Where to go in Croatia
Croatia offers so many intriguing destinations it can be hard to narrow down where to go without unlimited time to enjoy them. It all boils down to your particular preferences, whether you want to focus on history, time at the beach, sampling authentic cuisine and regional wines, or taking part in as many exciting outdoor adventures as possible. Of course, with such a wealth of fabulous options, experiencing a little of it all can be the way to go, with a mix of centuries-old cities like Split and Dubrovnik, tiny medieval hilltop towns, and popular islands like Hvar, Korcula, Vis, and Mljet.
Best places to go in Croatia
Here is a summary of some of the best and most popular areas to visit.
Medieval Dubrovnik, known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” has become one of the world’s top destinations. Its walled Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with magnificent architectural wonders and marble-paved streets. Visitors can marvel at buildings like the 15th-century Rector’s Palace and explore the remarkable Franciscan monastery complex which holds one of Europe’s oldest pharmacies, founded in 1317. It’s also possible to walk atop the ancient city walls, enjoying a few of the Adriatic and nearby islands on one side, and the red-tiled roofs of the historic center on the other.
Ancient Split is the second largest city in Croatia, and one of its most captivating. It’s best known for its 4th-century Diocletian’s Palace, built as a retirement residence for the Roman emperor, a maze-like complex that makes up nearly half the historic center. Strolling the streets and alleyways you’ll discover influences from the Greeks, Romans, and Venetians, with the centuries-old buildings now housing unique boutiques, galleries, wine bars, and cafes. By climbing the nearly 200-foot-high bell tower at the Cathedral of Saint Dominus in the heart of the palace, you’ll get a view over it all and beyond.
Zagreb is Croatia’s largest city and its capital, boasting a rich history that dates back to the Middle Ages. Here you can stroll charming cobblestone streets while gazing up at an eclectic blend of Austro-Hungarian heritage and classical Viennese secessionist architecture. It’s home to landmarks like Zagreb Cathedral with its soaring twin towers, considered the most important Gothic-style sacred building southeast of the Alps, and 13th-century St. Mark’s Church, famous for its colorful tiled roof. There are plenty of modern delights too, including picturesque parks, art galleries, world-class museums, and theaters, along with a wide range of dining and shopping venues.
Romantic Rovinj lies along Istria’s west coast. As early as the 7th century, it was surrounded by city walls that were later strengthened by towers and had seven gates, three of which remain well preserved today. A baroque archway serves as the entrance to the enchanting Old Town with its decidedly Italian feel, having been one of the region’s most important towns under Venetian rule from the late 13th to the late 18th century. Visitors can enjoy strolling the cobbled streets lined with galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars, all overlooked by the steeple of hilltop St. Euphemia church.
Nestled between the mountains and the sea, elegant Opatija offers timeless beauty and lots of aristocratic charm, having been a world-famous wellness resort town in the 19th century, attracting all sorts of VIPs and celebrities from across Europe. It continues to ooze opulence today with beautiful churches, impressive monuments, and a magnificent villa- and mansion-lined Lungomare promenade. The 7.4-mile stretch follows the rocky coastline between Volosko and nearby Lovran, bringing jaw-dropping views of the Kvarner coast, neighboring islands and Adriatic on one side, and spectacular mansions on the other.
Internationally renowned Plitvice Lakes is protected by a national park as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most popular destinations in the country, its images often go viral, with 16 stunning lakes in shades ranging from brilliant turquoise to deep emerald green, highlighted by countless mesmerizing waterfalls. Visitors can explore on foot, walking the meandering pathways and across wooden bridges, as well as by boat and an electric train to marvel at falls like Veliki Prstavac, Mali Prstavac, and Veliki Slap, the “Great Waterfall.”
The 3,000-year-old walled city of Zadar is home to an impressive mix of old and new, including an Old Town with medieval churches and Roman ruins along with high-quality museums and trendy cafes. Its world-famous pair of light installations along the seafront have made it even more of a must-visit. The Sea Organ plays music using the power of the waves while the Greeting to the Sun represents the solar system and is driven by the sun. Watch what Alfred Hitchcock declared to be the world’s most beautiful sunset, and then see it light up the waterfront.
The nearly 1,000-year-old UNESCO-listed city of Sibenik lies in the Krka river bay, the gateway to Krka Waterfalls National Park. In its spectacular medieval heart, glistening white buildings contrast against the still blue waters. Enter to find a stone maze of steep streets and alleyways home to majestic palaces and the most important transitional Gothic-Renaissance monument in Croatia, the 15th-century St. James Cathedral with its dome and triple-nave basilica with three apses. It’s also a popular stop among “Game of Thrones” fans, appearing as the Iron Bank in the ninth episode of season five.
Cosmopolitan Hvar is one of the sunniest of the Croatian islands, famous for attracting international jet setters and celebrities who often arrive on mega-yachts that fill its picturesque harbor during the summer. Hvar Town is home to legendary beach bars, nightclubs, and world-class restaurants as well as a beautiful historic center with medieval architecture. The island also features idyllic beaches for swimming in enticing clear blue waters, vineyard- and lavender-covered rolling hills, craggy peaks, and ancient hamlets. On the northern end is Stari Grad, one of the oldest towns in Europe, founded by the creeks in the late 4th century BC.
Unspoiled Vis, one of the farthest islands from the mainland, was closed off to the public for 40 years while used as a strategic military base, largely sparing it from tourism development, providing a wonderfully tranquil retreat for visitors. While an increasing number are discovering its delights, those in the know who find beautiful secluded beaches for swimming in the clear azure sea along with a gastronomic scene that can rival any destination in Dalmatia. Vis Town, set along a horseshoe-shaped bay, is especially atmospheric with its 17th-century homes and narrow lanes that wind uphill from the waterfront.
A stunning island just off the coast opposite Split, Brac Island is home to everything from a magnificent monastery, vineyards, and wineries to one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches, Zlatni Rat, also known as the Golden Horn. A white pebbly beach that glistens under the Mediterranean sun and changes its shape with the winds and the tides, it’s surrounded by a strikingly clear turquoise sea on three sides providing an unforgettable place to swim, just west of the pretty harbor town of Bol.
One of the most enchanting of the Croatian islands, Korcula is home to everything from olive groves, vineyards, and sandy beaches to charming villages. Korcula Town boasts an especially impressive historic center surrounded by medieval stone walls with ramparts and towers that make it look as if it came straight from the pages of a storybook. The cobbled streets and narrow lanes are lined with Venetian-Gothic buildings, many of which have been converted into galleries, small family-run shops, and traditional tavernas serving tasty local fare.
The laid-back fishing town of Ston lies on a cape of land that links the Peljesac Peninsula, renowned for producing some of Croatia’s best wines, to the mainland. Once an important military fort, its defensive walls are world-famous, as are its oysters, with many visitors coming to taste these fresher than fresh delicacies while learning all about their cultivation at its oyster farms. Ston is also known for its salt production, an economic mainstay since the Middle Ages, with its saltworks among Europe’s oldest and most well-preserved. The town itself is particularly enchanting with its crumbling churches, breathtaking coastline, and endless olive groves.
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