Cruising Croatia and the Adriatic: A traveller’s guide

January 10th, 2020
Cruising Croatia and the Adriatic: A traveller’s guide

The fact that Croatia has one of the longest coastlines in the world makes it a popular tourist destination. The country’s beaches consistently rank high on lists of the world’s best beaches, praised for their immaculate beauty and stunning natural features. Year after year, the number of travellers who come to Croatia for a little seaside fun grows, and this trend is likely to continue in the coming decade.

As many who’ve been to Croatia will attest, the best way to see this nation of rugged coasts and postcard perfect islands is by hopping on a cruise. Whether you choose to splurge on a luxury cruise of the Adriatic and the Mediterranean or something a little more low-key, cruising gives you a convenient way of getting to Croatia’s best attractions, from ancient Roman ruins to hidden island coves.

In this traveller’s guide, we’ll talk about the best places to visit along the Adriatic coast of Croatia.


Places to visit on the Dalmatian Coast

Dubrovnik
Stretching 350 kilometres from Zadar in the north to the Bay of Kotor in the south, the Dalmatian Coast is one of the most spectacular regions in all of Croatia. This narrow strip of beaches, cliffs, and red-roofed buildings hugging the eastern shore of the Adriatic features a number of must-see UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are frequented by tourists.


DUBROVNIK


Take Dubrovnik, for example. Known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, this city in southern Croatia is a prominent tourist destination, famous for its Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. Although it sustained severe damage from an earthquake in 1667 and armed conflict in 1991, the Old City has retained many of its historic structures, some of which have been standing for hundreds of years.

Dubrovnik City Walls

Among these are the famed City Walls, regarded as one of the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages. Every day, tourists stroll on top of these blindingly white stone walls for 360-degree views of the shimmering Adriatic. You can also catch a glimpse of nearby Lokrum, a forested island with a small saltwater lake that’s perfect for swimming and snorkelling.

One of the best vantage points on the walls is Fort Bokar; this sea-facing tower served as the key point in the defence of Pile Gate, the main entrance to the Old City. Also, Minčeta Tower is especially popular among tourists — particularly those who are fans of Game of Thrones. This round tower is the walls’ highest point, and its base was used as the exterior of the House of the Undying in the hit show’s second season. But even those who’ve never seen an episode of GoT will appreciate the tower for the astounding views it affords.

Stradun

After walking the walls — which takes approximately two hours — head to Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main drag. Take a break in any of the numerous cafés and restaurants lining this narrow limestone-paved pedestrian street. Not to miss are the pršut (prosciutto) sandwiches at Buffet Škola, a hole-in-the-wall just off Stradun. And when in Dubrovnik, it would be a pity not to try seafood, freshly caught off the Dalmatian Coast and served street food-style at Barba. Try the octopus burger, anchovy sandwich, and pasta with tuna and artichokes. Sweet tooths must visit Gossip or Dolce Vita, both of which serve creamy, homemade gelati in a variety of flavours.

Sponza Palace and Rector’s Palace

On the southern end of Stradun stands Sponza Palace. Originally a customs house, it has been used through the centuries as a mint, treasury, armoury, and bank. It is now home to the Memorial Room of the Defenders of Dubrovnik. This collection of photographs depicts those who died during the Croatian War of Independence from 1991 to 1995, wherein Croatian forces held off the besieging Yugoslav People’s Army. Additionally, the first and second floors of the palace house the State Archives — while it’s not open to the public, you can look at copies of the most important pieces in the collection in an exhibit on the ground floor.

The Rector's Palace, a palace that used to serve as the seat of the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa between the 14th century and 1808, in Dubrovnik, Croatia

To the west, past the Church of St. Blaise, is the Rector’s Palace, which houses the Cultural History Museum. Built in the 12th century, the palace served as the seat of the elected rector of Dubrovnik until 1808. Though it has been reconstructed several times, it has retained much of its original Gothic-Renaissance design and architecture, with some beautifully integrated Baroque elements, such as the ornate staircase in the atrium.

Cathedral of the Assumption and Franciscan Monastery

Down the street is the Cathedral of the Assumption, or simply Dubrovnik Cathedral. Completed in 1713, this grand Baroque church was built on the ruins of the original cathedral, which was levelled by the 1667 earthquake. Highlights of the existing structure include several magnificent altars, most notably the altar of St. John of Nepomuk, which is made of violet marble. It also has a fine collection of religious paintings, including the Assumption of the Virgin, a polyptych by Venetian painter Titian that hangs behind the cathedral’s main altar. To the left of the altar is the elaborate treasury, where the relics of St. Blaise, the patron of Dubrovnik, are kept in gold and silver reliquaries.

