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Best places to visit in Croatia
Croatia is a country of historic architecture and medieval towns, days full of sunshine and warm weather, and natural attractions and stunning coastlines. It is a country that is on so many bucket lists, and rightly so. Situated along the Balkan Peninsula, Croatia shares its borders with five other south-eastern European countries to the east and the glistening Adriatic Sea to the west.
Croatia’s capital and largest city, Zagreb, is located in the northwestern part of the country. Today, the city is a cosmopolitan haven, with independent bars, cafes, and universities lining the streets, but go back almost 2,000 years and the city was a medieval landscape. Towers, palaces, and detailed churches stood tall.
Across all cities in Croatia, there is a beautiful contrast between the old and the new: cobbled streets, unique architecture, and traditional markets, versus the vibrancy of the modern metropolis. It’s one of the things that makes Croatia so attractive. In fact, it’s been titled Europe’s fastest-rising holiday destination for multiple years running.
There are also many destinations, cities, and national parks to consider visiting during your trip to Croatia. Cities like Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik are all larger destinations that offer sightseeing experiences centered around literature, history, science, and art. These cities are the epitome of old versus new. We have included six of Croatia’s best places to visit – a blend of cities, national parks, and up-and-coming cosmopolitan wonders.
Located right in the south of Croatia and home to some of the most historic and magnificent buildings, Dubrovnik is definitely one of the most visited cities in the country. Direct flights from London to Dubrovnik make it a feasible entry point into Croatia and a good place to start your trip. Flying over the city, you will see a unique view – thousands of orange rooftops enclosed by an impressive defensive wall. These medieval walls, which stand at a height of 25 meters tall in some places, encapsulate the history of Croatia. The ‘walls of the city were built during the 13th century and although there have been reinforcements put in place along some parts, the walls have generally stayed exceptionally strong and dominant. With such a unique landscape, Dubrovnik’s walls and medieval streets have been the backdrop to many Hollywood films and TV series – the most recognized being Game of Thrones (2011-2019). Although Dubrovnik’s architecture is definitely one of the highlights (especially walking the city walls and participating in a Game of Thrones tour), it does not define the city. There are many other beautiful views, attractions, and hidden gems in Dubrovnik to set your sights on. These include visiting palm-fringed islands (e.g. Lokrum Island), drinking local beer at the cliff bars, and riding the cablecar up Mount Srd – offering views of the glistening ocean.
Situated in the north of Croatia is the country’s capital and largest city, Zagreb. This is one of the cities that travelers can fly into to begin their Croatia trip and, with direct flights from London to Zagreb on a daily basis, it makes it an attractive destination. The city itself has a strong architectural presence – with Austro-Hungarian buildings, iconic landmarks, and impressive cathedrals standing tall, offering mesmerizing backdrops as you walk through the city. The city definitely deserves a few days to explore, especially if you are interested in historic architecture. Landmarks to see include Lotrscak Tower, the Archaeological Museum, Mirogoj Cemetery, St. Mark’s Church, and most famously, the Zagreb Cathedral. Although the cathedral has had many restoration projects and changes to it, for a building that was built in 1217, it is still as impressive. The cathedral has Gothic features both in the interior and exterior, and its observation tower is a good opportunity for travelers to see Zagreb from a different viewpoint.
The saying “good things come in small packages” is very true when it comes to Korcula, an island that may be only 20 miles long, but it’s got a wide range of allures. The landscapes include sandy beaches framed by brilliant blue, calm waters ideal for swimming, dense pine forests, olive groves, and vineyards. But the highlight here is arguably it’s the Old Town of Korcula. It looks like something out of a fairy tale, surrounded by medieval walls, ramparts, towers, and gates. Inside is a maze of cobbled streets that are laid out in a fishbone pattern in order to keep it warmer in the winter and cooler in the hot summer months. They’re lined with little family-run boutiques and art galleries, authentic tavernas, and Venetian-inspired buildings. The Cathedral of St. Mark is a highlight, built in Gothic-Renaissance style in the 15th century, with its main door framed by figures of lions.
