The city of Karlovac is located about 1 hour from Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Karlovac is a great stop if you are traveling from Venice, Ljubljana or Zagreb towards the Dalmatian coast or Plitvice Lakes National Park, and vice versa. Due to its location in the heart of Croatia, Karlovac is situated about 1h30 from Crikvenica, the closest beach, and at the same time distance from Sljeme mountain, Zagreb ski destination.
Why visit Karlovac?
Karlovac is a historic town located in the heart of Croatia, only 50 km from Zagreb. The history of Karlovac begins on July 13, 1579, with the construction of the star-shaped Renaissance fortress in a strategically advantageous area, at the confluence of the Kupa and Korana rivers. The fortress was built by Charles II, Archduke of Austria for the purpose of defense against the Ottoman Empire. In his honor, the fortress was named Karlstadt (eng Charlestown). The Ottoman army attempted the siege of Karlstadt seven times, but each time the fortress would resist the attack. Over the years, the fortress grew into the city of Karlovac, expanding all the way to the Mrežnica and Dobra rivers. However, even today, the “Star” remains the recognizable city center, surrounded by parks and promenades.
The House of Habsburg is largely responsible for the growth of Karlovac. During their reign, Karlovac has gone from being a military fortress to being a major trade and transit area. In the 18th century, three historic roads were built: Karolina (Karlovac-Rijeka), Jozefina (Karlovac-Senj), and Lujzijana (Karlovac-Rijeka). The three were the main roads in Croatia at the time as they connected the Pannonian and Adriatic region. Grain and other goods would arrive at Karlovac by the river Kupa, from where they were transferred all the way to the coast.
Today, Karlovac is still the main transit area in Croatia. It is said that all the roads lead through Karlovac. It is on the way to the coast, connecting Zagreb with Rijeka and Split. That being said, Karlovac is a perfect stop for all those who would like to explore the lesser-known Croatian jewels.
Where is Karlovac?
Karlovac is located in the heart of Croatia, at just 45 minutes’ drive from Zagreb, the Croatian capital. Thanks to the highway, it is well connected with the rest of Croatia and its main destinations such as Zagreb, Split, and Rijeka. It is also the closest bigger town to both the Slovenian and Bosnian borders.
What to see in Karlovac
Star – the historic center of Karlovac
The Old Town of Karlovac, the famous “Star”, is the historic center of the city and its most important sight. This is the oldest part of Karlovac, dating to 16th century. In 1579 the Renaissance fortress was built in the shape of a six-pointed star and it got the name Karlstadt. The fortress represented an ideal Renaissance town, with geometrical street layout, which makes it one of the few such towns in Europe. Back in the day, the fortress was fortified and surrounded by the defensive moats filled with water. Today, the moats are only visible as green parks surrounding the old city center.
The attractions of the city center include the town’s museum (also the oldest building in the town, built at the beginning of the 17th century), the oldest music school in Croatia, Zorin Dom theatre, Franciscan monastery with museum and church, and many other historic buildings.
Among other monuments and attractions, the Karlovac area counts with 16 medieval castles, several forts, towers, and old towns. The most famous among them is Dubovac Castle, situated on a hill above the town’s center. The castle is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved architectural monuments of the feudal period. Built in the 13th century, Dubovac got its present look in the 16th century. Today, the castle, with dominant Renaissance and Gothic elements, is a popular tourist site. The tower houses a museum and a viewpoint, while the patio of the castle houses a lovely restaurant – Bistro Kastel.
Other two castles that you can visit are the castles of Ozalj and Ogulin. The Old Town Ozalj houses a museum and a gallery, while the Old Town Ogulin is a home of Ivana’s House of Fairy Tales, a unique place dedicated to the characters of the famous Croatian writer Ivana Brlić Mažuranić. The House of Fairy Tales is a perfect destination for families with children.
