Vacationers traveling to Europe in search of heavenly, paradisal islands often already know about destinations like Greece’s famed Ionian Islands, the Saronic Islands and the Cyclades Islands. However, many travelers still aren’t aware that venturing further northwest into the vividly-blue Adriatic Sea will take them to one of the most beautiful and unspoiled countries in Europe: Croatia. Sitting directly across the sea from Italy, Croatia is often called the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” and one of its sparking jewels is undoubtedly its postcard-like Dalmatian Coast.
Croatia has so much to offers vacationers that we’re simply not going to attempt to cover it all here. This post won’t talk about the charming, Italian-like spots found on the Croatian peninsula of Istria. It won’t discuss the cultural attractions found in its capital city of Zagreb. We’re not going to cover the world-renown Plitvice Lakes National Park. In fact, we’re even skipping the ancient cities of Dubrovnik and Split, both of which reside along the country’s Dalmatian Coast. No, right now folks – we’re just focusing on islands!
Croatia has long stretches of amazing coastline and well over a thousand islands. Many aren’t inhabited. Some are natural parks. Quite a few have thriving industries of wine, olive oil or lavender production. Many have fascinating historical sites to visit. Almost all have extremely good seafood, wine, rather friendly locals – and indescribably beautiful beaches. (Seriously, we cannot keep track of how many times a Croatian beach has made one of Condé Nast’s prestigious lists). Visiting the islands in Croatia also gives one an interesting view of both Slavic and Mediterranean cultures. So without further ado, here are five of our absolute favorite islands to visit in Croatia.
If you have ever dreamt of getting temporarily stranded on a sunny, beautiful island, Mljet would fit the bill. In fact, legend has it that Croatia’s eighth-largest island is where Homer’s forsaken hero was held captive by Calypso for seven years, and once you visit Mljet – you’ll have a hard time feeling sorry for poor Odysseus. (Some Biblical scholars also claim that Mljet was the site of St. Paul the Apostle’s shipwreck).
Although very near the extraordinary city of Dubrovnik, Mljet is the epitome of pristine, unspoiled nature. This is the perfect place to recharge the batteries in between your cultural and historic sightseeing in Croatia. (In fact, I once intended to go to Mljet on a day trip from nearby Dubrovnik – and ended up staying four nights.) Mljet is famed for its beautiful lakes, Lake Veliko and Lake Malo, and for its dense forests of Aleppo pine and evergreen oak. It is undoubtedly the greenest island in Croatia. So if you were looking at an aerial shot of Mljet, it would look like a ring of azure blue, encircled by a band of green forest – with an outer rim of turquoise sea.
The northwestern part 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 available on Mljet, the best way to get around the island is by bicycle. While visiting Mljet your time can be spent bicycling around the island, enjoying extensive walking trails, relaxing on the crystal-clear seashores, and going swimming in the warm, saltwater lakes.
Other potential sightseeing activities on Mljet include kayaking, canoeing, hiking, caving and scuba diving. There are also interesting ancient fortifications that can be visited – as can the scenic islet of St. Mary, which lies on Veliko Lake; the islet houses a beautiful, 12th-century Benedictine monastery. Mljet is conveniently connected to nearby Dubrovnik by regular ferry service, and 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. Having been inhabited for thousands of years, Korčula has played host to Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, and later Slavic peoples. At different points in time the island was ruled by the Kingdom of Hungary as well as the Italian maritime republics of Venice, Genoa and Ragusa.
When you exit the boat, it will seem very crowded before entering Korčula Town’s walled Old Town, which is often described as being a miniature version of Dubrovnik. That being said, it’s busy for a reason as medieval Korčula Town is magnificently timeless once you begin meandering! (The Land Gate, Cathedral of St. Mark, Town Museum and the Abbey Treasury all merit a visit).
