Visiting Croatia is like stepping into an episode of Game of Thrones – and not just because much was filmed there. The country is all ancient walled towns, clifftop forts and sapphire seas, protecting world-class seaside destinations like Dubrovnik, Zadar and Split. Come summer and the Croati'a Dalmatian coastline – spotted by islands like trendy Hvar – comes alive with yachts and pretty young things sunning on sandy beaches and drinking local wine. Despite becoming one of the most coveted Mediterranean hotspots, Croatia still maintains its Balkan charm, present in the narrow old town streets of Dubrovnik and Split and the ruins lefts by its stream of invaders – Greeks, Romans, Slavs, Ottomans, French, Venetians and Austrians. Come to Croatia for what the Dalmatians call fjaka – a blissful mood of utter contentment.
Why cruise Croatia
Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline a popular destination on eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic itineraries, and a whole host of lines from commercial mega ships carriers to tiny, independent cruise lines sail its waters. Cruise lines like Celebrity, P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean stop in Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik, while smaller boutique cruise lines such as Unforgettable Croatia and Emerald Yacht Cruises run more intimate sailings, stopping at smaller ports like Hvar, Korcula and the Krka Waterfalls. There’s also something for every budget, from NCL all the way up to Scenic and the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.
Nothing can prepare you for your first sight of Dubrovnik. Lying 216 km (135 miles) southeast of…Read more
Split's ancient core is so spectacular and unusual that a visit is more than worth your time. The…Read more
Best places to visit in Croatia
Dubrovnik is Croatia’s prized Adriatic town – an ancient citadel of narrow lanes, fortified walls and castles overlooking shimmering emerald seas. It’s hard to imagine that such a perfectly preserved beautiful city lay in ruins just three decades ago following a besiegement in the Yugoslavia Wars, as it has bounced back to be become graced by the likes of Beyoncé, Sir Roger Moore and Roman Abramovich. Cruise here to wander its Unesco-protected old town encircled by massive stone walls, spot elegant baroque churches and hidden palazzi cloaked in bougainvillea. St. Blaise Church, the Renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector’s Palace are must-sees. Come evening and make your way down limestone and terracotta streets uncover trendy wine and rooftop bars as the sweet smell of orange dances on the warm Adriatic breeze.
With a dramatic mountainous backdrop and lapped by the Adriatic, ancient Split, Croatia’s second largest city, makes a fabulous port of call. Start in the Unesco-listed Diocletian’s Palace, one of world’s most impressive Roman monuments, where you’ll find bars, restaurants and shops hidden within the old walls. Nearby, the Pazar morning market sells fresh produce, clothes and all kinds of fascinating bric-a-brac and the Cathedral of St Domnius is one of the best-preserved Roman buildings. Too hot? Head to the Marjan Forest Park with paths and trails through pine forests and scenic views over the city and nearby islands. Unlike fairy-tale Dubrovnik, lived-in Split offers a glimpse into real Croatian life, from the high-rise apartments of its suburbs its local markets.
Cosmopolitan Hvar is an Island on the Dalmatian coast, known for its stunning natural beauty, beaches, pine forests and nearby lavender fields. The hub its eponymous port town, famed for its 13th-century walls, Venetian architecture citadel Spanjola Fortress and Renaissance St Stephen’s Cathedral – which can all easily be seen by strolling its marble lanes. Day time sees travellers lounge on beaches like Dubovica while evening sees the clink of wine glasses and hum of dance music take over the town, emitted from its countless beach bars. From Hvar it’s also possible to reach the nearby Pakleni Islands, hiding sandy coves and with a more laid-back vibe.
