I’d heard that Croatia was absolutely beautiful but I had put off visiting because I was worried whether Croatia was child-friendly. I just didn’t know if I could pull off a family-friendly holiday in Croatia. The beaches are rocky and everyone I knew who had visited went without children; so we never got around to booking. That is until Summer 2021 when the traffic light system arrived in the UK. We were desperate to get away on a holiday but most places were off limits. Croatia was given the Green light and so it was decided – I had to start researching the best place in Croatia for a family holiday.
It turns out you absolutely can have a family holiday in Croatia BUT there are a few things to be aware of. Read on and I’ll give you all my Croatia family holiday tips.
Family holiday in Croatia
We arrived at Split airport early evening and drove through the mountains watching the sunset, arriving at the hotel just after dark.
The transfer company were fantastic. The driver was there with our name on arrival, he helped with our bags and showed us where the ATMs and toilets were before we headed off. He stopped at Lidl for us to pick up some water and he even pulled over so I could feed Max for 10 minutes. So accommodating and friendly. We used Ivan at Croatia Shuttle.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Hotel Jakov in Amadria Park near Šibenik for our Croatia family holiday. The hotel is around 50km North of Split airport on very windy, mountainous roads. Heads up, they might be challenging if you suffer from motion sickness. The transfer to Hotel Jakov takes just under an hour.
We arrived towards the end of the dinner service so we were directed by reception to head straight to the restaurant rather than waste our evening checking in – a very welcome suggestion when you have weary, hungry children with you. I have to admit, we were quite overwhelmed by the big, busy dining room when we first arrived. We hadn’t been anywhere busy for such a long time after all the lockdown and restrictions in the UK it felt very odd to be surrounded by so many people.
The Hotel Jakov was very busy. It was running at full capacity which again, was something we weren’t used to.
Hotel Jakov, Croatia
We chose Hotel Jakov because the rooms are very well laid out for families. It’s an excellent family resort in Croatia. Even the smallest rooms are family suites with a double bed for parents and bunk beds for children. They’re a good size for two adults and two children. We could have managed with just one room but we went for interconnecting rooms to give us some extra space and to allow the older kids to sleep in a different room from the baby – they don’t need to be woken up for every night feed!
In addition to great room layouts, the Hotel Jakov is right next door to the Amadria Park water park and as a hotel guest you get reduced price entry to the park. The Hotel Jakov has a lovely kids play area, a kids disco in the evening (perfect for under 5’s) and on the beach you’ll find an epic obstacle course out on the water. Amadria Park has a number of hotels on the site alongside bars, restaurants and mini golf. It’s like a small village with something for everyone. Our end of Amadria Park was the ‘children’s end’ and the opposite end was much more adult-friendly. It even had an over 18’s beach club!
Things to do near Sibenik
Solaris Aqua Park
Right next door to our hotel in Amadria Park is the Solaris Water Park. This themed water park is an excellent family day out in Croatia; it has a fab play area with tube slides, dozens of jets and cannons to play with and a lazy river. You get discounted entry if you’re staying in one of the Amadria Park hotels. Read my full review of the Croatian Water Park here.
ZipLining in Čikola Canyon
The series of 3 ziplines through the river canyon is one for the adrenaline junkies in Croatia; travelling from an altitude of 120m down to 30m and reaching speeds of up to 70 mph. Čikola river canyon is home to hundred of plant species, caves and a medieval fortress so there’s plenty to see even if you’re not zip lining.
Sibenik Boat Tour
A boat tour is a brilliant way to explore Croatian culture with kids kids. This area of Croatia is surrounded by small islands. Many are car-free and some are uninhabited. The best way to explore the islands and to get a feel for the local culture is by boat. You can take a group trip from Amadria Park or from Sibenik old town itself. We booked a private boat trip from Sibenik to explore three different islands in the area. Our full Sibenik boat trip review is here.
