Like much of Europe, Croatia boasts of its share of medieval and historic ruins, but what makes it exceptional is the wealth of stunning natural attractions such as Plitvice Lakes and the spectacular Adriatic coastline.
Perhaps the best-known location in Croatia is the Dalmation coast, a 200-mile stretch of the Adriatic Sea lined with pristine beaches, crystalline waters and ancient cities where cobblestone streets lead visitors on a walk through time. More than a thousand islands dot the Adriatic, many offering adventures like kayaking, sailing and diving. The Croatian countryside is a delight all its own, with olive groves, lavender fields and wineries to explore, plus the chance to spend an afternoon hunting truffles!
I could list many “favorite” destinations in this extraordinary country. But here are 8 you shouldn’t miss.
Split. This ancient city is one of Croatia’s several UNESCO World Heritage sites. At its heart is the Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace, built at the turn of the fourth century. The palace complex is an ancient center, featuring a maze of marble walkways that offer easy access to shops, cafes and bars. Split also boasts a great food scene, a lively seaside promenade, and a busy night life. It’s an ideal base for day trips to many of the Adriatic islands.
Rovinj. Brightly painted buildings and fishing boats line the seafront of this small town on the Istrian peninsula making it one of the most-photographed coastal villages in Croatia. Tradition is important here, as is a vast, varied cuisine, which combines Mediteranean, Slavic and Hungarian influences. Popular day trips from Rovinj include truffle hunting, visits to the Meneghetti winery, and tours of the medieval town of Motovun.
Plitvice Lakes. A natural phenomenon and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Plitvice is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in all of Europe. It encompasses 16 turquoise lakes connected by waterfalls that extend into a limestone canyon. Visitors can explore the area via wooden walkways that wind through and across water and lush forest. Croatians love to spend free time here!
Ston. This history-laden city is the place to sample fresh-plucked oysters from a crystal-blue lagoon and to meet an oyster farmer! Ston’s protective walls, dating from the 13th century, represent one of the longest-preserved fortification systems in the world.
Korcula. Take a speed boat or ferry to the island known as “little Dubrovnik.” The main town is a historic, walled village with Venetian Renaissance architecture and colorful markets. Explore the town’s unique past; spend a day at the beach; or visit a local wine producer or olive grove. Built as a Greek colony and later under Venetian and Austrian rule, Korcula has a deep and fascinating history. It’s also the birthplace of Marco Polo and was a favorite weekend destination of Catholic popes throughout the Middle Ages.
Zadar is a 3,000-year-old city and a treasure trove of archaeological monuments dating from ancient Greece to the Middle Ages.The heart is Old Town, which you can explore on foot. Zadar is also known for a string of beautiful beaches. Enjoy watching the sunset over the Adriatic and listening to the Sea Organ, an intricate artwork that uses waves from the sea to create haunting music.
Opatija, a seaside resort, may be the most romantic spot on the Adriatic. It was once highly popular with Austrian aristocracy. Walk the 12-kilometer promenade and enjoy Opatija’s beautiful parks and architecture. Be sure to see the iconic “Maiden with a Seagull” statue near the boat harbor.
Dubrovnik. The “Pearl of the Adriatic” is an open-air museum and offers a series of cultural events, festivals and world-class restaurants. Allow yourself 1 to 2 hours to stroll the massive 12th-century walls around pedestrian-only Old Town. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, Dubrovnik is King’s Landing!