And on the opposite end of Stradun, just inside Pile Gate, is the Franciscan Church and Monastery. Its main highlight is Europe’s third oldest functioning pharmacy. In operation for more than 700 years, the pharmacy offers salves, creams, and other products made according to ancient recipes. It also has displays of tools and containers that the friars used in preparing medicines for the townsfolk. Visitors can see the inventory of the pharmacy from 1317, the year it was established, in the monastery’s library along with over 20,000 books, manuscripts, and liturgical artefacts.

Srđ and Fort Imperial

Rising 412 metres over Dubrovnik is Srđ, a hill that gives you amazing views in all directions. The easiest and quickest way to reach the top is by cable car. You can also take Bus 17 from the Pile Gate stop; get off at Bosanka and walk the last 1.5 kilometres up. Or you can hike up via the Way of the Cross, which is lined with 14 brass reliefs that depict Jesus’ journey to his crucifixion.

At the hill’s summit is Fort Imperial, a defensive structure built by the French in 1810 and now home to the Homeland War museum. This permanent exhibition features photos and videos taken during the War of Independence, particularly the Siege of Dubrovnik, one of the fiercest battles of which took place on Srđ.

Beaches

Being a seaside town, Dubrovnik has no dearth of great beaches. There’s pebbly Copacabana Beach on Seka Bay, popular among sunbathers and watersports enthusiasts. A short drive north is Sveti Jakov, a beach favoured by locals. Meanwhile, nudists frequent Beterina in Mlini and the area beside the promenade on Lapad Beach.

Vineyards

Croatia’s warm Mediterranean climate allows wine grapes to grow in abundance in the country’s rich soils. The Peljesac Peninsula, about 70 kilometres west of Dubrovnik, is teeming with vineyards and wineries, many of them family-run and producing what many consider to be the finest wines in Croatia.

The best known and most loved Croatian wine is Dingač, a robust red wine that is produced from grapes cultivated in the wine-making regions of Dingač, Postup, and Orebić. Dark red to purple in colour, Dingač wine is known for its slight bitterness and is classified as a Croatian premium quality red wine.

Another wine you should try is prošek, a sweet dessert wine traditionally produced in Southern Dalmatia. It’s a blend of Bogdanuša, Maraština, and/or Vugava, all of which are white grapes native to Croatia. Higher-end varieties are made from white grapes and Plavac Mali, the red grape from which Dingač and other select Croatian wines are made.

Cruise the Adriatic With Us!

The coastline of Croatia is one of the most beautiful and unique you’ll find anywhere. Our cruise aboard the 40-passenger MS Paradis will take us to the some of the smaller islands in the central Adriatic with plenty of time to explore on our own.

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SPLIT


The ancient city of Split is the largest in Dalmatia and the second largest in Croatia. An important transport hub, Split is often crowded with tourists who’ve come to see the different attractions in and around the city, as well as travellers just passing through on their way to various destinations in Croatia.

Diocletian’s Palace

The most popular attraction in Split is Diocletian’s Palace. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this massive palace complex dates back to the turn of the fourth century AD, built as the retirement home of the Roman emperor Diocletian, a native of Dalmatia. Originally designed to be part imperial residence and part military fortress, it now makes up half the entire old town of Split and forms the historic core of the city.

The bell tower in Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia

The bell tower in Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia

The complex features a multitude of shops, bars, and restaurants in a labyrinthine network of cobbled streets within thick stone walls. Its most impressive features, however, are the peristyle, the Cathedral of St. Domnius, the Temple of Jupiter, and the substructures.

At the intersection of the palace’s two main roads sits the peristyle, a magnificent square that served as the heart of Diocletian’s court in Split. In Diocletian’s day, the peristyle was lined with Corinthian-style columns and arcades, many of which stand to this day, and faced a number of splendid colonnaded homes.

To the east of the peristyle is the Cathedral of St. Domnius. It is regarded as the world’s oldest Catholic cathedral still in use in its original structure; it appears much like it did when it was consecrated at the turn of the seventh century, with a few renovations and additions done over the years. One such addition is the 12th-century Romanesque bell tower, which is dedicated to St. Domnius, the patron of Split. The saint’s relics are kept in the treasury on the first floor of the sacristy along with religious artworks such as a panel painting featuring Mary and the infant Jesus, and finely wrought chalices and reliquaries.

