Croatia has become a popular tourist destination in recent years thanks to its crystal-clear sea, stunning geography, and sunny weather. You’ll find ruins dating back to the Romans and fortresses built by the Venetians, indulge in tasty Mediterranean cuisine, and encounter friendly people not jaded by tourism. If you’re active, there are even more reasons to visit Croatia – this is a country built for hiking, cycling, and water sports.
It’s the most famous tourist destination in Croatia. You can’t come to this country without visiting Dubrovnik. It has an incredible old town of churches, palaces and towers, all surrounded by thick defensive walls. The highlight is walking those walls – they cover a circuit of 2 km with different views of town and sea from every angle. Visit the St. Lawrence fortress and go up Srd Hill on the cable car. Dubrovnik is full of spectacular views.
2. Plitvice National Park
This is the most touristed inland attraction in Croatia, famous for its emerald-blue lakes and waterfalls. There are 16 lakes, all connected by trails and wooden bridges crossing fast running streams. It really is a lush, beautiful “waterworld”. Our tip: don’t rush it. Take 2 days and explore the park at your leisure, enjoying a taste of Croatia away from the coast.
Split is Croatia’s 2 nd largest city (after Zagreb) but in reality feels like a town (it has a population of about 250,000). Split is famous for Diocletian’s Palace, built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The palace comprises of most of the old town – it is essentially a walled city accessed through four huge gates. Within the walls you’ll find churches, palaces and squares including the Peristyle: the main square which features an arcaded courtyard and looks out over St. Domnius Cathedral and its magnificent bell tower (which you can climb). Besides the palace, Split has the Riva (the promenade along the harbour) and Marjan Hill (a large city park with glorious views over the city). Like Dubrovnik and Plitvice National Park, Split is a UNESCO Heritage site.
Located in Istria, Rovinj is the jewel of this region. It is small town that sticks out into the sea (it used to be an island). In the middle of town, on a hill, is the Church of St. Euphemia. Its bell tower is prominent and can be seen miles away. Rovinj is just about the prettiest place you’ll see anywhere, with pastel-coloured buildings, windy alleys, and fishing boats in the harbour. It’s also known for its glorious sunsets.
If you are on a rushed schedule, 1 day will be enough to explore Rovinj. But if you have time, Rovinj is the kind of place you might want to stay awhile. Besides the old town, there are beaches as well as great cycling opportunities very close to town. Rovinj also makes a great base for exploring nearby coastal towns such as Pula, Porec, and Novigrad, as well as the hilltowns of Istria.
5. Hvar Town (Island of Hvar)
If you are limited on time and want to visit at least one Croatian island it should be Hvar. It is the most popular of the Croatian islands and can get quite busy in the summer. This popularity is due to 1) its reputation as a party island, 2) its beauty, 3) its historical attractions (Venetian-era buildings, plus a wonderful fortress overlooking the town). It really is a beautiful place. If “party islands” are not your thing, you can easily visit Hvar Town on a day trip (overnighting instead on the islands of Brač or Vis if looking for a more relaxing island experience).
The Top 5 above usually make everybody’s “Top 5 Croatia” list. The next 5 Places are less obvious and not everyone will agree with our selection – but we love each for different reasons and think they complete and complement the first five places on the list.
Makarska, in our opinion, has the most spectacular coastal geography in Croatia. It is a small town known mostly for its beaches (some of the best in Croatia) and for its location at the foot of Mt.Biokovo, Croatia’s 2 nd highest mountain.
The town itself is pretty but, apart from the main square, doesn’t feature any significant attractions. Instead, Makarska is the place to enjoy nature: lying on the beach, enjoying the views, hiking and biking along the trails around town.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can hike or drive up Mt. Biokovo for some of the most incredible views anywhere.
Šibenik is often overlooked by visitors to Croatia (Zadar, an hour up the coast, gets more tourists). So why is Šibenik special? Firstly, it has the Cathedral of St. James, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I personally think it is the most impressive church exterior in Croatia. Across the square (and it’s a really gorgeous square) is the impressive Town Hall built in typical Venetian-loggia style. Steps away is the Church of Santa Barbara.
The old town is built on a hill and there are lots of steps and narrow winding alleys. They’ll lead you to St Michael’s Fortress at the top of the hill from where you’ll have great views of town and the sea and islands beyond. A 20 minute walk inland brings you to 2 other fortresses, both with equally stunning views. A 4 th fortress (St Nicholas’ Fortress) is a few kilometers out of town, guarding the channel that leads to the city. Šibenik is not the place for beaches – but if you’re looking for history and architecture it’s very impressive.
8. Town of Bol (Island of Brač)
Brač is a beautiful island with a couple of nature spots that have made it famous. Both are near the small and charming town of Bol. The first is Zlatni Rat beach, the most famous beach in Croatia. The beach is an almost-triangular spit of smooth white pebbles that extend out into the sea, the water on either side clear. It’s a beautiful beach.
The second natural attraction is Vidova Gora, the highest peak in the Adriatic Islands at 780 m. You can hike up in 2 hours and enjoy views looking straight down at Zlatni Rat. Bol itself is a little town and many visitors come for the relaxed lifestyle. There’s a 2km path leading from Bol to Zlatni Rat lined with nice hotels, resorts and other beaches. Tip: there’s a fantastic winery in the center of Bol called Stina – go there for some wine tasting. The best wines we’ve had in Croatia.
About halfway between Split and Makarska is the small town of Omiš. You can’t miss it – you’ll pass over a river (the Cetina river) and see huge cliffs rising on either side of the gorge. It’s very dramatic scenery. Omiš is known as the Adventure Capital of Croatia.
You can do ziplining here (Croatia’s longest ziplining), some canyoning, climbing, white water rafting as well as hiking. At the top of one of the cliffs, looking straight down, is the Starigrad Fortress which you can hike up in 45 minutes.
The town itself is small and picturesque, with a 2 nd fort (the Mirabella Fortress) that is worth a visit. There is also a very nice beach in town. Note: If adventure activities don’t interest you, substitute Omiš with the town of Trogir. It has a very well preserved old town that is a UNESCO Heritage site.
10. Korčula Town, Island of Korčula
Korčula Town is often called “Little Dubrovnik” because, like Dubrovnik, its old town is surrounded by thick defensive walls. It combines the best of the islands (beaches, water sports, walking trails) with the history and architecture of some of the coastal towns. Although not a big town, Korčula is impressive – you’ll see towers, palaces, a remarkable Cathedral (with a bell tower that you can climb), and a one of the most attractive gates to an old town in Croatia (the Revelin Tower and Land Gate).
This post in contributed by the Travels of Bbqboy and Spanky. They love Croatia and have made Split their home for the foreseeable future. Read more about Croatia and their Expat life here.