Solaris Sport Park – Obstacle Course at Sea
Out at sea, in front of our hotel was an epic inflatable obstacle course. This is definitely for strong swimmers and is a brilliant activity in Croatia for older kids. My girls (age 7 and 9) loved it as did my husband! It was the best workout he had had in a long time! Picture yourself attempting monkey bars, over a hole that drops you into the sea while being buffeted with waves and you have a small idea of how challenging the course is. This activity can be booked for just 30 minutes or you can buy passes for one or more days if you have an active family.
Krka National Park
Around 10km from Šibenik is the 142 square km national park, home of one of Croatia’s most famous sites, Skradinski Buk falls. The national park surrounds the Krka river and boats a number of spectacular waterfalls. You used to be able to swim in some areas of the park but that was not an option when we visited Croatia. I’m not sure if the rules will change again so double check before you travel. It would be a long hot walk in the peak of the summer heat, especially if you can’t have a dip to cool off.
Kornati National Park
Kornati National Park is an archipelago of 89 islands, islets and reefs amidst the 140 Kornati Islands. You need a ticket to sail through the park and for a different perspective you can fly over the national park for a panoramic view. The islands are uninhabited although some people stay seasonally for harvesting the olives from the olive trees. If you’ve ever fancied sleeping on a desert island it is possible to book a Robinson Crusoe style stay in an island cottage. This would be perfect if you wanted to go off grid in Croatia with the family. You don’t get mains water or electricity, you’re reliant on the rain water tank and solar power.
The beaches are rocky. If you have visions of your little people building sandcastles all day while you sunbathe that is not going to happen. You have to have good beach shoes. The water is so clear, it’s stunning! It’s also very helpful as the rocky sea bed is perfect for black spikes sea urchins, which you can spot through the clear water. Again, another reason to wear beach shoes. We took these ones for the girls.
The traditional food in this part of Croatia is mostly, meat, fish and cheese. If you’re looking for plant-based options you might struggle. We met a vegetarian family in the hotel who we’re finding it quite challenging to have a varied diet. But if you’re a fan of fresh fish and shellfish, or excellent, tender meat then you’re in the right place! There’s a strong Italian influence in this area too so expect to find fabulous pizzas and gelato everywhere you look which helps to make the food in Croatia kid-friendly even if your little explorers won’t eat octopus. Phew!
Fish and Shellfish
Fresh fish from the Adriatic Sea features heavily in the food here on the Dalmatian Coast. John Dory, Sea Bream and Sea Bass are usually served whole (and it’s totally acceptable to pick up the fish to prise the meat away from the bones with your teeth!) Squid is another very popular dish, usually served as calamari (fried in breadcrumbs). My girls were incredibly excited to see giant prawns frequently on the menu as well, but they were less keen on having to de-shell them! One night we ordered one of the girls ‘tuna fish fingers’ and oh my goodness, they were actually tuna steaks cut into fingers. Tastiest fish fingers EVER!
The land in Central Dalmatia is perfect for grazing sheep, so lamb is a popular dish in the area. Again, meat is often served on the bone and it’s acceptable to use your hands when eating. A traditional way of preparing lamb and veal is under a peka. Meat and potatoes are cooked fire-side under the bell-shaped metal lid (peka) and covered in hot ashes. The ashes are replaced regularly over a couple of hours to keep the peka hot. It’s a form of slow cooking and produces very tender meat.
On an evening out in Šibenik old town I had possibly the best steak I have ever eaten. If you’re a meat eater you will really enjoy the food in Croatia.
Skradinski rižot is a veal and rice dish, traditionally cooked for up to two days. It’s a dish that used to be reserved for the men of the tow on major feast days but now you’ll find it in many of the traditional restaurants in the area.
Skradinska torta is a flour-free cake made with ground almonds and walnuts. It’s flavoured with orange peel, honey and rose-petal brandy. Look for it on the dessert menu!
So is Croatia kid-friendly?
Absolutely yes, Croatia is good for a family holiday. SO long as you’re not expecting soft, sandy beaches! I would recommend waiting until your kids are school-age so that they can get involved with all the adventurous activities in Croatia.