Croatia… Close your eyes and immerse yourself in the sound of the sea surrounded by small islands overlooking crystal clear coves. Breathe in the scents of the Mediterranean maquis and the charm of the fishing villages, with the characteristic brasseries where you can taste the fish and a thousand typical specialties. Immerse yourself in the history of medieval villages, where you can stroll through narrow stone-paved streets and admire suggestive architecture. Welcome to Croatia: a destination that satisfies everyone, from families to entertainment lovers, from nature lovers to cultural vacation enthusiasts. The Croatian coast stretches for thousands of kilometres. Traveling it by sea is an amazing journey: you will be surrounded by the most beautiful islands in Croatia, such as those that make up the Kvarner archipelago and the Kornati islands, Venetian villages and green views. You can admire famous UNESCO sites and stroll through large natural parks embroidered with magical waterfalls.
Croatia’s beaches need no introduction: from Pula to Dalmatia, sea views are guaranteed. Don’t settle for the most obvious destinations – the secret is to walk around. A country with an extremely diverse geography, Croatia is a small country in the Balkans (127th country in the world and 19th in Europe in area) which has varied landscapes and tourist characteristics. Its coasts are particularly indented with almost 700 islands. Located between the East and the West, Croatia is naturally on the major trade routes which have brought both wealth and aggression throughout the last 2 millennia. We have listed the 12 best places to visit in Croatia.
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Krka National Park
Krka National Park – The Krka (“keurka”) is one of the most spectacular natural sites in Croatia. The Krka National Park occupies 109 km2: a good part of the Krka river, the Visovacko jezero lake and waterfalls (especially the Skradin falls). It rises near Knin and flows into the Adriatic at Šibenik, 73 km downstream. Krka National Park was created in 1985 to protect the waterfalls and the fauna and flora that inhabit them. Every year the Krka National Park receives hundreds of thousands of visitors. They go to Krka mainly to see the Skradin Falls and to bathe while looking at this magnificent landscape of waterfalls.
The Krka River has dug a deep valley and, in a particular place, the sedimentation and the moss that have been deposited have created a succession of natural dams that give rise to waterfalls or rapids. And for about 800 m, this fairly large and fast-flowing river crosses a kind of “mangrove”. It is a delight to walk on wooden pontoons which allow you to discover at each step a dragonfly, a butterfly, a frog, whole trees with your feet in the water or, conversely, drier areas where belvederes are arranged to overlook the waterfalls. At the foot of the last waterfall, a bathing area has been set up.
The Istrian peninsula is a succession of enchanted beaches and ancient stone villages, where tradition is still alive and does not seem to fear too much the invasion of tourists: in the middle of summer, Istria is crowded with holidaymakers, but just come in low season to discover its most secret face. The seaside villages and medieval towns, the Venetian-style bell towers – including the church of Rovinj – are real pearls of the Adriatic: a delight for those who sail along the Istrian coast, among the dives and cultural tastings.
Not to mention the gastronomy? Impossible! The variety is greater than you can imagine and goes far beyond the classic lobster. The hinterland is also rich in treasures: just go a little further, for example, to discover Motovun, a charming fortified village that extends over an endless valley. This is just one of the surprises that this region has in store for us, rich in art and history, whose beaches enchant holidaymakers as much as its cultural beauties.
Plitvice National Park
The Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička Jezera) are one of the wonders of Croatia, its beauty earned it the status of National Park in 1949 and its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. It is in fact the Croatian national most visited and known, even outside its borders. Against a backdrop of forested mountains, sixteen lakes stretch over almost 8 kilometers on a karst plateau, and each lake pours over bubbling waterfalls, a total of 92 waterfalls over a vertical drop of 133 meters. A magnificent postcard that reminds us of the Krka site! The Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička Jezera) are in the karstic plateau which separates the Mala Kapela mountains from the Lička Plješivica massif.
