If your ideal vacation includes strolling medieval villages, swimming in crystal-clear waters, island hopping, and culinary delights to fuel outdoor activities, then a Mediterranean getaway in Croatia is calling.
This diverse country is filled with delights for any kind of traveler, whether beachside bliss or hiking through a national park with impossibly gorgeous waterfalls is on your agenda. If an Eastern European city escape is more your style, you can walk ancient cobblestone streets, visit historic sites, and get a taste of the country through the delicious food and wine.
Ready to plan a Croatian vacation but not sure where to start? Let the most beautiful places in Croatia do the inspiring.
Admire ancient architecture at this historic fort located about 20 minutes outside the coastal city of Split, with sprawling views over the Adriatic Sea. Known as the heart of the Croatian kingdom, this impressive fortress was originally built to serve as a military defense for the Dalmatia region.
Perched above the town of the same name, a visit to Klis Fortress will grant you the opportunity to learn about its storied history as well as take in breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Either embark on a guided tour or take yourself through the ruins; you’ll be wandering back in time as you explore the grounds of this massive fortress.
Read: Best Beaches in Split
Zadar’s Old Town
Greek influences as well as Roman ruins and Venetian architecture are highlights of Zadar, an open-air museum of a city. The Old Town rests on a peninsula along the stunning Dalmatian Coast, making it a unique location where you can step into a waterside cafe, peer into medieval churches, and gaze at the ancient city walls that date back to the 1500s.
Make sure to stop at the Land Gate and the Sea Gate, the two original gates that are still intact today. Stroll the remains of temples and columns at the ancient Roman Forum, the largest in Croatia. Get ready to be impressed by the famous “Sea Organ,” an art installation that adorns the waterfront. This creative and brilliant work of art creates music from the waves.
Watch the sunset at the “Monument to the Sun” for an unreal experience, where solar-powered lights put on a display at dusk each night. This was built by the same architecture as the “Sea Organ,” Nikola Bašić.
Dubrovnik’s local fortress, Fort Lovrijenac, stands majestically on the city wall on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. The structure, which dates back to the 11th century, holds much historical significance in its defense of the city. In addition, it has become a well-known landmark after becoming the site for the filming of a very popular television series.
A 200-step climb will bring you to the top, where you’ll be greeted with sprawling views of the Old Town and sparkling sea below. Wander the fort’s terraces, admire the drawbridges, and learn about the cannons that were used to protect the city when under attack from the Venetians.
Make sure to take note of the entrance’s inscription, “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro,” which means, “Freedom is not sold for all the gold in the world.” Theatrical performances and music festivals are held here a few times a year.
Cathedral of Saint Vitus
Located in the port city of Rijeka, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Vitus is unique due to its circular shape. Constructed in the 1600s, the church pays homage to Rijeka’s patron saint and protector, Saint Vitus. The architecture has Baroque and Gothic influences, which adds to the interesting design.
Inside, admire the artwork, including intricate Baroque paintings and statues like the Our Lady of Sorrows at the altar. If you have some extra time, make sure to stop by the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s leaning bell tower, which dates back to the Middle Ages as well.
Krka National Park
About an hour outside of Split and Zadar lies one of Croatia’s natural treasures and easily one of the prettiest places in Croatia. This collection of seven waterfalls fueled by the Krka River looks like its from the pages of a storybook. The largest, Skradinski Buk, is quite impressive with 17 cascades within the set of falls.
The park is host to some of the best hiking in Europe, where you can explore the scenery surrounding the falls, caves, lakes, flora, and fauna. In the right season, you might even see some beautiful fresh lavender. Birdwatching enthusiasts will have the chance to spot over 200 different species of birds within the park. Archeological Roman ruins can also be found in the park, adding a historical flair to the scenic landscape. Afterward, a dip in the picturesque waterfall pools might just be in order.
