Basking in the Mediterranean sun between the Balkans and central Europe, Croatia with its spectacular island-flecked coastline, gin-clear waters, rich cultural legacy, and breathtakingly beautiful lakes is undoubtedly the jewel of the Adriatic.
Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the War of Independence in the late 1990s, Croatia has become one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, and it’s not surprising why. The Dalmatian coastline is dotted with 1,244 islands surrounded by white, pebbly beaches and crystal-clear waters. It’s a sailing paradise with myriad little bays to spend the day swimming, snorkeling, diving, or kayaking, and islands like Hvar and Korčula have magical medieval buildings and buzzing nightlife.
The mainland is speckled with bustling cities and quaint villages, many of which have ancient buildings from bygone eras from Venetian palaces and early Slavic churches to Napoleonic forts and Viennese mansions. Dubrovnik is a glorious medieval-era old town set on the water, while Spilt is home to the magnificent 1,700year-old palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian.
Croatia’s natural landscapes are just as alluring. The limestone karst Dinaric Range stretches from Italy to Albania with rugged peaks, forested canyons, and picturesque lakes. The Plitvice Lakes and the Krka National Park boast some of the most spectacular lakes and waterfalls in Europe, and the Kornati National Park features dramatic moonscape-like islands and amazing marine life.
Add to that an array of activities to enjoy from sailing, scuba diving, and skiing in the winter to hiking, white-water rafting, and rock climbing; delicious local cuisine; and world-class olive oil and wines, and Croatia becomes one of the most amazing countries to visit.
Here are some of the best things to do in this beautiful Balkan country.
1.Explore the Medieval Old Town of Dubrovnik
Jutting out into the Adriatic Sea against a backdrop of rugged limestone mountains, Dubrovnik’s beautiful Old Town is one of the most beautifully preserved medieval cities in the world. Sturdy defensive walls encircle the magnificent Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features fortresses, towers, and cannons.
The Old Town is entered through the famous Pile Gate, an impressive structure that dates back to 1537. A 980-foot-long (300 meters) cobblestone pedestrian thoroughfare known as the Stradun cuts through the Old Town and is lined with breathtakingly beautiful old buildings that house boutiques, cafés, and restaurants and offers.
Don’t miss the baroque St. Blaise Church, the Renaissance Sponza Palace, the Gothic Rector’s Palace, and the Fort Lovrijenac. Climb the Old Town’s walls for spectacular views of the town and the glistening Adriatic Sea.
Suggested Tour: Discover the Beautiful City of Dubrovnik: Private Tour
2. Journey Back to Roman Times at the Diocletian’s Palace in Split
Overlooking the Adriatic Sea in the beautiful city of Split, the Diocletian’s Palace is a magnificent fortress with four monumental gates and a grand peristyle (an arcaded courtyard). Built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, it housed the Emperor’s garrison before becoming a luxury villa for the Emperor when he retired to Split in AD 305.
Spend a few hours strolling around the palace and take in the Cathedral of St. Domnius where the Roman Emperor Diocletian was laid to rest; the Golden and Silver Gates; the Temple of Jupiter; and the catacombs. Watch the changing of the guards at noon or visit the palace at night when it is magically illuminated.
The surrounding town of Split is just as spectacular, and the Old Town, which is a pedestrian-only zone is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Suggested Tour: Split: Diocletian’s Palace Walking Tour
3. Rub Shoulders with Celebrities in Hvar
The island of Hvar is one of Croatia’s most popular summer resorts, drawing the rich and famous from around the world to soak up its beauty. The charming Old Town is pedestrianized and has a spacious main square overlooked by a 16th-century Renaissance cathedral and a pretty fishing harbor where traditional fishing boats rub shoulders with sleek luxury yachts.
The Venetian Spanjola Fortress overlooks the Old Town and is well worth the climb up the hill for the spectacular views of the surrounding islands. The rest of the island is just as beautiful, much of which is covered in fragrant lavender fields. There are also pristine beaches like Dubovica and you can take boat trips to the nearby Pakleni Islands, which have secluded beaches and coves for escaping the crowds.
