With a population of just 4.2 million, Croatia’s sporting success is remarkable – at the 2016 Olympics, Croatia won three five golds (rowing, sailing and javelin), three silvers (water-polo, rowing and sailing), and two bronzes (boxing and high jump).
In terms of tourism, many lovers of the great outdoors come to Croatia specifically for its adventure-sports facilities – between the sea and the mountains, sailing, scuba diving, sea kayaking, rafting, mountain biking and rock climbing are all on offer.
For those in search of history and culture, city destinations such as Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar offer Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Austro-Hungarian monuments. In fact, the historic centers of Dubrovnik and Split are UNESCO world heritage sites, as are the cathedrals in Trogir and Sibenik and the basilica in Porec. Against this backdrop of splendid historic buildings, these cities stage summer festivals, hosting open-air concerts and theatre after dark, often attracting notable international performers.
While Croatia’s rocky stretch of Adriatic coast is not suitable for large-scale tourist development (there are none of the long sandy beaches found in Greece and Spain), it is astoundingly beautiful, offering numerous small pebble coves backed by pinewoods and giving on to a crystal-clear turquoise sea.
This combination of timeless unspoiled nature coupled with beautifully preserved centuries-old architecture and a lively contemporary cultural scene, including an ever-growing number of electronic and alternative music festivals, promises rewarding memories for anyone who wishes to explore it now.
Zadar’s history goes back to the 4th century B.C. and continues uninterrupted to today. It is a city of both natural and man-made beauty, with many relics of the past. Wander through the streets of its Old Town, first laid out by the Romans, and see the city walls and gates. Having traversed the past, move on to the present, visiting the unique Sea Organ. Take a seat on the white marble steps, gaze out into the sea, and listen as the waves create a “symphony” through a series of tubes underneath the water. And don’t miss the sunset here, proclaimed by Alfred Hitchcock to be “the most beautiful sunset in the world.”
Stepping down as Emperor of the Roman Empire in 305 A.D., Diocletian had the whole of the Empire to choose a place to retire. His choice? Split, then known as Spalatum. He built a luxurious palace complex, complete with Imperial apartments, temples, a mausoleum, a Peristyle courtyard, surrounding walls, and gates. Today, no visit to Croatia would be complete without a stop in Split, if for no other reason than to visit Diocletian’s Palace over 1700 years old.
The sixth largest of Croatia’s approximately 1,200 islands, Korcula is verdant with forests, vineyards, and olive groves. Wine lovers will want to sample Posip wine, produced from white wine grapes of the same name. An olive oil connoisseur? Korcula’s unique varietal has been recognized by the European Union for its cultural value. In addition to gustatory delights, Korcula is home to a striking Old Town, entered by the Land Gate or the Sea Gate. With 13th century walls, a 15th century church, and a 17th century Abbey Treasury, the history of Korcula Town can be seen as you stroll along the city’s streets. Plus, famed explorer and trader Marco Polo hails from Korcula, and the house that may have been his (there’s some mystery about his early days) is open as a museum.
Island Brac, Bol
After a somewhat turbulent history, the island of Brac is now a lovely getaway. Bol, located on the southern part of the island, is its oldest town and one of the most popular due to its beautiful pebble beach. You’ll also find reminders of its Roman past and the trappings of a modern city, with little beachside cafés and nightclubs scattered throughout the town.
Just 35 square miles in size, the island of Vis is a joy to visit. For many years, Vis served as the military headquarters for Tito and was closed to the public. Once it was opened to visitors, it rapidly became a favorite travel destination, largely due to the untouched nature of the attractive island. It is home to inviting beaches, beautiful natural scenery, centuries-old architecture, tempting seafood, and fine local wines. The main town, also called Vis, is set on a protected bay. Take some time to stroll around the town, investigating the churches, cafés, and sports centers, and admiring the views of the sea and harbor.
