Best Islands to Visit in Croatia
A cruise around Croatia’s Dalmatian coast uncovers an impressive bounty of idyllic islands and uninhabited coves where you can escape the noise of the tourist crowds.
Whether you are looking for a family holiday or a romantic honeymoon, our Croatia island hopping cruises are the perfect adventure for all to enjoy! With over 1000 stunning islands to visit, there will be ample opportunities for you to relax amongst alluring coastline, along the way discovering the country’s rich history and proud culture. Croatia’s delicious regional cuisine is an added, and undoubted, highlight.
To whet your appetite, we’ve collated a list of our favorite Croatian islands. If you can’t decide on which gorgeous isle to visit… why not make a promise to see them all? A great way to explore the islands is onboard a Croatia Deluxe Balcony small ship, such as our signature 7-Night Deluxe Split to Dubrovnik Cruise.
Located in the central Dalmatian archipelago, Hvar Island is known for its frequent sunny skies, secluded coves and idyllic beaches, vineyard-covered hills, and fragrant lavender fields that blanket the landscape with purple in the summer. It’s a top spot for international jet setters, including Hollywood stars and others among the rich and famous who often arrive in mega-yachts to take advantage of the world-class restaurants and lively nightlife in Hvar town. Yet many also come for its rich history with the Old Town encircled by 13th-century walls while hosting a number of impressive landmarks like the 1605 St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Built in Baroque style on the site of a 9th-century church, the interior displays paintings by Venetian artists while the bell tower features a 2nd-century stone relief of a Roman ship. A Venetian fort, Spanjola, sits atop a high hill and a gentle climb provides a panoramic view of the picturesque harbor, the sea, and nearby islands. There are some fantastic family-run wineries throughout the island for tasting and touring, often with the chance to meet the winemakers themselves while the towns of Stari Grad (one of the oldest in Europe), Jelsa, and Vrbovska provide a tranquil retreat, more beautiful scenery, and fascinating history.
Covered with pine forests, olive groves, and vineyards, Korcula may be a small island, just 20 miles long, but it’s a favorite with many things to see and do. The alleged birthplace of intrepid explorer Marco Polo, in Old Town Korcula, surrounded by walls, gates, towers, and bastions, you’ll notice many Venetian influences. Often called a “mini-Dubrovnik,” its streets are laid out in a fishbone pattern to help keep residents protected from the elements, while medieval squares house grand palaces and cathedrals. St. Mark’s Cathedral is a highlight, with its portal framed by figures of lions and statues of Adam and Eve. It’s a joy simply to walk through with the many magnificent centuries-old buildings to marvel at, along with family-run shops, galleries, and authentic taverns to explore. There are many beaches to take advantage of, framed by clear blue water for swimming. In Lumbarda at the easter tip of Korcula, there are idyllic coves for sunbathing and snorkeling. Other charming villages that are worth a visit include Pupnat, the island’s oldest settlement with its impressive traditional architecture. No matter where you plan to be on this island, you’ll want to sample its most prized product, olive oil, with tasting tours available.
Remote Vis is the furthest island from the Dalmatian coast and one of the most unspoiled. Often called the “Mediterranean as it once was,” it was closed off to the public for 40 years while used as a strategic naval base, leaving it spared from much tourism development while offering a fascinating history, postcard-perfect beaches, and exclusive island-made wines that can be enjoyed with delectable, fresh-caught local seafood. From the harbor at the foot of the Bay of St. George, a seaside promenade leads to Vis Town where one can witness the island’s rich past in the Greek and Roman ruins, Renaissance palaces, and churches. The archaeological museum showcases artifacts uncovered from ancient Vis. It sits within the Levaman Fortress and includes the 4th-century BC bronze head of the goddess Artemis. Visitors can also explore St Jerome’s Church and Monastery which was built over an ancient Roman theater along with Tito’s Cave, while the top of Mount Hum is one of the best places to take in a panoramic view over the island. There are some fabulous beaches here too, including one of Croatia’s most beautiful, Stiniva, which is a little stretch that’s framed by towering cliffs and edged by brilliant aquamarine water.
