Traveling to Croatia in the Winter? Then you’re certainly in the right place because this guide features all you need to know to prepare for your upcoming trip!
We’ve got details about the weather, packing tips, and all the places that you should visit because they’re just as spectacular in the winter as they are in the summer.
From Zagreb to Zadar – here’s everything you need to need to know about traveling to Croatia in winter!
Croatia has a mostly continental climate in the inland areas but the typically Mediterranean climate on the coast. Let’s start with Zagreb and the northern part of the country – the climate there is continental, with cold and dry winters.
Temperatures can drop below zero even during the day, and the average highs in the winter are usually about 5-7 degrees Celsius.
The Adriatic Coast and Istria boast a much milder and warmer climate. Even during the winter, the average daily highs are in the low 10s (Celsius), and the lows are near the 5 degrees Celsius mark and they rarely drop below zero. If you live in a place where winters are harsh, you might really enjoy the weather of the Croatian coastline in winter.
Another important thing to note about the winter weather in Croatia is that it rarely snows, even in places where the continental climate is dominant. It almost never snows in the coastal areas, but rain is common, along with floods. It also gets very windy, and this is true for most of the country.
Snow is common in the mountainous regions, so Lika, Gorski Kotar, and parts of continental Croatia.
What to pack depends on which cities in Croatia you plan to visit. If you’re mostly going to stick to the coastal towns, you won’t need heavy boots and extremely warm jackets. The cities on the Adriatic Coast and in Istria are much warmer than the rest of the country even in the winter season, and you can get away with wearing lighter clothing.
Naturally, this doesn’t mean you should pack shorts and flip flops, but that you’ll be okay with a lightweight down jacket instead of a heavy parka. Also, Croatian coastal towns rarely get snow, and even when they do, it’s a side effect of climate change.
Rain is common in the winter on the coastline, as is heavy wind, so you’ll want to pack some windproof and waterproof jackets. But, also pack some lightweight shirts and pants, because the sun comes out even in January, and it can really warm you up during your seaside walks.
On the other hand, if you want to visit Zagreb, Varazdin, Velebit, and similar areas, you should pack some warmer clothes. The northern places are much colder than the coastal ones, and temperatures often drop below zero. Snow is usually not much of an issue, but it does get cold, windy, and rainy often.
In addition to that, if you plan to go hiking and mountain climbing in Croatia, you should pack proper winter hiking gear. Croatia has some really tall mountain peaks, as well as areas with a cold mountain climate. Snow and ice are common on higher altitudes in the winter, so keep that in mind.
Not sure which places in Croatia are worth visiting in the Winter? Travel to any of the cities and national parks below and you’ll see that their beauty isn’t tied to the seasons!
Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the best places to visit in Croatia no matter the month. I was fortunate enough to visit it in October, which is considered the off-season. The place is stunning regardless of the weather or month, but you should know that it gets really cold there even in fall, so layer up if you’re going to be exploring the park in the winter.
The main benefit of visiting this gem of Croatia in winter is that the trails are mostly going to be deserted. Tickets are also much cheaper in the off-season, there are no huge waiting lines for the boats and buses, and you’ll be able to get some spectacular photographs without a dozen people blocking your view.
The key thing to know about the national park is that you will be doing a lot of walking if you want to explore all the main sights which include Croatia’s tallest waterfall and about a dozen smaller ones, incredibly beautiful lakes, and panoramic viewpoints that are breathtaking.
The pedestrian walkways cross over the lakes, and they can sometimes be wet, what with the waterfalls splashing them in certain places. This translates to ice in the winter months, so be sure to wear some sturdy, non-slip boots. It’s best to bring a windproof jacket, since it can get quite windy in the park, especially on the boat rides.
It’s worth noting that the boat rides are one of the highlights of the park visit. But, it gets chilly on the boat in the late summer, so you can only imagine how cold it can get in the winter.
Dubrovnik is the most popular tourist destination in Croatia, regardless of the season. It’s where the rich and famous come to summer, and the list of A-list celebrities who’ve visited this charming town includes Beyonce, Roman Abramovich, Bill Gates, and many others.
That’s enough star power to give you a good idea of just how famous this ancient town is. In some cases, it doesn’t count you visited Croatia if you haven’t been to Dubrovnik, especially if you’ve traveled along the southern Adriatic Coast.
