Do you dream of warm beaches, fresh pasta, and delicious wine? I do.
Do you dream of crowded beaches, expensive accommodations, and pick-pocketers? I don’t.
What if I told you that a trip to Croatia would check all those “yes” boxes, and none of the “no”‘s? Don’t worry – I’m not here to slam Italy, I still love the country, but if you’re looking for a European destination that’s got a foreign language, new sights, smells, and the salty kiss of the sea… I recommend you go to Croatia instead of Italy.
Croatia is a great alternative to Italy for a couple of reasons. It’s cost-friendly, insanely beautiful, and boasts some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. If you’re looking for something new, different, and untouched by ugly tourism… Croatia is the place for you.
Here’s my list of reasons you should visit Croatia instead of Italy:
- The Views
- The Food
- The Cost
- The Culture
- The Outdoors Activities
- The Cleanliness
- The Safety
1. Views that Rival Italy:
Italy is known for its marble structures and huge landmarks, crystal clear water, and beaches. There’s hardly a picture of Italy that doesn’t showcase the architecture of the buildings, the impressive public squares, and the perfectly clear blue water. The good news is that Italy doesn’t have a monopoly on any of these things in the Mediterranean and Croatia especially!
Similar if not the same architecture:
The Adriatic sea is shared with Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania before becoming a part of the larger Mediterranean sea again. A unique feature of Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania is the steep mountains that descend directly into the sea. They feature cliffs and hidden beaches below, many of which are still “undiscovered” by big tourism.
You’re likely to see stone peaking out from the brush, the same stone that their houses are made from. Much like Italy. The houses and buildings scale the sides of cliffs, and the surrounding mountains, and border the water itself. Cafes and restaurants line the sea promising fresh seafood, Italian cuisine, and Mediterranean salads (my favorite).
Croatia is even home to an old Roman emperor’s palace, Diocletian. So even if you aren’t in Italy, you’re still getting the remains from the Holy Roman Empire. You’ll notice that Italian homes and Adriatic coastal homes share a similar culture. There’s no mistaking that the Adriatic coast looks AND feels very similar to that of Italy.
Sunsets, water, and land:
I was raised in the Rocky Mountains so I’m a mountain girl at heart… It’s tough to beat a view that includes some well-lit mountains at golden hour and a gorgeous red/orange & pink/lavender sunset in opposition. In all seriousness, I think you can get better views in the Balkans than you can in Italy. It’s just one of the reasons you should visit Croatia instead of Italy.
Let’s not forget about beaches. While Italy does have some of the most iconic beaches of all time… it’s simply because the exposure for those beaches has been well documented. Croatia is home to more than 1,000 islands… each with its own beaches. The multitude of beaches beat out Italy… and for the same clear, inviting, water but with half the people. You can enjoy real solitude in Croatia! All you have to do is book a day trip to an island. (approx 10-30 Euros)
On the Island of Hvar, I saw some of the best sunsets I have EVER seen. And I’ve seen quite a few around the world. The quaintness of the small villages each offering something similar but different is enough to make you want to see what else the country has in store for you. And honestly, it’s one of the reasons I love Croatia. There’s always more. Another island, another village, another amazing meal… The country is WIDE open for exploration and SO accessible.
2. Italian food PLUS so much more:
Italian cuisine can be found bountifully and beautifully done anywhere along the Adriatic Coast. Italy shares the Adriatic Sea with Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania. So it’s no wonder that good Italian food has made its way around the Mediterranean/Adriatic. It’s worth mentioning that a lot of Montenegrin and Croatian families have very strong familial ties with Italy.
Not only do the Balkans have great Italian food, but they have their own traditional Balkan food, too. It’s one of the best perks if you ask me. If you’re a meat and potatoes kind of person, you will be VERY happy in Croatia. Think of eating the BEST naturally raised meat in any way you can imagine. Grilled, roasted, put on a spit… the Balkans and Croatia have the tastiest selection of a variety of meats & sausages. You really can’t miss traditional Balkan food – and you won’t find it in Italy.
