Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

DISCOVER SOFIA

DISCOVER SOFIA

DISCOVER SOFIA

NEW ON THE BLOG

17 Things to Do in Subotica, Serbia’s Magical Art Nouveau Escape

Although Novi Sad and Belgrade usually get the most attention from domestic and international travelers to Serbia, the city of Subotica has its own singular identity and charm that makes it just as exciting. Subotica, the northernmost city in Serbia, only 10 kilometers away from the Hungarian border, contains a wealth of fascinating places suitable for fans of nature, architecture, history, and great food. Here are eleven awesome things to do in Subotica. 

Can’t read now? Pin for later!

Things to Do in Subotica, Serbia

The Best Things to Do in Subotica

Here are the best Subotica activities for your trip.

Subotica City Hall

Serbia - Subotica - Town Square

Subotica downtown is filled with incredible sights, all within walking distance from one another. At the very center of the city is the grandiose art nouveau City Hall, the symbol of Subotica.

Built between 1908 and 1910, it was designed by renowned Budapest architects, Marcell Komor and Deszö Jakab, in Art Nouveau style, and enriched with a romantic nuance of the Hungarian folklore, with floral elements made of ceramics and wrought ironwork forging.

Serbia - Subotica - Stephanie

A guided tour of the building starts at noon (Tuesdays – Fridays) for 150 dinars  (around 1.3 Euro), and the Grand Hall, decorated with sixteen stained-glass windows, famous Zsolnay ceramics, and elaborate décor, is an absolute must.

You can also climb the 45-meter high observatory, which provides an unforgettable view of the whole city and its outskirts for only 300 dinars (around 2.5 Euros). Today, the City Hall is used for Assembly sessions, concerts, important gatherings, and weddings. So, if you’re so inclined, you could do worse than exchange your wows here.

National Theatre in Subotica

Serbia - Subotica - Subotica central square and peoples theater building sunset view, Vojvodina region of Serbia

Just across the street from the City Hall is the National Theatre in Subotica. The original building of the theater was built in 1854 as the first monumental public building in Subotica, and it’s the second oldest theater building in Serbia.

Unfortunately, despite widespread protests, it was razed in 2007 with the purpose of reconstruction by the city authorities, due to its poor condition and the dilapidated main stage. The reconstruction of the interior continues to this day, but the exterior, accentuated by six Corinthian pillars and a simple classicist tympanum, is now back to its old glory.

Currently, two stages operate inside the theatre: Jadran Cinema Scene (which allows for 266 theatergoers) and Soltis Studio (60 theatergoers). Every year, four new dramas premiere at the theatre, some in Serbian and some in Hungarian, and the tickets are available for 350 dinars (around 3 Euros).

Serbia - Subotica - center

Once you’ve seen the Theatre, walk down the city center’s main pedestrian street, popularly known as Korzo, where you can enjoy monumental buildings and palaces, built in Renaissance Revival, Classical, Eclecticism, Secession, and Modern architectural styles.

Boss Caffé

 

After all that walking, you’ve earned a well-deserved break. Only a 7-minute stroll from the National Theatre in Subotica is Boss Caffé, the most popular place for locals to hang out, enjoy sipping coffee, Serbian wine, or eat one of the many distinctive Serbian food delicacies.

Opened in 1986, it has gradually grown from a basement to include a covered glass terrace, and then extended to the opposite side of the street.

Today, Boss Caffé is a must-visit for both locals and tourists. For seafood aficionados, I particularly recommend grilled sea bream or grilled squid with vegetables.

Meat lovers should try chicken goujons fingers with tartar sauce, beefsteak with pepper sauce, or turkey with homemade pastry.

As far as sides are concerned, you can’t go wrong with grilled mushrooms or spicy potato wedges.

And to top it all off, healthy cake or pistachio and raspberry cake make for a perfect dessert – yummy!

Raichle Palace

Serbia - Subotica - Subotica colorful street architecture view, Reichl palace in Vojvodina region of Serbia

Take a 3-minute walk from Boss Caffe to find the marvelous Raichle Palace, a true trademark of Subotica.

Built in 1904 by the architect Ferenc Raichle, it’s an exceptional example of the Art Nouveau architecture style, with its unusual combination of colors, the vibrancy of forms, rich details, masterful decorations, and a variety of materials used for the lavish interior.

Serbia - Subotica - Art Nouveau Palace Inside Stephanie

The giant vault is decorated with Zsolnay ceramics, while the lower part wavy line of the fence is holding metal gates decorated with heart ornaments, exuding a feeling of perfect harmony.

Currently, the building hosts a modern art gallery Likovni Susret, which contains a wealth of artworks of the most influential former Yugoslavian artists from the 20th century.

Serbia - Subotica - Art Nouveau Palace Ticket

It’s open to visitors every business day from 8 am to 7 pm and every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm, and the entrance fee is just 100 dinars (less than 1 Euro).

Subotica Synagogue

Serbia - Subotica - Synagogue

Next, walk 10 minutes to another stunning example of the Art Nouveau architecture style that perfectly complements Raichle Palace, the Subotica Synagogue.

Built in 1901-1902 based on the plans of Komor and Jakab (the same architects responsible for the City Hall), it’s the second-largest synagogue in Europe. It was designated a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1990 and protected by the Republic of Serbia.

Serbia - Subotica - Synagogue Holocaust Memorial

Fully renovated in a multi-million renovation project financed by Hungarian and Serbian governments, the synagogue was opened to the public in March 2018 and is now visited by more than 10,000 tourists each year.

The building’s dominant architectural feature is the central dome supported by eight steel columns, while the interior dome is constructed of light concrete and built-in an unusual shell-construction technique, while the building’s roof is covered with elaborate Zsolnay-glazed roof tiles.

Serbia - Subotica - Synagogue

It’s open to visitors every day (except Monday) from 10 am to 6 pm and weekends from 10 am to 2 pm. The outside garden visit is free, and the visit to the interior costs 250 dinars (a little over 2 Euros).

Every May, the synagogue is included in the Long Night of the Museums, a very popular event during which Subotica museums are free to all visitors for one night.

St. Theresa of Avila Cathedral

Serbia - Subotica - Cathedral Vertical

One more stop on the tour of historical buildings of Subotica must include Saint Theresa of Avila Cathedral, which is a short 8-minute walk from the synagogue. This Roman Catholic cathedral and minor basilica, built between 1773 and 1779 and renovated several times since then, is known to the locals as “The Big Church.”

Serbia - Subotica - Cathedral in Subotica

Built-in the baroque style with two big towers and minimal decorations at windows and pilasters, it’s devoted to Saint Teresa of Avila, one of the key figures of Catholic reformation, whose face was put on the stamp and coat of arms of Subotica. Its visiting hours are daily from 6:30 am to noon and 5:30 pm to 8:40 pm.

Subotica Flea Market

If you’re worn out from Subotica’s architectural marvels, perhaps you could go for a change of pace and visit Subotica Flea Market, popularly known to the locals as “Buvljak.”

This so-called alternative department store is famous for plenty of character and a wide variety of diverse offerings of everything from clothes to furniture to fresh fruit and vegetables from local growers.

The best part is – prices are very cheap, and most of the sellers are willing to bargain with you. What’s more, many of the products are imported from Hungary and sold for much less than in the department stores.

Even if you don’t feel like shopping, visiting this massive flea market is an experience in and of itself, and part of the fun is observing all the sellers, buyers, and browsers, as well as the chaotic energy, particularly during the Sunday morning rush. 

Spend Time on Lake Palić

 

Serbia - Subotica - Entering the Palic lake near the town of Subotica

Let’s start with the largest natural lake in Serbia, Lake Palić, which is just eight kilometers away from downtown Subotica and near the town of Palić. The lake is accessible by public transportation if needed.

According to the local legend, Lake Palić was created when shepherd Pavle lost his lamb with the golden fleece and cried so much that his tears flooded the pasture, causing the saltiness of the water. But the only tears you are likely to shed here is from the sheer beauty of this place.

Serbia - Subotica - A beautiful view from the lake Palic to the lakeside in Subotica, Serbia

The lakeshore is seventeen kilometers long and affords stunning views, as well as opportunities for fishing, bird watching, sports, bike riding, sailing, and open-air and covered swimming pools with thermal waters.

In July, Lake Palićhosts the European Film Festival, now in its 27th year, bringing together filmmakers, actors, and critics from all over the continent. The Festival is held out in the open, and it’s unique in its mission to promote and celebrate the achievements in European film.

Serbia - Subotica - Lake Palic

In addition, if you visit in September, you shouldn’t miss Berbenski Dani, a festival celebrating wine and grapes from the region. Whew, that’s already a lot, but it’s not all you could do at LakePalić.

Visit the Palić Zoo

Serbia - Subotica - A group of cows at the Palic zoo, Serbia

If you’re visiting with kids, the nearby Palić Zoo offers a chance to see animals who are free to walk in fenced areas rather than being caged. This zoo, spreading across 15 hectares of land, hosts more than 150 species of animals, including monkeys, zebras, giraffes, lions, elephants, camels, tigers, wolves, polar bears, emus, snakes, reptiles, and tarantulas.

Just as important, the Zoo has an animal shelter with more than 800 animals. And if that’s not enough, it also provides access to botanical gardens, ponds, fountains, and many species of trees and shrubs, including the majestic sequoias, popularly known as redwoods.

Serbia - Subotica - Bear in Palic Zoo, Subotica. Serbia

Palić Zoo is visited by more than 150,000 tourists a year and is open 365 days a year, 9 am to 3 pm. And the best part is: the price of the adult ticket is a mere 250 dinars (a little over 2 Euros), while children under 15 pay only 200 dinars (around 1.7 Euros). That’s a deal you won’t find in most European zoos, so don’t miss visiting this gorgeous place.  

Zvonko Bogdan Winery

For wine connoisseurs among you, you can’t go wrong with Zvonko Bogdan Winery.

This winery, owned by Zvonimir “Zvonko” Bogdan, a Serbian performer of traditional Balkan folk music, is located less than 3 kilometers away from Palić Zoo in the traditional wine area.

The winery building consists of the production area, a club hall for tourist rounds, and a wine-tasting hall overlooking the Barrique cellar. The winery itself is equipped with high-end technology that produces wines made exclusively from the grapes from these vineyards, and these exquisite wines have won numerous awards in cities like Vienna, London, San Francisco, and Tokyo.

Zvonko Bogdan Winery is open every day from 10 am to 10 pm, except Sundays when it closes at 2 pm. It offers daily tours in English, Serbian, and Hungarian, which include a tour of the winery, as well as tasting of three types of wines for 800 dinars (a little less than 7 Euros), four types of wines for 1200 dinars (around 12 Euros), or if you really want to go all out, six types of wines for 1700 dinars (around 14.50 Euros). So, what are you still waiting for? Get your buzz on!

Read Next: Your Ultimate Guide to Serbian Wine

Gostiona Gurinovic

Finally, end your day at restaurant Gostiona Gurinovic, just outside of Subotica city center, and a 12-minute walk from St. Theresa of Avila Cathedral.

This is the best Subotica restaurant, famous not only for its beautifully prepared traditional foods but also for its warm, cozy atmosphere.

