12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Croatia
Historic cities and unspoilt nature are some of Croatia's top attractions. The vibrant capital city of Zagreb is home to some of the country's best museums, galleries, restaurants, and shopping. Along the coast, centuries-old harbor towns are packed with Venetian-era stone buildings, while countless pebble beaches offer things to do such as scuba diving, water skiing, and windsurfing. On the Adriatic, Croatia's blissful islands are a haven for yachters and those wanting to simply relax and enjoy the Mediterranean sunshine.
1 Dubrovnik Old Town Walls
Dubrovnik, Croatia's most glamorous tourist destination, centers on the magnificent old town, contained within sturdy medieval defensive walls and declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Any first-time sightseeing tour of the city should begin with a walk around the ramparts (the complete circuit measures two kilometers), which incorporate fortresses, towers, and cannons along the way. From high up on the walls, you can enjoy amazing views over the old town rooftops and out across the glistening Adriatic Sea. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring bottled water and a camera.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
2 Diocletian's Palace in Split
Split, Croatia's second biggest city after Zagreb, grew up within the ancient Roman walls of Diocletian's Palace. Overlooking the Adriatic Sea, it was built by Roman Emperor Diocletian, who retired here in AD 305. Square in plan, the palace has four monumental gates, three from the land, and one which originally opened directly onto the water. Within the walls, things to see include the magnificent Peristyle (an arcaded courtyard), where you'll also find the Cathedral of St. Domnius with its elegant bell-tower. The old town is pedestrian-only and has been proclaimed a UNESCO world heritage site.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Split
3 Hvar Town
Many tourists visit Croatia to explore the blissful Dalmatian islands, of which the most fashionable is Hvar. Here, trendy Hvar Town is home to some of the country's top hotels and best seafood restaurants. Dating back to the years spent under Venetian-rule (1420-1797), its car-free old town is made up of a spacious main square overlooked by a 16th-century cathedral, a pretty fishing harbor, and a hilltop fortress. Hvar Town is popular with yachters and celebrities, as well as travelers who come here to enjoy its beaches and watersports. It is served by ferry from Split.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hvar
4 Plitvice National Park
Croatia's most visited inland attraction, Plitvice National Park encompasses steep forested hillsides surrounding 16 emerald-blue lakes connected by a succession of thundering waterfalls. A network of footpaths and wooden bridges criss-crosses the park, and the entrance ticket includes boat rides across the lakes. Thanks to the lush pristine nature, the park is a haven for wild animals, including wolves and bears (though they are timid so you are unlikely to see them) as well as owls, eagles, and falcons. There are several hotels on the edge of the park should you wish to stay the night. You can visit Plitvice on organised sightseeing tours by bus from Zagreb and Zadar.
5 Zagreb's Gornji Grad
In the Croatian capital, Zagreb, the main sightseeing area is the medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town). Here, attractions include the cathedral with its Neo-Gothic façade and twin steeples; the Croatian Sabor (Parliament); the Church of St. Mark with its colored tiled roof; and the 13th-century Tower of Lotrščak, which you can climb for fantastic views over the city rooftops. Also be sure to catch most people's favorite, the much-loved Museum of Broken Relationships.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Zagreb
6 Sailing Around Kornati National Park
Spreading over an area of sea 35 kilometers long and 13 kilometers wide, this archipelago encompasses more than 80 scattered islets. Rocky and arid with little fertile soil, the islets are practically uninhabited, though there are some very basic stone cottages originally built as one-room shelters by local fishermen and shepherds, but now used as holiday retreats or seasonal seafood restaurants. The best way to explore the islets is by private sailing boat (the nearest charter base is in Biograd-na-Moru). It's also possible to visit the Kornati as a day trip by excursion boat from either Zadar or Šibenik on the mainland.
7 Zadar's Romanesque Churches
Zadar's car-free old town is built on a small peninsula. Its top attractions are its fine Romanesque churches, built between the 9th and 13th centuries, and filled with religious paintings and ornate golden treasures. Be sure to check out the 9th-century pre-Romanesque Church of St. Donatus; the 11th-century Church of St. Mary; and the Cathedral of Anastasia and the Church of St. Chrysogonus, both from the 12th century. Other things to see include the Museum of Ancient Glass, and two modern installations, the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun, both on the seafront, close to the tip of the peninsula.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Zadar
8 Zlatni Rat Beach
Croatia's most photographed beach has to be Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn) in Bol on the south coast of Brač. An unusual landform known as a "spit," it is made up of fine pebbles and runs 500 meters perpendicular to the coast. Depending on local winds and currents, it moves and changes shape from season to season. Backed by a cluster of pine trees offering shade and overlooked by the rocky heights of Vidova Gora mountain, it is lined in summer with sunbeds and umbrellas. The sea is warm enough to swim from June through September, and some people can manage in May and October, too. Extra attractions on the beach include water sports such as paddle boats, sea kayaks, and banana boat rides. Zlatni Rat is also Croatia's top wind surfing destination. Brač is accessible by ferry and catamaran from Split.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Zlatni Rat Beach
9 Korčula Town
Korčula Town, the chief settlement on the island of Korčula in South Dalmatia, sits compact on a tiny peninsula. Protected by medieval walls and towers, its car-free stone alleys are laid out in a herringbone pattern, so as to give shelter from the prevailing winds. It's packed with centuries-old aristocratic stone buildings, built when the island was under Venetian rule. Main attractions include the Marco Polo house, said to be the birthplace of the renowned 13th-century explorer, and the moreška sword dance, a traditional dance, which is staged for tourists just outside the town walls on summer evenings. You can reach Korčula Town by catamaran from Split (daily) or Dubrovnik (summer only).
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Korcula Island
10 Mljet National Park
The western third of the island of Mljet is a national park. Largely covered by dense woodland, it centers on two interconnected turquoise saltwater lakes, one with an islet capped by a 12th-century Benedictine monastery, which you can visit by taxi-boat. Popular with nature lovers, the park offers plenty of things to do-numerous paths run through the woodland and a nine-kilometer trail runs around the perimeter of the lakes, making it ideal for walking or mountain biking, or you can swim or hire a kayak to explore the lakes. The local culinary speciality is lobster. There's only one hotel on the island, but local families rent rooms to visitors in summer. Mljet can be reached by ferry or catamaran from Dubrovnik.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mljet National Park
In northwest Croatia, on the Istrian peninsula, the Venetian-era seaside town of Rovinj is made up of pastel-colored houses ringing a pretty fishing harbor, and presided over by a hilltop church with an elegant bell tower. Besides the nearby pebble beaches, the main tourist attraction is the Batana Eco-Museum on the seafront, which tells the story of the batana, a type of wooden boat used by local fishermen. There are also plenty of smart hotels, up-market seafood restaurants, and art galleries. The locals speak a dialect, which mixes both the Croatian and Italian languages. The nearest airport is in Pula.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rovinj
12 Brijuni National Park
Lying off the Istrian peninsula, this archipelago of scattered pine-scented islets is a national park. The largest island, Veli Brijun, is covered with beautifully landscaped parkland and is open to visitors. The former President of Yugoslavia, Tito, used to entertain visiting foreign dignitaries here, and some of them brought him exotic animals as gifts, which are now on show in the small safari park - elephants from India, antelopes from Zambia, and zebras from Guinea are the main attractions. There are also two hotels, a golf course, and the ruins of a Roman villa. To get here, catch the national park boat (reservations essential) from Fažana on the mainland, seven kilometers north of Pula.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Brijuni National Park