It should come as no surprise that Croatia has become a top travel destination, seeing nearly 20 million visitors every year. It’s often seen as a destination fit for young backpackers looking for nightlife, lovers looking for idyllic seaside retreats, or simply Game of Thrones fans seeking out filming locations.
However, it may come as a shock that Croatia is also a terrific destination for families traveling with kids. Despite kids these days being too young to have seen or even know what Game of Thrones is, and maybe not fully appreciating all the country’s rich history as featured through its many UNESCO World Heritage sites, there are countless family-friendly attractions on offer across the country’s most popular cities that will keep young minds entertained.
It’s easy to book a vacation home rental with ample space for traveling with a family while also providing cooking and laundry facilities. Alternatively, many top hotels and resorts offer kids clubs with dedicated game rooms and regularly scheduled activities.
Come explore Croatia as I take you on a journey along the Dalmatian Coast and inland to discover the best places and attractions for families to visit in 2023.
Sitting like a jewel in the Adriatic Sea, Hvar is one of Croatia’s most beautiful islands. It‘s often thought of as a party island or affluent hangout for celebrities. After all, a young Prince Harry was once photographed here partying it up before he settled down with kids.
In reality, Hvar offers a beautiful holiday destination for families with ample things on offer for kids. A great place to start is the Hora Farm which is set in the lovely countryside setting where both adults and children will be content. Adults can sample some of Hvar’s delicious wine produced from the farm’s winery. They also produce olive oil and grow aromatic lavender.
Kids will enjoy wandering the farm and petting the various animals like pigs, donkeys, and chickens. Set within the UNESCO protected Stari Grad Plain, the farm offers up a lovely outdoor farm-to-table restaurant serving up authentic Dalmatian cuisine.
Kids will also like running around the Hvar Fortress which is perched atop the hill behind the Old Town. Known as Fortica or the Spanish Fort, the fortress provides incredible panoramic views over the town and sea and can be reached on foot or by car/taxi. Your kids, however, will probably be more impressed or preoccupied with climbing on the giant cannons and looking at the other relics.
Sea kayaking is another popular activity in Hvar. Guided kayak trips can take you along the coastline of the island or to Pakleni islands such as Marinkovac Island. They often use double kayaks so you can ride with your kids and life jackets are available to ages 3 and up.
Split, with its lovely seaside promenade, is the largest city along the coast in Croatia. It’s often used as a base for island hopping, such as visiting Hvar which I just previously covered, where multiple ferry journeys run daily. You can easily book the 1 to 2-hour journey from Split to Hvar or a return ferry from Hvar to Split.
Split offers a lovely family-friendly, albeit busy at times, beach called Bačvice which is easily accessed from city center. Enjoy a sandy beach, something that is a bit of a rarity in Croatia, with shallow water and no big waves or currents which makes it safe for small children to swim and play. Lifeguards are also on duty which makes it even safer.
There’s an inflatable water castle with slides for kids as well as a variety of water sports available such as jet-skiing, parasailing, and various boat rentals. You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas, with restaurants lining the beach to keep you from getting hungry.
Once you’ve had your fill of the beach, there are a number of fortresses to explore. The first is the massive ancient Diocletian’s Palace which consumes most of the Old Town. While it’s called a palace, it looks more like a fortress. A number of gates lead into the palace which features old Roman architecture and monuments, subterranean chambers, and a number of shops and cafes. Don’t miss rubbing the toe of the giant Gregorius of Nin statue which is said to bring good luck.
Just outside Split is Klis Fortress which sits upon a limestone bluff offering incredible views of the sea below. This location offers kids the chance to run around the grounds a bit more. Some of the best views can be had at Oprah Tower and St Vitus’ Church, while the kids may want to check out the onsite museum’s old weapons and soldier regalia.
Get a bit of a workout by climbing or renting a bike to go up Marjan Hill. Hiking allows you to walk the famous Marjan Stairs and there are a number of scenic lookouts along the walk. The hike offers a nice green escape from the congestion of the city below where local wildlife can often be spotted, and there are a number of benches to sit and relax along the path.
