Dubrovnik

We spent 3 nights and two days in Dubrovnik which was the perfect amount of time. We got pretty lucky with clear skies, warm weather, and no cruise ships at port. I can imagine the cruise ships can make the city feel crowded. Dubrovnik now scores as one of my favorite cities we have visited in Europe. The architecture, blue water, hills, the people. Yup, I could live here.

The food did not disappoint either. Food in Croatia was surpringly some of the best we have had and reasonably priced as well. Above all- it’s family friendly. This is a place the kids can enjoy just as much as the adults.

Where we stayed

I don’t know how we snagged this amazing 2 bedroom apartment in June considering I booked fairly last minute. I can’t imagine a better location. Set just above Banje Beach with a view of the old town- we could easily walk to everything we wanted to do. The only downside is the parking was scarce so Ben had to park pretty far away. Well worth it!

Just outside the front door is the steps down the the beach. Very convenient with toddlers in tow. Banje is a small pebble beach which my kids really like because they can stand at the waters edge and throw rocks into the water for hours. Unfortunately, Carter took his rock throwing game to another level. It was like it happened in slow motion. He went on a hunt for a larger rock to throw in the water. An Italian couple were laying on their backs reading books when I noticed Carter pick up a ten pound rock, start heading for the water, and for whatever reason he stopped. He then turned and dumped it right on this ladies crotch.

She never saw it coming.

The sound she made…..

I could have crawled into a dark hole and never came out after that.

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View from our hotel

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Our apartment building

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It’s exhausting assaulting innocent people on the beach

Cable car

The cable car was about a ten minute walk from our apartment. We wanted to go at sunset so we grabbed some snacks and headed up. We were not disappointed. The view was breathtaking. I would visit Dubrovnik again just so that I could watch the sunset. On one side of the cable car there is a viewing area that has tall guard rails which makes it safer for children. Over here the cable car blocks part of your view. If you walk a bit up the other side you will be rewarded with a full unobstructed view of the sunset. We took turns walking to the cliffs edge to look over the city.

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The Old Town

As a UNESCO world heritage site, there is a lot of history here. It’s a really great place to just walk around, eat, shop, and get lost. Parts of the old town are wide and bustling with people. Or you can just choose a path and get lost among the narrow streets. There are so many restaurants to choose from and of course- gelato. I think we ate our weight in gelato. Many artists sell their work here and we picked up a beautiful canvas painting of the old city.

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Small aquarium. It took about 20 minutes to view all the exhibits. Carter screamed with joy the entire time he was so excited. Actual screaming. 

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For one meal we chose an Italian restaurant and for another we chose Mexican. As an American living in Europe it’s always hard to pass up a Mexican place when you see one. Ben and I agreed they had some of the best nachos we have ever had. Eating out in Dubrovnik with toddlers is so nice because- similar to Barcelona- you can always eat at a table on the street. My kids like to sit and people (also, cat) watch while they wait for their food. It keeps them entertained and makes life easier for us!

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While I was taking this photo Carter was sneaky and ate a candy from the barrel. A lady working there scolded him. This kid just loves to embarrass me

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The old city is the main filming location for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. I have always been a fan of the show but now having visited Winterfell (Northern Ireland) and Kings Landing- I’m an even bigger fan. There are plenty of tours you can take but I prefer to just google shooting sites and find them myself. The best location I found was the walk of atonement scene featuring Cersei. The steps are just below a church, which originally denied permission to shoot on the Jesuit steps due to nudity. Eventually permission was granted and the scene is iconic. You can also visit where Joffrey died, or visit Littlefingers brothel (actually a museum).

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Zadar

For our multi city trip in Croatia we based ourselves in a small town just south of Zadar. We only got to spend half a day there but that was really all we needed. I will say that it was probably a highlight for my kids.

The two main attractions for us was the sea organ and the greeting to the sun display. After finding free street parking we walked over to the sites which are located right next to each other. Had I known what a great swimming spot this was I would have dressed the kids in their swim gear. The water was really calm and there were plenty of kids swimming. A group of older boys were jumping from the highest point of the organ which promoted Kellan to strip down to his underwear and ask to join in. Then he remembered he is scared of sharks so he hung out in the safe zone.

The sea organ is a really neat concept but we really could barely hear it. This could be that it was a calm day. There are tubes underneath the steps that play music as the waves come in and out. I would recommend going close to sunset as that is when the greeting to the sun starts .

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Underwear- don’t care

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While waiting for the sun to set we walked around the city. We stopped at a great park that had bounce houses and a small trampoline park. While Ben watched the boys I walked next door where there were some market stalls for souvenir shopping. I scored a beautiful glass sun catcher and of course my usual Christmas ornament. I love decorating my tree with memories!

Zadar has some great architecture and beautiful churches on every street. It’s also a very walkable city with kids. It just has a great atmosphere. For dinner we wanted to find some seafood but opted to grab some fast food since we were running short on time and the boys were getting tired.

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The greeting to the sun is a circle of hundreds of solar solar modules covered by glass. After soaking up the sun all day the panals light up at night. The monument is just magical at sunset. I would go back just to watch it again. I am sure it can get very crowded here but it didn’t seem too bad for us.

Kellan of course made a friend immediately and the boys were running around and having the time of their lives. That’s one of my favorite parts about traveling with kids. No matter where we go Kellan always finds a friend. It doesn’t matter that they don’t speak the same language. They always find a common ground and quickly fall in love with each others company.

Warning- the glass can get a bit slippery as we discovered when both our kids took a fall and prompted us to leave before it was fully dark. Bloody knees do mark the beginning of summer when you are a boy.

