Greece Or Croatia? Which Mediterranean Destination Is Better?

Greece or Croatia
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Will it be Greece or Croatia this year? Now that’s a tough one. These are two beautiful and popular Mediterranean destinations, both with an abundance of culture and history, stunning natural landscapes, sun-drenched beaches, delicious food packed with goodies from land and sea, unique histories wrapped up in tales of Byzantine empires and Ottoman sieges – you name it.

On the one hand there’s Greece. That’s one of the continent’s go-to sun and sand places. It’s got world-class isles from Corfu in the west to Rhodes in the east, along with mezze lunches you’ll never forget and some of the world’s most enthralling ancient ruins. Then there’s Croatia, a nation carved out by the end of the Alps, threaded with pebble coves where the waters are clearer than air, and steeped in Balkan charm.

Yep, it’s not going to be an easy choice by any measure. But this guide is at hand to help. It will run through all the ins and outs of picking Greece or Croatia for history lovers, for nightlife fanatics, for beach bums, and more, all so you can make the right choice for you and your travel crew this year… 

Greece or Croatia for ease of getting there

Boats on a beach in Greece
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Greece is surely one of the easiest vacation hubs to get to in Europe. It might be fragmented into thousands of islands (more on those later) but it’s also got something like 15 international airports, many of which serve said islands with direct flights from other major European cities. Options for arriving from the skies include Santorini, Corfu, Crete (where there are actually two airports), Kos, Kefalonia – the list goes on. After landing, you can hop on ferries to get to other spots. The country has one of the most comprehensive boat networks of anywhere, but services are best in the spring and the summer months. You should also pre-book tickets.

Croatia is very long and thin. Its two main airports are in Split and Zagreb. The first is slowly growing to become the largest, mainly because it offers access to the popular rivieras on the Adriatic. We’d look to fly there if you’re keen to hit the famous beaches or venture out to the Dalmatian Islands of Brac and Hvar. Ferries in Croatia aren’t quite as good as in Greece, but they still aren’t bad. It’s common to have to do stopovers at mainland ports when you want to go isle to isle, though distances aren’t too long to make that a possibility. Driving can mean long distances but the coast highway is, simply, spectacular from end to end.

Winner: Greece is generally more accessible.

Greece or Croatia for history 

Athens history sights
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If you want to feel as if you’ve stepped back in time, then there is no better place to explore than Greece. Where else can you walk in the footsteps of the ancient heroes of Troy and Greek gods and view places that blur the line between history and magic? From the iconic Parthenon in Athens to Olympia and the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, there’s a reason why this country draws history hunters and mythology lovers by their millions every year. A whopping 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites await here. The country is considered the birthplace of democracy. What more can you ask?

Croatia also has its fair share of history, created by many of the same civilizations that helped shape Greece. Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans left their mark on this country, as well as the Byzantines and the Ottoman Turks. Greece may have the better-known historical sights, but no one who visits the Diocletian’s Palace in Split or Dubrovnik’s medieval walls could be disappointed – the latter date all the way back to the 12th century, while the former are 2,000 years old. Then you’ve got Pula Arena, a well-preserved amphitheater that rivals the Colosseum of Rome.

Winner: Greece. This is arguably the most historic country on the globe!

Greece or Croatia for islands

Croatia's islands
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Greece counts about 6,000 islands, while Croatia has around 1,000. Overall, they are pretty similar affairs, with the former beginning in the Ionian Sea at the south end of the Adriatic, which is where the islands of Croatia make their home. So similar, in fact, that Hollywood substituted a Croatian island (Vis) for a Greek island (Kalokairi) in the 2018 sequel to Mama Mia.

In Croatia, special mention should be made of Hvar. It’s hailed as one of the party hubs of the Mediterranean, coming capped by a happening marina town where bars like Hula Hula pulse the whole summer away. Then there’s impossibly green Milet, with its national parks and saltwater lakes. We also love Brac – it’s got arguably the finest beaches in the whole of the Adriatic (just check out Golden Horn Beach).