Aquatika Freshwater Aquarium
Aquatika Freshwater Aquarium, the first and only freshwater aquarium in Croatia, is a unique tourist attraction. Located on the bank of the Korana River, the aquarium offers an interesting and educational insight into the amazing freshwater world. Being the city on the four rivers, Karlovac is a perfect place to learn about the topic. Not to mention that Croatia is one of the European countries with the richest ichthyofauna and flora. The aquarium represents the flora and fauna of the four rivers and their basins. The exhibition itself represents the flow of a river, from source to estuary.
Besides the aquarium, the place also has an outside playground, a cafe, a multi-function hall for events, and one of the best souvenir shops in town. In Aquatika souvenir shop you’ll find incredible handmade art from Karlovac and region.
Homeland War Museum
The Homeland War Museum is a modern, interactive museum, opened in 2019. Located in the old Austrian barracks, not far from the center of Karlovac, the museum tells a story of the 90s war, the war veterans, and Croatian independance. The permanent exhibition includes 350 original objects, hours of multimedia content, video presentations, animations, and films. The open-air exhibition in the museum’s courtyard includes real-life replicas and many original pieces of weaponry, such as tanks, cannons, an aircraft and other armored vehicles.
Private city tour with local guide
If you want to get to know all the above-mentioned attractions and learn more about the history of Karlovac, get in touch and book a private city tour with a certified local guide in english or other languages!
Things to do in Karlovac
Swimming in Korana
The city’s four rivers offer plenty of possibilities of spending your time in Karlovac. If you like swimming and sunbathing, spend the day at Foginovo beach, the first registered river beach in Croatia. The beach is located only 10 minutes on foot from the Old Town, on the Korana River. This is a great option for spending your time in Karlovac after exploring the city center. Another possibility is to rent a bike and explore the river bank and its many bridges on two wheels!
Boat tour at Kupa
Žitna Lađa Zora is a traditional wooden boat that was once used for transport of grain and similar goods. “Zora” is an authentic wooden ship that sailed the Kupa River in the 18th century. The boat tour includes a 90-minute ride on the Kupa River, as well as tasting of the homemade liqueur and traditional cake, and listening to the traditional music. During the tour, the captain will introduce the history of the boat and the region, and the rich and diverse fauna and flora of the river. During the ride, you will be able to see several historic monuments and, if you are lucky enough, you will have a chance to see animals like ducks, eagles, otters or beavers.
Rafting & kayaking at Mrežnica
The Mrežnica River is great for rafting and kayaking. The clear, warm river, with plenty of waterfalls and greenery, offers two types of tours. The lower course of the river is ideal for a calmer ride with regular breaks for swimming. The upper course offers a more adventurous ride, with higher waterfalls and rapids. Mrežnica is by many the most belowed river in Central Croatia, the one that attracts not only locals, but many weekenders from Zagreb, as well as campers from all around Europe. The clean green water of Mrežnica is as soothing for the eye as it is soothing for the soul.
The city of parks
Karlovac is often referred to as the city of parks. The town has a lot of parks and other green area where you can sit and relax in the shadow, make a picnic, or ride a bike. The must do for all the town’s visitors is to take a coffee in one of the cafes at the town’s promenade and enjoy the view.
Where to stay in Karlovac
Hotel Korana Srakovčić ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Hotel Korana-Srakovčić is an exclusive four-star hotel, holder of the first prize in the best small hotel category for continental Croatia. The hotel is situated on the bank of the Korana river, just a few minutes’ walk from the city center. It has 12 double rooms, 3 deluxe rooms, and 3 business suites, guarded parking, a restaurant, a multimedia room, a pool, and a wellness center.
Hotel Florian & Godler ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Hotel Florian & Godler is a modern boutique hotel located just a five-minute drive from the A1 motorway and a five-minute walk from the city center. The 4-star hotel is equipped with a total of 32 hotel rooms with a modern boutique design intended for a comfortable and relaxing stay. The hotel also has a restaurant and offers a complete wellness experience – the Turkish and Finnish sauna, jacuzzi, relax room, and a professional massage.