The cathedral also encompasses the Mausoleum of Diocletian, a monumental building with one of the best-preserved interiors of all extant Roman structures. Its dome, with a diameter of 13.25 metres, is perfectly preserved, rising high above the circular room that once held the emperor’s sarcophagus. (Presumably, the sarcophagus — a pagan symbol — was destroyed when the cathedral was built.) Meanwhile, the octagonal exterior of the mausoleum is highlighted by Corinthian columns and capitals. A sphinx, half of the pair that Diocletian had had brought over from Egypt, stands at the entrance to the mausoleum, a symbol of the emperor’s ‘divinity.’

Across the peristyle is the Temple of Jupiter. When the temple was converted into the cathedral’s baptistery in the sixth century, many of its paganistic elements were destroyed, but some were merely damaged, like the headless black granite sphinx at the entrance. The highlight of the temple is the barrel-vaulted ceiling; at the center of each of the 64 panels is an ornately carved face representing a specific emotion. Equally impressive is the intricate frieze above the door, featuring flowers, leaves, and various Roman gods and heroes in relief. The bronze statue of St. John the Baptist inside the temple also commands attention. Made by 20th-century Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, the statue stands where one of Jupiter originally stood.

Finally, a must-see in the complex is the vast network of rooms and corridors in the palace’s substructure. Located beneath the southern half of Diocletian’s Palace, the cellars or basement halls mirror the emperor’s residence above — take note of the ancient half-ellipse marble table in the room corresponding to the dining room on the upper floor. Back in Diocletian’s day, the substructure served as the main entry into the palace from the Riva Harbour. It also housed the palace’s kitchens and storerooms. Today, the central part of the substructure is a busy thoroughfare where tourists can buy souvenirs from the many stalls found there.

Salona and Klis Fortress

Just outside Split are the ruins of the ancient city of Salona, the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. It is the largest site of archaeological treasures from the antiquity era in all of Croatia, and as such is referred to as Croatia’s Pompeii. Many of the artefacts that were found in Salona are now on display at the Archaeological Museum in Split, but plenty remains on-site. For instance, in the area called Manastrine, you’ll find sarcophagi that hold the remains of early Christian martyrs. It’s also the location of the ruins of an ancient basilica.

Near the northern entrance to the reserve is Tusculum, a building constructed by archaeologist Monsignor Frane Bulić in 1898 as a base for his research. Today, it serves as the main ticket office and has photographs and objects related to the early archaeological activities done in Salona.

Other spots you shouldn’t miss include a cypress-lined path leading to the northern wall that gives you sweeping views of the Episcopal Centre, which includes a fifth-century cathedral and the ruins of a basilica. Next to the Episcopal Centre is the monumental eastern gate Porta Caesarea as well as a covered aqueduct that supplied Diocletian’s Palace with water from the Jadro River. There are also the ruins of the amphitheatre to see, as well as those of the Five Martyrs Basilica, the forum, a theatre, and a Temple of Dionysus.

A short drive away on top of a limestone cliff is Klis Fortress, which stood for Daenerys Targaryen’s fortress Meereen in Game of Thrones. Once the seat of Croatian kings, the fortress guarded Split and the surrounding valley for centuries, and was considered a very important medieval fortification. Nowadays, tourists can freely ramble around the fortress and see swords and costumes in a small museum on-site.

Plitviče Lakes National Park

Almost every bus, train, and boat in Croatia passes through Split on their way to various destinations across the country. Among these destinations is Plitviče Lakes National Park, which is a mere 2.5-hour drive from the city.

Take note, however, that Plitviče is a popular tourist attraction — one of the most popular in all of Croatia, in fact. At any time of day, expect large crowds at this oldest and largest of Croatia’s national parks. Visitors are drawn to Plitviče’s 16 crystal-clear lakes arranged in cascades. The lakes flow over a distance of eight kilometres down a series of natural travertine dams, and range in colour from blue to green to grey, depending on the amount of minerals or organisms in the water as well as the angle of the sun as it hits the water.

Though swimming in the lakes is prohibited, you can get up close to them by traversing the wooden boardwalks throughout the park. Be careful that you don’t fall into the water, though, as the boardwalks are quite narrow and can become congested with tourists on busy days. And be extra careful when angling for that perfect photo — at least one person dies every year from slip and fall accidents at the reserve.

But the beauty and fun you’ll experience at picturesque Plitviče far outweigh the risks and hazards. And if you want to avoid the crowds, plan your outing for just after the park opens (7:00 a.m. in spring and summer and 8:00 a.m. in autumn and winter), or opt for a late afternoon visit.


