Mt Hotham Weekend Guide – Lift Pass, Accommodation + Things to Do

Mt Hotham Weekend Guide – Lift Pass, Accommodation + Things to Do

Mt Hotham is a fantastic winter weekend getaway from Melbourne. I mean, if it’s freezing anyway, why not go up to actual snow and make the most of cold temperatures in the beautiful mountains?! That was my outlook, anyway, and I was glad that I planned an August trip up to the ‘Victorian Alps.”

Snow is most definitely not what comes to mind when you think of Australia, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the most mountainous part of the country. It’s incredibly gorgeous, and is inundated with quaint little alpine villages full of ski bums and mountain dwellers.

Mt Hotham Resort itself is a village set atop a mountain with incredible vistas and ski in ski out access to ski fields. The park has a dozen chair lifts that provide access to over 100 different runs of varying difficulties. There are lots of beautiful spots and viewpoints surrounding the main village, as well as some more smaller villages with restaurants/cafes galore, spas, hotels, and adventure areas. Of course most would come here for the snow, but there are actually loads of other amazing things to do in Mt Hotham than solely skiing!

A Guide to spending a weekend exploring one of Victoria's best alpine resorts - Mount Hotham! Mt Hotham is home to a fantastic terrain park and plenty more activities to go around, great food and drink, and even more adventures. #hotham #skiseason #mthotham

The Alpine Nature Experience in Mt Hotham, Victoria, Australia includes a showshoe walk, mulled wine around the fire, a three course traditional fondue meal, a night in an igloo under the stars, and a skidoo ride in the morning! It's a very unique experience to top off a weekend in Mt Hotham - one of Victoria's premiere ski resorts. Just 4 hours from Melbourne!

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What to Know Before Visiting Mt Hotham

When to Visit Mt Hotham

The Aussie mountains have a very short snow season – just over three months per year, maybe four depending on the season. This leaves a very slim amount of time that you can catch good snow. The best months are usually July and August, with occasional storms dumping fresh powder starting in June and into September. So if you want to catch snow, these are the times to go.

Although this Mt Hotham guide is mostly focused on winter, the region is just as spectacular in the summer! Visit in the summer months for mountain biking, trail running, hiking, and amazing views.

Hotham Weather

In winter, Mt Hotham will generally be about between the 5 and -5 degrees Celsius mark. Days can get up to 2-5, and nights can descend down to the negatives – only occasionally colder than -5. So prepare for (literally) freezing temperatures up in the snow, naturally!

The weather each day is quite unpredictable. There can be days of  snow and storms, extremely thick fog that descends over the mountaintop like a heavy blanket in the afternoon, and, usually come late August/September, some beautiful clear days where the snow glistens in the sun. The best thing I can say is to be prepared for whatever your weekend trip may bring – bring layers of clothing, goggles, AND sunglasses!

Mt Hotham Alpine resort snowy mountains victoria australia

 

Mt Hotham Accommodation

There are lots of options for accommodation in Mt Hotham  – from hotels to lodges to apartments to shared chalets.

However, it is VERY important to note that, because these properties only have a couple months a year to make all their money, it will be staggeringly expensive. This will be true most definitely if you plan to visit on a weekend.

This is the one unfortunate thing about a Mt Hotham weekend trip – it most definitely will not be cheap. Rooms fill up exceedingly quickly, and whichever are left over will be at least $700- $1200+ for one night. There are a few share-room options with bunk beds for groups, but if you want your own single room, it’s going to cost you due to limited supply and high demand.

I will list below a few main places to stay in Mt Hotham, followed by a  few other amazing options you will want to consider also:

Cloud 9 – More affordable/located in Dinner Plain – Check Rates

Zirky’s – Can go straight to the slopes from the door – Check Rates

Arlberg – centrally located and largest on the mountain – Check Rates

Alpine Nature Experience – See below!

Other options – If you find it hard to afford the options on the mountain, you can always stay in one of the towns at the foot of the mountain! Many people choose to stay in Bright, which ends up being about an hour’s drive down the Great Alpine Road from Hotham. Accommodation there will be much more reasonable, and the town is lively and beautiful as well.

snowboarding at mt hotham australia

 

Things to Do in Mt Hotham

Whether skiing or not, there’s still plenty to do!

Hotham Lift Pass + Terrain Park

To get the most obvious thing out of the way first, I assume you’ll be coming to Mount Hotham to do some form of skiing or snowboarding. Whether you’re spending half a day or three days straight on the slopes, I suggest getting a Hotham lift pass if you’re coming up here. It’s a must to experience the variety of slopes in the resort.

Get your Hotham Life Passes here – The more days you ride and the earlier you book, the better the deal! They also have discounts fo booking online and skiing mid-week.

On a good day there would be enough runs to last you most of the day in Mt Hotham. There are over 100 different runs, ranging from bunny slopes to double black diamonds. In seasons with less snow, keep in mind that some of these will be closed.

It’s a bit tough to gauge weather in a place where planning far in advance is essential,  but know that they will make snow for the main runs in high season no matter what the conditions. They have a three-lift snow guarantee.

If you have the freedom to be able to drive up after a big storm, you will be in the best place. In my situation, we planned an early weekend in August a month or so ahead of time, and there wasn’t much snow. The snow was sparse to the point of having quite a few runs closed (not that we didn’t have a great time, but we couldn’t experience absolutely everything as I like to do).

Then, about 4 days later, a MASSIVE snowstorm came through and within a week they had gotten TWO METERS of fresh powder. Talk about gutted! We still had a fab time, but it’s just unpredictable.

my hotham clouds sunset
Renting Gear in Mt Hotham

There are TONS of places for Mt Hotham Gear Rental. In  each little alpine town you will find a few ski shops, but I rented mine right from ‘Hotham Sports” ski shop at Hotham central. This is most definitely the most painless way to do it, as you can grab your gear, strap it on, and jump right onto the slopes within minutes!

Visit this link here to reserve your ski gear for Hotham at one of many approved gear rental outlets all over the mountain.

Car Chain Rental

Don’t forget to note that, in high season, it will be required to at least carry if not fit chains onto your car. The best place to do this if coming from Melbourne is Ray’s ski shop in Myrtleford; you can also rent skis here if it’s easier to get it all from one place.

alpine nature experience mt hotham bar

milky way and stars at alpine nature experience mt hotham

Alpine Nature Experience

And finally, the reason I came to Mt Hotham in the first place: the incredible Alpine Nature Experience! I somehow stumbled upon what turned out to be one of my most unique travel experiences, which was taking part in their ‘snowshoe to fondue’ and then ‘igloo to skidoo’ experiences. It all takes place at a small eco-village outside the main mountain village.

My intention to visit Mt Hotham was sealed upon learning about this. The Alpine Nature Experience starts with a 450ish meter snowshoe walk through the trees, learning bits of history about the area. After a little while you reach a tiny mountain eco village that was fully brought in and out by hand. Upon arrival, you are greeted with a steaming glass of homemade mulled wine, and invited to sit around a nice warm fire.

Arrival in the Eco-Village

At this point the bar opens (fully stocked with mulled wine, local craft beer, schnapps, different spirits, and more wine) and you are free to chat over the warm fire as the kitchen prepares for a delicious dinner.

showshoe to fondue experience mt hotham

mulled wine alpine nature experience

Snowshoe to Fondue

After a few warm drinks, you are invited into the massive teepee that is set to host dinner. And this is not just any dinner – it’s a three-course meal featuring a classic French fondue. The amazing owner, JF (Jean Francois), is a frenchman himself who relocated from the actual French alps to show visitors his newfound love in the Victorian alps.

After some delicious soup, JF teaches you all about the (proper) making of fondue. After the group pitches in to help make the fondue, it’s time for the moment we’ve all been waiting for – dipping that first piece of bread into the warm, dripping, melted cheese! An authentic fondue dinner ensues, as you drink wine by the warmth of the fireplace and share a piece of cake at the end as well.

Igloo to Skidoo

The second part of the experience is for those who dare to spend the night out in the snow – in an igloo! In the ‘igloo to skidoo’ experience, an igloo generally means one of their nice, massive, warmed tents with a clear top to view the stars.

HOWEVER, in our case, this meant, well… actual igloo. 

No, I am not kidding. They have TWO legitimate IGLOOS at the Alpine Nature Experience – full eskimo style. You must duck through a small door to enter a completely  snow-covered room – 5 or so feet  high – with a luxurious bed and side tables.

When we learned that it was possible to sleep in an actual igloo, we didn’t have to think twice. When given the opportunity to sleep in one of the most unique places you’ve ever slept, and in the only place in Australia to do so…. you most definitely don’t say no!

Night in the Igloo

After filling up to the brim with fondue, trying a classic French spirit called Genepi, and chatting away in the nice warm tipi, it was bed time. On the way to the igloo we just HAD to stop and have a little long-exposure photoshoot with some of the brightest stars I’ve ever seen.

sleeping in an igloo in australia at the mt hotham alpine nature experience

 

sleeping in an igloo in australia alpine nature experience

 

Climbing into the igloo felt like something out of a movie. It most definitely wasn’t something I thought I would be doing in my lifetime! The bed was covered with warm sleeping bags, blankets, and furs, and on the side tables were water bottles, a little light, and mats for our things. It was cozy, but it was all we needed!

The igloo had plenty of space to sit and change as we finished the last of our (many) mulled wines. Although cold at first, it warmed up quickly once we were inside, and this warmth was easily sustained by the few tonnes of insulating snow above our heads and around us! The bed was even more soft and warm, too. Before drifting off to sleep, I reached out in front of me and touched the snow roof above my head – just to make sure again that it  was real!

In the morning

Apparently these igloos tend to be completely sound-proof, because we didn’t even remotely hear the sound of the morning bell to signal breakfast time. We wandered over after 8am to find everyone up and about in the tipi, eating delicious breakfast sandwiches and drinking hot coffee from camping mugs.

We exchanged experiences from the igloo and the snow domes over a few brekky options, and had a last little wander around the beautiful grounds. There is a perfect view of the terrain park and surrounding mountains from different points in the area.

Skidoo ride

It’s not an igloo to skidoo experience without a skidoo ride! Like clockwork, our skidoo zoomed up to the camp as we were bringing our bags out of the igloo. We climbed into the back seats, and our driver took us on a looped route around the grounds. He showed us different viewpoints and told us a bit of history of the area on the way out. It was the perfect end to one of the most unique adventures I’ve done!

mt hotham dinner plain onsen spa experience

Dinner Plain

Dinner Plain is a quaint little alpine village 13 kilometers down the Great Alpine Road from Hotham Village. This is a fabulous place to look for more (potentially cheaper) accommodation options, and also a great place to visit for restaurants, a local brewery, and an Onsen spa.

Onsen Experience

The Onsen Spa in Dinner Plain is a classic option for those with sore muscles after a few days on the slopes – or those who simply want a bit of relaxation! With entry you can access a lap pool, a hot rock pool, a few different spas, a sauna, and showers.

If you want to up the ante a bit on your relaxation, you can book massages and other spa treatments, too. Again, it won’t be cheap, but there’s nothing quite like gazing out at fresh powdered snow from the warmth of a cozy spa.

SnowStuffPark Rides + Activities

If you want to see a bit more of the mountain than you can generally access, take a skidoo ride with SnowStuffPark. These guys will take you roaming out and about all over the mountains, down snow paths you didn’t know existed, to find different viewpoints and canyons inaccessible by foot or car.

They run skidoo rides for  sunset (which would be my choice, obviously) to get the best views, and also different sled tours through the back country. To have even more fun, try their tobogganing, snow scooter, or snow trampoline activities!

mt hotham furphy rail jam event

Mt Hotham Events + Competitions

No matter when you are arriving, make sure to check out whats on in Hotham for your dates. They are well known for having different kinds of events each weekend, including many ski/board competitions, races, and festivals – even in the summer!

When I was there they had the Furphy Rail Jam event, with skiers and boarders competing for the coolest rail trick right in from of the central bar. Jugs of Furphy were on special, of course!

Where to Eat+Drink in Mt Hotham

Swindler’s – Hotham Central

I wasn’t expecting much from the main bar/restaurant in Hotham Central. I expected it to be crazily expensive like everything else, but I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived and noticed $5 plates of wings, $8 poutine, and $7-8 happy hour drinks (including mulled wine of course).

Swindler’s really was a fabulous place to stop in for lunch for a beer and a cheap snack before heading out on the slopes again, and they also had more hearty  options for pizza and more. Don’t avoid the main resort area for food – it was actually not bad!

Frankie’s – By the Big D

Down on the other end of the terrain park you have Frankie’s, which is a small eatery near ‘the Big D’ bunny slope lift. Frankie’s has all you need – from breakfast sandwiches to snacks to mulled wine to their famous shakes.

Their shakes are famous because they are fully stacked ‘freak shakes’ – all different colors and piled high with cookies, lollies, and more. Definitely rich, but nothing less than an instagrammer’s paradise.

mt hotham dinner plain mountain kitchen home baked goods

mt hotham blizzard brewery beer tasting paddles

Mountain Kitchen –  Dinner Plain

When you make it over to Dinner Plain, make sure to check out Mountain Kitchen for some delicious coffee and homemade treats. They make EVERYTHING right there in their little, well, Mountain Kitchen. 😛

Try delicious coffees from massive colorful mugs, fresh baked muffins, and some savoury treats like and egg and bacon pie with their house made chutney. It’s a must!

Blizzard Brewing – Dinner Plain

It would also be silly not to stop by the local micro-brewery while in town to try all kinds of beer made right on site. Run by a friendly American man who  made the perfect getaway to the mountains, this quaint little brewery looks more like a big house with a bar area in the front, food truck in the middle, and actual brewery right there in the back.

Blizzard should have at least 10-12 different beers on tap, from IPA to lager to stout to sour to everything in between. I suggest heading in to try a beer paddle – a flight of four beers in one – to make the most of it! Make sure to grab some cans to take back with you… trust me, you’ll be happy you did!


Well, I think that’s all I can possibly say about a weekend getaway to Mt Hotham from Melbourne! Please pin this to your Pinterest to share the awesome experience of Australian snow, beautiful views, and sleeping in an actual igloo!

Disclosure: Thank you to the Alpine Nature Experience and Mt Hotham Ski Company for hosting me on many of my experiences this weekend. I can’t wait to come back!

can you hit the slopes in australia?! YES! There are many ski resorts in the great dividing range between Victoria and New South Wales where you can ski and snowboard. Here's a weekend guide to visiting Mt Hotham, one of the premiere alpine resorts in Australia.

 

 

September 10, 2019 0

Things to do in Ballarat: A Ballarat Travel Guide

Things to do in Ballarat: A Ballarat Travel Guide

During an exciting winter weekend trip this year, Ballarat really did prove to be a worthwhile travel destination in Victoria. There are so many things to do in Ballarat, and it’s only just over an hour’s journey from Melbourne. This Ballarat travel guide will outline some amazing places I got to experience, with even more possibility in the surrounding areas as well.

When I heard about the Ballarat Winter Festival, I knew that I had to plan a weekend trip from Melbourne. I may have hung up my clothes from attending tons of amazing Aussie music festivals over the summer, but the colder winter months meant planning some more cozy getaways – learning some history, exploring more nature, and discovering gems in regional Victoria.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when planning my visit to Ballarat. I usually tend to be more of a beaches + nature person (but let’s be honest, I’ll explore just about anything). But when I learned about all the rich history out here and fun things to do in Ballarat in any season, I knew I had to check it out.

Visit Ballarat was able to help me with the absolute perfect weekend itinerary. It included LOTS of delicious and trendy eateries (more than I knew existed out here!), some awesome wintertime activities as part of the Ballarat Winter Festival, wildlife, gorgeous views, and more. As soon as we checked into our luxurious apartment looking out over Lake Wendouree, I knew I was going to be sold on this city… and with our first delicious meal, it was sealed!

A Complete Ballarat Travel Guide to Victoria's largest inland city! Complete with all the things to do in Ballarat (including in winter) - including where to eat and drink, where to stay, where to walk, museums to visit, viewpoints to appreciate, and all sorts of historical places, too!

Things to do in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia - a complete Ballarat travel guide! Everything from nature to food/drink to history to viewpoints to accommodation to wildlife to special events. This guide has you covered!

Hey! This guide to all the best things to do in Ballarat is pretty long. Why not pin it to your Pinterest boards to save for later?

Things to Do in Ballarat

First of all, let’s get to all the adventurous, historic, and magical things to do in Ballarat. I may have visited in winter, but if I learned anything from their extremely involved tourism board, it’s that they won’t leave a single season without something exciting going on. I’ll start with general things to do, then tell you all about how amazing it is especially in winter.

Sovereign Hill

Sovereign Hill is perhaps the most notable of the things to do in Ballarat – it’s a must-do for all ages! This replica gold rush town has actually been constructed from real drawings/paintings of artists who lived in Ballrat during the gold rush that began in the 1850’s. They have done a fantastic job recreating it!

Sovereign Hill has some great accommodation options that look over the old town, and the buildings have recreated the same ones that would have been there in the 1800’s. There are eateries, post offices, gift shops, craft markets, plumbers, general stores, and more! You can even  explore an old mine!  If that’s not looking back into history, I don’t know what is. Walking around Sovereign Hill really makes it feel like you’ve stepped back in time, whether you’re a small child or a full-on adult (adults can have fun, too!).

sovereign hill things to do in ballarat sunset christmas in july

Ballarat Gold Mine Tour

Once inside Sovereign Hill, you can also tour a real Ballarat Gold Mine. Venture underneath the ground to explore the passageways of an old gold mine, similarly reimagined to look as it would have while it was in use. You can take a self-guided tour or also a few different tours that trace the experiences of real people in the mines long ago.

The Red Hill mine at Sovereign Hill may be open to visitors, but believe it or not, there’s actually a REAL mine not too far away. The Ballarat Gold Mine can be found a few kilometers away, within a protected industrial area. There are actually over 5km of underground mine tunnels underneath the city, but you’ll have to be very special to find your way in there. I would just stick with the Ballarat gold mine tour at Sovereign Hill if I were you!

ballarat sovereign hill gold museum

View from outside the Gold Museum

Gold Museum

Before you visit Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, you’ll definitely want to check out the Gold Museum. I say ‘before’ because the Gold Museum gives you a lot of the background facts and information that will help you understand different parts of the replica town.

The Gold Museum is actually situated atop a hilltop point that was actually once one of the most prolific areas to mine gold in the area (and there’s not a bad view, either!). Inside you’ll learn all about different sizes of gold nuggets found in the area, what gold was/is used for, history about the gold rush and massive immigration to the area, and even see the pictures that Sovereign Hill was created from.

Coming from someone who is sometimes iffy about museums, this one was really fascinating. You really get to learn all about the event that made Melbourne/Victoria boom to an international and multicultural city, and there are tons of fun facts!

feeding kangaroo or wallaby ballarat wildlife park winter

Feeding a mumma with a baby in her pouch!

koala cuddle ballarat wildlife park things to do in ballarat australia

A KOALA CUDDLE!! If that’s not the cutest thing in the world, I don’t know what is.

Ballarat Wildlife Park

Next, the Ballarat Wildlife Park is another of the must-do things to do in Ballarat. This park isn’t the same as your other, run-of-the-mill wildlife parks where you can gaze at kangaroos behind a fence. I mean, some of the animals are behind fences (and reasonably, too… no thanks, crocodile), but here dozens of kangaroos, wallabies, and emus run completely free.

You can wander through lots of different types of animals – reptiles, mammals, and even some birds (including penguins of course!) – but the real allure of this park is getting to pat and feed animals in the field.

For a small fee you can bring kangaroo feed with you, and let kangaroo mums and baby joeys eat straight from your hand! The animals are very tame here and enjoy being fed and patted, which, to someone like me from a different country, was VERY exciting! I made loads of new marsupial friends and even imitated a few emu before they ran away from me trying to peck a hole in the fence. Oh well.

This was a highlight of my day for sure, and getting to see animals so different than what I am used to will never get old during my time in Australia!

ballarat lake wendouree rowing club

One of many rowing clubs along Lake Wendouree

Lake Wendouree

Lake Wendouree is a fairly large lake just outside the Ballarat CBD. This lake is amazing for going on walks/runs (it’s about 6k round trip) and also plays host to the city’s many rowing clubs.

On any morning lots of rowing boats cut their way across the water, dozens of people run and walk the perimeter, and even more look on from waterside restaurants. The lake is bordered with leafy green trees and plenty of places to relax in the sun. This Lake provides a lovely little escape from an otherwise landlocked town, and is a mustt to at least check out when deciding on the best things to do in Ballarat.

Ballarat Botanical Gardens

On the opposite side of Lake Wendouree from the city, you’ll find the beautiful Ballarat Botanic Gardens. These gardens hold tons of different kinds of events, and are one of Australia’s most amazing cool climate gardens.

Wander through all the gorgeous trees, flowers, marble statues, and even greenhouses on a nice sunny day. Why not add it into your adventure around Lake Wendouree?

ballarat CBD

 

Ballarat CBD

Well you can’t leave our the city center when naming things to do in Ballarat now, can you? Of course, Ballarat’s city center deserves an exploration of its own. There are quite a few historic buildings you can tour, namely the Town Hall (1860’s), the Regent Threatre (1930’s) and more along  the main street, Sturt.

Sturt is a massive central street, separated by a leafy green area of grass and trees. It’s lined with mostly historic buildings, but sprinkled with a bit of more modern ones as well. This area is also home to tons of the city’s best eateries, museums, bars, and more.

Art Gallery of Ballarat

The Art Gallery of Ballarat is just off Sturt Street. It is best known for hosting regional art, and better yet, being the biggest and oldest art museum in Australia to do so! How’s that for a claim to fame?

You can find exhibitions from throughout the history of Australian art within this heritage-listed museum, from contemporary, to photography, to sculpture, to Victorian. Want to know the best part? It’s free!

Eureka Center

The Eureka Center is another historic center located on the site of one of Australia’s most defining rebellions – the Eureka stockade.  I don’t want to bore you so I’ll keep this short – but they say the Eureka Stockade was the foundation of moderns Australian democracy.

Why? Because gold miners started a rebellion in 1854 to fight to be given rights to vote, own land, and pay less crippling mining fees. They flew a special flag rather than the Victorian flag, which they named called the Eureka Flag. Although this rebellion was a huge failure (the military flattened it – killed more than 20 people in the first 30 mins), they were given the rights they wanted in the end when the news of a big rebellion got back to the UK.

Kept that nice and short and sweet now, didn’t I?! That’s quite impressive for a tour guide, if you ask me! Anyway – this center is on the site of that rebellion. It has tons of info about it and the area, and houses the original Eureka Flag, which you will see absolutely everywhere in Ballarat. No, like EVERYWHERE. Honestly, keep your eyes out – you’ll see what I mean.

mt buninyong view - things to do in Ballarat

Can you see the rainstorm approaching in the distance?!

Mount Buninyong

Mount Buninyong is another towering mountain (okay, let’s me honest – it’s more of a medium-sized hill) that is visible from around Ballarat. If you take the winding road up to the top, you’ll find a massive tower with stairs all the way to a platform up at the top. It’s the perfect amount taller than the hilltop trees, giving you panoramic views around the gorgeous countryside.

You can nearly see to the city, but what will be most impressive here is the view of surrounding farmland- green fields, paddocks, and bushland. Just don’t get caught in a rainstorm like we did! Either way, I love a good viewpoint, so this adventure was a highlight of all the things to do in Ballarat.

kryal castle things to do in ballarat

 

Kryal Castle

Ohhh, Kryal Castle. Although fairly dated, it will always be a staple of Ballarat. Located at the base of the big hill you can see from the city center (aka, like a 10 minute drive), Kryal Castle is a replicated medieval castle. Like, and actual castle, with big grey stone walls, towers, a moat, and all.

It’s complete with knights, dragons, rides, archery, pony rides, jester performances, and even medieval jousting shows! A highlight is watching horses gallop against each other through the sandy arena, surrounded by cheering fans. Of course this place is best suited for children, but it you can let that inner child free everyone will have fun.

woowookarung regional park Ballarat

Enjoying my Winter Wonderlights ginerbread man lollipop during my bush walk in the Woowookarung regional park!

Woowookarung Regional Park Viewpoint

This little park is a bit hard to come by, but once you get to the right part, the view is amazing! Woowookarung Regional park is on an elevated bit of bush just outside the city. The best scenic lookout (visible here on Google Maps for clarity) has a fantastic view of the city and also some great bushwalking trails.

You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a few picnic tables just off the road, and can pick out some buildings from the city in the distance!

ballarat winter festival sovereign hill snow

Things to Do in Ballarat in Winter – Ballarat Winter Festival

Okay, so here we go with the specific things to do in Ballarat in Winter. They throw an absolutely MAGICAL ‘Christmas in July,’ which to my delight is actually a huge thing down here in Australia.

Clearly, the coldest month of July warrants the celebration of a more ‘stereotypical’ Christmas (northern hemisphere-style) full of snow, mulled wine, and Christmas sweaters. I mean, it makes sense when a classic Aussie Christmas includes barbecuing, cricket, and beach time in the sun!

Winter Wonderlights Festival at Sovereign Hill

So, I’ve already told you about how incredible Sovereign Hill is as a replica Gold Rush Town. Now, picture this: make the temperature nice and cold, and add in heaps of traditionally dressed villagers, bands, and processions. Picture amazing color-changing bright lights and scenes projected onto each and every building to music, and add in TONS of fake snow (it was really bubbles, but shhh). Picture EVERYTHING lit up, with workshops like arts and crafts and gold panning going on throughout the tiny town overlooking the city.

Sound magical? Yep, thats because IT WAS. I felt more Christmas spirit here than I have in quite a few years of warm Christmases…. and IT WAS JULY.

snowglobe kimmie conner ballrat winter wonderlights

sovereign hill winter wonderlights festival things to do in ballarat redcoat band

 

ice skating things to do in ballarat winter festival

I’m great at ice skating, I swear! 😛 

 

Ice Skating

Christmastime isn’t complete without ice skating, is it? I most certainly don’t think so, and if you agree with me you can visit the ice skating rink as part of the Ballarat Winter Festival. It’s conveniently located smack-dab in the city center, between the mall and the Town Hall.

It’s perfectly mixed in with a delicious brekky in the city and a few other CBD activities. There are even little penguin sleds for the little ones who may not be the most adept at ice skating quite yet 😉

Design Exchange Winter Market

The Design Exchange is yet another special event on at the Ballarat Winter Festival. This market is held in yet another open historic building, and will showcase the best of the artisan crafts that Ballarat is so well-known for. You can find artists of all kinds showcasing their handmade items and innovative design. In true Ballarat fashion, you can also expect certain showcases and workshops lead by the artists themselves.

Getting Around Ballarat

Getting around Ballarat is fairly easy, whether you have your own car or not. There are actually plenty of ubers around town if you’d like a quick car hire, or driving your own car around is fairly simple with plenty of parking around. If not, the city center is quite quaint and small and very possible to walk around on foot, too!

