Are you into water sports? Visit Croatia from June to September when the Adriatic Sea is warm. Do you want to hire a guide and his dog to go truffle-hunting or join a grape harvest in Istria? The season for that is autumn. Whether you’re itching to hike up Istria’s Mount Ucka or just inhale the intoxicating scents emanating from the budding birches, shrubs, and flowers that line Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe in Zagreb, in Croatia, there’s a season for that.
Seasons & Regions in Croatia
Two distinct climate zones dominate Croatia’s weather, and they happen to coincide with the country’s two major cultures. Venice’s long occupation of the Dalmatian coast and Adriatic islands has influenced customs, architecture, and tastes, while Habsburg rule and sensibility is evident in the traditions and style in the rest of the country.
Historically, the mountains that run north to south just inland of the shoreline were a barrier to both cultural migration and the weather. The mountains block the extreme cold weather from reaching the coast, where the climate is primarily Mediterranean.
Croatian coastal temperatures range from the mid-40s in winter to the high-90s in the height of summer (7˚C – 35˚C). Spring and autumn are mild, especially south of Split. Inland communities and Northern Croatia have a Continental climate with temperatures varying between freezing (plus ice and snow) in the winter and a hot 80˚F in summer (0˚C – 26˚C). Spring and autumn can fluctuate from wet and chilly to dry and pleasantly warm.
Winter in Croatia
Winter on the continent can bring snow and ice, while the Adriatic coast and islands receive heavy rains and the bura, a strong, northeasterly wind that sweeps up the Adriatic Coast can reach hurricane-like strength. When the bura blows, people stay indoors, ferries are canceled, and bridges are closed. Elsewhere, snow is common over the winter months, and because of that, traveling in highland areas is frequently disrupted.
This is the time to head to Zagreb to celebrate winter. You can hit the slopes just 20 minutes outside of Zagreb at Mt. Medvednica and its major resort, Sljeme, home of the FIS World Ski Cup competition each year. Or stay in the city to partake in the Advent program and peruse the stalls of Zagreb’s Christmas Market; voted the best in Europe for three consecutive years.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is worth a visit no matter the time of year, though January is one of the best winter months for capturing the quiet majesty of Plitvice’s frozen lakes and waterfalls. Meanwhile, Croatia kicks off the approach of spring with Mardi Gras celebrations all over the country, where the port city of Rijeka along the Kvarner Gulf boasts the country’s largest carnival. There are pageants, street dances, concerts, masquerades, and DJs spin at a variety of bars and clubs throughout the city.
Events and Festivals in Winter
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & Boxing Day. All three days are celebrated across Croatia. Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve, followed by midnight mass, and presents are opened Christmas Day. Both Christmas and Boxing Day are national bank holidays, so note there will be plenty of business closures.
New Years Day. A bank holiday, you can expect nationwide closures and transportation schedules will be on a holiday schedule (if there’s one running).
Night of the Museums. On the last Friday in January, galleries and museums across the country open their doors for free from 6 pm to 1 am and offer special programs, including hands-on activities, workshops, and exhibitions.
Lent and Carnival. Festivities last to the end of the month, if not into early March (depending on when Ash Wednesday falls). Party with the best of them in the Italianate city of Rijeka, though if you’d prefer a smaller city-wide party, visit Zadar or Dubrovnik.
Rijeka Carnival. Over 20,000 performers take to the streets in Croatia’s largest carnival drawing in more than 100,000 visitors to this port city. Running from mid-January and leading up to Ash Wednesday, this massive carnival features street parties, masked balls, concerts, and pageants.
Spring in Croatia
The shoulder-season months of March and April see the snow begin to melt with spring showers practically coming to an end in May, giving way to longer days and sunnier skies. Tourist numbers are low, and lodging and flights remain attractive, and though May sees an influx in tourism, natives continue to outnumber tourists. With that said, ferries stay on a reduced schedule until the last week in May, and many hotels, especially along the coast, will still be closed. Though there will always be something available, it’s best to err on the side of caution and book in advance.
And while the weather boasts mild temperatures along the coast, the Adriatic is too cold to swim in (though not unheard of) and better suited for outdoor activities like hiking or cycling. Head to the Elafiti islands, in particular, Šipan or Mljet to get in some hiking or grab a bike and hit the Parenzana trail through inland Istria. Elsewhere, kayaking and rafting make for exciting excursions to do in spring when the rivers are at their highest, creating more thrills.
At the same time, fewer crowds to deal with means touring popular attractions will be mostly to yourself. Stroll Dubrovnik’s fortified walls, sit on the steps of Zadar’s Sea Organ to watch a memorable sunset, and explore Split’s ancient Diocletian’s Palace in relative peace.
Events and Festivals in Spring
Samobor Carnival. Held since 1827 and making it one of Croatia’s oldest carnivals, Samobor hosts street entertainers and music events throughout the week leading up to Shrove Tuesday.
Holy Week. Depending on the calendar, the entire week leading up to Easter is devoted to ceremonies and processions, Korčula offering one of the most solemn and elaborate.
Spring on the Zrmanja River. Known as the “European Grand Canyon,” this three-day event sees rafters and kayakers paddling along the crystal-clear river. Join the cheering (or competition!) and hike the area, paddle, or enjoy a boat ride.