The upside of visiting Dubrovnik in the off-season is that you get to experience the Dubrovnik Winter Festival. The town gets adorned with thousands of Christmas lights and other decorations that make it seem like a place from a fairytale.
Another upside is that you get to enjoy all the attractions and landmarks without the hordes of tourists that overwhelm the Dubrovnik streets every summer. You can still do a Game of Thrones tour of the town, walk along the city walls, and strut down Stradun, and you’ll enjoy it even more because there won’t be hundreds of other people doing the exact same thing.
Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia and a place worth visiting any time of the year. It’s absolutely spectacular year-round, but it gets a certain charm in the winter when the Christmas markets advent is set up in the Zagreb city center.
The entire center of Zagreb is adorned with Christmas decorations, there are stalls where you can buy everything from Croatian souvenirs to mulled wine, and there’s even an open-air skating rink on the Tomislavac Square. When the night falls, the twinkly lights and gorgeous decorations truly make the town center come to life, which is both good and bad.
It’s great because it’s a spectacular experience, and there’s so much to do and see. It’s bad because this is one of the most popular Christmas markets in Europe, and it gets insanely crowded.
Seriously – the crowds are so huge that you’ll need to wait in line for a glass of mulled wine, and you’ll be mingling amongst the crowds wherever you go. If you’d rather skip the crowd of this winter festival, just avoid traveling to Zagreb in the latter half of December.
Other highlights of Zagreb include the Zagreb Observatory in the upper old town, Ilica street, the Zagreb Cathedral, the Botanical Garden of the Faculty of Science, Tkalciceva street, and the Museum of Illusions.
If your time in Zagreb is limited, these are the top city sights to explore, but if you have several days in Zagreb, also consider visiting either Bundek or Maksimir parks (or both), the Museum of Broken Relationships, Lotrscak Tower, Zagreb Art Park, and the shopping malls in Novi Zagreb.
Samobor is always a popular day trip from Zagreb, but it gets more attention in the winter. And that’s to be expected – the coastal towns were always going to be more popular in the summer, but the inland, hilly areas, are much more popular in the colder months.
Samobor is surrounded by hills that offer some excellent hiking, which makes it a great place to visit on a short day trip from Zagreb. Explore the many hiking trails in the hills, which offer spectacular scenic views of this charming town.
The Samobor Castle is one of the highlights of the city regardless of the season. It’s a medieval fortress situated atop a forested hill, with breathtaking views of the town and the tall hills that surround it.
Also, Samobor is a great place to taste the local cuisine. You’ll find that restaurants are a bit more affordable than in Zagreb, but serve food of equally great quality. Try the delicacies that are a staple of Croatia’s inland cuisine, which is hearty and heavy on game and pastries.
Istria is one of the most beautiful regions in Croatia, and it’s a good idea to visit it any time of the year. It can be especially beautiful in the winter when the festive season comes to the charming seaside towns. If you decide to visit Croatia in winter, a quick tour of the Istria region is certainly one of the best ways to spend your time.
Explore the town of Porec, walk around the center of Pula, and hike to a waterfall or two if you have enough time. Don’t sleep on Rijeka and Opatija either – both towns are absolutely gorgeous and well worth a visit if you’re traveling through Istria.
Porec, Pula, and Rijeka are certainly the highlights of the region. They’re the largest cities in the area, and most places in them stay open throughout the year, including restaurants, shops, and museums.
In case you want to stay in this region for a prolonged period of time, there’s the added benefit of proximity to Slovenia and Italy. You can be in Trieste in about an hour and a half, from where you can take a ferry to Venice. Ljubljana, Koper, and Bled are also pretty close to both Pula and Porec, as are some awesome Slovenian mountains, national parks, and ski resorts.
Two of the best winter destinations in Croatia have to be Split and Trogir. The two coastal towns are incredibly charming, with lots to offer to tourists during any season. The main advantage of visiting them in the winter is that you can avoid crowds of tourists, and get to experience the cultural and historical landmarks without dozens of other people in your way.
Also, there’s added benefit of exploring the Split Riva on a sunny, 10-degree (Celsius) day in December. See the Diocletian’s palace, admire the stunning city views, spend some time in Marjan park, and experience the advent in Split.