After visiting Korčula Town we encourage you to get lost exploring the more rustic, laidback side of the island. Housing picturesque vineyards, wineries, great walking trails, pretty beaches and traditional fishing hamlets, Korčula is also home to many interesting legends and traditions – including the traditional sword dance of “Moreška,” which originated many moons ago on the island. And when visiting Korčula, 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 well connected and easy to visit. There are frequent ferries with 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 (in addition to several Italian cities during high season).
When you first arrive to Hvar by boat, you will immediately feel a more affluent vibe than you would on the other Croatian islands featured on this blog. You will almost certainly see fellow tourists more gussied up – as well as an array of large yachts docked in the marina of Hvar Town. This is not to dissuade you from visiting Hvar. Hotel rates can be higher than elsewhere, but truthfully Hvar can be quite a fun place to spend a few days. Its ambience is pleasantly lively, and there are great places to go for dinner, wonderful outdoor cafes and art galleries. Its beaches, including those found at Uvala Dubovica and Grebišće, also merit a visit.
And it’s not entirely upscale everywhere. The island of Hvar is home to spectacularly beautiful landscapes and generally great weather. Compared to other Adriatic islands, it’s surprisingly fertile being blessed with pine forests, fields of lavender and scenic olive groves. The island also produces some very good wines, and when exploring Hvar you’re likely to come across vineyards on its southern end as well as on its central plain.
Hvar’s history is also fantastic. With the islands past residents pre-dating the ancient Greeks, it’s no surprise that the island’s town of Stari Grad is one of the oldest in all of Europe (it forms part of Hvar’s UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Stari Grad Plain). There are several interesting ancient archeological sites on the island, and having housed an important naval base for the powerful Venetian Republic, Hvar’s medieval history and architecture are also very interesting.
Located very near Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, Hvar is well connected by ferry and catamaran to mainland Split and the nearby islands of Korčula, Brač, Vis and Lastovo. Or if you’re 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, the Croatian island of Brač resembles paradise on earth. Its famous beach, Zlatni Rat, (located near the port town of Bol) has frequently graced the covers of travel publications like Condé Nast – and understandably so. 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 unique beaches. (Lovrečina Bay is home to a particularly nice beach). Freshly-caught seafood and locally-produced wines are very good, and Brač is also an excellent spot for those wanting to incorporate sports like windsurfing or scuba diving into their Croatian vacation. The only risk with visiting Brač is that after spending a few days here, you may never want to go home! The island is very well connected by both ferry and catamaran with Split, and there are often good connections during high season with the nearby island of Hvar.
5. Dugi otok
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 island to visit if you’re looking for somewhere less-touristy and undeveloped with a wild, natural sort of beauty. 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 are 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 offers nature tours to visitors. And if you really want to see some unusual natural landscapes or enjoy unforgettable scuba diving, Dugi otok is also located near the unusual Kornati Islands National Park.
After arriving by ferry from Zadar, to extensively explore the island of Dugi otok you will need to rent a car. While driving you’re likely to encounter vineyards, fruit orchards and picturesque lands used for sheep grazing. And if you’re just interested in coming for the day, it’s always possible to base yourself in Zadar and make a daytrip to Dugi otok. During your visit be sure to check out the iconic lighthouse found in the village of Veli Rat.
We hope you enjoyed reading about five great islands to consider including on your next trip to Croatia. When visiting Croatia, you will undoubtedly want to visit the prime spots along the mainland coastline as well as several must-see areas located in Croatia’s interior. However, we hope that you will now leave a few days in your itinerary for some well-deserved island hopping!
To view our vacation packages to Croatia, please kindly click here. You will notice that we also have a variety of Escorted Tours should you prefer traveling to Croatia with a group. At go-today, we can also customize itineraries for groups, and our Trip Builder tool will allow you to create your own individual trip based on your needs, interests and budget. Should you wish to make a reservation or get more information on traveling to Croatia, please feel free to give our reservations staff a call at (800) 227-3235.