In addition to a variety of wines and rakija (a fruit brandy extremely popular in Serbia), you can try some of their specials, like paprikash, a paprika-based meat stew, or shopska salad, popular throughout the Balkans.

I particularly recommend Karadjordje’s steak, a rolled veal or pork steak, stuffed with kajmak (a creamy dairy product), then breaded and fried. I can guarantee you won’t regret trying it! The restaurant is open every day, except Sunday, from 10 am to 10 pm.

From magnificent nature, activities for both children and adults, to architectural wonders, and delicious wines and foods, Subotica is a city that truly offers something for everyone. So, plan out your visit and check out this hidden Serbian gem!

More Things to Do in Subotica

If you have more time, here are a few more wonderful things to do in Subotica if you will be in town a little bit longer.

Tour the Orthodox Church of the Ascension of Our Lord

Serbia - Subotica - Orthodox Church

Visit the City Museum 

Serbia - Subotica - City Museum

Stop by the Beautiful Chapel of St. Roka

Serbia - Subotica - Small Chapel

Appreciate the Architecture of the City Library

Serbia - Subotica - Library

See a Glimpse of Subotica’s Communist Past at the Memorial to the Victim’s of Fascism

Serbia - Subotica - Spomenik

Finally, if you’re visiting in Winter, stop by the Christmas Market

Serbia - Subotica - Beautiful town hall in Hungarian Art Nouveau style, centre and symbol of serbian city Subotica. It's 76m high. Decorative features of Art Nouveau enriched with romantic nuance of Hungarian folklore.

Read Next: How to Visit the Subotica Christmas Market for an Art Nouveau Christmas

Where to stay in Subotica

Serbia - Subotica - Art Nouveau Palace Back Entrance

We’re in the process of creating comprehensive guides on where to stay in various Serbian cities, but for now, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible since this is a popular time to visit the city.

If you’ll also be spending time in other parts of Serbia, here are our recommendations for where to stay in Belgrade and Kopaonik.

What to Pack for Serbia

Serbia - Gardos - Backpack

We have a full Serbia packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!

A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. Lonely Planet Western Balkans is the main guidebook we recommend for Serbia, as it covers the country well plus others in the region.

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead. 

We feel quite safe in Belgrade, which is not overly touristic and full of pickpockets, but we wear it and suggest it all the same.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (She uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. We wrote a guide to picking up SIM cards in Serbia, as it’s really quite simple!

Being able to pick up a Serbian SIM card is a great way to stay in touch while on the road. If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Serbian SIM card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Travel Insurance: We recommend it for everywhere we go! We suggest World Nomads and go into more detail about why at the end of the post.

More Serbia Travel Resources

Serbia - Subotica - Selfie

If this is your first trip to Serbia, check out our guide to planning a trip to Serbia and Serbia travel advice. 

If you’ll be in Subotica in winter, check out our guide to the Subotica Christmas Market.

Headed to nearby Novi Sad? Start with our guide to the best things to do in Novi Sad and our 2-day Novi Sad itinerary. We also have a guide of the best Instagram spots in Novi Sad as well as what to do in Novi Sad in winter and how to visit the Novi Sad Christmas Market.

Most people also allocate some time for Belgrade – where we have tons of resources. We have this mega-guide to 101 things to do in Belgrade, the most Instagrammable spots in Belgrade, what to do in Belgrade in winter, and the best Belgrade street art. We also have a Serbian souvenir guide and Serbian wine guide if you want to do some shopping.

If you love guided tours, here are eleven great Belgrade tours to pick from. If you want to get out of the city for a day, here are our guide to Belgrade day trips and what you should know before renting a car in Serbia. We also have lists of our favorite places to visit in Serbia and the best Serbian towns and cities if you need more day trip inspiration. 

We have tons more Serbia and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Serbia and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Serbia, it’s a good idea to travel with a valid travel insurance policy, so that you will be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident, fall (a big winter risk!), or cancellation or trip interruption.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

Pin this Guide to the Best Things to Do in Subotica for Your Trip!

The 8 Best Hikes in Croatia: Hiking Trails You Should Not Miss

With over 6,000 kilometers (approximately 3,728 miles) of marked hiking trails in Croatia, this country is quickly becoming one of the most popular mountaineering destinations in Europe. Croatian themselves are avid hikers and are among the first seven nations in the world with a climbing and mountaineering organization.

The mountains reflect the incredible diversity of Croatia’s landscape. Those that lie in the Croatian lowlands are typically covered with thick woods, while the highland mountains are rocky and bare.

Croatian mountains are not particularly high – the highest peak is Sinjal on the Dinara Mountain and it stands at only 1,831 meters. This makes Croatia the ideal hiking destination because you can reach most peaks in a day’s hike. Combine that with the incredible scenery and beautiful viewpoints and you’ll understand why many decide to spend their Croatia holiday hiking and exploring the mountains.

As a passionate hiker, I’ve been to many Croatian hiking trails, but to ensure this post covers the best among them, I’ve enlisted professional help. So I’d like to thank the hikers and climbers of the Croatian Mountaineering Society “Sisak” for providing me with helpful climbing guidebooks and numerous Croatia hiking and climbing tips!


Things to Remember and Pack before You Go Hiking in Croatia

Choosing the best hiking trails in Croatia is a challenging task. There are over 1,100 trails to choose from and each one has unique natural or historical landmarks. Considering that most people visit Croatia to relax and have fun, I’ve opted for listing the most attractive hikes in Croatia that are also among the easiest and are not too hard to reach.

For getting to these trails, I strongly recommend you rent a car. You can get near some of them with public transport, but train and bus stops are located quite far from the trails.

We’ve rented cars dozens of times in the Balkans through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in Croatia here.

On this post, the amount of hiking required on each trail is about 2 – 3 hours each way. The only exception is the Premužić trail on Velebit, which can take longer if you want. Try to remember that the days are much shorter in winter, so if you decide to go on a hike and marvel at the snow-covered mountains, start early. That way, you’ll have enough time to climb down before dark (and bring a headlamp for safety!).

The Croatia hiking trails listed in this post are mountain trails, so it’s important to remember that you’ll be venturing into the wilderness. That means that you’ll have to be careful of certain things and pack accordingly. Here are the do’s and don’ts and what you need to know to have a great and safe time hiking in Croatia!


Never Go Hiking Alone

Unless you are a highly experienced hiker or climber, you should always bring a company to your hiking trips. Accidents happen, and you don’t want to end up being trapped on the mountain without anyone to help you.

In case you need help, The Croatian Mountain Rescue Service is available 24 hours a day, and you can reach them by calling the number 112.


Pack the Hiking Essentials

Every year there are at least a couple of rescue missions of tourists that have wandered on the mountain in their flip-flops, carrying just a small bottle of water. Do your research before you go on a hike, so you know what to expect. This is a great mountaineering map of Croatia, where you can check out the locations of trails and mountain lodges, along with the forecast and useful websites for hikers.

Every hiker will tell you that the appropriate shoes or boots are the most important thing to have when you go hiking. They should be firm, but comfortable. Opt for mid- to high-cut models, because they hold your ankles and prevent dislocation. I recommend this pair for women and this pair for men. Trekking poles are also helpful for keeping proper footing.

Be sure to bring enough food and water on your hike. You’ll need nutrition after all that walking and fresh air, but it’s good to have some extra provisions in case of an accident.

Always bring a warm hat and gloves, no matter the season. In some Croatian mountains, especially Velebit, the weather can change from hot to freezing cold in a matter of minutes, even in the middle of summer. Also, pack a raincoat or wear a rainproof jacket (we love this women’s jacket and this one for men).


Never Go Off the Trail

Croatian hiking trails are marked with a red and white circle. They can be found on trees and rocks along the trail. Sometimes, when there is not enough surface to paint a circle, a trail is marked by three parallel lines. Always look out for those, follow them, and don’t go on unmarked trails.

The marks painted in blue and white signal caves and caverns. The crossroads are marked with an X, and the trails are generally well equipped with signposts.


Beware of the Wildlife

As I said before, you will be going into the wilderness, so there’s always a chance, albeit a small one, that you’ll have an encounter with certain animals.

The karst mountains, like Velebit or Dinara, are home to bears, wolfs and lynxes. Wolves can also be encountered in the lowlands region of Croatia. Bear mothers with cubs are especially dangerous, so if you do see one of those, don’t try to approach it or touch it. In case of any encounter, try to remain calm, don’t run and don’t make hasty movements. When you hike in Croatia, always speak in loud voices because that will warn the animals you’re there and they’ll run away. Remember that the animals will not attack you unless provoked.

The most poisonous snake in Europe can be found in the Croatian mountains. The horned viper comes out in early spring and often sunbathes on rocks and trails. Again, it will not attack you unless it feels endangered. The vibrations you make when you walk will usually warn them you’re coming and they’ll go away.

However, be extra careful when you’re climbing the rocks and don’t put your hands in bushes, holes or dents. In summer, be sure to occasionally look up and check out the trees. The snakes climb the trees in search of bird’s nests and they mate on the branches. Also, avoid walking through tall grass if you don’t have high-cut boots.

Remember that this is all just a precaution – sightings of these animals are extremely rare. They avoid hiking trails that people often use, and the majority of hikers in Croatia never encounter them. 


Respect the Nature

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway – do not litter! Bring an extra waste bag and throw it in the dumpster once you get off the mountain. If you’re a smoker, bring a portable ashtray. More than one devastating fires have started because of cigarette stubs. 

Remember that some of these Croatian hiking trails are a part of a national park, so picking flowers is strictly forbidden. Some of the plants you’ll see are endemic and protected, and it’s up to responsible hikers to keep it that way.

Now that you’re ready and packed, here are the best hikes in Croatia!


The Leustik Trail on the Medvednica Mountain

This is an ideal way to spend a day in nature if you’re visiting Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Medvednica towers over the city with its highest peak – Sljeme. There are over 70 hiking trails you can take and a dozen mountain lodges. But the most popular trail is the Leustik trail, named after a forest ranger that first marked it. The trail leads you to Sljeme, and you’ll be able to experience the amazing view of the whole region.

To get to the trail, you need to take a tram or a bus from Zagreb and exit in Gračani. From there, the signposts will lead you to the start of the trail.

The hike is a relatively easy one. You’ll be gradually climbing the whole time, but there are more than enough stops to rest. One of them is Adolfovac, a popular wooden pavilion. The trail is well marked, so you won’t get lost on its many crossroads. Just follow the signs, and you’ll get to the peak. There are a few restaurants along the way, where you can relax, try out the local cuisine, and have a cup of coffee.

This is a great summer option because the trees shadow the whole trail, so you won’t stand in direct sun. That’s why this is a popular destination for those who want to hike in Croatia with children and pets.


The West Medvednica Trail

The terrain of the western part of Medvednica is mostly made up of karst, with a few caves and caverns. Here, you can visit the Veternica cave, one of the biggest in Croatia.

To get to the trail, take a tram or a bus from the city and exit in Gornji Stenjevec. From there, the marked trail will take you to the cave. Veternica is popular and most known for its huge bat population. But it’s also a place where the prehistoric Neanderthals dwelled, as confirmed by archaeological findings. You’ll also be able to see many beautiful fossils.

