By far the most popular part of Croatia to explore is the Dalmatian Coast in the south of the country. It’s easy to see why as dramatic mountain ranges give way to beautiful pebbled beaches, bays and islands home to enchanting historic towns and seaside resorts.
Often called the ‘Heart of the Adriatic’, the region stretches from just up above Zadar all the way to Montenegro. Running parallel along the entire coastline are the Dinaric Alps while hundreds of islands and islets lie offshore. The largest and most popular to visit are Hvar, Brac and Korčula due to their attractive settlements and epic scenery.
While Dubrovnik and Split – both prominently featured in Game of Thrones – dominate most visitors’ itineraries, there are plenty of other charming coastal towns to see too. These include the very well-preserved Trogir and adventure-filled Omis among many others. Everywhere you go, you’ll come across ancient Roman ruins and impressive castles, churches and town centers built by the Venetians.
Map of the Dalmatian Coast
South Croatia is also an excellent place for active travelers. Cycling, kayaking and sailing are just some of the many popular activities you can enjoy while in beautiful southern Dalmatia. With wonderful warm weather and wine to enjoy, the Dalmatian Coast is definitely one of the best places to holiday in the Adriatic.
This small town, which is located at the mouth of the Cetina River, has a colorful past. During the 12th and 13th centuries, it was home to notorious pirates who would attack passing ships and then retreat up the river with their prizes.
Today, pirates still play a large role in Omis — not as mercenaries, but as tourist experiences. During August, there is a Pirate Festival and all during the summer months, there is a weekly pirate night. Of course, there is more to Omis than just pirates. The area around this town is an active traveler’s paradise.
Some of the activities that you can engage in around Omis include windsurfing, rafting, cycling and free climbing. Omis is also home to a number of historical sites, such as the 13th-century Mirabella fortress, and beautiful old churches.
Lovely Cavtat, which is located on the wooded Rat peninsula about 45 minutes south from Dubrovnik, has long been a retreat for Croatia’s rich and famous. Today, this charming city is also growing as a tourist destination for non-Croatians, wooing travelers with gorgeous old buildings that date back to the time of the old Dubrovnik Republic as well as the ancient ruins of other settlements.
Among the most popular sights in Cavtat is the Church of St. Nicholas, which features works from the town’s most famous painter, Vlaho Bukovac. Cavtat also has a pretty seaside promenade where you can enjoy a bite to eat while admiring the beauty of the clear blue sea.
Lying towards the northern end of Dalmatia’s stunning coastline is the sunny seaside city of Zadar. Most known for its picturesque old town that is perched on a peninsula, it has lots of interesting historic sights and intriguing modern art installations to visit.
The second-largest city in the region, its desirable stretch of coast has been occupied for almost 3,000 years. While wandering about its atmospheric center, you’ll therefore see centuries-old churches and scenic town squares alongside ancient Roman ruins and Venetian city gates. Highlights here include its well-preserved forum and colossal Cathedral of St. Anastasia.
Asides from exploring its romantic Old Town, you can relax on its beaches or splash about in the sparkling sea. Along its waterfront, you’ll also find two amazing modern tourist attractions known as the Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun. While the latter lights up magically in the evening, the former makes melodies whenever waves gently lap at its steps. On top of watching magical sunsets here, there are exciting excursions to be had to the sun-kissed Zadar Archipelago just offshore.
In medieval times, salt was a very important element. And Ston was and is a salt-producing village located on an isthmus that connects mainland Croatia with the Peljesac Peninsula.
To protect this small village and its prized salt, construction of an impressive 7-km (4-mile) long wall began in 1333. These medieval walls, which stretch from Ston to the small village of Mali Ston, are actually much longer than those belonging to its more famous neighbor Dubrovnik. They are, in fact, the longest defensive structure in Europe and they are sometimes referred to as the European wall of China.
Although the wall once boasted 40 towers, only 20 remain today. The Ston area is also home to oyster beds that are said to produce some of the best tasting oysters in the world.
8. Brac Island
Just an hour’s ferry ride south of Split is the idyllic and unspoiled Brac. Oft-overlooked in favor of Hvar or Korcula, it is famed for its white pebble beaches and world-class windsurfing site. A lovely, peaceful place to visit or vacation, the isle also has loads of fun outdoor activities to enjoy.
Actually the third-largest island in the entire Adriatic, it is separated from the mainland by the narrow Brac Channel. While its interior is quite rugged and hilly, secluded bays and inlets stud its long shoreline. From Brac’s two largest towns Bol and Supetar, you can explore their nearby countryside and coast or enjoy their quiet, charming centers.
There is also the sixteenth-century cliffside Blaca hermitage to see and the Croatian islands’ highest peak to hike up. From Vidova Gora’s soaring summit, sublime views over the whole coast stretch endlessly away before you.
One of the main reasons people visit though is for Brac’s beautiful beaches. The best of the lot is undoubtedly Zlatni Rat; a spectacular spit that protrudes out into the sea’s twinkling turquoise waters. Other than lounging on its sands, you can also go boating, diving, kitesurfing and windsurfing nearby.