Where to Drink/Eat in Ballarat

Oh, there are SO many amazing, trendy, delicious places to eat in Ballarat – I was blown away! I didn’t think of this city as a foodie’s paradise before, but I surely do now. I wouldn’t even be able to decide on our favorite meal of the weekend, so I’ll leave you to see what you think from the mouth-watering photos from the five incredible eateries that we went to below.

oysters and cocktails moon and mountain

moon and mountain where to eat in ballarat DIY pork belly spring rolls

Moon & Mountain

We tried Moon & Mountain as soon as we arrived in Ballarat after driving from Melbourne, and oh what a warm welcome it was! This quaint little restaurant would best be labeled as ‘asian fusion,’ with asian-inspired dishes with a well-presented and Aussie twist.

I was first blown away by a few asian-inspired cocktails on the list, and we were quickly drawn to the ‘full moon’ tasting platter menu for two. This included seven or so different small courses from various facets of the menu, including chilli oysters, DIY pork belly spring rolls, salmon sashimi, chicken curry, and more. I mean… how could we not?!

webster's market and cafe breakfast ballarat

webster's market and cafe ballarat where to eat

Webster’s Market & Cafe

On the first morning of our weekend trip to Ballarat, we were welcomed warmly by Webster’s Market & Cafe down a quaint residential street near Lake Wendouree. Our lives were immediately completed by a breakfast tasting board (chia parfait, smashed avo + smoked salmon and eggs, home made jam on toast) and a chorizo egg + toast dish.

I reckon all good couples should order two dishes and split them both, so that’s exactly what we did (and always do)! It’s the way to try more things, if you ask me. We downed our delicious coffee and these scrumptios breakfast dishes by a green and leafy plant wall inside the warm restaurant. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day (or, should I say brunch because I rarely wake up in time…), and this was a great wake-up.

forge pizzeria charcuterie board - where to eat in ballarat

Can I finish all of this?! 

Forge Pizzeria

Although we were basically still full from brekky, when lunch time rolled around we knew we had to make room to try a new place because we only had so much time to do  eat all the things to do  eat in Ballarat. It was quickly becoming obvious that we would hardly scratch the surface! But we were going to have a damn good try.

At lunchtime we popped into the Forge Pizzeria – a large, brick, warehouse-style pizzeria right on the main cross street. It had a cozy and rustic vibe to match an old newspaper-style menu with just as much fun stories and info as there were items on the menu.

We started with a – you guessed it – tasting platter of a charcuterie board. Can you sense a common theme here?! 😛 Our jaws hit the floor when it came out, too – it was piled high with herbed flatbread and, like, a million different styles of meat. Well maybe realistically about 7 or 8, but who’s counting here?! We didn’t have time for that when sifting through prosciutto, chorizo, salami, and a few other delicious and spicy things I forgot the name of.

Although already stuffed, we ordered a pumpkin and feta pizza with two Aperol spritz’s to wash it down (obviously). We nearly had to roll each other out of the restaurant after this one, but luckily we were headed for a packed night at the Winter Wonderlights festival afterwards.

the pub with two names. the PWTN ballarat steak

The Pub with Two Names

This one came after our fun night at Sovereign Hill, so somehow we were actually hungry again! We made our way back into town to check out The Pub with Two Names, better known as The PWTN (which is how you’ll find it on maps and social media).

This was yet another lively yet cozy venue, with a bit of a twist on classic pub food. We tried croquettes and a risotto, and had a bit of a splash out on their steak when we heard it was delicious. The rumors were true – and we had officially eater FAR too much in one day but were oh-so-happily full! Make sure to try their desserts at the end too – I’m not usually a dessert person but their home-baked treats were to die for! 

yellow espresso ballarat

mushroom toast ballarat

Yellow Espresso

Ah, our last morning meal for out Ballarat weekend trip. It had to be Yellow Espresso – recommended to be both by Visit Ballarat and a few local friends! This one is right on Sturt street, with a trendy and leafy restaurant and tables out on the street for warmer days.

Yellow espresso was another delish and classic Aussie breakfast meal. After much deliberation we settles on the Eggs Benedict and Truffle egg toast, with a tumeric latte and a flat white. It was amazing, of course. I feel like there would have been no way to go wrong on this menu, though – a perfect start to the day!

BallaratExports-5

Where to Drink in Ballarat

The Lost Ones Basement Bar

This is an awesome 1920’s style bar just off of Sturt Street. Come in here for an array of classic cocktails in what I can best describe as a speakeasy vibe. It’s definitely one of the trendier bars in town! If you come in the day, there’s also an art gallery upstairs that you can check out, drink in hand.

Hop Temple

Hope temple is also right in the Ballarat CBD. As its name suggests, it truly is the temple of hops – aka TONS of fantastic beer! They have a lot on offer, both of local and national beers. My best recommendation is to get there early on a weekend to make sure there will be a space for you to sit, and to try ordering the beer flights so you can try a few different ones.

lake wndouree luxury apartments

Where to Stay in Ballarat

Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments

For the perfect balance between proximity to the city and some gorgeous nature, we stayed in Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments. From our top corner room we woke up to a sunrise over the lake, which despite the cold was still inviting enough to coax us out for a morning walk.

These two-bedroom apartments are decked out with all the trimmings – fluffy blankets, comfy couches, books and interesting trinkets, TV’s in each room, full kitchen with all your coffee and tea needs, and pristine stocked bathrooms. We truly didn’t want to leave this warm haven of an apartment – can we stay forever next time, please?!

places to see outside ballarat

Places to Visit Outside Ballarat

Making a weekend trip to Ballarat from Melbourne, or anywhere else for that matter? Make sure to check out the amazing things to do around Ballarat, too. There are some awesome areas of nature, mountains, and countryside outside the city that warrant a visit just as much. Here are a few ideas!

Pyrenees Wine Region + Mountains

While it may be a bit different than the European mountain range of the same name, the Victorian Pyrenees are worthy of a visit just the same – both for the outdoor adventurers AND the wine lovers!

The Pyrenees mountains are a southern section of the Great Dividing Range, and their climate lends them well to be a fantastic wine region of Victoria. Dozens of family-owned wineries sprawl out through the scenic rolling hills of the region, making it a fantastic destination for views and delicious wine. There are over 20 wineries that will often host events and tastings for the ones who venture out into rural Victoria in search of hidden gems.

For the hikers, check out some amazing hiking trails in the area. For the advanced ones, there’s actually a full-day 24km Pyrenees Endurance Walk that touches on lots of gorgeous areas. For people in search of a quicker hike, check out the Ebling Track Walks or the Sugarloaf Track walk, too.

Tuki Trout Farm

While it miiiight not sound the most appealing, this place is much more than a trout farm, and more of a rustic and luxurious location where you can literally catch your own food and eat it moments later.

The Tuki Trout Farm outside Ballarat is home to luxurious, self-contained accommodation, a fantastic restaurant, and quite a lot of trout who are sadly awaiting their last fate as someone’s lunch. The views from the property are bar-none, and you can watch the soft golden sunset  over fields of distant sheep, from your balcony overlooking the pond. Next getaway? I think: yes.

 

July 25, 2019

Balkans Road Trip: A Balkan Travel Itinerary with Coasts, Parks, & More

Balkans Road Trip: A Balkan Travel Itinerary with Coasts, Parks, & More

So this Balkans road trip itinerary is one that I carefully planned out and actually did myself along with some close friends, so not only do I think is it reliable and doable – I KNOW!

I expertly crafted this Balkan travel itinerary according to my group’s pace and needs, using my four years worth of knowledge from the Balkans and a wee bit of research. It was at least my second (or 30th – no joke!) time in most of these places, and I know them well enough  to lead an actual tour around them, let alone a virtual one.

This Balkans road trip includes Croatian islands at the beginning, after which you will rent a car (because you don’t need one for the islands, and who wants to waste money?! Not us!) and drive for the rest. You’ll then visit some Croatian National parks, Istria (northern Croatia), Slovenia, Bosnia + Herzegovina, and Montenegro. These countries comprise the Western Balkans – one day I’ll make a longer itinerary including all the other incredible Balkan countries as well.

Specifically, this Balkan Travel Itinerary Includes:

Dubrovnik – Elaphite Islands – Korcula – Hvar – Split – Zadar – Plitvice Lakes National Park – Pula – Motovun (Istria) – Ljubljana – Lake Bled/Lake Bohinj (Slovenia) – Makarska – Mostar – Blagaj Spring – Kravice Waterfalls – Pocitelj Castle (Bosnia + Herzegovina) – Kotor – Montenegro Road Trip (Ostrog Monastery, Podgorica, Lovcen National Park, Skadar Lake National Park, Sveti Stefan) – Budva – Dubrovnik.

I‘ll let you know where there are options to visit other places if you have more time. This Balkans itinerary as it is written lasts just under 3 weeks, but it’s designed so you can go at your own pace using the route I have outlined. There are only 18 specific days below, so pick your favorite place(s) and add extra days in here and there to suit your needs (or go super fast like we did and do it in 17-18). Choose your own adventure!

As with most of my itineraries, this Balkans road trip is for those of you who like a bit of adventure and aren’t afraid to move at a fast pace to allow you to experience more. You can always add more days wherever you like; I recommend to take this itinerary as a guide and go at a slower pace if you aren’t a fast travel type person (even a month or more if you like).

But, what I am giving you here is the exact Balkans road trip itinerary that I did myself in September 2018, with extra recommendations if you have more time.

The ideal western Balkans Road Trip - including nearly 3 weeks worth of destinations throughout Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia + Herzegovina, and Montenegro. What to do, where to stay, where to eat, and more for each destination, plus opportunities to extend the Balkans itinerary to see even more! AMazing photo and instagram spots in each destination and the best views in the balkans! #balkansroadtrip #balkans #croatia #slovenia #montenegro #bosnia

the ideal balkans itinerary with sights through croatia, montenegro, slovenia, and bosnia and herzegovina. STart riding ferries through the Croatian islands, then rent a car for the ideal Balkans road trip through national parks, coasts, mountains, and more. #balkansroadtrip #balkans #croatia #slovenia #montenegro #bosnia

PIN THIS Balkans Road Trip guide to your Pinterest boards! It’s VERY long. 

When is the Best Time to Visit the Balkans?

This is a tough question depending on where you want to go, but I will almost ALWAYS tell you May/June or September/October. July and August (and late June really) are ‘peak season’ in the Balkans (especially coastal Croatia) and some places are so overrun with people you’ll wish you just stayed home.

Places like Dubrovnik are especially crowded, with cruise ship passengers taking over the entire old town when they descend upon the poor unsuspecting thing like a cheetah pouncing on its prey.

But First, If You Want More Info in Specific Places…

Did you know I used to be a tour guide in Croatia? When I had that job I was able to familiarize myself a LOT with the country and those that surround it. You can read my Tour Guide’s Super Guide to All of Croatia or my specific guides below (most of which are outlined again in this EXTREMELY comprehensive itinerary).

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Dubrovnik from up on the mountain

Balkan Itinerary Day 0: Arrive in Dubrovnik

Your Balkans road trip itinerary conveniently begins and ends in Dubrovnik – you’re welcome 😉 Dubrovnik is one of the most famous cities in Europe and pretty much like a fairytale in real life. It’s a walled medieval town right on the Adriatic, with tons of beautiful streets and alleyways to explore, places to swim, and history to learn.

Getting to Dubrovnik

I can assume for the sake of this Balkan itinerary that you will be flying into Dubrovnik (the itinerary world best this way, but you can bus in too or begin at any point because it’s a loop). I always use Skyscanner to compare fares from all flight providers to find the best deals. The busses in Croatia are also very reliable.

Make sure you read my in-depth Things to Do in Dubrovnik Travel Guide below for all the nitty-gritty on this awesome place. But for now, planning the day!

READ
Things to Do in Dubrovnik: A Tour Guide's Guide to Dubrovnik Travel
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik

I would always recommend to stay inside the old town walls in Dubrovnik, so you don’t have to worry about traveling to get in on the action. There are also some really nice resorts that are quite removed. If you’re doing Airbnb, definitely get one inside the walls. Here are my best options for all budgets:

  • Airbnb – There are TONS of awesome airbnb’s in Dubrovnik. We stayed in this one and loved it (there were 5 of us). There are tons of options, small and large, often overlooking the old town. Just make sure to book early.
  • HostelsVilla Angelina is a great on in old town (I stayed there years ago). City Walls Hostel is right near the cliff jumping bar.
  • Hotels – Some amazing Dubrovnik resorts are Rixos Libertas (a few coves over from the main town but really lovely), and The Hilton (just outside the main gate of old town and really nice, gym and pool etc).
What to Do in Dubrovnik

Today you will fly in and get yourself situated; that’s pretty much it! Depending on what time your flight gets in you may have more or less time to explore. We got in quite late, and spent the evening wandering through the beautifully lit streets and eating a delicious meal at Veritas, one of my favorite restaurants I’ve been to dozens of times.

It’s in a main square of old town, and has some great options of classic Croatian food to introduce you to the cuisine. Try the ‘kiss of Dubrovnik,’ the Gunduluc Steak, the seafood platter, or the chicken a la bocar. 🙂

If you are in Dubrovnik on a weekend (which we were for the first night), make sure to check out the famous club Revelin. It’s inside the fortress walls of old town and is really incredible, decked out with amazing (loud) speakers, dancers, aerialists, and more. Just know that it gets good around 2am (but you can get free entry before about midnight with a voucher people give out all night in old town). You’re in Europe now – things go quite late!

Where to Eat in Dubrovnik:
  • Veritas – classic Croatian Food
  • Bona Fide – a Mexican/Italian restaurant for something different
  • Lady Pipi – classic Croatian food with a view
  • Alleyway Restaurants – there are tons of restaurants with tables in the narrow streets of old town. Many of these will serve classic Croatian food and seafood in a lovely atmosphere.
dubrovnik walls view of the old port - starting a balkan itinerary

View from walking the city walls 

Balkan Itinerary Day 1: Dubrovnik – Old Town

Rise and shine, it’s time for your first full day! Today you’ll do all the best things to do in Dubrovnik old town and surrounding areas – best done in order. There are loads of spots to check out so make sure you give yourself time to do it all (aka get going in the morning)!

Overlooking the City
  • Cable Car/Mt Srd – What better way to start your day than overlooking the whole city? One of the best things to do in Dubrovnik is to ride the cable car up to the top of the mountain overlooking the city. To get to the cable car, walk out the Ploce gate of old town and simply follow signs (you can also hike up if you are daring enough – there’s a trail). You can get a round trip ticket, or you can also do a car tour from many Croatian guides who hang out near the cable car port and will tell you history and take you to a few different places. At the top, you can do a buggy safari or visit a museum/restaurant (below).
  • Museum of the Croatian War for Independence – At the top of the cable car hill, you’ll find a museum dedicated to the Croatian War for Independence, which happened a mere 26-27 years ago in 1991-2. You will come upon lots of recent history in this Balkans itinerary, so it will be good to familiarize yourself with the turbulent history right off the bat. Tickets are about 30kn and the experience is eye-opening.
  • Panorama Bar/Restaurant – Grab a coffee, meal, or cocktail at the Panorama bar overlooking the cable car and city before you go back down. It might be one of the best views ever!
Dubrovnik Museums
Now you have a bit of time to explore old town! Some museums you can visit upon your return to old town are:
  • Rector’s Palace Museums – ethnographic, maritime, and archeological museums in the same building
  • Sponza Palace – Art exhibits and Memorial Room for the defenders of Dubrovnik
  • War Photo Museum – photos from the Croatian and other wars
  • Marin Drzic house – home of a famous Croatian poet
  • Or, just grab a 5 Euro street mojito on the main street 😉
Final Old Town Adventures
  • Swim at the Buza (cliff) Bars – If it gets quite hot mid-day, it would be silly not to have a dip in the crystal blue Adriatic waters. The best place to do this is right off the walls of the town. There are two cliff bars (called buza bars) that you can find on the western edge of the old town. The entrances may be a bit hard to find, but it will be so worth it! One of the bars has steps into the water and the other is popular for jumping from high cliffs into the deep water.
  • Walk the Walls of Old Town – When it gets a bit later (maybe a few hours before sunset, just make sure to check the opening times) it’ll be time to walk the old town walls of Dubrovnik. You can get tickets to the walls just inside the main Pile gate (see my Dubrovnik post for more preliminary info) and there are two entrances to the walls. People walk them in a counter clockwise direction. Make sure to give yourself at least an hour (preferably two) and to bring your camera!
buza bar cliff bars map dubrovnik

At Night: Since you tried Veritas last night, you can now check out one of my other favorites: Bona Fide Mexican cafe. If you’re from California/Mexico you may not enjoy this Mexican food as much, but if you have been traveling and could use a Mexican fix, this food is really good. If you’d like something local again, head to Lady Pipi (go early because there may be a line!) or sit down to a romantic alleyway meal anywhere in old town.

BalkanTrip18CroatiaDalmatianCoast-213

Dubrovnik from the fortress opposite the walled town 

Balkan Itinerary Day 2: Dubrovnik – Day Tours

After checking out the city yesterday, today it’s time to see why people from all over the world flock to swim in the waters of the Adriatic. Today jump on a boat tour of the Elaphite islands, which are gorgeous islands just outside the city’s port. You will be able to explore tiny island towns, swim in crystal clear waters, and maybe explore even more beaches and caves. If you have time, you can also go sea kayaking, Game of Thrones’ing, or more.

Note: You’ll want to buy online/ pick up ferry tickets to get Korcula tomorrow, today. You can purchase them in advance online or get them from a store called Travel Corner in port Gruž. Today, it’s a good idea to get them if/when you leave for your Elaphite islands tour from port Gruž, which is where the ferries leave from.

Elaphite Islands Tours

There are two different kinds of Elaphite islands tours, choose which sounds best to you:

  • Big Boat Tour – The ‘galleon’ tour will take you to the three islands (Šipan, Koločep, Lopud) and will drop you in the towns on each island. You’ll have free time in each little town to eat, swim, or explore.
  • Speedboat Tour– The speedboat tour is an adventurous Elaphite islands tour, and will take you swimming through a blue cave, exploring and swimming through other island caves, swimming to a sandy beach, and more. Choose which one is best for you and click the bold letters to book.
When You get Back:
  • Sea Kayaking: This is one of the most popular things to do in Dubrovnik. Sea Kayaking Tours go from the old town, to a cave/beach down the coast, around some spots on Lokrum island, and back. It’s hard but beautiful and it includes lunch.
  • Game of Thrones Tour:Dubrovnik was one of the main filming locations for Game of Thrones, and you can see lots of filming sites like King’s Landing and the Shame Steps on a GoT tour. You can also see some filming sites from the recent Star Wars movie.

Dinner: Today grab some takeaway after a long dayor choose from the recommended restaurants above.

OR

Cavtat

If you aren’t too tired, there’s a lovely town called Cavtat about 30 mins south of Dubrovnik. They call it ‘Dubrovnik’s Monaco’ and it has some fancy resorts, nice restaurants, and beautiful shopping. You can get there by bus route 10 or by ferry boat from the old port in town.

Korcula Croatia Guide to Korčula Island Travel

Balkan Itinerary Day 3:  Dubrovnik to Korčula

Before you leave Dubrovnik: Get ready to check out, and spend your morning in Dubrovnik catching up on any activities you missed, exploring Lokrum Island, or relaxing on Banje Beach.

Getting from Dubrovnik to Korčula

You’ll take the ferry from Dubrovnik to Korčula (korch-uh-luh). Grab ferry tickets online or the day before you go while in port Gruz. We took the 4pm ferry which worked well. There’s also a very early one and a late one, maybe more dependent on the time of year.

Where to Stay in Korčula

I would recommend staying in or close to the old town since you won’t have much time here.

Airbnb – There aren’t as many airbnb’s in Korčula, especially for bigger groups, but there are options if you book early. We stayed in this one and had a great experience (with 5 of us).

Hostel Hostel Korčula is the most well-rated and central

Hotel – Hotel Korčula is central with a great view

What to Do in Korcula

Korčula is called a ‘mini Dubrovnik’ because it is similarly an old walled town on the water. It’s quite small, so this afternoon and tomorrow morning should be enough to explore. They say that Korcula is the birth place of Marco Polo, and you can visit the Marco Polo house (where he is rumored to have been born), a Marco Polo museum, and tons of Marco Polo gift shops. If you’d like more back story and info about Korcula and a complete guide, check my Tour Guide’s Super Guide to Korcula linked below.

READ
A Tour Guide's Travel Guide to Korčula Island, Croatia
  • Once you arrive, drop your bags and get ready to explore! I recommend today that you check out a cocktail bar called Massimo’s, which is a repurposed 14th century fortress where you climb up a ladder to get to the roof. It usually opens at 5.
  • For sunset, climb the Bell tower in the main square of St Marko. It costs about 30kn, and is a one-way spiral staircase up the tower that has traffic lights to dictate when to go up and when to wait for people to come down! It’s the best view of the city and a great sunset spot.
  • At some point, make sure to check out the hilariously interesting Marco Polo museum. It’s right outside the old town walls, and is comprised of a few different rooms with elaborate scenes/mannequins laid out to tell the story of a different part of Marco’s life/adventure. It usually closes late (9pm) so going after dinner today is not out of the question (that’s what we did).
Where to Eat in Korčula

Dinner in Korčula will fall sometime between the visiting the bell tower and the museum, or any time you get hungry! There are a few options:

Kavana No. 1: This is probably the best place to eat in the city, and has an amazing view whether it is light out or not. It’s a bit of a climb to get to, but this restaurant is up on a hill overlooking the old town. If you want to try something authentic, order the meat peka (meat slow-cooked on hot coals under a bell). It’s absolutely delish. You might have to pre-order it if you have a few people though, since it takes a few hours of preparation. Just call in the afternoon.
Tramonto: This is also another amazing sunset view, with a terrace facing west. You can grab cocktails here if you have time before dinner (it’s the second best sunset view), or they have some amazing dishes (the beefsteak Tramonto is one of my favorites).

Optional: If You Have More Time:

Stay another/a few more days and spend some time wind surfing, relaxing on the shore, or exploring other places around the island such as Lumbarda.

Check if there is a ‘Moreška’ dance during your stay. This is a traditional sword dance that reenacts a battle that the Korculans had with the Ottoman turks in the medieval times. It’s a huge part of Korcula culture and a spectacle to see.

hvar island view pakleni islands part of 3 week balkan itinerary

Balkan Itinerary Day 4: Korčula to Hvar

Before you leave: Korčula: Today you’ll wake up in Korčula and take the time to go have breakfast on the eastern shore of town, where there are loads of restaurants in the shade of trees overlooking the water. Next, walk up the (western -the direction of the sunset last night!) coast away from town – this is the best place to swim.

You’ll pass by some rickety wooded docks shaded by palm trees along the road. Eventually you’ll come upon a pebbly beach where you can lay out and have a swim in the crystal clear water while gazing at a perfect view of the old walled town.

Getting from Korcula to Hvar

You’ll take another ferry today, from the same place, to Hvar. I recommend the 1pm ferry so you have a morning in Korcula to swim. The ferry takes about an hour.

Where to Stay in Hvar

Airbnb: We stayed in this one (6 guests) but I recommend this one for smaller groups/central.

Hostel: White Rabbit Hostel

Hotel: Hotel Adriana or Hotel Amfora

What to Do in Hvar

Hvar is another stunning island known for its nightlife. There will be options for both history and partying today, and enjoying Hvar’s great food. I also have a super-guide to Hvar, so if you’d like more in-depth info click below.

READ
A Tour Guide's Guide to Hvar Travel - All You Need to Know
  • Spanjola Fortress – Once you enjoy the scenic ferry ride, arrive in Hvar, and drop your bags (might also be a good idea to grab your Split ferry tickets if you don’t have them already), it’s time to check out another fortress. The walk to Spanjola is about 15 mins from the town, and is one of the best views in Croatia. Pay about 30-40kn to enter the fortress and revel in the views and interesting information to learn about this site, which was built in the 1550’s.
  • Adriana Rooftop Bar – Ok guys, this is my secret spot that I would never tell my tour groups about. Don’t tell! There’s a lovely bar on the top story of hotel Adriana, right in the port. It’s a great place to relax and have a coffee or cocktail before heading to Hula Hula.
  • Shopping + Markets – There are also lots of markets in town that sell souvenirs, jewelry, and lots of lavender, which is grown on the island. Get yourself some lavender oil/scent/soap for an authentic souvenir.
  • Hula Hula Beach Cocktail Bar – Hula Hula is one of the best bars in Croatia. It’s the perfect place to go a few hours before sunset, and will get crazier as the sun nears the horizon. It’s a cocktail bar that you can swim at, right on the water. They have blended strawberry daiquiris, pina coladas, and peach margaritas on tap, so enjoy a few of these (or cut right to the chase and get the 1L version!) before jumping into the sea and enjoying the music.
Where to Eat in Hvar

After Hula Hula, choose from one of  my recommendations below/in my Hvar Super Guide for dinner. Hvar has AMAZING food so it would be good to choose wisely or spend a few more days.

Spice Thai Food/Burgers in the Main Square: If you want something a bit different, there’s  a fantastic burger place right next to a Thai restaurant in the main square of Hvar town. They’re both owned by the same person and are both very reliable.

Black Pepper: Black Pepper is a beautiful restaurant in an alleyway of Hvar that focuses on modern and creative twists on classic Croatian dishes. You can’t go wrong here!

Dalmatino: Dalmatino is also right in the stone alleys of the town and is known for being one of the bet restaurants in town, with more traditional dishes and also different flavors of Croatian rakija to sample with your meal.

At Night: Hvar is known for having the best nightlife in southern Croatia. If there’s a place to have a night out, this would be it (along with Dubrovnik). After dinner I recommend getting ready and hitting up a few bars around 8-9pm, if that’s your thing. If not, relax with a drink in the square or along the harbor and watch the night come to life!

  • Kiva Bar is infamous in Hvar. It gets really crowded around 9 so make sure to get in early! Expect delicious cocktails in some small crowded rooms in an alley, ‘tequila boom boom’s’ going around (thank me later), and all the possible singalong songs.
  • Sidro Bar – home of the best espresso martini I’ve ever had. No joke. Also some fun singalongs and other great cocktails, but outdoors on a patio.

Clubs:

  • Carpe Diem: this is a famous club on an island. There are free water taxis that go back and forth to an island off Hvar’s coast all night every night, and it’s one of the most unique clubs in Europe.
If You Have More Time:

Rent a car/vespa scooters and explore the island, rent a boat to explore the surrounding Pakleni islands, have a beach day, or take a 30 minute bus to explore to oldest town in Croatia, Stari Grad, and taste some Hvar wine.

visiting split croatia as a stop on a balkans itinerary / balkan road trip

Balkan Itinerary Day 5: Hvar to Split

Before you go: Today you’ll wake up and spend a morning in Hvar before heading to Split. Either relax before your ferry (I recommend the 1pm) or head down to one of a few small beaches to have a morning dip. Leisurely get your stuff together, have lunch if you desire (Vita Health Food Bar has good coffees), and head to the early afternoon ferry.