Suggested Tour: Split: Private Hvar and Pakleni Islands Experience
4. Soak up the Beauty of the Plitviče Lakes National Park
Home to 16 aquamarine lakes connected by thundering waterfalls and surrounded by steep forested hillsides, the Plitviče Lakes National Park (Plitvička Jezera) in central Croatia is the country’s most visited inland attraction. The 184-square-mile forest reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a 22-mile network of walkways and hiking trails that wind around and across the lakes. The upper and lower lakes can be explored on scenic boat trips and the park is a haven for fauna and flora, including bears, wolves, owls, eagles, and falcons.
The best time to visit the national park is during the summer, although it can be very busy. The park is open year-round from 7 am to 8 pm.
Suggested Tour: Plitvice Lakes Full-Day Guided Tour
5. Delve into Trogir’s Treasures
The seaside town of Trogir is one of the jewels in Croatia’s crown. The beautifully preserved old town lies on a small island that is connected to the island of Čiovo and the mainland by old bridges and boasts a mosaic of Renaissance, baroque and Romanesque buildings. Dating back to 380 BC, the town was surrounded by medieval city walls, some parts of which are still intact, and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Architectural buffs will delight at the Trogir Cathedral (the Cathedral of St. Lawrence), Cipiko Palace, and the Church of St. Peter. There are several interesting museums and art galleries, plenty of little gift and souvenir shops, and some of the best seafood restaurants in the region. Join the locals and take a walk along the promenade with an ice-cream at sunset.
Suggested Tour: Trogir City: Guided Tour of a UNESCO Heritage Site
6. Sail Around the Kornati National Park
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “On the last day of the Creation God desired to crown His work, and thus created the Kornati Islands out of tears, stars and breath.” And he wasn’t wrong. Made up of 109 mostly uninhabited islands, islets, reefs, and craggy rocks, the Kornati archipelago has stark, lunar-like beauty like nowhere else on earth.
The best way to explore the archipelago is on a yacht, where you can sail between desolated islands and anchor in secluded coves and bays without a soul in sight. The remote island waters have a unique marine ecosystem with rare species of algae, coral, and mollusks and make for excellent swimming and snorkeling adventures.
Suggested Tour: Kornati & Telascica National Parks: Full-Day Speedboat Tour
7. Listen to the Sea Make Music in Zadar
The picturesque coastal city of Zadar is known for its beautiful Old Town filled with Roman and Venetian ruins and Romanesque churches, including a Roman-era Forum, St. Mary’s Convent (11th century), the 9th-century pre-Romanesque Church of St. Donatus, and St. Anastasia’s Cathedral (12th century).
The seafront features two fascinating modern installations that are well worth visiting. The Sea Organ is a musical instrument featuring 35 organ pipes of different lengths and sizes set into marble steps that emit a myriad of tuned sounds generated by sea waves.
The Sun Salutation is a 72-foot round solar panel made from 300 layered glass panels that absorb the energy from the sun and convert it into light at night. The Sun Salutation not only creates a breathtaking spectacle but lights Zadar’s entire waterfront once the sun sets.
Suggested Tour: Zadar Guided Walking Tour
8. Go Hiking in Krka National Park
Nestled along the Krka River in southern Croatia, the Krka National Park is a beautiful park with pristine landscapes of tranquil lakes and cascading waterfalls with traditional watermills, and acres of lush forests. Wooden boardwalks wind through the park past the lakes and waterfalls offering visitors the chance to soak up the park’s natural beauty.
Notable sights in the park include the Krka Monastery, built above ancient Roman catacombs, and a spiritual center of the Orthodox Dalmatian Eparchy. The park is also home to the Roman Catholic Visovac Monastery, which was founded by the Franciscans in 1445, and is built on an island in the middle of one of the lakes. You can visit the island of Visovac and the monastery on a boat tour from Skradinski Buk.
Suggested Tour: Krka Waterfalls Private Tour from Split and Trogir
9. Soak Up the Sun on Zlatni Rat Beach
Located in Bol on the south coast of the island of Brač, Zlatni Rat beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Dalmatian coastline. Also known as Golden Horn, or Golden Cape, the beach is made up of fine pebbles and forms the shape of a shape, which constantly changes due to the winds, waves, and currents.