The third largest island in the Adriatic and Dalmatia’s largest, Brac may best be known for Zlatni Rat, one of Europe’s most photographed beaches, located near the town of Bol. Also known as the Golden Horn for its unique and changing shape that juts out a third of a mile into dreamy turquoise waters, it offers unforgettable swims among striking natural scenery. But there’s a whole lot more here, with the fishing village of Bol offering many excellent restaurants serving local specialties, including peka dishes made with fresh seafood or meat and potatoes with assorted vegetables that are roasted under a peka, or bell-shaped lid. Pucisca is a charming seaside town with a picturesque bay that’s home to the Stonemasonry School and Quarry, where the white limestone used to build Split’s iconic Diocletian’s Palace and the White House in Washington DC was mined. All sorts of activities can be enjoyed on the island in addition to swimming, including sea kayaking, standup paddle boarding, windsurfing, mountain biking, and hiking. One of the most scenic trails will bring you to the highest point in the Adriatic islands, Vidova gora which provides a breathtaking view of Zlatni Rat, the sea, and nearby islands.
Referred to by the locals as the “island of wellness and vitality,” Losinj is located in the Kvarner Gulf region of the northern Adriatic. Ideal for a wellness retreat with plenty of opportunities to relax, get active, and enjoy mouthwatering cuisine, local ingredients inspire most restaurant menus here. You’ll find dishes featuring fish, seafood, and beef, often prepared with island herbs, and complemented by local or regional wines in the many restaurants. The island’s indented coastline is dotted with fragrant pine trees, one of the hundreds of plant species that grow here, with everything from medicinal herbs to lemon and eucalyptus trees. Swimming is popular here with sandy beaches and crystal-clear blue waters. That pristine water also draws spearfishers with regular tournaments here, while dolphins are attracted to it as well, often seen following the ferry boats in and out of the bay. The two main towns, Veli Losinj and Mali Losinj offer easy access to beaches and the tranquil countryside, and you’ll find interesting museums to explore too. The Museum of Losinj showcases fine examples of both modern Croatian works and classic Italian Baroque paintings while the Museum of Apoxyomenos hosts the oldest archaeological collection on the island.
Rab was first mentioned in 360 BC, then called Arba Island which means dark and green forested. Lying along the northern Croatian coast, it’s sometimes referred to as the “island of love,” perhaps as it once served as a romantic hideaway for King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Others say the Romans knew it as the “island of happiness” due to its striking natural beauty. It’s sure to put a smile on your face, with more sandy beaches than any other island in the Adriatic. This is the second greenest island too, with over a third of its surface covered with forest. The fertile interior is protected by mountains which allow olives, grapes, and vegetables to be cultivated. There are more than 100 miles of hiking and biking trails, inviting nature lovers to enjoy the scenery while getting active. For those looking to relax and get an all-over tan, Sahara beach is a natural stretch that’s ideal. For culture and history, head to Rab Town with its bell towers rising from ancient stone streets lined with Romanesque churches, a cathedral, and monastery. Especially atmospheric, it’s always a joy to wander through and you’ll even find beaches that are practically deserted just a short drive away.
Lush Mljet is the most southerly of the Dalmatian islands as well as the greenest island in the Adriatic, blanketed by dense forest. While it has a rich history dating back to the 2nd millennium BC, it’s best known as a nature lover’s escape, with Mljet National Park the main attraction. Visitors can enjoy solitude among the pines and sparkling lakes, with the two saltwater lakes at its heart, Veliko Jezero (large) and Malo Jezero (small), in a myriad of stunning blues and greens. In the middle of the large lake is St. Mary Islet, home to the Church of St. Mary and a 12th-century monastery and accessed via a short boat ride. From Veliko Jezero, a scenic path will bring you to the high point of Montokuc, with your reward for the hike and a fabulous view of Korcula Island and the Peljesac Peninsula. Swimming, canoeing, and kayaking can be enjoyed on the lake and at the entrance in Pomena, kayaks, canoes, and bikes are available for rent. There are some small settlements scattered about the rest of the island and you’ll find three sandy beaches at the far eastern tip near Sapunara, with Blace and Podkucica popular among nudists.
Enjoy unspoiled nature at Dugi Otok near Zadar on the Croatian mainland, a lesser-known island with a population of only around 1,500. At the northern end is Sakuran Beach, a favorite with snow-white sand as well as being one of the longest stretches in the country at nearly a half-mile-long. It’s surrounded by thick pine trees that provide shade while the water is clear and calm, ideal for families with children. At the southern tip of the island is Telascica Nature Park, a tranquil park that offers off-the-beaten-path tranquility with quiet beaches and an abundance of flora and fauna. Over 400 plant species, including many rare and endemic plants, have been recorded here while the underwater world is dazzling. The bay is one of the most beautiful in the Adriatic, with outstanding clarity and often still waters while being home to a half-dozen islets. Taljuric is the most unique, inhabited since ancient times, revealed by the multiple archaeological ruins in the area, including Illyrian burial mounds and 1st-century Roman buildings. The park hosts organized nature tours and many activities can be enjoyed here too like cycling, fishing, diving, and other water sports, along with picnics under the pines.
