Croatia boasts almost 2,000 km of coastline and more than 1,000 islands. Hop on a boat, and you’ll find quiet islands with untouched fishing villages, and bigger vacation getaways with stunning beaches. Drive along the shore and find quaint seaside towns and epic cities steeped in history. Croatia’s coast is a chest of maritime treasures waiting to be opened.
The famous walled seaside city lying at the foot of a jagged mountain, Dubrovnik is Croatia’s most popular tourist destination. It sits on remains that go back to the 7th century, a medieval town reshaped by a history of Byzantium, Venetian, and Austro-Croatian empires.
Dubrovnik’s historic core seems to have been suspended in time, filled with churches and surrounded by some of the most impressive city walls on the planet. Outside the walls, there’s Mediterranean elegance, gardens exploding in colourful bougainvillea and oleanders, trees with figs and peaches, and of course, the stunning Adriatic and its nearby beaches.
There’s almost no choice but to begin with the City Walls. They are jaw-dropping and demand your attention. Dating back to the 12th century (with some parts going as far back as the 10th), these walls have withstood the countless enemies and still managed to maintain their grandeur (they even survived a modern attack in the 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia). Reaching 25m high and stretching 2km around the old city, take your time walking along this piece of history (and waving to the friendly Croats below).
Towering above Dubrovnik to the north, the 412m summit of Mount Srd offers stunning views of the walled town below and a panorama of the whole coast. Take the cable car up and enjoy the pristine view.
Croatia’s second-largest city, Split, is a great place to see authentic Dalmatian life in action. Always buzzing, this dynamic city has the perfect balance between history and modernity. Within the walls of the old city, walking on ancient stone smoothed with time, you’ll find bars, restaurants and shops thriving as they have for thousands of years. While you’re here, don’t miss seeing Diocletian’s Palace, which was built for the late Roman Emperor in the 4th-century A.D. and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then, continue through the old town and out along the tree-lined promenade, letting this unique city’s charm guide you along the way.
The ancient capital of Dalmatia, Zadar is a mix of medieval heritage and a bustling local life of cafés, art, and unique architecture. Zadar’s incredible Sea Organ, designed by local architect Nikola Bašic, is truly unique. Tucked behind wide slabs of concrete steps which descend into the water, the system of pipes and whistles sing hypnotically to the rhythm of the seas. The city’s old town is charming and filled with Roman ruins and medieval churches, while the surrounding areas have fantastic vineyards and local food producers (look for local olive oil and organic cheeses).
Next, explore Istria, the largest peninsula in the Adriatic, shared by Croatia, Italy and Slovenia. It’s here that you’ll find Rovinj, a spectacular ancient town that sits at the tip of a headland, overlooking the Adriatic. Its tangled web of old-world streets are packed in tight, squeezing towards the seafront. Climb the bell tower of St Euphemia’s Church for wonderful views of the town, nearby vineyards and small forested islands. Take a stroll around the lovely harbour and sample some of the best seafood and uniquely Istrian cuisine.