From major tourist spots to the lesser known hidden gems, Croatia is full of beauty. With so many places to visit and things to do, it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, we’ve narrowed down the best places in Croatia, so you get a truly authentic experience.
The most famous tourist destination in Croatia, you can’t visit the country without seeing Dubrovnik. With an incredible Old Town filled with churches, palaces, and towers, all surrounded by thick defensive walls, the place is nothing short of charming. If you’re feeling active, walk the city walls — they cover a circuit of 1.2 miles and offer stunning views of the town and sea from every angle. Afterward, visit the St. Lawrence fortress and go up Srd Hill on the cable car, the panoramic scenes are unforgettable and demand photos. Dubrovnik can be expensive and gets particularly busy during the summer months when tourists flock for festivals and relaxing breaks. We recommend spending a couple of days here and moving on to your next destination.
2. Plitvice National Park
The most touristy inland attraction in Croatia, Plitvice National Park is famous for its emerald-blue lakes and waterfalls. There are 16 lakes, all connected by trails and wooden bridges crossing fast-running streams. The lush, beautiful water world is not to be rushed, take 2 days minimum to explore the park at your leisure, enjoying a taste of Croatia away from the coast. We also advise not going during the summer, when the park sees exceptionally high volumes of visitors.
Split is Croatia’s second largest city after Zagreb but in reality, it feels more like a town with a population of about 250,000 people. Split is famous for Diocletian’s Palace, built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The palace comprises most of the Old Town — essentially a walled city accessed through four huge gates. Within the walls, you’ll find churches, palaces, and squares including the Peristyle: the main square which features an arcaded courtyard and looks out over St. Domnius Cathedral and its magnificent bell tower. Besides the palace, Split has the Riva, the promenade along the harbor, and Marjan Hill, a large city park with glorious views over the city. Like Dubrovnik and Plitvice National Park, Split is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Unlike Dubrovnik, Split still maintains a particular hidden gem quality; visitors will likely see locals shopping and eating in the city center, and Split is also the best base visit both the islands and the Dalmatian interior, meaning it has an authentic Croatian feeling to it.
Located in Istria (northeastern Croatia), Rovinj is the jewel of the region. It’s a small town that sticks out into the sea having previously been an island. In the middle of town, on a hill, is the Church of St. Euphemia — the bell tower is prominent and can be seen from miles away. Rovinj is just about the prettiest place you’ll see anywhere, with pastel-colored buildings, windy alleys, and fishing boats in the harbor. It’s also known for its glorious sunsets.
If you’re on a tight schedule, one day is enough to explore Rovinj, but if you have time, Rovinj is the kind of place you may want to stay for awhile. Besides the Old Town, there are beaches as well as great cycling opportunities very close to town. Rovinj also makes a great base for exploring nearby coastal towns such as Pula, Porec, and Novigrad, as well as the hilltowns of Istria.
5. Hvar Town (Island of Hvar)
If you’re limited on time and want to visit at least one Croatian island, it should probably be Hvar. The most popular of the Croatian islands, Hvar Town’s reputation as a party island, plus its beauty and historical attractions (Venetian-era buildings and a wonderful fortress overlooking the town) make it really is a picturesque place. Not to mention, Hvar Town can easily be visited on a day trip from Split.
Makarska has some of the most spectacular coastal geographies in Croatia. The small town is known mostly for its beaches and for its location at the foot of Mt. Biokovo, Croatia’s second highest mountain. The town itself is pretty but, apart from the main square, doesn’t feature any significant attractions. Instead, Makarska is the place to enjoy nature: lying on the beach, enjoying the views, hiking, and biking along the trails around town. If you’re feeling adventurous you can hike or drive up Mt. Biokovo. The National Park has breathtaking viewpoints, educational trails, and historical attractions.
Šibenik is often overlooked by visitors to Croatia, so why is it worthy of a place on our list? Firstly, it has the Cathedral of St. James, a UNESCO World Heritage site with an extremely impressive exterior. Across the square is the impressive Town Hall, built in typical Venetian-loggia style, while steps away is the Church of Santa Barbara. Because the Old Town is built on a hill, there are lots of steps and narrow winding alleys which lead visitors to St Michael’s Fortress. Located at the top of the hill, the fortress has views overlooking the town, sea, and islands beyond. A 20-minute walk inland brings you to two other fortresses, both with equally amazing views. A fourth fortress, St Nicholas’ Fortress, is a couple of miles out of town, guarding the channel that leads to the city. Šibenik is not the place for beaches — but if you’re looking for history and architecture it’s your place.
8. Town of Bol (Island of Brač)
Brač is a beautiful island with a couple of nature spots that have made it notably famous. Both are near the small and charming town of Bol. The first is Zlatni Rat beach, the most famous beach in Croatia. The beach is an almost-triangular spit of smooth white pebbles that extend out into the sea with the water on either side clear. The second natural attraction is Vidova Gora, the highest peak in the Adriatic Islands at 2,552 feet. You can hike up in two hours and enjoy sights looking straight down at Zlatni Rat.
Bol itself is a little town and many visitors come for the relaxed lifestyle. There’s a 1-mile path leading from Bol to Zlatni Rat lined with nice hotels, resorts, and other beaches. Tip: there’s a fantastic winery in the center of Bol called Stina — go there to unwind after a long day of exploring.
9. Vis Town, Vis Island
If you ask a Croatian what their favorite island is, many will say Vis. Compared to both Hvar and Brac, Vis is really laid back. The town is pretty and extends along a bay overshadowed by large hills. Further along, you’ll find smaller bays with beautiful beaches and pine forest. If you want a relaxing Croatian island this is the best choice.
About halfway between Split and Makarska is the small town of Omiš. You can’t miss it — you’ll pass over a river (the Cetina river) and see huge cliffs rising on either side of the gorge. The dramatic scenery is a particularly special welcome to the town.
Omiš is known as the adventure capital of Croatia. You can go zip lining here, go canyoning, climb, white water rafting, or do some hiking. At the top of one of the cliffs is the Starigrad Fortress, where travelers can hike up in 45 minutes. The town itself is small and picturesque, with a second fort (the Mirabella Fortress) being worth a visit also. Only 30 minutes by bus from Split, Omiš is a great day trip.
Trogir is a small town with a huge concentration of attractions considering its size. With a famous Cathedral, belltower, fortress, seaside promenade, and a whole bunch of churches within a walled old town, Trogir has an abundance of things to explore. Trogir is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and is incredibly well preserved. Walk around in the evening and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back to Venetian times. Trogir is about 40 minutes up the coast from Split.
Zagreb is Croatia’s biggest city, on par with the capital. Unlike the coastal towns and islands listed above, Zagreb is a Central European city and many will recognize aspects of Budapest or Vienna (although on a much smaller scale) here. Check out St Mark’s Church, Zagreb Cathedral, Jelačić Square, and Strossmayer Square — a large rectangular park extending from the train station. Zagreb is another side of Croatia and comes highly recommended by travelers.
About the authors: Frank and Lissette are digital nomads who write at bbqboy.net. They’ve been traveling full-time since 2014 and have been featured in the Associated Press, Business Insider, and chosen as one of the Best Travel Blogs by Holiday Lettings (part of Trip Advisor).