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The best places to visit in Croatia

Photo of Mary NovakovichPhoto of Mary Novakovich
By Mary Novakovich

7 June 20248 min read

Korčula The exquisite walled old town is one of Korčula's top draws.

With an Adriatic coast that stretches for more than 1,700km (1,104 miles) – not to mention 1,244 islands, islets and reefs – it’s not surprising that Croatia has become a magnet for holidaymakers.

Add to the mix an attractive capital, compelling historic cities and some astonishing hinterland landscapes and you have all you need for an unforgettable holiday.

But where do you begin? We’ve rounded up the best places to visit in Croatia, from its biggest stars to some of lesser-known spots – all of which should be on your wishlist.

Zadar

Croatia’s oldest continuously inhabited city is a captivating blend of old and new.

Ancient Roman and Byzantine structures join Venetian renaissance and baroque buildings, all in the same square. Then you’re brought into the modern world with public art installations along the huge waterfront – the underwater Sea Organ that plays ‘music’ with the movement of the waves, and Greeting to the Sun floor panels that light up when the sun goes down. And you’ll want to stick around for that sunset, preferably taking it in from one of the waterfront bars.

Once you’ve checked out the excellent food market, wandered along the old town’s narrow lanes and had a drink in lively Narodni Trg (People’s Square), go for a swim at Kolovare Beach.

Villa Plat

  • Zadar, Croatia
  • 7 July 2024
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Rovinj

The beauty of Rovinj really will take your breath away. You’ll think you’ve ended up in Venice when you walk past impossibly pretty ochre and terracotta townhouses in Rovinj’s very Venetian old town, which sits on its own peninsula on the western coast of Istria.

Follow the narrow lanes as they wind upwards towards the baroque Church of St Euphemiah, whose tower rewards you with panoramic views once you’ve made it up the rickety steps.

Relax in one of the bars clinging to the rocky hillsides on the southern side of the old town, or in the large square overlooking the harbour. Join the locals on the rocky beach or take the shuttle across to Sveta Katarina island and flop on the pebbly beach there.

Dubrovnik

Croatia’s most visited tourist sight deserves all the attention it gets, even if you have to plan your visit carefully to make the most of this holiday hotspot.

Dubrovnik’s hulking medieval and renaissance walls that encircle the UNESCO-listed old town are a must-see, so try to get there as soon as they open in the morning or come late in the afternoon after the cruise crowds have left.

Although everyone naturally flocks to the old town and its marble alleyways and Venetian stone houses with green shutters, make sure you get to know other parts of Dubrovnik as well.

Check out the beaches in Lapad Bay and along the Babin Kuk peninsula, and visit the trendy bars in the up-and-coming district of Gruž, which is more than just a ferry port to the nearby islands. A boat trip to the tiny island of Lokrum from the old town’s port is too good to pass up.

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  • 17 October 2024
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Korčula

The Croatian island of Korčula is easily reached by ferry from either Split or Dubrovnik, and deserves more than just a quick visit.

Visitors gravitate to Korčula Town, and with good reason. Its walled old town on a tiny peninsula is exquisite, with marble alleyways fanning out from the centre in a fishbone shape.

While you’re there, hop on the bus to the fishing village of Lumbarda and frolic on its sandy beaches – much less common in Croatia than the pebbly or rocky variety.

Paddleboarders and kayakers (and boat taxis) make their way across to the little island of Badija where there’s a Franciscan monastery as well as pebbly beaches.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Croatia’s oldest national park is an extraordinary spectacle – 16 lakes emptying into each other via countless waterfalls and rivers, and all in the most vivid shades of turquoise.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a joy to discover as you follow the wooden walkways and footpaths past the lakes and waterfalls, stopping at the largest lake, Kozjak, for an eco-friendly electric boat ride to the other side.

Electric buses take you to various starting points in the park, with everything designed to protect this extremely delicate ecosystem.

Zagreb

Tourists tend to forget about Croatia’s capital in their rush to get to the Adriatic coast. That’s their loss.

Zagreb has what you want in a city break – a buzzing restaurant and bar scene, lots of fascinating museums (including the perennial favourite, the Museum of Broken Relationships) and a fabulous food market in Dolac, just off the main Ban Jelačić Square.