I realize I may be a bit biased… because my own grandmother was from the Balkans and I remember eating her stews and various cabbage dishes as a child… But the fact remains, traditional Balkan dishes are the very core of what classifies as “American” cuisine. Expect to feel at home with food made from the soul. I have an entire blog post dedicated to navigating Balkan menus. You can find it here.
The point is, you’re going to get your fill of Italian cuisine whether you go to Italy or not. The Adriatic Coast serves up freshly caught seafood, all kinds of pasta, risottos, and pizzas just like in Italy… But you’re going to get Traditional Balkans food, too. That’s a HUGE plus for me.
3. Save yourself some money:
The Balkans in general, are a MUCH cheaper trip than Italy. No matter what, the trip to get to Europe from the United States will be the bulk of your expenses…why not see something very similar, and less crowded than Italy? Italy attracts huge crowds driving up the prices of their goods over the tourist season… prices comparable to, if not more expensive than American destinations.
Cheaper accommodation leaves you more money to spend on excursions:
Accommodation prices will save you a BUNCH along the Adriatic Coast. $25 per person per night is a heck of a deal compared to $50-75 per person in Italy. If that’s not enough alone to convince you to go to Croatia instead of Italy… think of a nice meal out. You could spend $80 for the best dining experience that would cost you more than $200 in Italy. You could have more nice meals in place of just one… and a bottle of wine with every dinner!
I have mentioned the best excursions to do in Budva, but most cities along the Adriatic Coast offer similar things to do. Boat tours, nightlife, heritage, and the cutest old towns. The expense on these is WELL worth the experience. Just because something is cheap, does not mean it’s low quality. It’s good to remember that these countries (Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania) are in their sunrise eras for tourism… Unlike Italy which is probably at its height. And there are some serious downsides to having more tourists.
Getting the most of your trip:
If you’re like me and ballin’ on a budget, I like to stay in medium-nice places (a 3-star rating is fine for me) with clean sheets, bathrooms, and somewhere that feels safe. As a woman, I am always thinking about these things… yet I like to be somewhat close to the action. So I’m willing to spend a bit more than a hostel stay, but definitely don’t need the luxury amenities.
I will say, if you’re going the hostel route, expect to spend a little bit less than $25 per night. Hostels are a great way to travel and meet other young people. As I mentioned, I like to stay in a more private place than a hostel, somewhere where I don’t have to make my own bed. I still have yet to spend more than $50 for my husband AND me to stay in that type of accommodation.
I’m the kind of traveler who wants to spend my money on experiences. I want to get a boat tour, I want to check out old fortresses, I want to go bungee jumping and swimming with sharks. So I center my vacations/traveling around doing things. I don’t have the money to afford a 5-star resort AND the activities. So I budget between both and found that Croatia is a much easier place to cheaply stay and do my excursions. I get the best bang for my buck.
The cost-effectiveness of this trip is why you should go to Croatia instead of Italy. Italy is lots of sightseeing, museums, and beaches. Not so much in way of excursions and outdoor activities.
4. The “Mediterranean Culture” includes destinations like Croatia:
Generally speaking, when people talk about a Mediterranean trip, they’re usually referring to Italy, Spain, France, and Greece. They certainly have the biggest economies in the Mediterranean… but you’re also going to pay for that. The “way of the Mediterranean” is done differently in each country that is in the Mediterranean.
The same culture that built the Colleseum in Rome also built the Adriatic Coast. Actually, some established cities existed even before the Holy Roman Empire took control over them! The lasting imprint that the Roman Empire had on this corner of the world is astonishing. Want to know why?
The Romans took a totally unique perspective on their “conquered” territories. They invited them to be citizens of it, rather than create enemies of the state. What you see with the culture of the Mediterranean is people actively participating in its strengths and adapting them to their own cultures. You’ll find many similarities in buildings, coastal life, landmarks, food, and infrastructure. Diocletian even ruled the Empire out of Split, Croatia! (I highly recommend a tour of his palace.)