Plitvice National Park
Croatia also homes some of the most beautiful natural wonders and landscapes across all of Europe. The Adriatic Sea separates the Italian Peninsula from the Balkans and, with crystal clear waters and warm temperatures, it is regarded as one of the nicest seas in the world. Sakarun beach, Nugal Beach, Stiniva Beach, and Dubrovnik Beach among many others, offer sandy shores, hidden coves, and azure waters. Further inland, national parks like Plitvice offer a little piece of paradise for those looking for colorful landscapes and jaw-dropping waterfalls. Plitvice National Park is a truly spectacular destination – a UNESCO-listed park with a combination of lush green forests, vibrant lakes, and a collection of 16 glistening lakes. The park is accessible from either Zagreb or Split and can be enjoyed as a day trip – perfect for those looking for a natural paradise to contrast with Croatia’s cities. Plitvice is larger than other national parks in Croatia (such as Krka) so you can easily spend a full day here, walking and enjoying the natural landscape.
Situated on the southwestern coast of Croatia is the second-largest city, Split. A common question for those looking to travel to Croatia is “which is better: Split or Dubrovnik?” They both have similarities: sparkling waters, restaurants plating up freshly-caught fish and seafood, medieval and Roman architecture, and of course, warm sunshine year round. Split is usually an entry point when it comes to international flights, and as it is located in the center of the country, it works well for day trips and sightseeing. Architecture in Split is a blend of the old and the new – the epitome of Croatia. Gothic and Renaissance architecture in Split is often contrasted against coastal bars, restaurants, and modern structures like the Poljud football stadium. For history buffs, the Roman Emperor’s palace hosts winding alleyways and walkways, and at each corner, you turn, an ancient structure is on display.
Hvar is regarded as one of the most beautiful island destinations in Croatia. Out on the water, the harbor is full of expensive mega-yachts, A-list celebrity sightings, and hidden caves. On land, the landscapes vary from lavender fields, vibrant vineyards, old historical towns, and vast countryside. Croatia is lucky to border the glistening waters of the Adriatic Sea and, with many archipelagos accessible from the mainland (via boat or cruise), it makes Croatia one of the best European destinations on the water. Some most-loved islands include Vis, Brac, Rab, Losinj, Solta, and Sipan, among many others.
Brac is relatively close to Split, but it’s far less visited as compared to islands like Hvar, known for attracting international jet setters and celebrities of all types. Here it’s all about enjoying tranquil island life, ideal for nature lovers with pine forests, dramatic cliffs, and one of the most photographed beaches in all of Europe, Zlatni Rat. Arguably the top attraction here, many come to swim in the dreamy blue waters that surround the beach made up of glistening white pebbles. But the island also has an interesting history. It’s been inhabited since neolithic times and it’s famous for its limestone which has been used for construction since ancient Roman times. The white stone was used to build Diocletian’s Palace and even the White House in Washington, D.C. The olive trees that you’ll see here are a rare variety called buhavica and their prized olives have been cultivated since the Venetian era.
Located on a small island near Split, easy to reach thanks to the bridge that’s linked to the mainland, Trogir is a city with a very rich history that dates back over 2,300 years. A visit is like traveling back in time with the medieval historic center like an open-air museum. The UNESCO-protected site features a Venetian castle/fortress, Kamerlengo, which was built in the mid-15th century, now used as a venue for summer performances. It’s Central Europe’s most impeccably preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex, with stone homes, monasteries, towers, and defensive walls. The Cathedral of St. Lawrence is a highlight, built over hundreds of years, between the early 13th and 17th centuries. It depicts all styles that succeeded one another in Dalmatia. The standout feature dates to 1240, a Romanesque portal that’s the work of one of Croatia’s greatest sculptors, Master sculptor Radovan. It’s the most imposing monument in all of Trogir.
Sibenik is an ancient city that sits around a natural port. A former mercantile hub that was incredibly prosperous, it was founded over a thousand years ago and served as the heart of the Adriatic’s salt trade. Today, it provides visitors with a look at a time long past as well as being home to one of the largest and most significant Gothic-Renaissance cathedrals in the region, St. James. It also boasts walls, forts, and a picturesque waterfront to explore. The stone steps and alleyways in the Old Town offer surprises around nearly every corner, with the cathedral and its golden globe viewed from many vantage points. Enjoy wandering and unwinding in one of the atmospheric squares and marveling at the pretty centuries-old churches. The city is also a popular gateway for visiting nearby Krka National Park, famous for its cascading waterfalls like Skradinski buk and tranquil pools for swimming.