Lastly, less than an hour outside Split is the scenic Cetina River which offers family-friendly whitewater rafting trips along with more relaxing kayaking or tubing adventures. The river also offers ziplining, cliff jumping, and abseiling.
Now we move away from the coast and onto Zagreb which is Croatia’s capital and largest city. Families love spending time in Maksimir Park which is one of the oldest in South-Eastern Europe. Numerous lakes and creeks run through the park, allowing for perfect quiet spots to enjoy a picnic. There are also a few playgrounds for kids and sometimes pony rides are offered within the park.
While you can spot all kinds of bird species as well as mammals like foxes and squirrels at the park, there is also a large zoo within the park which is home to thousands of animals from all around the world. Some of the more notable animals include snow leopards, red pandas, pygmy hippos, and a variety of monkeys.
You should also make an effort to ride what is said to be the world’s shortest funicular railway. It’s a bit of a symbol of Zagreb and links the lower town with the upper. The funicular runs every 10 minutes most of the day and while the ride lasts all but a minute or so, kids will enjoy it. Go around noon and you will likely hear the city’s famous Grič Cannon firing away.
You may also consider hopping on the free mini blue tourist train that runs on weekends and takes riders around the city to take in some of the more notable landmarks.
Zagreb is also home to the original Museum of Illusions which has gone on to become one of the world’s largest private museum chains. Both kids and adults will be entertained and amused by more than 70 exhibits that are sure to trick your senses. There’s an anti-gravity room, clone table, and plenty of optical illusions in store for you along with a gift shop where you can take home some fun and educational gifts.
Heading back to the coast to explore one of Croatia’s more touristy cities, Dubrovnik offers plenty of history and outdoor recreation. A favorite activity for all ages is to book an ATV or buggy tour along both the coastal road and off-road to explore the countryside, woodlands, old war sites, and other areas not often seen by tourists.
The tours are led by English-speaking guides and last several hours. They can pick you up from your hotel and they usually make their way up Mount Srđ. Alternatively, you can choose to hike up Mount Srđ or take the cable car located just outside the Old Town. The impressive Napoleonic -era Fort Imperial awaits you at the top.
Also fun for families is to book a cruise on the replica 16th-century merchant ship named Karaka. There are a number of different sailing tours available and some include a guided walking tour of Old Town as well as local treats served onboard.
Of course, no trip to Dubrovnik would be complete without taking the family for a walk along the Walls of Dubrovnik. It is here where many scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed. Entrance to the Walls is ticketed and not exactly cheap but definitely worth it and your ticket includes admission to Lovrijenac Fortress.
Visit the various towers, learn the long history of Dubrovnik, and take in the best sights of the city from the Walls, as you make your way along the route which stretches more than a mile. You can expect crowds, something that is managed by forcing everyone to walk in a one-way direction.
If you are a dog lover, you can also check out the Zarkovica Animal Shelter which houses more than 300 dogs they have rescued, care for, and hope to adopt. The shelter is run by volunteers and you too can offer to walk the dogs or simply give them some attention.
Zadar is Croatia’s oldest city and is the closest major city to the famous UNESCO-listed Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s a little less than a 2-hour drive to the park which offers almost surreal natural beauty. There are a number of trails that wind their way through the fairytale-like park with its varied-color lakes, waterfalls, and caves.
Plitvice is a great place to observe wildlife and the trails are easy to manage for all age levels. The park is also open all year, with each distinct season offering a completely different landscape such as vibrant foliage in autumn and snow and ice in winter.
Back in Zadar, there are a number of fun outdoor art installations worth checking out that are near one another and both are the creations of the same Croatian architect. The Sun Salutation consists of hundreds of glass plates that collect energy from the sun during the day and then put on a light show at night. Meanwhile, the Sea Organ creates natural music using the energy of the sea waves.
Also near the city is an adventure park which offers a ropes course, ziplining, paintball, archery, and ATV riding. There’s even a makeshift Wild West town near Zadar that kids will find entertaining.
Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Having visited 100+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.