You can go on a guided tour of the cave every weekend and on holidays, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The tickets cost 40 kuna ($6 USD) for adults and 20 kuna ($3 USD) for children. Bring a warm jacket, since the air is much colder there. If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to skip it altogether cause you’ll be going pretty deep into the cave.

From there, you’ll walk to the mountain lodge on Glavica where you can rest and dine. If you continue your hike, you’ll arrive at Ponikve, a beautiful grass valley with several little creeks.

From Ponikve, you can take a trail to Sljeme, or continue straight to discover the impressive dolomite rocks called Kamenisvati. In Croatian, “svati” means wedding guests and the name is connected to the legend of how the rocks came to existence – an unsatisfied mother of a groom cast a spell on the wedding guests so they all turned to stone. Here, you can also find a small mountain house, which serves drinks on the weekends.

Again, the whole trail is well marked and full of signposts so there’s no chance you’ll get lost.


The Japetić Trail

If you drive just 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Zagreb, you can visit a charming little town called Samobor. Known for its delicious custard pastries called kremšnita, it lies beneath the Samobor mountain range. The most popular trail is the one that leads to its peak, Japetić. It’s very well-marked and easily accessible.

To get to the hiking trail, start from Samobor. Follow the signposts for Japetić. You’ll have to drive for about 10 kilometers (6 miles) on a very narrow, winding road. You’ll pass the village Smerovišće and get to the Šoić House, which, by the way, serves amazing food. Park here and you can start hiking!

Two trails lead to Japetić from here. One goes over the mountains pass Velika Vrata, and it is a shorter but a little harder trail. It’s much steeper than the other one, so if you want an easier hike, I’d recommend you take the second trail. You’ll be passing through the woods and beautiful green meadows.

The trail is well marked, so just follow the signs for Japetić. At the top, you can climb a huge lookout and take in the wonderful, scenic views of the mountain. Continue further if you want to get to the Žitnica mountain lodge where you can try out their tasty food or just rest a bit.

To get back down, you can take the same trail, or use the one over Velikavrata.


The Ravna Gora Trail

Ravna Gora is the northernmost Croatian mountain. It’s entirely covered with forests and the trails are well marked.

The trail starts next to the castle Trakošćan. It’s easy to reach from Zagreb; just follow the road signals in your rental car. You can park next to the Trakošćan hotel.

The castle was built in the 14th century and is now a museum. You can visit it before or after the hike. The museum is open every day, and the working hours are 9 AM to 8 PM from April to October, and 9 AM to 5 PM from November to the end of March. The tickets cost 40 kuna ($6 USD) for adults, and 20 kuna ($3 USD) for students and children up to 18 years of age. Children under 7 years old have free entry.

From the castle, follow the road to the hotel and then turn right on the trail. You’ll be walking for about 50 minutes through the woods until you reach the little village Vrbanići. From there, walk another 10 minutes and you’ll get to the crossroads – turn left and follow the trail through the vineyards and small cottages.

Here, you’ll find another crossroads. You can go left to reach the Velikapećina cave or right to get to the Pusti Duhmountain lodge. If you opt for the cave, you should know that the tour is quite challenging – you have to use cables and cords to navigate the cave, so if you’re not in good shape, it’s better to skip it.

Once you reach the lodge, where you can rest, you can continue to follow the trail to the top of the mountain. There’s a small, picturesque church near the top, and a huge iron pyramid you can climb to take in the beautiful view of the surroundings and see why this is one of the best hikes in Croatia!

You can turn back here, or continue following the markings to another lodge from which you can take a second trail to go back to Trakošćan. That would take you another hour or two if you rest often.

The lodges here serve drinks, so make sure you bring enough food.


The Klek Trail

From the northern part of Croatia, we travel south to a region called Gorski Kotar. It’s a mountainous, forested area, popularly known as “the lungs of Croatia”. The hiking trails here are some of the most popular in Croatia. Forests and karstic rocks blend here into breathtaking views.

The Klek Mountain lies above the small town of Ogulin. It’s a place of many old legends and myths. According to one, the mountain is actually a petrified giant. And when you look at it from afar, the outline of the mountain really looks like a sleeping giant, with his feet up in the air. Some say that witches and fairies assemble on Klek on stormy nights, and their cries and screams terrorize the people in Ogulin.

This Croatia hiking trail is a little harder than those on Medvednica, but it’s not overly challenging. It’s quite steep in some parts, so it will take you longer to get to the top. That’s why I recommend you start early in the morning, especially if you decide to hike during winter. You’ll need to have enough time to get down from the mountain before dark.

The trail starts at the end of the small village of Bjelsko. From Ogulin, you’ll have to drive on the so-called Rudolf’s road for about 10 minutes to get there. There are signposts everywhere, so just follow those that say “Klek” or “Bjelsko”. When you get to the village, park your car next to the Scout Society House.

From there, simply follow the markings on the trail to the mountain lodge. It should take you about an hour or more if you rest frequently.

From the lodge, you can take a trail to get to the top of the mountain. It should take about 30-45 minutes, and you’ll have to climb the rocks for the portion of it. It’s not hard, but if you don’t like climbing, just rest in the lodge. However, the view from the top will make up for all the sweating and climbing.

If you’re feeling adventurous and are in good physical shape, you can take the Klečice trail from the lodge. You’ll have to do some serious rock climbing, so be careful and don’t take it if you’re not an experienced climber.

In any case, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful nature and breathtaking views from the top. Klek is one of my personal favorite hikes in Croatia, so I highly recommend you take this trail.


The Risnjak Trail

Risnjak is one of Croatia’s national parks and one of the highest peaks of Gorski Kotar. This is the only national park in Croatia that you can visit only by foot. Its natural characteristics are its beautiful woods and endemic plants, such as edelweiss (Leontopodiumnivale).

Remember that this mountain flower is protected and picking it is strictly forbidden. Risnjak is one of those places where you should look out for wild animals – there have been some reports of hikers stumbling on bears or lynxes.

You can get to Risnjak by taking a bus from Zagreb to Rijeka, but you’ll have to walk A LOT to get to the trail from the main road. That’s why I recommend you drive to the village of Gornje Jelenje. From there, you can either walk or drive to Vilje, a small woodland glade. This is the start of the trail that leads to the peak.

This hiking trail is quite easy and well-marked. After 15 minutes, you’ll arrive at Medvjeđavrata (The Bear’s Doors), a formation of rocks where hikers usually rest a bit. The next leg of a trail goes through a karstic area and a small woodland zone. Again, it’s not challenging and you’ll arrive quickly to a small clearing on the ridge of the mountain.

Here you visit the mountain lodge Schlosserov Dom (Schlosser’s Home), named after the botanist and the first president of the Croatian Mountaineering Society, dr. Josip Schlosser. You can have a bite to eat at the lodge (the meals are simple, but yummy) and buy a map of the national park.

You’ll also have to buy a ticket for the park here. Adults will pay 45 kuna ($7 USD) and students, children and retirees 25 kuna ($4 USD). All children under the age of 7 have free entry.

From lodge, you can take a trail to the top. It will only take 10-15 minutes, and you’ll have to climb over the rocks for a bit, but the view from the top is definitely worth it. You can see almost the entire Gorski Kotar and parts of the Snježnik and Učka mountains.


The Premužić Trail on North Velebit

It’s hard to choose the most beautiful hike in Croatia, but if I really had to, it would be Velebit. It’s diverse, wild, unpredictable, and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s the longest Croatian mountain with two national parks (North Velebit and Paklenica), two nature reserves (Hajdučki and RožanskiKukovi) and many natural, cultural, and historical areas protected by Croatian laws.

There are many trails on Velebit, each one more beautiful than the last. I couldn’t possibly cover them all in this post, so I’ll list some personal favorites.

Because North Velebit is one of Croatia’s national parks, you’re going to have to buy a ticket. It costs 45 kuna ($7 USD) for adults, and 30 ($4.5 USD) kuna for children aged 6-14, retirees and students.

Once you get to the charming village of Oltari, take a road to the village Krasno. I highly recommend you visit a small family cheese shop here. They offer a variety of cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses, and they’re all delicious.

There’s also a museum in Krasno called Kuća Velebita (Velebit’s House) and it’s one of the most attractive museums in Croatia. It’s highly interactive, with 4D projections, a lift that takes you in a cave, 3D maps, and even a wind simulator. I dare you to try out the bora wind – it will knock you off your feet! Check out the price list here.

From Krasno, follow the signposts to Babić Siče, the park’s entrance (you’ll buy the tickets here). You’ll have to drive another few kilometers to get to the Zavižan on the gravel road.

Zavižan mountain lodge is the starting point for many trails on Velebit, including the Premužić trail. This trail is considered one of the most beautiful in the world, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s over 50 kilometers long, but there are a couple of stops along the way at which you can rest, and turn back.

The trail is named after Ante Premužić, an engineer who built the trail with his team in just four years. They built it without machines, concrete or any modern technologies. All they used were their hands and pikes. Imagine clearing the 37 miles of karstic path on a rocky mountain with nothing but your hands! Thanks to these enthusiasts, we now have access to some of the wildest and most beautiful parts of the mountain.

To get to the trail, walk from Zavižan lodge to the road beneath it. There, you can check out the Velebit Botanic Garden (it would take you about an hour of walking) or go straight to get to the trail. There are many signposts, so you won’t get lost.

The first part of the trail takes you through the woods and across beautiful meadows. As you go further, the surroundings change to a rocky, karstic one. The trail is actually quite easy – there are just a couple of short slopes and the rest is a straight, flat path. Many take their kids and pets with them. However, I would recommend you don’t bring your dog with you – some parts of the trail are very rocky and they could hurt their paws.

People usually hike to a small stone lodge called Rossijeva Koliba (The Rossi’s Hut) and then turn back. I would recommend you do the same unless you want to hike for another couple of hours. Sometimes, people arrange that a ranger waits for them at the end of the North Velebit Premužić trail, which is the mountain lodge at Alan, and drives them back to Zavižan. In any case, you’ll be walking for 6-7 hours total, so bring enough food and water.

The trail continues to the Middle Velebit, and can’t be hiked in one day. So the best option is to go to Rossi’s Hut and turn back or continue to the lodge on Alan.

If you decide to continue further to Alan, you’re in for a treat. You’ll be passing through Rožanski and Hajdučkikukovi, a unique formation of rocks and one of the most impressive karstic areas in Croatia. Most of it is still unexplored because the rocks form an impenetrable barrier, so you come to appreciate the efforts of Premužić and his team even more. From there, the trail leads through the woods and soon you’ll reach the lodge on Alan.

If you want to arrange for transport from Alan to Zavižan, here’s the contact info of the parks officials.


The Paklenica Trail on South Velebit

The Big and Small Paklenica is, along with North Velebit, the most popular destination for hikers and climbers. This southern part of the mountain is even more karstic that its northern part, but it also contains many beautiful forests and clearing.

Again, Paklenica is a national park, so you’ll have to pay for the tickets. The entrance is right next to the main state road D8. Follow the signs and turn when you pass the small St. Peter’s Church. You’ll drive for a couple of minutes through the village of Marasovići and you’ll get straight to the reception. You can check out the alternative roads and detailed instructions on how to get to Paklenica here.