To top it all off, Brac is also known for its wonderful wines and white marble. This has been used to build such famous sites such as the Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the White House in Washington, D.C..
7. Makarska Riviera
If you’re searching for sandy beaches in south Croatia, head to the Makarska Rivera. This gorgeous stretch of coastline, which is a popular playground for Europeans, lies between Brela and Gradac and is dotted with both old and new villages. And the Makarska Riviera is also one of the few places in Croatia where you can find sandy beaches in addition to the more common pebbled beaches.
The picturesque area is named for its main town, Makarska, which is tucked into a sheltered bay on the Adriatic Sea. Rising dramatically behind Makarska is Mount Biokovo, the second highest mountain in Croatia and a fun place to take a hike or to go mountain biking.
Yet another of the Adriatic coast’s picture-perfect cities to check out is the handsome, historic Sibenik. Set halfway between Zadar and Split, it boasts countless fascinating churches, old fortifications and fine beaches and viewpoints.
Now inhabited for a thousand years or more, the strategic city has been ruled by the Venetians and Austro-Hugarians. As it was an important bastion against the encroaching Ottomans, four fortresses were erected to protect the city, sea and its surroundings.
Overlooking everything is the sparkling white St. Michael’s Fortress which offers great panoramas over Sibenik. The city’s standout sight however is the fifteenth-century Cathedral of St. James. Decorated with seventy or so sculptures, the Renaissance-style church has some eye-catching artworks and architecture for you to examine.
After getting your fill of history, head to the gorgeous Krka National Park nearby. Similar to that of Plitvice, it has lots of resplendent waterfalls, pools and woodlands for you to amble about. The Kornati Islands are also worth visiting for their dramatic rock formations, old ruins and rich marine life.
One of the best preserved medieval towns in all Europe, Trogir really is a treat for the eyes. Located just half an hour’s drive west of Split, its enchanting center is loads of fun to get lost in. Everywhere you go, you’ll see brilliant historic buildings and scenic stone alleys enticing you on.
Occupying a small isle in between the mainland and much larger island of Ciovo, it is connected to both by short bridges. Enclosed within its fifteenth-century city walls are tons of pretty palaces, churches and even a small castle to see. From their ramparts and the Church of St. Lawrence’s elegant bell tower, you can drink in delightful views over Trogir’s red rooftops and the glittering sea and soaring mountains all around.
When you finally emerge from amidst all its Renaissance, Baroque and Romanesque buildings, you’ll find a wide seaside promenade. Very leafy and green, it takes you by its boat-filled port and has countless outdoor cafes to stop off at.
Split is a bustling city, the second largest in Croatia. For many years, Split, which is located in central Dalmatia, was mainly known as a transport hub and a great place from which to explore the various islands in the area, including Brac.
Today, however, travelers are discovering that this coastal Mediterranean city has a lot to offer. Split’s best-known attraction is Diocletian’s Palace. This large and sprawling complex dates back to Roman times and houses more than 200 homes.
Split is also home to the Cathedral of St. Domnius, a beautifully preserved church. Like Dubrovnik, this gorgeous city has served as a backdrop for the “Game of Thrones” television series.
3. Korcula Town
Did you know that Dubrovnik has a baby sister of sorts? If you travel to the island of Korcula and visit the Old Town of the same name, you will discover an enchanting mini version of Dubrovnik, complete with medieval squares and palaces. Some people even refer to Korcula Town as Little Dubrovnik.
The long and narrow island, which is covered in dense woods, is also said to be the birthplace to Marco Polo, the famous explorer — although the Italians are apparently unhappy about this claim. Korcula is also known for its exquisite white wines. So if you love a good vino, make sure to check out Korcula’s vineyards so you can sample some of this island’s wonderful wines.
2. Hvar Island
You don’t have to be young, rich or famous to enjoy Hvar but, of course, it doesn’t hurt if you want to fit in with this island’s other visitors. Some of the celebrities spotted recently in Hvar include superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce and Prince Harry.
So what is it about Hvar that attracts the mega-rich and the mega-famous? Well, for one thing, Hvar claims to enjoy the most sun of all of Croatia’s islands. Then there’s the island’s capital, Hvar Town, which is famous for its medieval streets and exciting nightlife.
But it’s not just a party island. Hvar is also known for its lovely lavender fields, caves and interesting attractions, such as its 16th century fort, Fortica, and a Franciscan Monastery and Museum.
Dubrovnik is not Croatia’s capital, nor is it the largest city in the country. But it is, arguably, Croatia’s most famous destination. It is also one of its most gorgeous cities.
Known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, this stunning city’s walled Old Town boasts marble streets and is famous for its white buildings crowned by orange roofs. Strolling through Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a feast for the eyes, as you’ll pass by gorgeous, well-preserved structures from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods.
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As if that wasn’t enough beauty to behold, Dubrovnik is also situated on the electric blue Adriatic Sea — a simply stunning backdrop to an already stunning city.