The sunny island of Hvar is a crown jewel in the Dalmatian Islands, considered by many to be one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world. A fusion of old and new, you’ll find something for everyone here. Maybe relax in a café on St. Stephan’s Square, people watching and admiring the façade of St. Stephan’s Cathedral. You might want to venture up to Spanjola Fortress, a 16th century Venetian fort. Another interesting site is Hvar’s theatre. Established in 1612, it is the first public theatre in Europe. And don’t miss the opportunity to shop for wine, olives, and lavender oils, all locally grown on Hvar.
“Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik,” said George Bernard Shaw about this graceful city. And with her iconic red-roofed buildings, well-preserved city walls, the natural beauty of Srd Hill, and her glorious seaside setting, it’s easy to agree with his assessment. Certainly, the producers of the popular series “Game of Thrones” thought so, as they used Dubrovnik as King’s Landing. Your visit might not be as dramatic as Tyrion Lannister’s, but it will be just as memorable! A walk through her Old Town will take you past domed Onofrio Fountain, the Franciscan Monastery and its 14th century pharmacy, the Orlando Column, and Rector’s Palace. Take your time in town, then bask in the views of the Dubrovnik Riviera and the glimmering waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Pula’s history goes back to pre-history, though the sites you’ll see are considerably younger. Take the Roman Amphitheatre, dating “only” to the 1st century. The Arena, as it is now known, continues to present concerts and other events throughout the year. Look also for the Triumphal Arch of the Sergii, Hercules Gate, and the Temple of Augustus. Of course, Pula has a modern side as well, with bustling cafés, a Museum of Contemporary Art, and one of the oldest film festivals in Europe.
Sibenik is known for its natural beauty and historical monuments. It is at the heart of the Sibenik Riviera, which lies on the coast between Split and Zadar. You won’t want to miss the UNESCO-listed Cathedral of St. Jacob or imposing St. Michael’s Fortress. Sibenik is also the gateway to two stunning national parks, Kornati Islands and Krka Waterfalls.
Omis and Cetina River Canyon
The harbor city of Omis, home to Medieval churches and fortresses and infamous in the Middle Ages for its pirates, is best known today as the center of the Omis Riviera. Featuring the Cetina River and Canyon, the Riviera is a natural wonder of dramatic rock formations, lush vegetation, the rushing river, beaches, islands, and more. Take in the spectacular scenery of the area, and perhaps sample some of the delectable fresh seafood and Mediterranean cuisine in one of the many restaurants and cafés.
National Park Mljet
The lush, green island of Mljet lazes in the sunny Adriatic, beckoning visitors from far and near. Indeed, the island is said to have enchanted Odysseus for seven years! Half of the island is a magnificent national park, home to two saltwater lakes and a 12th century Benedictine Monastery. There are paths along the lakes so you can truly relax and enjoy the unspoiled landscape. You might even want to go for a swim. While on Mljet, don’t miss the opportunity to sample the wines, olives, and goat cheese it is famous for its rich flavor.
National Park Krka
Not far from Sibenik, Krka National Park welcomes visitors with sparkling lakes, rushing river waters, and mesmerizing waterfalls. You may recognize the Skradinski Buk falls, as they are one of Croatia’s most iconic sights. Keep your eyes open for views of the 14th century Visovac Monastery on an island in Lake Visovac. Birdwatchers will find this a particularly interesting visit, as the area is home to numerous birds, including herons, sandpipers, and warblers.
National Park Plitvice Lakes
UNESCO-listed Plitvice Lakes National Park is an area of rare beauty. With 16 lakes connected by a series of splendid waterfalls and lush green forests, it is truly a sight not to be missed! Many of the walkways are suspended over the lakes, allowing for extraordinary views of this outstanding natural wonder. Every vantage point offers new photo opportunities and vistas that will take your breath away. This is also a great spot to seek out the rare birds that call Plitvice their home.
Note: To learn more about Croatia please visit here: Croatian National Tourist Office