20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Croatia
On the cobbled streets of Zagreb, Rovinj, and Trogir, whitewashed arches, tall steeples, and minarets peek above the tourist crowds. Classic old towns, sleepy little fishing ports, well-preserved castles and monasteries, and meandering old coastal roads all add up to a world of alluring Mediterranean beauty. You won't find sandy beaches or warm weather, but Croatia's coast is still one of the most beautiful and unexploited stretches of the Adriatic.
More than just a pretty scene, this part of Europe also boasts historical importance. The fertile Dalmatian Coast was the backdrop for some of the Roman Empire's greatest achievements, from the Villa of the Emperor Diocletian, the ruins of which you can still see today, to the mysterious Illyrian kingdom and a millennium of colorful Venetian rule.
Traveling from town to town, your vacation rental is the perfect base from which to explore the entire country. Use this list of the best places to visit in Croatia to explore the interior and the coastline, and try to plan your trip with the help of our other listings.
Flooding was responsible for the construction of the historic old town of Dubrovnik on a rocky island with steep hills and deep river valleys. As a result, the city is unique in that many of the buildings - built in a dark, purple stone that has weathered with the centuries to a more golden hue - have been shaped by nature and constructed right into the land. The city is divided into three sections: the historic old town of Lovrijenac, forts on both sides of the Old Harbour (once a main trading area with Ottoman maritime power), and to the south, the picturesque neighborhood of Plaža, where many luxury yachts moor. The city's Palace of St. Lawrence, built in the 14th century, served as a defense fortress and royal residence. It now houses the tourist office and other city offices, while the adjoining 19th-century Dominican monastery and its St. Lawrence Church, dating back to the 15th century, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To get the most out of a visit to the city, wander through the winding streets to see the three districts of Lovrijenac, with its network of roads, lanes, and alleyways; forts (first and second town walls); and Plaža, full of cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops. To see more of the city, take a boat ride along the Old Harbour, the most important for trade and boat traffic throughout the Middle Ages.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
The Bosnian, Croatian, and Montenegrin rivers are rushing through the Plitvice Lakes National Park, located on a range of high, wooded hills in southwestern Croatia. The park was established in 1932 when water levels in the River Plitvica threatened to destroy the wooden bridges spanning the river. In 1937 UNESCO designated the Plitvice Lakes the first of the world's "first-class natural parks" and the first-class natural park of Europe. The lakes of Plitvička Jezera, or Plitvice Lakes, consist of numerous high-altitude waterfalls and lakes connected by water channels and cascades. Visitors can only see parts of the park, as it is owned by three countries, although international visitors are not allowed to swim or take photographs in the lakes. Although the lakes are not a natural phenomenon but formed by geology and geomorphology, they can be extremely dangerous because of the plunging water. There are one hundred and fifty waterfalls within the park, as well as eleven water-cascades, including the highest water-fall of all Europe, the Three-Cascade Waterfall (Stari Potok).
With an attractive medieval center and lush vineyards, Rovinj is a charming little town in the hilly region of Istria, midway between Venice and Trieste. The town was first built on a natural bay, with parts of the first city wall surviving. Today Rovinj is a pleasant stopover point on the way to the serene Istrian coast and some of the best beaches on the Adriatic, where you can find crystal clear waters. In summer, it's also a prime holiday destination for Italian visitors and is particularly busy on the August and May bank holidays. Touring the old city is easy on foot or by rented bike, so go along to see the impressive Venetian-influenced palaces and churches and to find out more about the Istrian interior. On the south side of town is the Venetian St. Lawrence Church, which was built in the 16th century with walls covered with frescoes depicting the Venetian warriors St. George and St. Mark. The Pantheon, a 13th-century Gothic-Romanesque church in the middle of the old town, has the largest altar in Istria and is surrounded by a sanctuary, where you'll find carvings of fruit trees and birds along with one of the most famous Gaudí statues in the country: the multi-coloured "Genius of Creation." During the mid-June to mid-September carnival, Rovinj makes a pleasant base for visiting the nearby Enea National Park, and the Illyir valley vineyards which make a good stop on the way to the nearby coast.
Known as "the city of a thousand windows," Split has a stunning array of Byzantine architecture with a backdrop of water and is just a stone's throw from its lovely seafront. The city's main draws are the tourist attractions along its old walls, the Riva and its lavish 19th century façade, and the waterfront promenade, boasting the best collection of sights, bars, restaurants, and shopping in all of Istria. Once a year, the streets are strewn with flowers as part of the annual Procession of the Holy Face, and every year, thousands of people come to pay their respects to the centuries-old statue of the Black Madonna of Cetinje in the nearby hillside monastery.
Zadar, Croatia's second largest city after Split, is on the east coast of the Istrian peninsula. The streets of Zadar's old town, whose baroque architecture includes a Romanesque palace with a striking Gothic belfry, are lined with wine cellars and boutique shops that offer everything from brie to beads to bedspreads and table linen. This is also a mecca for lovers of lace, as the town has been famous for making it for centuries. Zadar's spectacular old town was named one of the best places in the world to hang out by the Lonely Planet guidebook, which praised its charm, genuine character, and modern-yet-historical character.
