What are the best places to visit in Croatia?
Known for its beautiful coastline, historic sights and (literally) thousands of islands, Croatia is one of the world's hottest destinations. Lonely Planet even named the country's capital, Zagreb, as the best European city to visit this year. Bordered by Hungary, and across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, Croatia's character is equally influenced by Central Europe and the Mediterranean. And its culture is an intriguing mix of the ancient and modern. Many of the country's historic cities also have exciting arts scenes, excellent nightclubs and world-class music festivals. If you're thinking of a trip to Croatia, here's our pick of the best places to visit there.
Croatia's capital has a lively arts scene and plenty of cafes and bars. It's also home to the Museum of Broken Relationships. It's full of items donated by members of the public, commemorating their failed love affairs. Take the funicular to the Upper Town, and you'll find charming streets and market squares. As well as some of the city's best restaurants. Every Saturday around noon, you can also observe the famous "špica". The locals dress up in their best clothes, and gather together to shop or catch up with friends over coffee. Zagreb is also famous for its festivals. The largest, INmusic, takes place in the scenic surroundings of Youth Island, in the middle of Lake Jarun. Zagreb's Christmas market is also fast becoming one of the most popular in Europe, from late November to early January.
2. Plitvice Lakes
The Plitvice Lakes national park is Croatia's most popular natural site. Found in the mountainous region in the heart of Croatia, the 295 square km park contains dense forests and 16 beautiful, turquoise lakes. Several of which are connected by spectacular waterfalls.
The coastal UNESCO city of Dubrovnik might be Croatia's most recognisable sight. Particularly for Game of Thrones fans, as the medieval Old Town and city walls have a starring role in the show. Among the city's finest sights are the 16th century Sponza Palace and Trsteno Arboretum (one of the oldest in the world). Dubrovnik Bay is also home to Lokrum island, which has lush woodland, a fort, botanical garden and a naturist beach. Running every July and August since 1950, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival features 45 days' worth of open-air performances. You can watch theatre, classical music and dance in some of the city's most beautiful spots.
Despite being just 37 miles across, the island of Pag is the sort of place where you'll can find both traditional culture and clubbing existing side-by-side. On the northern shore of the island, you'll find Novalja. Surrounded by beaches, the resort town is one of Croatia' most popular places to party. It has several open-air clubs, and during the summer months the nearby Zrće becomes a music festival hotspot. A more traditional way of life can be found in Pag Town. Sitting in the centre of the island, it's home to a lacemaking industry that goes back for countless generations. The town's tavernas are the best place to try the island's unique variety of cheese. Pag cheese is slightly spicy in taste. It's produced from local sheep's milk, to a recipe that's remained unchanged for centuries.
Croatia's second largest city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its remarkably well preserved Roman Palace, gothic churches and medieval market squares. The Riva promenade is lined with bars and cafes, and has as a relaxed Mediterranean-style vibe. And if you want to go sailing, you'll find plenty of trips and cruises departing from the city's marina. If you're looking to relax, head out to the Marjan hill, which overlooks the city. Marjan is densely forested, home to a park and the city's zoo. Or, for something more lively, head to the city in mid-July when the massive EDM festival Ultra Europe takes over the Poljud Stadium.
Trogir sits across the bay from Split, just past the Kastel Novi vineyards (believed to be the birthplace of Zinfandel wine). This small, photogenic town is a popular filming location. Like Dubrovnic, it's also featured in Game of Thrones, while its historic architecture has seen it make a convincing double for Venice on occasions. Like Split, you can hop on a boat from the harbour town and visit the nearby beaches. The most popular is Okrug Gornji, a short bus or boat ride away. Nicknamed Copacabana, Okrug Gornji has a diving school, and a fantastic selection of restaurants.
Another of Croatia's best beaches can be found on the nearby island of Brac. Zlatni Rat (which translates as Golden Horn), sits by the town of Bol on the north of the island. Its bright white pebbles are surrounded by thick green pine forest. The island's southern coast has several sandy beaches. Brac's is also famous for its vast limestone quarries (which supplied the building materials for the White House) and St Vid, one of the highest peaks in the Adriatic.
Read our guide to Brac, Split and Bol here.
The city of Šibenik's beaches are particularly good for families. Banj beach is within walking distance of the city centre. While small, it's popular for its crystal clear waters and entertainment facilities. Just to the south of the city you'll find Brodarica Beach, which has recently opened a brand new promenade, lined with restaurants and bars. The beach has a section just for families, and an area specifically for adults, with jet-ski and kayaking facilities. If you're looking to party, take a short ferry ride over to Obonjan Island. The island itself is just 1.5km long, but throughout the summer months, it's home to a non-stop festival. Every day the island welcomes big name DJs, including Gilles Peterson and Norman Jay. Ther's also live music, comedy, theatre, boat parties and film screenings, and gourmet food in the island's restaurants.
