Plitvice Lakes National Park
© Leonid TitPlitvice Lakes National Park

The best places to visit in Croatia in autumn

The sweltering heat and warmest seas may have gone, but arguably there's no better time to visit Croatia than right now.

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Thanks to its gloriously sunny weather, beautiful beaches and pristine seas, Croatia is among the most popular countries in Europe to visit in summer. But there's more to Croatia beyond its beaches. Its oldest towns contain world-famous, protected architecture but are deluged with tourists in the high season. These historic cities lose none of their appeal in autumn when you can enjoy them unfettered by swarms of tourists. Similarly, some areas of inland Croatia, such as Zagreb and the regions of Lika and Gorski Kotor, really come into their own in this season; the forested foothills offering a riot of autumnal colours and a completely different experience to off-season visitors.

RECOMMENDED: More great destinations to visit in Croatia.

While Zagreb grows ever popular, particularly in summer and at Christmas, during the former period, many residents pack their bags and escape the sweltering urban heat by beelining for the coast. Much of the city's famed nightlife seems to go with them; in summer some of the world's biggest DJs visit the Croatian coast, but very few venture to the capital. But once autumn hits, Zagreb is seemingly reborn. The stadiums and nightclubs re-open and the programme of visiting artists and well-known guest DJs once again begins.

Of course, it's not only Zagreb's nightclubs that experience a boost in autumn. Bars, cafes and restaurants in the city come alive in autumn, welcoming back residents holidaying or working on the coast in summer. Similarly, there's a huge influx of new students to Zagreb every autumn and, with the new term just starting, this is the time of year with fewest exams and the period when they're most social. Zagreb's art and culture season is year-round too, so you're bound to find fabulous exhibitions at many galleries and museums in this period.

Dubrovnik
© Go Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Though it’s not the capital, Dubrovink could lay some claim to being Croatia's most famous city, reflected in the numbers it attracts in summer. The charming limestone-paved streets of Dubrovnik's Old Town wind their way through a beautiful city that can often be romantic and conducive to taking your time. However, some of that romance can be lost if you're sharing the streets with thousands of tourists. Dubrovnik loses none of its charms in autumn when the crowds thin and the heat recedes. Cultural programmes like the fantastic International Late Summer Music Festival add a cultural dimension to your autumn break.

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Plitvice Lakes
© Leonid Tit

Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes receives the lion’s share of visitors to Croatia’s national parks – with good reason, it’s arguably the most beautiful. In summer, the wooden walkways that crisscross the park tend to throng with tourists. In winter, if the snow falls, it looks spectacular shrouded in a pristine blanket of white. But autumn is the best time to visit. The mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees in and around the park create an intoxicating display of natural colours. The deciduous trees alone spiral off into their own array of colours, from light and dark yellows and browns, depending on the stage of their decay. Plitvice's waterfalls do not lose any of their spectacular beauty in autumn, but the park is less busy in autumn and the backdrop at its finest.

Lika
©valiunic

Lika

Continental Croatia offers spectacular scenery and it's not only the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes that are worth visiting in this vast mountainous region. Much of the region is covered by dense forest: the combination of browning, reddening and yellowing trees accompanied by the early morning mists that linger in the valleys of the Lika region make it one of the most spectacular of all sights in autumnal Croatia. The air and water in the vast Lika region are pristine too, making it a reinvigorating destination. Its hotels run across the price range, although some are often cheaper in autumn. The region is so large that it can easily offer a welcome solitude, should you seek it out.

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Split
© Following Hadrian

Split

Diocletian's Palace and the surrounding old town and riva in Split are justly among Croatia's greatest attractions, providing hours of pleasure in the discovery of their routes and architectural delights. The palace itself is so large it more resembles and old fort or small city itself and is included in UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage register. One of the most extraordinary aspects which makes the brilliant white walls and paths of Diocletian's Palace such a joy to visit, is that compared to other ancient sites and buildings, it does not lie idle and deserted; the palace today is a living and thriving part of the city of Split, containing museums, shops, cafes, bars, nightclubs, restaurants and even apartments. It's possible to rent an apartment and stay in some places in the palace or even walk beneath the drying clothes hanging from residents washing lines which are suspended between 2000 year old walls. The streets of the palace and Split's charming old town can be very crowded and noisey in summer. Autumn offers a quieter time to investigate these streets, the cooler temperatures also meaning you can linger there for longer.

