Croatia has arty cities, tumbling waterfalls and rolling vineyards.
But most visitors are here for its 2000km (1242 mile) coastline, which tumbles down the Adriatic like a glorious, half-finished jigsaw. Here you’ll find idyllic coves, sophisticated ports and ferries that slip from island to island.
Choosing the best time to go to Croatia depends on what you want from your visit. High season brings hot sun and a party vibe, particularly on the Dalmatian Coast, home to highlights like walled Dubrovnik, its hip cousin Split, and Hvar Town’s classy waterfront. Shoulder season is quieter, and great for hiking and watersports, while winter lets you experience culture and festivals at off-season prices in the capital, Zagreb.
The south of Croatia is a little warmer than the north, but the main difference in temperature is between the coast and the interior. By the sea, summers are warm and winters relatively mild, while in the interior temperatures are more continental, with slightly warmer summer temperatures and colder winters.
This guide to what’s happening through the year in Croatia can help you plan your trip.
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July and August’s high season is the hottest time to visit
Croatia’s tourism peaks in July and August, when the Adriatic’s warm waters charm countless visitors. There are boat parties, medieval fairs, while the booze flows freely and the smarter resorts fill with yachters. It’s great fun, though afternoons are roasting hot, the lines at attractions are at their longest and accommodation costs rise. Inland, temperatures are higher but crowds less noticeable, and Zagreb empties as locals head for the coast.
May and September to October have sunshine and fewer crowds
Late spring and early fall are arguably the best time to visit Croatia. Sea temperatures are pleasant and there’s plenty of sunshine, but the country’s pebble beaches and rocky coves are relatively quiet. With endless still seas, May and September are great times to go sailing in Croatia. Onshore, this is the best time to cycle, hike or visit the national parks too. Better still, accommodations are also easier to come by than in high season.
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The shoulder season months are a great time to visit Croatia’s national parks © fokkebok / Getty Images
Accommodations are cheapest in November to April
There’s a reason the crowds stay away between November and April. The interior can be freezing, and while the coast is milder, it’s still affected by the bura wind that whips across the European plain, canceling ferries and snatching hats off heads.
But if you’re here for food and culture, you can still have a fine time. Rates at hotels and other accommodations are at their lowest, and you’ll be sharing the galleries and backstreets with locals. In Zagreb, Christmas markets, hearty stews, and buzzy clubs offer a warmth of their own.
January is Croatia’s coldest month
It’s cold in January, making it a good time to check out Zagreb’s lively cafes and impressive galleries and museums – and you can get a late-night culture fix at the annual Night of Museums. Sljeme (near Zagreb) or Platak (near the coastal hub of Rijeka) offer reasonable skiing.
Key event: Night of Museums.
Rijeka’s carnival is a huge event each February © Happy window / Getty Images
See Croatia’s biggest carnival in February
The weather? Still cold, wet and windy. But the days are a little longer, tourists are rare and accommodations remain heavily discounted, so it’s an intriguing time to tour the coast – focus on sights like Trogir’s richly carved cathedral rather than the beaches. Rijeka’s carnival is Croatia’s biggest and wildest, with a costume parade, bell-ringing, and bands.
Key events: Rijeka Carnival, Feast of Saint Blaise.
March is for exploring national parks
Brighter, drier weather makes March a good bet for mixing visits to churches and galleries with outdoor exploration. You can hike along the coast or hills, or take in the Krka and Plitvice national parks, where wooded slopes wind between lakes and waterfalls that thunder with meltwater.
Key event: ZagrebDox.
There are Easter parades in April
The sea hasn’t warmed up yet, but trees are bright with blossom and sunshine is never far away – try Istria’s hill towns (where asparagus season is in full flow) or the Samobor Hills near Zagreb. Parades liven up many towns over Easter.
Key events: Easter, Following the Cross, Music Biennale Zagreb.
May is a good time to get out on the water in Croatia © zoom-zoom / Getty Images
It’s starting to warm up in May
The resort towns are warming up for the summer, making this a splendid month to wander squares and promenades and take short dips in the cool sea. Accommodation prices are lower, and bays and coves that are packed in summer have a tranquil feel. Rafting on the Cetina or the Zrmanja (just east of Zadar) is also a highlight.
Key events: Feast of St Domnius, Sea Star Festival.
June might be Croatia’s best month
Quieter than July or August, but with clear skies, dance festivals and the promise of early summer, this is a strong contender for Croatia’s best month. Ferries move on to their summer schedule, which makes heading out to islands such as pristine Cres, happening Hvar and forested Mljet a breeze.
Key events: Statehood Day, INmusic, Xistence.
Book in advance if you’re coming in July
This is it: peak Adriatic. You’ll need to arrange accommodations well in advance, and work harder to find a sunbathing spot. If the bustle gets too much, try touring the quieter Kornati Islands, hopping on a sea kayak from Dubrovnik, or exploring the vineyards and hills of the interior.
Key events: Dubrovnik Summer Festival, Dvorišta – The Courtyards, Zagreb Pride, International Folklore Festival, Motovun Film Festival, Full Moon Festival.
High summer means great beach weather, but you’ll be among the crowds © darios44 / Getty Images
Festivals are held through August
The sea is at its warmest, beach bars hum with revellers, Zagreb empties out and festivals salute high summer. Sonus is a techno party on Pag, Island brings electronica to Obonjan, there’s a Venetian-style festival on Krk, and jousting in Sinj. Bookings are essential everywhere on the coast – festival-goers who make do with a tent will swelter.
Key events: Krk Fair, Sonus, Island, Vukovar Film Festival, Špancirfest.
There are cultural events in September
Things start to quieten down a little, but there are still plenty of ferries and cultural events to transport body and soul. This is another great time for a Dalmatian beach trip (time to coincide with Split’s Nights of Diocletian for Roman reenactments and street food), while truffle season comes to Istria.
Key events: Nights of Diocletian, Festival of Subotina, World Theatre Festival, Varaždin Baroque Evenings.
Some services are reduced in fall, but it’s still a good time to explore © evronphoto / Shutterstock
October is for mellow sightseeing
By October, Croatia is in shoulder season proper, with kids back in school and some ferry services and hotels closing over the course of the month. The coast is fairly warm with cool evenings and a mellow vibe, and you can still get anywhere and do just about anything, whether it’s feeling tranquil on the islands, exploring Dubrovnik’s walls, or checking out Zagreb’s film festival.
Key event: Zagreb Film Festival.
November is for watching the seasons shift
Temperatures can still be pleasant, but hotels and restaurants on the coast may be closed and the waters are chilly. Instead, treat any sunshine as a bonus, use the lower prices and shorter lines to tour cultural sights, and watch as the last leaves (and potentially the first snow) fall.
Key event: Feast of St Martin.
December means mulled wine and culture
It’s cold, many tourist businesses are shut and snow is settling on high ground. It’s a good time to experience Zagreb’s life: bars and galleries are open, while the run-up to Christmas brings mulled wine and DJ sets to those prepared to brave the winter streets.
Key events: Human Rights Film Festival, Fuliranje, Christmas.