But it’s Greece that reigns supreme here. And it’s not just because of the quantity. The Greek isles are spread between three major regions, going from the Ionian in the west to the Dodecanese in the east. Along the way, they include bucket-list stunners like Santorini (talk about romantic!) and uber-vibrant party meccas like Mykonos (probably Europe’s LGBTQ+ mainstay). There are also islands that ooze rustic charm, from backcountry Corfu to hidden Kastellorizo, and ones for families in Paxos and Paros. Finally, the Greek islands boast a fantastic inter-island ferry network, making them better for island hoppers.

Winner: Greece.

Greece or Croatia for towns and cities 

Dubrovnik
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If you like your holidays to be city-based, you’ll find plenty of options in both of these countries. Athens leads the way in Greece. It’s a true megalopolis with frenetic bazaars and the old quarter of Plaka, all forever watched over by the Parthenon. The northern town of Thessaloniki is something a little different, offering student bars and cuisine that’s influenced by Turkey and the Balkans. Then you have the smaller island hubs of Corfu Town, complete with handsome 1800s churches, and the Cretan city of Chania, where you can get lost in winding lanes between Venetian castles.

Croatia’s cities often take the breath away. It’s no surprise that dramatically beautiful Dubrovnik was catapulted to fame as Kings Landing in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. No visitor to Split leaves without being impressed by its elegant streets and winding alleyways, many of which were laid down by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. Yep, Croatia’s main cities have an innate ability to marry old-world charm with modern vibrance. Whether you take a trip to the quirky capital of Zagreb, beautiful Pula, eclectic Osijek, or trendy Sibenik, you won’t be disappointed. 

Winner: Croatia.

Greece or Croatia for nature

Croatia lakes
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If possible, your trip to Croatia should include a visit to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. That stunning reserve is home to a chain of 16 lakes connected by waterfalls cascading from one to the next. To see the scene repeated on a smaller scale, visit Rastoke, where the waterfalls flow through the center of the pretty village. We’d also say hit the lush Elaphiti Islands, where Croatia’s royalty once had their summer getaways. Mountain lovers can look to the forever-present chain of the Dinaric Alps, which run the backbone of Croatia, while Istria is for fjords and hills clad in olive groves.

Then there’s Greece. Here, how about exploring the surreal scenery of Meteora, where massive rock formations come topped by ancient monasteries and rise improbably out of the valley floor? You can also explore the volcanic rocks of hardened lava on Lemnos or the Samaria Gorge on Crete. For a more coastal adventure, how about visiting the mystical Cave of Malissani on Kefalonia, or taking a tour of Zakynthos’s Blue Caves, a geological formation of arches and waterways that shine blue with reflections from the Ionian Sea. It’s endless stuff.

Winner: Draw.

Greece or Croatia for food 

Tzatziki
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

The food in Greece is traditionally Mediterranean, with olives and olive oil playing a large part in most meals. Another staple is bread served with an arrangement of dips made from chickpea or aubergine, along with tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber) and taramasalata (a fish roe paste which visitors tend to love or hate). Rice-stuffed vegetables and vine leaf parcels are always popular, as is oven-baked moussaka and Greek salads made with the salty local feta. Tourists tend to love souvlaki (skewered and grilled meat) and the ever-popular gyros (a pita wrap filled with meat, sauce, salad, and chips). 

Croatia’s diverse cultural influences have led to more variation from region to region. You’ll find Mediterranean flavors along the coast where the emphasis is on fresh seafood often eaten raw or BBQ grilled, salads drizzled with award-winning olive oil, and platters of smoked meats and fine cheeses. Inland and north, you’ll find Hungarian and Turkish influences leading to slow-cooked stews and spit-roasted meats. The eastern area of Slavonia enjoys a heavier hand with spices, while the peninsula of Istria prides itself on its truffles, cured pork, and the gourmet delicacy of Istrian oxen.

Winner: Greece – there are few dining experience that can beat long lunches in a seaside taverna.

Greece or Croatia for nightlife

Nightlife in Croatia
Photo by Roger Harris/Unsplash

There are now several locations vying for the title of the Croatian Ibiza. Hvar is probably leading the lot. It’s abuzz with life when the yachters arrive in May and doesn’t calm again until the later summer. Start in Hula Hula and then move to Kiva Bar as midnight approaches. Croatia has also risen to become one of Europe’s best music festival destinations. Every summer there’s an overload of events on boats, beaches, in ancient forts, in natural caves – you name it. Split’s Ultra Europe EDM fest and the mega parties of Zrce Festival Beach are probably the standouts.

