Croatia - Attractions
Zagreb has been the capital of Croatia since 1557, and a lot of the medieval city is still around today. Although Zagreb was hit by rockets in 1995, the damage was not severe and recovery has been rapid: you'll still see affluent looking folks shopping and sipping their way around town in expensive threads.
The twin neo-Gothic spires of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (formerly St Stephen's Cathedral) were built in 1899, but you can still see elements of the medieval cathedral that was once on this site. Particularly interesting are the 13th century frescos, Renaissance pews, marble altars and a baroque pulpit. North-west of the city centre, climb the Lotrscak Tower for a sweeping 360° view of the city, or visit the Galerija Klovicevi Dvori, which hosts superb art shows. Also in the area is St Mark's Church, with its colourful painted-tile roof and sculptures by Ivan Mestrovic, and the Natural History Museum, Historical Museum of Croatia and the City Museum, housed in a former convent.
In the Lower Town you can wear down your shoes and your attention span at a whole host of museums, although many remain closed, some for 'reinterpretation'. The Art Pavilion hosts temporary contemporary art exhibitions, the Strossmayer Gallery features paintings by the old masters and an ancient inscription in Croatian. The Archaeological Museum, like its contemporaries around the world, has exhibitions of prehistoric and medieval artefacts and Egyptian mummies. Out the back there's a Roman sculpture garden.
Before you get a gutful of museums, head to the west of the city where you'll find the Museum Mimara. This is one of the finest art galleries in Europe. Housed in a neo-Renaissance building, the gallery is the private collection of Ante Topic Mimara, who donated thousands of priceless objects to his home town. The Spanish, Italian and Dutch paintings are the highlight, but there are also displays of glassware, sculpture and Oriental art. The other real highlight of Zagreb is Mirogoj, one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe - it's in the north of the city. There are some gorgeous mausoleums here, and the English-style landscaping is enclosed by a long 19th century neo-Renaissance arcade.
Founded 1300 years ago, Dubrovnik's appeal lies in the old town of Stari Grad, with its marble-paved squares, steep cobbled streets, tall houses, convents, churches, palaces, fountains and museums, all cut from the same light-coloured stone. The intact city walls keep motorists at bay, and the town has an agreeable climate and lush vegetation, due to its location at the southern end of the country's Adriatic coast. Although Dubrovnik was heavily shelled in 1991, it has been largely restored - recent travellers have even reported that Dubrovnik looks better than it did before the war, particularly as the tourist hordes have not yet returned.
The Stradun, Dubrovnik's wonderful pedestrian promenade, runs from the city bus stop outside Pile Gate to the clock tower at the other end of town. Just inside the Pile Gate, the Franciscan Monastery houses a pharmacy which has been operating since 1391. At the other end of the Stradun stands St Blaise's Church, a lovely Italian baroque building, and the Gothic Rector's Palace, built in 1441. The palace is now a museum with furnished rooms, baroque paintings and historical exhibits. Opposite is a bustling morning market.
Dubrovnik's city walls were built between the 13th and 16th centuries, and are still intact today. Arguably the finest city walls in the world, they are over 2km (1.2mi) long and 25m (82ft) high, with 16 towers. You can't beat the view from here, and a walk along the walls will probably be the highlight of your visit to Dubrovnik.
If you feel like a spell in the sun, you could stretch out on Dubrovnik's city beaches, but a better bet is to take the 10 minute ferry ride to Lokrum Island. This island is a luxuriantly wooded nature reserve with a rocky nudist beach, a botanical garden and the remains of a Habsburg fortress.
The easiest way to find a place to stay in Dubrovnik is to accept an offer of a private room from one of the women waiting at the ferry terminal - a hotel will cost you a lot more.
You can get to Dubrovnik by air from Zagreb, by bus from all over the place, or by ferry from Hvar, Split, Zadar and Rijeka. Ferries are a more expensive but far more comfortable option than catching a bus. Buses must pass through border checkposts at Neum, where Bosnia-Hercegovina reaches the Adriatic coast, truncating Croatia's southern Adriatic coast from the rest of the country.
Relaxed Rovinj is a picturesque town of cobbled streets on the coast of Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula in Croatia's northwest which borders Slovenia. Wooded hills punctuated by low-rise hotels surround the town, while the 13 green islands of the Rovinj archipelago provide perfect sea vistas. Rovinj is an active fishing port, and is within easy sailing distance of the historic Italian port city of Trieste, which may explain Rovinj's large Italian community.
The largest baroque building in Istria, the 57m (187ft) high Cathedral of St Euphemia, dominates the town. It was built when Rovinj was the bulwark of the Venetian fleet. St Euphemia's remains were brought here from Constantinople in 800 AD, 500 years after she was martyred, and on 16 September every year devotees congregate at her tomb.
Rovinj Aquarium is more than a century old and has an excellent collection of local marine life, including poisonous scorpion fish and colourful anemones. The Punta Corrente Forest Park, south of the town, is a lovely spot for a swim and a meditative gaze out to sea. You can get to Rovinj by bus from most Croatian towns and by ferry in summer from Trieste in Italy.
Split is the heart of the province of Dalmatia. It's located 150km (95mi) north of Dubrovnik, and is the largest Croatian city on the Adriatic coast. Split really made its mark on the map in the 4th century, when Roman Emperor Diocletian (famous for throwing Jesus fans to the lions) had his retirement palace built here. When the nearby Roman colony of Salona (present-day Solin) was abandoned to the barbarian hordes in the 7th century, many of its inhabitants fled to Split, where they holed up behind the high palace walls. Split has become an industrial city, but the old town, the air of exuberance and the truckload of things to see make this one of the most fascinating cities in Europe.
Diocletian's Palace is one of the most imposing Roman ruins in the world. More a fortress than a palace, its walls were originally 215m (705ft) by 180m (590ft) and contained the imperial residence, temples and a mausoleum. You can still see the vestibule of the original palace, the fortress' colonnaded square, the Temple of Jupiter and the remains of Diocletian's mausoleum, now a cathedral. Just outside the palace are some medieval-era buildings, including the 15th century town hall. You could spend hours wandering around this part of town, where everyday life bustles along in an open-air museum setting.
The most interesting museum in Split is the Maritime Museum, which lives in a 17th century fortress. It has a large collection of maps, photos, artefacts and scale models. The Archaeological Museum, which has part of its collection in gardens outside the museum, is also worth a visit. The Mestrovic Gallery has a comprehensive, well-arranged collection of works by Croatia's premier modern sculptor.
It's quite difficult to get a room in Split - many of its hotels are still housing refugees, and the private room business, which took a dive during the war, is still finding its feet. You can get to Split by air or train from Zagreb, by bus from the rest of the country and by ferry from a whole bunch of mainland and island ports, including Dubrovnik, Hvar and Korcula.