Zagreb is an historic city and capital of Croatia and the country's biggest city and largest metropolitan area. The city is located along the Sava River, at the westernmost end of the Dinaric Alps mountain range, in the Dalmatia region of southeast Europe. Zagreb's Old Town, divided into a 15th-century central square and a medieval and Renaissance core, is centered on the main street, Narodni trg. Historic and cultural attractions include the City Museum, the St. Mark's Church, the Adria Gallery, the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Croatian Natural History Museum and Zagreb's main tourist attractions are the Ivan Meštrović Pavilion, the Franciscan monastery on the hill behind the Cathedral of the Assumption and the Mirogoj cemetery, which preserves the remains of Sigmund Freud. The city's districts include the business districts of Luža and Marijin Dvor, the hip students' quarter of Dolenje, the student ghetto of Miružić, the Kaptol district, the cosmopolitan Zagreb I, the Student's Zone or Toržak (a small and appealing neighbourhood at the city's northern border) and the Varoš, a prosperous multicultural suburban district west of the city. Zagreb has an international airport.
Stretching some 35 km long and 15 km wide, Krk Island in the Adriatic Sea is an outstanding place to visit. Arguably the most attractive island in the Adriatic Sea, Krk has tremendous coastal views with amazing rock formations and cliffs on either side of it, creating small bays, coves, and inlets that are perfect for exploring by boat. The port of Rab is the main base for Krk tourism and is the island's busiest hub for boats to other parts of Croatia as well as for visiting ferry boats. Because of the many islands, beaches, and bays, boat tours around the island are plentiful and Krk is a destination for both diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. To find a place to stay, stay in the center of the island in town, or in one of the numerous coves and bays.
Kornati is a beautiful archipelago of 18 small islands in the north of the Adriatic and set on the Istrian Peninsula. What makes it a special place is that it's home to one of the last natural seagull colonies on the Croatian coast. The islands, home to wildlife, forests, mountains, and fishing, make an ideal escape for those seeking nature, peace, and quiet. The main town on the islands, Kornati, is located on the northern side, and has a fine maritime museum that tells the story of the islands and their inhabitants. It is also home to the Barbuza café, where visitors can enjoy fresh sea food and tasty beverages. Nearby you will find the picturesque town of Mali Ston, whose old town offers a host of boutique shops and bars. You can then continue on to Lička Kamenica, with its impressive fortifications, as well as the pretty beach of Ojstrica, ideal for watching the sun set. It also makes a nice stop for lunch, when you can dine in a restaurant or perhaps stop at one of the many tiny restaurants that pop up along the way.
Hvar is a Greek island about 500 kilometers east of Split, on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Hvar is considered by many as Croatia's premier holiday destination because it offers plenty of things to do, while in peak season (June to August) it's packed with people. Located on a Croatian coast rich in natural beauty, Hvar is less developed than the other main holiday destination Dubrovnik. This is made evident by its old-fashioned, picturesque resort town of Hvar. Hvar town is made up of its cosmopolitan headland, where many celebrities and wealthy people stay, and its fishermen village on the east coast. A stroll along the sandy beaches of the peninsula provides an alternative perspective. After an island tour of Hvar, visit the island's picturesque coastline in any number of small and large towns, including Stari Grad and Stari Grad Pecine, which are filled with arts and crafts shops and galleries. Be sure to stop for lunch in one of the local restaurants. You'll find plenty of fresh fish dishes, along with some excellent imported wine. For nature lovers and photographers, there are plenty of inland hiking and biking trails in Hvar, which provide beautiful views of the island. Take a boat trip in search of dolphins in Hvar's deep water, and from Hvar's port there are regular catamarans to Split.
With beaches along the Adriatic coastline and a mix of well-preserved and modern houses, Požega, about 130 miles southwest of Dubrovnik, is a less-visited destination with plenty of local charm. Make sure you venture into the old town on the steep-roofed maze of winding streets, from which the views of the beach and hills are lovely. Požega is famous for its traditional cuisine, which features seafood dishes and pasta, and rich local wines. Most of the restaurants are on the seafront; if you prefer a quieter setting, make for the Lapad Woods on the edge of the old town, where the proprietors have set up simple wooden cottages and small restaurants.
The historic town of Pula is in the Istria region of Croatia and is located in the foothills of the Alps. From the 11th century to the 20th century, Pula was a maritime power that built some of the best Roman-era structures in the country. The most important of them is the City Museum, which houses more than a dozen exhibits on the history of the city, including scale models of the main structures in the Roman Forum. The amphitheater, now in ruins, was once the world's third largest after the Colosseum and the Roman Forum in Rome. Other buildings include a 2,000-seat Roman theater; a public bath with an outdoor and indoor pool; a late-19th-century seminary; the Seaview Resort; and an 18th-century palace, still in use today.