It’s all wrapped in elegant architecture – a combination of medieval and baroque buildings in the upper town and the Habsburg-era townhouses of the lower town.

There’s even a beach: take the bus to Lake Jarun just south of the city and swim, sunbathe and grab a cold drink from the beach bars.

Split

Often overlooked on the way to Dalmatia’s islands, holidays to Split invite you to stop, have a coffee on the Riva waterfront and – most impressively – get to know its ancient Roman Diocletian’s Palace in the heart of the old town.

The UNESCO-listed ruins of the palace built at the end of the 3rd century AD have long been colonised by bars, shops, restaurants and apartments, and it’s an enthralling place to wander round, especially among the graceful marble columns of the Peristyle.

Then there are the beaches, the loveliest of which are tucked into the forested Marjan peninsula to the west of the port. If you fancy a hike, follow the wooded trails through Marjan for wonderful views of the city.

Split Apartments

  • Split, Croatia
  • 31 August 2024
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Brač

Dalmatia’s largest island is home to Croatia’s most famous beach, the v-shaped Zlatni Rat, whose fine pebbles are so pale they look like white sand. It’s on Brač’s southern coast beside the buzzy town of Bol, where windsurfers gather to make the most of the excellent conditions.

Get some of the best views of Zlatni Rat from the island’s highest point, Vidova Gora, which you can drive to if you don’t want to hike to the top.

Brač’s heavily indented northern coast is a pleasure to meander along once you arrive at the main ferry port of Supetar. Head just to the west to the laidback village of Sutivan and its pebbly beaches, or go east to Pučišća embedded in a deep harbour.

Trogir

Closer to Split airport than Split itself – only ten minutes away – Trogir is one of Croatia’s delights and definitely worth a detour.

Its UNESCO-listed old town is set on its own tiny island wedged between the new town on the mainland and the large island of Čiovo – all connected by bridges.

Wander through its maze of narrow lanes past architecture showing Trogir’s long history – bijou medieval palaces here, Venetian Renaissance townhouses there. Its main square, Trg Ivana Pavla II, has some of the town’s heavy hitters, including its splendid 13th-century Cathedral of St Lawrence.

If you want some beach action, find a spot among Čiovo’s coves or on the town beach on the mainland.

Šibenik

About an hour’s drive north of Split is one of Croatia’s oldest cities but one that often slips under the radar.

Go through the narrow St Anthony’s Channel – too narrow for mega-sized cruise ships – and you reach Šibenik, an enchanting place full of the Venetian architecture you see so much of along the Adriatic coast.

Its gothic-renaissance Cathedral of St James is an engineering marvel, made entirely of stone and with a huge barrel-shaped roof. No wonder it’s also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

While wandering round its attractive narrow lanes, make your way upward to the three hulking fortresses that look over the city, including the closest, St Michael’s Fortress, which has an open-air summer stage for concerts and plays.

Krka National Park

While you’re in Šibenik, take a bus to Krka National Park, one of Croatia’s most beautiful spots. Like Plitvice, it’s a magical place of waterfalls and rivers.

Take the boat from the town of Skradin and you’ll soon arrive at the thundering waterfall of Skradinski Buk. Follow the wooden walkways and hiking trails to various viewpoints overlooking the Krka River before taking the boat to the minuscule island monastery on Visovac. Another boat ride takes you practically within splashing distance of Roski Slap waterfall.

All around the park are footpaths leading you into the heart of this luxuriantly green karst landscape, with plenty of family-run restaurants that make excellent pit-stops for hearty Dalmatian food.

Pula

Here in the southern tip of Istria is one of Croatia’s most historic sights – Pula’s Roman amphitheatre, which was built around the same time as Rome’s Colosseum.

For a structure that’s been around since the beginning of the 1st century AD, it’s in remarkably good shape and beautifully preserved. It also makes an atmospheric setting for summertime outdoor concerts as well as screenings during the Pula Film Festival every July.

A walk through Pula’s lively streets takes you through its long history, where more Roman ruins mingle with Byzantine, Venetian and Habsburg architecture.

On the hunt for a beach? Rent a bike to explore the coves tucked into the madly indented coastline just to the south of the city.

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