Where to eat in Karlovac
Croatian cuisine is a blend of various influences – Mediterranean, Austro-Hungarian, and even Turkish. Due to the historical influences, each region has its own distinct culinary tradition. Karlovac is located in the central part of Croatia, thus its cuisine is mostly influenced by Austro-Hungarian cuisine and has many similarities with central European countries. Traditional dishes include meat dishes with potatoes or rice, minced meat dishes, sausages with cabbage, vegetable and meat stews, etc.
Karlovac region is famous for interesting dishes with beer, such as beer-battered perch, venison goulash with black beer, or pasta in beer sauce. Freshwater fish and mushrooms are also common on the menu. The town of Ogulin is known for the best sauerkraut in the country, while the town of Ozalj is where you go for a strudel. It is here that the longest strudel in the world was made! The record is recorded in the Guinness 2017 book – 1479,30 meters of strudel, with a filling of indigenous varieties of apples and grapes.
All of the above mentioned is available in the restaurants of Karlovac! If you want a taste of traditional flavors with a modern approach, visit Bistro Kastel. Their menu is not as extended, but the offer is unique and seasonal, which guarantees the best ingredients. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of Dubovac Castle. Due to its location, Bistro Kastel offers a unique atmosphere, as well as a beautifully decorated interior and exterior.
If you like Mediterranean cuisine, visit Konoba Črni Kos or Konoba Kostanjac. Both are tavern-like restaurants that serve fish dishes and traditional Croatian dishes. If you are a meat person, Restoran Mandić is the place for you. It is a family restaurant that offers a rustic atmosphere and great meat dishes. Another option is Restoran DP, located outside the town, near the Mrežnica river. The restaurant’s offer includes local dishes, but also traditional dishes from all over Croatia. If you have a sweet tooth, we recommend Tara Sweets, a unique and modern sweet shop located in the very center of Karlovac.
It is said among locals that Karlovac in fact has 5 rivers, the fifth one being the beer. 🙂
Karlovac is the city where the famous Karlovačko beer is made. Here in Croatia, as in some other European countries, there is a tradition that each city produces its own beer. If you are visiting Croatia or the region, chances are you have already tasted or seen Karlovačko out there. Karlovačko beer is one of the most sought after beers in Croatia, so don’t miss a chance to taste it! To show their love for the beer, the people of Karlovac organize the Karlovac Beerfest every summer. It’s several days of music, fun and the best Croatian beers!
What to visit near Karlovac
While on the road from Karlovac to Plitvice Lakes, we recommend to make a stop and visit the stunning little village of Rastoke, near the town of Slunj. This watermill village is situated where the blue-green water of river Slunjčica flows into the Korana river. The Rastoke area is classified as a protected landscape due to its waterfalls and a limestone rock which is present in the area. Walk around the village, enjoy the view of the mills and waterfalls, and take a lot of pictures. This picturesque place is great to take a coffee or even as a lunch stop. You can get more information here.
Another option is to visit the Barać Caves (near Rakovica) where you will get to know everything about speleology and the inhabitants of the caves – bats! Grab a torch and begin a journey through the halls, paths, and bridges of the caves. Experience memorable moments and enjoy the impressive beauty of the underground world that has been formed by nature for thousands of years. Stalactites and stalagmites are just a tip of the cave lavish wealth, which you can during the 30-minute tour. More info available on the website.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Inevitable in any itinerary, Plitvice Lakes National Park is the most famous national park in Croatia. Listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is a place of unique natural beauty. On 300 square kilometers of a protected area, there are 16 lakes. The lakes are interconnected as if they were a ladder – they are cascading one into the other over many beautiful waterfalls. The highest waterfall is nearly 80 meters high, and it astonishes the visitors from all over the world. With all the possible routes and other facilities it offers, this national park is a great way to spend a day in nature.