The question for many when trying to decide between Italy or Croatia, is what separates these European holiday destinations from each other? Yet while both nations have similar climates and are great coastal destinations, each has it’s own distinct histories, cultures, sights to visit, and cuisines that set them apart.
Below is our honest comparison as we pit Croatia vs Italy. We compare both before looking at the sights to explore, the food you can try, what natural attractions you can see in each, as well some amazing towns and cities you should visit.
Croatia or Italy: Which is the better vacation destination?
Both nations have fantastic sun-soaked beaches, and countless ancient towns and cities that are packed with history.
Island-studded Croatia has a rich history and was formally part of the Roman and Byzantine empires. Spectacular medieval towns like Dubrovnik need to be seen to be believed, whilst the gorgeous islands that dot Croatia’s coastline are some of Europe’s best. We’ve written about the six most beautiful Croatian islands previously.
Therefore Croatia tends to have better beaches than Italy, and the water for swimming is warm, calm, and really unrivalled across Europe. Which makes it a great sun, sea, and sand vacation.
However Italy is one of those countries that gives Croatia a run for its money when it comes to great vacation destinations. This country has a rich history and architectural gems from the Roman Empire are everywhere. Furthermore, cosmopolitan cities like Milan, Rome, Florence, and Venice are famous for their galleries, museums, and beauty.
In fact, when it comes to sightseeing Italy has it all. Every city and region of the country is packed with things to do and see. A trip to Rome, for example, can easily last a week and you still wouldn’t be bored!
The food scene is also phenomenal in Italy, so if cuisine is top of your holiday list then Italy should be your choice. The transport system is also very good, so traveling around the country is relatively easy.
However Croatia wins when it comes to cost – we’ve found that Croatia tends to be cheaper than Italy for a vacation.
For us, Croatia is also the better holiday destination if you’re looking for relaxation, time spent outdoors, and an island hopping adventure. Whereas Italy is perfect for urban tourism, art and food lovers, but also has some stunning scenery – such as the Dolomites mountain range, and the island of Sardinia.
Below we look at some of the natural sights you will come across in Croatia and Italy, as well as comparing their cuisines and cities!
Croatia or Italy: Alluring natural wonders
For some of the best beaches in Croatia, head to the island of Susak. This gorgeous small island is ringed by golden beaches and fantastic warm swimming water. Our favourite beach there is Spiaza.
If you’re dreaming of stunning turquoise water that’s perfect for swimming and snorkelling, and a place where you can take pictures to make your friends back home envious, then head to Brač Island. The hues of blue that are layered across the sea in places such as Lovrečina Bay are breathtakingly beautiful. Whilst the backdrop of olive groves among ancient buildings makes this island a real gem in Croatia’s crown.
On the mainland, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a must visit for any tourist to Croatia. This mountainous region is famous for its chain of 16 terraced lakes which are joined together by gushing waterfalls. One of the most beautiful national parks in Europe, this area is also full of hiking trails of varying difficulties.
Staying on the mainland, head south towards Klis, near the seaside city of Split. The landscape here – rocky and mountainous – was fought over for centuries, with many fortresses built to help defend the region from marauding armies. Klis Fortress is one of the most impressive ancient structures throughout Croatia, and despite being over 2000 years old has become increasingly popular in recent years after featuring in Game of Thrones!
Back out to sea, take a visit to the pristine Elaphiti Islands. The lush vegetation in this small archipelago and its unspoiled beaches and water make it a perfect place for a romantic walk or picnic. With the islands being small and easy to navigate, it’s a great place to hire a kayak and enjoy the calm water.
Northern Italy has fantastic beaches, and the capital of seaside tourism in north Italy is Rimini on the Adriatic coast – famous for its fine sandy beaches and promenade of bars, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
Northern Italy also happens to have some of Europe’s most iconic and beautiful lakes. The stunning Como, Garda, Iseo and the highly underrated Orta lakes are all within easy traveling distance from Milan.
Further north are the hiking and winter sport paradises of the Italian Alps and the Dolomites – possibly Europe’s most easily recognisable mountain range.
The island of Sicily in the south has an attractive climate, historic cities such as Palermo and Catania, miles of fine sandy beaches, vineyards, Greek temples, Roman sites, and gorgeous baroque towns.
Back on the mainland of Southern Italy is Cinque Terre – the postcard-perfect collection of ancient villages on the Liguria coastline.
This National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site receives 2.4 million visitors a year. Why? It’s gorgeous! From north to south the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, each with unique character and superb sea views. This is mostly a place for beaches, outdoor activities, and water sports.
The rocky mountainside of Aspromonte National Park in Calabria has the abandoned ghost town of Pentedattilo and a wild untouched landscape that is well worth visiting too.
Croatia vs Italy: Fascinating cities and towns
Stepping away from package holiday resorts and into the cities and towns of Croatia and Italy will give you a richer, cultural experience.
Croatia oozes with ancient history, and with the cities and towns in this nation fought over for centuries by different civilizations, that tumultuous past has left its fascinating mark up and down the country.