Stretching over 1,500 feet into the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea and set against a backdrop of pine trees and the rugged Vidova Gora mountain, Zlatni Rat is nothing less than magical. The beach is a protected natural area, and the waters are crystal clear, drawing surfers and kite-surfers from around the globe. A small tourist train runs to the beach every half an hour during the summer, as well as tourist boats from the port of Bol.
Suggested Tour: Bol and Zlatni Rat Beach Tour
10. Watch a Moreska Sword Dance in Korčula
The pretty town of Korčula on the island of the same name takes visitors back to the time of Venetian rule. Surrounded by medieval walls and towers and boasting cobblestone alleyways laid out in a herringbone pattern and lined with aristocratic stone buildings, the town exudes a centuries-old charm that captures the heart of every visitor.
Korčula is said to be the birthplace of the renowned 13th-century explorer, Marco Polo and you can visit his house here. Don’t miss a performance of the traditional Moreska Sword Dance, the island’s proudest tradition and one of the Adriatic’s most unusual customs. The “fighting dance” is staged for tourists just outside the town walls on summer evenings and is not to be missed!
Suggested Tour: Korčula & Ston Full-Day Private Tour from Dubrovnik
11. Mountain Bike in Mljet National Park
Based on the island of Mljet, Mljet National Park is a nature-lover’s paradise with dense woodlands, two interconnected, turquoise saltwater lakes, and several trails that are ideal for hiking and mountain biking. A flat 5.5-mile trail winds around the perimeter of the lakes and has some spectacular scenic views.
A 12th-century Benedictine monastery is set on an islet in the middle of the lakes which can be visited by a taxi-boat. The lakes are perfect for swimming and kayaking and there is only one hotel on the island, so you’re guaranteed a quiet escape.
Suggested Tour: National Park Mljet Island Day Trip from Dubrovnik
12. Explore the Seaside Town of Rovinj
Located on the Istrian peninsula in northwest Croatia, the Venetian-era town of Rovinj is a pretty fishing port with charming pastel-hued houses and a hilltop church with an elegant steeple. Standing sentry over the picturesque town, St. Euphemia can be reached by a tangle of cobbled streets for some spectacular views.
There are several lovely pebble beaches with gin-clear water just outside of town and plenty of art galleries and museums to explore. Don’t miss the Batana Eco-Museum, which tells the story of the batana, a type of wooden boat used by local fishermen.
Suggested Tour: Rovinj: Guided Walking Tour
13. Brave the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb
Based in Zagreb’s medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) district, the much-loved Museum of Broken Relationships is a rather unusual but popular tourist attraction. Originally opened as a traveling collection of donated items in 2010, the museum has grown into one of the city’s hot spots, showcasing personal items that demonstrate failed relationships.
The museum exhibits stories of love and heartbreak – some are lighthearted and cute, while others tear at the heartstrings. Brace yourself for an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Stroll around the medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) district after the museum to see some beautiful old buildings like the Church of St. Mark with its exquisitely tiled roof, the 13th-century Tower of Lotrscak, and the neo-Gothic cathedral with its towering twin steeples.
Where: Ćirilometodska ul. 2, 10000, Zagreb
Opening Hours: 10 am – 9 pm, daily.
Suggested Tour: Zagreb: Museum of Broken Relationships Skip-the-line Ticket
14. Explore Šibenik’s Fortresses
St. Nicholas Fortress, Šibenik
Šibenik is a picturesque, medieval town on the Dalmatian coast with a rich history that dates as far back as the 11th century. The beautifully-preserved historic Old Town center has some elegant 15th- and 16th-century architecture such as the 15th-century Cathedral of St. James (Katedrala Sv Jakova), which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and hailed as one of the beautiful churches in Croatia.
Resting in the sea channel that leads to the city is 16th century Venetian-built St. Nicholas Fortress. Constructed to block maritime Turkish attacks, the fortress is a formidable structure of brick and stone in a triangular shape with 32 resident cannons. The fortress was abandoned in 1979, but you can explore the huge edifice which is remarkably well-preserved. You can only get there by boat though because the land entrance is under construction.
