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Top Cities to Visit in Croatia

With its rich history that can be seen in everything from ancient Roman ruins to magnificent medieval architecture, a stunning coastline, hundreds of island gems, and mouthwatering cuisine, it’s no wonder that Croatia is such a popular destination. It also boasts many charming villages and an array of cities where the past and present beautifully coexist. From the limestone-paved streets of Dubrovnik’s walled Old City to the intriguing museums and Austro-Hungarian architecture in Zagreb and the romantic atmosphere of Rovinj, there is a long list of enticing cities to explore during a Croatia vacation. Discover the top cities to visit in Croatia and all they have to offer in this guide that will help you make the most of your travels.

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Dubrovnik’s City Walls are one of the city’s most popular attractions. Visiting early in the morning (right when they open) or late in the afternoon (a couple of hours before closing) helps you avoid the peak crowds, allowing for a more serene and enjoyable experience.

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Michela

Croatia Specialist
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Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik has become a bucket-list city for travelers around the world, many of whom glimpsed it on-screen as “King’s Landing” in the hit TV series “Game of Thrones. Not only are there filming sites to discover but all sorts of magnificent landmarks. The walled Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to remarkably well-preserved buildings ranging from the Renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector’s Palace to Baroque St. Blaise Church and one of the oldest still-active pharmacies in Europe, which opened its doors in 1317. Visitors can walk atop the city walls to look out over the terracotta rooftops in the historic center on one side, with the sea and nearby islands on the other.

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Split

Split, Croatia’s second-largest city, is a popular starting and ending point for small-ship cruises and is home to the over 1,700-year-old Diocletian’s Palace, a massive complex filled with some of the most well-preserved Roman architecture in the world. Many of the buildings house art galleries, boutiques, wine bars, and eateries today. Saint Domnius Cathedral, built in 305 AD as the Mausoleum of Diocletian, the second oldest structure used by any Christian Cathedral, is a must-visit. It features a 13th-century bell tower that can be climbed for a panoramic view of Split People watching while strolling the seaside Riva promenade is also a must.

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Pula

The seaside city of Pula sits at the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula. The beaches are one of its many draws with golden sands and pebbly shores edged by turquoise water, including stretches for watersports and family-friendly fun as well as secluded spots for relaxed sunbathing. But Pula may best be known for its rich history and landmarks that reveal its long and intriguing past. Its well-preserved Roman amphitheater that once hosted gladiator fights dates to the 1st century AD. It’s the only one surviving today with four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders. Other highlights include the 1st century BC Hercules Gate, the oldest Roman monument that still stands today, and the Roman Forum, now a bustling piazza.

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Zadar

Located along the Adriatic, Romanesque Zadar is Croatia’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Its complex history dates back some 3,000 years while the Old Town reveals significant influence by the Romans and Venetians. That includes a Roman-era Forum, 16th-century defensive walls, and buildings dating as far back as the 8th century. If you want to learn more about its past, visit the Archaeological Museum with artifacts spanning from the prehistoric era through the 15th century. There’s also an outstanding modern side with a pair of famous art installations along the waterfront promenade. The Sea Organ makes music with the power of the waves for a unique soundtrack exclusive to Zadar, while the Greeting to the Sun plays a light show after dark.

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Zagreb

The Croatian capital and largest city, Zagreb offers an excellent mix of new and old with a history dating to the Roman era. Stretching north from the Sava River to the foothills of the Dinaric Alps, it’s divided into the Lower and Upper towns. The Upper Town is home to some of its most iconic landmarks like the Baroque Church of St. Mark, one of the city’s oldest architectural monuments, dating to 1761, renowned for its colorful roof with the coat of arms for Croatia and Zagreb. The Gothic Zagreb Cathedral with 354-foot-high twin spires is here too. In the Lower Town, you’ll find a wide range of shops, cafes, and restaurants with a mix of secessionist, Baroque, and Art Deco buildings.

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Sibenik

Sibenik is home to four fortresses as one of the Adriatic’s most well-fortified cities. The most formidable is St. Nicholas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the islet of Ljuljevac. A boat ride through the Sibenik Channel can bring you there for a tour, although all the city’s fortresses provide spectacular views over the town, the sea, and nearby islands. There are many delights in its historical center too, including another UNESCO-listed site, the Cathedral of St. James. It took over a century to build between 1432 and 1536, made from marble and Brac limestone primarily in Renaissance style with Gothic elements. The 71 sculptured faces of men, women, and children on its frieze might look familiar as it doubled as the House of Black and White in “Game of Thrones.” Nearby, the Šibenik City Museum is housed in the 14th-century Prince’s Palace and features exhibits from prehistory to the present.

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Rovinj

Romantic Rovinj is incredibly atmospheric with its meticulously preserved Old Town dating back as early as the 7th century BC. Seemingly rising from the sea, its medieval architecture is dominated by Baroque and Renaissance styles. It has a cheery feel with many of the structures along cobbled streets painted in Venetian reds and Habsburg pastels. From the nearly 200-foot-high bell tower of the Baroque-style Church of Saint Euphemia, one can take in a panoramic vista that must be seen to be believed. The city’s past can be explored by visiting the Rovinj Heritage Museum which displays finds from the Roman era. The contemporary Adris Gallery is a must-visit for art enthusiasts while the Batana House Museum commemorates the traditional batana boat.

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Rijeka

Located in the heart of the Kvarner Gulf region, Rijeka is Croatia’s third-largest city, a mix of Italianate Habsburg grandeur and gritty 20th-century port with neoclassical palaces tucked among predominantly secession-style buildings. A cultural capital, it’s been the heart of the country’s local music scene since the 1970s, with a wide range of venues thanks to the large student population. There are many museums and historical sites like the City Tower which was the original gateway from the port into the city, the 17th-century St. Vitus Cathedral, and the 13th-century hilltop Trsat Castle that soars above it all. From here, you’ll enjoy extraordinary views over the city and Kvarner Bay. There’s also a bar providing the perfect place for sundowner cocktails.

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