MAKARSKA AND THE MAKARSKA RIVIERA


Halfway between Split and Dubrovnik is the Makarska Riviera, a region famous for its magnificent beaches as well as vineyards and olive groves that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Makarska

This port city on a horseshoe-shaped bay on the Dalmatian Coast is the heart of the Makarska Riviera. It’s famous for its waterfront promenade, which is lined with towering palms and a clutch of cafés, bars, and boutiques popular among tourists and locals.

At the centre of Makarska is the historic old town, an area of narrow stone-paved streets and centuries-old houses and buildings. The old town’s main feature is Kačić Square, which is dominated by St. Mark’s Church and a monument to Franciscan priest and folk poet Andrija Kačić Miošić. At the square, you’ll also find a Venetian drinking fountain and the town market, where you can get fresh flowers and produce every morning.

Makarska also has a number of museums, including the Municipal Museum and the Shell Museum. Learn all about the town’s history by checking out the displays of photos, ceramics, and fragments of medieval seacraft at the former, while at the latter, you can see a unique collection of more than 3,000 seashells from all over the world. Meanwhile, at the Makarska Observatory and Astro Park, you can gaze and marvel at the infinite beauty of the night sky.

Beach towns

Makarska has a great public beach whose clear waters are ideal for swimming and water sports, as well as just whiling the day away in the sun. There are also Buba and Nugal to check out — the former is popular with the party crowd and the latter with nudists. But to get the full Riviera experience, you definitely want to head out of town and visit the region’s numerous top-notch beaches.

Plišivac in the village of Podgora a few miles east of Makarska is one of the best beaches in the Makarska Riviera. After taking a dip in the sea, get snacks and refreshments from the nearby restaurants and lounge on a sun chair under the pine trees fringing the beach.

Tučepi has the longest beach in the Makarska Riviera. This fine pebble beach is popular with families. While the kids are having fun in the water, swimming and going on the water slides, their parents can relax in the shade of the dense pine forest just off the shore.

On proud display on Nikolina Beach in Baška Voda is a blue flag that is a mark of the cleanliness and clarity of its waters. Like Tučepi, Nikolina is ideal for families with children, as there are plenty of activities to do there. The beach also has access for persons with disabilities.

Brela is home to Punta Rata, named by Forbes as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and the most beautiful beach in Europe in 2004. Just off the coast is Kamen Brela, a small rock island that is a symbol of the town. Other great beaches in the area are Vrulja, Podrače, Liskamen, and Berulia. To better explore Brela and its surroundings, rent a sea kayak and paddle out to the less crowded parts of this lovely coastal town, where you can swim and snorkel in peace.

Biokovo Nature Park

The Makarska Riviera lies at the foot of the rugged Biokovo Mountains, which provides a dramatic backdrop for the string of seaside settlements that make up the region. The mountain range is the centerpiece of the Biokovo Nature Park, a protected area that is a favourite among hikers.

Every year, seasoned mountaineers and amateurs alike clamber up Biokovo’s craggy face to catch stunning views of the sea and nearby islands — and even as far across the Adriatic as Italy — from Sveti Jure, Croatia’s second highest peak. But if a simple nature walk is what you’re looking for, you might prefer to hike up to the village of Kotišina, an easy, 40-minute climb from Makarska’s promenade. Kotišina used to have a botanical garden that was popular among tourists, but now its most famous attraction is the ruins of a 17th-century fortress.


ŠIBENIK AND ZADAR


The 85-kilometre stretch of coast between Šibenik and Zadar is one of the most stunning on the Dalmatian Coast — and it’s not as busy as those down south, making it well suited for travellers wanting to experience the delightful beaches and landscapes of the region minus the rabid crowds.

Šibenik

Historic Šibenik is located on the estuary of the river Krka, and is regarded as the oldest native Croatian town on the Adriatic Sea. Around the ninth century, Šibenik began as a fortification on a hill west of the present city; over the years, a settlement grew and spread into the valley below. Once the seat of Croatian kings, Šibenik came under Venetian rule in the 15th century, and was unsuccessfully attacked by the Turks over the course of the next two centuries — the series of impregnable fortifications on the hills surrounding the city kept the invaders out and preserved the freedom of its citizens.