Other fortresses worth visiting are St. John’s Fortress, resting high on a hill above Šibenik and offering breathtaking views of the Dalmatian archipelago. Catch a traditional cultural performance on St. Michael’s Fortress’ the open-air stage.
Suggested Tour: Private Šibenik Sightseeing Tour
15. Visit the Blue Cave on Biševo Island
The tiny islet of Biševo on the island of Vis is home to the remarkable Blue Grotto (Modra Spilja) or Blue Cave where the water is iridescent blue and the surface shimmers in silver. One of ten caves on Biševo, the Blue Cave is the most spectacular and shouldn’t be missed.
The best time to visit is between 11 am and 1 pm on a sunny calm day when the strongest rays of the sun filter through an underwater opening, illuminating the cave with a radiant blue light while objects beneath the surface shimmer in hues of pink and silver. It creates an eerie and almost unearthly ambiance.
The cave can easily be reached by boat from Vis or on a day trip from Hvar or Split. Be prepared for large crowds in summer, so booking a tour is the best bet to get yourself a spot inside the cave.
Suggested Tour: From Split & Trogir: Full-Day Private Blue Cave & Hvar Tour
16. Go Rafting on the Cetina River
River rafting on the Cetina River promises a wet and wild adventure and it’s an easy day trip to make from Split. The river offers fun for all levels from quiet tranquil pools to third-grade rapids, and rafting adventures cover seven miles (11km) of distance and 100 feet (31m) of altitude.
It is only possible to go rafting by joining a tour and there are several companies offering rafting and cliff-jumping experiences, most of which depart from Split daily.
Suggested Tour: From Split: Rafting on Cetina River
17. Explore the Roman Ruins in Pula
The seafront city of Pula on the tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula boasts a rich and storied history which is evident in its many beautiful Roman ruins. Valued for its strategic location, the city was occupied by Romans, Ostrogoths, and Venetians with the Romans constructing a plethora of buildings during their reign, many of which still stand today.
The star of the show is the Roman amphitheater, which dates back to 27 BC and is the only Roman arena in the world with a complete circle wall. The 20,000-seat stadium is still used today to host outdoor events such as movies, food markets, and music concerts.
Other notable Roman structures to see include the Temple of Augustus, in the city’s Old Forum, and the Arch of Sergius with its impressive mosaic floor.
Suggested Tour: Rijeka: Pula, Rovinj, and Panoramic Istrian Coast Tour
18. Party on Pag
The island of Pag is somewhat of a dichotomy. It has long-standing traditions of cheese- and winemaking with paški sir (Pag cheese) being one of Croatia’s most celebrated culinary exports. It is also famous for its intricate handmade Pag lace which is sought the world over.
On the flip side of the coin, the island is Croatia’s clubbing and party mecca and if you want an Ibiza-like experience, then this is the place to be. Novalja is the island’s party town with Zrće Beach a summer nightlife hotspot. Summer sees world-class DJs followed by throngs of partygoers converge on Zrće Beach for a host of festivals and parties.
19. Dive for a Drink at the Edivo Vina Underwater Winery
Tucked away on Croatia’s Peljesac peninsula, Edivo Vina Winery promises a wine-tasting experience like no other beginning with diving for your bottle of wine!
Croatia’s first and only underwater winery, Edivo Vina has perfected the art of drinking and diving. Visitors dive to retrieve their own underwater-aged, barnacle-encrusted bottle of wine from 72 feet (20m) under the sea before drying and sampling the tipple.
The brainchild behind Edivo Vina, Edi Bajurin has spent years perfecting the art, storing the bottles of wine with waxed sealed corks upside-down in clay amphorae and custom-built cages for 18-to-24-months. Divers are rewarded with a uniquely barnacled amphora filled with “Navis Mysterium” wine.