Greece has long been known as one of the top places to party in Europe. It offers a range of nightlife choices for everyone, no matter if you want to hit up the city clubs of Athens and Thessaloniki or check out the cocktail lounges and classy clubs of Santorini and Mykonos. The most famous places to let loose are probably the classic 18-30s party hubs. There’s a handful of them, including Kavos on the south side of Corfu and Malia on the north coast of Greece. Ios still reigns as the main party hub of the central Cyclades islands – don’t expect to get much sleep there between May and August!

Winner: Draw.

Greece or Croatia for budget 

Hvar Harbor
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Either of these countries can be explored on a large or small budget. Much of what you’ll spend depends on where you want to go. In Croatia, the glitzy isles of the Adriatic and the Dalmatian Riviera are a lot pricier than the mountain towns in the east or the lesser-known isles of the Kvarner Gulf. In Greece, jet-set locales like Mykonos and Santorini will always set you back more than a trip to the Peloponnese or the Greek mainland.

Overall, we’d estimate that a week-long trip to Croatia would cost in the region of about $455 per person. That includes just the basics of accommodation and food, but not airfare to the country in the first place, which are likely to be costlier than Greece since there are fewer airport and airline options. Remember that can swell considerably if you want to stay in luxury hotels, do yacht charters, and drink champagne in Hvar’s harbor bars!

When it comes to Greece, we’d estimate that one person will spend around $650 per week staying in midrange hotels on a moderately priced island. Again, that doesn’t include airfare to the country, which is usually about $200 more if you’re coming in from Europe and doesn’t account for any over-the-top activities like boat hire.

Winner: Croatia wins this one.

Greece or Croatia for climate 

Sunshine in Mykonos, Greece
Photo by Johnny Chen/Unsplash

Both of these countries enjoy a beautiful Mediterranean climate, offering hot summers and mild winters. Since Greece is further south than Croatia, it enjoys warmer temperatures and the summer also lasts a little longer. The warm weather extends through autumn and spring, meaning it gets balmy enough for beach trips around May time and doesn’t properly cool again until October. The plus there is that it’s a great place for late-season holidays, which is when you get the best hotel bargains and dodge the bigger crowds.

The peak season in both places is from June to August, roughly coinciding with the major European school breaks. That’s when most travelers come, so you’re not likely to have the beaches to yourself. Things also get real hot – like 100 F+ hot – on occasion, though that is tempered a little by the northerly wind systems that blow throughout the midsummer.

For anyone not visiting the islands, it’s worth noting that this Mediterranean climate does not stretch to the entirety of either country. Both Greece and Croatia have a more continental climate along their northern regions, where extra rain is expected during the winter. This can even bring snow to the highlands, all the way from the Dinaric Alps of inland Croatia to the heights of Mount Olympus and even the White Mountains in Crete.  

Winner: Greece – longer summers mean a longer travel season.

Greece or Croatia – our conclusion

Greece wins out five times to Croatia’s two times on this comparison. It wins thanks to the fact it has longer summers, more enticing islands, one of the world’s most tempting cuisines, and some of the most totemic history sights this side of Rome. Put together, that creates one seriously alluring destination, where culture buffs and dedicated beach bums looking to top up the tan will both be pleased. We also think Greece is a top option if you want to party – Mykonos, Ios, Malia, and Athens take care of that.

Croatia is a bit more of an adventure. It’s not as well-traveled as its Balkan compadre to the south and is only recently making a name for itself as one of Europe’s major festival and party hubs. You’ll probably have to make more effort to get there and to explore but you will be rewarded with some serious gems – think the sight of Dubrovnik city rising straight from the Adriatic Sea and visions of glitzy Hvar Town strewn with yachts. Croatia also has stunning natural features, including waterfalls and alpine mountains and pebble snorkelling coves. It’s the choice if you’re keen to go off the beaten track. Oh, and it’s more budget friendly.

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Anita is from Wales and has been a travel addict since her first trip to Australia ten years ago. Since then she's lived and worked in Oz, New Zealand and Canada, worked many ski seasons and travelled widely through South East Asia, Morocco, India and Europe. She's a nomad, freelance writer, foodie, compulsive reader, tea addict and animal lover.