The Brijuni Islands are a group of 14 small islands, including two main islands and a dozen islets, in the northern Adriatic off the west coast of the Istrian peninsula. Tranquil and scarcely inhabited they were named a national park in 1983. An extraordinary blend of cultural, historical, and natural heritage, there has been human activity from prehistoric times through the present, thanks to the deep bays, favorable geographical conditions, and mild climate. The islands are covered by laurel and oak forests, meadows, and rare plants like marine poppy, with the largest, Veliki Brijun, just 1.25 miles away. It can be visited by boat with a guided tour included, booked through the National Park Office in Fazana. Or some small-ship cruises include it on an island-hopping itinerary. Historic traces are many, with everything from a neolithic settlement and Illyrian ruins to monuments that date from the Byzantine era and the Middle Ages. There are even dinosaur footprints to discover with ancient reptiles roaming here over 100 million years ago. Visitors can also explore an archaeological site, a luxurious Roman villa, a Byzantine castrum, frescoes, and an archaeological museum. Mali Brijun can be visited during the summer, which is the theater season here offering performances in an abandoned fort.
Lokrum is less than a half-mile from Dubrovnik. A tranquil forested island, it can be reached via a 10-minute ferry ride or by paddling in a kayak, independently or as part of a tour. It’s a great place to swim and sunbathe despite the rocky beaches. There’s also a saltwater lake called the Dead Sea with a high concentration of salt that makes it fun to float around. The main hub is the vast medieval-era Benedictine monastery that hosts an exhibit on the island’s history and the hit series “Game of Thrones” which was partly filmed here. You can even pose on a reproduction Iron Throne. There’s a botanical garden and a nature reserve with bunnies and peacocks roaming around, as well as a restaurant. At the heart of the island is Fort Royal which was occupied by the French in the early 19th century but primarily used by the Austrians. Its history dates well before that, in fact, in the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart was shipwrecked here, and the people of Dubrovnik rescued him. In return, he funded the construction of Dubrovnik Cathedral. By heading to the rooftop, you can enjoy a fabulous view over the Old Town and its impressive walls.
The small, car-free island of Lopud is located at the heart of the Elaphiti archipelago, a group of islands just off the coast from Dubrovnik, lined by ferry. Its name comes from the Greek island Delaphodia although the Romans, who had a settlement here, called it Lafota. It’s home to only a couple of hundred permanent residents and attracts many to enjoy its nature, history, and peaceful setting. Spending a day on the sandy beach of Sunj is popular with pristine shallow sapphire waters for swimming, umbrellas and chairs for rent, and a beach bar serving drinks and snacks. Visitors can hike to the 15th-century Our Lady of Sunj church which has a Renaissance-Baroque altar with reliefs of saints and sculptures illustrating the Assumption. For a spectacular view of the archipelago, hike to the top of the highest hill where you’ll also see the 16th-century ruins of a Spanish fort. A baroque-style 16th-century church with gothic and Renaissance elements is located at the entrance to the harbor. The ruins of a summer residence that belonged to a shipowner in the 16th-century and a restored 16th-century villa can be seen along the shore. The oldest buildings on Lopud are ruins of early medieval pre-Romanesque chapels.
The Pakleni Islands are a chain of rocky islets a short boat ride from Hvar town. With crystal-clear blue water, deserted lagoons, and hidden beaches, a visit can be a highlight on a trip to Croatia. The name, Pakleni Otoci, is said to translate to Hell Islands, but the archipelago is anything but. In fact, the name may be derived from paklina, a pine resin once harvested here, used to waterproof boats. This is a paradise with some of the most breathtaking beaches and spectacular nature, bringing the opportunity for idyllic swims in transparent turquoise water and enjoying some of the best snorkeling in the country. Jerolim is the closest island to Hvar and clothing is optional. Next, you’ll reach Marinkovac with a lively beach club that sits along Stipanska Bay. Picturesque Zdrilca and Mlini are at the opposite end and host a number of seasonal restaurants. Sveti Klement is the largest island in the archipelago, covering a little over three miles, and is home to three villages. Set on a gorgeous horseshoe-shaped bay is Palmizana which offers restaurants, accommodation, a marina, and a small sandy beach. The islands are a popular stop for small-ship cruises and while sailing, simply enjoy the secluded bays for memorable swims.