In terms of things to do in Trogir, you can still walk around the narrow cobblestone alleys, see the imposing Trogir Cathedral with its bell tower, the Trogir Town Loggia, the beautiful clock tower, and the spectacular Kamerlengo Castle.
Another thing worth noting about both Trogir and Split is that they’re both populated towns that are alive both during summer and winter. Unlike the more touristy areas like the islands, most restaurants and shops stay open throughout the year, so you’re really not missing out on much.
Whether you’re visiting Croatia in the summer or winter, it’s always a good idea to spend a day or two in Zadar. The lovely coastal city is considered one of the prettiest towns on the Adriatic Coast and for good reasons.
It boasts a gorgeous old town that’s situated on a small peninsula, which connects to mainland Croatia with bridges. The old town is characterized by narrow cobblestone alleys, tall stone buildings, and both ancient and modern landmarks.
Some of the most famous landmarks in Zadar are the Greeting to the Sun and the Sea Organ. These are two fairly modern landmarks, that are actually art installations done by a famous Croatian architect, Nikola Bašić. They’re situated towards the northern part of the old town, right by the Adriatic Sea, and they’re a must-visit whenever you’re in town.
There’s also the Church of St. Donatus, which is an imposing church that dates back to the 9th century. The People’s Square, Queen Jelena Madijevka Park, the Land Gate, and the Zadar Archaeological Museum are a few of the other attractions worth visiting in the town.
Although I generally don’t recommend visiting Croatian islands in the winter, Hvar is the one exception to that rule, especially if you’re craving some sunny weather. It’s the sunniest place in entire Croatia, with about 150 hours of sunlight (per month) during December, January, and February.
Hvar is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, and the crowds during the summer are just unbearable. It’s practically deserted in the off-season and it’s a lot cheaper to visit Hvar in the winter than during peak season.
Granted, most of the touristy places will be closed, but that doesn’t stop you from exploring the natural attractions of the island. The beaches are still as stunning even if you can’t go swimming, the cobblestone alleys of Hvar old town are just as charming, and the historic attractions are all still there.
In case you want to go skiing while you’re in Croatia, Medvednica is the best mountain for winter sports in Croatia, but it’s worth noting that even the Sljeme ski resorts are seriously underwhelming to anyone who is passionate about skiing.
Sljeme has about 4 kilometers of ski trails divided over five distinct trails. Two of those are easy, two are medium, and only one is challenging enough that avid skiers can enjoy it. It’s certainly not going to be the most exciting skiing experience of your life, but if you’re visiting Zagreb and you get the urge to go skiing, Medvednica is only 30 minutes away by car.
If you want to experience some excellent skiing and you have the extra time, you’re better off visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina for a couple of days. Mount Jahorina alone has about 40 kilometers of ski trails, while entire Croatia has only 19 kilometers.
The towns in the valley of the Neretva River are home to one of the most unusual touristy events – the mandarin harvesting season. It begins in late September every year and lasts for about three months, during which period some 40-60 thousand tonnes of mandarins get harvested.
For some reason, this physically strenuous activity has become incredibly popular with tourists in Croatia! And if you too want to take part in the harvesting of mandarins, you should travel to the towns of Metkovic, Ploce, or Opuzen in early winter.
The valley encompassing these three towns is locally known as the California of Croatia, due to the extremely fertile and rich soil. The entire area is covered with orchards, which are fed by the delta of the Neretva River.
Velebit is Croatia’s largest mountain range, so it’s certainly a good place to visit in the winter. It’s along the Adriatic Coast, if you’re traveling to the cities of Split or Zadar, you’ll be just a couple of hours away from the mountain.
Velebit boasts tall peaks, hidden caves, and dozens of hiking trails. Some 14 hiking trails are within the Velebit National Park, which is the best place to visit if you want to explore the mountain and experience some spectacular views.
Keep in mind that, even though the mountain is close to the Adriatic Coast, it’s still pretty cold there in the winter. Expect snowy and icy terrain, and pack appropriately. Don’t set out on a hike without your best non-slip boots, and if you plan on doing any mountain climbing while you’re in the national park, be sure to bring ice axes and flashlights.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.