Croatia is fast becoming a popular destination in Eastern Europe, attracting revellers, history buffs and nature lovers alike. However, whilst Split is a fantastic starting point to experience everything the country has to offer, make sure you don’t overlook these stunning hidden gems of Croatia.
Known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, prepare to be enchanted by this stunning walled city which is bathing in the sapphire waters of the Adriatic Sea. This UNESCO-listed city is steeped in history: walk along the walls to view its battle scars from previous conflicts and natural disasters. But it’s not just about the history, as the city is also making a name for itself in popular culture — thanks to the hit Game of Thrones series — as Dubrovnik is the setting of King’s Landing. Join a GoT tour to explore more of the sites seen in the show.
Once you’ve had your fill of culture, explore the natural beauty spots on offer: catch a cable car up to the top of Mt Srđ for breathtaking vistas; go sea kayaking around the outskirts of the city; or recline on the many beaches that embrace the coastline. If it’s retail therapy you’re in need of, Dubrovačka kuća is a treasure trove of handmade gifts.
After a busy day of adventure, head over to Banje Beach Club where you can dance the night away or recline on a plush sofa, cocktail in hand!
If you want to sample the fantastic nightlife Croatia has to offer, look no further than Hvar Town – another one of the country’s hidden gems. Found on the island of Hvar, this is all about the glitz and glamour and, understandably, attracts many party-goers during the summer months.
After exploring the Old Town and St Stephen’s Square — one of the largest squares in Dalmatia — hop on a boat to explore the tranquil Pakleni Islands. This archipelago has an abundance of secluded beaches where you can recline on golden sands (clothes are even optional on some of them!) — or why not take a sailing or kayaking trip around them?
After a peaceful day, don your best party outfit and hit the local clubs! Have drinks at the Carpe Diem Bar on the mainland, or take a boat to Carpe Diem Beach where you’ll find a variety of events put on throughout the summer with a whole load of great DJs in attendance. Central Park Club, located in the heart of the city, is a great place to indulge in Croatian wines and cocktails whilst listening to blues and jazz.
If you want to escape all the tourists crowding up the southern half of the Dalmatian coast, head north to Zadar. This is a city of contrasts, where ancient ruins rub shoulders with cosmopolitan delights.
Have a meander around the Roman Forum which was constructed between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD or visit the many religious sites such as St Simeon’s Church and Church of St Donatus. Make sure you also allocate time to witness Nikola Bašić’s fantastic architectural installations in action: the Sea Organ which is cut into the promenade and is made up of a series of pipes which emits noises when the sea pushes air through them, and the mesmerising Sun Salutation which uses solar power to create a rainbow disco floor from sunset to sunrise.
There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat after a long day of exploring. Kaštel restaurant serves up delicious Croatian cuisine while Kornat has a prime spot on the harbour, affording gorgeous views to soak up as you eat. And if you are a festival-goer, head over to nearby Island of Pag for Hideout Festival in June and Sonus Festival in August.
After you’ve exhausted Zadar, why not head over to the beautiful island of Dugi Otok? Named after its distinctive shape (its name translates as “long island”), this is the perfect oasis retreat and is full of hidden gems if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of mainland Croatia and has a plethora of perfect beaches to unwind on. Sakarun Beach, at the northern tip of the island, boasts crystalline waters which are just calling out for you to take a dip in. The nearby Veli Rat lighthouse provides plenty of photographic opportunities and, standing at 42m high, is the tallest lighthouse in the Adriatic. The neighbouring chapel of St Nicholas is a popular wedding spot that’s also worth checking out.
Head south to Sali — the administrative and municipal centre of the island — as this is probably the best place from which to base your island exploration. Telašćica Nature Park and Kornati National Park are beautiful nearby destinations if you fancy a stroll in gorgeous natural surroundings. If you are in Sali during the first weekend of August, make sure you take part in Saljske užance which is a cultural festivity with a 50 year history. Expect to find musical performances, traditional food and donkey races!