I heard a fair share of uncertainty before I left to Croatia for my next month-long destination, namely that there is no where to go in Croatia in winter; as the whole country will be frozen over like a year-old popsicle. So, was this true?
The answer is yes and no. Croatia is a beautiful Balkan country that is worth seeing at anytime in the year. Winter is the infamous “slow period” for the peaceful former Yugoslovian state, when beach parties and global tourists depart, leaving behind a fairly bored local populace, not to mention cold temperatures in the northern areas around Zagreb.
That being said, Croatia remains an amazing winter destination as you head for the long stretch of Adriatic coastline. While the off season ensures abandoned hotels, closed shops and strangely barren streets, the weather is far from unsuitable. While rain frequently occurs all winter, there are also many days of sunshine, where the coastline is crystal blue and beautiful; with moments in the sunshine that feel like spring or even early summer. Why this is not a more active area for snowbirds to escape from colder areas, I am not sure.
I began my trip in Zagreb, which was quintessentially winter; frozen over with roads so icy it would make sense to bring skates to get from street to street. Nonetheless, Zagreb was extremely charming. My hostel, Chillout Hostel, was filled with Americans who were seemingly questioning their timing for visiting the capitol city as they huddled away from the cold. In the day, I dressed up in a couple of layers to explore some of the city’s few sights. I got the sense Zagreb must be a kind of paradise in warmer months. However, at the beginning of February it was far too frigid for the festivities that reportedly occur at other times of the year.
After a few days, I packed my bags for Dubrovnik, the most famous of Adriatic cities in Croatia, and a considerably warmer climate. Dubrovnik is a good distance along the coastline along a thin strip of land designated as Croatian, but within spitting distance to Bosnia. A walled, medieval city that has been frequently used for filming parts of Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik is a UNESCO world heritage site, and in all my years traveling nothing quite compared to setting foot in the medieval Old Town for the first time. It is by far one of the most impressive locations I’ve seen, with ancient cobblestone streets that creates an atmosphere that immediately sends visitors back in time.
I’ve since had the pleasure of living within Dubrovnik’s ancient walled kingdom for most of February and now into march. Although sometimes disrupted by rain, many days are very sunny. The nights are quite cool, but worth wandering when the city is lit by wall lanterns. Just outside the gates, the quiet unused beaches that are normally packed in late spring and summer become secluded areas for rest and relaxation in winter.
For all the beauty of Dubrovnik and the surrounding countryside, the region is marred by a darker history. The largest European ground conflict since World War 2 raged in this area just over twenty years ago. Dubrovnik was besieged by both land and sea by Serbian and Montenegrin forces for 7 months between 1991 and 1992. They recklessly held nothing back from their assault, targeting the historic Old Town and at times turning their artillery purposefully toward refugees and firefighters. In the end, Dubrovnik was badly damaged, and parts outright destroyed. Neighboring towns fared even less well, such as Bosanka, a town around 4 km away, that was reduced to rubble by the invaders.
The reckless bombardment of Dubrovnik helped unite the international community against Slobodon Milosevic, and through widespread media coverage the Serbian alliance became regarded by most as brutal conquerors with no regard even for antiquity. This widespread condemnation, however, also helped to ensure the eventual Croatian victory and independence.
After the war, a very long process of rebuilding took place. Today, many of the historic sights of Dubrovnik have actually been refurbished after having been heavily shelled or even destroyed. Some signs remain of the fighting in the 1990s, such as an occasional bald-spot on a rooftop leftover from a mortar shell, however the majority of the city has been fully restored through global efforts primarily led by UNESCO.
So, what is Croatia in winter like, and is Dubrovnik as beautiful as I described? Scroll through my pictures below, and decide for yourself!