Croatia is, without a doubt, one of my absolute favourite countries! (At least from those that I have visited so far…)
Even just going through the thousand or so photos from my trip for this post has me falling head over heels in love with Croatia all over again!
Croatia’s charming cobblestone streets and beautiful limestone buildings with their iconic red rooftops are just so pretty!! 😍
They also clearly showcase influences from many a diverse culture over the course of its history, including Roman, Venetian, Hungarian, French and Italian.
Croatia quite simply has the perfect mix of everything my heart holds dear!
Islands surrounded by glistening, crystal clear water. Immaculate beaches. Exquisite scenery….
With stunning world heritage sites and a thriving food and wine scene to boot, it’s hard not to fall in love with Croatia’s beautiful Dalmatian coast.
Of course, these days, Croatia has become popular, in part, due to Game of Thrones. Many scenes in this popular TV show were filmed in Croatia. But, I was there long before I ever watched an episode of Game of Thrones, and I loved every beautiful city and island I visited!
In my mind, the only true way to see Croatia, the Dalmatian Coast, and all this area has to offer is to go on a sailing adventure visiting some of the numerous Croatian Islands.
Each Croatian island has a charm of its own, ranging from secluded beaches, true natural beauty, fascinating history and a rich and diverse culture.
Croatia’s array of islands along the Dalmatian Coast can all be reached using the excellent boat and ferry system in the area. Or, you can rent a boat and create your own itinerary.
Alternatively, if you’d like to take all of the hassle out of it (which I’m a big fan of!), there are plenty of companies that offer sailing tours from Split to Dubrovnik (and vice versa).
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Split – The Perfect Gateway to Croatia’s Islands
This UNESCO World-Heritage listed city is the perfect spot to kick off your Croatian Island adventure.
Split is a major travel hub for the Dalmatian coast, and as such has many ferry, train and bus routes passing through it.
The second largest city in Croatia, Split has a fascinating blend of ancient history and modern living, with a fun and vibrant vibe!
You’ll see what I mean when you visit Diocletian’s Palace.
Originally built in the 3rd century (over 10 years!) as Roman Emperor Diocletian’s enormous retirement palace, today it is one of the best preserved and imposing Roman monuments in the world.
These days though, it’s not so much a palace as it is the heart of the city of Split.
Do bear in mind that it is no longer a complete structure, although the original quadrant layout still exists.
Its remaining structures are now interwoven with shops, cafes and markets, creating a vibrant centre in the old town.
Most days, you’ll find people relaxing on the steps surrounding the square, soaking up the sun and perhaps (my personal favourite!) sipping a chilled glass of Croatian wine.
The Bell Tower of the Cathedral of St Domnius rises impressively over the palace square. You can climb to the top of the tower (for a fee) for a spectacular view over Split.
Other sights worth visiting during your time in Split include the Temple of Jupiter (now the cathedral’s baptistery), and the Palace basement.
If you’re somewhat short on time, a great way to see all that Spit has to offer is by going on a walking tour of the old city.
Walking tours are my favourite way of getting familiar with a new city. It’s the perfect plan if you want to learn a bit about a city’s history and (hopefully!) get some great local recommendations from your tour guide.
Reminder: Make sure you bring your camera! Like everywhere you’ll visit in Croatia, Split will have you snapping away photo after photo!
Did you know that Hvar island averages over 7 hours of sunshine per day?!? It is aptly nicknamed “Sunny Hvar” (Sunčani Hvar)!
Perhaps not surprisingly, this makes it is the sunniest of any Croatian Island (Yep, sign me up please!)
Despite this, it is beautifully green with the smells of lavender, rosemary and heather wafting through the air.
Our first stop on Hvar – Croatia’s longest island – was Stari Grad.
Located on the northern side of the island, it is Hvar island’s Old Town (Stari Grad literally means “Old Town”)
Not only that, it is actually one of the oldest towns in all of Europe!! Can you feel yourself going back in time yet?!
Like so many places in Croatia, Stari Grad is a UNESCO World Heritage listed town.
Back in the 4th Century, it was a bustling sea port. Today though, it is a lovely and quiet pedestrian-only town.
I would suggest that you use Stari Grad as the calm before the storm if you’re planning on heading on to stylish Hvar town later… (more on that below!)
Stari Grad is quietly beautiful, with lots of narrow streets, small squares and plenty of green olive-groves on the hills beyond.
Hvar town is posh, swanky and full of life!
If you’re after a big night out, Croatia’s party town, Hvar, is definitely the place to be.
Its legendary beach bars will have you partying into the early hours if that’s your style! 🥂
They say the rich and famous come to hang out here, and the glitzy yachts moored in the bay would certainly suggest that “they” are right!
Hvar is not all about the nightlife though!
During the day, this gorgeous small bay town offers some truly wonderful architecture.
The Cathedral of St Stephen, arguably the most impressive building in town, dominates the eastern side of the old town square, Hvarska pjaca.
If you’re up for a bit of a hike, I highly recommend taking the steep path winding north from the old town.
The path will take you up to the 16th century Fortica Španjola (Hvar’s Venetian fort).