In modern times, the city became part of Italy after World War I and then part of Yugoslavia from 1921 until Croatia declared independence 70 years later. Nowadays, Šibenik is an important shipping station and tourist centre. Every year, thousands visit the local beaches and those on the neighbouring islands of Prvić and Zlarin, as well as the Gothic-Renaissance St. Michael’s Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

Another must-see is the two-storey Town Hall across the square from the cathedral. Damaged extensively during World War II, the building’s columns, arches, and balustrade were painstakingly reconstructed following the original Renaissance-period plans. Also worth a visit is the Count’s Palace, a late Renaissance villa that served as the governor’s residence during Venetian rule.

And just a few kilometres outside of Šibenik is Etnoland, a recreation of a traditional Dalmatian community. It offers visitors a glimpse into Dalmatia’s centuries-old agricultural, artisanal, and culinary traditions. See how classic Dalmatian dishes such as peka (meat, chicken, fish, or seafood slow-roasted in a bell-shaped cooking vessel over a fire) are prepared, and enjoy them with rakija, a fruity brandy that you’ll also learn to make at Etnoland.

Zadar

Like Šibenik, Zadar is a city steeped in history, and here you’ll find ancient buildings — and the ruins of others — at almost every turn. During Roman rule, which lasted for over 500 years, Zadar was laid out with squares and fortifications; it also had a forum, a temple, and an aqueduct. Parts of these stand to this day and offer a glimpse into ancient Roman colonial life.

During the Middle Ages, churches sprang up all over the city; one of these is the Church of St. Donatus, which is easily distinguishable by its round shape and massive dome. Its treasury holds a cache of fine Dalmatian metalwork, including the staff of a 15th-century bishop. Another important church in Zadar is St. Anastasia’s Cathedral, a high Romanesque basilica built between the 12th and 13th centuries. The largest cathedral in Dalmatia, it houses a museum of sacred art where you can see exquisitely crafted reliquaries, icons, and statues, as well as the 15th-century Zadar Polyptych, an oil-on-panel painting by Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio.

Other notable museums in Zadar include the Museum of Illusions and the Museum of Ancient Glass. The former offers a unique experience that can be especially enjoyable for those who love puzzles and a challenge. Get lost in the infinitesimal hall of mirrors, and test the limits of your perception in the dozens of optical illusions, holograms, and interactive exhibits on display. On the other hand, the Museum of Ancient Glass holds thousands of glass jars, vials, jewellery and other objects, which have somehow survived the ravages of time.

Another Zadar attraction you shouldn’t miss is the Sea Organ. By far, it’s the most popular landmark in the city, and it’s not hard to see — or rather, hear — why. You’ll find this architectural sound art object on the western end of the waterfront. It consists of a series of 35 tubes of varying length and diameter, and a large resonating cavity, all concealed beneath large marble steps that lead into the water. The wind and the waves create eerily beautiful music as they flow through the pipes — the perfect accompaniment to the otherworldly light show offered by the Sun Salutation, an installation of glass panels just behind the Sea Organ.

Krka National Park

In terms of beauty, Krka National Park rivals Plitvice Lakes National Park. However, Krka has an edge over Plitvice in that visitors can swim in its many lakes and rivers. It’s also a lot more relaxed — far fewer tourists come to Krka, so you can actually take your time exploring, relaxing, and taking lots of photos of the spectacular surroundings.

Visovac Monastery in Krka National Park, Croatia

Visovac Monastery in Krka National Park, Croatia

Follow the Krka River as it flows through a 200-metre deep canyon that cuts through a lush Mediterranean forest, leading you to a series of jaw-dropping waterfalls and gorges. After taking a dip in the pure, clear waters, wander to the ancient monasteries within the reserve, built by monks who were enraptured by the sheer beauty of the area.

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Places to visit in Istria

Hilly Istria is an important centre of agriculture and tourism in Croatia. Its fertile soils produce highly prized wines, cheeses, and other delicacies, and its beauteous landscapes and seascapes attract millions of visitors from the world over.


PULA


Located at the tip of the Istrian Peninsula, Pula is Istria’s industrial and commercial centre. A former colony of Rome, the city’s most famous attractions are the amphitheatre — considered to be the best preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy — the triumphal arch, the forum, the Temple of Augustus, and other ancient structures. Pula’s old quarter still has streets surfaced with the original Roman paving stones, though many of the buildings there date only as far back as the Renaissance. They are still pretty to look at, though, and tell a lot about life during that historical period.

Among Pula’s architectural gems are several churches, the most notable of which are the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church of St. Francis. Built in the fourth century, the cathedral still has many of the original mosaics in its floors. Similarly, the Church of St. Francis has a Gothic chamber with a mosaic featuring a hippocampus, a mythical fish-tailed horse, and a swastika. The Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas also has its own artistic treasures, including icons from the 15th and 16th centuries, and an iconostasis from the 18th.