Sudamja. Starting in early May, festivities including concerts, poetry readings, exhibitions, and a rowing regatta, commence celebrating Split’s patron saint, St. Domnius. On May 7, known as Split Day, there’s a religious procession, mass, and fair on the Riva, with fireworks filling the skies.
Cest is d’Best. For a few days in late May, Zagreb puts on a street festival that includes over 200 international performers with acts ranging from music, dance, theater, and art to sports.
Summer in Croatia
Summer is the busiest tourist season, particularly along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast and nearby islands. For good reason: the weather is sunny and hot, the Adriatic Sea is warm, sporting events abound, and the festival season is in full swing. European travelers, who are off work the entire month of August or longer, flock to Croatia now. With the significant pressure on facilities elsewhere, travelers should be aware that hotels and restaurants book up months ahead of time, so planning is recommended.
If crowds don’t deter you, head to the coast to swim, sail, kayak, and relax. Explore the Elafiti Islands and Korčula from Dubrovnik and Brač, Hvar, and Vis islands from Split. Zadar and Šibenik are great departure points for the Kornati islands, where diving and snorkeling are superb. Also near Šibenik: Krka National Park, great for hiking and filled with spectacular waterfalls.
To beat the heat and avoid some of the crowds, head into the Istrian Peninsula’s hilly interior and explore medieval towns like Grožnjan and Motovun. Alternatively, venture further east to Zagreb to stroll the city’s trendy neighborhoods, restaurants, and museums, which are less crowded now that the locals are away on holiday.
Events and Festivals in Summer
INmusic Festival. Zagreb’s highest-profile music festival takes place for three solid days of international performances.
International Children’s Festival. This three-week event in Šibenik begins every third Saturday in June and features craft workshops, music, dance, children’s film and theatre, puppets and parades.
Hideout. An electronic dance music (EDM) festival in Zrće on Pag Island takes over the beach bars and clubs in late June and early July.
Ultra Europe. Taking over Split’s Poljud Stadium for three days in July and featuring celebrity DJs, Ultra Europe is one of the world’s largest electronic music festivals. The parties continue for the rest of Destination Ultra Croatia Music Week, including Ultra Beach, a pool party at Hotel Amfora in Hvar Town the following week, and Destination Ultra Regatta, a heart-thumping beach party on Brač’s Zlatni Rat beach on the following Monday.
Dubrovnik Summer Festival. Starting on July 10, Dubrovnik accommodates Croatia’s most prestigious summer festival, presenting a drool-worthy program of theater, opera, concerts, and dance on open-air stages across the city.
Sali Fiesta. Located on Dugi Otok, an island off the coast of Zadar, Sali Fiesta features three days of live music, traditional food, a candlelit procession of boats around the harbor, and most uniquely, donkey races.
Sonus Festival. Considered the largest underground festival in Europe, you can enjoy five days and nights of music in open-air clubs and boat parties on Zrće Beach on Pag Island.
Krk Fair. Krk town hosts a three-day Venetian-inspired event with concerts, medieval costumes, and close to 200 stalls selling traditional food and handicrafts.
Autumn in Croatia
Crowds on the coast and islands begin to thin come September with temperatures steadily cooling and hotels and ferries closing down for the season (after September). Hotel prices decline, and flights and tourist attractions are less costly than in peak season. Most attractions are open and the Adriatic is still warm enough for swimming (up until mid-October).
There are endless options to take advantage of in autumn. Explore cities like Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, and Zagreb for Croatia’s best museums, restaurants, and cultural attractions. Dedicate time to the islands for the beach and water sports. Lounge on Zlatni Rat beach on Brač, sail to Šolta from Split or explore the Pakleni islands by kayak. And if the temperatures are too brisk, warm up with a hike to semi-abandoned stone villages on Hvar or the rugged Pelješac Peninsula.
Foodies will want to explore the Istrian Peninsula for all things truffles. Seek them out accompanied by a guide and truffle-sniffing dogs (not pigs) and savor the delicacy in a hilltown like Motovun. While in Istria, drink Malvazija wine with the locals in Momjan and join a wine tasting to meet the winemakers.
Events and Festivals in Autumn
Outlook Festival. For five days in early September, Europe’s largest bass and dubstep festival take place in Punta Christo Fort in Štinjan, just outside of Pula, with the opening event taking place in Pula’s Roman Amphitheater.
Supetar Summer. Supetar on Brač Island accommodates a two-month-long festival of folk music, klapa, dance, and classical concerts in addition to exhibitions, talks, and outdoor cinema.
Samobor Music Festival. One of the most prestigious classical music festivals in Croatia, this festival lasts for nine days, and many of the performances are held in the town’s two central churches.
Truffle Days. This multi-day festival (September to November) takes place during the white truffle peak season annually in Livade, the center of the truffle region in Istria. Enjoy all things truffles, including a demonstration using specially-trained dogs to search them out.
Good Food Festival. Dubrovnik’s week-long gastronomy festival includes special restaurant menus, organized gastro routes, and wine tastings, as well as workshops offering participants the opportunity to learn how to prepare national dishes and style food.
Marunada. One of Croatia’s food festivals not to be missed, this festival in Opatija focuses on the maruni, a unique species of chestnut grown in Lovran. Feast on everything chestnut, as well as look for your own in the nearby woods.
Feast of St. Martin. Celebrated on November 11 nationwide, this once solemn event is now more of a street party that reveres must (young wine) becoming wine.