there are in Croatia, focusing instead on the old towns, islands, waterfalls, and beaches — but there are many castles in Croatia well worth visiting.
You’ll find most of the castles in the north of the country, in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region that borders Slovenia. One of the most beautiful is the Varazdin Castle pictured above, though Trakošćan is also extremely beautiful.
Soak up the winter nature in Gorski Katar
Even if you’re not skiing at one of the many ski resorts in the Gorski Kotar region, there is plenty of beauty to soak up that makes a stay in this region in winter absolutely worthwhile.
The area around Lokvarsko Lake is particularly gorgeous, and there are plenty of opportunities for winter hiking or snowshoeing if you want to get active outdoors in the winter.
Photograph your way across winter cityscapes and landscapes
If you’re a huge lover of photography, traveling Croatia winter provides several benefits: fewer crowds, more interesting subjects, and plenty of opportunities to play with long exposure, composition, and aperture.
We’ve listed our favorite Instagram spots in Zagreb and the top photography locations in Dubrovnik already to get you started, but that’s just a taste of what you’ll be able to capture in Croatia this winter.
Shop for marvelous Croatian souvenirs
There are so many beautiful Croatian souvenirs that are worth shopping for – especially if you’re visiting Croatia in December and you need to do some Christmas shopping!
We’ve listed our favorite Croatian souvenirs here, but a few to note are licitar hearts, local food products, and hand-carved wood figurines and ornaments.
Sightsee beautiful churches and museums
If you’re traveling Croatia in winter, you’ll want to have a full itinerary with plenty of stops in churches and museums to warm up and get a break from the cold. Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik are all wonderful cities with plenty of museums and culture.
If you’re lucky and visit Croatia in January or February when they host their yearly Noć muzeja (Museum Night), the entrance fee to virtually all museums in Croatia will be free and the hours will be extended. It’s usually on the last Friday of January, but this year, it was February 1, 2019. The 2020 date hasn’t been announced yet, but when we find out when it is we’ll update the post!
Warm up with some delicious Croatian food & drinks
While generally people think of seafood when they think of Croatian food, the cuisine is a lot more diverse than just that! I typically don’t crave seafood in the winter, and my stomach is focused on hearty, soul-warming fare.
Think of snacking on fire-roasted chestnuts and powdered-sugar flecked fritule (mini doughnuts) as you wander around beautiful old towns, then tucking in for hearty stews and roasted meat for dinner!
Winter Weather in Croatia
While the weather will be very different throughout Croatia – with cities in the north like Zagreb and mountain resorts being far colder and cities in the south like Dubrovnik being a good deal warmer – we’ll use Split as our example, as it splits (pardon the pun) the difference between Zagreb and Dubrovnik.
Winter in Croatia is actually not so cold, but you’ll want to be prepared anyway with layers and proper clothing. The winter weather in Croatia is pretty stable, usually around 7° C / 46° F daily in Split. Average lows dip down to just above freezing, around 4° C / 39° F, so you’ll definitely want a jacket, but you may also experience a few warm-ish days up to 12° C/ 54° F.
If your plan is to sightsee, keep in mind that you should dress to feel much colder since you will be outside for long periods of time!
What to Pack for Croatia in Winter
We have a full Croatia packing list here with winter sections for men and women, but here’s the quick version!
A Guidebook – While travel blogs are great, we also definitely see the benefit of having a good paper guidebook in hand to refer to in your on-the-ground travel. We recommend the Lonely Planet Croatia book.
Winter accessories: Bring a winter scarf like this one (women’s) or this cashmere scarf (men’s) to help block out the wind. We recommend women’s gloves like these which are compatible with your smartphone (for a men’s version, check these). You also lose a lot of heat from the top of your head and ears, so a fleece-lined knit hat (women’s) that you wear tight, like a beanie, is a fantastic choice. Pick a colorful one for cute photos! Here’s a men’s version as well.
An ultra-light down jacket: You can wear this on its own or pair it with a warmer jacket for colder days. This rolls up and packs easily in your day bag so it’s good to bring along – I have one really similar to this (women’s) but there’s a men’s version as well. If you really want to be warm, or if your trip is mostly focused on Zagreb, the mountains, and northern Croatia, I recommend a winter jacket like this North Face parka which I’ve owned for years and years.
Winter boots: It can be snowy any icy throughout Croatia even at times in the south, as it can snow in Dubrovnik and even get below freezing. For snowy days and super cold weather when you still want to be comfortable, I love these knee-high waterproof Blondo boots and have owned them for over a decade. For men, I suggest a waterproof boot with good traction, like these Timberlands.
Motion sickness pills: Great for bus rides if you’ll be visiting any mountains – I buy these non-drowsy ones. You can also try these natural motion sickness bands which use acupressure to reduce nausea – they actually work pretty well.
More Croatia Travel Resources
Headed to Croatia? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Croatia, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Croatia packing list with a detailed winter section.
Check out our Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Croatia and local tipping customs.
If you’re still putting together your itinerary, here’s a great list of places to visit in Croatia, our Croatia national parks guide, and Croatian waterfalls guide to help you choose. We also have a day trip guide for Dubrovnik, if you’re visiting there as well.
Next, you’ll want to read our guide to shopping in Croatia so you know which souvenirs are truly local gems.
If this will be one of your first trips in the Balkans, check out our massive list of things to know before traveling the Balkans as well as our Balkan bus, road trip, and itinerary guides.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Croatia (or really, any part of the world)! Steph and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While the Balkans are perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel – especially during the winter! – so it’s better to play it safe.