If you want to hit the beach, you’re going to have to head out of Pula. The main beaches are south of the city, with Valkane and Gortanova being closest. Sandy Valkane is accessible to persons with disabilities, while Gortanova is lined with pine trees that provide much-needed shade on hot days, which are plentiful in this part of Croatia.


ROVINJ


The Old Town is the most visited part of Rovinj, a bustling city on the western coast of Istria. At its core is a hill on which the Church of St. Euphemia was built in the 18th century. Atop the 61-metre-high bell tower is a copper statue of St. Euphemia, twirling on a spindle to indicate the direction of the wind.

Laid out beneath the church is a maze of narrow streets and alleys flanked by shops, cafés, and restaurants, spilling out right onto the water’s edge. Shop for souvenirs — you can’t go wrong with a bottle of the Istrian liqueur Teranino, lavender oils and soaps, and fine leathercraft and ceramics made by the region’s artisans. Or try traditional fare such as burek (a meat- or cheese-filled flaky pastry), maneštra (a vegetable stew), and a multitude of dishes featuring truffles, which are among Istria’s most valued food products.

Outside Rovinj are some natural wonders, including the boot-shaped peninsula of Punta Corrente, where you’ll find the Golden Cape Forest Park. Admire the glittering Adriatic in this spectacular swath of forestland and rocky coves, or free climb at the former rock quarry within the park’s expansive grounds. The local beaches are also to die for — the closest to town, Monte Beach, is actually just down the hill from St. Euphemia’s. Another first-rate beach is Lone Bay, with its pebbly shore sheltered by pine groves.


POREČ


In the past few years, Poreč became the de facto summer capital of Istria. From June to September, holidaymakers throng its streets and nearby beaches, hurrying to the next festival or rave, or staggering home after a night of partying. In spite of this, Poreč has kept much of its Old World charms, due in part to the large collection of ancient buildings and structures within its limits.

Take the Euphrasian Basilica, for instance. This sixth-century church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a highly valued example of Byzantine architecture. Within the basilica’s complex are a church, an atrium, and a baptistery, through which you have to pass in order to climb the belfry, which offers panoramic views of Poreč’s old town.

Ancient Roman structures also abound in Poreč, which was once part of the Roman colony Iulia Parentium. One of these is the Temple of Neptune, located on the Trg Marafor, Poreč’s main square. The Roman-era streets of Decumanus and Cardo Maximus have also been preserved, and are now filled with shops and restaurants that are patronized by both locals and tourists.

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Places to visit in the Croatian Islands

Dubrovnik
Croatia has 1,244 islands, islets, and crags — some inhabited, many unspoiled, all of them beautiful.


ISLANDS NEAR DUBROVNIK

Lokrum, Korčula, Mljet, and the Elaphitis


Lokrum is said to be cursed, but that hasn’t stopped people from visiting this island of beaches, parks, peacocks (its only inhabitants), and multitude of Game of Thrones filming locations. Hike up to Fort Royal, built by the French at the island’s highest point during the Napoleonic Wars. Or swim in the crystal clear Dead Sea, a small lake that drains into the Adriatic.

Lokrum Island and nature park near Dubrovnik, Croatia

You can also swim in the lakes on Mljet, the southernmost and easternmost of Dalmatia’s islands. You’ll find these in the national park on the island’s western end, along with winding walking and cycling tracks, and the ruins of a Roman palace right on the waterfront.

There are a number of beaches, each more beautiful than the last, along Korčula’s 182-kilometre-long coast. But the island is better known for being the birthplace of Marco Polo; the house where he was allegedly born is now a museum, and it has a loggia from which you can get incredible views of the town. The island is also famous for its olive groves and vineyards. Stay overnight at Agroturizam Bire in Lumbarda for a taste of their grk and plavac wines, as well as traditional dishes made from fresh produce grown on the estate.

The Elaphiti Islands is a small archipelago northwest of Dubrovnik. Only three of the main islands are inhabited. Farthest from the mainland is Šipan, whose population of 436 individuals live in two settlements separated by a verdant valley where figs, olives, and grapes are cultivated. Lopud has the most developed tourism infrastructure in the Elaphitis, and visitors love to walk among its charming stone houses and ancient fortresses. Finally, Koločep is known for its Blue Cave, a hidden cove on the island’s south side.