The upper lakes are in wide valleys and the lower five lakes, a hundred meters below, are in a canyon with many caves. On an area of 296 km2 there are 16 large lakes, 92 waterfalls, small rivers and a beech and pine forest with a great wealth of flora and fauna. Two sources feed the lakes: the Black River and the White River, which form the Matica which flows into Lake Porscansko. The Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička Jezera) are divided into 12 Upper Lakes (Gornja jezera) of harder dolomitic rock (Lake Proscansko, Lake Ciginovac, Lake Okrugljak veliko, Lake Batinovac, Lake Veliko, Lake Malo, Lake Vir, Lake Galovac, Lake Milino jezero, Gradinsko lake, Burgeti lakes, Kozjak lake) and 4 lower lakes (Donja jezera) which form a limestone canyon: Milanovac lake, Gavanovac lake, Kaluderovac lake, Novakovica-brod lake.
Dubrovnik was the capital of an independent maritime republic, able to compete with the overwhelming Venetian power, thanks to its alliance with the Republic of Ancona. Gate of the Balkans, it was a crossroads of trade with the East: metals, oil and spices passed through its port and many consuls supervised the routes. Ragusa’s fortune reached its peak between the 15th and 16th centuries: a golden age of which precious traces have been preserved. The historic center, enclosed within the ancient walls, is a Unesco jewel characterized by a fascinating historical and artistic heritage and a profusion of churches, squares and palaces: among the most emblematic, the Rettori Palace, the heart politics of the Republic.
The “pearl of the Adriatic” is surrounded by towers and fortresses overlooking the sea: the panorama is sensational. Lively and cosmopolitan, Dubrovnik is a city of culture with a rich calendar of events: its annual summer festival transforms streets, palaces and churches into stages. After immersing yourself in the history of Dubrovnik, you can treat yourself to an excursion to the island of Lokrum and sunbathe on the most beautiful beaches in the area.
The island of Hvar is also called “Madeira of the Adriatic” because of its pleasant climate, lush vegetation and magnificent views. The Stari Grad plain is a UNESCO protected landscape, which has remained virtually unchanged since the time of Greek colonization: with its stone walls and the plain planted with vines and olive trees, it is the example the best preserved agrarian plots of ancient Greece in the Mediterranean.
Once an important trading port, Hvar preserves villages with stone houses, built in the typical Dalmatian style, and picturesque fishing villages: it is the ideal place to discover the tradition and the art of good food, ranging from goat cheese to fish soups served in the island’s brasseries. But also to discover the ancient art of lace, woven with the threads of agave leaves.
Among the most popular beaches is Mina Bay in Jelsa: the area, framed by mountain peaks, is the one with the richest and most luxuriant vegetation. Opposite Hvar is the archipelago of the Spalmadori Islands, a paradise made up of rocks and islets with small beaches popular with naturists. For those who don’t disdain worldliness, Hvar offers lively nightlife and numerous clubs and beach bars. Moreover, the island is so popular with the jet set that it represents the Croatian analogue of Saint-Tropez and the Côte d’Azur.
Split is a city with a millennial history. Of Greek foundation, the largest center of Dalmatia shelters one of the most important ports of the Mediterranean. And the most interesting, one of the most famous Roman monuments in the world: the famous Palace of Diocletian. Large fortified villa was built according to the typical structure of the castrum, the Roman military camp, and lined with massive towers.
The enclosure walls are interrupted by monumental gates, each of which bears the name of a particular metal. The grandeur of the palace is almost awe-inspiring, honoring the power of the glorious emperor who spent the last years of his life here. Inside the complex – whose perimeter coincides with that of the historic center – there was also the Mausoleum of Diocletian, later converted into a cathedral. There are many other things to discover within the palace grounds: the advice is to take a few hours to discover all the details.
Located south of the Lim Channel – a bewitching fjord framed by forests that give it the appearance of a canyon – Rovinj is the most visited town in Istria. Its famous old town is dominated by the Church of Saint Euphemia, with its slender bell tower reminiscent of that of Saint Mark. Rovinj was, unsurprisingly, an important city in the Venetian Republic which surrounded it with walls to protect it from pirates. Strolling through its steep stone streets, its typical bistros and its art galleries is an exciting experience: its picturesque views make it a very romantic destination. In front of Rovinj, the sea shimmers with small islands, like St. Andrew’s, also known as the Red Island, lined with rocky and pebble beaches.
