There was once a time where Croatia was once one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. With its natural beauty and timeless cities, the country is often said to be reminiscent of the Mediterranean but what it was like 30 years ago. Now with the scars of its recent history very much healed, intrepid European travellers and trendy jet setters are beginning to discover everything Croatia has to offer. From chic coastal resorts to wild, rugged national parks, here are my Top 20 of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Croatia…
1. Dubrovnik – the most famous and best place to visit in Croatia and a pilgrimage site for Game of Thrones fans
Dubrovnik is also located on the coast but deserves a special mention of its own. Known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, is was once a rich and powerful state. Today it’s almost like a living museum, medieval in character with numerous baroque churches and curious visitors spilling out onto its pedestrianized marble streets.
No visit to Croatia is complete without spending time in Dubrovnik and it’s a chic and stunning place to visit in Croatia, packed with laid back cafes, sophisticated bars, and trendy restaurants. It’s also loaded with cultural history, stunning architecture, and an Old Town quarter, not forgetting the famous two kilometre walk around the iconic city walls. George Bernard Shaw once wrote “those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it” and I suggest you follow Bernard Shaw’s advice and pay the city a visit!
Just to add if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, this is where many of the scenes in King’s Landing, was filmed. It’s been a double-edged sword though as many of the locals complain just how many extra tourists this has brought and can sometimes be a little too crowded.
The beautiful city of Dubrovnik filmed in 4k…
2. The Dalmatian coast – the most famous of all of Croatia’s glittering coastlines
The Dalmatian coast is legendary – it’s actually one of the most dramatic and beautiful coastlines in Europe. The coast extends for hundreds of miles with steep limestone cliffs and a shoreline which is speckled with islands. Once an outpost for the Venetian empire, Dalmatia is renowned for the juxtaposition of its Roman ruins, medieval architecture, and dramatic scenery. A road trip along this coast is the best way to discover many of Croatia’s highlights.
You’ll pass jaw-dropping cliffs and the road will lead you to wonderful cities like Split and Zadar. Split’s enchanting architecture and historical complex (including the Palace of Diocletian) have ensured a UNESCO’s World Heritage site status and Zadar has picture-perfect beaches, so make sure to save some time for stops along the way.
3. Brela Beach – one of the most beautiful beaches to visit in Croatia
Brela Beach is located on Makarska Riviera and it’s well known as being one of the most beautiful beaches to visit in Croatia. In 1968, the beach was crowned the ‘Champion of the Adriatic’ probably due to its stunning clear waters, beautiful intimate coves, spectacular views, and a winding Victorian promenade. In the midst of the turquoise waters is the breath-taking Kamen Brela – the stunning rocky outcrop which is the symbol of Brela Beach. With plenty of gorgeous hotels in Croatia, there’s no excuse not to stop for a while.
4. Hvar – a stunning cosmopolitan island resort and a popular place to go in Croatia
Holding the title of the ‘Queen of Dalmatia’ it’s commonly accepted that Hvar is the greenest and sunniest island of the many islands residing off Croatia’s coast. The island’s landscapes are characterized by vast fields of lavender, lush olive groves, and rambling vineyards. Hvar town is the cultural centre of the island and with its innumerable sandy beaches surrounded by cosmopolitan cafes, bars, and restaurants, it has become a necessary stopping-off point for yachting trend-setters.
5. Plitvice Lakes National Park – one of the most beautiful national parks to visit in Croatia
The wonderful Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe, with miles of unspoiled beauty, cascading waterfalls, rugged hills, and turquoise lakes. Despite the stunning vistas, arguably the real stars of the show are the wild bears and wolves that still roam freely (something which is very unusual in Europe).
The 120 species of birds, uncountable butterfly breeds, and plenty of woodland animals also keep the wildlife fans happy. Having earned its place among UNESCO’s collection of heritage sites in 1979, it is a veritable jewel in Croatia’s crown.
6. Vis Islands – the gorgeous islands that time have seemingly forgotten
This is a beautifully timeless island destination located on the most northern corner of the coast. With a population of 4,000 people, it’s commonly known as the gastronomic capital of the Adriatic.