The awe-inspiring city of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its iconic Old City – which is ringed by huge stone walls that jut out into the ocean – make it one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It’s no wonder then that the TV series Game of Thrones chose Dubrovnik to represent King’s Landing – the capital city in the series.
Pula is another city that deserves every tourist’s attention, mainly due to the incredible Roman ruins that are scattered throughout this coastal settlement. Visit the huge Pula Arena – one of the world’s six largest remaining amphitheatres – which was built 2000 years ago. In our opinion it rivals the one in Rome, and is also far less busy – a big bonus!
Beautiful Šibenik is another of Croatia’s stunning coastal towns and is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Cathedral of St James and the St. Nicholas Fortress. Steeped in history, take half a day to wander this pretty town and enjoy a coffee beside buildings that have stood for hundreds of years.
City breaks to Italy are popular throughout Europe due to the cosmopolitan feel, and perfect mix between old and modern.
Bologna is a gorgeous medieval city in North Italy that has thrived with a steady flow of students that has kept this city a vibrant place to visit. Food lovers can delight in the city’s food festivals like Eataly and a slew of food markets where you can learn more about its cuisine. This is also an excellent choice for art, music and Italian film enthusiasts who are all catered for inside Bologna’s galleries and museums.
Face the tourists and head to Venice, but take your time strolling its hidden side streets, canals, piazzas and local shops and cafes. Discover a treasure trove of history in its museums, visit St Mark’s Cathedral and Venice’s ornate churches, the exquisite old theatre Teatro La Fenice and the sprawling art museum Gallerie dell ’Accademia. Or take a boat to see the colorful island of Burano.
In the heel of Italy’s boot is the region of Puglia which is home to the charming city of Lecce. Its streets are perfect for wandering to discover its hidden piazzas, beautifully detailed buildings and churches including the baroque Santa Croce. The city’s main square is Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the site of a Roman amphitheater and in the evening join in with the local tradition of strolling down the evening passeggiata before dinner. Day trips include the lovely seaside towns of Otranto and Gallipoli for moreish local flavors.
The cosmopolitan city of Milan is not known for being incredibly ‘Italian’, it lacks the cobbled streets and ochre buildings that Italy is best known for, but it has a wealth of culture to discover. The main sights include the majestic Sforza Castle, the incredibly detailed Duomo where you can climb up onto the roof and the ornate Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – a shopping center with beautiful mosaics and designer stores. Outside of this, the canal area offers chic eateries, all-you-can-eat sushi, street art galore and vintage shops plus bars to enjoy the city’s lively aperitif culture.
Croatia or Italy: Tempting cuisines
The traditional food of Croatia and Italy is an exciting cocktail of the various civilizations that have inhabited these nations.
Croatia is a foodie’s paradise as each region of the country typically has its own delicacies and traditional dishes.
The Croatian region of Dalmatia is particularly famous for its seafood centered dishes, and Octopus Salad is one of the areas most iconic meals.
Black risotto – found throughout the country – is another seafood speciality and is a squid ink rice dish that is often accompanied with shellfish.
Away from the coast, the region of Slavonia is known for its spicy sausages. Slavonian kulen, made up of pork, spices, paprika and garlic, is a must try.
Rakija is the national drink of Croatia, and the perfect way to start or end your holiday! The alcohol is distilled from locally grown fruit – usually plum – and is drunk straight up. Just remember to say Živjeli! – pronounced: zhivyelee – as you pick up your glass. That’s ‘cheers’ in Croatian!
The eight provinces of Northern Italy all offer unique culinary traditions, influenced by neighboring countries such as France, Austria, and Slovenia.
In the Aosta Valley try Fontina cheese, with its milky and sweet flavors. In Emilia-Romagna you’ll come across piadini sandwiches, a flatbread stuffed with cheeses, hams, or salad.
Of course, the north is most famous for prosciutto di Parma (from Parma); balsamic vinegar (from Modena and Reggio); and Parmigiano Reggiano.
In Venice, sample, Risotto al Neri di Seppi, risotto flavored with cuttlefish and colored with its black ink.
South Italy is the birthplace of pizza! Go to Naples for an authentic classic Margherita pizza and fried pizza calzone style.
The Amalfi coast offers fresh seafood while you sip your Limoncello lemon liqueur – which also tastes good in cake form!
On Sicily, sample Nero d’Avola red wine, a native grape to the island and don’t leave without trying the wonderful couscous of Trapani or the pastries of Noto.
Croatia or Italy: Which one should you choose?
Which country is the better destination depends entirely on what you want from your vacation.
If beaches are your priority then Croatia will be a better holiday choice than Italy. Croatia has over 700 islands, and the coastline is spectacular. It also has great hiking opportunities, and tends to be cheaper than Italy.
Italy is perfect for tourists who love exploring cities, and its urban centers are world-renowned for their art, culture, and exquisite buildings. The opportunities for sightseeing are probably greater in Italy, and the food scene is arguably better than Croatia.