In Zadar, the sea sings, literally: thanks to its marine organ which emits a melody inspired by the wind and the pursuit of the waves. The design is due to the same artist who designed the Salutation to the Sun, a unique work dedicated to light and made with photovoltaic panels. In addition to these gems of urban art, Zadar, a city with a millennial history, has a long series of monuments ranging from Roman ruins to ancient churches, such as that of San Donato and the Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Anastasia. The city is full of culture, exhibitions and museums and is surrounded by unforgettable beautiful landscapes like the Kornati National Park, which can be easily reached by day trips. Also note Zadar maraschino, a sweet liqueur – or rather, rosolio – produced for generations with the delicious local cherries.
The tourist fame of Pula is linked – in addition to the surrounding beaches – to the amphitheater of the Flavian era, once the scene of gladiator fights and today magnificently preserved: a majestic spectacle, all the more so since in the time of Vespasian, it could accommodate more than 20,000 spectators. The Croatian Colosseum is surrounded by important monuments, such as the Roman gates – the Gemina gate and the triumphal arch Sergi – and the Temple of Rome and Augustus, a place of worship dedicated to the goddess and Emperor Octavian, in next to which the town hall is located. In addition to its rich historical and archaeological heritage, Pula has a lively center filled with museums, shops and clubs.
Located at the tip of Istria, Pula is characterized by its steep coastline: there are some of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia, a sensational setting to relax by the sea after admiring the beauty of the ancient city. From the Brijuni islands to the beaches of Medulin and Premantura – don’t miss the Kamenjak peninsula – summer offers magic: but also the low season, especially for cycling enthusiasts.
Dominated by forested hills, the city of Zagreb is a metropolis full of green spaces and charming palaces. Developed between the Sava River and the slopes of the Medvednica, the Croatian capital is unexpectedly beautiful, with Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, Austro-Hungarian palaces and beautiful churches. Symbol of the upper town – essentially pedestrianized and the main meeting point of the city – is Saint Mark’s Cathedral, in the center of the square of the same name, very characteristic with its polychrome enamelled roof.
The city is full of galleries and clubs and hosts various cultural events and festivals of international importance. It is also a popular shopping destination: a visit to Dolac, the famous open-air market, is a must. The fortified city of Medvedgrad, known for its imposing castle and hiking trails, is located in the vicinity of Zagreb. Be sure to visit Samobor, a museum town where you can admire the ruins of the medieval village and stroll through pastel-colored houses, ancient churches and craft shops.
The island of Brac is known for its famous white stone, which was used to build the White House in Washington. The white marble island, the largest in central Dalmatia, is however even more famous for its superb beaches. Among these is the Zlatni Rat, or Golden Horn, near Bol: a wedge of pale sand that slips hundreds of meters into the turquoise sea, constantly changing shape with the whims of the winds and tides. It is a true emblem of Croatian tourism, lined with numerous beaches surrounded by green pine forests and enveloped in the aroma of sage and rosemary. The bays of Supetar, the main center of the island, in particular that of Milna, are also delightful.
The coast offers numerous equipped beaches and diving centers for lovers of water sports and diving: but also fantastic routes to be covered by bicycle, to explore without haste the most evocative corners of the island and the wine routes. Try the typical smutica, a local drink made from red wine and goat’s milk. There is no shortage of historical evidence and artistic and architectural attractions, such as the remains of the fortified basilica of Povlja, which dates from the early Christian era.
If you love diving – or want to treat yourself to a fantastic sailing trip – Telascica Park is the perfect backdrop. Located on the long island (Dugi Otok), the largest in the Zadar archipelago, it is made up of islets, rocks and lush bays. The location is strategic: it is located opposite the Kornati Islands, a wild paradise made up of dozens of small islands. The naturalistic charm of the park is remarkable. Its cliffs rise 160 meters, plunging into the depths of the sea: the steep reefs called Stene sink another 80 meters below the surface, sheltering colorful corals and, out of the water, the nests of peregrine falcons. You can discover the park by bike or by walking along its paths. Telascica Bay is a must for yachtsmen, who can find here one of the best sheltered natural harbors in the entire Adriatic.