With fantastic restaurants, nestled under the Venetian style architecture serving traditional Croatian food as well as pan-European cuisine, you will experience the Mediterranean as it once was. As most of the island is covered in olive groves and vineyards, it’s ideal for tourists looking for a break from the rat race.
7. Mljet Island National Park – a sprawling island park with stunning beaches, caves, and wildlife
Mljet island is the most southerly and easterly of the larger Adriatic islands of the Dalmatia region. In the northwestern part of the island is an area of protected land – the Mljet National Park. It has a unique beauty featuring two connected salty lakes and rich forested landscapes.
You are free to roam as you please as there are no motor vehicles permitted on the island. We highly recommend taking some swimming gear as the park is scattered with a few stunningly clear, and beautifully clean, lagoons and lakes. Also, take a walk along the many lakes, hire a bike, and cycle through the immense forest that covers 78% of the island. Don’t forget to take a picnic, breathing in the fresh air, and admiring the breathtaking views. There is also an opportunity to wander around the Benedictine monastery and visit the small chapel attached to it. Only a one and a half-hour ferry trip from the mainland, a trip to Mljet island is definitely worth it!
8. City of Rovinj – a beautiful gem to visit and explore in Croatia
This is a small, active fishing port located along the Istrian Peninsula which is fast becoming a popular tourist resort with many of the locals still speaking the ancient, romantic language of Istriol. It has long been one of the most picturesque towns in the Mediterranean with a cookie-cutter cluster of pastel-colored houses, steep winding streets, and off-shore island tours. Some of the most famous landmarks include St. Euphemia’s Basilica and Zletni Forest Park.
9. Zlatni Rat Beach – one of the best and unique beauty spots in Croatia
Easily one of the most stunning places to explore in Croatia, Zlatni Rat is the Croatian for ‘golden horn’ and epitomises the unusual sandbar with white pebble beaches and blue sapphire waters, offering a 360-degree ocean view. Bordered by pine groves and offering a wide selection of watersports, it is one of Croatia’s most well-known beauty spots.
If you are bored of lounging on the sands, take a stroll into the pine groves and discover the rustic Roman villa complete with a swimming pool nestling in its centre.
10. Volosko – one of the prettiest places to visit on this section of the Kvarner coastline
Touristy, this isn’t. Tucked away in the top corner of Croatia, Volosko offers an unrivalled rustic character. As it is a distance away from the more frequented Croat tourist destinations and certainly not a crowded resort, it retains a quiet sleepiness that is the hallmark of traditional Croatian fishing villages. With a slope of orange roofs dropping down right to the harbour, occasionally punctuated by the odd pointing conifer, it makes the ideal spot for an afternoon getaway.
There isn’t all that much to do, but hey that’s why you came right? Once you have had a browse of the local artwork and had a potter ‘around the local shops, you can head down to one of the many bars that dot the seafront. As a working fishing village fresh seafood is in abundance, so treat yourself to some locally caught fish served with a nice glass of chilled and crisp white wine. If you are planning on walking, due to the topography, there are quite a few steps around, so best wear something comfy. Definitely one of the most tranquil and beautiful places to visit in Croatia.
11. Split – Croatia’s second-largest and very beautiful city and the largest city in the Dalmatia region where Game of Thrones was filmed
Split is not a small place, nor is it quiet. All that said it manages to maintain a certain air of Adriatic somnambulism, not bad considering it’s Croatia’s second-largest city. Split is a real working port so it sees a lot of coming and going. Cruise ships regularly dock here so if you want to visit the popular venues such as the Diocletian Palace it might be prudent to do your homework before you head out. Speaking of the palace, whilst wandering around you could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in Italy,
The Romans were here for a while (hence the palace) and they have left their mark, there are columns and landmarks punctuating the city, and guided tours are available. There are squares and plazas around every corner if you want to stop and people watch for a while, the food is a bit of a mix as the Croatians seem stuck between keeping it local and trying to appeal to an international audience. For those of you who are all into your ‘Game of Thrones’ (and haven’t been permanently turned off by season 8… yeah we know!) as well as Dubrovnik a large portion of filming also took place in and around Split, see if you can spot the throne room of Danaerys on your travels!