Each culture that the Holy Roman, Turkish, and Ottoman Empires touched created a unique blend within every country you visit along the Adriatic and Mediterranean. You can see and feel all the similarities and discover their differences. The food, architecture, landscape, and wine share similarities. But the clothing, music, religions, traditions, and people will sing to you their own voice and beauty found within.
The Mediterranean is so much bigger than just Italy and Greece. That’s just one more reason you should go to Croatia instead of Italy.
Wine about it:
I can’t forget to mention the geography… Spain is the largest exporter of wine in the world – Italy and France are close behind, and you know what they all have in common with Croatia? Climate.
Italian wine IS world-renowned… but some of the best-kept wine secrets lie along the Adriatic Coast. The vines here have been producing wine longer than in Italy. They’re not big on exporting their best assets either… consider taking a wine tour while in Croatia. History, delight, and heritage are all wrapped into one!
“The Mediterranean” is an all-encompassing cultural phrase. Croatia, like Italy, is part of that culture. And Italy isn’t the only destination in the world with beautiful beaches and great food! Exploring this corner of the Mediterranean, in my opinion, is well worth It.
5. Outdoor Activities:
I know I have mentioned boat tours more than a few times…but they’re a MUST-do activity. No matter where you are in Croatia – Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik, Rijeka, etc. Croatia absolutely BLASTS Italy out of the water for outdoor activities. There are rivers for whitewater rafting, kayaking, and fishing. There are waterfalls, swimming holes, forts, and bungee jumping… Really the list goes on.
I can’t forget to mention National Parks in Croatia! There is so much to see and enjoy. My husband and I went to Krka… and I will be the first to admit we had SO much fun taking a tour of the whole park. We ate at a super cool restaurant that had water flowing under our feet. It was such a treat to beat the heat with refreshing water moving all around. We ordered plum rakija and sat at our table for almost two hours just taking in the sights and being in nature.
If you’re an outdoorsy person, Croatia is going to blend the best of both worlds. You can get your beach time and your adventure time.
I’m a total sucker for anything water or adventure related and I really make the most of that in Croatia. It’s another great reason you should travel to Croatia instead of Italy.
6. Fewer People, fewer problems:
One of my favorite things I tell people when they ask about where I live is, “how many people live there?” Let me put it into perspective: Croatia has 69 people per square kilometer… Italy: just shy of 200. So you’re not just competing with the people who visit Italy… but literally every other person who wants to visit. They get MILLIONS more tourists than Croatia annually.
Save yourself the trouble of fighting crowds. Find your own secluded beach, move at your own pace, and most importantly, stop worrying about safety and cleanliness. The chances of being pick-pocketed are never zero, but you’re way less likely to be burgled in Croatia.
The number of people begging for money is fewer in Croatia, and there are fewer homeless people, too. These things shouldn’t make one feel unsafe in general, but rather note that the country is better at managing poverty than Italian cities.
That brings me to my most important point. As a woman and tourist..safety is really important to me. I don’t get catcalled in Croatia as I did in Italy. It really gets annoying and makes me paranoid. I don’t have to clutch my bag or worry about people stealing my things from the beach. I feel so much more at ease in Croatia than I do in Italy.
There are no crowded buses or trains/trams. You’re NEVER going to be 100% free from pickpocketers, but in Croatia, the chances of you being robbed are lower than in Italy. I feel safer. The countryside seems to be filled with good samaritans and people who help you. Akin to the mid-west and western regions of the United States, generally speaking, the people in the Balkans are kind, generous, and warm.
Additionally, crime rates in Croatia are very low… it’s actually safer than the United States! There is something about the people here that is welcoming. They want you to experience their culture. Eat at their table with them. Laugh. Enjoy the easy-going lifestyle that most Americans aren’t accustomed to. It really is a slice of luxury to enjoy life as Croatians do.
So, if you’re on the fence…
Give Croatia a try. It’s going to be worth your while! I love it and find that vacationing in Croatia is always fun and exciting. I love that there is so much to do, see, and experience. There is a variety of great food – perfect for every kind of appetite. There are amazing wines. views, beaches, and people.
If you’ve already traveled to Croatia and want something even better… check out Montenegro.