If you have never heard of Karlovac, and you are looking for a place off the beaten path to travel and unplug from all things touristic and familiar, this city is the perfect choice for you.
In the central region of Croatia, there lies an ancient city commonly known as “the city on four rivers”, as it is located on the confluence of the rivers Kupa, Korana, Mrežnica and Dobra, four tributaries of the Danube. These waterways were the first line of defence against any threat that could come to the town, and, they made the city an important trading center.
Begun in 1579, Karlovac was designed as a “Renaissance town”, that is, with a careful attention to beauty and harmony. The old town is in the shape of a six-pointed star, divided into 24 blocks of equal size.
Its history began as a fortress city built specially to be part of a line of castles and forts that stretched out along where the Hungarian border is today. It was Charles II, the archduke of Austria, that decided to build a fortress so the city would be impenetrable to menaces such as the Ottoman Empire. This city was named after its leader and his creation, “Karlstadt” in German. “Charlestown” in English. “Karlovac” in Croatian.
Nowadays, it has become an excellent destination to get away from everything, to see beautiful landscapes framed with castles and be closer to nature. Here is a list of the things you should try while in Karlovac:
1. Visit the Catholic cemetery in Dubovac
Near Karlovac, beneath the walls of the ancient city of Dubovac, which dates back to the 12th century, is the Catholic cemetery, which was founded in 1820 on the same site where the dead from the plagues were buried in the 17th and 18th centuries. For its decoration they followed the example of the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb. Walking through these cemeteries is like walking through an open-air museum, a park with sculptures and the place where the history of Karlovac is written.
The family mausoleums at the entrance as well as the All Saints Chapel, which represent the best examples of Karlovac’s architectural heritage. There you can visit the stone sculpture of the Tired Traveller, who came here to have a rest from life.
2. Visit the freshwater aquarium and river museum – Aquatika
Since this city’s history is strongly linked to the four rivers that surround it, they decided to take on the massive project of building a freshwater museum called Aquatika. Its unique design that imitates the flow of a river, with glass walls and entire underground sections, makes it a very attractive sight to improve tourism in Karlovac and fuel the local economy.
Aquatika has more than 100 fish species, the exhibition in the aquarium shows the flora and fauna of Croatian rivers and their ecosystems, geological history, traditional culture and the history of the four rivers in the Karlovac basin. The layout follows the flow of a typical karst river, along with its flora, fauna and biodiversity.
3. See Plitvice Lakes National Park
The Plitvice National Park is a UNESCO heritage site and the place where the whims of nature have given us one of the most spectacular green corners in Europe. It is the star of Croatia’s natural heritage with about one million visits per year.
The sixteen lakes in the park overlap each other creating multiple waterfalls. The tour of the park can last seven hours and is suitable for a walk without damaging the environment through wooden platforms that cross waterfalls, caves and lakes. The largest of these can be crossed with a small electric boat and wooden boats can also be rented. The clarity of the water is striking, allowing you to see the fish as if they were behind glass. There are numerous tours that take you from Karlovac to the park and you can also book them online in advance.
4. Visit the Open-Air Museum of War
In Turanj (a suburb of Karlovac) is located the War Museum of this city. Located 58 km southeast of Zagreb and on the way to the Plitvice lakes, where the war started, this part of Croatia suffered one of the hardest battles of the Ex-Yugoslavia War and Karlovac became a symbol of Croatian resistance to the Serbian advance. The museum is out in the open, and it is a very sensitive place, because you can clearly see artefacts used on this painful war like tanks, planes and ammunition.
Also, a few ruined houses belong to the museum, and they are the memory of this decisive moment in Croatia’s life. The surrounding areas and houses also show the remains of a long-gone war.
5. Dubovac Castle
One of the most important attractions of the city is the Dubovac Castle, placed atop a hill, with beautiful views of the city and the four rivers. Its architectural style is a mixture of Renaissance and Gothic architecture. The guard tower houses a permanent exhibition of historical records that tell the turbulent history of the fortress. Dubovac attracts visitors all year round, but the busiest period is in mid-May during the Lordship Fair, when the castle and its surroundings regain their medieval appearance. Walking among medieval knights and craftsmen, tasting the ancient gastronomy, having fun with traditional activities, trying your luck with archery, being a “victim” of the castle’s executioner, visiting the Turkish military camps, or attending the sword fighting exhibitions are some of the activities you can experience in Dubovac Castle.
Finally, there are many things you can do depending on your budget, style and holiday goals. But never take Karlovac for granted, it can offer many things including The Beer Days, a festival known as the “Croatian Oktoberfest” or even tours that show you the best local cheese.
It is a quaint city to forget about the hundreds of thousands of tourists flooding the streets of Paris, Rome, London and to help you spend an unforgettable time in one of the most unexpected corners of Europe.