A Guide to Southern Croatia: Island Hopping and More
Arts & Culture
Lesser known Croatia is a country with a diverse, hidden gem of a coastline over a thousand miles long flanking ancient walled cities and towns. Sun-drenched islands that accommodate all types of travelers, stunning lakes, secluded beaches and coves, a booming cultural scene, boutique hotels and a rich food scene await in Croatia. Situated along the Adriatic Sea, the southern tip of Croatia stands out for its crystal clear waters and fresh sea-to-table cuisine that its more notorious neighbors often overlook. Let everyone else jet off to Positano or Santorini while you enjoy entire beaches in Croatia all to yourself.
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Where to stay in Croatia
Hotel Vestibul Palace
Set in Split's historic Old Town, this small boutique hotel features classic rooms and suites and an airy restaurant.
$50 hotel / resort credit.
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Iconic landmark hotel with tranquil gardens and a beautiful beach — the hotel’s three restaurants all offering spectacular views of the Adriatic and an indoor swimming pool for guests to enjoy at leisure.
Boasting spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea, this spectacular property offers picture-perfect luxury just minutes from Dubrovnik's Old Town.
Complimentary 3 Course lunch for up to two guests per bedroom.
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Things to do in Croatia
Main Places to Visit in Croatia
A wonderful and convenient jumping off point for your Croatia trip. Almost on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dubrovnik is one of the most popular places to visit in all of Croatia. Live out your Game of Thrones dreams and walk the ancient city walls that encompass all of the Old Town of Dubrovnik. You can even visit the real-life steps of Baelor where Cersei did her infamous walk of shame. Wander within the pedestrian-only old town of Dubrovnik and you will find an abundance of shops, boutiques and lively restaurants offering fresh from-the-sea dishes and unique architecture such as the Onofrio Fountain, Rector's Palace, Dubrovnik Cathedral and the Pile Gate. Visit the Lovrijenac Fortress for views of that tower above Dubrovnik and its sparkling sea. You can also rent a kayak or charter a boat for a day on the Adriatic and visit the neighboring islands like Lokrum. If you are a fan of sunsets or views in general, take the Dubrovnik Cable car up to Mount Srd to soak in unforgettable panoramic views. Relax at the Banje Beach Club.
The biggest city in Croatia and most likely where you will fly into if coming in internationally. Zagreb is a huge cultural hub. From here it is easy to hop on a short flight, ferry or bus down into the other parts of the country. Unlike its beachier counterparts, Zagreb has a remarkable museum scene, including different sites like the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Hangover Museum, and the Mimara Museum. Be sure to explore the Upper Town as well as visiting the beautiful Zagreb cathedral.
Split is a major port city that is going to be the key to exploring the Croatian islands of the Adriatic Sea. Split itself is an ancient city located within a 1,700-year-old Diocletian Palace. Wander its ruins, climb the St. Domnius bell tower and then cool off at one of its many wine bars, a popular product of Croatia. Its seafront promenade, called the Riva, is a perfect place for a stroll or to enjoy people (or boat watching) at one of its many cafes or restaurants on the water. You can also visit the local market full of fresh fish and vegetables. You can also spend a morning in picture-perfect Trogir, a beautiful walled old city reachable in just 30 minutes from Split by car.
If you are looking for relaxed island living, look no further than Vis. Do not expect to find any shopping malls, high rises, chain restaurants or stores on this island. On the flip side, it is the perfect place to disconnect and just recently became open to visitors in 1991. Rent a boat, scooter or small car and get to exploring some of the most gorgeous beaches you will ever lay eyes on. Fun fact, Mamma Mia 2 was actually filmed on this island, not in Greece. Vis island is the farthest Croatian island from the mainland but can easily be reached by ferry from Split. The Blue Cave is the most famous attraction in Vis, reachable by boat with tours departing all day long. Other stunning beaches include Stinivia, Grandovac, Srebna and Zaglav or you can visit an old Submarine tunnel dating back to the military bases around the island.
On the flip side of Vis, you have the island of Hvar which is world-renowned for its parties often frequented by celebrities. Besides its infamous nightlife, Hvar is known for its almost year-round sunshine, lavender fields, turquoise waters and delicious food. Split between the main towns of Hvar Town, where the ferry drops you off, and Stari Grad, the oldest settlement on the island. Hvar Town is full of massive yachts, beach bars and seafood restaurants lining its promenade while Stari Grad is a bit more off the beaten path near to secluded coves and beaches as well as the home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stari Grad plains. Be sure to visit both Stari Grad and Hvar Town while visiting the island. Like VIs, it is easily reachable by ferry from Split, Vis, Dubrovnik or Brac.
You will find a happy medium of all the islands listed above in the form of Korcula island. Easily reachable from Dubrovnik, Korčula is brimming with natural beauty, as well as a spectacular wine culture, a beautiful old city, and a collection of hidden beaches. A good option if looking for both family-friendly hotels or adult-only options. The main village of Korcula is a good option for where to base your stay as you can easily find transportations or tour options to get around the island. Rumored to be one of the homes of Marco Polo, I recommend a day on foot exploring the old town of Korcula and stopping in one of its many boutiques, restaurants or wineries. As well, I recommend taking a water taxi to the island of Badija, an uninhabited island home to a monastery. You can visit the monastery and walk the path around the island as it takes about an hour and 45 minutes. Bačva and Pupnatska Luka are also two beautiful beaches on the southern end of Korcula. Korcula is also easily reachable by ferry from all major ports in Croatia.