This is, without a doubt, the best vantage point to see the majestic town of Hvar, and the open stretch of sea beyond.
Don’t believe me? Just check out this photo! I could’ve sat here all day just looking out at this spectacular view!!!
Vis island is the furthest from Croatia’s mainland and perhaps less developed than some of the other islands.
But, this makes it the perfect spot for relaxation after Hvar’s buzz.
Vis island is famous for wine and anchovy bread, and has a bit of a Tuscan feel to it thanks to the many olive gardens and vineyards around the island.
The two largest towns on Vis islands are Komiža and the town of Vis.
For any film buffs out there, Komiža is where “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” was filmed in 2017.
Vis Town is located in a large bay of Saint George on the north-east side of Vis Island. The southern side of the island, however, is home to some of Croatia’s most eye catching coves and beaches.
If the weather (and tide) permits, make sure you visit the stunning Blue Caves (Modra špilja on the island of Biševo, off the coast of Komiža).
The cave is only accessible from the sea at low tide on days when it is calm, so you’ll be extra lucky if you get to tick this experience off your Croatian bucket list!
Unfortunately, we were less fortunate, and did not get to experience this amazing natural phenomenon. The cave is flooded in a wondrous blue light when the sunlight shines through an underwater entrance.
If you don’t go on an organised sailing trip around Croatia’s islands, chances are you’ll land in Vela Luka as it is Korčula island’s main port for car ferries from Split.
It has a laid back vibe, although you may be lucky like us, and happen upon a restaurant where a local choir is singing acappella style!
You’re unlikely to get lost in Vela Luka as the streets are numbered rather than having names, so it is easy to navigate.
Vela Luka lies on the western side of the island, in a wide bay surrounded by beautiful coves with unusually blue water. White cliffs and green slopes covered in vineyards and olive trees decorate the hills above the town.
If you venture out of town, through the olive groves and up Pinski Rat hill, you’ll find Vela Spila (“The Great Cave”).
Basically a big, gaping limestone cavity with two large holes in its roof, through which the sunlight filters through basking one lone tree in sunlight.
Vela Spila is the earliest known home of modern humans on the Adriatic.
Archeological digs led by Cambridge University take place here every autumn. Here, they have uncovered what are believed to be some of the earliest examples of clay craftsmanship in Europe – thought to be around 17,500 years old!
Next on our agenda was Korčula Town.
This captivating fortified town on the east coast of the island still rivals Dubrovnik as my favourite place in Croatia!
While perhaps not as big, this little gem is steeped in history and professes to be Marco Polo’s birthplace. (You can choose to agree or disagree with this one, but you know, it adds a nice touch!)
Venetian, Roman, Greek and Slavic influences have created a stunning Old Town.
Sailing up to this walled coastal town with its defensive towers in the sparkling sunlight was simply magnificent! It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Croatia…
If you fancy a drink, you’ll get exceptional views from Massimo’s cocktail bar, which you’ll find at the top of a 15th century tower!
There isn’t a lot of room, so expect to get cozy once you’ve climbed the steep ladder up to the turret!
And, drinks are pulled up from the bar below by a pulley!
Korčula is a wonderful place to stay a while, offering many coves and beaches, beautiful landscapes, and world class sailing and windsurfing.
The main attraction on picturesque Mljet is its National Park, which covers the entire north-west of Mljet island.
It’s a peaceful place to spend the day walking or cycling around.
Paths are clearly marked and there are numerous short and long walking routes to choose from.
The paths circle the two salt water lakes in the National Park – Veliko and Malo Jezero (Large and Small Lake).
There is a small islet in the middle of the Large Lake. This is St Mary’s island (Sveta Marija), and houses a cafe in what used to be a Benedictine monastery.
Small boats can take you to and from the small island for around 30 Kuna return.
Or, if you’re feeling a bit more active, you can rent a kayak or small rowing boat and paddle there yourself!
The lake is sheltered so this can be a fun way to get around.
Make sure you leave some time for swimming and sunbathing during your time in Mljet National Park too. The water in the lakes is much warmer than in the sea! And because it is so sheltered, it’s a fabulous way to spend the afternoon.
Park Access: There is no official entrance to Mljet National Park as such. But, you are expected to pay 125 Kuna (High Season) at the kiosk in Polače or Pomena, the two main access points to the park. You can get maps at both of these kiosks as well as rent bikes.
Note: No motorised vehicles are allowed in the park!
Opening Hours: High Season: 8 am to 8 pm daily / Low Season: 9 am to 5 pm daily
Dubrovnik – Last But Certainly Not Least!
Feel free to disagree, but in my mind, Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities anywhere in the world!
I absolutely, 100%, fell head over heels in love with this gorgeous walled city!
Tiny cobblestoned streets, numerous courtyards and a large central square are all safely tucked away within the (almost!) 2km long city wall!
Enter the Old Town through Pile Gate (the main gate), and you’ll be at the bottom end of the Stradun, which is Dubrovnik Old Town’s main street.
As you enter through the gate, you’ll see a large round fountain to your right.
This is the Large Onofrio Fountain, which has water pouring out from 16 spouts! (There is a small Onofrio’s Fountain too, on the opposite end of the Stradun).
