Our Guide to Croatia

Croatia's pub scene suffers from a combination of factors, some of which are typical to its location. Of the culture in all the former Yugoslav republics, Croatia's is arguably the most 'cosmopolitan', with Zagreb being one of the most Western-feeling cities in Eastern Europe, and the beautiful Dalmatian coast attracting tourism that is beginning to rival Greece and Italy. It might stand to reason then just through cross pollination and investment they would enjoy a good pub scene. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, that isn't the case. The economic circumstances, hot weather and café culture dictate most businesses aim for bland something-for-everyone cafés serving breakfast, lunch and dinner so the money keeps flowing in. It's more difficult to run a specialist venue that makes money, so this is generally what you get, particularly on the coast. Certainly you can sit around for a beer on an afternoon and evening, but you could be anywhere. The beer would have to be something exceptional for such places to be considered here. It isn't exceptional. Croatia's big three beers, Karlovacko, Ojuszko and Pan are all very poor lagers. The first two become wearing after the first one, and Pan starts out tasting horrible and doesn't get any better. The best options are on the peripheries, with Northern Dalmatia and Istria having at least some local breweries, while down south you might be able to find the slightly better Niksicko, from Montenegro. However, this is an improving picture. Zagreb's brewing scene has taken off and in many bars in the capital - I would almost say a sizeable minority have at least one modern, decent beer available on tap, usually with a handful in the fridge. Naturally, being the capital, its bars are relatively diverse in nature, although still lacking the one killer venue, I would say. Look around anywhere you can find for terrace venues and 'event space' type locations as there are often bars attached that have alternative scenes going on, more interesting decor and you can occasionally strike gold, such as in Varazdin.

Ratings Key (0-10)

A: Choice and/or quality of drinks

B: Style and décor

C: Atmosphere and feel

D: Amenities, Events & Community

E: Value for money

F: The Pub Going Factor (Overall Rating)

Name Location A B C D E F
Libertina Dubrovnik 5 8 9 7 7 7.9
Beertija Osijek Osijek 9 7 7 7 6 7.5
Azimut Sibenik 6 9 8 9 7 8.2
Leopold's Delicatessen Split 9 7 9 8 6 8.1
Julijan's Garden Varaždin 4 10 10 7 9 9.1
Medonja Varaždin 8 6 9 7 6 7.7
Medina Škrinja Varaždin 8 8 7 7 6 7.6
Valhalla Zagreb 9 7 8 7 6 8.3
Krivi put Zagreb 6 8 8 8 7 8
Čeh Pub Zagreb 7 8 8 7 6 7.9
Bacchus Jazz Bar Zagreb 7 8 8 8 6 7.9
Le Petit Belge Zagreb 9 7 8 8 6 7.9
Woody Beer Bar Zagreb 8 6 8 8 7 7.9
Café Cajt Zagreb 9 7 8 8 6 7.8
Hub Cooltura Zagreb 7 8 8 8 6 7.7
The Beertija Zagreb 7 8 8 8 6 7.7
Orient Express Zagreb 7 9 7 7 6 7.7
Kvazar Zagreb 8 7 7 6 5 7.6
Ambasada Zagreb 10 7 7 7 6 7.5
Jazz Café Zagreb 7 8 7 7 6 7.5
Swanky Monkey Garden Zagreb 7 8 8 8 5 7.5
The Garden Brewery Zagreb 9 7 7 7 5 7.5
Caffe Bar Croatia Zagreb 6 8 7 7 7 7.5
Mali Medo Zagreb 6 7 8 7 7 7.5
Dubrovnik // pop. 42.615

The old town of Dubrovnik is overrun with tourists and hollowed out by AirBnb/private apartments, meaning there is scant local life remaining within the city walls. The last few original bars clung on but are surely due to become extinct. Nevertheless, the environment remains vibrant, even if that is now due to the tourist dollar. Scenic, if expensive, drinking can be done at the bars around the southern cliffs, while the best bars are north of Stradun, in the alleyways and rat-runs up the hill. Prices in some places can be double what you can pay elsewhere in Croatia, but this is their premier destination and cash-cow.

