With Mediterranean beaches galore, a delightful mix of cultural sights, family-friendly adventure parks and playgrounds aplenty, Croatia is a have-it-all destination for those traveling with babies, children and teens.
Here’s everything you need to know about bringing the family to Croatia, along with the best kid-friendly activities when you get there.
Is Croatia a good destination for kids?
Kids are welcome everywhere in a country and culture that places family front and center. Children’s playgrounds are easy to find, and most sights and attractions have reduced rates for kids, including hotel accommodation.
Many families prefer to stay in tourist apartments or villas for the convenience of having an equipped kitchen and washing machine on hand, and even a private pool. At big hotel chains such as Valamar, you’ll find kids’ clubs with dedicated play spaces, planned activities, and game rooms for toddlers, kids and teens.
The vibe at restaurants is generally relaxed and informal, and while kids’ menus are mostly rare, there are plenty of kid-friendly dishes like pizza, pasta and risotto. You may have trouble locating a high chair, though, except at hotel restaurants.
Finding baby-changing facilities can also be a challenge, but these are generally available in shopping centers. If you’re out and about and need a toilet, just head to a big supermarket where you’re sure to find one (but not in the smaller neighborhood shops).
Most cities are walkable thanks to pedestrian zones in their historical old towns, but cobblestones are not easy to navigate with strollers – baby carriers or slings are more practical for infants. While children get discounted rates on public transportation, service can be limited in rural areas or off-season. Most families traveling with kids prefer the convenience of renting a car; request a car seat if needed when making the reservation.
The best things to do in Croatia with kids
Whether you have a tiny tot or a growing teen in tow, there’s plenty to do for kids of all ages. Here are some of the best things to do in Croatia as a family.
1. Take in historical relics and ruins
Croatia’s top tourist cities, such as Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar, appeal to kids as well as adults. Visitors of all ages love walking Dubrovnik’s massive Unesco-protected city walls, but the many steps may be a challenge to negotiate with a stroller. Stop off afterward at the playground at Pile Gate, next to the main exit, for some fun on the swings and slide.
After a tour of Zadar’s Roman ruins and Venetian squares, check out its quirky Sea Organ – the eerie whistling symphony fascinates young and old. The Sun Salutation installation just steps away is a winner with kids, especially at night when it glows and flickers as they dance on its glass plates.
In Split, once the initial thrill of exploring the narrow lanes and Roman ruins of Diocletian’s Palace fades, march the kiddos to the nearby port for a thrilling 50-minute ferry ride to Supetar on Brač island.
2. Travel through time at these formidable fortresses
Take your little explorers back to the time of medieval knights and legends by visiting one of Croatia’s numerous castles and fortresses. Of Šibenik’s four magnificent fortifications, the 17th-century Barone Fortress is the most kid-friendly thanks to its excellent visitor’s center where they can time travel via the interactive Augmented Reality exhibits.
At the superbly preserved 15th-century Morosini-Grimani Castle in Svetvinčenat, Istria, an adventure game invites visitors big and small to ramble through its towers, hidden chambers, and dungeon in search of the king’s throne and the castle’s secret.
Meanwhile in the Zagorje region lie two of Croatia’s best-preserved castles set in gorgeous landscapes. Fairytale-like Trakošćan Castle overlooks a lake and 215 acres of parkland, while inside its 13th-century walls are three floors of exhibits showcasing swords and armory. The imposing 16th-century hilltop Veliki Tabor Castle houses a permanent ethnographic collection of everyday items from traditional village households and farmsteads in the region.
3. Find a museum to amuse kids of all ages
When the weather turns sour, head indoors to one of these kid-friendly museums. Young explorers give a thumbs up to Zagreb’s Museum of Illusions (now also in Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik), a collection of rooms of optical illusions, mirrors, and holograms.
The Museum of the Krapina Neanderthal wows visitors big and small with colorful, high-tech displays and exhibits exploring the history of the universe, earth and humanity, and the story of the famous 1899 Neanderthal fossil-bone find in Krapina.
In Zagorje, the open-air ethnographic museum of Kumrovec Staro Selo showcases objects of traditional village life from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
4. Make a splash on a family-friendly beach
While pebble beaches are in the majority along the Croatian coastline, some notable sandy exceptions are perfect for builders of sandcastles. Families with young children will love the sandy seabeds and shallow waters of Paradise Beach (Rajska plaža) on Rab island’s Lopar peninsula, “Big” beach (Velika plaža) in Omiš, and Sotorišće beach on the car-free island of Silba.
When it comes to pebble beaches, Punta Rata Beach in Brela on the Makarska Riviera gets top marks with families. Kids can splash around in the waves without getting sand in their hair and explore the underwater world with a mask and snorkel. Here your teens will happily trade their phones for lazy days spent stand-up paddle boarding, pedal boating, or kayaking.
5. Have a close encounter with nature at a national park
Of Croatia’s eight national parks, Krka National Park and Unesco-listed Plitvice Lakes National Park are by far the most popular, and with good reason. Both entice with their sublime waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and forest-lined paths. However, be prepared for a lot of walking, which can quickly become a slog for little ones. Also, the wooden walkways skirting the lakes are not stroller-friendly and lack guardrails – a potential safety concern.
Brijuni National Park, an archipelago of verdant islands off the coast of Istria, makes for a wonderful day trip and is easy to navigate thanks to the motorized train that traverses the main island. Solar-powered golf carts and bicycles are other family-friendly transport options available for rent. Kids love tracking the hundreds of dinosaur footprints on the island’s rocky beaches, running wild in the wide open spaces, and spotting the African zebras and ostriches and South American llamas and camels at the vast safari park.
6. Experience thrills at water and adventure parks
When it’s time to take a break from sightseeing, head to one of Croatia’s many water and adventure parks. Aquacolors Water Park is the country’s biggest and has it all: a wave pool and two outdoor pools, 12 slides, two water rides and a 500-meter-long (1640ft) lazy river. Parents can recover at the Crocodile Cave Bar or soak up the sunshine on the artificial pebble beach.
Pack your bored teens off to Dalmaland for a guaranteed adrenaline rush. There’s plenty to entertain them for hours: roller coasters, a space car simulator, a zero gravity zone, and a Wild West town. Meanwhile, toy trains and spinning “choco cup” rides keep the tiny tots amused. Don’t miss the Adria Eye ferris wheel for sweeping views of the Adriatic Sea and Kornati Islands from the top.
Up for a challenge? Glavani Park in Barban, Istria, appeals to the whole family, with three aerial climbing routes, each one higher, longer and more challenging. Daredevils will want to have a go at the free-fall jump, ride a unicycle along the 120-meter-long (393ft) zipline, or fly through the air on the human catapult.
7. Learn about conservation at wildlife and animal sanctuaries
As an alternative to zoos, visit these impressive sanctuaries working to protect endangered animals. At Dubrava Falconry Center near Šibenik, you can get up close and personal with birds of prey. After an interactive educational talk, your kids can feed and pet the owls, and have a falcon perch on their arm.
Stop at Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary on the drive between inland Zagreb and coastal Zadar, or vice versa. Here you can see how volunteers work to rehabilitate orphaned bears in the village of Kuterevo, tucked in the northern Velebit mountains.
On Lošinj island, the Losinj Marine Education Centre is working towards the conservation of dolphins in the Adriatic Sea. The whole family can hop on a boat to join a responsible dolphin-watching trip to spot these gentle creatures frolicking in the sea.