Located near the tip of the Istrian peninsula in north-west Croatia, Pula is an incredibly popular destination in summer, not least because it holds the stunning Pula amphitheatre. Locally known as Pula Arena, the 2000-year-old amphitheatre is among the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world and one of Croatia's best-preserved monuments. The fabric sails that used to fly above the arena, which shielded its huge audiences from the sun, are no longer present. As a result, though fascinating, it can be a trial to spend time absorbing the palatial atmosphere with the midsummer sun beating down. Autumn presents an opportunity to visit Pula Arena in calmer temperatures but to spend time in calmer weather exploring its myriad of antiquities and architectural delights.

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Rijeka
© xbrchx

Rijeka

Of all the cities you could visit in Croatia, Rijeka is one that defies traditional labels. Though located by the sea, its architecture is unquestionably unlike that of any other seaside city on the Adriatic or Mediterranean. It is infinitely more Austro-Hungarian, a style usually more common to see in continental Croatian cities such as Zagreb or Osijek. Not only is Rijeka a city of contrasts, it also holds huge tracts of industrial and brownfield sites, some which have opened for the recreational use of the public and reclaimed by the city's artistic and cultural instigators. Many innovative schemes involving the land have been created as part of the makeover the city is receiving in the run-up to its official Rijeka 2020 European Capital Of Culture status. Rijeka's entire cultural events programme is receiving an incredible boost as a result, so there really has never been a better time to visit.

Zadar

Zadar

Zadar is a sizzlingly attractive destination in summer, but its spectacular views and famed sunsets are equally enjoyed outside of peak season. Zadar has world-famous religious artefacts and Venetian art, housed in the Treasury next to the Church of St Mary. The Archaeological Museum, the ninth-century rotunda of St Donat’s Church aka Crkva sv Donata (the largest Byzantine building in Croatia) and the Museum of Ancient Glass are definitely worth visiting at any time of year, as is the sublime Sea Organ, a contemporary visual and aural artwork created by Zadar-educated Nikola Bašić.

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Motovun

Motovun

Stunning from absolutely any angle, the hilltop medieval settlement of Motovun is a beautiful destination to visit for a daytrip or the duration of its world-famous film festival. Motovun is frequently mentioned as a potential future UNESCO World Heritage site and seems to generate more of a buzz each passing year, thanks to its postcard-perfect good looks. Little wonder that its visitors often resemble crowds of the faithful about to embark upon a pilgrimage to the top of its slopes. From late summer through to the end of January, you can spot ancient Renault 4s, many without number plates, parked at the edges of the Motovun Forest. They are the vehicle of choice for truffle hunters, who roam between the dense trees, often with three or four dogs in tow in their secretive search.

Gorski Kotar
© Domagoj Blažević

Gorski Kotar

Gorski Kotar is undoubtedly one of Croatia's most picturesque regions, yet its charms remain little-known outside of the country and its immediate region. Mountainous and lathered in dense forest, Gorski Kotor is amongst the oldest and most authentic regions of Croatia, its many ancient administrative and defensive castles attesting to such. Buildings from the era of old Croatian royal houses Frankopan and Zrinski are often sat picturesquely on hillsides or as functioning aspects of villages in the region. Examples such as Zrinski Castle in Čabar, the riverside Severin Castle, the dainty but incredible Stara Sušica Castle and Gomirje monastery and church should not be missed when visiting. Gorski Kotor also contains Risnjak National Park, one of the most spectacular places to go walking or hiking in Croatia, not least because it contains the protected natural phenomena Vrazji prolaz and Zeleni vir, canyons, waterfalls and water features of incredible beauty.

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