Zadar is a historical and cultural city on the quieter northern Dalmatian coast, home to both Roman and Venetian ruins, a thriving café culture and quality museums. The city is truly lived in, worlds away from fantasy Dubrovnik, but still pretty stunning thanks to the surrounding Adriatic coastline. Travellers come to see the city’s two most famous sights – the first Sea Organ in the world and the wacky Sun Salutation – and drink Croatian wine while watching the sun set – described by film director Alfred Hitchcock as 'the most beautiful sunset in the world'. Zadar’s historical old town has Romain ruins and medieval churches, while its waterfront has pine-scented beaches and great seafood restaurants (cheaper than the south).
Korčula is a Croatian island that sits across the bay from Dubrovnik reached by ferry and certain pint-sized cruise ships. The island is all white wine and white beaches, cloaked in olive groves, pine forests and the vineyards of Lumbarda. These vineyards, like Lovric Winery and Bire Winery, are open for tasting and tours. Korčula is popular but not overrun with tourists like nearby islands and has a bevy of beaches and Venetian Renaissance old town – a walled city jutting out into the Peljesac Channel. Make sure to drink lots of Grk – the island’s full-bodied white wine – washed down with Dalmatian meats and cheeses.
Charming Sibenik wouldn’t look out of place on the French Rivera, with cliff-side constructions tumbling down into the water and piles of forts and monasteries. Sibenik is the perfect low-key alternative to Dubrovnik and Hvar, being the gateway to the Krka National Park and the mostly uninhabited Kornati Islands archipelago. Its magnificent white old town hides a maze of steep streets with top sights including the 15th-century stone Cathedral of St. James, a Unesco site with 71 unique sculpted faces, and the Renaissance-era Count’s Palace, not the Civic Museum. Try to time your visit with a show in the open-air theatre at St Michael’s Fortress and visit the nearby Dalmatian Ethno Village. Game of Thrones fans will love that the city appeared in three episodes of season five.
Primosten is a small town located on the Adriatic coast between Split and Sibenik, just a short bus ride from either. The town sits on an island connected to the mainland jutting out into the sparkling blue Adriatic, once heavily fortified and connected by a drawbridge – but now accessed by a thin causeway. The town is a picture-perfect stop-off with cobbled streets and a vibrant main square – lined by little boutiques, handicraft shops and al fresco bars. Most street sit in the shadows of St George’s Church, perched high on a hill, and it’s worth meandering up to take in the views or watch a sunset.
Krka National Park
A tapestry of forest slakes and waterfalls, the Krka National Park lies just 10km from Sibenik – and there are plenty of excursions and tours that run to the park. Krka is one of the most beautiful and serene places on the coast, covering an area of 142sq m and home to the Krka river itself and a bevy of tumbling waterfalls. The most famous of these waterfalls is the famous Skradinski Buk falls, a picturesque tiered waterfall surrounded by lush forest. More than 800 species of plant life can be found in the park along with over 200 species of bird and 18 species of bat. Make sure to remember your swimming costume as there are plenty of swimming areas in the waterfalls and across the park.
Best things to do in Croatia
Explore an old town
The old towns of Croatia’s towns and cities look almost like film sets, especially in the likes of Dubrovnik and Split. Make sure to spend a couple of hours seeking out and exploring the old town of whichever port you call in.
Drink Croatian wine
Croatia’s southern Dalmatian coast has a long wine-making history, dating back 2,500 years. There are more than 300 geographically defined wine regions and a strict classification system to ensure the quality of the wine, so make sure to visit some wineries to taste and tour.
Explore the islands
The Dalmatians coast is spotted with islands which can easily be reached by its mainland ports. Head to Vis, Hvar and Korčula for paradise beaches, luscious forests and a whole different vibe.
Divers should head underwater to see Croatia’s Stations of the Cross underwater park in the Blue Lagoon – the only one of its type in the world. Just four metres beneath the waves you’ll find a park of biblical statues on the seabed.
Hit the beach
Croatia’s beaches are world-class, both pebbled and sandy and fringed by the warm waters of the Adriatic. Top beaches include Kraljičina plaza near Zadar, Split’s Bačvice beach and Lovrečina Bay on Brač island.
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