Approximately an hour outside the city of Zadar, the Zrmanja River awaits for those looking to embark on an incredible outdoor adventure. Navigate the vibrant river through Velebit Nature Park, winding your way through canyon walls. Canoeing, kayaking, and rafting are popular activities to explore the river and its many surprising natural gems.
Waterfalls, hidden swimming pools, and gorgeous scenery are some of the highlights of this journey in Croatia’s breathtaking countryside. Stop for a swim and enjoy a picnic lunch amongst the beauty of the Zrmanja and Krupa tributary rivers. This Croatian active adventure will have you basking in one of the most beautiful places in Croatia with a bit of exercise and adrenaline.
Ston Medieval Village
About an hour north of Dubrovnik, the Medieval village of Ston is a sight to behold. The town’s historical defense walls span a little over three miles, making them the longest fortress system in Europe. The system was recently renovated after each stone was hand-carved to preserve its authenticity.
Stroll the charming village lanes, marvel at the historic stone buildings and ancient churches, and take in the gorgeous scenery of this under-the-radar destination in Croatia. Seafood lovers will rejoice at the opportunity to indulge in some of the country’s best and most fresh seafood bounty served at local restaurants. It’s the perfect location to eat Croatian food like royalty while relaxing along the scenic coastline and hillside olive groves.
Just outside of Rijeka, the seaside village of Opatija was the original Croatian resort destination for tourism. It’s home to the first hotel in the Adriatic, Hotel Kvarner.
To learn more about the beginning of tourism in the country, a visit to the Museum of Tourism is a must. Photographs, old tourism posters, and guide books are amongst the collections exhibited. Housed in the beautiful Villa Angiolina, the grounds are also host to gorgeous gardens and walking paths.
Opatija’s location amongst the Kvarner Gulf is a classic Mediterranean destination to visit for sun, history, culture, and architecture influenced by Austria. Walk the Lungomare Promenade and breath the fresh ocean air as you gaze on the postcard-worthy bay, stopping by the well-known seaside statue, “The Girl With The Seagull.”
An ancient palace in the historical heart of Split, Diocletian’s Palace is a famous landmark in the city. The massive complex, built for Roman Emperor Diocletian in the fourth century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.
Admire the striking marble, towering columns, and the four gates. Other points of interest within the palace walls include the Cathedral Saint Domnius, the Peristyle Square, and the Temple of Jupiter. If you’re thinking about buying souvenirs or local crafts, the “basement” of the palace is host to vendors.
Paklenica National Park
Approximately an hour outside the city of Zadar, Paklenica National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. A canyon and forest natural wonderland provide a playground for hiking and even cave exploring for an extra dose of adventure. With both easier walking trails and challenging hikes available, there’s something for everyone within this striking park.
Two limestone canyons call this park home: Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica. One of the park’s geological treasures is Manita Pec, a cave that can be explored with a guide. Other trail highlights include panoramic views, old water mill ruins, pine and beech forests, and an awe-inspiring mountain backdrop. An informational center provides a well-rounded opportunity to learn about wildlife and the diverse plants that thrive within the park.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town
Perhaps Croatia’s most well-known Medieval city, Dubrovnik’s Old Town feels like a portal back in time. Also known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” the city is extremely picturesque. Rich architecture and history, combined with its location on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, help the city to live up to its nickname.
You’ll be greeted with history right at the main entrance of the Pile Gate, built in the 1500s. Wander the Old Town streets, stopping at historical points of interest, Baroque churches, and stone walls that date back to the 16th century.
View this area from a different vantage point via the city’s cable car. You’ll gain a bird’s-eye perspective that’ll take your breath away as you try to keep count of the classic red-roofed buildings of Dubrovnik. You’ll have your pick of museums to visit; the Cultural Historic Museum in Rector’s Palace, Maritime Museum, and the Museum of War Photography are all popular options.
If you’re interested in visiting a beautiful Baroque-style church, the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola fits the bill. The 14th-century bell tower, altarpiece, intricate dome paintings, and frescos are all highlights.
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