12. Trakošćan Castle – a real gem that’s definitely worth visiting in Croatia
If you head inland and want to see some real Croatian culture then make sure you put Trakošćan Castle on your ‘must-see’ list. The castle is about a two-hour drive north of Zagreb. It was a genuine defensive fortification and was built in the mid-thirteenth century.
It has been updated through the years, and now sits, like a white full stop, amidst lush green parkland that was properly landscaped and manicured at some point in the mid-1800s. The castle is open to visitors as a museum containing various articles pertaining to both the former owners of the castle and several items of Croatian cultural importance.
13. Pula – a stunning seafront city located on the tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula
A beautiful seafront city located on the tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, Pula has a true European cultural blend. On the one hand, you have the Croatian influence making its presence felt, but on the other, you’ll easily be able to tell that, up until 1947, it was actually a part of Italy. It has a strong Venetian feel. This is reflected in the food, the people, and the culture, the fact that is a very large port only adds to the ‘melting pot’ vibe. The signs of its former empire are everywhere. There is a very large amphitheatre that is not far off celebrating its 2000 year birthday… But don’t worry they haven’t let an impressive and historical building, capable of housing thousands go to waste.
If you time your visit right you might just get to experience the Outlook festival which is held there in September. In case you haven’t gathered, there’s a vibrant party scene in Pula. There are numerous boat parties and depending on who you ask, you might be able to attend one of its numerous underground parties (we mean that literally, they take place in tunnels under the city, cool or what?). If you have partied your socks off or need some downtime as well as a pretty protected harbour there are also there are beaches and coves spread all across the front of the city. With crystal clear, warm water and soft sand, you have the option of having a beach trip and a city break all in the same day.
14. Korcula – the sixth largest island in Croatia which is a lovely place to explore
If you’ve been to Dubrovnik and found yourself wondering what it was like before boatloads of Game of Throne fans and U.S cruise passengers turned up, then go to Korcula the sixth largest island in Croatia,. It’s like Dubrovnik’s smaller, quieter, better dressed, younger brother (it’s even been dubbed “Little Dubrovnik”). Whilst really quite beautiful, the island doesn’t suffer from the same footfall as many of the other Croatian destinations, by virtue of the fact that it’s just a bit too far to go for your everyday tourist. An island that is long and thin, paralleling the Croatian coast, Korcula offers orange roofs, winding stone streets, and the occasional medieval square, church, and palace.
There is a bit of a debate going on between Italy and Croatia with regards to Korcula, who claims (rightly or wrongly) that the famous explorer Marco Polo was born on its little peninsula. Either way, if you are embracing the spirit of Marco Polo, and planning a boat journey, Korcula offers several charter trips to various destinations and other beautiful islands in the local area. The journey from Split takes around three and a half hours, so go early or stay the night. A gorgeous place in Croatia that is definitely worth a visit!
15. Krka National Park – a beautiful protected area filled with cascading waterfalls
Whilst Dubrovnik is wonderful, you may feel like you want to get away for a while. If this is the case, this is the place to go in Croatia. Located in Southern Croatia this place is not exactly a secret, as it features in most guidebooks, so if you want to avoid the crowds in this popular place then its best to time your visit well.
Once here though you’ll see it’s a very special place to visit, named after the Krka River is home to a series of seven very beautiful waterfalls. Other highlights include a waterfall flanked by traditional watermills, a scenic nature trail, the Krka Monastery which has been built above ancient Roman catacombs, and the 15th-century Franciscan Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy.
16. Sibenik – a stunning historical city to visit in Croatia
If you’ve got the urge to explore winding medieval streets then Sibenik – is a historic city in Croatia, located in central Dalmatia – may be the place to go. Whilst elements of the town are approaching 1000 years old, it has had a few facelifts over the years. Its current style is one of renaissance, with three and four-story buildings looking down onto the azure seafront. It is said to be the oldest surviving example of a true Croatian town, Unesco agrees having designated it a World Heritage site.