Getting from Hvar to Split

You’ll take your last ferry today, from the same place the previous one dropped you off. I recommend the 1pm Split ferry to have a last swim in Hvar before you go. The ferry takes about an hour.

Where to Stay in Split

AirbnbMain Square Apartment (we stayed here)/Silver Luxury Apartment for smaller groups

Hostel – Booze & Snooze (for central + party)
Hotel – Palace Judita Heritage Hotel 

What to Do in Split

Split is the capital of the Croatian coast. Although a large city, Split’s center is quite small, relaxed, and full of history. I also have a specific guide to Split if you are interested about reading about things to do in Split in more depth.

READ
A Tour Guide's Split Travel Guide: Adventures, Food, + Nightlife (Croatia)
  • Split Old Town – Once you get situated in Split, it’s time to explore the old town. But This isn’t just any old town; its actually a town built out of an ancient Roman emperor’s (Diocletian’s) palace, which was built in 305AD. The city center is in the shape of a square because its been built from this old palace, and nowadays the alleyways of town are shops, restaurants, bars, gelaterias, and more.
    • Cellars: These are the cellars underneath the palace which still retain their original form from a few thousand years ago. You can explore them and learn about their history.
    • Peristyle: The main square, where the emperor used to address his people.
    • Bell Tower: Built much later in the 1700’s, but with an amazing view over town (climb up for 30ish kuna).
    • Vestibule: Often has an acapella group singing inside because of amazing acoustics
    • Museums: Split City Museum, Ethnographic Museum, Museum of Fine Art
    • Gelato: there are lots of good places in town
    • Takeaway pizza/pastry: Croatia and especially Split is known for its cheap takeaway food
  • Marjan Hill/Bell Tower – After exploring around old town, walk up Marjan Hill for a great view overlooking the city. If you still have time before sunset, climb the bell tower too!
Where to Eat in Split:

Visit my Split guide for more in-depth info. For sit-down places, I recommend Fife (cheap, quick, traditional food), Bokeria (fancy food and wine), or Diocletian’s Wine House (lovely atmosphere and wine selection).

Another option would be to get takeaway food/drinks and sit in the peristyle, which has live music most nights. You can get takeaway snacks from bakeries like Bobis for very cheap, or Toto Burger has great burgers, Mama Burger has burgers and wraps, and M Cafe has lots of takeaway meals. There are a few grocery stores in town where you can get a bottle of wine and cups to drink on the steps of the square as you eat.

At Night: I assume you’re very tired, so you might want to spend this night in! If not, Gaga Bar has great cocktails, and Charlie’s Bar is a great backpacker bar. Clubs include Bacvice Beach Club, Vanilla, Inbox, and Centar. I highly prefer a night out in Hvar though!

If You Have More Time:

If you want to stay longer in Split, you can spend time either doing day trips from Split or relaxing on the beach. You can visit the blue cave of Vis, visit Krka National Park, or more as day trips from Split below that are not included in this Balkans Itinerary.

READ
12 Must-See Day Trips from Split, Croatia

Balkan Itinerary Day 6: Split to Zadar

Today you’ll be soaking up your last moments in Split. In the morning, I recommend my favorite breakfast at Braserie on 7, which is an outdoor restaurant on the main Riva. They have an absolutely delicious special iced coffee, and a two tier sweet+savory breakfast that comes with a savory omelette and sweet french toast.

Pick up your rental car around 11am-noon, and head north to begin the true Balkans road trip. Check out some tips for driving in the Balkans if you like.

Getting to Zadar from Split:

You’ll need to figure out in advance which day you’ll be leaving from Split, and reserve a rental car. Make sure that the company you rent from allows border crossing.We found that the cheapest Balkans car rental is from Sixt, which has an office near the Old Town in Split (and allows your to cross country borders). Set your destination in Zadar and get on the road!

Quick Tips for Driving in the Balkans

Traffic laws in the Balkans are not too difficult too grasp. They drive on the right side of the road and have similar streets and freeways to the rest of Europe. Some roads may be narrow. Make sure you have a navigation system (even if offline Google Maps) to guide you on your way, as signs will obviously be in Croatian.

Where to Stay in Zadar:

Airbnb: We stayed at Apartment Blue Sun Aurora – right in the middle of town.

Hostel: Downtown Boutique Hostel 

Hotel: Bastion Heritage Hotel

What to Do in Zadar

The first stop is Zadar, a historical ancient Roman town a few hours up the coast.

  • Old Town – Zadar has another incredible old town centered around some ancient Roman ruins – they aren’t as well-preserved as Split, however! You can check out the Roman Forum (in the center) and learn a bit about it, wander through many shops and alleyways, walk on the old town walls, and try some delicious takeaway food and pastry.
  • Museums – After exploring the Old Town, there are a few museums that may be of interest. We visited the Museum of Illusions, which was light hearted, trippy, and fun. It’s also next to a Museum of Ancient Glass if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • Sea Organ – After walking around and visiting the museums, grab a drink from a market and head to Zadar’s most famous attraction, the Sea Organ. Located on the brim of the old town, the sea organ was constructed so that whenever the waves from the sea hit different sized openings in a platform over the water, they play different notes. Find a place to sit near the sound, crack open a drink (you  can have alcohol in public here), and enjoy a perfect view of the sunset over distant islands.
  • Waterfront/Markets – After the sunset, meander along the waterfront towards the restaurant of your choice. Take your time and stop to check out artisans selling goods along the path, food vendors, and also lost of small market stalls in town.
Where to Eat in Zadar

For a sit-down meal, try Bruschetta (delicious higher-end restaurant) or Restaurant Kastel. Or, grab takeaway and sit in the lively main square near the forum. There are tons of great gelato places as well, which will be begging you to buy them and eat in the square also.

At Night: There are lots of cocktail bars and an outdoor club or two in Zadar. Check out Ledana for an outdoor patio club if you like. You have an early morning tomorrow, so choose wisely!

If you have more time:

There are some really cool full-day tours to do in/around Zadar if you have another day. Check out this kayaking through caves tour to Dugi Otok, or this popular river canoeing tour.

plitvice lakes national park croatia waterfalls park balkan itinerary

plitvice lakes national park balkans road trip

pula arena - ancient roman colosseum in Pula, croatia where to go in croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park + Pula Arena

Balkans Road Trip Day 7: Zadar to Plitvice Lakes to Istria

Before you leave: Today is a big day! You’ll want to have breakfast in the accommodation and head back to the car quite early – by 8 or 9am. It will take 1.5 to 2 hours to drive to Croatia’s most famous National Park, Plitvice Lakes, from  which you will drive to Istria.

Plitvice Lakes is a beautiful green national park full of emerald lakes and prolific waterfalls. There are tons of trails surrounding it. Don’t underestimate it’s size, though – it’s very big and you’ll have to move fast to see it all

Getting to/What to Do in Plitvice Lakes

Have your navigation direct you to one of the two main entrances to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Now, you will spend the next few hours exploring one of Croatia’s most beautiful and famous national parks, spotting fish in clear blue water, and marveling at waterfalls.

One part of the park has larger lakes and taller waterfalls, whereas the other part has tons of smaller waterfalls above each other.  Once you enter, the best advice I can give is to walk counter-clockwise, which is going to be the opposite way as most people. Check out these tips for visiting Plitvice lakes for an in-depth look!

I recommend taking the long ferry boat that connects two sides of the park to each other (see map). The line may be long, but it’ll save you lots of energy! Follow the map route for the best self-guided views in Plitvice Lakes National Park, bring your camera, and prepare for a bit of walking!

plitvice lakes national park walking route
Getting to/What to Do in Pula

You’ll want to shoot to be back at the car by about 4pm or earlier, to make the 3 hour drive to Istria. Rather than drive straight to Motovun, which is where you’ll be spending the night, I recommend driving the the capital of Istria, Pula, first. Pula is home to the second best preserved ancient Roman Colosseum in the world (after the actual colosseum) and is an extremely lively and historic port town.

In the summer months, it will be bustling even if you arrive around 7pm. First, visit the Pula Arena (ancient colosseum), which will be l it up even at night. Have a wander around the old town – the shops will still all be open – and then choose somewhere to grab food (sit down or takeaway).

Getting to Motovunm

Finally, after dinner, make the hour drive to Motovun. Make sure you confirm a late arrival with your accommodation – around 10-11pm. Find your bed and crash – it’s been a LONG day!

Where to Stay in Motovun

Airbnb: We stayed in this gorgeous villa – outside of town next to  the Fakin winery (it’s okay to be out of town now you have a car!) or Galerija Motovun

Hostel: None, sorry!

Hotel: Hotel Kastel 

If You Have More Time

Stay a night in Pula and explore it more fully! You can try to Pula Hop on Hop Off bus for a relaxed tour, or a Pula caves + kayaking tour as well.

motovun croatia - visiting istria as astop on a balkans road trip

Balkans Road Trip Day 8: Motovun/Istria

You might want to sleep in today, adventurers, you’ve done well and moved fast thus far if you’ve followed this Balkans road trip Itinerary exactly. But today we have our first scheduled two-night stay so far… PHEW!

When you wake up and look outside, surely you’ll be stunned by the new daytime view of the beautiful countryside you arrived in late last night. Istria is often compared to Tuscany, and showcases a truly different side to Croatia than the southern coast.

To learn about Motovun more in-depth, red my guide below:

READ
Things to do in Motovun Croatia: A Truffle-tastic Medieval Hilltop Town
What to do in Motovun

Today you will be exploring Motovun, a scenic medieval hilltop town known for its truffles, wine, and gastronomy.

  • Truffle Hunting Tour – One of the most unique things to do in Motovun is take part in a truffle hunting and tasting tour put on by some famous family-owned truffle companies. On these you can taste local food and hunt with truffle-hunting dogs through dense forest as they sniff out one of the world’s delicacies: truffles. Check this site or my guide linked above for tours.
  • Photos and Tastings in Old Town – Next, you’ll want to explore the hilltop town. Motovun is the foodie capital of Croatia, and has tons of small shops that give tastings of olive oil, truffle paste/oil, wine, rakija, and more. Pop into as many as you can and maybe you’ll find something you just can’t resist!
  • Walk the Walls – Like many medieval towns, you can walk the walls of Motovun for 25kn. Enjoy views of the rolling green hills and understand why many people call Istria “the Tuscany of Croatia!”
  • Wine Tasting – If you have time, there are a few wineries in the area. Fakin Winery was right next to our airbnb and offered tastings through the day.
Where to Eat in Motovun:

I recommend a truffle-tactic sit-down meal here. Each restaurant has many dishes based upon the white and black truffles of the area, and this is truly the time to indulge! Fakin Restaurant overlooks the sunset and serves their own truffle and wine – you can’t go wrong!

After Dinner: Grab your favorite bottle of wine, take it back to your accommodation, and relax!

predjama castle slovenia balkans road trip

ljubljana slovenia

Predjama Castle + Ljubljana, Slovenia

Balkans Road Trip Day 9: Motovun to Predjama Castle to Ljubljana

Before you leave: Enjoy a lazy morning in Motovun; I recommend having breakfast in your accommodation and getting ready to go to Slovenia at your earliest convenience – maybe 8 or 9.

Getting to Slovenia/Driving in Slovenia:

You’ll drive past some lovely little hilltop towns on your way into Slovenia. As your rental car company will have hopefully told you, you’ll need to purchase a tourist tax sticker at your earliest convenience once you enter the country. Driving here should be no different than Croatia; just make sure you have your passports to cross the border and purchase the blue tourist tax emblem once you are in at the nearest service station.

Currency Change: They use the euro in Slovenia. You’ll want to exchange euro or get some out before the trip. Montenegro also uses euro.

Predjama Castle

The first stop in Slovenia will be an incredible castle built into the  side of a cliff face – Predjama Castle. Driving here from Motovun should take about 1.5 hours, assuming the line at the border isn’t too long. You can either admire Predjama from outside, or pay a bit extra to go inside. Postojna caves are also right next to the castle, if you’d like a bit of extra adventure before getting to Ljubljana.

What to do in Ljubljana

After visiting the castle/caves, you should arrive in Ljubljana in less than an hour. If you time it well, you can arrive into Slovenia’s capital by 1-2pm, giving you a free afternoon to explore. Once you check  into your accommodation, get out into the city!

  • Walk around the city: marvel at the old streets + town, visit the three bridges, the main square, and more
  • Try some coffee at a local cafe – I recommend Cafe Cokl 
  • Walk through the large + grassy Tivoli park
  • Visit the National Gallery + Art Museum (near Tivoli Park)
  • Walk up to the Ljubljana Castle for sunset.

Surprise! I also have a guide to Ljubljana, Bled, and Bohinj which will go farther in depth than this Balkans Itinerary. Read it below.

READ
Slovenia Travel Guide: Make the Most of Ljubljana, Bled, and Bohinj
Where to Eat in Ljubljana
  • Restaurants along the river – these have a great view
  • Ljubljana Castle – has a restaurant inside
  • Try a Horseburger – an original Slovenian creation, the ‘Horseburger’ is lean and healthy and can be obtained from the fast food restaurant Hot Horse. 
Where to Stay in  Ljubljana
lakw bohinj slovenia from mt vogel cable car

Lake Bohinj from Mt. Vogel Cable Car 

lake bled slovenia

Lake Bled

Balkans Road Trip Day 10: Ljubljana to Lake Bled/Lake Bohinj

Today you will do a day trip from Ljubljana to some GORGEOUS lakes in the Slovenian countryside. Most people know about Lake Bled, which is quite famous, but not Lake Bohinj, which is just 30 minutes away. The true adventurers can squeeze highlights of both into one day by following the itinerary below.

Getting From Ljubljana to Lake Bohinj

You’ll start off by driving to the far end of Lake Bohinj, which is about 1:15 hours away from the city. Set your navigation to Ukanc, or the Mt. Vogel Cable Car.

What to Do in Lake Bohinj

Once you arrive at the Mt. Vogel cable car, buy a ticket (they depart every 30 mins) and ride it to the top of the mountain. This will give you an idea of the extent of the Slovenian Alps right away. You’re in a MASSIVE mountain range known for climbing, snow sports, and more!

Mt Vogel is a ski resort in the winter, but a fantastic view in summer. You don’t need too long here unless you want to hike (for which you’d need extra days). Simply take some photos of the lake below and marvel at the view of the Julian alps, which will be a big scenery change from the coasts.

Next, drive to the other end of Lake Bohinj (Ribcev Laz) and park. Now, you can either have a leisurely walk around part of the lake, lay in the sun if it’s warm enough, or (my personal favorite) rent some kayaks. Many agencies rent kayaks near the water. Rent some for about an hour, which is just enough time to paddle to the nearest side of the lake and have a swim.

Where to Eat In Bohinj

After some exploring and kayaking, surely you’ll be hungry… and why not try some authentic Slovenian food?! Gostilnica Strudl is as authentic as it gets, and is just in the main town outside of Lake Bohinj. I can’t remember the specific dish names, but make sure to get the Strudl tasting platter with the sour milk to dip bread into (trust me), and the noodles with brown sugar and jam for afterwards.

What to Do in Lake Bled

Next, drive 30 mins to Lake Bled. First, hike to the Ojstrica Viewpoint, giving you sweeping views of Lake Bled (about 20-25 minutes). Next, walk along the water and consider having one last swim near the pebbly beach there.

Lastly, drive up to Bled Castle for sunset (we’ve done enough physical activity today!) and enjoy the surroundings. If you like, make a reservation at the restaurant for a 5 course dinner menu with a view. If not, grab some takeaway food either in Bled, or when you get back to Ljubljana! The drive will be about an hour.

If You Have More Time

Slovenia would be a great place to extend your trip for a few days. Spend an extra day exploring Ljubljana more fully, and then book accommodation near Bled OR Bohinj. You can do a 12k hike around one side of Lake Bohinj, go river rafting in Bled, do an organized tour + boat ride to Bled Lake/Castle, or go canyoning in the Bohinj Valley.

makarska riviera croatia beautiful mountains beaches croatia adventure water sports

Balkans Road Trip Day 11: Slovenia to Mostar (+ Makarska!)

Today is our first big driving day!  There is an option to stop in my one of favorite places in Croatia: Makarska.  The drive would be 6.5 hours to Mostar without stopping, or 7.5 hours with it (plus however long you want to spend there – I recommend 2 hours).

Getting from Ljubljana to Makarska

Leave by 10ish, or earlier if you can. Drive straight to Makarska, which is my favorite Croatian coastal town at the base of Croatia’s tallest rocky mountains. Stop off for a swim, lunch, and maybe a bit of shopping!

  • Swimming/Cliff Jumping – the best place to swim would be directly across from Deep Cave Bar, which is actually also a really cool cave bar. You can jump off the cliffs a few minutes down the coast from there as well.
  • Wander Along the 2km Pebbly Beach + Markets – Makarska has a very long beach lined with restaurants along the water and tons of markets. Grab a bite to eat, a takeaway crepe or slushie, wander through the markets, or have another swim along the (often crowded) beach.
  • Water Sports – you can also rent a jet ski or go parasailing in Makarska. If you have time I strongly recommend it!
Getting from Makarska to Mostar

When you’ve had your fill, the drive to Mostar from Makarska is less than 2 hours. Have your passports out to cross into the third country of your trip!

Once you arrive at your accommodation, have your first look around the Old Town, which completely lights up at night. If you haven’t already shopped till you drop, check out the markets of this old Turkish town, and marvel at the difference in feel between the Croatian Coast less than two hours ago, and now.

I have a complete travel guide to Mostar, too! Click below for more in-depth info.

READ
Things to Do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Mostar Travel Guide 

Tonight, grab a bit to eat at The Food House – a more casual and affordable yet authentic food option right outside the old town.

Where to Stay in Mostar

Airbnb – The Villa Secret Gardens for bigger groups (I stayed here and loved it) or Downtown Vintage Room for central/smaller

Hostel – Hostel Nina

Hotel – Muslibegovic House (historic + upscale) or Shangri La Mansion (central)

dervish house blagaj springs mostar b

BalkanTrip18MostarHerzegovina-34

Balkans Road Trip Day 12: Mostar Sights + Surrounds

Now you have a full day to explore Mostar! Get going whenever, and head to some of the sights of the city. Below are the sights I recommend for today; don’t forget to check out my Mostar Travel Guide for more in-depth information about each.

  • Kajtaz House – a historical authentic Turkish house
  • Old Town and Old Bridge – obviously! See if you can catch anyone jumping from it.
  • Mosques – Climb to the top of the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, and revel at the historic Nesuh-Aga Vučjaković Mosque.
  • War + Genocide Museum – Learn about the atrocities of the Yugoslav War in Bosnia
  • Bosnian Coffee – Try one from Cafe de Alma

At some point, get a takeaway lunch (try the cevapi!) and go down to the square below the old bridge and see if you catch anyone jumping. Head back to the car around 4-5pm for a slight road trip to Blagaj Springs 15 minutes away.

  • Blagaj Springs – Blagaj is the source of the Buna River and the deepest spring in Europe. It’s home to a historic Dervish house, which is a branch of Islam. First, go to the ‘Vrelo Bune’ viewpoint across from Dervish House for some great photos. Then head inside the house! You’ll have to cover up to go inside this traditional place of worship, but they have scarves for you.

When you’ve had your fill of views and more markets, head back to Mostar. This evening it’s time to shop at the markets for any final souvenirs, and have a fancier and bona fide Bosnian dinner at Šadrvan. This restaurant is one of the best known, and has great tasting platters where you can try a variety of cuisine.

At Night: Check out the Black Dog Pub – see if they have live music on (they usually do) and try some local beers or different flavors of rakija. If you want to keeo going into the night, Ali Baba club is the way to go – located inside a cave next to the Old Bridge!

If You Have More Time

You could definitely spend longer in Bosnia + Herzegovina. We touch on the main sights of Mostar in this Balkans road trip itinerary, but if you have more time, you could spend a couple days in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. Sarajevo is even more heavily Turkish than Mostar, with a heavier war history, too.

Mosques ring out through the hills in a call to prayer throughout the city every few hours, putting the soukhs in a brief pause from their usual activity. There are great viewpoints looking over the city, fascinating ruins, and rich history.

pocitelj castle mostar bosnia herzegovina

Balkans Road Trip Day 13: Bosnian Highlights to Kotor, Montenegro

Before You Leave Mostar: Have a leisurely morning – no need to leave before 10/11 today. Put on your swim suit for a brief stop at some gorgeous waterfalls (and a castle) on the way out of the country and into Montenegro.

Mostar to Kravice Waterfalls and Počitelj Castle

It will take you less than an hour to drive from Mostar to the region of two  more famous viewpoints of the region: Kravice Waterfalls and Počitelj Castle. Stop first at Kravice Falls. Spend an hour or two swimming in the chilly water and exploring the gorgeous waterfall systems and rock pools. Read my guide to visiting Kravice waterfalls below for more info:

READ
Visiting Kravice Waterfalls, Bosnia and Herzegovina: All You Need to Know

After your swim, get changed and drive 10 minutes to the impressive hillside fortress of Počitelj. This was a Hungarian fort before the area was under Ottoman rule, and now it’s an old walled town up a hill with a few great lookout points.

One side is all done up and preserved with glass, but the rest are more authentic ruins crumbling at the edges. You can climb some old winding stairs in one of the fortresses to see an amazing view of the river and countryside.

You’ll notice millions of pomegranate trees in the town – this area is known for them! Old ladies will be selling homemade juices of pomegranate, elderflower, and rose, and little cones full of fresh nuts and dried fruit. You can buy lots of fresh fruit here also – it’s very cheap and delicious!

Počitelj to Kotor, Montenegro

After Pocitelj, it’s time to head into Montenegro. This border sometimes takes a little while, and you must make sure you have your car registration (and passports of course) ready to show at the border.

It should be about 3 hours from Pocitelj to Kotor, not counting any waiting time at the border. You will probably end up arriving in the late afternoon/evening, giving you time to check into your accommodation and wander into town for dinner.

Where to Stay in Kotor

Airbnb: We stayed in this one – about a 10 minute walk from town. Try Apartment Karampana for smaller/more central.

Hostel: Old Town Hostel West Wing – one of my favorites

Hotel: Boutique Hotel Astoria

What to Do in Kotor

It might be late when you get in today, so simply walk into the old walled town (are you tired of them yet?! 😛 ) and have a bit of an explore and dinner before retiring for the night.

kotor montenegro balkans road trip

Balkans Road Trip Day 14: Explore Kotor

Today you have a full day to explore Kotor!

What to Do in Kotor
  • Explore Old Town: Marvel at the old Venetian gates, get lost in the impossible streets of old town, explore the shops, enter old churches, walk the walls, drink coffee in the alleyways, etc.
  • Cat Museum + Cat Gift Shop (and all the actual cats!) – Kotor is known for having TONS of stray cats – so much that they have created an entire cat gift shops and museum!
  • Swimming – There is a small beach to swim outside of town (although it’s not the nicest of this balkans road trip itinerary)

A few hours before sunset, hike up to the fortress! You’ll notice that the walls of the old town actually zigzag all the way up the rocky cliffside and connect to the fortress to make one continuous walled town. It’s pretty impressive, and the view from the top is even more so. The Bay of Kotor is truly a sight to behold, with the distant boats and dramatic mountains jutting out from the water.

There’s an option to hike even higher, to farther mountaintops that present an even better (if that’s even possible) view. I did this once a few years back. If you want to hike higher, I recommend doing the hike in the morning and exploring the town in the evening.

Where to Eat in Kotor

After the hike, it’s time to get your tired self some food. Some top rated restaurants are Galion and Tanjga. We went to Restaurant city (on google maps as ‘grad’) on my most recent trip, and it was fairly good and very central.

If You Have More Time

You can do bigger hikes or sailing trips around the mountains and Bay of Kotor. However, I recommend spending more time exploring the rest of Montenegro… so keep reading!

lovcen national park

Balkans Road Trip Day 15: Montenegro Road Trip to Budva

For this part of the Balkans road trip, I’m going to give you a couple options. If you have more time, you can follow my comprehensive Montenegro road trip route linked below (will take 2+ days).

READ
The Best Things to Do in Montenegro in a Montenegro Road Trip Itinerary

If you only have one day, you can follow the stops below. Either way, your road trip will start in Kotor and end in Budva, so bring your stuff and get started early! Budva is another (you guessed it) walled coastal town. It is larger and more lively than Kotor, and you’ll have a full day here after your road trip to relax and take in the epicness of your Balkans travel.

One-Day Shorter Montenegro Road Trip Route (See post above for timings + more info)
  • Slansko Lakes – stop for a photo as you drive
  • Ostrog Monastery (+ mountains views along the way) – this is a famous monastery built into the side of a tall mountain. It’s a picturesque Montenegrin icon, and the views on the way there are equally stunning as well.
  • Podgorica/Niksic – These are two main Montenegrin cities/capital that you can drive through on your way through the countryside.
  • Pavlova Strana Viewpoint in Skadar Lake National Park – This is a famous 180 degree river bend on the outskirts of Lake Skadar National Park, on the border or Albania. The roads will be a bit sketchy, but the view is worth it!
  • Lovcen National Park – weave your way to a mountaintop mausoleum in the stunning rocky Lovcen National Park. Prepare for picturesque views and a creepy yet fascinating mausoleum for an old leader.
  • Sveti Stefan – After making your way back to the coast, make one final detour to a famous island. Sveti Stefan is connected to the coast by a thin bridge, and is home to a VERY fancy hotel. Don’t get any ideas about walking onto the island itself (unless you’re very rich), but it’s a fantastic photo op and  swimming spot.

Now – head to the final stop of your Balkans road trip – Budva, Montenegro!

Where t0 Stay in Budva
Where to Eat in Budva
If You Have More Time

Spend up to an entire week on you the Montenegro Road Trip. Click here to read my post about canyoning, river rafting, zip lining, hiking, alpine lakes, scenic overpasses, and more amazing things you can do in Montenegro when you stray from the coast.

sveti stefan montenegro balkans itinerary

Balkans Road Trip Day 16: Budva

Budva is easily worth a few days time – it’s a much bigger city than Kotor and is the place young and old come at night time to wander the busy old town streets, listen to live music, and go clubbing.

What to Do in Budva

Hopefully you aren’t tired of exploring old towns, because you have one last one to explore! Today, you can:

  • Wander through old town – get lost in the alleyways, browse through shops, find out what makes Montenegro different than the other countries you’ve seen
  • Museums – Check out the Maritime Museum, City Museum, and a few art galleries
  • Statua Ballerina – look at the ballerina statue up the coast from the town
  • Sveti Stefan – You can also do Sveti Stefan today (rather than yesterday) to spend more time there. You could even relax on the beach all day! It’s great for a morning or sunset swim.
  • Old Town Beach – if you’re just exhausted and can’t do anything else – plop down onto a beach chair on the beach outside old town, and don’t move ALL day. That’s fine too!

