Written by Travel Writer, Mom, and fellow blogger Chamisa.
In April, my husband and I took our three boys (ages 6, 4, and 1) to the Dalmatian Coast for ten days. Before we left, I scoured blogs, forums, and all the dusty corners of the Internet for an answer to my biggest question:
“What’s it like to travel with kids in Croatia, is it kid-friendly?”
I came up empty-handed nearly every time.
I started asking bloggers without kids if they’d even seen children while visiting Dubrovnik or Plitvice Lakes. No one had any concrete information on what it was like for tiny travelers to experience Croatia. So, I did what I always do – I go anyway and find out the answer myself.
And, then, I come back and share it with you!
Despite the lack of online information about family travel in the Balkans, we ran into kids every place we went (well, except when we climbed St. John’s Fortress in Kotor). They were on the boat with us to Hvar, walking on waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes, and Mrs. Chasing the Donkey’s own baby donkey was with us in Zadar. The local kids even braved the frigid April water on the beach in Split!
This leads me to believe that the information must be out there (right?!), but maybe not in English.
But, let’s get back to the original question…
Is Croatia a family-friendly destination?
In short, yes.. and no.. which is pretty much my answer anytime someone asks, “Is dream destination X kid-friendly?”. But now, I can tell you the pluses and minuses from personal experience.
First, you have to define kid-friendly. Are Croatian people friendly toward families? Absolutely. Family is the center of Croatian life. My boys were never made to feel unwelcome anywhere we went.
In fact, it was quite the opposite. Not only was our vacation rental owner in Zadar kind enough to stock the flat with toys, but our kids were invited to play with her own children in the yard and share bikes, balls, and yard toys. Two of the three apartment owners even left sweets for our children to enjoy.
But if you’re looking for most restaurants to have kids’ menus, high chairs, and bathrooms with changing tables, keep dreaming. This is not the reality in Croatia. Even finding apartments to rent with baby beds and high chairs can be a challenge.
Some attractions like Plitvice and Ston just aren’t designed for kids. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t take your family there, but be aware, these places are not child-proof in the overprotective, American sense. You won’t find walkways or stairs with steel mesh railings. Plus, it isn’t easy to take a pram anywhere that is not flat or a city center.
On the plus side, admission and transportation ticket prices for kids are lower nearly everywhere. Often, we simply just asked if we had to pay for them. Sometimes the cashier said yes for our six-year-old and our four-year-old, but most often, the answer was no. (Score!)
Eating out in Croatia is expensive for budget travelers like us. As I said before, kids’ meals aren’t common, but the staff are generally kind and would undoubtedly let young ones eat off your plate or perhaps order a half portion.
If restaurants aren’t your thing, you can find takeaway pizza and sweet/savory burek everywhere. These are totally kid-friendly foods – convenient, cheap, and delicious. Add scoops of cool ice cream available at gelaterias all over the country, and, congratulations, you’ve just become the most awesome parent EVER in the eyes of your kids.
Since you simply must visit at least one of the 1,000 plus islands that Croatia has to offer, you’ll need to take a ferry or catamaran there and back. My boys loved watching the boats in the harbor at Split, but they enjoyed sailing on a ferry to Hvar even more. If you’re riding on a car ferry, get there early enough to watch the vehicles driving on the boat. This was major cool in my boys’ book.
If it’s swimming weather (generally June – September), another obvious thrill for little ones is the beach. Croatia has zillions of beaches, some with sand, some with pebbles, many safe for little swimmers (with parental supervision, of course). Smear on the sun cream and watch your kids make friends with the locals and other traveling children.
Year-round, look for new friends at the playground. We saw outdoor play places in Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. You might have to get out of the tourist center to find them, but they’re there. Just listen for giggles and shrieks of delight, and follow your ears.
Now, if your kids are used to theme parks or designed-especially-for-kids destinations, you might need a little help on the road in Croatia. Here are just a few tricks to stuff up your sleeve.
- Bring an old digital camera for the kids to use, preferably one you wouldn’t mind being broken, stolen, or forgotten. My oldest is six and a half, and we started handing him the camera around the time he turned five, but even my four-year-old is starting to take an interest in digitally recording our travels. I’ve been amazed at what my sons photograph. I love looking through their blurry .jpgs and seeing what fascinated them about Croatia.
- Shop for snacks at local grocery stores. Familiarize yourself with the Croatian chain names such as Konzum, Billa, Lidl, Kaufland, etc. Be adventurous, and try new treats. Arm yourself with the excitement of new (hopefully) delicious and things, and whip out the goods when you’re stuck in traffic, at a border crossing, in line, or en route to your next adventure. Before we left, SJ translated a list of food and ingredient names for me to take some of the mystery out of what we were buying. You can download it here.
- Familiarize your kids with the Croatian flag, and make a game out of who can spot the most flags each day. The winner gets to pick that day’s grocery store treat. Read up on this list of goodies if you’re still hesitant. I’ve personally tried and would recommend Dorina Riza, Domaćica, and Ki-Ki. For some pre-trip fun, SJ has great Croatian flag coloring pages. My kids think the Croatian flag is totally awesome, and they still spot it now and again here in Germany.
For two other ideas and more hemming and hawing about kid-friendliness (but in Tuscany), click here.
Now that you know what you’re in for, what’s holding you back from schlepping your family to Croatia for your next kid-friendly holiday?