ISLANDS NEAR SPLIT AND MAKARSKA

Brač, Šolta, Hvar, and Vis


Dalmatia’s largest island is Brač, home to Zlatni Rat, a beach that is regularly ranked as one of Europe’s best. This white pebble beach is bordered by a grove of pine trees, the remainder of an ancient Roman villa that once stood on the island. Strong currents make the waters at Brač astoundingly clear, but they can be quite dangerous for swimming, especially farther out into the open sea. After a day at the beach, head into Supetar for drinks at the local beer garden or watch the sunset at any of the town’s many beaches. Also worth a visit is the cemetery, the highlight of which is the grandiose mausoleum of the Petrinović family.

Right next to Brac is Šolta. The island’s southern side has gorgeous coves and beaches that are perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and fishing. Meanwhile, on the eastern side, the small fishing village of Stomorksa has a pretty waterfront lined with eateries, many of which offer gastronomic delights made fresh from the day’s catch. Šolta is a haunt for yachtsmen, scuba divers, cyclists, and hikers.

Hvar is the sunniest place in Croatia — it gets 2,724 hours of sunlight every year — making it a top choice for sun worshippers. Dubovica just outside Hvar town is a fantastic white pebble beach with blue-green waters popular among divers. The beaches of Mekićevica Bay, meanwhile, are secluded and thus perfect for those who want a quiet afternoon to themselves. A great many beaches and diving spots are in the Pakleni Islands, a few nautical miles from Hvar. If you don’t feel like hitting the beach, though, you can always spend the day exploring Hvar’s lavender fields, or just stay in Hvar town. Visit the Arsenal, where you’ll find Europe’s oldest theatre, and Fortica, a fortress with a terrace café where you can have snacks while taking in the amazing view. At night, have wine and an assortment of Croatian tapas at a traditional restaurant; try the rare delicacy forska pogaća (Hvar anchovy pie) and, for something more filling, get the wild boar ragù.

Vis is the furthest of the Croatian islands from the coast, and this isolation has kept it relatively unspoilt. The beaches are as gorgeous as anywhere in the country, but they’re not as congested. Vis is a place where you won’t have to go elbow to elbow with strangers to admire the fine details on a church’s doors, or to view a valuable artefact at the museum. Note, however, that some places on Vis are busier than others, particularly during specific times of the day. For instance, from 11:00 a.m. to noon, the Blue Cave is crawling with tourists who want to see the ethereal blue light that bathes this sea cave’s interior.


ISLANDS NEAR ŠIBENIK AND ZADAR

Zlarin, Prvić, Pag, and Rab


Zlarin is a small island in the Šibenik archipelago renowned for its pristine forests and beaches. Sailors moor their boats in the island’s naturally protected harbour. Every year, the yacht club holds three regattas in the bay. Zlarin is also famous for its red corals, and jewellery made from these are part of the islanders’ traditional costume.

The harbour of Sibenik, Croatia at sunset

The harbour of Sibenik, Croatia at sunset

Charming stone houses with green-shuttered windows will greet you in Prvić. This island of vineyards, olive groves, and medieval churches is considered an important cultural heritage, and is thus under the protection of the Ministry of Culture. Concerts, art exhibitions, and many sporting events are held yearly on the island.

Pag has the longest coastline of all Croatian islands, and so has a large number of fantastic beaches. One of these is Zrće Beach, known for its 24/7 bars and discotheques as much as for its immaculate pebble beach and sparkling waters. Pag is also famous for Paški sir, a hard artisanal sheep milk cheese that the islanders have been producing for hundreds of years. Other long-standing traditions on Pag are lace and salt production, with museums dedicated to these pieces of intangible heritage in Pag town.

Aerial shot of Rab, Croatia

Aerial shot of Rab, Croatia

Known as the ‘Happy Island,’ Rab is — appropriately enough — where you’ll find Paradise Beach, one of the best beaches in the world according to CNN. The beach has long stretches of fine sand and shallow spots that are ideal for swimming and other water activities. Also, the public beach in Rab town offers a unique swimming experience — it’s right next to a school of classical music, so at any time of the day, swimmers are serenaded with Mozart, Bach, and Croatia’s legendary classical composers.


ISLANDS NEAR ISTRIA

Cres and Krk


A single road running down the middle of Cres connects the island’s 15 villages. In the main town of Cres, spend the morning sampling locally grown produce in the fruit and vegetable market, or take a boat out and fish for your lunch — bream, conger eel, and a variety of mackerel are plentiful in the waters off Cres. In Osor, take a look at the relics and artefacts that date back to the town’s heyday in Roman times. In Valun, the 11th-century Valun Tablet lists, in both Latin and Glagolitic script, three generations of villagers who were buried there.