After the sun sets, choose a spot from the list above to have a last meal from your Balkans road trip. I’d suggest checking out what’s on in the town, too. It’s always bustling at night in the summer months with street fairs, open air clubs, and more. Soak in the final moments of an incredible trip – you’ve earned it!

Balkans Road Trip Day 17: Back to Dubrovnik

Well, now it’s time to drive to Dubrovnik and return your rental car… sad face. BUT FIRST – we can squeeze in one final stop, depending on the time of your flight (or if you are spending your final night in Dubrovnik like we did). If you missed out on Cavtat during your first bout in Dubrovnik… you can visit on the way back today!

Even if just for a coffee and a break from driving, pull a few minutes off the main road to soak up the last few moments of Croatian sun.

Next,  return your rental car at Sixt. They have a location near Hotel Rexos and at the airport. If you’re staying the night, return it near the hotel. Ideally, stay there or nearby. If you’re flying out, return it at the airport and be on your way!

If you have a night, spend your last afternoon relaxing and having one more swim at Bellevue beach, and have a last dinner in port Gruz. Catch a taxi to the airport in the morning, and there you are done and dusted!


The ideal western Balkans Road Trip - including nearly 3 weeks worth of destinations throughout Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia + Herzegovina, and Montenegro. What to do, where to stay, where to eat, and more for each destination, plus opportunities to extend the Balkans itinerary to see even more!

Made it all the way to the end?! Don’t forget to PIN me! 

June 11, 2019

5 Unique Things to Do in Singapore (Most Tourists Wouldn’t Think Of)

5 Unique Things to Do in Singapore (Most Tourists Wouldn’t Think Of)

If you’ve read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians or seen the movie version, you’re probably itching to book a trip to Singapore, ASAP. The small city-state has always been a go-to travel destination for tourists. The glitz and glamor of the city bring the promise of new adventures and exciting city escapades, drawing in hordes of new and returning visitors every year.

From street food vendors and hawker stalls that rival classier restaurants to other world-class offerings, it can seem like people have found every little nook and cranny that Singapore has to offer. Fear not, however, even popular destinations like the Marina Bay Sands are waiting to be rediscovered, solidifying Singapore’s spot as a top travel destination for years to come.

Here are a few other hidden gems and more unique things to do in Singapore that will impress even the locals:

Catch Live Music at a Cozy Bar

One of the best ways to get to know a city is through its local art scene. Luckily for tourists, Singapore’s music scene is steadily growing, with live gigs happening almost every night. If you’ve exhausted your options and already tried the Big Bus tour, this is your next move.

Blu Jaz and Timbre are some go-to spots for good music and even better company, but they’re not the only ones worth checking out. If you find yourself with a free night, try and see if there’s a band playing nearby, you might even discover your next favorite artist.

singapore soccer stadium unique things to do in singapore

Learn a Bit About the History of Soccer

Sports fans will be glad to know that Singapore is soccer-crazy, with their love for the sport providing an easy gateway into meeting and getting to know local fans and their culture. A great place to start is The Float @ Marina Bay Sands which is one of the world’s most iconic soccer stadiums, also doubling as the world’s largest floating stage. Situated across from the ArtScience Museum, it hosts concerts and exhibitions and most famously the New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza.

Though the amazing views of Singapore’s skyline are worth the visit alone, you could even be lucky enough to catch a live show or even a soccer game. Additionally, it’s worth going on a tour around the stadium, where you’ll find out first hand about the beautiful game’s long and storied history since its inception in 1869.

Go Camping

Singapore isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when you think about camping, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. While everyone’s busy partying at one of Singapore’s many nightclubs, pitch a tent and enjoy a quiet night under the stars. East Coast Park and Pasir Ris Park are good options, provided you’ve gotten your camping permit. Don’t forget to bring insect repellent!

Visit a Bookstore

For an artsy destination, you can check out during the day, visit one of Singapore’s indie bookstores.  BooksActually is located in the art deco Tiong Bahru area  and stocks a huge selection of titles, from rare editions of English literature to novels by local Singaporean authors.

Cat lovers will be delighted to know that the bookstore is also home to three cats, who will let you purchase books in exchange for head rubs.

Wake Up and Smell the Fish

On the off chance that you’re wandering around Singapore at 3 AM, you should head over to the Senoko Fishery Port. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, surrounding yourself with a flurry of human activity (and fish) can make you feel like you’re in another world. Foodies and seasoned chefs should definitely visit this place, which is basically ground zero for all the chili crab you’ll be consuming throughout the course of your trip.

The magic of the Singapore is that despite its small size, there are still a few secrets to discover. There’s nothing wrong with making sure you’ve visited all the go-to tourist spots in Singapore, but don’t forget to step out of your comfort zone and try a few new things that are off the beaten path.

 

Thanks to Laura for this guest post and to Unsplash for the featured image. 

laura kaye guest post bio

Laura Kaye is a sun-worshiping digital marketing veteran who spends as much time online as she does in the sea, although she’s currently working on making more time for the latter. When she’s not analyzing market trends, she’s perfecting her paddleboating skills in quiet lakes and beach coves across Asia.

June 2, 2019

Things to do in Motovun Croatia: A Truffle-tastic Medieval Hilltop Town

Things to do in Motovun Croatia: A Truffle-tastic Medieval Hilltop Town

I’m embarrassed that it took me five summers in the country to make it to Motovun Croatia. This little Medieval town is truly like that of a fairytale. It has a walled fort, perched in an almost spiral-like formation around the top of a hill, smack-dab in the middle of the Istrian countryside in Croatia’s Northwest. If you haven’t visited Istria, you are truly missing out on part of the heart of Croatia and a truly different personality of the country, which is ordinarily known for its warm, clear water and island-dotted coast.

But, Istria presents a totally different side to Croatia (apart from the Zagreb area, which is a third side to the country – read my Zagreb post for more). Istria is often compared to Tuscany, and with great reason. The luscious green hills seem to endlessly roll into the distance, with small colorful settlements perched on forested hills here and there, getting smaller and smaller up to the horizon.

Motovun Croatia is truly the best expression of Istria – with the most scenic little town overlooking the beautiful countryside, and a food and wine culture to truly rival its Italian counterpart. There are lots of things to do in Motovun – and most of them do involve food and wine, but who’s complaining?!

Complete travel guide to Motovun Croatia - in the heart of 'the Tuscany of Croatia,' the Istrian peninsula. Explore the medieval walled hilltop town, taste local wine, and eat LOTS of truffles! #croatia #motovun #Istria

But first – PIN THIS massive guide to Motovun! 

Motovun Croatia – Getting There

Motovun By Air

As I said, Motovun is right in the middle of the rectangular Istrian peninsula. It’s about an hour north of Pula, a much larger coastal town on the southern tip of the peninsula. Pula is the nearest large airport that is internationally and easily accessible. Check flights to Pula here!

Rijeka is about an hour east of Motovun, and also has an airport you can fly into.

Motovun By Car

This is the preferred option and the way that I got to Motovun on my Balkans road trip this year. You can rent cars the most cheaply at Sixt Croatia (which allows you to cross borders), or you can compare rates of all companies on rentalcars.com if you are staying only in Croatia. I think Sixt still had the best deals though, and they have offices in all main cities – Split, Zagreb, Pula, Rijeka, etc.

Motovun By Bus

Pula and Rijeka are accessible by bus from pretty much all of Croatia. Motovun however is a bit more difficult. You can get a bus connection Pazin from either city, and Motovun is another 20km away by taxi. This is why a rental car is preferable!

Motovun Day Tours

Your final option getting to Motovun Croatia would be to take a day tour. There are lots of bus tours through Istria from Pula, Rovinj, and other places in Istria that will visit Motovun, Grožnjan, the coastal town of Poreč, and more. I recommend this tour here. 

motovun croatia hilltop town

Motovun Croatia from afar

Currency in Motovun Croatia

In Croatia, the currency is the kuna. It does vary, but you’re looking at about 6-7 kuna to the USD, 5 to the AUD, and about 8 to the GBP. Some places accept euros, but most don’t. It would be wise to withdraw/exchange some kuna if you can.

How Long to Spend in Motovun

It’s really tiny, so 1-2 nights would be totally fine here to do all the things I have mentioned below! A day tour would also be plenty if you’re short on time.

Things to do in Motovun Croatia

Truffle Hunting Tour

Perhaps the most popular/famous/well-known things to do in Motovun involve truffles, and more specifically, hunting them. What is a truffle, you may ask? Well, they’re pretty much the most expensive fungus ever to grow underground. Truffles are a delicious delicacy, and are found all over the place here and taste amazing on basically anything.

An important Motovun fact is that the LARGEST TRUFFLE EVER FOUND was found here – well, in the Motovun forest at the base of the main hill. That has brought the region even more fame, and it’s best known for the truffles found in the extremely prolific forest outside the town.

So, what does truffle hunting entail? Sadly, humans can’t really find truffles themselves. Our sense of smell isn’t strong enough. You need specially trained dogs to run through the extremely dense forest, following their noses toward one of the most expensive things that grows underground – truffles!

How does one find a dog to go truffle hunting with? Well, you sign up for a tour of course! There are a few main truffle brands in town, and some of them run their own truffle hunting and tasting tours. This is the most cultural and immersive thing to do in the area, and what I most highly recommend to do in Motovun.

The thing is, most of the companies who run these tours require booking in advance. Tourism has not quite reached Motovun as much as the rest of Croatia yet, and the business is not so booming that you can rock up and get on a tour just like that. Try checking out Truffle Hunting Croatia for local tours, and Karlic TartufiMiro Tartufi for family-led tours. Send them an email ahead of time, and you should have no problem getting on a tour.  This tour also includes truffle hunting and runs from Rijeka.

motovun croatia old town

motovun old town view istria

Explore Old Town + Sample Oil, Wine, Truffle, and More

To get to the hilltop town, you must drive or take a bus from the bottom. Public busses regularly run up and down from the base of the Motovun hill, which has a large parking lot as the hill can’t accommodate too many cars or any tour busses. Tickets for this bus are about 20kn, and they run all day.

Once you get to the top of the hill, you’ll have arrived at the main street of the tiny walled town. There’s basically only one street, so it’ll be hard to get lost! As you walk upwards towards the top, you’ll begin to pass loads of small tasting rooms and stands (among other tiny souvenir shops), which will be selling the main products of Motovun – wine, rakija (a Croatian spirit), different kinds of olive oil, and different kinds of truffle paste and truffle-flavored things.

Pop into as many of these shops as you like – you might even (read: probably will) find something you’d like to take back to your accommodation or back home as a gift for friends and family. We found some wine to bring back for dinner, and I brought a variety pack of truffle paste for my family!

Oh, and did I mention the views?! The views from the old town are unbelievable and very photo-worthy. With the medieval buildings in the foreground and rolling hills in the back, you can’t go wrong.

Cuisine/Wine to Look Out For:
  • Karlic and Zigante are two of the main truffle brands that are widely known and loved, so you can’t go wrong sampling/buying these.
  • Malvazija and Teran are two types of grape/wine that are local to this area. Make sure to try some!
  • Fakin is a winery close to town where you can try wine, and also has a sampling shop and restaurant in town.
motovun city walls walk istria croatia

 

Walk the Old Town Walls

Like many old Croatian (and European in general) towns, Motovun has a set of main city walls, and you can walk on top of them. Just past the main square of town, you’ll come to a gate which leads to the walls. If you go inside and pay a small fee of 25kn, you’ll receive a ticket to walk around the top of the walls.

Unfortunately it’s no Dubrovnik, but the Motovun walls are beautiful and full of character just the same. You’ll get the best views in town and get to look back out over the small town you just explored on the way up. You’ll see all the forests where the truffle hunting takes place, and even more colorful towns in the distance.

Motovun Cultural Education Center (Small Museum)

At the base of the hill, you’ll find a small museum within a courtyard of a hotel. Here, you can learn a little bit more about how the old town walls of Motovun were built many centuries ago. You’ll learn more about the fact that it  as part of the Venetian empire for centuries (hence who you’ll hear some Italian even in Motovun Croaita!) and how they also discovered more ancient Roman (read: VERY old) ruins here. Some ruins are  on display in the museum, and some are in one of the main archways of the town. You can’t miss it!

Motovun Film Festival

Motovun is also famous for its annual film festival which shows independent and small films from across Europe. It’s extremely popular, and draws travelers from near and far. Make sure to be aware of this as you travel to Motovun Croatia. If you plan your travel dates to visit the film festival (which is usually late July/early August), you should book far in advance because it will be crowded. Or, plan to avoid the crowds and choose different dates. They even put up a campground at the base of the hill for the festival!

fakin winery motovun croatia view

Where to Eat in Motovun

One of the main and most important things to do in the truffle capital is to EAT, of course – and eat well. There are a few top-rated restaurants in Motovun, all of which will meet all of your truffle-rich desires. Here are my faves:

Fakin Winery/Fakin Restaurant – Fakin winery is located just about a 5 minute drive from the base of Motovun Hill, right next to a lovely airbnb I stayed in once. You can visit the winery at any time for a tasting if you are so inclined in trying some Istrian Wine.

However, once in town, you’ll notice the Fakin restaurant along the main cobblestone road with a perfect view out over the Valley. This is where Fakin wine and Motovun food come together! I recommend sharing a few white and black truffle-inspired dishes at sunset, and watching the sun disappear over the hills in the distance.

Zigante Restaurant – This is another top-rated restaurant just outside of Motovun. If you don’t mind a short drive/adventure to another small town, you won’t be disappointed.

Pod Voltom – Situated within the old town walls, Pod Voltom will present you with an incredible view and even more incredible food. Make sure, again, to try plenty of truffle. The meat is to-die-for also.

You can also do a food + wine tour of Motovun + Istria from Pula if you’re specifically into the cuisine! 

motovun walls restaurant

Where to Stay in Motovun Croatia

We stayed a bit out of the city in Motovun, in an airbnb right next to the Fakin winery tasting rooms (which seemed too big of a coincidence to pass up!) If you have a car, Motovun could be a great place to stay a bit farther outside the city in an apartment with a view, to have a bit more of a getaway and look out over hills or vineyards. However, if not, there are plenty of options right amongst it all in the city. Here are some options:

Airbnb: Galerija Motovun for cheaper + smaller + central, House Valentino for a remote entire house (where I stayed) and Casa Adora if it’s available for central + authentic (with a view)
Hotel: Hotel Kastel (central)

Best Photo Spots in Motovun

Although photos are great from the top of the hill itself, some of the best photos that capture the essence of Motovun are actually from a bit farther away. There are lots of vineyards near the main road heading south from Motovun. Pull over behind one to get a glimpse of the colorful hilltop fortress behind grape vines.  There’s a wonderful viewpoint of Motovun from the town of Vižinada (pictured in vertical pin image below) if you are driving out towards Slovenia.

motovun through the grape vines

motovun city walls

Where to Travel from Motovun

There are lots of other places to see in Istria! Here are a few places you could take a bus or road trip from Motovun.

Grožnjan

You can also visit Grožnjan, which is known as a sort of mini-Motovun as Korcula is known as a Mini-Dubrovnik. Grožnjan is a similar hilltop fortressed medieval town, yet, you guessed it, smaller!

Poreč

Poreč is a gorgeous Istrian walled town on the water. It’s not extremely close to Motovun but would be worth checking out if you’ve got spare time and a car. If you don’t, this tour visits Poreč, Grožnjan, and Motovun all in one day.

Pula

As I mentioned above, Pula is one of the larger Istrian cities along the southern coast. It’s known for having an extremely well-preserved ancient Roman coliseum and very lively streets on a summer night.

Krk

Krk is Croatia’s largest island, but actually evades the general tourist route. It’s gorgeous and far less busy than other places in the country. Check out what to don in Krk here!

Rijeka

If you’re heading south, Rijeka could also be a great stopover city. It’s quite a large and hilly coastal city with a lovely old town and accommodations.

Slovenia

We went straight into Slovenia from Motovun on our Balkans Road Trip. You can drive or bus straight to the capital, Ljubljana, or you can stop off at Predjama castle and/or the Postojna caves along the way for some extra iconic Slovenian points of interest. If you aren’t quite done with the coast but want to head north, Piran is a beach town on the only tiny snippet of Slovenia that reaches the coast.


Well, I can’t possibly think of more to say about Motovun Croatia. Do you have any questions?! Drop them below, and don’t forget to Pin!

Visit one of the Balkans' most unique towns: Motovun, Croatia! A tiny medieval hilltop town, Motovun is home to the best truffles in the world, fantastic wine, Italian-influences culture, amazing views, and more! #balkans #croatia #motovun #truffle #foodtravel

May 15, 2019

8 Outdoor Adventures in San Francisco to Explore Like a Local

8 Outdoor Adventures in San Francisco to Explore Like a Local

With San Francisco being one of the most diverse and exciting cities I’ve been fortunate enough to live in, it is nearly impossible to narrow down the best  adventures in San Francisco to just 8! There is so much to do in this City By the Bay.

But, with the goal of giving you an overview of the best of the best adventures you have to experience in San Francisco, I’ve narrowed it down to my 8 favorites.

The city’s incredible location in Northern California provides for pretty great and mild weather year-round (even if it’s usually foggy), which is perfect for explorations around the city.

Here are a few of my favorite adventures to have in San Francisco, whether it’s your first time visiting the city or you’ve lived here for years.  

Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge

A staple activity for visitors and locals alike, a walk (or bike ride) across the Golden Gate Bridge will not disappoint!

The bridge spans about a mile across the mouth of the San Francisco Bay and is one of the most iconic landmarks in the whole world. It will likely take you longer than you think to make your way across due to the endless photo opportunities, history, and the great views you’ll be absorbing as you go.

alcatraz prison adventures in san francisco

Take a Tour of Alcatraz

A piece of living history that really comes to life when you take a tour, former military prison, Alcatraz is certainly a San Francisco experience you won’t forget anytime soon!

The official Alcatraz tour includes a ferry ride out and back from the island in the opening of the Bay, with a complete audio tour that lets your mind wander just enough to think, “did that cell door move or was it just my imagination?”.

To really get your money’s worth, do a night tour of the former prison. The eerie feeling and faint creaks are even more haunting when the cells are dark and there’s no more sunlight illuminating the hallways. It’s utterly spooky.

BYOB…W?

Hit the slopes San Francisco-style and Bring Your Own Big Wheel to Potrero Hill for some old-fashion fun!

This event is a SF tradition and on its 19th year now, where families, friends, strangers, hippies, hipsters, yopros, techies, and fellow commuters come together to race “big wheels,” aka plastic tricycles, down one of San Francisco’s snaking streets.

The event is free to watch but charges a small fee if you want to actually participate (which they almost guarantee will lead to an injury so – race at your own risk). The best part of this event is the costumes – most of the participants dress up both themselves and their trikes!

polar bear freeze swim san francisco

Swim in the Bay (Polar Bear Swim)

Have you ever swam in frigid Northern California waters?

Most people wear a wetsuit when they decide to brave the ~55℉ brisk, ocean waters. For those wanting to take it to the next level and really get a jump start to your day, hop in the bay for a polar bear swim!

Not sure what it entails? Traditionally, it means stripping down to your bathing suit and hopping into a nearly freezing body of water (think Canada or New York in the winter), usually as a fundraiser.

But no one said you can’t do the polar plunge on your own, and believe me when I say that San Francisco waters are certainly cold enough! It would be one of the most daring adventures in San Francisco for sure.

Join in the Fun at Bay to Breakers

Bay to Breakers is the city’s annual foot race that goes throughout San Francisco. It started in 1912 as a way to boost morale and reunite the city after the devastating 1906 earthquake.

Today, it is much the same as it was when it first started and has really become a city-wide, even Bay Area-wide event.

People come from all over to participate in Bay to Breakers – in one way or another. Costumes are highly encouraged if you’re in town for this event. Both runners and sideline enthusiasts alike spend weeks coming up with the best costumes – a true testament to the unique, zaney diversity of San Francisco!

READ
75 Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Stops for the Off-the-Beaten-Path Explorer
twin peaks san francisco

Watch the Sunset from Twin Peaks

Offering one of the most incredible views in the city is Twin Peaks, the highest point in San Francisco. This spot has 360 degree views of the city and surrounding Bay Area, and is spectacular to visit at any time of the day, but especially at sunset.

Bring a warm jacket and a blanket to cozy up under (it’s windy up there!), and be mesmerized as the warm, orange or pink sky turns a darker shade of blue and the city lights get brighter and brighter.

Catch a Giants game from a Kayak

A great way to get to know a new city is to watch a beloved local sports teams play. In San Francisco’s case, that would be the Giants!

Of course getting stadium tickets is always a fun way to watch a ball game, but San Francisco has its own funny tradition when it comes to the Giants.

The stadium is located right along the Embarcadero waterfront and right next to a small cove, providing a perfect view of the jumbotron screen and a perfect spot to catch a fly ball heading out of the stadium!

Rent a few kayaks with friends and join the small crowd that gathers there for nearly every single Giants game. You can stock your kayak with a few shareables, some warm layers, and waterproof tunes for a guaranteed good time and one of the bet adventures in San Francisco. 

Dinner at a Japanese Bathhouse

For a cultural adventure, enjoy an evening at a Japanese Bathhouse in San Francisco’s Japantown. These bathhouses feature beautiful communal baths where you can enjoy a long and relaxing soak before cleaning up and dressing for dinner.

This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience, and one that even many locals haven’t taken the opportunity to enjoy.

Dinners at the bathhouses usually feature a spin on traditional Japanese cuisine and drinks that will leave you wanting more (or booking another reservation immediately). Most of the bathhouses offer acupuncture and massages as well!

READ
Big Sur, California - Adventure & Sunset Guide
8 Outdoor adventures in San Francisco to explore like a local

Don’t forget to Pin this post so you can remember all the adventures in San Francisco! 

These 8 unique and classic adventures in San Francisco should give you a good idea of where to start when it comes to exploring San Francisco like a local in an adventurous way.

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to spend your time in the city, or in California as a whole, don’t forget to check out my bucket list post on the top places to visit in Northern California as well.

mini mcfadden travel blogger

Author’s Bio: Mimi McFadden is a travel blogger and freelance writer. Originally from California, she has been slow traveling the world since 2013. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her sipping on a pint of craft beer, chasing waterfalls, or planning her next adventure in a foreign land.

After living abroad for five years in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Greece, and Portugal she has finally found a home in San Francisco, California. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog, The Atlas Heart

 

May 5, 2019

The Best Things to Do in Montenegro in a Montenegro Road Trip Itinerary

The Best Things to Do in Montenegro in a Montenegro Road Trip Itinerary

There are many more things to do in Montenegro than meets the eye. Having been awarded one of the most underrated countries in my eyes, Montenegro is the kind of place that just keeps giving. Many people assume it’s great for its coast – which it is – but it would be a mistake not to do a Montenegro road trip as well to check out the glorious mountains and ravines of the inner parts of the country.

Montenegro is home to beautiful beaches and bays, old walled towns, magical national parks, rocky mountains, towering cliffs, sparkling lakes, and more natural wonder than I thought possible to pack into such a tiny country. After visiting quite a few times, I’ve finally ticked most of the amazing places to visit in Montenegro off my list. Although I still discover more and more each time I return, I think I can confidently list all the best things to do in Montenegro – and not only that, but I have organized them into a looped Montenegro road trip itinerary so you can conveniently see them too.

This Montenegro road trip route can start anywhere you’d like (as it’s a loop – don’t you just love looped routes?!), but I have begun in the Bay of Kotor for convenience. Many people like to get to Kotor from either Dubrovnik, Croatia or Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. You can drive or take a bus from either of these locations – see below!

hidden gems of Montenegro: things to do in montenegro organized into a montenegro road trip

montenegro road trip guide and all possible things to do and see in montenegro

There’s a LOT of info in this Montenegro Guide… Pin it to Pinterest?!

But First, Are You Traveling Around the Balkans?! Perhaps Some of my Other Articles Could be of Use, Too!:

What is the Best Time to go to Montenegro?

Montenegro is very coastal, so temperatures stay quite temperate even in the summer with an average temp of 27C in the peak of summer. The middle of the country, however, is quite mountainous with a higher elevation, leaving it a bit colder year round. I would say the best time to visit Montenegro (and everywhere in the Balkans) just before or on the tail end of the high summer season. May/June and September/October are ideal months; July and August can get a bit too busy and hot.

Currency in Montenegro

Montenegro uses the Euro, unlike its Croatian and Bosnian counterparts. Some markets still accept other currencies, but it would be a good idea to change over some Euros before your Montenegro travel plans.

Getting to Montenegro

Flights to Montenegro

There are airports in Tivat (which is near Kotor) and Podgorica (the capital) if you would like to fly in. You can easily connect to Kotor and Budva from either, or begin your Montenegro road trip from either place. Bus connections to main cities are easy to find. You can check flights to Montenegro from other places in Europe here; the cheapest flights tend to be from Italy.

Bus to Montenegro

You can easily reach Kotor from main northern cities of Dubrovnik and Mostar, or connect by bus from other surrounding countries as well. Check bus times from Dubrovnik to Kotor here. Budva and Kotor are about 30 minutes apart by cheap public bus.

Driving in Montenegro

We rented a car to do a big Montenegro road trip, which I recommend to have a more freestyle Montenegro trip and be able to see all the places to visit in Montenegro that you want to see. We had a big Balkans road trip through Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, so we rented our car from Sixt in Croatia (offices in the airports/city of Split and Dubrovnik, plus many other places). Sixt was much cheaper than competitors and offered free border crossings as well. You can check Sixt in Montenegro too if it’s the only country you’re going to – there are offices in Tivat, Podgorica, and Budva.

Montenegro Day Tours

If you want to do a Montenegro road trip but can’t rent a car, there are actually plenty of Montenegro day tours you can do from Kotor, Tivat, or Budva. These four tours below pretty much encompass all the main points of interest and adventures in the country if you prefer.

bay of kotor montenegro things to do

Bay of Kotor

Things to Do in Montenegro

Here are the best places to visit in Montenegro, organized in order to do a possible Montenegro Road trip between them all. I would highly recommend branching out from Kotor and Budva – there is so much to Montenegro than these two main cities, and I pretty much guarantee that you’ll be as completely blown away by the countryside as I was.

To do this whole Montenegro road trip, you would need to either do multiple day trips from Kotor/Budva or rent a car and stay the night in a few other places in the country, such as Durmitor National Park or Tara River Canyon. I will recommend places to stay the night where applicable. Everything I mention will be visible on Google Maps. You can do this whole road trip in a row, or you can do bits and pieces here and there; as with all my itineraries and ’things to do’ posts, it is a ‘create-you-own-adventure’ style!

Without further ado, here’s my Montenegro Travel guide with all the best things to do in Montenegro!

1. Bay of Kotor

Time: Stop for photos

The bay of Kotor is a sight to behold in and of itself. A huge bay surrounded by massive mountains, the Bay of Kotor is effortlessly picturesque all the way around. You can either drive all the way around it or take a short ferry ride from Kamenari to Lepetane if you’re looking just to cross. I do however recommend getting lots of different views of it, both from sea level and from some high roads leading into and out of it (Lipci is one of the best views – see all on Google Maps).