The prices vary depending on the season. The tickets for adults cost between 20 – 60 kuna ($3 – $9 USD), and 10 – 30 kuna ($1.50 – $4.50 USD) for children aged 5-14. Check out the detailed price list here.

Paklenica has many trails, and most of them can be challenging for beginners. That’s why I recommend you take the trail to the Paklenica mountain lodge and then go back.

The trail starts at the reception and goes through the impressive canyon, considered by many to be the most beautiful part of the park. It’s a narrow road, encircled with enormous rocks. You’ll soon arrive to the Anića Kuk, the biggest rock on Velebit and probably the most famous one in Croatia. You can climb on the rock and it would take you about 1.5 hours.

The road then takes you through a beautiful pasture field and to the entrance of the Manitapeć cave. You can visit it from April to October, and it will cost you 30 kuna ($4.50 USD) for adults and 15 kuna ($2.50 USD) for children. The entrance to the cave is locked, so you’ll have to announce you want to visit it when you buy the tickets for the park. The park officials will then send someone to meet you at the cave.

From the cave, it will take you about 1.5 hours through the forested canyon to reach the mountain lodge. They don’t serve food, only drinks, so make sure you bring enough provisions.

***********

These hiking trails are just a fraction of what Croatian mountains have to offer. As I said before, it’s impossible to pick the best hikes in Croatia objectively, but those listed here are considered the most attractive because of their uniqueness and beautiful, wild nature. I hope this list motivates you to spend a day in the fresh air, walk through the wilderness and marvel at the natural beauty of hiking in Croatia.

So be safe, respect nature and enjoy yourself!

What to Pack for a Croatia Hiking Trip

If you’re going for a hike in Croatia, be sure to pack these things for a fantastic day out.

Mosquito repellent: You can bring ones with DEET or without DEET, or I love having some of these mosquito repellent wipes that I can keep in my bag in case I suddenly start to get swarmed and don’t have my regular repellent with me.

Sunscreen: You can buy sunscreen in Croatia, but it’s likely cheaper at home or bought online in advance. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen. Who doesn’t love a good solid for liquid swap? Great to keep in your bag without worrying about sunscreen explosions

A rain jacket: There can be some surprising weather sometimes even in the summer in Croatia, so bring a jacket that can handle rain and a bit of wind – especially on the mountains. We like this Columbia rain jacket for men and this Marmot Precip jacket for women. For colder weather, an ultra-light down jacket rolls up and packs easily in your day bag so it’s good to bring along – I have one really similar to this.

Comfortable walking shoes: You’ll want to wear at the very least good sneakers for your trip to Plitvice Lakes, and you may be more comfortable with hiking shoes if you’re planning to do several hikes in Croatia on your trip. I recommend these Ahnu hiking boots for women, and these Keen boots for men.

Trekking poles: If you want to keep your footing during trickier paths, a set of trekking poles are great — we recommend these easy folding ones.

Snacks and plenty of water for your day out: We recommend bringing a water with a filtration system like this GRAYL water bottle so you can refill your water bottle from streams, lakes, and rivers in the mountains!

More Croatia Travel Resources

Croatia - Dubrovnik - Dubrovnik, king's landing in game of thrones

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 detailed season by season tips.

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 and Split if you’re to be visiting these cities as well.

Next, check out our Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Croatia and local tipping customs.

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 busroad trip, and itinerary guides. 

We publish new content nearly every day! Bookmark our pages on Croatia and the Balkans so that you don’t miss out on any new info or resources that we publish before your trip!

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) — especially if you’re hiking! We 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, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

33 Perfect Things to Do in (and Around) Pamporovo

Whether you’re a passionate skier or just looking for a mountain escape, you can’t go wrong with choosing Pamporovo for your winter (or otherwise) getaway!

Aside from the massive bonus of very low accommodation and food prices, this Balkan ski center is absolutely beautiful and very well equipped with activities for its visitors.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve been here, and this is where I first learned to ski, so I may be a bit biased but that’s for good reason. Although it’s mostly known as a ski center, Bulgaria has been investing a lot into making it a great summer spot as well, and as a result, it’s now perfectly equipped to host you during any season. Listed below are some of the awesome things to do in Pamporovo at any time of year!

The Best Things to Do in Pamporovo

Ski (or snowboard) its many slopes

Of course, you’re probably coming to one of Bulgaria’s most popular ski centers to enjoy the slopes. With over 20 kilometers of ski runs, and 12 ski slopes to choose from, Pamporovo is a great place to learn or hone your skill.

I’m not a total pro at skiing, so I enjoy the milder blue and red slopes, my favorites being Yazovira (number 1), Ladies Slalom (number 10) and Stoykite (number 12), but if you’re feeling adventurous, the black Stenata (number 2), otherwise known as “The Wall” (I’ll let you guess why), has a pretty terrifying tilt to it.

There are many ski schools to choose from, and the ski pass is valid for two ski zones, Pamporovo and Mechi Chal, the latter being just a free shuttle ride away.

P.S. If you are in possession of the European Youth Card, the ski desk offers a discount!

Refuel at one of the après ski bars

As expected, Pamporovo is chock full of après ski bars-slash-restaurants.

Considering how amazing Bulgarian cuisine is, you would be hard-pressed to find a bad one, but I thought I could recommend some of my favorites that just have that something extra, like ambiance or a special menu item (P.S. All of these places serve food as well as drinks. P.S.S. I really don’t recommend drinking alcohol while you’re skiing! It’s a dangerous enough sport as is.):

  • Murgavets Tea House – The awesome location and cozy fireplace make this place seriously vibey. It’s right under Snejanka Tower.
  • Golden Eagle – This place is always full, and that’s for good reason – amazing food at amazing prices! Plus, a pretty nice view.
  • Bohemi – located right under the Yazovira slope, Bohemi is extra cozy with the best chicken soup!
  • Teddy’s Tea Room – This spot is located alongside Stoykite 2 (number 12b), which does, unfortunately, mean it cannot be reached when the ski slope is closed. If you are in luck, however, and Stoykite 2 (which is a beautiful slope by the way) is open, make sure to pay a visit to this cozy little spot, and order rose tea! I haven’t been able to find this menu item anywhere else and it truly is amazing (Bulgaria is famous for its roses).

Try Mursalski Tea

Also known around the world as mountain tea or shepherd’s tea, this is a Bulgarian specialty made from the ironwort herb, and is supposed to be really good for your immune system.

In any case, it’s an amazing way to warm yourself up while sitting next to a fire in one of the après ski bars.

Enjoy the view at Snejanka Tower

The highest peak in Pamporovo is the Snejanka peak, located at 1926 meters of altitude.

Here you’ll find the 156 meter tall Snejanka tower, which you can climb up for a small admission fee in order to get the most breathtaking view of the place. There is also a restaurant at the top, but beware, since prices are a lot higher than anywhere else!

Unwind at the spa

Spa time is the perfect post-skiing activity! All of Pamporovo’s luxury hotels have spas, and if your accommodation doesn’t, you can still enjoy the spa at one of these with a day pass!

Hotel Perelik is newly renovated, and the Mountain Wellness Lounge at Hotel Orlovetz is amazing. There’s nothing like hitting up the sauna after a day in the snow!

Grab some drinks and enjoy Pamporovo nightlife

Now that you’re off the slopes, you can relax with your friends over some drinks!

Some of my favorite bars in the center of Pamporovo are The White Heart Pub and Dak’s Irish Pub.

Try Mavrud wine

Okay, it’s not an article of mine if I haven’t suggested a wine! Luckily for me, there is a varietal originating from and specific to this region, and that is the Mavrud grape.

This ancient vine is low-yield and late-ripening, and the wines it produces are inky purple in color, with excellent acidity and pronounced tannins. These wines are jammy and buttery and oh so wonderful, and some critics say Mavrud is probably going to gain international recognition in the near future, so make sure to get on it before it becomes cool!

Party at Plan B club

This is Pamporovo’s only club, but the ski bars on the slopes tend to host parties sometimes too, and if you’re looking for more of a clubbing scene, nearby Smolyan has more places to offer.

Get your adrenaline rush at Fun Park Pamporovo

Dedicated to all of the extreme athletes, and featuring jumps and all of the other stuff (can you tell I am so not an extreme athlete?), this is a great spot to find a little adventure.

Try your hand at cross-country skiing

If you don’t really want to learn how to ski or snowboard, but still want to enjoy the mountains, you could try cross-country skiing.

Pamporovo has tens of kilometers of dedicated Nordic skiing tracks, and you can rent your equipment from one of the many ski rental places.

Go for a hike – any time of year!

Of course, mountains are meant for hiking, and the absolutely stunning scenery and wonderfully fresh air at 2000 meters altitude are the perfect backdrop for this.

The ski slopes transform into hiking trails during summer, but there are also guided hiking tours in winter.

Pedal around Pamporovo

There are several guided bike tours you can choose from, of varying intensities, but the views more than make up for the sweat. Note that this is only really an activity in the summer months.

Go horseback riding

The only thing that could make these beautiful mountains more beautiful is seeing it on horseback! This is a great activity for the little ones in your life.

Enjoy the Adventure Parks

With features like a zip line, mountain climbing, water-related adventures and way more, if adventure sounds like your kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed!

There are actually several adventure parks in and around Pamporovo to choose from, like Nevjastata, Chernijat kon, or the Chepelare zip line.

Things to Do Near Pamporovo (Day Trip Ideas)

Check out the Smolyan Lakes

This incredible site is home to nine lakes in total, and offers some wonderful views as well as great relaxation spots.

Trek the Waterfalls Canyon and Soskovcheto Reserve

This beautiful trek leads through the Soskovcheto reserve and ends at the Canyon, giving you a chance to relish in its flora and fauna as well as some pretty amazing photo ops.

Visit the Wonderful Bridges

This is a naturally occurring rock formation, probably made by earthquakes and all the other building tools Mother Nature uses!

It features two wonderful arches set in beautiful scenery (another unique photo op).

Explore the mysterious Devil’s Throat cave

This cave resembles the head of the devil, featuring a massive waterfall rushing down its “throat”, and is said to have inspired the myth of Orpheus who descends into hell to find his lover.

It is majestically maleficent, decked out with art created to further plunge you into the idea of descending into hell. Can you guess what I’m about to say? That’s right – photo op!

Visit the partly underwater Golubovitsa cave

Situated partially underwater, this cave is only accessible by boat, but once you get there, the rest of the way you walk by lantern light.

Talk about scary… and maybe a bit romantic?

Visit the Uhlovitza cave

Yet another beautiful Bulgarian cave!

Featuring a stone formation known as the White Waterfall and underground lakes, this is a must-visit spot for nature lovers.

Explore the historic Gela village

This small Bulgarian village is purported to be the hometown of the mythical Greek figure Orpheus.

This small village features sights like the Gela Monastery, a chapel called St. Elias where the magnetic pull is allegedly so strong that watches stop, a rock where a pink flower blossoms, thought to have sprung from Orpheus’s blood and a real-life, actual bagpipe festival, just to name a few!