Land-lubbers can cozy up to the bar and sample the wine with their feet firmly on the ground. Wine diving tours are available for licensed divers only and include equipment rental, an amphora of Navis Mysterium, and a wine tasting at the wine bar. Land-lubbers can cozy up to the bar and sample the wine with their feet firmly on the ground
20. Visit the Podgarić Monument
Crowning the hill in the small town of Podgarić, this striking Croatian monument honors those who lost their lives in the 1941 Serbian uprising during World War II. Erected by Dušan Džamonja in 1967, the monument commemorates the people of Moslavina who rose against occupying fascist forces and sacrificed their lives for the freedom and independence of the nation.
Overlooking a tranquil lake, the monument stands as a symbol of power and triumph and is worth a visit just to see the sheer size of the structure. It is easily reached by car from Zagreb.
21. Walk Through Tito’s Secret Tunnels
Located on the island of Vis is a maze of bunkers, caves, underground tunnels, bunkers, and submarine hideouts built by the Yugoslav Army during Tito’s iron-fisted reign between 1953 and 1980. Being the most isolated island from the Croatian coastline, Vis was a perfect location for a military stronghold and was used as a military base with 20 km (12 miles) of underground tunnels, caves, mines, and storage facilities.
The base was abandoned in the early 1990s when Croatia became independent and the secret tunnels are now open to the public and a popular tourist attraction. Many of the tunnels have already been adapted for civilian uses, with some converted into wine cellars.
Suggested Tour: Tito’s Bunker Half Day Tour
22. Walk the Longest Fortress System in Europe
Croatians have dealt with invading hordes for centuries from the early Venetians to the Serbs in the 1990s. Their greatest battle though was the fight against the Ottoman Empire from the south which saw the construction of the Ston Wall, a 4.3-mile-long defensive wall on the Dalmatian coast.
Resembling those of the more famous Dubrovnik harbor, the walls of Ston are twice as long and form the longest fortress system in Europe. They also feature 40 sturdy defensive towers and a vast hillside fortress standing sentry over the city.
Today, you can climb the walls and soak up some breathtaking views of the Dalmatian archipelago and the Adriatic Sea. There are regular buses from Dubrovnik to Ston.
Opening Hours: Summer: 8 am – 7 pm / Winter: 9 am – 3 pm
23. Take an Evolutionary Journey Back in Time
The Krapina Neanderthal Museum (Muzej Krapinskih Neandertalaca) is a modern, multimedia museum that takes visitors back to the age of the Neanderthals. Built next to one of Europe’s most important paleontological sites in Krapina, the museum features a series of exhibits showcasing the fossilized remains of early Neanderthal adults and children found at the site.
The museum is designed with a cave-like entrance and cements walls to reflect the cave dwellings in which the Neanderthals once lived. Outside the museum, a series of paths meander through the surrounding forests to the Hušnjakovo excavation site where life-like figures of Pleistocene animals and Neanderthals stand frozen in time.
Where: Krapina in Krapina-Zagorje County
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm
24. Take a Game of Thrones Tour in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik’s UNESCO-listed Old Town
If you are a Game of Thrones fan, then this is a must! The TV series was filmed in both Split and Dubrovnik with areas in Dubrovnik’s UNESCO-listed Old Town being the fictional city of King’s Landing and King Joffrey’s Lovrijenac Fortress.
Explore the locations used for King’s Landing, visit Fort Lovrijenac (Red Keep) and walk the “Walk of Shame.” Take a ferry to the island of Lokrum to discover the City of Qarth and visit the Game of Thrones museum. You can also venture out to the Arboretum Trsteno which were used as the King’s Landing palace gardens.
Suggested Tour: Dubrovnik: Game of Thrones and Iron Throne Walking Tour
25. Rejuvenate with a Healing Retreat on Mali Lošinj
Locals on the island of Lošinj have long believed it has healing properties from the gin-clear waters and the constant sunshine to the crisp sea breezes. People have been coming to the island for centuries to improve health and help recovery from illness or injury and it was officially declared a health resort in 1892.
The pretty port town of Mali Lošinj is ringed by green hills and elegant Mediterranean townhouses and exudes a serene and tranquil charm. Grand villas, luxurious homes, and deluxe spa resorts nestle among the pine trees and provide a secluded escape to relax and revitalize the soul.