The Bay of Kotor is actually the largest inlet of the Adriatic Sea, and has lots of amazing views. Perhaps the best points of interest in the Bay of Kotor (besides Kotor itself) are the two tiny islands located in the Northern past of the Bay, near Perast. One island (Our Lady of the Rocks) has a monastery on it, and the other (Otok Sveti Dorde/Saint George Island) has a church. Both are reachable by boat (like this boat tour here), and there are also great views of them from the coast directly opposite them, or from afar up the hill in Lipci.

fortress hike kotor montenegro

Hiking above Kotor

kotor town

Scenes from Kotor Town

2. Kotor Town

Time: A few Days

Kotor is an amazing little walled town on the southern tip of the Bay of the same name.  The wall goes nearly vertically up the steep mountain behind the town and snakes its way to a massive fortress overlooking the town and back down to a small moat. The designs of the mountain fortifications are very impressive and unique, and have survived since the 15th century!

You could easily spend a few days in Kotor, so this is one of the places I recommend staying at least a night, up to 2 or 3.

The best things to do in Kotor are:
  • Hike up the mountain to the fortress (MUST do!).
  • Visit the many churches in town
  • Walk the front side of the city walls – you can get up to the top of the walls from the bay side entrances
  • Visit the cat museum and cat gift shops – Kotor is known as the city of cats!
  • Visit the archeological museum, Maritime museum, or other art galleries
  • Wander through the old medieval town and the many little shops with interesting souvenirs and trinkets

If you want, the hikes around Kotor are some of the coolest things to do in Montenegro. The hiking trails actually go up much farther than the fortress, and zig zag their way up distant mountains with even better views. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time, though, and bring lots of water!

Where to Eat in Kotor

There are also some top-rated restaurants in and around Kotor. Tables might book up in the high season so make sure to call in if you’re a foodie.

Where to Stay in Kotor
slansko lakes montenegro best views

Slansko Lakes

3. Slansko Lakes View – from Kuside

Getting There: Drive back around the Bay of Kotor from Kotor Town (heading north) and take the road up from the bay (P11 to M6). You will see the viewpoint on your right!

Time: Stop for a Photo

Slansko Lake is a really picturesque lake scattered with little islands. It’s a great place to stop for a photo on your Montenegro road trip; there’s also a restaurant or two overlooking it if you are so inclined. You don’t need to stay long – but it’s worth checking out and snapping a photo for sure.

4. Ostrog Monastery (+ Mountain Views Along the Way)

Time: An hour or two

Getting There: From Slansko Lake, you can go through the town of Niksic to the M18 (you don’t have to go through the town as the highway circumnavigates it, but if you’d like, you can stop for a coffee, food, or accommodation). Exit at the town of Bogetici and enjoy what will emerge into beautiful mountain views overlooking a ravine. You’ll travel up and up and up, eventually reaching a zig zag road that leads up to one of the most unique monasteries in the world.

Ostrog Monastery is a feat of architecture and engineering – its a monastery built right into the side of a hill, overlooking the entire (basically) country of Montenegro. It’s really cool to see. It’s hard to get a proper view of it, but it’s amazing to catch glimpses of it as you ascend the mountain and to eventually get up close to it and see how it was carved into the side of the massive rock.

On certain days you can go inside, but I don’t recommend going on the weekend (like we did) because people often make pilgrimages to it and it can get really crowded. We got there on what ended up being a holiday and could not get in as hundreds of people had slept there overnight! Either way, it’s a sight to behold and one of the most unique things to do in Montenegro.

ostrog monastery montenegro road trip

Standing below Ostrog Monastery

Etno Selo Izlazak Viewpoint + Restaurant/B&B

Time: Stop for a meal/photo or possibly overnight

Getting There: This is one part of the Montenegro road trip that you’ll have to retrace your steps, but not for longer than 15-20 minutes. You’ll now head up the E762 into the most amazing mountainous part of the country. This viewpoint is about 1:15 hours from the Ostrog Monastery.

This little viewpoint/restaurant/hotel is searchable on google maps as ‘Etno Selo Izlazak” and it’s a perfect introduction to this part of the country. You can enjoy a delicious traditional meal overlooking one of many amazing Montenegro river canyons.

Pluzine/Piva Lake/Overpass

Time:  Stop for a photo

Getting There: This overpass is simply a spectacular view. after you cross the bridge from the south, you’ll wind your way up the side of (yet another) mountain looking back upon a stunning view of Piva lake and the bridge that you just crossed over it.

Visitng the Piva area is one of the most scenic things to do in Montenegro, with a thin ice blue lake/river sitting between large green mountains. The terrain is so mountainous that you’ll have to constantly be looking in every possible direction for more incredible views. Pluzine is the small town you’ll pass through when crossing between different parts of Piva Lake, from Etno Selo Izlazak all the way to the Mratinje Dam (a large dam at the far side of Piva Lake) if you’d like to make a slight detour to see it as well.

piva lake overpass montenegro road trip

Driving over Piva Lake

crno jezero black lake durmitor national park montenegro road trip

Jumping for joy at the Crno Jezero in Durmitor National Park

durmitor national park things to do in montenegro mountain overpass view

The kinds of views to expect driving through Durmitor 

Durmitor National Park

Time:  From a few hours to 1-2 Days

Getting There: From Piva Lake, you’ll keep on the same small road (P14) which will eventually take you through Durmitor National Park and out the other side to the town of Zabljak.

Be on alert for this whole drive, trust me – there are some incredible views as you make your way into another cluster of rocky mountains and grassy countryside. There’s one specific overpass (marked on the map Prevoj Sedlo) that is extra special, where you can stop at the top and overlook a winding road on either side. But for this trip (until you get to the main town outside the National park entrance on the other side, Zabljak) I recommend putting some tunes on and keeping your eyes glued to the windows, because it’ll be a bona fide Montenegro road trip with sweeeeeet views.

After another epic leg of your Montenegro road trip, you will reach the small country town of Zabljak, which is the main entry point to the most popular and easiest part of Durmitor National Park to visit. There are grocery stores, shops, and tons of accommodation in this town ,which is why it would be  a great place to stay a night or two to be able to properly explore one of the best things to do in Montenegro.

From here you can access one of the main parts of Durmitor National Park, which has lakes and hiking trails backed up to large mountains. The Crno Jezero (Black Lake) in my opinion is the most picturesque part. You can hike through forests, across pebbly beaches, and up and down hills around two interconnected lakes, getting a true variety in viewpoint. You can hike around them in a few hours, but there are lots more adventures around the area if you have longer time to spend in Montenegro.

To spend more time exploring Durmitor National Park, you can find an airbnb or hotel in Zabljak.

Not Driving? This day tour takes you to Durmitor, Ostrog Monastery, and Tara River Canyon as a full day trip from Kotor, Budva, or Tivat. 

Tara River Canyon

Time: Few Hours – Half Day

Getting There: Now we have reached the farthest part of the Montenegro road trip, and the further places to visit in Montenegro will be getting closer and closer until we get back to the coast. We will take the most scenic route possible of course, through the Tara Canyon along the Tapa river. The P4 road (on Google Maps) can take you through some more amazing scenery as you drive south – and as you will be used to by now, more windy roads to get to epic viewpoints. You can reach the main town of the canyon, Rasova, in about 20 minutes from Zabljak.

The Tara River Canyon is actually recognized as the deepest canyon in Europe, and a must-see of the things to do in Montenegro. If nothing else, you’ll want to stop off and take photos of the gorgeous arched Tara bridge, which to me is actually almost more magnificent than the single-arched Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California. The bridge is extremely picturesque against a jagged mountainous landscape surrounding a small blue river. This area is great for adventures, such as zip lining or river rafting.

The Tapa River is a popular place to go river rafting- perhaps the best in the Balkans. Rafting here is accessible on your Montenegro road trip or via day trips from Montenegrin cities/Dubrovnik. This tour here takes you on a full day of rafting and food from Kotor, Budva, or Tivat. You can also zipline over the canyon to get the most our of your adventure.

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A lookout over Lovcen National Park

Podgorica

Time: Anywhere from a quick rest stop to 1 day

Getting There: This will be the largest commute of your Montenegro road trip. It’s 2-2.5 hours via the E65 to the E80 from the Tara area to the capital.

I feel inclined to include the country’s capital in this Montenegro road trip route, because, well, it’s one of the most obvious things to do in Montenegro. But, to be honest, the capital is more of an industrial center and doesn’t have crazy amounts to do. If you need a break, a meal, or a night’s stay (depending on how long you spend in other places and how long you have), you can spend some time here.

There are parks, shops, squares, riverside eateries, some gardens, a museum or two, and accommodations, but Podgorica isn’t particularly a tourist destination to be honest. You could easily spend a day wandering around, but the true magic of Montenegro is more elsewhere.

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Pavlova Strana Viewpoint

Skadar Lake National Park/ Pavlova Strana Viewpoint

Time: 30 minutes at the viewpoint to 1 day exploring the whole National Park

Getting There: The Pavlova Strana viewpoint is about 30 minutes from the capital via freeways and tiny mountains roads.

This national park is centered around (you guessed it) a massive lake, located in the southwestern part of the country on the border with Albania. It’s pretty massive, but if you were to visit just one part of Skadar Lake National Park on your Montenegro road trip, make it the Pavlova Strana viewpoint. You can find this viewpoint on google maps, and it is perhaps one of the most famous viewpoints and best things to do in Montenegro. 🇲🇪

This viewpoint looks out over a massive 180 degree river bend, and is pretty spectacular. You can see little boats going by on the river to give you perspective of its size, and look out to the river snaking through marshlands into the distance. It’s an unbeatable photo op! Just to warn you, though, the roads to get through the park to reach this point are, well, less than ideal. They’re thin and often overgrown, but don’t be discouraged that you’re going the wrong way. You’er not – it’s just quite remote.

If you only have time for this viewpoint, that’s totally fine. But if not, you can easily spend a day exploring the far reaches of this National Park. Just remember that you can’t drive around the entire lake unless you go into Albania.

Lovcen National Park + Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos Viewpoint

Time: A few hours to a half day

Getting There: It will take about 30 minutes from the Pavlova Strana viewpoint to get to the outskirts of Lovcen National Park, and about an hour to get to the top of the highest mountains viewpoint.

Lovcen National park is a little circular National park about mid-way between Budva and Kotor, inland. In my opinion the roads leading to it are easier to take from/to Budva, which is why I placed it in this position on the Montenegro Road trip itinerary. You’ll take a winding road almost in a circle around the outside of the park to get in, and be faced with beautiful rocky mountain views throughout.

The real treat comes in when you drive all the way to the top of Lovcen mountain, however. If you follow the one main road all the way to the end, you’ll head straight up a massive mountain and reach a restaurant and parking area at the top just below the mausoleum of an old Montenegrin leader.

Park there, and walk towards the massive, ominous-looking tunnel with hundreds of stairs. Pay a small worthwhile fee, and walk up to what is probably the most… interesting… mausoleums I’ve been to. To be honest, this one one of the most interesting places I have been, and definitely on the the coolest things to do in Montenegro. I can’t quite think of the words to describe what this huge mountaintop marble structure adorned with statues and columns is like. It’s ominous; it’s opulent; it’s over-the-top; its friggin’ awesome; it’s a bit spooky; it’s like something I would expect in like, Ancient Egypt or something. You can visit a few different rooms in the mausoleum or go downstairs for the actual tomb, and there are guides and workers who can give you pamphlets to explain what it’s all about.

Oh, and THE VIEW. The view is panoramic and unreal, assuming the fog hasn’t covered it all up. There’s a platform (Vidikovac observation deck) not far from the mausoleum where you can look out over the whole park and also back towards the mausoleum, perched on top of the hill for the rest of its days.

Not Driving? This day tour here takes you to Lovcen, Podgorica, a boat ride in Skadar National Park, and Sveti Stefan. 

lovcen national park viewpoint

Vidikovac Observation deck

petar hektorovic mausoleum things to do in montenegro

Scenes from inside the mausoleum

 

Budva

Time: 2+ Days

Getting There: From Lovcen National Park, you must return to the entrance in Cetinje and take the M2.3 back to the lovely coast! It should take just about an hour to see the sea again and another 15 or so minutes to get to the town. Another Montenegro road trip option for those with less time is to go to Sveti Stefan (the next item on the list) for a quick swim and a sunset before you go back to Budva.

Budva is probably the best city to visit in Montenegro. It’s coastal, has more to do than Kotor and the capital, and is all-around the biggest and most eventful tourist town. There’s a charming old walled town, beautiful beaches right outside of it, a harbor, a coastline full of clubs, games, and water sports, and some really large suburbs.

In the summer months there will always be something going on in Budva, from parties in the local parks to film screenings to live music in the squares of Old Town. There are tons of museums and other things to do, ruins to learn about, and too many great restaurants to choose from.

Some of the best things to do in Budva include:
  • Visit the beach outside old town – complete with thatched umbrellas and lounge chairs to rent
  • visit the dancer statue (‘Statua Ballerina’) up the coast from old town
  • Get lost exploring and shopping in the alleyways of Old Town
  • Visit the many churches in old town
  • Check out the Maritime Museum, City Museum, and a few art galleries
  • Visit Sveti Stephan (see below)
Where to Stay in Budva

Sveti Stefan

Time: A few hours – 1 day

Getting There: It’s right down the coast from Budva- about 10km south.

Sveti Stefan is one of the most unique places to visit in Montenegro. It’s a little island connected to the mainland by a very thin isthmus – about 100m long. It’s an extremely postcard-worthy view, both from a small viewpoint on a road above it and from the bridge itself.

Sveti Stefan is an extremely picturesque formation, and if it wasn’t beautiful enough already there is now a wonderfully designed (and expensive af) hotel on it that is also pleasing to the eye. There are no other things to do in Montenegro quite like it, or any of the Balkans really. I recommend spending a few hours here taking photos, swimming, and relaxing on the beach. The water here is warm and clear like the rest of the Adriatic, and with a view like Sveti Stefan it will be an unforgettable dip.

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Sunset at Sveti Stefan… now time for a swim!

Ulcinj

Time: 1 Day Trip

Getting There: Ulcinj is about 1.5 hours from Budva, down the coast.

Ulcinj (Ult-zin-ee) is a lovely beach town on the farthest south end of Montenegro’s coast – close to Albania. It’s definitely not one of the necessary things to do in Montenegro, but I wanted to include a more off-the-beaten-track beachside destination for those who want to get away from the crowds. Ulcinj is a secret paradise with rocky headlands, beaches, and hilltop parks overlooking the sea. It would be a great getaway for 1+ days. It’s also quite close to Skadar Lake; if you end up exploring deeper into the national park you can always visit Ulcinj directly afterwards and re-route your Montenegro road trip a bit past Sveti Stefan towards Budva.

all the most incredible htings to do in montenegro organized into an epic montenegro road trip

Remember to PIN ME!

Phew, where there they are – ALL the best things to do in Montenegro, organized into the ultimate road trip. You can now know all the possible places to visit in Montenegro and plan your own trip accordingly – choose your own adventure and make a route with the time you have. Whether you hit all these spots or only Kotor and Budva, you’re sure to have a great time in what I have considered one of the most underrated countries in the world. As always, let me know if I can help in any way, if I missed something, or if you have any extra tips!

May 1, 2019

Things to Do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Mostar Travel Guide 

Things to Do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Mostar Travel Guide 

You should be proud that you’ve made it to one of Europe’s most underrated cities: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina! There are tons of things to do in Mostar when you aren’t simply walking the streets and ogling over all the amazing Turkish-influenced markets.

This Mostar travel guide will take you through all the historic, adventurous, scenic, culinary, and full-of-nature things to do in and around the town of Mostar. Trust me, you’ll be totally impressed with this place and the surrounding countryside – it’s a sight to behold. I went to Mostar as part of my Balkans Road trip one summer, and will never get enough.

But first, let’s get a few important pieces of info out of the way:

When’s the Best Time to go To Mostar?

It’s important to note that Mostar weather is HOT during the summer. No, like REALLY hot. Uncomfortably hot. The kind of hot that will make you not want (or be able) to leave the house. For maximum adventure and to be able to accomplish all these awesome things to do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina, you’ll want to visit when it’s a bit more of a manageable temperature.

This means that July and August are basically off-limits. I would personally recommend May or late September/early October, if that makes sense with your travel dates. This way, the temperature will be nice, warm, and manageable. Do June or early September if you must; or even more off-season months to beat the crowds.

What is the Currency in Mostar?

The currency in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the ‘Konvertible Mark,’ or as you will see on any street signs, the ‘KM.’ As of the late 2018, the KM was worth almost exactly twice as much as a Euro, and all businesses converted it this way. Many businesses will take Euros for exactly half the amount you would owe in the local currency.

How do You Get to Mostar?

Some of the best ways to get to Mostar from are from Dubrovnik, Croatia and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s jut over two hours away from both Dubrovnik and Sarajevo. So, it’s quite easy to fly into either of those bigger cities and get a bus, private transfer, or rent a car to drive to Mostar.

things to do in mostar bosnia and herzegovina mlstar travel guide

travel guide mostar bosnia and herzegovina

Going to Mostar Bosnia & Herzegovina? Pin this Mostar travel guide to Pinterest! 

And now, here are all the awesome things you can do once you get to Mostar!

Things to do in Mostar Town

Here are all the things to do in Mostar that are walkable from anywhere in the city. There are tons of activities to do, and the main area of town is actually quite small! There are things to do on each side of the Stari Most (which directly translates to ‘Old Bridge’), which is basically the center of the main part of town itself.

Explore Old Town

One of the best and most obvious things to do in Mostar is to get totally lost in the cobblestone medieval streets of the old town! The old town extends on either side of the Stari Most (Old Bridge) and it’s covered floor to ceiling with market stalls with the most unique, colorful, and cultural souvenirs.

Wandering the streets of Mostar is the easiest way to understand how heavily the Turkish/Ottoman Empire influenced the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s like another world if you have just come from Croatia or Slovenia, because the souvenir shops are totally different. In Mostar/Bosnia as a whole, the markets are full of Aladdin-type gold and silver lamps, cutlery sets, coffee sets, jugs, and plate sets, tons of turkish rugs and scarves, Amazing Turkish patterns on pouches and bags, skirts, hats and tops laden with old coins that clang when you walk, the type of stained glass lamps you’s expect to see in Morocco, and even war souvenirs such as little tanks and pens made from bullets.

Go ahead, get lost! But make sure you leave time for all the other awesome things to do in Mostar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Stari Most / Old Bridge

Well, this should be the most obvious place to visit in Mostar! The Stari Most is quite possibly one of the most famous landmarks in all of the Balkans, and rightfully so – it’s downright incredible!

The Stari Most  is perhaps the most well-known for incredibly brave people jumping off of it. People do it almost every day! But, it’s not for the faint of heart – it’s 24m (79ft) tall!! Wow!

There are some locals who do it daily for money, and who also take tourists under their wing each day and teach them the correct jumping form off a nearby platform for a small fee. If you want to jump it, I would 10000% recommend not doing it on your own! 24m is NOT for the faint of heart, and these guys give you a full tutorial, help you jump, yell at you while you’re in the air at the exact point you should pencil your body, and even have guys in boats there waiting if you mess up. It’s a good deal.

mostar map best views of the old bridge

Not a jumper? Don’t worry; most people aren’t. Let’s stick to looking at the bridge then, shall we? There are a lot of great views of the old bridge, but here are the best views of Stari Most I recommend:

  1. From standing on the bridge, of course! Walk across it as many times as you like, look off the edge on both sides, and imagine what it would be like to jump off of it – cringe! Make sure you don’t slip while walking on the Stari Most, though – step on top of each step or you might eat it on the slippery tiles.
  2. From below – if you’re standing on the bridge, you’ll see a few huge platforms below it on one side where people sit and relax. Grab a takeaway from anywhere in old town (I recommend the cevapi – they come nice and easy inside a pita here – more on food below) and find a nice place to sit below the bridge. There are plenty of shaded spots both close to and a bit farther from the bridge. Choose a place you like, take some classic pictures under the bridge, and hope that you’re lucky and get to watch some jumpers during your meal. (I got to see two! Check my IG story highlights of Bosnia to see them)
  3. From a restaurant for dinner on the opposite side of the bridge from the platforms. There are lots of them that have views of the bridge, and it’s absolutely lovely when it’s lit up at night.

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque (To Climb)

This is one of the most famous mosques in Mostar, and also happens to probably have the best view in Mostar. It’s definitely not for you if you’re claustrophobic, though; you actually have to climb up a stone spiral staircase all the way up a really tall temple spire/minaret. It’s not ideal, but oh, is it worth it!

Once you get to the top, you’ll see why this is one of the must-do things to do in Mostar. This view of the Stari Most might be better than the three above combined, and you can see more of the river and countryside than most places in town. The mosque is also very beautiful inside. Just make sure to cover up properly before going in (they also have scarves for you if you don’t have one)!

Cost of Entry: 6 Euro

view of the stari most old bridge from the mosque mostar bosnia go pro

View from the Pasha Mosque

Kajtaz House

The Kajtaz (kai-tahz) house is a fascinating old historic Turkish house that is now and UNESCO protected world heritage site. Located very close to town, the Kajtaz is actually run by a descendant of some of the original inhabitants back in the 16th century. He is extremely kind and knowledgeable about the entire history of the house and its rooms, and shows everyone around for a very small fee.

Unfortunately half of it was ruined in the Yugoslav wars, but they have done a fantastic job preserving the rest of it and setting the rooms up with traditional rugs, texts, pottery, and clothing that was worn when the home was new.

Cost of Entry: suggested donation of 2 Euro each for a tour

Nesuh-Aga Vučjaković Mosque

Not too far from the Pasha Mosque, we have the oldest mosque in Mostar. You can see just by looking at it that it’s quite ancient, and you can go inside and check it out more closely if you’re into that kind of thing.

War + Genocide Museum

This is a difficult, yet very important thing to do in Mostar. Recently opened, the Mostar Museum of War + Genocide Victims goes deep into tear-jerking detail about the war that happened in the Balkans/previous Yugoslavia a mere 26 years ago, from 1992-1995.

If you don’t know much about the Yugoslav Wars, you absolutely must visit this museum. There were terrible atrocities that occurred here during many of our lifetimes, and educating yourself about what happened is the first step to trying to empathize and understand what this country has gone through.

Cost of Entry: 10KM per person/5 Euro

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Bosnian coffee from Cafe de Alma

Try a Real Bosnian Coffee… and Yes, it’s Different than Turkish Coffee (But Similar!)

Did you know that Bosnian coffee is different than Turkish coffee? They’re actually really similar, but just prepared a bit differently. Make sure you don’t say ’Turkish coffee’ to a Bosnian, because they are adamant that theirs is far superior (it’s something about the roasting process and how Bosnians don’t burn theirs as often as Turks do, due to something…. ask at the cafe! 😛 ).

The best place to try a real Bosnian Coffee is Cafe de Alma. It’s a bit hidden behind a temple, but it’s super cute and authentic. Enjoy it with a turkish delight (unclear if they would be called Bosnian delight here?!), and maybe someone can read your fortune at the bottom of the cup!

Biscevic House

This is another old Turkish house – this one from the 17th century – right next to the War + Genocide Museum. Similar to some other historic houses to visit in Mostar, you can view old artifacts and information with a terrace over the river.

Things to do in Mostar, Surrounding Areas, and Herzegovina

Now it’s time for the second half of my Mostar travel guide, which refers to all the amazing places to visit outside of (yet close to) Mostar Town. I meant it when I said that this is one of the most scenic countries ever, so make sure to visit some nearby points of interest.

Getting to the Areas Outside of the City

To see the areas described below (Kravice, Blagaj, Pocitelj, and Medugorje), you can either rent a car and drive it yourself, or you can do a day tour from Mostar that will take you around.

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A local pomegranate in front of the Blagaj spring and dervish house

Blagaj Spring + The Dervish House/Tekija

One of the most unique things to to in Mostar and even the Balkans is to visit Blagaj (pronounced blah-guy) Spring. The spring is at the base of a very tall cliff, and is actually the deepest spring in Europe. Blagaj is actually the source of the entire Buna River, producing 43,000 gallons of water PER SECOND. No joke. The water is pure and cold, and many surrounding restaurants actually use it to cool their drinks rather than using fridges!

Next to the spring you have another old Turkish house that is now a tourist/historical site. This one is quite similar to the Kajtaz but has a bit of a different history, being occupied by ‘Dervishes.’ Dervishes are known to be the ‘Islamic hippies’ if you will, and they used to live very simply and off the land in this scenic white house near the spring.

Nowadays you must cover up to go inside, as with most old houses in Bosnia. You can visit all the different rooms, learn what each one was for and how they used them, and of course take pictures in the beautiful rug-adorned rooms.

Kravice Waterfalls

Kravice waterfalls (Krav-eet-zay) are some incredible waterfalls about an hour outside of Mostar. These waterfalls are extremely scenic; many people revel at how beautiful they are. I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls in my travels but I still love visiting Kravice Falls, especially because you can swim in the water surrounding them. I love them so much I have written a specific guide to visiting Kravice Falls, too!

They have recently put up a lane line around the falls, but I personally had no problem climbing up to get closer to the falls and explore the rock pools. Just be careful – I didn’t tell you to do it!

There are loads of restaurants surrounding Kravice Falls where you can get a bite to eat overlooking the water. There’s also a tram that takes you up and down for 2 euro, but if you take the stairs the walk is easy enough.

Pocitelj Castle

Pocitelj Castle/Fort (po-chee-tell-ee) is an old Ottoman walled hillside town next to a beautiful river. It’s only about 15 minutes from Kravice Falls, and you can visit them both together quite easily. Just prepare for some stairs (some bus tours use a drop-off point above, but the parking lot is below). I’d recommend walking in a big circle from one main tower to the other (you’ll find your way easily enough) and seeing the views of the town and river from both sides. One tower has been fortified by glass, but most of the rest of town is as authentic-ruins as it gets. The eastern tower is crumbling a bit, and you can climb up to the top level to look out the windows just like Rapunzel.

You can pick pomegranates off the trees as you walk around the town – hopefully you get them while they’re ripe! You can also buy pomegranate juice, rose juice, and tons of little cones of fresh fruit and nuts from the locals who likely picked them from their gardens.

pocitelj castle mostar bosnia herzegovina

The View from Pocitelj 

Medugorje

Medugorje (med-oo-gohr-ee-yay) is a famous Christian pilgrimage site where, supposedly, the Virgin Mary appeared to some young people many years ago. Today, people from all over the world make pilgrimages to Medigorje, often for Christmas and religious holidays.

There is a MASSIVE outdoor church – the biggest I’ve ever seen – for people to attend mass. You can go into confession booths in like 20 different languages, and revel at quite a few statues of Jesus, Mary, and a few other religious figures. In the town, you’ll find gift shop after gift shop all centered around Virgin Mary. You can take your pick: life size Virgin Mary statues, Virgin Mary necklaces, magnets, cups, plates, bobbleheads, posters, keychains… literally everything. So if you’re into the Virgin Mary… this is your place, yo.