Visit the charming Chepelare village

Also known as one of Bulgaria’s ski centers, and featuring its own ski slopes, this charming village is a great choice for a day trip from Pamporovo.

Aside from experiencing Bulgarian everyday life, you can also visit some of Chepelare’s tourist attractions, including the only ski museum in Bulgaria.

Marvel at the architecture of the Shiroka Laka village

Founded in the 17th century, the Bulgarian Revival architecture has been perfectly preserved in this little time capsule of a village. The houses are perfect examples of the Rhodope architectural style.

Aside from the architecture, the village also preserves folklore and Bulgarian traditions, and Bulgaria’s National School of Folk Arts is located here. There is a museum, church, natural phenomena, or you can just enjoy the fresh air and wonderful scenery and… take photos, obviously!

Take a day trip to Smolyan

Although Smolyan is a whole trip in itself, it can also be a great day trip destination.

You get a chance to experience an eclectic mix of classic Rhodope and modern architecture in this real-life time capsule, as well as many of the cultural and historical treats Smolyan has in store for you.

Explore the Smolyan Aetos fortress

This Byzantine fortress dates back to the 6th century AD, but was destroyed and subsequently abandoned during the Ottoman Empire’s reign, and today serves as a cool landmark.

The town of Aytos, where the fortress is located, also offers plenty of other activities, such as a national park and more landmarks, and a folk tradition festival in spring.

Visit the ancient Kaleto Castle

This fortification dates back to the Romans, and has since been expanded by the Turks and Byzantines, but what remains today mostly dates back to the 19th century.

The surrounding mountains make this fortress seem almost a natural part of the landscape, making this a truly spectacular attraction.

Get spiritual at the Backovsky Monastery

Dating back to the 11th century, this monastery is the second biggest Bulgarian monastery. Although it was mostly destroyed by the Ottomans in the 15th century, it was soon restored.

Today, the Church of Mary, which is still preserved today and open to visitors, was built at the start of the 17th century.

Visit Krastova Gora

Named after the Cross Peak, according to legend, these woods are where part of Christ’s cross was buried, which attracts many a pilgrim.

The woods feature a monastery complex, as well as a spring that is said to have healing powers.

Marvel at the mysterious Perperikon

This ancient megalith structure is carved completely into the surrounding rocks. It started off in the 5th century BC as a temple to the sun god, and later continued to serve as a religious center, and eventually it was mostly destroyed by the Ottomans.

This archeological site is truly unique in its history and cultural significance, and definitely worth a visit!

See stars at the Smolyan Planetarium

This is the biggest planetarium in Bulgaria, and how lucky that you’re nearby! The guided special programs are an extra treat for the little astrophysicist in your bunch.

Visit the Rozhen Observatory

This is the national astronomical observatory, the largest one of its kind in the Balkans. Aside from accommodating individual visitors, the observatory also hosts lectures and special programs.

Learn about Bulgarian history at the Regional Historical Museum in Smolyan

Bulgarian history is quite long and complex, so if that sounds like your kind of thing, you should definitely check out the museum with its over 150,000 objects!

Dig the Museum of Speleology in Chepelare

This museum hosts a large collection of various rocks, minerals, and cave artifacts – a must-see for geology and cave lovers!

***

I expect I’ve convinced you to pay Pamporovo a visit, and I hope to see you on the slopes!

Where to Stay in Pamporovo

We reviewed the best ski resorts and guesthouses in Pamporovo here, but here’s the short version!

Budget: MPM Hotel Merryan

With a total of 20 rooms, MPM Hotel Merryan is one of the cutest budget hotels in the Pamporovo ski area. The exterior of the hotel is made out of wood, and you can really feel the Christmas vibe here. At night, there are beautiful lights around the roof. It is also very easy to find in the heart of the city, perfect for exploring Pamporovo restaurants and enjoying the apres-ski scene.

Going up the stairs to the second floor, you will love how intricately detailed the rails are. The décor of the hotel focuses on modern touches with a natural vibe, mostly made out of wood.

You will find the rooms spacious due to its use of light colors for the walls and carpeted floors. The rooms are clean and there is a small desk with a chair in case you need to work for a bit during your ski trip. You can choose from a double room or a suite. All have private bathrooms with free toiletries. Cribs are also available for families with infants.

You can also coordinate with them if you wish to try their ski school or to hire some winter sports equipment. Skiers can store their equipment for free in the storage rooms. Other amenities include a spa with free Turkish bath, steam room, sauna, and hot tubs. Relaxing massages and treatments are for an additional charge.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at MPM Hotel Merryan here «« 

Mid-Range: Hotel Iva & Elena

This is a beautiful boutique hotel that has beautifully executed interiors. It also looks good from the outside with its wooden balconies and windows plus the brick and white walls.

The 39 rooms look incredibly stylish, making use of gold accents for the blankets and curtains. A small table with some chairs is provided inside each room, where you can eat or have coffee. Each room also has a mini-fridge where guests can store some drinks or food. Someone staying during the peak winter season can even choose a room with a fireplace — how cozy!

Restaurant Zlato Eelen inside serves international and local dishes – a must-try are their fish dishes, their specialty. Don’t worry because there are also pizzas and other popular food. Note that breakfast is free with your stay and starts at 8 AM.

Indulge your senses in their spa where you can use the steam room, Jacuzzi, and sauna for free. It is a bit small, but it has most of the things you need, and with only 39 rooms in the hotel, you likely won’t find it crowded.

The warm vibe of the hotel is what past guests loved the most – the entire property is so cozy during winter!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Hotel Iva & Elena here «« 

Luxury: Malina Village

Unique wooden “tents” that can withstand the heavy snow is a magical experience, and one that Malina Village wants their guests to experience!

It is a very creative approach and very different than any other ski resort in Pamporovo, as each “room” is actually a private mini chalet that has triangular interiors and exteriors.

There are a total of 30 chalets which usually get fully booked due to its magical location and style. There’s also a deck for each villa, and each has its own bedroom, kitchenette, and a mini living room. The outdoor furniture can be enjoyed during the spring and summer, though it may be a bit cold for it in the winter.

Private bathrooms are quite small (given the unique triangular footprint of each chalet), but it has a separate shower and toilet area so it doesn’t feel too cramped. A free continental breakfast buffet is served daily beside the fireplace – a cozy feeling with a full tummy!

One handy and cool feature is that a mini-market in the “village” – which really makes people feel they are in a remote village, plus it’s convenient!

The kid’s playground has a see-saw, slides, and swing set where they can have fun, aside from picking up some pine cones that have fallen from the trees. The on-site Malina Restaurant is where you can order traditional Rhodope Mountain dishes, hearty and perfect for winter, and different kind of drinks as well as alcoholic beverages. It looks like a huge wooden tent with simple and elegant wooden chairs and tables.

However, a note for families: the second floor of the chalets is quite dangerous for young kids to climb (as the stairs are quite steep), so it is best that parents supervise them.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Malina Village here ««

What to Pack for Winter in Bulgaria

Bulgaria - Borovets - Stephanie Fox Hat

We have a full Bulgaria packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!

A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. We own and strongly recommend the Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania for travel in Pamporovo and beyond!

One or two swimsuits: While swimsuits may not come to mind for ski season, if you’re staying in a ski resort with a sauna, indoor pool, or steam room, you’ll likely want one! We suggest bringing two so you never have to put a cold wet one back on. We love this one.

Plenty of winter clothing: You can check our packing list above for our full winter packing suggestions for men and women. At a minimum, you’ll want to bring a warm winter jacket (I love this North Face parka), cozy snow boots, warm wool socks, touch-screen friendly gloves, a scarf, and a winter hat.

Any ski equipment and clothing: We don’t have specific ski gear equipment suggestions, as it’s rather personal, but special ski clothes — waterproof pants and jackets, goggles, etc. — and ski gear obviously should be on your packing list, unless you have decided to rent it all when you arrive at your Bulgaria ski resort.

Moisturizer: Travel will beat your skin up in the best of times — and winter travel in addition to skiing will really do a number on it! If you use a moisturizer at home, bring it. If you’ve never used a moisturizer before, you really should start. You’ll be happy to give your face a boost before heading outside in the cold all day.

Sunscreen: We strongly suggest wearing sunscreen when you spend time outdoors, no matter the weather outside. The higher altitudes combined with the reflection of the sun off the snow can lead to unexpected sunburns. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen – it’s mess-free, works well in carry-ons, is ultra-protective, and blends in well.

 More Bulgaria Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Borovets - Valentine Snow

For more winter travel inspiration, check out what to do in Bulgaria in winter!

We also have posts on ski resorts in Borovets and Bansko, if you didn’t find anything you liked here!

We want you to have the best trip to Bulgaria possible! If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, check out our Bulgaria trip planning guide as well as our packing list for Bulgaria (which includes a winter section).

To help you, we’ve created a number of resources that will be helpful. If you’re visiting Sofia, this 101 things to do in Sofia should be a nice start! Also read our Sofia travel tips post and where to stay in Sofia.

For transportation, check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in the city. If you’ll be flying into Sofia, you can read our tips for flying in and out of Sofia Airport.

We also have Sofia restaurant and bar recommendations. We also have articles for popular day trips from Sofia like Plovdiv, the Rila Lakes, and Buzludzha.

For more resources for your trip, check out our pages on traveling in Bulgaria and the Balkans

Planning a Trip to Bulgaria in Winter? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

Bulgaria - Borovets - Stephanie Valentine Selfie

We strongly suggest that you travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. While the country is safe, accidents can happen anywhere. If you experience an accident or theft, travel insurance will help you recover your costs and enjoy the rest of your trip.

This is especially important in winter, since winter activities carry a certain amount of risk with them. We recommend the Explorer upgraded insurance plan if you plan to do any skiing or snowboarding so that you can be fully covered.

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

8 Things to Know Before Visiting Patras Carnival

Either you have some very excited friends who have visited Patras Carnival, or… you ended up looking up for it because flights to Rio De Janeiro were a bit out of budget.

Whichever scenario brought you here, I guarantee, you will NOT be disappointed, as our carnival is not in any way less fun or exciting compared to its more famous “cousin”, Rio Carnival.

Patras Carnival has a history of almost 200 (!) years and is considered one of the most famous Greek attractions. People from all over Greece and neighboring countries visit the city during the Carnival days and Patras is bursting with young, energetic revelers, who are spreading fun vibes all around.

Because it’s an event – or more accurately a series of events – for which you will not find much information online, let me give you a thorough local expert survival list, to make sure you will not omit anything important in your trip planning for Patras Carnival.


Choose your dates wisely

Carnival is a pretty long celebration. As it is widely known, we Greeks don’t miss a chance to prolong those! 

And when I say long, I mean it starts every year on January the 17th and ends a day before Clean Monday. Clean Monday is a moveable feast, occurring on the 7th Monday before Easter. For instance, this year, 2020, it is on the 2nd of March.

Of course, you are more than welcome to spend almost a month in Patras, in order to attend the full program of Carnival, however, let’s go with the more probable scenario, of you visiting 4-5 days.

The tourist attraction of the Carnival is the big parades, happening throughout the city streets, where you can also take part. And these parades happen on the weekend, right before the end of the Carnival.