An internationally famous seaside town, Opatija was a popular resort town in the 19th century, located in northwest Croatia on the Istrian peninsula with a backdrop of the Učka Mountains. It attracted countless VIPs and celebrities from throughout Europe during the Belle Epoque and continues to offer timeless elegance, much of which can be seen along the Lungomare seaside promenade with majestic mansions on one side and spectacular coastal views on the other. Along the way, there are picture-perfect beaches, lovely parks, and historical monuments. There’s even a Walk of Fame to explore. While there are no Hollywood stars, you’ll discover famous Croatian names, including those who’ve made significant contributions to the country such as inventor Nikola Tesla, tennis great Goran Ivanisevic, and poet Tin Ujevic. The town also boasts an impressive culinary scene, in fact, it’s considered to be one of the country’s most important gastronomic hubs with lots of mouthwatering Istrian cuisine.
Rovinj is an Istrian jewel sometimes compared to Dubrovnik yet with far fewer crowds and a more authentic experience with its old quarter meticulously cared for. While there are extensive facilities for tourists, it’s not overdone, and it offers a magnificent natural setting with a harbor that was called by ancient mariners the “cradle of the sea.” Once under Venetian rule, you’ll find lots of Venetian influence along with impressive landmarks like the church of Saint Euphemia with its sunset-view terrace and campanile, marking the highest point in town. No matter which path you take, the steep lanes inevitably lead to the baroque-style church and its bell tower looks like it came straight from Venice. The Old Town is filled with delights, including homes painted in cheery reds and pastels, linked by narrow cobbled streets. There is a wealth of outstanding gelaterias, cafes, and restaurants – only the unlucky few will be left disappointed.
Istria’s Hilltop Towns
There are too many charming hilltop Istrian towns to mention them all, but you’ll want to visit at least a few, with some of the top picks including Groznjan, Motovun, and Hum, the world’s tiniest town with a population of just 30 inhabitants. It’s a rare well-preserved example of development entirely within the walls of the medieval city, with a watch tower, bell, and loggia built in the 16th century. All of the hilltop villages offer glorious views from above, with landscapes often compared to Tuscany in Italy, graced by lush hills with olive trees and vineyards stretching out to the sea. The walled hilltop town of Motovun is a favorite, renowned for its truffles and truffle products found in delicious restaurant dishes and shops selling products like truffle olive oil and sea salt. The artsy town of Groznjan is well worth visiting for its breathtaking views and winding cobbled streets with art galleries and stone buildings.
Mljet National Park
Incredibly lush and green, Mljet is an unspoiled island covered with dense Mediterranean forest, often referred to as Croatia’s greenest island. The most southerly in Dalmatia, it’s a paradise for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers who will find nearly an endless list of things to do. Mljet National Park covers around a third of the island and hosts two saltwater lakes in brilliant shades of green and blue. The sandy beaches along the shoreline are popular for sunbathing and swimming while miles of scenic trails provide a wonderful place for walking and biking – bicycles can be rented near its entrance. Malo Jezero, or Great Lake, features an islet in the middle topped by the Church of St. Mary and a 12th-century monastery, with a boat that can bring you out to explore it. You won’t find any busy cities here although there are enough facilities for tourists to enjoy, including restaurants and small hotels.
Vis was featured in the hit film “Mama Mia” although it’s remained wonderfully unspoiled, often referred to as the “Mediterranean as it once was.” That comes thanks in part to its seclusion as the furthest inhabited Croatian island from the coast as well as spending some 40 years closed off to the public while used as a military base. That drove many locals to move elsewhere to seek work and with visitors banned, it was spared from much tourism development. Today, people come for its authenticity, tranquil beauty, and culinary delights. Highlights also include hidden beaches like Stiniva, a renowned stretch nestled between two high cliffs and edged by vibrant blue-green waters. Wine tasting is popular here too with the island known for its own distinct grape. Vugava is a white varietal that’s been grown here since ancient times and the red wine grape plavac is also cultivated on the island.
Located in the Kvarner Gulf region, sunny Losinj is a popular destination in the summer with lots of natural beauty to enjoy. Many come for a wellness retreat with the island long known for its healing properties. The sea air is said to be conducive to aiding those with respiratory problems and there are hundreds of plant species that include medicinal herbs along with eucalyptus and lemon trees. Visitors can enjoy peaceful strolls through fragrant pine forests and lush greenery, along with unforgettable swims in the crystal-clear turquoise water. Art enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a visit to the Losinj Museum in Fritzy Palace. With so many fantastic local ingredients grown or caught here, including herbs that play a big part, the menus are impressive, featuring everything from fish and seafood straight from the sea to Istrian beef. There are multiple impressive local and regional wines to pair with those mouthwatering dishes too.
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