Visit a Winery

Yep, they do make wine in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are many family wineries near Mostar, many of which you can visit and have a taste for yourself. I mean, Bosnia isn’t KNOWN for its wine, but when in Rome, right?

Watching the Sunset in Mostar

It wouldn’t be an Adventure + Sunset guide without sunset spots, right?! Mostar isn’t the best place to see the sunset, but you best believe I always try the find the best sunset views no matter where I am. Here are some suggestions:

Drive Up the Hill Overlooking the City

You’ll see a big hill overlooking the city with a cross on top. You can drive up this (don’t try to hike though, I did that once – no trail along the road). This would be a great place to see the twilight over the city.

Riverside Restaurants

Grab yourself a table with a view for sunset – bonus if it has a view of the Old Bridge, too.

Platforms Under the Bridge

Watching the sky change with the Stari Most in the background is nothing but magic. And those platforms are a wonderful place to relax. Bring a picnic!

shopping in mostar bosnia and herzegovina

Shopping in Mostar

Where to Eat + Drink in Mostar

Phew, that was a lot of adventuring you had to do to complete all those cool things to do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina! You must be hungry. Don’t worry, I have some great places for you to try.

But first, I want to warn you that sometimes the food can get a bit… sketchy in Mostar. It’s kind of the one thing that sucks about Mostar – I got reeeeeeally sick here once, and they think it was either salmonella or a parasite. Scary, I know – it’s not common, I just want you to be cautious and not eat anything that you feel unsure of. I felt unsure about my chicken salad, but I ate it anyway (who gets sick from a chicken salad?! it was probably the eggs). Not good. I have since found some super reliable places to eat in Mostar, so go to the places I recommend and exercise a general amount of caution (eat local dishes, order reliable things) and you’ll be totally fine.

The Food House

This place is a bit more affordable and has some absolutely delicious options both of very traditional food and more western-ish things you might be more familiar with. It’s very close to the bridge and is very reliable. A great chance to try something new.

Šadrvan

This place is right near the old bridge and perhaps has the best food in Mostar. The workers are all dressed up in traditional clothing, and provide great service as you sit among the fairy lights strung between trees. It’s super cute, really. Get a tasting platter that has a bit of everything, and get amongst the local/Turkish influenced food.

Cafe de Alma Coffee Shop

I already mentioned this, but you MUST try Bosnian coffee, and this is a good place to do it. If it’s full (which it often might be) there are a lot of other small cafes too.

Grab Food to Go and Picnic Near the Bridge

Grab some takeaway cevapi in the town – many places do this. (If you don’t know, cevapi is basically like little sausage sticks of hamburger meat. They’re a classic food for the Balkans, and in Bosnia they come with chopped onions and ajvar/red pepper sauce inside a pita. Delicious and hard to mess up.) Take the food to one of the public platforms near the old bridge and enjoy the sunset and/or old town lit up at night as you eat.

Alternatively, grab some groceries from a nearby market and make yourself a picnic fit for a king, with a view. You can’t go wrong with charcuterie platter supplies. I did this while traveling solo for my birthday one year.

Bakeries

There are lots of fresh and delicious bakeries, and they get cheaper and cheaper the farther you go from the main town.

Black Dog Pub

Black Dog Pub is the place to go have some drinks after dinner. It’s right along a smaller stream that empties into the Neretva, with a smaller version of the Stari Most bridge that was constructed prior to the larger version to make sure it was constructionally sound. You might meet some locals there who will take you to Mostar’s nightclub on the other side of the bridge, in a cave-like opening in the cliff.

kravice falls mostar herzegovina

Kravice Falls 

Where to Stay in Mostar

The last part of my Mostar travel guide has come: where to stay in Mostar. There are hostels in Mostar to stay in, but honestly this place is so cheap that you might as well treat yourself to a private room for no more than 30-40 Euro, or a nice airbnb.

I was able to find a one bedroom from a travel agency for 35 /night right next to the bridge a few years back. Another time when I was with a few others, I stayed at a lovely airbnb right outside of town and not far from the Kajtaz house. There are a few boutique hotels, with even nicer ones under construction. There are plenty of options! Here are a few links:

Airbnb

When traveling with a family, I stayed in this Airbnb/villa here with 3 rooms (7 guest capacity) right next to the city and loved it. This one is great for smaller groups/couples or solo travelers.

Hotels

There are plenty of highly rated hotels in the city, depending on what you’re looking for.

Hostels

There are also many cheaper hostels around town as well.

things to do in mostar bosnia

Remember to pin this guide to Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina! 

Where to Travel From Mostar

The Balkans are a stunning area to travel through, and many of Bosnia’s neighbouring countries are worth visiting on a Balkans road trip.

Croatia

Many people travel to Croatia from Mostar. Check out my Croatia Super-Guide for all the info you need about this country. You can also read my guides to Split, Dubrovnik, and more.

Montenegro

Montenegro is an east border crossing from Bosnia. Check out all the best things to do in Montenegro in my Montenegro Road Trip Guide.


 

Well, that’s it for things to do in Mostar! Did you enjoy my Mostar travel guide? Is there anything I missed?! Let me know if the comments!

April 23, 2019

Solomon Islands Tourism Tips, Facts, + Complete Travel Guide

Solomon Islands Tourism Tips, Facts, + Complete Travel Guide

This year I had the privilege of being able to visit the Solomon Islands – an incredibly untouched and authentic island nation in the South Pacific. Solomon Islands Tourism is only just gaining popularity, as the country is actually one of the ten least visited nations in the world. The island nation is spread out over more than 900 islands in 900 miles, with six main islands accessible from each other mainly via short internal flights. The country is very spread out, and consists of both mountainous/volcanic islands with dense jungles to flat white sandy beach islands laden with palms.

The Solomon Islands are laden with coral reefs and impossibly clear water, and are teeming with wildlife both above and below the surface. They have some of the most untouched and magnificent fishing, surfing, diving, and wildlife-spotting locations in the world, which you are likely to have all to yourself on any given day.

The people of the Solomon islands are mostly of Melanesian descent, with portions of Polynesian and Micronesian descendants as well. Locals are lovely and welcoming, however often intrigued and confused about the sight of visitors (more or less depending on where you go!). They’ve had quite a tumultuous history in the Solomons, being one of the main battlegrounds between the USA and Japan during WW2 and also periods of civil tensions and fighting in the late 90’s/early 00’s.

I was invited by Visit Solomon Islands to experience Solomon Islands tourism with my friend (aka instagram husband) Dana of The Wandering Donut, and they planned a jam-packed week for us both. Our trip started off on a high note when we were upgraded to business class on Solomon Airlines (woo!), and that high note maintained the entire week. After a few weeks of bad weather, we apparently brought the sun with us from Australia and we had an almost-seamless week of lovely weather, fascinating history, incredible photo ops, beautiful locations, and LOTS of my two favorite things – adventures & sunsets! 😉

a complete guide to solomon islands tourism: facts, tips, where to go, things to do, where to stay, histopry, what to know before ou go, how to get there, getting around, and more.

a complete guide to solomon islands tourism: facts, tips, where to go, things to do, where to stay, histopry, what to know before ou go, how to get there, getting around, and more.

Pssst – PIN ME to your Pinterest boards to save for later – this is a loooooong Solomon Islands Tourism Guide! 

Quick Solomon Islands Facts:

Solomon Islands Capital: Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal (famous for a WW2 battle of the same name)

Solomon Islands Population: 611k (and rising steadily but slowly)

Solomon Islands Religion: 95% Christian – however, there were prevalent headhunting tribal traditions before the arrival of Christian missionaries.

Solomon Islands Climate: There are basically two seasons in ‘the Sollies,’ the dry (and cooler) season April to October and the wet (and warmer) season the other part of the year. The temperatures remain quite temperate year-round, with averages of 27 degrees Celsius (about 80F) year round.

Solomon Islands Language: The official language in the Solomon islands is English. However most of the population speak a fascinating dialect of English called Solomons Pidgin. This language is a mixture of Creole languages (of which a few more are spoken in certain parts of the country as well) with a largely phonetically spelled/pronounced version of English. A lot of words/signage can make sense in English if you sound them out. See a photo + explanation down the end of this post!

Solomon Islands Economy: The main exports/foreign exchange from the country are timber and fisheries, with lots of palm oil and copra as well. Solomon Islands tourism is growing industry as well with a ton of potential, but still requires government support for infrastructure.

Solomon Islands People: The people of the Solomon Islands are thought to have first migrated to the area around 3,000 years ago from Southeast Asia, forming the predominantly Melanesian archipelago which includes a few surrounding countries as well. There are also significant populations of Micronesian and Polynesian people as well.

One of the most interesting qualities about the people of the Solomon islands is their unique gene to produce blonde hair alongside dark skin – which is thought to have evolved from a diet rich in seafood and lifestyle rich in sunlight. About 10% of the population have naturally blonde hair. See below for a brief Solomon islands history!

  • Betelnut: one of the fascinating cultural traditions of the Solomon Islands the the use of betelnut, a nut grown locally and chewed. You’ll notice that many people of the Solomon Islands’ teeth and gums are stained red with the stuff. It’s something that is done socially with friends, and is a slight stimulant much like coffee.

solomon islands WW2 plane wreck dive site go pro

Looking over a submerged WW2 plane – one of many surreal dive sites in the Solomon Islands.

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A Solomon Islands sunset from the sky in Gizo 

Solomon Islands History (In Brief)

The Solomon islands were home to indigenous tribes and peoples since they were first settled around 2000BC. In the mid 1500’s, a Spanish explorer ‘discovered’ them and named them the Isles of Solomon, thinking he had found the source of the riches of the biblical figure of the same name. This is why many islands still have Spanish names.

The islands were left mostly alone until the late 1800’s, when the occasional missionary or trading ship would make contact. Also during this time, many ships from Australia and Fiji began ‘blackbirding,’ or abducting Solomon Islanders to labour on plantations (which laid some of the foundations for the pidgin dialect of English that made it back to the islands).

In 1893 the Solomon islands became a British Protectorate, which it remained for decades. The islands were then occupied in 1942 by Japanese WW2 troops, and American troops soon after – leading to several years of intense and crucial battle which exploited and damaged the nation, but left it with a new identity. After the war the new capital, Honiara, was established next to USA’s Henderson airstrip, and the Islands became independent from British rule in 1978. They remain close with British rule and are a member of the Commonwealth.

Infrastructure was improved at a slow rate until ‘the tensions’ of 1998-2003, which was a period of battle and civil unrest between the islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita. Many residents of both islands were displaced or forced to flee conflict, and there were periods of violence until 2003 when the RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) or ‘Helpem Fren” (‘help a friend’ in pidgin) arrived. RAMSI was a force of a few thousand soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, and many other Pacific Island Nations who arrived to help restore order and disarm militias, which was hugely successful.

solomon islands hapi isles happy people

The Solomon Islands are known as ‘the Hapi Isles’ because people are so happy and welcoming. These happy people were at the Honiara market. 

What to Know Before Considering Visiting the Solomon Islands

Before considering visiting the Solomon Islands, there are a few things you must know. The islands are still very untouched, and receive under 25,000 visitors per year (many of which visit on business or research purposes). Although they still lack the complete infrastructure to support mass tourism, they are very well suited to the off-the-beaten-path traveler who seeks some authenticity in their ventures.

You won’t find massive bus stations, decked-out resorts, tourism-directed advertisements and signage, or travel agencies all over the place eager to sign you up for your next tour. Most excursions and transport will be booked for you through your hotel, and Solomon Islands tourism leaves a bit more of your trip up to your own interpretation.

There aren’t many gift shops, touristy malls, or souvenir markets. I couldn’t find many places to get souvenirs/arts/crafts outside of Honiara, and most of the shopping malls and crowded food markets were simply stocked with necessities for locals and no tourist bait.

Essentially, what I am saying is that it’s certainly no Hawaii, but that’s what makes the Solomon Islands so intriguing, authentic, and alluring.

solomon islands view from the plane solomon airlines plane

solomon islands lola island reef sharks

Spotting islands from the plane, and little reef sharks from the pier!

Who Should Visit the Solomon Islands?

Because ‘the Sollies’ are more suited to a certain type of traveler and not really for others, I’ve made this handy dandy little chart listing out the types of people who would love Solomon Islands tourism and those who may not.

DEFINITELY COME IF YOU ENJOY:

  • Scuba Diving – some of the best in the world
  • Fishing – Amazing fishing and sport fishing, prolific sea life
  • Surfing – Remote + untouched reef breaks with perfect waves
  • Wildlife Spotting/Bird Watching – some of the most biodiverse places in the world (especially certain islands) and popular for birds
  • Eco and rustic travel and experiencing the true identity of a place
  • Adventure Travel – snorkeling, scuba, fishing, helicopter, hiking (volcanoes), jungle/rainforest walks
  • Culture – visiting communities/villages and interacting with locals to learn their customs and traditions
  • Being remote + in nature without much contact with the outside world (e.g. wifi)
  • Fascinating World War II history, memorials, ruins, museums, and artifacts
  • Potentially being the only people staying at an island hotel for a few days – getting to know the locals and workers
  • (Truly) untouched island paradises with clear blue water, sandbars, dozens of tiny white sand islands with jungle vegetation
  • Freshly prepared seafood- lobster, squid, shellfish, white fish, and more
  • Interacting with kind locals who would love to chat about where you’re from

MAYBE DON’T COME IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR:

  • A luxurious five star resort experience with people waiting on your hand and foot
  • A cheap party travel destination/a cheap place to go and get wasted for the weekend
  • Busy cities and populated resorts with lots of other international guests
  • Infrastructure on par with the Western World
  • Being able to constantly connect to wifi and stay in contact with the outside world/stream movies/upload photos/etc
  • Lots of options to go out and socialize at night
  • Big cities with lots of amenities/being able to access all food/drink/convenience/entertainment needs at any given moment

solomon islands relax fatboys resort gizo bikini girl

hiking solomon islands jungel walk blogger

I was having far too much fun, clearly! 

How to Get to the Solomon Islands (Solomon Islands Airports)

The Solomon Islands have two international airports – one of which actually just opened in late March 2019. Before the Munda International Airport opened its doors, you could only arrive in the Solomon Islands via a flight through the capital, Honiara. Brisbane is the main international hub through which most flights to the Solomon Islands will pass. There are a couple flights per day from Brisbane to Honiara (and vice versa – usually two). There are only a few other international flights out of Honiara to other South Pacific Islands such as Fiji, Kiribati, and Vanuatu, but other than that all must pass through Brisbane.

However, the recent opening of the Munda International Airport has and will continue to open up many new doors for Solomon Islands tourism. The flights from Brisbane to Munda were still in the trialing phase as of March 2019. But, they will continue to expand and proliferate through the year, in hopes that it will expand visitation and potentially investment in Solomon islands tourism and infrastructure. The main thing that must be established is the immigration system, but all plans are in place to have even cheaper flights to this part of the Solomon Islands soon.

The international flights to the Solomon Islands will have both business and economy class. Business class seats come with higher caliber meals and alcohol, however the meals in the economy class are also quite good with (lower quality) wine and drinks as well. See below for a Solomon Islands budget/pricing section.

solomon islands sunset locals on the pier solomon islands tourism

An unforgettable sunset in Munda

Getting Around in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon island chain is much larger than it may seem. As I mentioned earlier, it covers a distance of over 900 miles from Papua New Guinea to Vanuatu. Let me repeat that – nine hundred miles. This is no small feat to cross, folks! You can’t exactly get from one side to the other via small motorboat, and the infrastructure does not yet support large-scale ferry services to bring people around, especially in times of storms/rain.

So, as of now, you can get around the islands themselves by car/van of course, between some of the closer islands via small motorboat, and the rest is left up to tiny internal flights run by Solomon Airlines.

Solomon Islands Internal Flights

From Honiara you can take short flights to just over twenty islands/airports in the Solomon Islands. These flights go through the smallest airports you’ve ever seen, with singular check-in counters and one-human-looking-in-your-bag security checkpoints (if anything), and board onto the cutest little propeller planes on single-lane runways. Some flights have slightly larger propeller planes, while the shortest flights take tiny prop planes without much more than a few dozen seats.

My Experience/What to Know About Solomon Airlines

I couldn’t stop giggling about the tiny size of everything at the island airports. They were essentially one-room buildings with a counter and back door that lead right out to the tarmac. Baggage claim at Solomon Islands airports is nothing more than a cart of everyone’s bags being rolled out to the building, and leaving everyone to work together/scramble a bit between each other to find their bag.

The Honiara Domestic Airport was the only one with a security check, which was comprised of a woman checking inside everyone’s bags. This was also the only one with multiple rooms, with a waiting room and another with a few chairs (far less than the amount of seats on the plane, ha) after security.

The Gizo Airport is one of the most unique in the world; it’s literally an airstrip that is an island itself, and the only way to get to the mainland/other islands from it is by motorboat. It’s the type of thing where you’re looking out the airplane window seeing the sparkling blue ocean getting closer and closer as you descend, and momentarily getting slightly worried that land actually won’t appear because you can’t see land/the airstrip until you’re a mere few meters off the ground.

Picture locals selling coconuts on a grassy patch just outside the open ‘terminal,’ with a couple airport baggage carts laying beside them waiting for the chance to be used. You then make your way to a small pier where motorboats from various hotels are waiting to pick up their next patrons, for quite possibly the coolest airport taxi ride you’ll ever take.

The Munda Airport is at the end of a tiny main road of town, bordered by a single bar, a couple small hotels, some Chinese shops, market stalls, and a grocery. It’s a single room with a check-in counter and a bench around the outside, with tons of informational posters (likely made on Microsoft Word) on the walls about different hotels and islands to visit in the area. Planes from here back to Honiara will come from Gizo, so when you hear the plane land you’ll know it’s time to board. After some people have deplaned and entered the small building from the tarmac, you’ll jump on the small plane which will have patrons still on it from Gizo. Your ticket might even be written by hand.

What to Know about Internal Flights on Solomon Airlines:
  • These flights will have some of the best airplane window views you’ve ever seen. Make sure to keep your eyes fairly glued to the windows… by doing your best to get a window seat.
  • The seats may be assigned on the tickets (sometimes), but it’s essentially a free-for-all on all internal flights. This means the seats are first-come-first-serve.  Make sure to try and line up first to have your pick of seats so you can get one with a window for the epic viewage.
  • Make sure to pack your camera(s) in your carry-on so you can take photos out the window. Trust me.
  • The snack we got was a fascinating ‘butter cracker sandwich’ that tasted a bit lemon-y to me. Make sure to try this interesting local snack.
  • There will be lots of locals flying too. It might be a great opportunity to have a chat with someone who lives in the Sollies to get a fresh/authentic perspective on what it’s like and where they’re going.

shipwreck bonegi mbonege beach honiara solomon islands

Bonegi shipwreck on Mbonege beach

traditional cooking solomon islands

A traditional cooking display in Lumatapopoho village – cooking local cabbage in coconut milk by using hot stones to boil the milk.

Where to Travel/Things to Do in the Solomon Islands

Phew! Now that we have gotten the logistics out of the way, I assume if you’re still reading that you are the adventurous/getaway type of traveler. Great! There are LOADS of places for you to explore, all over the Solomons. I’ll begin with a brief outline of what each place has to offer, but I have specific guides and posts in the pipeline which will be coming out very soon with more in-depth specifics for each individual destination.

Guadalcanal Island

Guadalcanal Island is the largest of the Solomon Islands and home to the capital city, Honiara. The name Guadalcanal may be familiar to many due to a large and decisive World War 2 battle of the same name, between the US and Japan. As I mentioned above, battles in the Solomon Islands were some of the most crucial of the War, and just barely ended with US control over the Pacific rather than Japan moving closer toward Australia.

The Henderson Airstrip of Honiara (which is now the international airport) was the most crucial capture for the US Army; if control of that very airstrip was lost to Japan, the world may actually have ended up very differently today! Either way, there is a LOT of WW2 tourism in Honiara. There are many War sites, memorials, ruins, and museums to visit. The island was essentially ravaged by the war, and remnants can still be found to this day.

Honiara is also of course the capital and financial/governmental center of the Solomon Islands. It has the highest population and the hustle and bustle of a busier city. However, the Solomon Islands are one of few countries where the majority of the population still lives in rural communities (rather than most people gravitating to bigger cities for work), which is another reason it’s so authentic. This also means that the capital city is not as big as one may imagine. There are a few main roads, a couple restaurants, a cafe or two, a central market, a yacht club (pretty much the only form of nightlife), some bigger hotels, and quite expansive suburbs around the city as well.

vilu war museum honiara solomon islands WW2 plane

Posing with one of the many planes of the Vilu War Museum

What to See and Do in Honiara + Guadalcanal

  • US War Memorial and Japanese War Memorial – There is both a US and Japanese hilltop War memorial around the hills of Honiara. Here you can learn about how the War effected both countries, pay tribute to lives lost, and see lovely views.
  • Art Museum – The Art Museum in the city center houses two rooms of local art. Art from the Solomon Islands, in my opinion, tends to be very vibrant, abstract, and ocean/nature focused. I adored some of the paintings here – one of them is still the background on my phone!
  • National Museum – This museum was quite comprehensive, with Solomon Islands history all the way from prehistoric times (when the first humans are assumed to have arrived in the South Pacific), to the first people in the actual country, to the Spanish occupation and British Rule, to WW2, to the times of tension and RAMSI help. You could really learn everything you need about the islands at this museum if you had enough time.
  • Vilu War Museum – This museum is a bit of a drive out of town, but is fascinating. It’s a ‘museum’ comprised of all the remnants of the War that a local man found (with some items he bought from others), which are laid out aesthetically in a field scattered with trees and flowers. You can see broken-down skeletons of both US and Japanese cannons, bombs, many different types of airplanes, propellers, artillery, tanks, and more. You can also learn about what each thing was and how it was used in the war.
  • Honiara Central Market – This busy market is right in the city center and has locals selling every kind of food you can think of, and some crafts/jewelry too. It’s vibrant, bustling, and definitely worth a wander.
  • Mbonege Beach Bonegi Shipwreck – at Mbonege beach you can see the rusty remains of an old Japanese War ship. This is a lovely beach on a nice day, and if the tide is low enough you can get a quite good view of the old ship. You can also snorkel around the wreck because it’s just a few dozen meters from the shore.
  • Tenaru Falls Hike – Quite a bit farther into the hills outside the city, you’ll find a 1-2 hour waterfall hike. This adventure is perfect for having a quick getaway and experiencing more of the rainforest and nature of Guadalcanal.
  • Lumatapopoho Cultural Village – you can visit this small traditional village to learn about how tribes used to: cook cabbage, make different food recipes, make clothing, thatch palm for building roofs, make fire, peel and eat beetlenut.

Where to Stay in Honiara

Our Honiara hotel was called Heritage Park. This hotel has a lovely property comprised of multiple two-story buildings with balconies overlooking the pool, palm trees, and even the sea. It’s right on a rocky shoreline with a beach bar, very high quality restaurant (and even quicker bar meals), buffet breakfast, and events during the week (such as movie night/parties at the bar).

Heritage Park had all we could have asked for – large spacious rooms with hot water, air conditioning, and even a small TV. Properties in Honiara will definitely have more fixings than in the islands – make sure to remember that!

honiara central market solomon islands tourism tips

Catch-Ups at the Honiara Central Market

My Experience on Guadalcanal/Final Thoughts

Guadalcanal was the first stop on our Solomon Islands trip, as I’m sure it will be for most people. Here Dana, Michael and I (the other travel writers/bloggers on the trip) did all the classic ‘touristing’ and visiting of memorials, museums, and well-known sites. It’s the best place to get a feel for the history and city-life vibe of the Solomon Islands.

We drove around in a van and ticked off the main sites, getting our first feel for the island nation. We spent a day going around the main city, and one a bit farther  out of the city to sites farther away. The drives were bumpy but scenic, and I took in the tropical foliage that reminded me of something between Hawaii and Southeast Asia (which makes complete sense I suppose! 😛 )

I wandered alone around the central market, stopped at a cafe for coffee, slinked in and out of shops on the main road, and chatted with locals here and there. I appreciated the view of a rainbow from the rocky coast near the hotel, and picked at a burger in between swims in the hotel pool. We tried some delicious seafood and enjoyed the extremely warm hospitality of nearly everyone we interacted with.

Guadalcanal/Honiara is not going to be what many people picture of the Solomon Islands – which is pristine beaches and islands. Guadalcanal is the more grungy city where you learn more about history and how people really live and go about their days.

solomon islands baby

An adorable little nugget in one of the villages we visited. Precious!

Savo Island

Savo is right off the coast of Guadalcanal Island and can be seen as one of the many adventure capitals of the Solomon Islands. It’s a small volcanic island with prolific wildlife and adventurous activities, and is quite easy to visit from a small village on Guadalcanal outside Honiara on one of your days there. Savo is best done as a day trip from one of the hotels in Honiara, and bookable from most hotels also.

What to See and Do on Savo Island

  • Volcano Hikes – Savo is home to some easy (1 hour or less) and some harder (3+ hour) scenic treks up the volcano.
  • Wild Dolphin Nursery – a stop on the way to Savo Island from Guadalcanal – spot some dolphins in the wild!
  • Megapode Hatchery – Locals maintain hatcheries for megapode birds, which will lay their eggs on the sand at sunrise.
  • Waterfall walks -there are many up in the rainforest
  • Local Culture – There may be cultural displays and dancing in the villages

If you love the island, you can even stay at Savo Sunset Lodge for a few nights.

My Experience on Savo

Soooo, the weather was acting up like crazy the night before our Savo tour, causing us to have to make the tough call to cancel it. Unfortunately this is a reality of a tropical destination (especially in the wet season), and we got to see some extra spots in and around Honiara instead. However I have recommended the awesome activities that we were supposed to do with the Tourism Board above, plus a few more!

gizo sunset sandbarsolomon islands tourism

gizo islands untouched beauty solomon islands

Simple and elegant views from the Gizo area

Ghizo Island, Gizo Town, + Surrounding Sites

Gizo is where you’ll reach the parts of the Solomon Islands that you may have imagined or seen in catalogues. This is where the best diving and fishing in the Solomon Islands are located, along with lots of surf breaks, tiny pristine islands, white sand beaches, palm-topped landscapes, and pretty-much-perfect sunsets.

The main larger island is called Ghizo, the capital of which is called Gizo (confusing, I know!). But, the tiny surrounding islands dotting the coastline are where the magic really happens. Surrounding the main island, you’ll find remote rustic resorts, private rentable homes, reefs perfect for snorkeling, untouched surf, and some of the clearest blue water in the world.