More specifically, here’s the timeline:

Parade of the Floats – Friday 28/2/2020

Walking (or Night) Parade – Saturday 29/2/2020

Grand Parade & Closing Ceremony  – Sunday 1/3/2020

Awards & Clean Monday – 2/3/2020

So a perfect vacation stay would be from Friday, one day before the big parade, until Tuesday, one day after Clean Monday. During this time, you will also have the chance to attend additionally the Closing Ceremony, Parade of the Floats and the awards of the best Carnival groups.


Don’t be a last-minuter when it comes to accommodation

When I said that Carnival is one of the biggest attractions of Patras, I seriously meant it. That’s why it’s a logical consequence, that accommodation options in a small city, like Patras, are severely diminished even a month before the start of the festival.

We are going to explore your options for accommodation with an ascending order when it comes to the price.

First of all, if you have friends here, know that locals are really familiar with the concept of hosting hordes of visitors in their places. So don’t be ashamed and go ahead to ask them if they can spare a couch.

Which brings us to your second option, being Couchsurfing. If no friends are detected in Patras, why not make some? Send some requests on the famous app and if you are lucky enough, a local will accept hosting you.

There are not many Airbnbs available during this period in Patras, and the ones that are, are usually overpriced. Sometimes a hotel is more budget-friendly, so keep this in mind before booking.

A very important tip before choosing your apartment or hotel is to relocate the map on the platform, as most apartments that appear are really far from the actual center, even on the other side of the sea! So be very careful to book an apartment in walking distance from the center, unless you decide to bring a car and stay sober.

Suggested hotels in the city center are the Galaxy City Center Hotel and Patras Palace, especially if you wish to enjoy a sea view.

Byzantino, on the other hand, is an excellent choice if you want to be literally one step away from the festival!


Join a Carnival group

By Gontzi at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, link

Carnival groups are masses of people dressed in the same suit that storm around the city during the two Parades, the “Night Parade” and the “Grand Parade”.

Joining such a group is definitely a must, otherwise, why would you come for the Carnival! This is also the big advantage of Patras’ Carnival compared to Rios’, where mostly samba schools join the parade. For these parades, you neither need to know how to samba nor wear a costume like Victoria’s Secret’s latest feathered runway creation (although if you can pull those off, you’re still more than welcome!).

 On Carnival’s website, you can see a list with all the available groups, once they are announced. You don’t need to rush for this one, as Greek people never rush! The list is announced about a month before the carnival. You can choose your favorite suit among them and send your inquiry to join.

Keep in mind that the suit is hardly ever important for the youngest ones. The most complicated and impressive suits are those of the first groups in the line during the parade. These groups usually consist of older people, who enjoy Carnival as it was in the old times.

One the other hand, younger people care more about the night parties and wild entertainment. So they follow far behind during the parade, usually starting much later than the first groups and their suits are much less complex.

Groups are also organizing special parties for their members, before and after the parades, so it’s a great way to socialize with other people.

Depending on what you want to experience during your stay, choose your group accordingly!


Don’t miss the Parade of the Floats

By Gontzi at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, [link]
By Gontzi at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, link

Friday might be your arrival day in Patras, but you’re not allowed to miss this parade.

The floats are huge sculptures, made of polystyrene, which are paraded through the streets. They tend to have a particular artistic look, and a satirical dimension. Most of the times, they are inspired by contemporary politics, but also convey various other messages concerning nowadays.

The biggest and most magnificent float is the one of the Carnival King, for whom you will read about again later.

Following the Float of the Carnival King, the Float of the Carnival Queen is carrying a beautiful, young lady, sharing smiles with the attendees. Every year there is a call, during which ambitious Queens can apply for the position.

This parade is definitely going to supply you with a good deal of Instagram stories, so be ready.

In order to avoid surprises when you read the seventh title, the Queen of the Carnival is a real person, while the King is just a… float!


Wear your suit and grab a bottle of Mavrodafni (no matter what)

By I, Conudrum, CC BY 2.5, link

And when I say no matter what, I mean even if it’s raining cats and dogs.

It’s not unusual for the Carnival days to be rainy. Luckily, as the saying goes, we’re not made of sugar. We’re in fact so used to parades with rain, that if we’re honest, it doesn’t feel like Carnival without a bit of rain. (No? Just me?)

However, the point is that you need to get out of the house and join the parade even if all the Plagues of Egypt strike Patras the same day. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit too dramatic).

The next thing you need to do, while you’re on your way to the parade, is to find a store or a wandering seller that sells Mavrodafni.

Mavrodafni, or Mavrodaphne is a local wine made of black grapes, for which we in Patras are very proud of. It doesn’t matter if you buy it on the street or in a store, the bottle is secure either way.

There’s just one last thing you need to pay attention to in order not to make a terrible mistake and locals start looking at you with repulsion.

Don’t use a glass.

Mavrodafni is supposed to be consumed right away from the bottle and there will be no exceptions. So grab a bottle, hold it throughout the parade, get a second one if this one is finished and last but not least, don’t even consider to say that you didn’t like the wine. We get really emotional about this.


Experience the best of the nightlife

By Gontzi, CC BY-SA 3.0, link

Once the parade is finished, you might want to get an hour or two of rest… or not! After that, it’s time to explore the nightlife, which is without a doubt… active!

First of all, the best parties are literally happening on the streets, outside bars and cafeterias. Bars all along the main street, turn their music really loud and people are gathering up right outside. You can stay, dance, drink something if you want and then move along to the next one.

When you get tired of moving from bar to bar, it is very important to choose the most suitable type of Carnival party for you.

The most famous and biggest clubs in Patras are “OMNIA downtown” and “Navona Club di Oggi”. They are a bit far away from each other, so if your friends are not supporters of walking while drunk, make sure you choose the nearest. Expect mainstream music and, unfortunately, a very big line. However, once you get in, you will be well-rewarded!

Next, as mentioned previously, there are hundreds of small bars with their own parties and if you’re a big group, chances are you will have much more fun in such a place. I’m just going to mention “Notos Jazz Bar” and “Bocas” as favorites, in case you are really lost.

Last but not least, in case you hear very loud music from an apartment and see people going in and out (that’s my way of describing a house party, in case you couldn’t tell), give it a try and ask if you can join. Everybody is in a great mood and usually will welcome you in. That’s the most authentic night outing.


Enjoy the Closing Ceremony and the Burning of the Carnival King

Image by Gontzi at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, link

The closing ceremony has more fireworks than our taxes can afford, live music concerts with artists like Boney M and of course, the burning of the Carnival King. Do I need to say more?

Let’s take it one by one. During the Grand Parade, a huge float representing the Carnival King is paraded through the streets. At the end of the parade, the King is directed towards the port, where it is fired symbolically.

The fire is said to burn, along with the King, evil spirits, passions, and hatred among the people.  The lighting of the fire is also related to the transition from winter to spring.

Right after, there is an epic firework display and an open-air concert. Everyone is simply there, enjoying the last Carnival day and having a good time, with the company of his or her Mavrodafni.


Have a relaxing day by the beach on Clean Monday

Clean Monday is the First Day of the Great Lent, during which, according to the Orthodox Church, we’re not allowed to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products. However, shellfish is permitted and of course, this being Greece, we’re taking advantage of this.

Clean Monday is traditionally celebrated with a small excursion, flying of kites, eating of shellfish and other traditional fasting specialties, such as “Lagana”, a special type of bread and “Halva”, a traditional sweet.

In order to fly your kite, you should choose a nice park, such as “Faros”, or simply the beach. You could also head to the mountain, Panachaiko, if you’d like to change setting a bit.

As far as it concerns lunch or dinner options, there are many great options in Patras. In Istioploikos, you can enjoy seafood right next to the waves, while in En Plo you can have a more authentic greek tavern experience.

However, in case you have the energy, I strongly suggest that you visit a village nearby Patras called Psathopyrgos. If you’re returning back to Athens, it is on your way and it offers an idyllic view to complement your fasting food.

Essential Things to Bring with You to Patras

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Rehydration packets. If you’re going to be drinking a lot, these will save you from hangovers the next day. We suggest Pedialyte brand if buying online or you can pick them up at a pharmacy if needed.

 Travel safety items. While Patras is safe to travel, at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read More: Essential Greece Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Greece

More Greece Resources

Greece - Athens - Acropolis with firework, celebration of the New Year in Athens, Greece

First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, travel tips, and much more.

Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list and our guide to tipping in Greece.

If you are still trying to figure out your Greece itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece, the best places for island hopping in Greece, and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece or anywhere in the world!

We 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 Patras is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like pickpockets or injury – especially during the crowded Carnival season, when pickpockets may take advantage of the crowds and drinking – so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

The Perfect 2 Days in Rethymnon Itinerary (Plus Bonus Day Trips!)

Rethymnon, the third city in importance on Crete, is located between the regions of Heraklion and Chania, towards the western area of the island. Often overlooked by those who prefer busier cities, there’s a lot of things you can do both in the city and the region.

If you’re driving from Heraklion to Chania, or even if you’re traveling by bus, don’t hesitate and make a stop in Rethymnon and devote a couple of days to the region. It’s home to wonderful monasteries, archaeological sites, and a romantic Venetian town, right by the sea.

In this 2 day Rethymnon itinerary, we have included some of the most traditional things to see in town, as well as a few day trip ideas as we are certain you’ll love the region and would want to stay more.

Day 1 of Your Rethymnon Itinerary

Start at Porta Guora

Your itinerary for Rethmynon should definitely begin by entering the old town through Porta Guora or Megali Porta, a Venetian gate that today connects the old town of Rethymnon to the modern city. 

A few steps away from this entrance, you will walk past a tiny square with a fountain, and only a couple of meters ahead, it’s a great idea to stop for breakfast at Gaias Geusis

Here, choose the traditional Greek loukoumades, small pastries (often called a ‘Greek doughnut’) that here they will fry right in front of you. While putting them on a dish, the cook will ask you how you want to garnish them. Nothing better than a drizzle of local honey or a scoop of vanilla ice cream… or both, if you’re feeling gluttonous!

Visit the charming Old Town and Venetian Port

Venetian buildings with Turkish balconies in the old town of Rethymnon

Now it’s time to walk the alleys of the old town, a fantastic Venetian maze of alleys with clear Ottoman influences visible in the many wooden harem balconies and the tall minarets still standing in town.

In the heart of the old city, one of the must-see landmarks in town is the remains of Rimondi Fountain, built back in 1626 by one of the Venetian rulers in town. 

The refined fountain is in Platanos Square, and it consists of three water basins decorated with the typical Venetian lion head and a few inscriptions in Latin, some of which are barely visible today. According to an urban legend, those who stop and drink from the fountain will definitely travel back to Crete.

Not far from Platanos Square, you can admire the remarkable minaret of the former Mosque of Neratzes, today transformed into a music school due to the fantastic acoustics of the domed building.

The area is also famous for craft and souvenir shops selling wooden crafts, antiques, and Turkish lamps.

Reach the waterfront for a stroll by the sea at the small Venetian port. There are several bars and restaurants where you can sit and enjoy the views of the lighthouse and the old Venetian buildings. Stay by the port for lunch and continue the afternoon exploring the Fortress of Rethymnon.