Osijek // pop. 96,418

Osijek's location in the badlands of Croatia's east is a disadvantage. The nearest cities - Novi Sad in Serbia, and Pecs in Hungary are close by but very poorly connected. However, with a fortress, classical Austrian era old town, riverside, and tram network there is clearly considerable potential to lift Osijek and the region from its slumber - perhaps put more than 2 buses on a week? The city, as with most away from the coast has heard of craft beer, so don't worry about finding a good drink. As for venues, these are sadly a little limited and provincial, but a few decent venues can be located to pass the time. Choose between the Tvrdja (fortress) square or down town highstreet, with two different clutches of nightlife to be had.

Ploče // pop. 9,415

Only a short drive (barring the inconvenient journey across the international borders of the Neum corridor through Bosnia) from Dubrovnik, Ploče is no-one’s idea of a major tourist destination, and enjoys the benefits of that: peace and quiet in the natural surroundings, local life in the town, and far more affordable prices. However, the nightlife is as drab as it comes, solidly centred on bland and smokey Caffe bars around the marina. Not much more to add than that.

Šibenik // pop. 45,300

Easily the most underrated destination on the Dalmatian cost, Šibenik has a similar population and topography to Dubrovnik, with attracting bay area, hilltop fortress and rabbit-warren old town. While it is more rough-around-the-edges, this is a chicken-and-egg situation that a little money would easily sort out. Nightlife in Šibenik however, is largely undramatic, with a mixture of bland Caffe Bars on the Riva and quasi-Irish pubs. Nothing exciting there. However, the standout exception is the Ruin Bar-inspired basement venue Azimut, a beautiful location in what used to be the water-storage for Šibenik’s population. Atmospheric and charming, you can even find one or two beers you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

Split // pop. 178,100

Split is a lot of fun, you can dip in and out of the old town and into the “real city” itself to the north, and you’ll find plenty of nightlife. It’s arguable that most of the venues could do a lot better however, as there isn’t much of distinct identity, that isn’t either a bland Caffe Bar, rock club or craft beer venue. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the city itself tends to win people over. Keep a lookout for individual neighbourhood pubs in the suburb that retain a typical Slavic pivnica tradition going – careful searching is required, however.

Trogir // pop. 13,250

Trogir’s tiny island old town is like being in a half-scale model village version of Dubrovnik. It’s charming and enjoyable, while the marina and surrounding beaches offer a beautiful setting. Nightlife is as you’d expect, a little quiet and bland, with Caffe bars either going after the middle class tourist dollar or the custom of local fisherman and layabouts.

Varaždin// pop. 46,320

One of Europe’s little known and seldom-visited towns, you’ll find a castle, moat and beautiful old town with an Austro-Hungarian past. It is one of those low-key, enjoyable towns, but nevertheless one that comes alive at night due to the young population. Don’t expect to find many great venues, or high quality drinks, but you’ll find decent value. Have a look in some of the side alleys to find some beautiful terraces, including one that is frequented by the persecuted Varaždin Cycle Club (cycles are banned in the old town) that verges on being a ruin bar. Craft beer has reached Varaždin too, with even mainstream bars like Medonja and Medina Škrinja offering an extensive selection. Expect down-to-earth nightlife here, smokey with the full range of people socialising in the same venue, redolent of early 00s UK in some respects.

Zadar // pop 75,350

Every time a good bar in Zadar opens, it seems to be closed next time I visit, yet all the bland venues pumping out Eurodance and offering the typical terraced seating and awful beers remain open – how unfair is that? There is certainly plenty of nightlife in Zadar, and unlike other coastal cities with an old town, the locals cling to it as a base for an evening out. That’s worthy of respect, but since the closure of Oktogon bar in 2016, the city is dying out for something characterful and different to call its own.

Zagreb // pop. 801,350

Wow, is it really that big? When in Zagreb’s historical centre, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a small town, but it’s a big, sprawling city with lots to explore, connected reasonably well by a series of trams. Although the centre has 2 lively brewery taps and a famous street, many of the options themselves are on the bland side. The beer scene has been on the up and up in the last decade, with Pivovara Medvedgrad's wares improving rapidly in the last 10 years, several small brewing operations and the now internationally famous Garden Brewery. You can find excellent beers at the likes of beer specialists like Valhalla, Cajt and Ambasada, while finding great beers even at mainstream bars like Kvazar, Le Petit Belge & Woody. The alternative scene is a little fragmented, perhaps even calling it embryonic would be overstated. This is a land where everyone rubs shoulders, resulting in down-to-earth venues like Krivi put and The Beertija. Even after extensive research across the city limits we couldn't quite find that one awesome venue, but there are a host of very decent ones.