Often called the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Croatia is a masterpiece of nature. Beech forests, limestone crags, ancient walled cities, and magnificent beaches—you name it, you’ll find it in Croatia. You could spend a lifetime exploring the country’s Byzantine ruins and wandering through the red-roofed capital of Zagreb. You could—and should—venture into stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park and leave with a whole new outlook on life. Croatia is a bewitching country, and nowhere is this more visible than its lush, serene islands.
Everything you need from a vacation you can find on Croatia’s islands: national parks, vineyards and olive groves, fresh seafood, and beaches. The country has around 1,000 islands—a daunting number when trying to choose your ideal destination. Allow us to provide some assistance. Here are five splendid island getaways that you must experience on your next trip to Croatia.
Literary scholars theorize that Mljet, Croatia’s eighth-largest island, is where Homer’s forsaken hero Odysseus ran his boat aground on his return home from Troy. Some Biblical scholars also claim that Mljet was the site of St. Paul the Apostle’s shipwreck. Regardless of the authenticity of these claims, we can think of much, much worse places to be stranded.
Mljet is the epitome of pristine, unspoiled nature. Visitors come to witness its scintillating lakes—Veliko and Malo—and dense forests of Aleppo pines and evergreen oaks. The northwestern portion of the island is a protected national park, spotted with basic-but-comfortable family-run hotels, as well as a large hotel in the village of Pomena. The local seafood is excellent and fresh. Although there is public bus transportation, the best way to get around the island is by bicycle. You can also kayak, canoe, hike, scuba dive, or go caving. Visit ancient fortifications or check out the 12th-century Benedictine monastery on the scenic islet of St. Mary in Veliko Lake. Mljet conveniently connects to nearby Dubrovnik via regular ferry service. From Mljet, it’s easy to sail northwest to the island of Korčula.
Reputed to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, the beautiful island of Korčula has a fascinating past. Inhabited for thousands of years, Korčula has played host to Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, and Slavs. At various times the island was ruled by the Kingdom of Hungary as well as the Italian maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, and Ragusa.
Often described as a miniature version of Dubrovnik, Korčula’s Town is a walled center of medieval wonders. Don’t miss the Land Gate, Cathedral of St. Mark, Town Museum, and the Abbey Treasury. After visiting Korčula Town, go lose yourself in the island’s more rustic, laid-back side. Discover picturesque vineyards, wineries, walking trails, and traditional fishing hamlets. Take in a traditional “Moreška” sword dance, and be sure to taste the local white wines (mainly produced around the village of Lumbarda) and high-quality olive oil.
Despite the lack of a bridge to the Dalmatian Coast on the Croatian mainland, Korčula is easy to visit. Round-trip ferries run frequently between the port town of Orebić on the Pelješac Peninsula, as well as ferry and catamaran connections from Korčula to Split, Hvar, Zadar, Rijeka, Mljet and Dubrovnik. (Boat service runs to several Italian cities during high season.)
When you first arrive on Hvar, you might detect an affluent vibe. Fellow tourists may appear more gussied-up, and you’ll see large, expensive yachts docked in Hvar Town’s marina. Hotel rates may be higher than they are on other islands. Don’t let any of this dissuade you, though; Hvar has a lively atmosphere, and excellent restaurants, art galleries, and outdoor cafes. Its beaches, including those found at Uvala Dubovica and Grebišće, also merit a visit. Take some time to wander its pine forests, lavender fields, and olive groves. The island produces some very good wines, and vineyards dot its southern end and central plain. Hvar also has a fascinating history worth exploring. Colonized by the Greeks in 384, the town of Stari Grad is among the oldest in Europe. (It forms part of Hvar’s UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Stari Grad Plain.)
You can access Hvar by ferry and catamaran to and from mainland Split and the nearby islands of Korčula, Brač, Vis and Lastovo. If you’re the captain of your own ship, you too can park your yacht in Hvar Town’s scenic port.
Also located in the lower stretches of Dalmatia, Brač is paradise on Earth. Its famous beach, Zlatni Rat, is no stranger to the covers of travel publications like Condé Nast. There aren’t many cultural attractions on the island of Brač, where nature and tranquility are really the stars of the show. It’s a great place for vacationers seeking sunshine and tranquil beaches. (Lovrečina Bay, pictured above, is a particularly noteworthy destination.) Sample local cuisine like wine and freshly caught seafood, or try your hand at windsurfing or scuba diving. After spending a few days in Brač, you may never want to go home! The island offers ferry and catamaran service to and from Split, and there are often good connections during high season with nearby Hvar.
Moving north up the Dalmatian Coast, the island of Dugi Otok forms part of a chain of islands located off the coast of the ancient city of Zadar. Dugi Otok is an ideal destination if you’re looking to avoid the crowds. Graced with dramatic cliffs, portions of the island’s coastline are absolutely striking. Its beaches are equally magnificent, especially the one found in Sakarun Bay. If you’re interested in rock climbing, hiking, bicycling, fishing or scuba diving, Dugi Otok is a great choice. The southeastern part of the island houses the Telašćica Nature Reserve, which often provides tours. If you really want to see some unusual natural landscapes or enjoy unforgettable scuba diving, check out nearby Kornati Islands National Park.
After arriving by ferry from Zadar, you’ll need to rent a car to explore the entirety of the island. While driving, you’re likely to encounter vineyards, fruit orchards, and sheep pastures. If you’re just on the island for the day, be sure to check out the iconic lighthouse in the village of Veli Rat.