If the tablet got you curious about the Glagolitic alphabet, head to Krk, said to be the birthplace of the aforesaid Slavic language. Follow the Baška Glagolitic Path, a monument dedicated to the ancient language. You can also find out more about the local culture and traditions in the Baška Heritage Museum. Meanwhile, in the town of Vrbnik, a medieval town built on a limestone outcrop, there’s a display of ancient Glagolitic manuscripts in the parish church. The area is also known for žlahtina, a dry white wine made from grapes indigenous to Krk.

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Things to remember before you go

Excited for your trip to Croatia? Keep the following in mind to ensure safe and hassle-free travels.

Visa and passport requirements

Canadian tourists do not need a visa to enter Croatia. Visa-free entry is allowed for tourists staying for a period of 90 days or less.

You do need a passport with a validity of at least six months and at least two blank visa pages. If you’re flying from Croatia to a third country, it is recommended that you confirm with your airline if you need a transit visa.


Cruises in the Adriatic

Curising the Adriatic Sea MS Paradis
From mid-April to mid-October, cruisers come in droves to Croatia. Many arrive aboard megaships, but there are also those who prefer smaller vessels that afford a more intimate experience. Here’s a look at the types of cruise you can take on your Croatian holiday.

  • Luxury cruises
    Luxury cruises offer a wide range of amenities in ritzy, elegant vessels. While luxury megaships are popular, smaller vessels that can accommodate between 40 and 100 passengers are getting more and more attention from cruisers.

    There are several small luxury ships that make stops in Croatia, usually in Dubrovnik and Split, but also in Rovinj and other ports along the Croatian coast. Typical amenities include spacious suites and staterooms with living and dining areas equipped with top-of-the line appliances and elegant furnishings. These and other creature comforts give off a decidedly swanky vibe without being over the top, making for a relaxed and casual experience.

    But if it’s over the top you’re looking for, you can choose from one of several classic luxury cruise lines that visit Croatia. One of these can accommodate up to 700 passengers in its stately suites, all of them with a private balcony. Amenities include a casino, putting green, theatre, and five-star restaurants. However, many of these megaliners only ever dock at Dubrovnik or Split.

  • Sailing cruises
    A truly unique cruise experience is what you’ll have when you go on a sailing cruise of the Croatian coast. Smaller sailboats can accommodate up to 50 people, while larger ones can hold over 200. For those on a budget, opt for a traditional wooden sailboat, which has basic yet comfortable cabins, shared or en suite bathrooms, and a galley where passengers can dine together and interact. These boats are popular among the younger set, particularly students and young professionals who want to see as much of the Croatian coast and islands as possible.

    Other sailboats are better appointed, with cabins and staterooms complete with a private bathroom, television, and hair dryer, among other thoughtful amenities. Some rooms even have a private veranda, giving you a quiet retreat from all the activity onboard.

  • Local and day cruises
    Alternatively, you can charter a boat for local cruise, which usually takes a week. Sail from Dubrovnik or Split to other ports of call on the coast, or go island-hopping in the Adriatic. Local cruise ships can accommodate 20 to 40 passengers; because they’re smaller than those that ply the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, they can dock at Croatia’s smaller islands, giving cruisers the chance to see the sights that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.

    Also very popular are day cruises, which you can arrange by simply asking around the harbour or through a clearinghouse. They are easily available in Croatia’s major ports, especially Dubrovnik and Split, and take you to nearby coastal towns and islands.

In 2020, Wheel & Anchor is taking its tribe of travellers on a week-long cruise down the Adriatic coast of Croatia aboard the MS Paradis. Together, we’ll sail across the bluest, clearest stretches of sea to remote islands and charming coastal towns, bask in the warm sunshine on gorgeous beaches, and sample the finest wines and cuisine. Don’t miss out on this unforgettable experience — sign up today.

Map of the Wheel & Anchor tour of Croatia, Slovenia, and the Adriatic Coast

Map of the Wheel & Anchor tour of Croatia, Slovenia, and the Adriatic Coast

Cruise the Adriatic With Us!

The coastline of Croatia is one of the most beautiful and unique you’ll find anywhere. Our cruise aboard the 40-passenger MS Paradis will take us to the some of the smaller islands in the central Adriatic with plenty of time to explore on our own.

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