Wander Rethymnon’s Fortezza

The Venetian fortress of Rethymnon.

Probably the most famous attraction in town is the massive fortified castle in front of the sea, on the western side of town. Known by the Italian name of Fortezza, the building dates to the 16th century. 

The entrance ticket is €4, and it’s open to the public from 8 am to 7 pm in summer, and from 10 am to 5 pm in winter.

Despite being one of Greece’s most impressive standing castles, its thick walls were not strong enough to protect Rethymnon from different pirate attacks during the centuries.

Inside the building, you can visit the unique mosque of Sultan Ibrahim Han which boasts an impressive domed ceiling completely covered in tiles.

Day 2 of Your Heraklion Itinerary

Visit The Holy Arkadi Monastery

The church in Arkadi Monastery.

If there’s a place history lovers should definitely include in any Crete itinerary – especially one that is already visiting Rethymnon – that’s certainly the Holy Monastery of Arkadi, not far from the city of Rethymnon. Arkadi played a memorable role in the continuous battles for freedom during the long years of Ottoman rule.

To visit the monastery by car, you will only need about half an hour to get there. Instead, if you’re traveling by bus, head to Rethymnon’s Public Bus station and take one of the three daily buses to Arkadi, you can check the schedules here.

The adventurous among us can even take an e-bike tour, which does makes a 44-kilometer roundtrip pilgrimage to the holy site (book your e-bike tour here).

During the years of Turkish rule, the island suffered constant oppression and heavy taxation, a new religion was imposed, and many monasteries and churches were transformed into mosques.

Although many Cretans managed to escape the island, many others faced torture and imprisonment, while several others were able to hide in mountain caves and refuges.

The Cretan people felt a strong need to rebel against the oppressor, and Arkadi played a decisive role during these events. As the Ottomans spread terror in the surrounding area of Arkadi, many villagers managed to hide insider the fortified walls of the monastery.

Once they were found, the enemy ordered them to surrender to which the Cretans replied that they’d rather die.

This is the beginning of the sad episode known as the Arkadi Holocaust when the hundreds of people hidden in the monastery decided it was better to take their own lives instead of giving up to the Turkish. 

Gunpowders storage room, the roof was destroyed by the explosion and subsequent fire.

The men, women, and children locked themselves up inside the gunpowder storage room and blew themselves up, killing also hundreds of Turks. This event did not mark the end of the Turkish domination of the island, but certainly caught the attention of the rest of Europe, who realized that Crete was in need of desperate help.

The Ottomans were finally expelled several years after Arkadi, in 1898, but the place remains one of Crete’s most sacred places to visit as well as one of its most important historical points of interest.

Arkadi Monastery is open from 9 am to 8 pm in summer, and from 9 am to 4 pm in winter. The ticket is €3, though the entrance is free for local citizens.

Spend the afternoon in the pottery village of Margarites

The traditional village of Margarites.

Another place that you can visit, not far from Arkadi, is the traditional mountain village of Margarites, located next to the gorge of the same name.

Margarites is a typical Cretan village of small stone houses, winding cobblestone alleys, and fantastic tavernas where you can taste local dishes such as goat, lamb, and wild greens.

The special characteristic that makes Margarites famous, is the several pottery workshops that you can find in the small village. Margarites is, in fact, known as the pottery village of Crete.

Many artisans open their shops to the public and allow visitors to test their skills hands-on, working with clay! The village is a small tranquil place, ideal for a relaxing walk admiring the landscape of the Cretan mountains.

If you visit, choose any of the tavernas located in the small central square. You’ll never go wrong if you simply order the dish of the day!

Bonus: Day Trips in the Rethymnon Region

Rethymnon is a land rich in beautiful landscapes. A ride through the mountains of Rethymnon to reach the southern coast of the region marvels travelers with the stunning views of Mount Psiloritis, Crete’s highest peak. 

If you decide to cross towards the south, there are a few places you should visit, such as the magnificent palm beach of Preveli, with the river flowing into the sea, the Archaeological site of Eleftherna, or the quiet seaside resort of Plakias.

Preveli Beach & Monastery

The gorgeous Preveli Beach, a marvelous day trip from Rethymnon

Preveli Monastery is another famous religious building on Crete built around the Middle Ages, and once again, we are in front of a historic landmark of Crete where fights for independence took place during the Turkish rule.

Not far from the monastery, you can visit the stunning palm forest and beach of Preveli, with an impressive river forming a lake before reaching the sea. 

Preveli is famous for the vast palm grove which underwent a serious fire a few years ago but which is little by little recovering to be once again once of Crete’s greenest areas.

You can get there by public bus but the easiest way is by opting for a day trip which includes transport from Rethymnon, which you can book here – you can also book a trip there via Land Rover safari, going offroad through Crete’s beautiful nature.

Book your Land Rover safari tour to Preveli Beach here

Archaeological Site of  Eleftherna

The archaeological site of Eleftherna.

Another great day trip from Rethymnon, just 25 kilometers south of the city is the mysterious archaeological site of Eleftherna.

Ancient Eleftherna is Rethymnon’s most important archaeological site, although excavations are far from being completed.

Eleftherna is a Dorian settlement dating back to the 9th century BC which held a strategic position halfway between Knossos and Ancient Kydonia (modern Chania).

When visiting the site, it’s a good idea to book an organized tour so as to better understand the ruins you’ll be visiting. Also, it’s a great idea to visit the nearby Museum of Eleftherna.

This is a rather small but very modern structure, where video reconstructions, holograms, and other technological tricks help you discover a bit more about the mysterious site and the people that inhabited the place until the end of the first Byzantine rule of Crete, around the year 800 AD.

Plakias Village and Beaches

The main beach in Plakias.

The seaside village of Plakias is located a bit more than 30 kilometers from the modern town of Rethymnon and it’s a great place not only for a day excursion but for a whole holiday as well.

The village is famous among the members of the international backpacking community as it hosts the southernmost hostel in Europe. There are two roads to reach Plakias from Rethymnon, and both of them go through two different spectacular gorges, Kotsifou and Kourtaliotiko.

If you’re not keen on driving, you can take one of the several daily buses from the central bust station of Rethymnon.

Plakias is also the name of the main beach in the village, it is a wide semi-circled bay, with clear waters and a beautiful submarine landscape to explore. 

As a matter of fact, there are several beautiful beaches along the coast of Plakias, all of them are well-known scuba diving centers on Crete. If you decide to spend a day at the beach here, make a point to stop for a few hours by the relaxing shore of Damnoni or the tranquil bay of Souda.

Where to Stay in Rethymnon

Greece - Crete - Rethymnon - Megalos Antonios Church Clocktower

While accommodations in Rethymnon are affordable compared to many resort towns in Greece, prices can vary greatly between the high season and off-season. We’ve broken down where to stay in Rethymnon according to a few different budget ranges. Here is a general range of what we mean by each budget category:

  • Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $15-25 USD per night for a dorm bed or about $50 for a double.
  • Mid-range: Around $60-90
  • Luxury: Around $100 per night or more

Budget: For an adventurous take on budget accommodations, we recommend Camping Elizabeth. Located just three kilometers outside of Rethymnon, this camping ground has caravans, tents, and bungalows to rent! Each includes outdoor furniture and access to a fridge, which means you can keep your costs even more in check. There is an onsite taverna serving local dishes, and a bus stop is just three hundred meters away. A great way to stay close to nature and the beach while enjoying Rethymnon during the day. Check rates and availability here.

Mid-range: For a seafront hotel that is surprisingly affordable, we recommend Sea Front Old Town. The location is in the middle of the old town and right on the sea, with most rooms having scenic balconies showing off either the seafront or the old town. Since Rethymnon is so beautiful, you really can’t go wrong with either view. It’s a great bargain, too – check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.

Luxury: For a true luxury experience in Rethymnon, we recommend the five-star Rimondi Boutique Hotel. The rooms are stunning (think Instagram-worthy), and the location can’t be beaten since the Venetian Harbor is only a four-minute walk away. If you want an extra dose of relaxation, you can use the onsite Turkish bath and massage services. Check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.

Still Looking? Read our full Guide to Rethymnon Hotels and Hostels

How to Get to Rethymnon

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - View from the bus from Heraklion to Rethymnon

We have guides coming on how to get to Rethymnon from Chania and Heraklion utilizing the island’s great intercity bus system.

If you choose to take a taxi, the rate is set and posted. Reconfirm the rate before you leave. If you are staying outside of the city, they may have you use the metered rate. Taxi drivers in Crete aren’t too unscrupulous, but I have heard of tourists being charged double or triple during the very high season. Note what the rate should be on the rate list before you leave the airport, reconfirm with your driver, and you will need to pay in cash unless otherwise arranged.

You can also prearrange a private transfer. This is a great option for groups and families, especially families traveling with children.

Check prices & reviews for private transfers from Chania.

Check prices & review for private transfers from Heraklion. 

Crete Travel Resources

Crete - Rethymnon - Neratze Mosque or Gazi Hussein Mosque in Mikrasiaton Square

Most people who come to Rethymnon also explore other parts of this beautiful island. Here are additional Crete travel resources to help you with your trip.

We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

Since you’ll be in Rethymnon, check out our Instagram guide to Rethymnon next, our guide to things to do in Rethymnon, and the best Rethymnon hotels.

We also have Chania and Heraklion itinaries.

If you’re still trying to work out where to go on the island, check out our guide to the best places to visit in Crete and our favorite Crete beaches.

If this will be one of your first trips to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Travel to Crete without Travel Insurance

Finally, make sure you always travel to Crete with a valid travel insurance policy. While Rethymnon is a very safe place to travel, you want to make sure you have your possessions covered if they’re stolen and your medical bills covered if you get sick or injured.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.


The Perfect 2 Days in Heraklion Itinerary (Plus Bonus Day Trips!)

The capital of Crete, Heraklion, is located on the northern coast, more or less in the middle portion of the island.

If you’re flying to Crete from the rest of Europe, there’s a good chance for you to be landing in this city, so why not taking advantage of it and discover what is there do to in town?

Most travelers visiting Crete usually spend a quick day in Heraklion, thinking that the only thing worth doing in town is visiting the famous Minoan Palace of Knossos. Exactly for that reason, we’ve decided not to include that visit in this Heraklion itinerary.

It’s easy to see how there’s much more to Heraklion than just its most well-known archaeological site. 

If you have an extra day to spend in the capital, you can choose one of the few bonus day trips. You can fit this 2 day Heraklion itinerary inside a bigger route of the island, combining stays in Chania or Rethymnon, or it can also be a city break on its own.

Day 1 of Your Heraklion Itinerary

Start in the city center and the Koules

Koules, Heraklion.

Your day in Heraklion could not start in a better way than enjoying breakfast in the city’s central square, Liontaria or just The Lions, as locals call it. On one corner of the square, there’s a Venetian fountain dating back to 1628. 

It used to be the source of drinking water for the local inhabitants of Heraklion and it is still gushing water from the head of the four lions that decorate the fountain. 

Choose one of the several bars around the area to enjoy a traditional pastry and some coffee. We discussed Cretan bougatsa in our Chania itinerary (a custard-filled flaky filo pastry enjoyed all times of day), and, as you might imagine, also Heraklion has its own bougatsa place. It’s called Kirkor, and it’s a must-go place in town.