Inhabited since the Paleolithic era, Cres Island is one of the least developed in Croatia, but it offers plenty of allure. Easily reached by ferry from Rijeka, which lies on Kvarner Bay across from elegant Opatija, it features dramatic cliffs, forests, charming hilltop towns, abandoned hamlets, caves, and idyllic beaches. Cres town is filled with influences from the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and the first independent Croatians. It’s home to Arsan Palace, a 16th-century Venetian tower, and the Cres Museum with displays that include weapons, costumes, and relics. There are vineyards to explore and wildlife to watch for too, most notably griffons. If you’re lucky you might see one spread its up to 9-foot-long wings while flying by a glorious Adriatic sunset.
Lastovo is a small island, just 18 square miles in size with a population of under a thousand. While it’s one of the most remote of the Croatian islands, ferries access from Split, Dubrovnik, Korcula, and Mljet via the town of Ubli, bringing passengers to enjoy its lush beauty with all sides surrounded by forest, a stunning contrast against the bright blue of the sea. As it’s rather isolated, it provides a wonderful respite from the crowds although there are restaurants, cafes, accommodation options, and a dive center in the town of Zaklopatica to the north. The main village of Lastovo, which lies slightly inland, is known for its 14th-century stone homes and is entirely protected as a cultural monument thanks to its Renaissance architecture and amphitheatrical building style. The island is also famous for its carnival in which all residents participate, wearing gorgeous folk costumes every winter on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
Sipan is the largest of the Elaphiti Islands, lying just off the coast of Dubrovnik. There are few who live here, with only a little more than 400 permanent inhabitants, but it’s easy to reach for a day trip. You’ll discover many remnants from its days when wealthy prominent residents built their grand palaces to enjoy as a summer retreat in the 15th and 16th centuries. The two largest towns on Sipan are Sudurad and Sipanska Luka which are connected by road, just a few miles apart. They offer rich and interesting histories, lots of tasty authentic eats, and friendly, welcoming locals. In between are centuries-old palace ruins and a lush valley with fig and olive trees, citrus groves, and vineyards. The island is famous for its wine which can be tasted along with olive oil at the Danicic Family vineyard.
Despite being easily accessed by ferry from Split, Solta offers a practically untouched paradise. One of the best islands to visit that isn’t well-known to outsiders, there’s little development here but you will find plenty of spectacular nature to explore along with olive groves and vineyards that have been passed down through multiple generations. There are sheltered coves and serene beaches for sunbathing and swimming in crystal-clear blue waters, while divers will appreciate hotspots like Senjska and Livka. Explore the past by visiting the ancient ruins of sarcophagi, historic churches, a prehistoric fortress, and even the remains of a fish market that belonged to the Roman emperor Diocletian. This is also a great place to rent a bike and pedal around through little towns and farms across the island or take a hike to Vela Straza for magnificent views from the 777-foot-high peak.
Bisevo Island, which lies just five miles from Vis Island, is home to one of the most popular attractions in all of Croatia, the Blue Cave. Also known as the Blue Grotto, this unique natural wonder is renowned for the magical phenomenon that occurs when the rays of the sun enter through a crack in the cave’s roof, hitting the limestone seabed. The sunlight reflects the color of the water, bathing the interior in a surreal blue glow. While you can’t swim in the Blue Cave, there are nine other caves scattered along the coast and Green Cave does allow swimming. There are also some wonderful sandy coves where you can leap into the enticing Adriatic.
Much of Pag is barren and rocky, giving it a moon-like appearance but it’s stunningly contrasted by the azure sea that surrounds it. While there are mostly sleepy fishing villages here, Novalja and Pag town are the two of size. Novalja is a resort town renowned for its buzzing nightlife, while Pag town boasts lovely medieval streets overlooked by a 15th-century cathedral that was part of the defensive walls. There are quaint shops where local women stitch lace in the doorways, an archaeological site, and the ruins of a monastery. One can taste the flavors of the island’s time-honored traditions of wine- and cheesemaking too, with Pag cheese one of the country’s most celebrated culinary experts.
All of these stunning islands can be explored on our Deluxe Small Ship cruises. More information can be found here.
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