As with a great many places on the Adriatic coast, Sibenik has a rather nice beach within a two-minute walk from the town. Jadrija beach is a local favourite, with plenty of amenities. If you’d like a bit of culture and architectural indulgence the Cathedral of St James is seen as something of an architectural phenomenon. It is an amalgamation of Croatian and European styles and was built entirely without cement. There are other churches strewn throughout the town, however, don’t worry if you are not religious, many have been decommissioned and serve as super atmospheric art galleries.
17. Cavtat – a beautiful Croatian town to visit and spend time
If you want to jump off a plane and be lazing around on the beach in half an hour then Cavtat- a pretty resort town on the Adriatic Coast of Croatia, southeast of Dubrovnik – should suit your needs. It’s about a 15-minute drive from Dubrovnik airport. Accommodation in Cavtat is considerably cheaper than in Dubrovnik, and if you are looking to save a bit of cash, but still want to say you’ve visited Dubrovnik, stay here and get one of the very frequent buses into the old town. The quayside is at the bottom of a very steep hill (don’t worry, if you drink enough wine at one of the quayside restaurants then you won’t remember the slog back up later).
There are a plethora of restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets, and as it is west-facing, it is a particularly nice setting to watch the sun go down. Once it goes dark the small harbour becomes alive with beautiful people enjoying the numerous bars and clubs. An amusing pastime is to sit on the front and watch the people having dinner on the back of the superyachts, they are doing exactly the same, they just happen to have paid more to see you! During the day there is a peninsula to the north of the town that has a path, you can walk along it, find a quiet spot and enjoy a dip from either the rocks or the man-made concrete pontoon located halfway around.
18. Opatija – a pretty coastal town and traditional seaside resort
I loved Opatija – a pretty resort town in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County in western Croatia. The traditional coastal resort is just a little bit classy. You can barely turn a street without seeing an opulent villa, designed to cater for the elites of Europe in the 18th century. If you like a good walk with plenty to see head down to the Opatija Promenade, a 7 mile stretch of glorious sea views and fronted by ornate houses.
On the way, you may spot one of the more famous landmarks in Opatija, the statue known as “the girl with the seagull”. If you enjoy beautifully tended seafront parks then you will be in your element. The prices for food and drink get more expensive, the closer you get to the promenade. There are swish restaurants, but we found the food was just as nice (if slightly less polished) in local establishments, where for very little, you can have a choice of dazzlingly fresh seafood, washed down with an authentic Istrian wine.
19. Nin – the oldest Croatian royal city and a beautiful place to visit
Home to the smallest cathedral in the world, Nin is certainly unique and is a great place to visit in Croatia. It’s actually a bit different from our other suggestions, you won’t find the rocks and turquoise waters most commonly associated with the region, but what you will find is the Croatian equivalent of a lovely little Spa town. The town sits in a deep blue lagoon and is connected to the land by two picturesque stone bridges.
The surrounding area is supposedly awash with healing mineral-rich mud that people apply liberally to cure all sorts of ailments, (and no doubt suffer from an increase in laundry bills). Nin boasts that it is the cradle of the Croatian state and has a rich religious and cultural heritage, so if the mud doesn’t work, perhaps taking a walk and touching the toe of the statue of the Bishop Grgur Ninski (who was by all accounts a religious rebel) might make you feel a little better. Failing that, there is a nice sandy beach bordering the town.
20. Povlja – a pretty harbour village located on the beautiful island of Brač
This small harbour town is nestled on the northern coastline of the island of Brac. It’s steeped in history and is home to ancient Roman ship remains and a Basilica dating from the 5th century. It’s also a stunning place to explore, with traditional houses and a gorgeous harbour, it was once declared the most beautiful destination in Croatia (in the small tourist places category) so go now before more people discover this wonderful secret gem!