Another one of Croatia's festival hotspots can be found in the unlikely location of the sleepy fishing village of Tisno. Formerly a military holiday camp, The Garden is now a beach resort which specialises in live music. Among the biggest summer parties to be found there are the renowned Soundwave Croatia, Defected and Love International festivals.
Rijeka is a major sea port, and the city's skyline is rather more modern than most Croatian cities. But both the mountains of the Platak ski resort and the beach are within a short drive. The country's first rock band, Uragani, formed in the city during the 1960s. And you'll still find several clubs around the city, hosting rock gigs every night. Rijeka's carnival is one of Europe's biggest. And its Summer Nights festival, held during June and July, brings pop-up theatre performances to the city's squares, streets and terraces. Plus, if you go soon, you could go to an event at the Stadion Kantrida. Perched on a clifftop, it offers amazing views of the Adriatic. It's soon to be demolished to make way for a new state of the art stadium.
11. Krk and Cres
Not far from Rijeka you'll find the largest of Croatia's islands, Krk and Cres. Both islands are a similar size, and separated by just a twenty-five minute ferry ride, but they have a very different vibe. Easily accessible via a bridge from the mainland, Krk has plenty of hotels and spa resorts. The island's also a foodie hotspot: head to Baska's tavernas for both local and Italian cuisines. Cres only has a fifth of the population of Krk, and so is a great choice for a more relaxing getaway. You can explore largely uninhabited, but fantastically preserved, Roman and Medieval towns and villages. The island is home to one of Europe's deepest freshwater lakes, some beautiful - and relatively peaceful - beaches, and a wide variety of wildlife.
Found on the Istrian penisular, the city of Pula is very much influenced by its nearby Italian neighbours. Stroll through its streets and you'll find beautiful Italian-style architecture, and even hear Italian spoken fluently by the locals. Among the city's must-see sights is an ancient Roman amphitheatre - the Pula Arena. Despite being built 2000 years ago, much of the Arena remains intact. During the summer months it hosts gladiator fight recreations and authentic Roman food tastings, and concerts by artists like Sting and Tom Jones. Pula also hosts the Dimensions festival - one of Croatia's biggest music events. Featuring both upcoming and iconic electronic music stars, the festival takes place in the historic Fort Punta Christo. Built in the 19th century, the fort is surrounded by forest and overlooks the sea.
While visiting Pula, be sure to get out of town and explore the surrounding area. These include Hum, officially the smallest town in the world. Home to just over 20 people, the town has some truly impressive historic sights, including the frescoes of St Jerolim chapel. There's also the traditional Mediterranean fishing town of Rovinj, and the Istarske Toplice thermal spa. The historic harbour town of Fazana is a good jumping off point to explore the nearby Brijuni Islands. A designated national park, the fourteen islands are home to holiday resorts, archaeological sites, the Croatian President's summer residence and a world-class theatre.
Croatia's liveliest island. People have been holidaying in Hvar for a very long time. Hvar Town's historic harbour is often filled with superyachts. And during the summer months, its bars and clubs are packed with young revellers. The town's most famous nightspot, Carpe Diem, has its own private beach, where you can enjoy open-air parties throughout July and August. You can still get a culture fix though. Check out the former home of poet and playwright Hannibal Lucić. Dating back to 1530, the historic house has been lovingly restored. It has attractive gardens, and is home to the Hvar Heritage Museum.
A very different pace of life can be found on Vis. The island is one Croatia's most unspoiled spots. Formerly home to a military base, Vis was off limits to foreign visitors until 1989, and so has remained largely undeveloped. In fact, there are only two roads to be found on the island. What you will find however, is some wonderfully fresh seafood, and incredible wines. About a fifth of the island is covered in vineyards, and it's even home to its own native variety of grape, which you won't find anywhere else.
Zadar is the oldest city in Croatia. Settled in the 4th century BC, you'll find everything from Roman ruins to medieval churches. On the city's waterfront you'll find two impressive public artworks, inspired by the city's natural surroundings. Pozdav Suncu (Monument to the sun) uses solar energy to create an impressive light show every night. The nearby Sea Organ is a giant musical instrument, built under the promenade, which turns the waves into music. During the summer, Zadar hosts several festivals, covering both theatre and classical music. You can also see bands like The Prodigy and the Pet Shop Boys perform at the Jazine Open Air concerts. Interested in experiencing Croatia for yourself? Check out our selection of Croatia city breaks. And if you have any tips for things to see and do in Croatia, let us know in the comments section.