Next up, reach the pedestrian 25 August Street, and slowly make your way down to the port. This elegant street with Neoclassical buildings, such as the Venetian Loggia, is also home to one of Heraklion’s most important churches, Agios Titos.

Inside Agios Titos church.

This impressive church was built during the Byzantine period of Crete (around the 9th century), but it was also transformed into a mosque while the Ottomans ruled on Crete. When the Turkish finally left the island, the Herakliots tore down the minaret to celebrate the end of the occupation.

Walk a bit further until you reach the waterfront. Over here, you can explore the Koules, a magnificent square fortress built by the Venetians. Visit the different rooms inside and head to the rooftop to get a panoramic view of Heraklion and the modern port.

Wander the Open Market on 1866 Street

Back to the city center from the fortress, walk past Liontaria to get to another landmark in town, the Open Market of Heraklion on 1866 Street. 

Often crowded with locals and visitors alike, the market is the best place in town to shop for souvenirs and local delicacies. Among the best things to take back home as a memento of your trip, choose small bottles of Cretan extra virgin olive oil, jars of spoon sweet or marmalade or local herbs and spices – they make wonderful Greek souvenirs.

Stop for a bite in Plateia Eleftheria, another popular meeting point in town. Our favorite place for a convenient lunch on the go is Krasas. This restaurant is a local’s favorite! If you want more suggestions, we also have a Heraklion restaurant guide.

For a traditional Greek meal, grab an authentic gyro wrap for just a few euros; their menu has so many varieties to choose from that you’ll probably come back for more.

Alternately, if you want to get a better sense of Heraklion’s delicious culinary potential, check out a 2-hour food tour of the city. This tasty tour covers the basics of Cretan cuisine and gives you a perfect introduction to the unique offerings of Crete — with several tastings, of course! — which differ from generic Greek food. Book your food tour here.

Visit the marvelous Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

The jewelry collection, Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

A great place to spend your afternoon, the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion has been placed on the list of best museums to visit in Greece. 

It houses a magnificent collection mostly focused on the Minoan civilization, such as the Disc of Festos and findings from different archaeological sites on the island. 

It’s the place to go if you plan on visiting any of Crete’s four Minoan palaces any time during your trip. For a complete insight, it’s a great idea to book a guided visit.

The museum in the center of town, close to Plateia Eleftheria. It opens every day from 8 am to 7 pm, (closing at 3 pm in winter). The entrance ticket is €6, but for €10 you can buy a combo ticket that will also allow you to access the Archaeological Palace of Knossos.

Enjoy the evening in Heraklion

Our favorite place to be at night is the area surrounded by Milatou, Meramveliou and Aretoussas streets. All of them are pedestrian roads and are full of small restaurants, taverns, pubs, and clubs. 

Choose Plastelina for a cocktail in a cozy atmosphere and inventive drinks.

For dinner in the same area, O Tempelis serves the best mezedes in Heraklion. 

Mezedes are small bites of traditional Greek dishes, including tzatziki, meatballs with cumin and herbs, spicy mushrooms in tomato sauce, or marinated fish. 

We strongly suggest that you arrive early if you want to find a place to sit. Remember that in Greece it’s customary to have dinner late, and this place is usually packed with locals.

Day 2 of Your Heraklion Itinerary

Spend the day in Hersonissos and Koutouloufari

Far from being a traditional or relaxing place, Hersonissos is, by far, the most popular beach resort on Crete, ideal for those interested in a day by the beach with plenty of music, cocktails, and pristine seas. 

The atmosphere is young and a bit noisy, and if you feel you’ve had enough, move to a more tranquil shore, such as the area of Limanakia, also known as the Coves of Hersonissos. 

These start in the beautiful Cape Sarandaris, a very calm and shallow bay, great for snorkeling. There are a few laid-back cafes in the area for a bite or a cold beer by the sea.

If you want to do something different from just lazily lounging on the beach, devote the afternoon to walking up to the quiet village of Koutouloufari

Koutouloufari is a picturesque hamlet built on the rather low slopes of Mount Pirgia. Here you can discover the typical traits of the Cretan architecture, walk along the tiny alleys and relax in one of the many tavernas serving the local cuisine. 

Thanks to its elevated position, the village offers spectacular views of the bay of Hersonissos at sunset.

Bonus: Day Trips in the Heraklion Region

There are many places you can visit if you have extra time to spend in the region.

You can reach the south of the Heraklion region to visit one of Crete’s most famous beaches, or you can also explore Crete’s best wine area and wineries around the villages of Archanes and Peza. 

Those who choose to stay on the northern coast can find an alternative to the more crowded Knossos in the less popular archaeological site of Malia. Read through these proposals and go for the one that best matches your travel style.

Matala

Hippie town of Matala, south Heraklion.

Matala is a famous village and beach in the south of Heraklion. The direct bus to Matala departs from Heraklion every 4 hours and the ticket is a little less than €10 and the trip lasts about 2.5 hours. You can get there by taxi or transfer (about €75) or drive. 

Matala is a beach on the Libyan Sea, made popular back in the 60s when hippies all over the world used to come to Crete and live in the ancient caves on one of the sides of the bay.

If you enjoy trekking and outdoor hikes, it’s a good idea to walk across the hill that separates Matala from the hidden Red Beach, with a naturist corner, an even stronger flower power vibe, and excellent submarine landscapes for snorkeling.

Heraklion Wine Region

Gavalas Crete Wines, Heraklion.

For the wine lover in you, there’s no better region on Crete than Heraklion, where you can find some of the oldest vineyards in Europe, going as far back as the Bronze Age.

In the area, it’s a good idea to make a stop in one of the many wineries of Heraklion. Some of them are open to the public all year round and offer wine tasting sessions, vineyard visits, and even local food sampling.

To have a good panorama of the local wine production, you can visit Lyrarakis winery, the biggest producer of Crete, in the village of Alagni.

If you prefer a more intimate atmosphere, check Gavalas Crete Wines, a family winery in the small villages of Vorias, or Silva Daskalaki, in the picturesque village of Siva.

Minoan Palace of Malia

If you have already seen the Minoan Palace of Knossos and are eager for more, or if, instead, you prefer to stay away from the crowds that every day visit the famous archaeological site, check the Minoan Palace of Malia, 34 km from the city center of Heraklion.

Malia is Crete’s third-biggest Minoan Palace and it spreads across an area of about 750 square meters. According to archaeologists, the structure used to have two floors, magazines, workshops, theatres and royal quarters. 

Archaeologists have also found the rests of a Minoan town around the palace area, part of it open to the public, where it is believed that the inhabitants were skilled in the production of pottery, seals, and large vases, known as pithoi, which can still be seen. 

It was in Malia that one of the most impressive pieces of jewelry from the Minoan times were unearthed in Crete. It’s a magnificent gold pendant with bees holding a berry. The famous bee pendant of Malia is permanently exposed in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

Where to Stay in Heraklion

We have a complete guide on where to stay in Heraklion here, with suggestions for every budget category and type of traveler, but we’ve chosen our favorites here for you to peruse when planning your Heraklion itinerary.

Budget: Intra Muros Boutique Hostel 

Crete - Heraklion - Hostel
Stephanie stayed at this boutique hostel in Heraklion and loved it!

The hotel is named after the Latin phrase that translates as “within the walls,” and you’ll love how they work to make the space between their walls a home away from home.

Backpackers and group travelers will enjoy this boutique hostel; not only is it strategically located in the heart of the city (and close to most tourist spots) but it also has a nearby bus stop so you can save on transportation expenses. You can also walk to the port if in case you want to ride a ferry and go to other locations and dreamy islands near Crete.

They have dormitories with shared bathrooms available for as low as $13 USD for a night with bunk beds with privacy curtains. You can choose from a mixed or all-female dorm room.

There’s also a shared kitchen equipped with a stove, oven, refrigerator, and utensils. You can cook quick meals here since there is a nearby mini market outside! The service desk is not open 24 hours, but if you inform them of your late arrival then they can arrange someone to meet you at the said time.

>>Check guest reviews, prices, availability, and more photos here.<<

Mid-Range: Infinity City Boutique Hotel 

Infinity City Boutique Hotel is a very modern hotel that features contemporary style and comfort. The hotel is a bit narrow due to the building’s structure, but it has spacious and soundproof rooms. It has 6 floors and a total of 21 rooms that have their own balcony with a view of the amazing blue sea plus a private bathroom with complete amenities.

Each room has flat wooden ceilings and tiled floors to match the contemporary and modern style of the hotel. Guests love how the hotel design balances style and comfort, with a mini-fridge and other in-room amenities. The private bathrooms are a bit small, but comfortable, with toiletries included.

You can try their free continental breakfast and have some of their coffee, juice and some tasty croissants. Of course, for many people, mornings aren’t complete without eggs, which they make to order!

>>Check guest reviews, prices, availability, and more photos here.<<

Luxury: Stella Palace Resort and Spa 

The pool view of this resort hotel is marvelous – actually, everything about the hotel is! It has its own water park, bars, spa, and so many more world-class features to offer its guests. They have rooms, suites, and maisonettes where you can even have your own private pool or hot tub.

They have 4 restaurants on-site which means you have many options of what to eat (though every restaurant in Heraklion is delicious as well). Elia serves Greek dishes, Enso offers yummy authentic Asian dishes, La Veranda treats you to an Italian dinner or lunch plus a good selection of wines and lastly, Poseidon, which offers a huge selection in their buffet. A night of fun won’t be complete without checking their different bars where each offers a different ambiance and a different selection of drinks and snacks.

Fitness freaks will love their gym because it has everything you could ever look for when it comes to getting your daily exercise. You might not find some of the treatments they offer at their spa elsewhere, because most of the ingredients they use are locally sourced in Crete. Highly-skilled therapists and massage practitioners will bring you the ultimate relaxation experience here!

>>Check guest reviews, prices, availability, and more photos here.<<

What to Pack for a Crete Beach Vacation

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Crete, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more, check out our Essential Crete Packing List.

– A Physical 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 own and recommend the Lonely Planet Greece book as a starter, but you may also want to pick up the Lonely Planet Crete which covers the island more in-depth. 

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in big cities on Crete is drinkable, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Crete bus rides can cause motion sickness! If you have a weak stomach like we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans on trains and buses tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Crete is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Allison or I use these.

Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read more: Essential Crete Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Crete

More Crete Travel Resources

Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Stephanie Selfie

Headed to Crete? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

If you’re still trying to work out where to go on the island, check out our guide to the best places to visit in Crete and our favorite Crete beaches.

If you’ll also be spending a few days in Chania, here is our guide to visiting Seitan Limania from Chania (which is our favorite beach in Crete) and Chania’s best Instagram spots. 

If you will be spending time in Heraklion, check out our guides to the best Instagram spots in Heraklion and the city’s best restaurants and cafes. 

If you’re interested in taking a day trip to Rethymnon, check out our Instagram guide to Rethymnon next, and perhaps our guide to things to do in Rethymnon and the best Rethymnon hotels.

If this will be one of your first trips to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Crete, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world! We 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 Greece is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

Planning a trip to Sofia? Check out our best free trip planning resources