Croatia's entry to the Mediterranean Sea, Sibenik is one of the most beautiful places in the country. It is located on a small peninsula with the Sava River meandering along its western coast. Sibenik is well known for its stunning city center, which lies along the coastline, especially along its seafront promenade, which is lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants, while the main sights of the city can be reached by foot from there. Built over a large bay, Sibenik's city center is unique, being the only city of its kind in Croatia. Its appearance is remarkably medieval, with its old fortress looking down over a series of tall and narrow stone houses. Other things to do in the city include visiting the nearby Grotta, a cave carved in the cliffs and home to a natural spring which has been used for thousands of years, and visiting the remains of a long-deserted medieval village of Meštrović, which was later protected by walls and given the name of its creator.
This attractive little fortified town on the Dalmatian coast is one of the most appealing sights in the Adriatic. Trogir was founded as a Roman settlement in 33 AD by Ante, the younger son of the Emperor Hadrian. The city grew wealthy on trade, benefiting from the island's location between the Adriatic and the mainland. After the Turks arrived in the 13th century, Trogir became an important trade center and one of the largest naval centers in Europe. Trogir is the gateway to the beautiful Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape) that hangs dramatically out over the Adriatic and is largely uninhabited. Standing on a stunning cliff face, the cape is a dramatic sight and is adorned with old sea-captains' houses and a monastery, which sits on a pedestal above an ancient Roman basilica.
Rijeka is one of Croatia's most pleasant cities with a university and students mixing with tourists. A bridge and highway between Zagreb and Split converge here. With a long history, this riverside city was once in Roman times and has been a major city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which conquered it in 1805 and ruled it for three centuries. Best times to visit are early spring or late autumn, as the city is less crowded. Excursions from Rijeka include visit to the island of Brac (voted World's Top Island Destination in 2009) and the port of Ploče.
The Pelješac Peninsula
This beautiful peninsula, made up of enchanting hill-top villages overlooking the sea, is the first place you should visit in Croatia. Follow in the footsteps of the Phoenicians, who first traded with the locals here 3,500 years ago. The island has a well-preserved castle with an interesting history, the Church of St. Peter and Paul, and its own Venetian-style fortifications. The town of Mali Ston also has plenty of sights worth seeing, including the 15th-century church of St. Margaret, the City Museum and Ston Town Square with a covered market.
Pazin is situated on the narrow stretch of land that connects Dalmatia and Istria. This medieval city is surrounded by dozens of little towers, some of which have been converted into restaurants. This is also a town well known for its wines, with several wineries located in the town. Some of the highlights include exploring the Town Hall and The Bell tower of Pazin, the Picnic houses in the park by the sea, and visit the church of St. Mary and the Monastery of St. Peter.
Mljet National Park
Mljet is situated on the Adriatic island of Mljet in Croatia. It is a popular holiday resort where there are lots of water sports available. There are great hiking trails, hotels, campsites, snack shops and some restaurants. Mljet has been under the rule of the Roman Empire, the Venetians, the Austrians, the Habsburgs and the Italians. The War of Independence took place in the 18th century and a lot of the material used in the campagin was taken from the destroyed city of Dubrovnik.
Admire the spectacle of Lake Cres on a boat tour of Kvarner and you will find this is no ordinary lake. On the other side of the island of Cres, a vast and utterly amazing salt lake is formed on the sea floor. Here, the water gradually evaporates creating a dry lake floor, which only fills to about 1 meter deep in the summer, with the lake surface reaching a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius, some 240 degrees Fahrenheit! It is a spectacular sight that has been described as the 'biggest aquarium on earth'. The island of Cres is popular for hiking, while Lake Cres itself is home to some particularly impressive flora and fauna. If you are not interested in seeing the salt lake from the land, the Biser from Trstenik will take you on a boat tour across the lake. The north-eastern part of the island of Cres has more of interest, with its beaches, caves and interesting water springs, as well as nature and wildlife reserves. Cres is served by ferry and hydrofoil from the main towns of Rijeka and Poreč, and to the other large island of Rab, home to a beautiful, sandy beach, which is popular for summer tourism.
Poreč is an historic Croatian town, located a 40-minute drive from the coastal city of Rovinj, on a beautiful hillside overlooking the small and picturesque little bays of Plava and Komin. Built on top of a hill along the old trade route between Venice and Belgrade, Poreč was an important center for medieval maritime trade in the late Middle Ages. As a result of this, the town retains an old-world atmosphere despite having only a few thousand inhabitants. Poreč's main attractions are its medieval and Renaissance architecture, such as churches, houses, castles, the Romanesque church of St. Catherine, and the Poreč Grotto, an extraordinary natural phenomenon, where a subterranean labyrinth of water flows beneath a limestone hill. In the low season (from late November through to late March), Poreč is a lovely place to take a break from your travels and just enjoy the local life.
Lying at the foot of Mount Vlasina on Croatia's Dalmatian coast, Korčula is a lovely, unspoilt island with a well-preserved fortified old town and striking scenery. With a substantial shipyard for boat building, Korčula is also home to the UNESCO-listed and well-regarded Korčula Maritime Museum, founded in 1963, which houses a shipyard and has some excellent maritime exhibitions. There are plenty of beaches to choose from around Korčula, but the most popular are near the old town. The Hotel Korčula, a grand building dating from the 19th century, is one of the finest hotels on the island, while Kneževi Vinogradi beach is a short walk from the town.