What to See and Do In Gizo

  • Gizo Town – This is the main town of Gizo, with locals out and about near a few restaurants, a main strip of shops and restaurants, and a central food market. Grab a fresh coconut for sure!
  • Diving – The Gizo Dive Shop is owned by an American/Australian couple who have lived in the Sollies since the 80’s. They started it up from scratch, scouted out most of the dive sites themselves, and have built the region into one of the top dive areas in the whole world! Many dives and trips book up early these days, so get in early to make sure Danny is your dive guide.
  • Fishing – With some of the most wildlife-rich dives in the world come some of the best places for fishing, as well! Fishing trips will be conducted from most resorts, with the hope of being able to catch a fresh seafood dinner.
  • Boating – Many yachts sailing the south Pacific will stop from the Solomon Islands, and there are also sailing trips going around the islands as well. It’s a must to boat around the islands, especially in Gizo, and there are many multi-day diving and fishing boat trips too.
  • Snorkeling – Also an absolute must, snorkeling in and around Gizo is incredible. Diving still takes the cake in terms of clear water and amazing views, but there are some stunning shallow reefs among the islands to check out as well.
  • Sunsets – There are  plenty of western-facing sand bars and beaches where you can catch a magnificent Solomon Islands sunset. Many hotels will have sunset boat trips – make sure to jump on one!
  • Islands
    • Kennedy Island – Kennedy Island is just off the coast from Fatboys Resort, and is actually the island that JFK and his crew landed on after their ship was hit by a Japanese missile. It’s a tiny circular island with spongy white sand and and a jungle landscape – perfect for snorkeling and taking  beautiful photos.
    • Njari Island – The owners of Dive Gizo also own this island, which has one of the top-ranked dive sites in the entire world! It has lovely beaches and snorkeling as well.

sunset wine down gizo solomon islands beach sunset

gizo clear blue water follow me to solomon islands go pro kimmie conner travel blogger

Just a few of the products from Dana and my MANY photoshoots – sipping wine on the shore at sunset, and having fun with the Go Pro dome in the clear waters of Njari island!

Where to Stay in Gizo

We saw so many beautiful island resorts and convenient accommodations in Gizo. Here are a few:

  • Fatboys Resort This is where we stayed! There’s an overwater restaurant, beachside bungalows, kayaks, boat trips, kayaks, adventure sports, and more.
  • Sanbis Resort –  This resort is on the other side of the island that Fatboys is on. More amazing beachside bungalows, overwater pier/bar/restaurant, and amazing views.
  • Imagination Island – This resort is an entire island in itself. It’s a few kilometers off the coast of the airport, and is a quaint and perfect little getaway with a few rooms, great food, and plenty of adventure + fishing trips.
  • Gizo Hotel – If you don’t want an island resort and prefer to be in the town, the Gizo hotel is the choice for you. It’s right across from the market as has convenient facilities and a restaurant balcony over the town.
  • Oravae Island Cottages – located on a tiny private island, the Oravae cottages are the best getaway you can possibly get! Think – rustic wooden houses right on the water, with an over-water swing as well.
Gizo solomon islands drone photo Orovae cottages from the sky

Those tiny little houses you see are the Oravae cottages!

My Experience in Gizo

When we arrived in Gizo, got off the plane, and immediately got on another boat and skimmed over beautiful blue water, I felt like the trip had finally begun. Arriving at the picturesque Fatboys resort was like something out of a dream, and Dana and I were squealing as we were greeted with colorful leis and fresh lemonade. It was the true island experience, and we felt so welcome and ready to explore.

We had so much fun taking photos, snorkeling, and having a traditional meal on Kennedy Island. Later that afternoon, we went on a fishing trip and were astounded to find (after a massive struggle) that we had actually hooked a reef shark – which we let free, of course! We boated between the islands, snorkeling at every stop, and flew my drone and captured moments in each place we stopped. We woke up each morning with a delicious breakfast and finished each night with a fresh dinner, and even  fed a few resident reef sharks off the overwater balcony.

One of my favorite moments from Gizo was our ‘ sunset wine-down,’ where we had a few glasses (bottles?) of wine on a pristine sand bar facing the sunset. After fiddling around for ages with cameras and tripods to get the perfect photo (and putting the drone up as well, of course!) we enjoyed a few too many glasses of wine with the water lapping up at our bare feet.

Gizo is a place you could spend lots and lots of time. It’s a true rustic island getaway, with attentive seaside accommodation and delicious food. If you can – spend the most time here!

solomon islands traditional clothing display ughele village rendova island

A cultural display in Ughele village, near Titiru Eco Lodge on Rendova Island

solomon islands skull island vonavona lagoon

A few of the skulls of skull island

Munda, Roviana Lagoon, + Surrounding Areas of New Georgia Island

As we jetted down a channel in our small open speedboat from Gizo to Munda, I noticed quite a big change in the landscape. We had gone from the sandy beaches of Gizo to a mangrove-bordered channel of New Georgia Island, with more of a deep green color than sea blue. The vegetation was a bit different, with trees growing all the way to the water on many of the islands. This was our arrival to Munda – a small town on the Southern half of New Georgia Island. This is where I realized how varied the landscapes are on these islands – there’s truly a bit of everything, from mangroves to beaches to volcanoes to waterfalls.

Munda is surrounded by the Roviana Lagoon, which is home to some tiny sandy islands, some wildlife rich reserves, some mangrove-laden channels, and more. It’s yet another great hub for adventure, and we got up to plenty of activities here as well.

What to See and Do in Munda

  • Munda Town – The main town is a few tiny streets with makeshift markets, a couple hotels, and a few stores.
  • Roviana Lagoon – this lagoon may be mentioned on many Munda tours, and just refers to the calm sea area and islands between Munda town, Roviana Island, and almost all the way to Vonavona island. This area has a certain dialect and culture.
  • Skull Island – this is a fascinating historical island on the way from Gizo to Munda. In brief (because I have more comprehensive posts coming soon!), it’s where they have left quite a lot of skulls from when the tribes here practiced headhunting. This ended with the coming of Christianity, and it was decided that the skulls would need to be moved somewhere more remote.
  • Peter Joseph Museum – This began as a single man’s passion for searching/digging/finding artifacts from the War, and has turned into one of the most impressive War Museums in the Solomon Islands. It’s an entire building/room filled with everything from dog tags, lighters, coke bottles, soap boxes, and bullets to canteens, helmets, rifles, and even toothbrushes. It’s amazing to see what he has found and learn some stories from the artifacts.
  • Scuba Diving– there are still plenty of places to dive in Munda as well as Gizo.
  • Rainforest Walks, Rivers, and Waterfalls – hotels can also organize day-long treks through the island’s jungles, to waterfalls and viewpoints alike. You can even see crocodiles in the island’s rivers.
  • Fishing Trips – This region is also great for fishing, and trips leave from the hotels regularly.
  • Local Villages – many day tours from the hotels will include visits to local villages, and some tours include cultural villages only.
  • Rendova island – About a 30-45 minute boat ride away is a stunning mountainous island called Rendova. It’s got a fantastic eco-lodge and a very visitor-friendly village with locals eager to share their traditions.

 

peter joseph museum munda solomon islands WW2 artifacts museum

Scenes from the Peter Joseph Museum

Where to Stay in Munda

  • Qua Roviana – We stayed here. It was a block back from the water in Munda town, and had fine facilities, a kitchen, a living space, and more, with air conditioning in each room as well (huge plus!)
  • Agnes Gateway Hotel – This is the biggest hotel in Munda town, right on the water. There’s a fantastic restaurant where we had all of our meals (helllooooo fresh lobster!) and they have both private and cheaper dorm options.
  • Zipolo Habu Resort, Lola Island – Lola Island is closer to skull island, between the Roviana and Vonavona regions. The beachside resort here is also beautiful and rustic, with a great restaurant and reef sharks visible from the pier.
  • Titiru Eco Lodge – We spent a full day here at Titiru and visiting the local village. The lodge is beautiful, with kayaking and SUP’ing possible right from the balconies of the rooms, amazing gardens, delicious food, and proximity to Ughele village. I would LOVE to come back and stay longer here.

My Experience in + Around Munda

At first, Munda area seemed a bit less tropical and more swampy than Gizo, but I was quickly proved wrong after visiting Skull Island, Rendova, and two other tiny islands off the coast of the town which are perfect for sunset (Kuru Kuru and Kundu Kundu, I believe). Munda is different in that it’s more diverse, with both mangrove forests, waterfall-dotted mountains and jungles, AND beautiful beaches (albeit a bit more overgrown).

Upon arrival, I had a quick walk around town. There really wasn’t too much to look at, but I did my best. I wandered through the market stalls made from makeshift tied tarps and sheets, and smiled at locals selling beetlenut, potatoes, and other roots and leaves. I wandered past the town pub, coffee shop, and in and out of a Chinese grocery store, and all the way to the small airstrip before turning back around. The whole thing wouldn’t have taken me much more than ten minutes! I returned to the Agnes hotel where I enjoyed a coffee and watched local fisherman traverse the Roviana Lagoon on their long wooden canoe boats.

Outside of Munda Town we had a few fantastic excursions. We saw Skull Island from Lola Island, which was both eye-opening, sad, and fascinating. Our trip to the Peter Joseph museum really hammered into us even more the significance of the War in this part of the world – the thousands upon thousands of left-behind artifacts each told their own unique and heart wrenching story.

Our trip to Rendova was also a highlight – we saw the beautiful Titiru Eco-Lodge and got to kayak in the harbor – but I adored being able to walk through the nearby village. It was like the locals had stations set up to display cultural practices to us. It started with a traditionally-dressed tribesman jumping out of the bushes and yelling at us at the top of his lungs; we were SO startled we nearly screamed, but soon realized that it was an (albeit extremely well-done) demonstration of painted men showing what it would have been like to land on this island a few hundred years ago. We saw an old woman traditionally washing her baby in the river when we first walked up, followed by catching eels in the river, making traditional clothing, shaping wood, making toys, and even making and sampling local food recipes.

One of the most memorable moments of the trip (and our last activity) was watching sunset from the tiny islands off the coast of Munda town. After Dana and I (obviously) had one last beachy photoshoot, the sky turned red and pink with swirling colors within the clouds. Our jaws dropped to the floor and we knew that the Solomon Islands were sending us off in the best way possible –  with my two favorite things, adventures & sunsets of course!

Njari island gizo solomon islands tourism

Aerial view of beautiful Njari Island

roviana lagoon fisherman munda solomon islands tourism

Roviana fisherman doing their thing

Solomon Islands Budget Notes

So – what should you budget for the Solomon Islands? The main thing to keep in mind is that, unfortunately, the Solomon Islands aren’t cheap. This is no Southeast Asia; the Hapi Isles are quite remote, difficult to get to, and have quite high prices that keep the economy going. I would say the restaurant prices are about on par with Australia. For basic meals/breakfast/lunch you’ll be looking at around $10-15USD, whereas for nicer meals and dinners you’ll be looking at around $15-30USD. This is at hotels/restaurants, however, and you can always shop at the markets to cook for yourself when you see fit.

For hotel rooms, you’ll be looking to pay about $120-$200USD/night. Some of the cheaper rooms will be a bit more basic, but for $200 you’ll get some nicer (although still often rustic!) beachside bungalows. For the more budget traveler, there are a couple cheaper simple twin room/dorm options on some of the islands for around $35-$50 per person.

Getting to the Solomon Islands may be the costliest part of the journey – flights are a bit fewer and far between, and therefore are pricier. However, the opening of the Munda international airport is showing a lot of promise for lower flight costs from Brisbane. Currently, the flights go for about $800-$1200 round trip to Honiara from Brisbane, depending on when you book. Add on whatever flight you’ll need to get to Brissy, and you have your budget! Just make sure to look out for the first flights from Brisbane to Munda, which are set to be cheaper.

food of the solomon islands - lobster dinner

A quick glimpse into what a delicious lobster dinner might look like in the Solomon Islands

fatboys resort gizo solomon islands travel

a casual pose in front of our beachside bungalow at Fatboys resort

Final Solomon Islands Tourism Tips – What to Know Before You Go

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a few final, yet extremely important notes on things to  know before your Solomon Islands trip:

Passports + Visas

You must have at least 6 months validity on your passport to enter the country. Most visitors are granted visas upon arrival to the Solomon Islands, but make sure to check up about your country before you go. People from many European countries, the US, and the Commonwealth do not need a visa prior to arrival.

Medical Information

It is recommended to take Malaria pills during your visit to the Solomon Islands due to small pockets of malaria. Consult your doctor before your trip to stay up to date with the latest travel notices and injection recommendations. If you don’t have malaria pills, be SURE to bring strong bug spray!

Wifi in the Solomon Islands

Wifi in the Solomon islands is best described as a lack thereof. You’ll find much better (read: slow yet functional) wifi in Honiara, but as you get out to the more remote islands, wifi will be few & far between. Some resorts (such as Fatboys) have a wifi code that can only be used by one person at a time, and you may hear “the wifi isn’t working” more often than  not. But – this is not the kind of place you want to be spending connected to wifi, the Sollies are really a place to disconnect from the internet world and connect with the real world, amazing landscapes, other people, and wildlife.

Solomon Islands Food

Food in the Solomon Islands is, as I’m sure you can guess, very seafood-based. There will be tons of fish and shellfish, complimented by a lot of taro and potato for starch, rice, and local cabbage cooked in coconut milk. They cook up lots of home-grown veggies and have a bit of chicken and beef as well.

Money + ATM’s

The Solomon Islands currency is the Solomon Islands dollar. There’s about 8 SBD to 1 USD, just under 6 to the AUD, about 9 to the Euro, and just over 10.5 to the (current) GBP. There are ATM’s and currency exchanges in Honiara and a few solar-powered ATM’s in the islands. However, these ATM’s will always charge a fee, so if you can get some currency out before your trip you might be able to save a bit of money.

Tipping

Tipping is not a part of the culture here and not necessary.

Water

You should only purchase and drink bottled water here – no tap water, unfortunately!

Lastly, a few final Solomon Islands photos:
a complete guide to solomon islands tourism: facts, tips, where to go, things to do, where to stay, histopry, what to know before ou go, how to get there, getting around, and more. #solomonislands #travel #southpacific

ONE MORE PIN! Don’t forget to pin this Solomon Islands tourism guide to your Pinterest Boards.

solomon islands language pidgin english signs

See if you can sound out any of these signs in Pidgin english. I think the middle one should say ‘making you and me proud’ and something along the lines of ‘rice belongs to you and me’ in the Solomons, along with the final poster on the right saying ‘good taste fit in your pocket to feed the family.’ (please correct me if I am wrong – I was wandering around reading posters and was fascinated trying to sound out the words).

solomon islands fishing local fisherman wooden canoe spearfishing

A local fisherman showing off his gear

solomon islands shells snorkeling munda roviana lagoon

One of my favorite things to do in the Solomon islands was find incredible shells. Each beach and snorkeling site was full of them! My inner mermaid was mesmerized 😛 

 

Well, I think that’s about it on Solomon Islands tourism – for now! I hope you have learned everything you need to know, but if I missed anything, go ahead and leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Thanks so much to Visit Solomon Islands for hosting me – as always, all words are completely my own, and I look forward to quite a few more articles on one of the most intriguing and alluring countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

 

April 10, 2019

Croatia Sailing Tours: How to Choose the Best Island Sail Week in Croatia

Croatia Sailing Tours: How to Choose the Best Island Sail Week in Croatia

So you haven’t been on any Croatia sailing tours yet?! What are you waiting for?! As a booming newer destination in the past decade, sailing Croatia is now on the radar of travelers everywhere. As someone who has been working there for quite a few years, I’ll tell you that there’s no better way to experience this beautiful country than to take part in a sail Croatia –  a sail week tour of the Croatian islands.

Croatia sailing trips are becoming so popular that new companies and Croatia sailing weeks are popping up left and right; everyone wants to try to get their slice of the booming business of the perfect idyllic holiday.

There are some companies that have been around for years and some new ones, some bigger sailing companies and some smaller ones, both budget and luxury sailing Croatia, and some massive boats with more passengers or smaller ones with less. There’s definitely a lot of choice when it comes to picking the best Croatia sailing tours, and I’m here to help you figure out which sail week in Croatia may be right for you.

With dozens of companies and hundreds of boats, it's hard to know how to choose the best Croatia Sailing Tours for you! This guide will help you choose the right island sail week company based on what YOU are looking for.

Hey guys. This post is super long. Why not save it to Pinterest so you’ll have it to refer to?

I worked three summers as a tour guide on these very Croatia sailing tours I’ll be describing to you, and during that time I got to know the in’s and out’s of all the different companies and different tours. I came to know what the selling points of each company are, what makes each one different, which tours are better for what ages, and what kinds of people tend to book a certain tour.

Bigger boats are better for some people, while some enjoy a more intimate experience on a smaller boat. Some people love to party during their Croatia island cruise, and some love to relax.

Below I have outlined all that I know about each Croatia sailing company and what kind of person it may be more geared towards. I’m hoping you can take all this info to make the perfect decision on the right one for you! If you need any help planning, feel free to reach out.

And before you go, don’t forget to check out my Tour Guide’s Super Guide to All of Croatia – outlining ALL of Croatia and guides to each city complete with adventures, activities, food/restaurants, nightlife, history, and more.

READ
Where to Go in Croatia: A Tour Guide's Ultimate Croatia Travel Guide

Disclaimer: All this info is my personal opinion from working three seasons of sail Croatia on the Adriatic. They may not be correct or agreeable but I hope my experience can be used to help you choose the best Croatia sailing tour week for your needs.

croatia sailing tours boats

What to Know Before Booking Croatia Sailing Tours

Sailing Croatia Tour Boats

Before I start, I want to give a quick description of what kinds of boats you’ll be looking at for your sail week Croatia. The boats come in a few different classes and styles that you will want to know before you go!

Floatilla Style Croatia Tours/Boats

Some tours run in a floatilla style, meaning that there will be 5+ (usually even more, up to 20+) smaller boats all sailing together. Each small boat will have a skipper and the option to have a hostess. These boats don’t specifically have a guide, but workers who help to run the whole floatilla smoothly. Usually on these tours skippers/hostesses are responsible for relaying the plans and info to the passengers with a few higher-up’s helping out as well. (This style of tour is when you see the photo of a bunch of boats all docked up in a circle with a party in the middle!)

Floatilla boats – these boats will be smaller, slower yachts that hold about 8-10 people. Depending on the company you book with you may find a bit bigger or even smaller boats to sail croatia, but in general these are a 2-crew boat for a smaller group. If you upgrade to have a hostess she will make some food and clean for you, but you can bring your own food and drinks on these boats.

Bigger Sail Croatia Boats – B/A/A+

Companies with bigger boats run as one complete tour in and of itself. Bigger boats will hold around 25-35 people, sometimes up to 40. These boats generally have their own Croatian sailing crew (captain, chef, bartender/server, sailor(s), etc) and may have a tour guide responsible specifically for the well-being of the guests. Bigger boats come in three categories:

B Class boats – These are wooden boats with shared facilities and usually no air conditioning. They are of course quite a lot cheaper. Cabins will have two bunk beds each and toilet/shower facilities will be shared with everyone. These boats are usually smaller (18-25 people) and are quite the authentic sailing experience! These are usually just for the younger sail Croatia passengers.

A Class boats- A-class boats have ensuite toilets in each cabin and sometimes a communal air conditioning in the downstairs hallway or saloon/eating room. Beds are usually bunk with two in each room. There’s a large range of A class boats – some much nicer than others – but will all have this basic ensuite structure.

A+ Class boats – A+ boats are the luxury of the seas and are the fancy white boats you will see on the Adriatic. Usually the crews of these are all wearing matching embroidered polos, and your linens might even be embroidered as well! A+ boats have air conditioning in each room, two (not bunk) beds in a spacious cabin, a safe in each room, and LOTS of space to chill. They usually have a spacious upper deck with nice chairs, great speaker systems, and spacious eating areas. A+ boats also have a hot cooked breakfast each morning (A and B have basic cereal breakfasts) and hold 35+ people. These are obviously more expensive Croatia sailing tours, and the prices onboard will be higher as well.

Smaller Private Yachts

Some sail Croatia companies that are more family/all-ages oriented will have one smaller 8-10 person boat available for Croatia yacht charter hire for the week. These will come with a skipper and possibly a hostess.

Katarina Lines

Because all boats are privately owned and operated, most companies use an agency to obtain the boats they work with. The agency that operated most of Croatia is called Katarina Line. 

You will see these logo’s all over the place, and you can actually book tours with KL themselves, as they have some sail Croatia tours which are not affiliated with a specific company and also can help find you what company works best for your needs.

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Croatia Sailing Tours Routes/Duration

You will find that most of the Croatia sailing tours will be one week, from Saturday morning to Saturday morning. On the brochures it may say 8 days, but that includes the little snippet of the last Saturday in it for whatever reason. Some run Wed-Wed or Thurs-Thurs, and are usually quieter.

Sail Croatia weeks will mostly be one-way or round-trip between Split and Dubrovnik. If you fly into one of the airports, it’s easy to get a ferry/bus transfer to the other city if need be.

On bigger, more highly powered boats (not floatillas) you will either sail Split-Split, Dubrovnik-Dubrovnik, Split-Dubrovnik, or Dubrovnik-Split. Some companies have better one-way routes than others, which I will detail below. Some companies also sail more north then Split – occasionally as far as Zadar, Pula, or Zrce – which I will also detail below.

Floatillas will generally not make it all the way between Split and Dubrovnik because they’re smaller boats and can’t move as fast. Usually they will start and end in Split or Dubrovnik and visit islands around there. Don’t forget to check my Tour Guide’s Guide to Croatia to see which islands and cities you would like to see the most!

Croatia Sailing Destinations:

When looking at routes, make sure you pick places you like most (or just follow my recommendations!). To read a bit more about different destinations, see my guides below:

Split

Vis

Hvar

Korcula

Dubrovnik

ALL OF CROATIA

20 Best Festivals in Croatia

Croatia Sailing Tours Added Costs, Currency, and Optionals

When you go on a Croatia sailing trip, you must be prepared for extra costs. Most (non-floatilla) routes will include breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. There are usually two optional dinners onboard the boats during the week which you can have if you wish.

Drinks and dinners on the boats will go on a tab system you can pay at the end of the week. Drinks and food outside the boat will usually be paid for in cash in the local currency, kuna. Kuna is about 5 to the AUD, 6-7 to the USD, and 8 to the GBP. Any adventure tours (like zip lining) or activities will cost extra as well.

On floatilla style tours or private hire boats, you can bring your own food or hire a hostess to make you breakfast and lunch.

croatia sailing tours for young people hvar selfie go pro

Croatia Sailing Tours for Young People – Party Tours for 18-39+

So if you didn’t already know, sail Croatia tends to be a bit of a party. Okay, not just a bit…. it tends to be a huge party. Many people come to Croatia to enjoy the scenery a little bit and sip on cocktails, take fancy shots, dance on bars, and party quite a lot.

This isn’t to say that you can’t come on a Croatia sailing holiday and have a mellow, chilled week relaxing in the sun and swimming in the cool waters, but just be warned that there will be quite a lot of debauchery going on around you. I also will say that it is actually part of tour guides’ jobs on these ‘young people’ boats to take you to at least one (or 4) bars every night. It’s up to you whether or not you wish to take part!

What Do I Need to Know Before Booking Party Croatia Sailing Tours for Young People?

Bell Rings: It will be a thing on each boat that if you ring ‘the bell’ (every boat has one) you buy a round of shots for the entire boat. Yes, everyone on it. Bell rings are like a Croatian right of passage; they’re a ceremonial symbol of Adriatic party and one of the top reasons you know you’ve sailed Croatia. As soon you ring the bell, the bartender will compile a tray of shots with the amount of people on the boat, and put it on your tab which you pay at the end of the week. Dangerous.

Nights Out: There’s always a good mix of bigger and smaller nights out. Not every town you stop in will have the opportunity for a big night, and most tours balance them fairly well. Save up for nights out in Hvar, Dubrovnik, Makarska, and Korcula. At the rest of the ports, you can go crazy at one or two small bars or chill out and stargaze on the boat. Tour guides should always give you a nice alternative to a party night.

Nationalities: On the bigger boat Croatia sailing tours (Topdeck, Busabout, Contiki, Sail Croatia) you will find that there are a lot of Australians (and Kiwis) around. You will find Americans, Scandinavians, and more Europeans on floatilla tours like The Yacht Week and Medsailors. I have no idea why this is, but that’s how it turned out. I think the marketing campaigns and word-of-mouth bookings of the bigger boat tours really reaches all of Australia.

Not a single Aussie doesn’t know what Topdeck, Contiki, and Busabout are, but hardly any Americans know those companies. For whatever reason Americans only know about The Yacht Week in Croatia, although there is so much more. I only had three or four Americans on my tours in three years! But anyway, I hope this post can broaden your horizons a bit, wherever you are from!

Some companies tend to end up as bigger parties than others, and I will go through each one and their general stereotype/clientele! For another reference, check out some hilarious questions asked to tour guides on sail Croatia.

croatia sailing tours swimming sail week

 

Sail Croatia Companies: Busabout

Busabout is one of the Croatia sailing tour companies with the most boats on the water. As a company, they focus on their freestyle bus tours of Europe, but Croatia sailing tours are huge for them also.

Busabout boats are everywhere! They do special packages for Ultra Europe Music festival in July, and have their tours running longer than any other company (well into October if I remember correctly!). Busabout tends to be on the cheaper end of tours too, but that heavily depends on the week/boat you choose.

Busabout Clientele

The clientele for Busabout is primarily Australian (as you will find with many of these companies) with a bit of variety thrown in here and there.

Busabout Boats

Busabout has a majority of B class boats (shared facilities), quite a few A, and a couple A+ boats. Expect a B Class boat generally.

Busabout Guides

Busabout was the company I was the closest to during my time leading Croatia sailing tours, and their tour guides are always amazing, fun, easygoing, and know how to party. All absolute legends.

Party Level

These are definitely party tours. Bell rings will be rampant, costume parties will happen (pirate night!), and there will be the opportunity to go out every night because your tour guide is responsible to take you out.

Age Range

As far as I know, Busabout accepts bookings from any age (18+). So if you’re older and are up to having a week of being young again, go for it! I saw a few absolutely amazing older Busabout passengers who were outdoing most of the 20-somethings. But it will be mostly 18-39’s.

Routes

Busabout have really well-planned out one-way routes, and for that reason I would recommend a one way tour with this company. They will spend their first night on a Dubrovnik-Split tour in Dubrovnik so it will actually be a part of the tour. Their Split-Split routes tend to be a bit more crowded with lots of boats. Busabout is also one of the only companies that run a north route sail up to Zadar and Zrce beach.

Busabout Tours

When booking a Busabout tour, you basically choose if you want ensuite or communal (A or B class) and a cabin on or below deck and the boat is decided for you. They have some A+ boats but it is not listed which ones – I am guessing the more expensive ones! Just remember that sometimes boats have air conditioning in the hallways below deck leading it to be cooler – darker but definitely cooler.