Water from this beautiful fountain was used by the city right up until the end of the 19th Century when a modern water supply was installed. But, the water in the fountain is still perfectly drinkable, so feel free to fill up your water bottle!
As you walk down Dubrovnik’s main street, the Stradun, you’ll head to the city’s central square, Luža Square.
Here you’ll find an impressive Baroque church – The Church of Saint Blaise – which was built between 1706 and 1714.
The church has a broad central staircase leading up to its entrance, which is the perfect spot to sit down, enjoy a gelato (I can highly recommend getting one from Sladoledarna Dubrovnik!), and watch the world go by.
Best of all, the historical Old Town of Dubrovnik is a pedestrian-only zone, and not accessible at all by public vehicles.
Do bear in mind that aside from the central parts, Dubrovnik is a very hilly town and there are stairs absolutely everywhere! Some level of fitness may be required to get to your accommodation here!
There is so much to see and do in Dubrovnik, that you should definitely consider adding on a few days at the end of your trip here.
I stayed a couple of extra nights at City Walls Hostel, and couldn’t have been happier with my choice!
The location was perfect, right (as the name would suggest) on the city walls within Dubrovnik Old Town. The rooms were clean and tidy, and the bathroom has one of the best views in town!
Speaking of the city walls… One of the highlights during my stay in Dubrovnik was undoubtedly walking along those magnificent 13th Century walls.
Give yourself plenty of time to do this, as they are nearly 2km long and you’ll want to stop often for photos…
In places, the wall is up to six metres thick and although the city was under siege for seven months during the Yugoslav war in the early 1990s, the city walls have apparently never been breached.
Make sure you also allocate some of your time to head up to the top of Srđ mountain behind Dubrovnik.
There used to be a cable car that would take you to the top… But, this is currently (temporarily although indefinitely) closed. This means you’ll have to put your walking shoes on and walk up the zig-zag path leading to the top.
Luckily, despite its name, Srđ is not particularly tall, rising to a height of just 415 metres. It is definitely possible to walk. Just take your time! There are loose rocks on the path so do be careful and wear appropriate footwear.
Once you reach the top though, you will be rewarded with breathtaking birds-eye views of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea beyond.
There is a restaurant (open and functioning!) at the top to re-fuel at before heading back down again.
But, make sure you bring sufficient water with you as the path is not shaded and the walk is likely to get hot!
As I mentioned at the start of this post, Croatia (and in particular, Dubrovnik) has gained popularity and fame due to Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town, the City Walls and Fort Lovrijenac were used for scenes in King’s Landing. If you’ve watched the show, you’ll definitely find lots of familiar sights here!
Don’t expect to see a full Game of Thrones set though, as some of the exteriors of buildings such as the Red Keep and the Sept of Baelor are computer generated.
Trsteno Arboretum, located about 20 minutes up the coast from Dubrovnik by car, is used as the gardens of the Tyrells in King’s Landing. Either way, it’s a lovely location to visit whether you’re a GoT fan or not!
If you are a fan, there are plenty of tours that will take you around to the some of the Game of Thrones filming locations and could be a fun way to spend an afternoon!
Croatia Top Tip: Take A (Day) Trip To Bosnia and Herzegovina
Although I didn’t have enough time for this myself (Well, I didn’t plan for it…. No excuse!) Some of the people I met on my trip around the Croatian islands were headed to Bosnia and Herzegovina after Dubrovnik.
It’s super easy to do a day-trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina with a tour from either Dubrovnik or Split.
Most will take you to visit Mostar city, known for the iconic (reconstructed) medieval arched bridge, Stari Most (Old Bridge), and the stunningly beautiful Kravica Waterfall, just 40km south from Mostar.
If I’d known how easy this is, I would’ve definitely added on another day or two to my Croatia trip for this!
Notes and Tips on Sailing Croatia
- This might sound obvious, but sailing means you’ll have to be comfortable aboard the ship, sailing boat or ferry.
- There is a risk that you’ll become seasick, especially if the seas get rough (which they can do even in the summer months)
- Make sure you listen to your crew for safety instructions and maybe bring a sea sickness tablet or two with you
- Unless you’re splashing out for a private trip, you’ll be sharing the sailing boat with other people.
- Since I was travelling solo, I shared my cabin with a girl I’d never met before. It worked out great, but you do need to be prepared.
- We only had two bathrooms/showers on board our boat so be patient as everyone wants to wash off after a day at sea.
- I’d highly recommend that you pack light for this trip!
- Your cabin is likely to be small and down in the hull of the boat with very limited storage space
- The sun might not feel as hot when you’re out at sea but you’re even more at risk for sunburn while you’re sailing and out on deck
- Make sure you lather up with good sunscreen, and bring a hat!
- In the same vein, make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water while you’re out at sea
- The same goes for exploring all the beautiful towns and islands on your trip around Croatia
- The days, especially during summer, can be HOT (Yay!) But, evenings can get cool on the water so do bring a warm jumper too
- Really though, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It is the perfect way to see Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast!
- This might sound obvious, but sailing means you’ll have to be comfortable aboard the ship, sailing boat or ferry.