Whether you choose to take a day trip here from Hvar or spend a few nights, I absolutely recommend the island of Brac. Brač offers many different beaches to visitors. Home to what many call the best in Croatia, and often makes the best beaches in the world is Zlatni Rat, or Golden Horn, which gets its name from the color of the sand and the shape of the beach. Brač is also home to beautiful hiking trails like the Vida Gore, towering almost 1,000 meters above the Zlatni Rat. You can also visit Bol and its secluded beaches as well as the Dominican Monastery. As mentioned before, it is easy to reach Brac from all islands and Split.
Plitvice Lakes - This is an accessible day trip from both Split or Zagreb and the lakes constantly come in as the #1 attraction in Croatia. You can do an organized tour from either city but Split is going to be a slightly longer drive. Sometimes public transportation can take a very long time in Croatia and going with a private tour company helps to get you there on time and skip the general public lines. Zagreb is about a two-hour drive and Split is a three-hour drive (one way) to the Plitvice Lakes. The lakes are absolutely stunning but don't be tempted as it is illegal to swim in the lakes.
Mostar - When visiting Dubrovnik, we booked a tour to take us to Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina. It made for a long day (about three hours each way) but visiting this ancient town was absolutely worth it. I also felt one day was plenty to take in the sights and see the influence and remnants of Ottoman rule.
Places to eat & drink in Croatia
Places to eat & drink in Dubrovnik
Buža Bar - A literal 'hole in the wall', this hidden bar is an absolute must for a sunset cocktail or beer. Grab a table or seat on the rocks or, if you are feeling adventurous, cliff jump or dive from one of the many access points across the rocks. Important to note that this bar is cash only and there are no toilets.
Nautika - One of the top-rated restaurants in Dubrovnik offering amazing views from two patios and world-class dishes. A bit more on the formal side, this Michelin-starred restaurant specializes in local seafood dishes and ingredients.
360 - Another Michelin-starred restaurant with panoramic views, this spot is also known for intricate tasting menus of fresh seafood while incorporating local ingredients. You also cannot go wrong with any wine recommendations.
Taj Mahal - This is a unique Bosnian eatery with a wide selection of authentic Balkan dishes like kebabs, burke pastries and parma.
D'vino Wine Bar - Located off a side street of the main strand in the old town, Dvino is the absolute best to sample local wines, cheeses and meats.
Places to eat & drink in Split
Restaurant Dvor - This is an absolutely stunning restaurant with a courtyard backing right up to the sea. Find dishes such as raw tuna stuffed with goose liver, pork crackling candy with bacon chips, smoked sea risotto, or ravioli in wild rabbit sauce. Reservations recommended.
Uje Oil Bar - Really awesome and quaint local bar. The heavy use of local ingredients like cheeses, meats, pastas and olive oil help to make exceptional meals.
Zinfandel - Well renowned food and wine bar specializing in small bites. A great place to take a break after exploring the old town.
Cornaro Rooftop - Located on top of the Cornaro Hotel, I witnessed one of the most spectacular sunsets in all of Croatia at this hotel. Unparalleled and 360 views await, so don't miss out, if only for a glass of Croatian wine!
Luka - Famous bakery and gelateria. Go here to try lavender ice cream straight from the local Croatian fields.
Places to eat & drink in Vis
Konoba Senko - Vis is, in my opinion, one of Croatia's best-kept secrets and Senko is the best secret restaurant. While you will not find its address on Google or Apple Maps, ask any local taxi or boat driver and they will be able to take you to the little hidden stone house turned restaurant of Senko. Chef and owner Senko Karuza is a well-known Croatian writer who puts on a culinary performance with meals based on ingredients available that day. A once-in-a-lifetime dining experience, booking ahead is extremely recommended.
Pojoda - Located in the heart of Vis town with a beautiful terrace with great service. Some specialty dishes include octopus patties, steamed squid, fish in chickpeas, monkfish and lobster stew.
Kantun - Located in central Vis as well, this restaurant specializes (no surprise here) in seafood dishes with an extensive wine list.
Fort George - I highly recommend every visitor to Vis take the ride up to Fort George. While they have a few small bites, it's best to grab a drink and enjoy the stunning views over Vis in this literal ancient fortress. Sunsets here are breathtaking. Check the event schedule before you go as there are frequent private parties and weddings.
PatiODoli - An ice cream shop located on the waterfront promenade in VIs. The ice cream here is so unique and was so good we went back twice.
Places to eat & drink in Hvar
Carpe Diem - Because Hvar is known around the world for its parties, the first recommendation I have is a bar that actually moves from a club to a private island at night or day. From JayZ to Prince Harry, Carpe Diem club is amongst the best places to enjoy Hvar Nightlife. Take a water taxi leaving about every 1/2 hour from the Carpe Diem bar right on the water of the port in Hvar Town. Taxis run back all night until about 5 am. Be prepared to pay in cash only. Carpe Diem is also a beach club during the day, and highly recommended to visit for the most insta worthy shots.
Hula Hula - A bit more for the backpackers, Hula Hula beach bar is another popular bar on the beach club and nightlife circuit. Again cash only, visit for fun drinks and epic sunset parties.
Lungo Mare - Away from the party scene we have the family-owned-and-run restaurant of Lungo Mare. Serving classic Croatian dishes and is located in Hvar Town right off the main harbour.
Konoba Luvinj - Another specialty family-run Croatian restaurant, Luivnj is set in a renovated wine cellar and uses high-quality ingredients from olive oils to seafood dishes. The restaurant also has a rooftop terrace, which provides awesome views of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Hvar Fortress.
Slasticarna Hvar - After visiting the lavender fields in Hvar, head over to Slasticarna Hvar in Hvar town for real lavender ice cream infused with lavender harvested right there on the island.
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