In these links, I believe the ‘calssic standard’ refers to a B-Class boat, the ‘Classic Ensuite’ refers to an A-Class boat, and the ‘Cruiser Ensuite’ refers to an A+ ?Class boat. That’s what the prices reflect, anyway. If you want my expert opinion, the best and most cost-effective Busabout sail week Croatia to do would be the Ensuite below deck Split to Dubrovnik tour, given the route, price, likelihood of aircon in the downstairs hallway, and having your own bathroom.

If you want luxury, the A+ boats are a lot more expensive, and the below-deck cabins are only about $100 cheaper than on-deck. They will haev a lot more light but you’ll have people always walking by your room. It’s up to you!

One-Way Split to Dubrovnik

Below Deck B Class Boat Cabin 

On Deck B Class Boat Cabin

Below Deck A Class Ensuite Cabin

On Deck A Class Boat Ensuite Cabin 

Cruiser A+ Ensuite Below Deck Cabin

Split-Split Route

Below Deck B Class Boat Cabin 

On Deck B Class Boat Cabin 

On Deck Ensuite A Class Boat Cabin 

Below Deck Ensuite A Class Boat Cabin 

Cruiser A+ Class On-Deck Cabin

Cruiser A+ Class Below-Deck Cabin

One Way Dubrovnik to Split

Below Deck B Class Boat Cabin 

On Deck B Class Boat Cabin 

Below Deck Ensuite A Class Boat Cabin 

On Deck Ensuite A Class Boat Cabin 

Cruiser On-Deck A+ Boat Cabin 

Cruiser Below Deck A+ Boat Cabin

Busabout Ultra Europe Packages

Busabout Ultra Hostel Package (not sailing) 

Note: If you want to be on the boats during Ultra, book a Croatia sailing week that ends on the weekend of Ultra and book the hostel package afterwards.

croatia sailing tours old town korcula

Croatia Sailing Companies: Koda Sail

Koda Sail is a more intimate and detail-oriented company geared toward the more mature partier and the young professional. Koda Sail only has one boat/tour going at a time and only runs premiere A+ style luxurious boats, but is still quite affordable for young people. Koda Sail stands for the fact that sometimes young people need a bit of luxury too, but can also have a bit of fun.

Clientele

Koda Sail was founded by an Aussie guy named Chris, who is a total legend! I can only assume that a lot of the clientele would be similarly Aussie/Kiwi. But Koda Sail is not like Topdeck/Contiki/Busabout in its word of mouth marketing and corporate base, so I can only assume that its clientele can get a lot more varied in nationalities and just follow a similar frame of mind.

Boats

Koda Sail only had A+ style, ensuite, air conditioned boats. See A+ category boat descriptions above.

Guides

Koda sail has experienced guides who are a bit older but still know how to have a good time. Chris, the owner, runs a lot of the tours himself I believe.

Party Level

The option to party is always there on Koda Sail (as with any Croatia sailing tour) if you want it. Groups will go out to select bars and restaurants each evening. Koda Sail tours like to go to more cocktail bars rather than backpacker bars to keep a more refined vibe 😛

Age Range

Koda sail passengers are generally mid twenties to late-ish thirties, but if you are of the young professional category/mindset you will be just fine.

Routes

During the summer, Koda Sail has three different routes, the S-S, S-D, and D-S. There’s only one tour per week so the route depends on the date. All routes include great places, and the one way D-S includes Dubrovnik as the first night on the tour.

Tours

Split to Split Luxury A+ Koda Sail Cruise (this route runs most of the summer) 

Dubrovnik to Split one-way Luxury A+ Koda Sail Cruise 

Split to Dubrovnik one-way Luxury A+ Koda Sail Cruise 

croatia sailing tours destinations makarska

Croatia Sailing Companies: Travel Talk

Travel Talk is a tour company with bus tours throughout Europe, and Croatia sailing tours are just a small part of their product. They have two boats that switch between Split to Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik to Split routes, and are one of the cheapest Croatia sailing tours – even with ensuite facilities. 

Clientele

Travel Talks clientele is also largely Aussie, with a bit of variety thrown in here and there, and do love a good party.

Boats

Travel Talk have two smaller wooden boats (about 20 capacity) with ensuite facilities (A-class). One of them, Lav, is an actual pirate ship and is awesome to see sailing! But be warned, they’re not the nicest A class boats out there (ok, they’re probably the least nice ensuite boats), but they are fine (especially for the price!). These ensuite boats are cheaper than Busabout B-class tours. I worked on one of their boats for a few weeks one summer, and I survived. 😛

Guides

The guides on Travel Talk are usually super fun Aussies who are outgoing and helpful but know how to have a good time. I was friends with all the travel talk girls in my years and loved them!

Party Level

These will be a high party level tour, with options to go out each night (or drink in the day! :P)

Age Range

I don’t think there’s an age cap with Travel Talk but most people are in the young category.

Routes

Both the Dubrovnik-Split and Split-Dubrovnik tours have great routes. Choose the one the is efficient with your travel route!

Tours

Split-Dubrovnik Ensuite A Class Cabin  

Dubrovnik-Split Ensuite A Class Cabin

Followed me yet?  😉

Croatia Sailing Companies: Contiki

Contiki is a global tour company that focuses on bus tours all over the world. They have a couple Croatia sailing tours on different types of boats. Contiki is rather well-known for being a party tour company; I think they are trying to rid themselves of that stereotype but Contiki passengers usually do love a party. And with a slogan like #NoRegrets it is also attracted.

Clientele

Contiki passengers are usually Aussie. However, as their brand grows, their clientele is also. Expect Kiwis, South Africans, Americans, Canadians, and every so often a few people of Asian descent – rarely European.

Boats

Contiki have a few types of boats. They have some premium A+ boat tours and also a few A category ones which differ in price quite a lot. Two dinners are also included on these tours, which is great and differentiates them from most other tours.

Guides

There are a few Contiki Croatia sail guides who stay in Croatia all summer, but a lot of the guides are normally European bus tour guides who come down and guide sails for a few weeks a summer. I always had a hard time connecting with Contiki guides – they seemed really awesome for their passengers but were very pro-contiki and not prone to socialize with other guides (which doesn’t really matter for a passenger anyway).

Party Level

There will generally be a lot of partying on Contiki Tours.

Age Range

Contiki tours are 18-35 ages.

Routes

The Contiki round trip routes spend two nights each in Split and Dubrovnik, giving you more time to see the bigger cities but less time in the smaller ones. The one-way routes, in my opinion, are more desirable.

In a lot of the booking sites it is unclear whether trips are A, B, or A+ class. Also note that on the itinerary for the last two normal 8-day tours, the stop at ‘Wild Bay’ will be a night on anchor where you stay and party on the boat but don’t go to a port. I think the first two are more expensive because they have an extra day in the beginning and end.

Tours

Contiki Island Hopper One-Way Split to Dubrovnik Tour (9 Day) 

Contiki Island Hopper One-Way Dubrovnik to Split Tour  (9 Days) 

Contiki One-Way Split-Dubrovnik Ensuite Sail

Contiki One-Way Dubrovnik to Split Ensuite Cabin 

Croatia Sailing Companies: Topdeck

Ah, Topdeck. I worked here for three summers. I’m going to keep my opinions of the company to myself and try not to be biased in my review, but I do know this company the best and because of that I will give a little idea of what each boat is like, because you can specifically choose your boat when you book (unlike most other companies).

Topdeck is a global, corporate tour company that does tours in six continents. Croatia sailing tours are a pretty big part of their European product, with about 7 boats over the summer.

Clientele

Topdeck is another one of those companies that gets around well with Aussie word of mouth. Most passengers will be Aussie and Kiwi, with a few Canadians and maybe a South African or American once in a while. Tours are definitely becoming more diverse over time.

Boats

See below for a description of each Topdeck boat. All boats are A category ensuite boats, with 3-4 A+ class boats (up from just 2 in 2017). I think they’re shooting to slowly take over the fleet with A+ boats only, and the prices reflect this for sure.

With Topdeck, you basically book your boat rather than On-Deck or Below-Deck cabin like Busabout. If you ask me, it doesn’t really matter either way whether you are on or below deck, because below deck will usually have air conditioning, and on-deck will have people walking past your room all the time and be really bright but have an ocean view.

Guides

Topdeck Croatia sail guides are some of my best friends and most legendary people I have ever met! (whoops, I said I would try not to be biased 😛 ) But honestly, pretty much all sail Croatia guides during my time were knowledgable, passionate, kind, and loved a good party. But, I heard that the team spirit among the guides pretty much diminished after my big group of 7+ guides all left, leaving only one to return. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I have no idea how they will be in the upcoming summer, but they have been great in the past.

Party Level

There is a lot of partying on Topdeck sails, which of course depends a lot on the group. There’s also a lot of culture included as well, as guides are required to show you around or do an activity in each town but also take you out each night.

Age Range

Topdeck is 18-39’s.

Routes

Breaking news: Topdeck FINALLY changed their terrible one-way routes for summer 2019. *cue fog horn and loud celebrations* It took them long enough, but they finally amended their one-way routes to be actually good. 

Topdeck used to be the only company I would fully recommend to do a round-trip (S-S or D-D) tour rather than a one way, because the one way tours skipped out on one of the best spots on the Adriatic (Makarska + Ziplining) and had a couple ports that were very (too) small and quiet. This was to make room to visit the blue cave in Vis, which was cool but was only a 5 minute portion of your week and, in my opinion, not worth missing out on a few other destinations for (when you could also visit them as a day trip from Split after your sail is over).

ANYWAY, now Topdeck’s one-way Croatia sailing tours visit both Makarska and the famous beach on Brac called Bol, as well as all the other good places. You may now take my word for it and book one-way tours on Topdeck… I give you my permission. 😛

Now all of the routes are quite desirable and go to all the main places you would want to go, so maybe focus on which boat you would prefer or which route fits in best with your travel schedule.

Topdeck Croatia Sailing Tours

Dubrovnik-Dubrovnik Route

This is my favorite Topdeck route and has two of my favorite boats. It has a great mix of big and small nights and goes to the right places.

Petrina: I am definitely biased here, but I have lived on this boat for about 3 full months of my life and it is my second home! Petrina is actually the oldest boat on the Adriatic (but has been redone of course :P) and is still going strong with the most awesome + fun crew who are like family to me. I won’t lie – it’s really not the nicest boat, and is more of an authentic sailing experience than a luxury one. But with a good attitude anything is possible! Petrina also has one pre-season Dubrovnik to Split sail and one Split to Dubrovnik.

View Tours on Petrina 

Dalvin: This tour runs Thursday-Thursday (unlike most which are Sat-Sat) for those with a different schedule. Dalvin is THE party boat. The crew (while doing their jobs of course) might even party harder than the passengers, and have club-grade speakers inside the dining room. So if you love a bit of cheeky fun and good laughs (and maybe some noise), book Dalvin for sure.

View Tours on Dalvin 

One-Way Topdeck Tours

If you like a few smaller nights (but still enough of big ones) and would rather see the blue cave, here are the one-way route boats.

Toma: Toma is a beautiful A-class boat with a great crew and facilities. The owner just started out last year and has quickly gotten the hang of sailing and loves a good party with the guests. Toma has a week pre- and post-season doing the Split Split route too.

View Dubrovnik-Split Tours on Toma 

View Split-Dubrovnik Tours on Toma

Moja Maja: This is a lovely wooden A class boat captained by the only female captain on the Adriatic. The crew are lovely but can be a bit more strict and also keep in mind you will always be sailing next to two A+ boats which can get depressing – it’s a great boat but if you ask me just book the nicer ones for a tiny bit more money!

View Moja Maja Tours Dubrovnik-Split 

View Moja Maja Tours Split-Dubrovnik

Pape Prvi: This is a new boat I unfortunately don’t know much about, besides the fact that it’s a super nice and lush A+ class white boat that will be expensive, spacious, and luxurious.

View Pape Prvi Split to Dubrovnik Tours

View Pape Prvi Dubrovnik to Split Tours

View Pape Prvi Split to Split Tours

Split-Split Croatia Sailing Tours

This is the most popular Topdeck route and you will have 2-3 Topdeck boats parallel sailing with you with the same itinerary.

Vapor + Meridijan: These are Topdeck’s first two A+ style luxury boats. One captain (Vapor) is the father and the other captain is the son (Meridijan) and the boats sail parallel with each other and even have other family members as sailors/cooks. It’s a family affair! These boats are really nice with air con, great food, and open spaces. Just remember that with nice boats come a bit more strict crew/rules and a bit higher prices onboard. Both boats are great and truly luxurious… and honestly, they only cost a few hundred dollars more.

This year, both boats are classed as the same on the booking option- book here or here! 

Nerezine: Apart from Dalvin, Nerezine is the other real ‘party boat.’ Nerezine is an A-class boat which was recently renovated and holds the most passengers out of any other A class boat (36 max). The crew are easy-going and absolutely love a good party, and may be known to let you sample their rakija more often than should be. The cook (the owner’s mum) is also amazing.

View Split-Split Tours on Nerezine

croatia sailing tours croatia sunset

Croatia Sailing Companies: Sail Croatia

Sail Croatia is actually a massive company that runs sailing tours for many different clienteles, both old and young. But they are known in the young person sector as the main party tour in Croatia (and tours on other companies are often just called, ‘Sail Croatia’).

Check their website for all they offer, but the majority of their product are tours for young people. They also do have some of the nicest and biggest boats for older crowds, however.

Clientele

Sail Croatia clientele, on their ‘navigator’ tours, are mostly young Aussies looking for a good party. They are known for this. But other then ‘Navigator” tours, they also have ‘explorer,’ ‘elegance,’ ‘cycle,’ and ‘hike’ tours for all types of people.

Boats

Sail Croatia has all classes of boats but the party cruises will usually be on B or A class boats, with the possibility to book an A+ too for young professionals (explorer tours) or older guests (elegance tours).

Guides

Sail Croatia is one of the only companies that employ Croatian tour guides for their trips. I think they have a couple Aussie guides, but they’re mostly Croatian. I find that this is actually not favorable because the cultural barrier is usually quite large and having an english speaking tour guide to form the liaison between the Croatian crew and Aussie/English speaking passengers is better… especially one who goes out with the groups and understands the culture.

The culture gap between Aussie/UK/USA and Croatia is larger than you may think, and when you have an English-speaking guide, they usually understand this gap and take the brunt of all the Croatian crew’s potential rude/bluntness and relay nothing but happiness to the passengers. This may and often does get lost in a Croatian guide. Take it from my personal experience!

Party Level

These will be lots of (often messy) partying stereotypically on Navigator tours, but oftentimes it’s just good fun.

Age Range

Party cruises are for under 35’s. Elegance and Hiking etc are for older crowds.

croatia sailing tours nightlife

Croatia Sailing Companies: Fanatics

Fanatics is another sailing Croatia company with one boat. Fanatics is a Europe-wide tour company dabbling a bit in the Croatia sailing scene. Guides will usually be Aussie, and clients will usually be a bigger mix of internationals. Fanatics boats are usually very nice either A or A+.

Croatia Sailing Companies: Stoke Travel

Stoke Travel just recently started running Croatia sailing tours. Stoke is most well-known for being the party tour company of Europe (even more so than the rest – it’s part of their branding), and I am sure this will correlate to their Croatia tours too.

Clientele are mostly Aussie, as are guides, and it is sure to be a loose and fun time with like-minded young people. One of their selling points is also selling unlimited beer and sangria for a small price.

Their tours are very fairly priced as well.

View ‘Stoke Afloat’ Croatia Sailing Tours

croatia sailing tours locals souvenirs

Croatia Sailing Companies: Life Before Work

Life Before Work, or LBW, is a lifestyle-oriented company geared toward the international young professional. They run tours all over Asia, Central America, and Europe, and are well-liked by their passengers. They also offer to help you plan/book your flights as a part of the package. They have lots of optional activities, like scooter riding in Vis and banana boating, and are very adventure-driven too.

For an in-depth review of this sailing trip, read my friend Dana’s LBW Yacht Life Review to learn much more about what the experience is really like.

Clientele

Life Before Work passengers may be a more evenly distributed mix of Aussie/Kiwi/Brit/America/Canadian with maybe a few more nationalities as well. They are based in Canada.

Boats

LBW only sails on A+ luxurious boats for what they call their ‘Yacht Life’ tour. The boat will be top-of-the-line, and you’ll truly live it up for a week of yacht life.

Guides

LBW will have cool and fun-loving guides to accompany you on your adventures. They are all experienced and know the areas well!

Party Level

Like all of these tours, the option to party is always there, and people on this tour will definitely be partying. They have DJ’s on board and also a few themed parties through the week to add to the fun.

Age Range

Passengers will generally be young professional age.

Routes

LBW has an interesting Split-Split route that doesn’t make it to Dubrovnik but rather spends more time on Vis Island and a few more secluded places. There are still great parties on Vis and the route seems like it would be good fun and adventure-driven. The price is also very reasonable!

Split-Split A+ Cabin LBW Tours Will Be Added When 2019 Dates Become Available!

On-the-Go Tours Sailing Split Budget Tour

On-the-Go tours are usually a multi-age and more relaxed Croatia sail week, but they have one budget tour on a B-Class boat designed for 18-29 year-old passengers. There will be shared facilities and all the main amenities of a B-Class boat – breakfast, lunch, crew, etc.

View Split Sailing Budget Youth Tour

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FLOATILLA STYLE CROATIA SAILING TOURS

There is an increasing number of floatilla-style tours in Croatia each summer, that sail with lots of smaller boats together. They are very different yet just as fun as doing sail Croatia on bigger boats! Floatillas do not travel as far (they either stay around Split or Dubrovnik), and may have day and night stops. See the beginning of this article for more logistical information on how floatillas work, but here are a few main floatilla companies you can consider.

The Yacht Week

The Yacht Week is the Croatia sailing company that most Americans know about. The Yacht Week is glamorous and is known for its music, dj’s, and ‘exclusive parties.’ The Yacht week definitely has a different vibe than a lot of tours, but a lot of the destinations and parties are still the same. They also have lots of tours centered around Ultra Europe music festival and Ultra week in Croatia.

Clientele

The Yacht Week get most American, Scandinavian/European, and South American clientele. The 8-10 person boats will be full of groups of friends from different places.

Party Level / Age Range

The Yacht Week is a massive party, but tends to be a more expensive one. Yacht week passengers always seem to buy tables at the fancy clubs and spend more money on what seems like a businessperson’s week off to have fun.

Med Sailors

Med Sailors is another of the biggest floatilla companies that sail Croatia. They run great tours with great skippers who will also love to take guests out to the bars at night (always wearing their yellow and blue Med Sailors shirts – you can’t miss them!)

Routes

Like I said, floatilla-style small boat tours don’t make it all the way from Split top Dubrovnik but will rather spend more time in some more secluded destinations around each. The MedSailors Croatia Sailing Tours I have linked below cruise around Split, Hvar, Vis, and Northern Korcula.

Clientele/Party Level/ Age Range

Med Sailors also has a varied clientele of more English/Irish/Americans than many companies. The option to party is also always available, and people are usually young (18-35) but more mature.

View MedSailors Premier Tours

View MedSailors Premier Plus Tours

View MedSailors Catamaran Tours

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Sail Croatia Tours for the Older Passenger or Family

Phew! Now that we have gotten through the Croatia sailing tours for young people, it may seem it is not possible to visit this country without a party, but that is far from true! There are loads of Croatia sailing tours that cater to different audiences- older people, families, bicyclers, even tennis players and vegans! I’m telling you – there’s something for everyone.

Remember to read above for descriptions of boats and facilities!

Croatia Sailing Companies: G Adventures

G Adventures is an extremely reputable tour company that runs tours all over the whole world. It’s no surprise that their Croatia product will be amazing as well. Their tours are for smaller groups (max 8 on smalelr yachts) and run from April all the way until October.

Demographics:

G Adventures tours are for 12-70 year olds. Younger people may book out the boats for a private tour, but they’re also great for families or friends of any age.

G ADventures Split to Dubrovnik Croatia Sailing Tour

G Adventures Dubrovnik to Split Croatia Sailing Tour

Sail Croatia Companies: Intrepid Travel

Intrepid is yet another world renowned travel company (operating in all 7 continents, I believe!) who also run both small group tours and larger boat tours in Croatia. The small-boat groups will be about 8-10 people as a single tour, and will stop at all sorts of islands on the way across the Adriatic. The larger boat tours will be similar in nature to all others I have described with groups of 30+ and family oriented. They also have a few accommodated or coach tours to visit the same area.

Intrepid has started doing young-person Croatia sailing tours this year as well, offering boats and routes for 18-29 year olds. But, because I believe that that other companies I have mentioned are far more established in the young Croatia party cruise scene, I will be leaving it at that for now!

Routes

Intrepid has come out with some incredible sailing tours for 2019. They have all the classic routes between Split and Dubrovnik (on both large and small boats) but have now come out with some longer routes that go up to the north in Croatia and even to Venice! They have a new two week cruise of the entire Croatian coast and two that start in Venice, which look awesome… linked below.

Demographics:

Intrepid is listed as 15 to 99 year olds, so would be perfect for families or groups of friends of any age who like to be a bit more low-key (for all boats) or have a tour to themselves (for the small boats).

Smaller Boat Tours (Max 8)

Split to Dubrovnik Sailing Tour with Intrepid Travel 

Dubrovnik to Split Sailing Tour with Intrepid Travel

Larger Boat Tours (Max 31)

Split to Split A+ Boat Cruise

Dubrovnik to Split A+ Cruise

Split to Dubrovnik A+ Cruise

Dubrovnik to Split via Zadar + Plitvice (15 Days)

Venice to Split (8 Days, partial driving)

Split to Venice (8 Days, partial driving)

Dubrovnik to Venice (15 Days, partial driving, via Mostar, Split, national parks)

Compare G Adventures and Intrepid Travel Here! Many of their tours are similar, so check out this review comparing the companies.
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Croatia Sailing Companies: Kompas

Kompas is one of the Adriatic’s premiere luxury travel companies. Perfect for families or people of any age, Kompas tours have a minumum of 8 years of age and a maximum of 80. These tours will be on the nicest A+ category ships and your every need will be catered to!

Kompas has some of the most unique routes of any sailing company, and has tours going as far north as Zadar and Porec, Istria (the very north of Croatia). Bigger boats can go faster, I suppose! Many tours will have daytime and night time stops to cover more ground in the same amount of time – 8 days.

Many boats will have small pools/jacuzzis onboard and premium space to relax on lounge chairs or eat meals in style. These are the ridiculously nice boats that other people just gape at. You can see all information about the boat before you book a tour!

I think it would be great to see more of Croatia in the same amount of time, but the pace might be fast so what to choose depends on what you prefer! Here are some of the most interesting Kompas Routes:

Kompas Dubrovnik to Porec, Istria (Northern Croatia) Sailing Tour

Kompas Porec to Dubrovnik Sailing Tour

Kompas Zadar to Dubrovnik Sailing Tour

Kompas Dubrovnik to Zadar Sailing Tour

Kompas Split to Dubrovnik Sailing Tour

Kompas Dubrovnik to Split Sailing Tour

Kompas Dubrovnik to Dubrovnik Sailing Tour

Sail Croatia Companies: On-the-Go Tours

On-The-Go Tours, besides the young person budget tour I mentioned above, is a very chilled-out tour for all ages. There’s no discernable age limit on these tours, with about half of passengers aged 50+ and teenagers as young as 16 with their parents. A few of the tours ask that the age starts at 28, however – just make sure to check before you book.

On-the-Go Tours are perfect for the older crowd who doesn’t want to pay as much, younger travelers who are not looking to party, or families who want to have a lovely holiday together.

They have three different classes of boats, which they call ‘traditional,’ ‘premium,’ and ‘premium plus.’ They are not the same as B, A, and A+, however, in that they all have ensuite bathrooms and the only different with the premium plus is that there’s more space.

The cheaper tours will simply be cruises to different ports, and without a tour guide. But all the tours on premium boats will have guides.

Here are some of the tours offered by On-The-Go:

Dubrovnik to Split Premium Sail Croatia Tour

Dubrovnik to Dubrovnik Premium Plus Sail 

Split to Split Premium Plus Sail

Split to Split Premium Sail (best deal!)

Traditional Sailing Split to Split (no guide)

Croatia Sailing Companies: UTracks

UTracks is an outdoor adventure tour company, running hiking, biking, and nature tours all over Europe. In Croatia, they run cycling tours for families and people of all ages. These tours will drop passengers off in one location to cycle with a guide to the next location, all through the Adriatic. No age limit/minimum at all!

View UTracks Bike & Sail Adventure Tour

Croatia Sailing Companies: Back-Roads 40-90yr

Back-Roads is a tour company for the older traveler (the opposite age spectrum of the 18-39 party cruises) – the 40-90 year olds. Middle and older aged passengers can enjoy visiting much lesser known ports and National Parks between Split and Zadar on this smaller group cruise.

Back Roads Split-Split Off-theBeaten-Path Northern Croatia Sailing Tour

Croatia Sailing Companies: Go Croatia Sail Tennis Cruise

Yep, that’s right: a tennis cruise. This Split to Split cruise is focused specifically on playing tennis in different places in Croatia! It’s only one specific week in June, so if you are a tennis person get in it now (I actually can’t get over the cover picture on this tour with everyone and their tennis rackets!) 😛

Book your Tennis Croatia Sailing Tour

Croatia + Montenegro River Cruise

If you’re looking for something a bit bigger and more like an actual cruise, CroisiEurope River Cruises has brought their 103m long, 48-crew river vessel to the Adriatic to sail you and 197 other people around Croatia and Montenegro.

There is no age limit whatsoever for this cruise and could be a cool option for those who like bigger boats and larger groups.

Check out the river boat tour here

Sailing Croatia Companies: Custom Walks

Custom Walks does Croatia sailing tours for hikers! Capped at 11 people on a two-masted motor yacht, a Custom Walks tour will take you around the islands on various trails and hikes around Split, Vis, Hvar, Brac and Trogir. Make sure to book soon, though – they only have two weeks total in the summer, one in June and one in September.

Check out the Croatia Hiking Tour

Did you think I was kidding when I said there was a Vegan Cruise?

You thought wrong! This raw vegan cruise takes place during the first week of August in Croatia on a very nice boat, and has yoga classes and lectures on veganism. What will be next?!

PHEW! That was a lot of Croatia Sailing Tours. Overwhelmed? I would be too. Feel free to send me an email if you need help sifting through all this information to find out which sail Croatia tour is right for you. Nonetheless – all the information is here! Just use deductive reasoning: figure out if you want a young person tour or not, a floatilla or not, a smaller 8-person boat or a larger 30+ person boat with a chef/aircon, if you want something super luxurious or something cheaper, and finally if you want a specialty cruise (hiking, biking, tennis) or something… normal.

This should narrow things down, but I’m always here if you need more help! Enjoy your week sailing in Croatia!

 

With dozens of companies and hundreds of boats, it's hard to know how to choose the best Croatia Sailing Tours for you! This guide will help you choose the right island sail week company based on what YOU are looking for.

Did you enjoy my comprehensive guide to Croatia sailing tours?! Planning to do a Sail Croatia? Please pin me!

 

October 24, 2018