Croatia is located on the Adriatic coast, at the crossroads of some of Europe’s greatest historical empires - including the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian. The history of civilization goes back nearly three thousand years in Croatia, and the country boasts countless historic towns and sights as well as scenic rural landscapes, dreamy beaches, and picturesque islands. Indeed, there are so many popular destinations in Croatia that narrowing the list down to just a few is really more a matter of personal preference than a popularity contest.
To give you a flavor of Croatia’s various sightseeing offerings, we suggest the following five as a starting point for planning your holiday. To make the most of your experience in each sightseeing destination, we recommend connecting with a private guide who will be able to take away the stress of planning out the details and who will make your Croatian experience unforgettable!
Split is Croatia’s second largest city and the largest on the Adriatic coast. Its history dates back to Roman times, and it is one of Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations.
Have you ever wondered where Roman Emperors went when they retired? At Diocletian’s Palace you can find out. The “retirement home” was built in 305 AD for Emperor Diocletian. The town grew up around the palace, and many of the buildings remain preserved to this day. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was also used for some scenes in Game of Thrones, such as the cellar where Daenary kept her dragons. Within the palace is the 7th century St. Dominus Cathedral, the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world Split’s Old Town also makes for a delightful day excursion. Walk the cobblestone lanes between the old buildings and check out the green market, then stop in at some of the excellent wine bars and restaurants. Follow up a scrumptious meal with a pleasant stroll past palm trees on the Riva Promenade with the Adriatic to one side, and the classical buildings of Spit on the other. The walk is particularly beautiful in the evening when the town lights up.
For those who love wine, why not take a tour of the Putalj Winery located just outside of town? Walk through the expansive vineyards and spend an evening tasting some of the best wines in Croatia (reservation required). There are also walking tours up Marjan Hill from where you can see a spectacular view of the town and the sea, or you could head down to Kasjuni Beach instead to enjoy the sun, surf, and sand. Whether you’re a Game of Thrones fan or not, a visit to the Klis Fortress is well worth it too. The fortress has stood strong through various battles, and has that classic old castle look. No wonder it was chosen for the location of Meereen in Game of Thrones. There’s even a museum with costumes and swords from the show. Split is a great sightseeing location in Croatia and it also makes an excellent leap-off point to some of our other recommended popular destinations.
One of Croatia’s most famous tourist destinations, Dubrovnik is known for its spectacular walls. They are said to be the best example of medieval fortifications in existence today. These quadrilateral-shaped limestone walls run nearly two kilometers (1.2 miles) around the town and protected the city against several sieges over the centuries. Dubrovnik’s Old Town is home to medieval, gothic, Renaissance, and baroque buildings, as well as the fantasy-like towers and fortresses that protected the city. Cross the stone bridges and walk under the drawbridge archways of the Ploce and Pile Gates, walk through history in the museum at the Rector’s Palace, sample the local cuisine, or ride the cable car up Srd Mountain rearing up behind the city.
Overlooking the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik also has dozens of boat tours ranging from kayaking tours to to 16th century wooden ships. There are also snorkeling tours, day-trip vineyard tours, and trips to nearby scenic locations. These include the Elafiti Islands, Montenegro, the old town of Mostar, and the Kravice Waterfalls in Herzegovina.
The coastal town of Hvar is a popular destination for treating oneself to high class eating establishments and cocktail bars, or letting it all hang loose in a dance bar. This is the place for beach parties and getting down and groovy with that holiday nightlife. During the day, you can take the trek up the slopes behind the city to the Tvrdava Fortica, a medieval fortress that was originally built as a citadel in the 6th century, which was in turn established upon the remains of an ancient settlement from before 500 BC.
The town is located on the Island of Hvar, which is known for its mild winters and summers, making it a popular destination anytime of year. The countryside is bountiful with olive trees, vineyards, and beautiful fields of lavender. Travelers can take in historic sites, relax on Hvar’s sandy beaches, or explore the island’s rich Mediterranean nature. Hvar recently celebrated 140 years of organized tourism and is considered one of the top ten most beautiful islands in the world.
The Istria Region of Croatia is simply packed with so many places of interest and beauty that it’s difficult to choose just one spot. The region is home to quaint medieval towns perched above the Adriatic, family-run taverns and wineries, and secluded fishing villages and beaches. It is also considered a gastronomic tourist destination for the avid foodie. Devour delectable dishes of seafood and truffles, and savor the meat of the boskarin, a native species of ox.
Pula is the largest city in Istria. The main attraction is the Roman amphitheater known as the Arena. It is one of the best preserved amphitheaters, and is nearly a rival for Rome’s infamous Colosseum. The city is also known for wine-making, fishing, and shipbuilding.
Pula’s menu of things to do is diverse, including kayaking and mountain biking tours, snorkeling, and private tours in the local countryside. While in town, you may wish to head underground and visit the galeries souterraines Zerostrasse: a system of underground tunnels built as bomb shelters in the early 1900s. You can also marvel at the Roman floor mosaics that were exposed during a WWII bombing of houses around the Chapel of St. Maria Formosa. The most popular example is a tile mosaic illustrating the Punishment of Dirce, a tale of how Amphion and Zethus punished Dirce by tying him to an enraged bull. Don’t forget to try some of the local catches and wines to top off your day!
With Croatia’s rich treasury of medieval towns, stunning islands, and fascinating historic landmarks,, it can be easy to overlook some of the breathtaking natural scenery of the Adriatic hinterland. The Plitvice Lakes are Croatia’s most famous area of natural beauty.
The limestone bedrock of the region is largely responsible for this magnificent chain of sixteen turquoise lakes connected by travertine waterfalls cascading between lush beds of moss. The limestone not only gives the lakes their stunning color, but minerals from the rock leach into the waters and create the gentle, pastry-layer tufa mounds at the end of each lake where the waters splash down to the next pool. Wooden walkways keep your feet dry, and paths lead off into forests of beech, spruce, fir, and pine. You may also see scores of butterflies flitting above the lush greenery. The area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 because of the magical beauty of the waterfalls.
Croatia is a veritable cornucopia of sightseeing and travel delights. Our five suggestions above are brimming with things to see, do, and try.
As a traveler, your time will be limited and you will be without a doubt hard pressed to narrow down your choices. Our GoWithGuide specialists are ready to help you prepare to get the best experiences possible wherever you choose to visit. And don’t forget, you can always arrange to come back for more later on!