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Krka and Plitvice National Parks

Krka National Park

Being that we had flown in at 2am that morning, we elected to only do a half day at Krka.  Everyone slept in pretty late so we had a lazy morning before heading out. We had based ourselves out of Sukosan which was about an hour north of the park. After heading down, the main goal was to find the largest series of waterfalls as that was a pretty spot for swimming. Plitvice does not allow swimming in it’s lakes so the main appeal of Krka for me was being able to swim- and luckily it was sunny and beautiful weather.

For the shortest travel distance to the swimming area we parked at the Lozovac entrance. From here we had lunch and some gelato (the first serving of many that day) before we caught the 10 minute bus to the park. Once the bus dropped us off it took about 20 minutes of downhill walking before reaching Skradinksi Falls.  Along the way there are plenty of viewing areas to take pictures and food stalls selling fruit and sweets.

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The swimming area at Skradinski is breathtakingly gorgeous but it’s not exactly easy with small children. First, it’s crowded. Second, it is very rocky, uneven, and sometimes slippery ground to get down into the water. The lake floor itself is all rocks. There are no soft spots for your feet so make sure you bring appropriate water shoes- we had not!

While it wasn’t exactly the peaceful waterfall experience I imagined it to be…it was still worth it. I would just go again with floaties and water shoes. The water was such relief from the hot sun and the views were simply amazing. Fun fact: of all the places we visited in Croatia this is where we heard the most American accents- mostly college age travellers.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

Around ten years ago I was watching a travel channel that featured this park. Ever since it has been on my top 5 European travel destinations list. Forget every city in Europe- I would always chose hiking and waterfalls first. The challenge with Plitvice was deciding when to go. I wanted to go when the trees were green and the weather hot and sunny…but I also didn’t want to be hiking amongst the summer tourist crowd. Early June ended up being our choice and it worked out pretty nicely.

Plitvice is huge and planning this trip with toddlers was overwhelming.  This isn’t something you can do with a stroller so you have to plan for a long day of carrying your kids or allowing them to safely walk. I agonized for days which of the various routes we would take. The lower lakes are the most popular for people on one day trips but I wanted to see the upper as well. I was afraid only doing half the park would leave me with a serious case of FOMO. So we decided to hike both. That left us with the decision of taking route C or route H. Since a friend recommended H that was our winner.

After driving 1.5 hours we parked at Entrance 2. I had read pretty much everywhere to get at the park at soon as it opens. We didn’t arrive until 12 pm. This ended up working in our favor. Walking the H route- you start at the upper lakes and end at the lower lakes. Most people doing the upper lakes started much earlier in the day or people were coming from the reverse “C’ route and were walking past us rather than alongside us. We never felt like we were walking in a crowd which was nice being that it was a Saturday in June.

Another benefit of doing the H route is that it is mostly downhill…which means the C route is mostly uphill. The only negative when considering which of these routes to take is the view of the falls. On H- you walk coming from behind the falls and after you pass it it’s behind you. Taking the C route means you are always walking towards the falls and always have the view. I would still choose the H route again with the kids. Walking uphill vs. downhill when you have a child strapped to your body makes a huge difference.

The H route is supposed to take 4-6 hours but from leaving our car to getting back in it took 7 hours. We had eaten first thing before we even entered the park. Then you have to take a bus to where you start the hike so all this adds time to your day. Carter fell asleep right away so the first hour was a breeze. The upper lakes had more wooded, hilly walks. The water falls were thinner but taller.

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This kid is such a trooper
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Just a stroll through the forest with some dead weight strapped on

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The falls felt amazing because you were close enough to feel the mist 

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awake and ready to run free

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After doing the upper falls we had to wait in a long line for a boat to take us to the lower falls. This was the only time we felt crowded in the park. There were some arguments and confusion over which line was for which route/boat. There definitely could be a better system to separate the lines accordingly. After the boat ride you get dropped off at the cafe/rest area of the lower lakes. Here you can shop for souvenirs, have lunch, use the toilets and of course- eat ice cream.

For the lower lakes portion there is a lot of walking on raised plank walkways over the water. At times you are right on top of the waterfalls. We bought a backpack leash for Carter specifically for this trip because the kid knows no fear or the words stop and wait. It ended up being quite the wise purchase because once he woke from his nap he had energy to burn. It was great allowing him to be hands free and semi independent but ensuring he stayed close. Adding the dinosaur backpack only added to the appeal of the Asian tour bus groups. In some cultures it is good luck to touch blonde hair so it’s common for people from places where blonde hair and blue eyes aren’t the norm to ask to touch him, take videos and photos of him. Whenever we passed by these groups he would wag his little dinosaur tail for them to ooh and aww over. Carter hearing everyone say how cute it was really helped with him wanting to wear it. I was afraid it would be a fight but the day went very smoothly.

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I loved the forrest-y feel of the upper lakes but the lower lakes is the winner for me. It had more wow moments. Those moments where you want to pinch yourself because it’s just that beautiful. The lower lakes allowed you to be closer to shorter, wider falls. If you are doing the just the lower lakes you should choose the route that meets the falls head on. Pictures really don’t do it justice. The lower falls is also going to be the more crowded of the two in the summer. We stayed all the way to closing time and there were still plenty of people there.

This trip was one of my genuine bucket list items, regardless of having moved to the U.K.  I’m so grateful that we were able to experience the majority of the park with our boys. I had prepared myself thinking the trip was going to be challenging when it was really pretty nice with the kids.

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