A guide to island hopping in Croatia
Looking to plan your island adventure in Croatia? We count down the best islands to visit in the Adriatic.
The Dalmatian Coast has become the stuff of legends over the last few years, thanks in no small part to the hugely successful HBO TV series, Game of Thrones, that has catapulted the lesser-visited Croatian coastline into the spotlight. And with that rugged Mediterranean coast, beautifully crafted old towns and crystal blue waters, it’s no surprise that the Adriatic has become the place to summer vacation.
Not sold on the idyllic setting? Throw in a mix of superb family resorts and some of the best partying you can imagine, and you’ve pretty much got the best for everyone. So, with that in mind, let’s break down the ultimate Adriatic Islands to visit on any Croatia holiday, with this list of must-visit islands on any Croatia island hopping trip.
Now, before diving into a little bit about which islands you should visit, you also have the unenviable choice of deciding which area to explore. Do you head towards the northern Adriatic Islands, the lesser-known, quieter and more authentic region starting in Zadar? Or should you head south towards the Dalmatian Islands, with the world-class Dubrovnik and Split as your jumping off points? It’s not an easy decision, but hopefully reading this will help you come to the right Croatia island hopping itinerary for you.
The most famous of the Croatian islands, Hvar has to be at the top of your must-visit destinations list. Whether you want to find out a little bit about the history of the idyllic Old Town or find your own little private bay for the day, there are a number of picture-perfect towns to explore on Hvar, and plenty to keep you busy for a few days.
With most of the ferries arriving into Hvar Old Town, definitely spend some time meandering around the main square. Stop off at iconic spots like St Stephen’s Cathedral, the Loggia and Clock Tower and Arsenal, or lounge around the cafes, restaurants and hole-in-the-wall stores dotted around these landmarks. Head to the Franciscan Monastery or, if you’re feeling a bit more energetic, hike up to the Spanjola Fortress to find one of the best views on the island.
Want to head away from the crowds? Then consider a trip over to Stari Grad, and stumble into Tvardlj Castle. Or if time on the beach is more your thing, you are spoilt for choice – perch yourself on the sands of Pokonji Dol or, halfway between the Old Town and Stari Grad, Dubovica Beach is well worth a look.
Only a 30-minute ferry ride from Split, you can’t really consider Brač a hidden gem, as it’s one of the largest islands in the Adriatic, and has one of the most famous landmarks in the country: the stunning Zlatni Rat as a further claim to fame. That said, this enchanting island definitely doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, with Hvar and Korcula seen as ‘the’ Croatian island destinations.
Try to eke out some time for this little treasure, slow your travel pace right down, enjoy the rustic life and totally relax on the island. Stay in one of the larger towns dotted around its shores like Bol, Supetar and Milna or find that slice of paradise away from the madding crowds.
If you’ve got the time, carve out at least a day relaxing on the Golden Horn (as Zlatni Rat is also known), the spit that juts out into the Hvar channel. Or, if you don’t fancy sand in your shoes, then check out the Blaca Hermitage, the magnificent monastery that’s etched into the side of a cliff.
The home of eminent explorer, Marco Polo, and arguably the best Old Town in all of Dalmatia (some will say it’s far better than Dubrovnik, although not anywhere near as large).
The ferry to Korcula drops you right at the entrance to the Old Town, making it both a great day trip or the start of a longer stint on the island. And a longer stint you should make of it, as though you can see most of the Old Town in a shorter visit, you’ll miss out on the rest of this island stunner.
For your time in the Old Town, wander those walls, get lost in the winding backstreets, marvel at the Cathedral of St Mark, check out the (supposed) birth home of Marco Polo and quaff some cocktails at Massimo’s in the Zakerja Tower for the ultimate sunset spot on the island.
Another stunning island, and worth at least a day trip to see the Mljet National Park on its own, Mljet sits pretty as the large island in the south of the Dalmatian coast, easily explored from Dubrovnik.
Try to bestow at least a couple of days on this breath-taking destination to ensure you cover off the national park, snorkel in the crystal-clear waters of the Mljet Coral Reef and relax in the stunning Prožurska Luka Bay.
Not only ardent Game of Thrones fans will be thrilled with the number of filming locations that you can find in the region, but Mamma Mia fans will know of the smaller but no less enchanting island of Vis – the main location for Mamma Mia 2.
Movie magic aside, Vis is more than just a list of spots made famous by the silver screen. It has to be one of the prettiest islands in the region, has one of the best beaches in Europe in Stiniva Beach, and is the perfect place to take a day trip out to visit Bisevo Island and the brilliant Blue Grotto.
Northern Adriatic Islands
If you’re not sure on the Dalmatian islands, or this isn’t your first time to Croatia and you’ve already ticked off some of these islands from your travel bucket list, then it’s well worth considering the quieter (and slightly more affordable) islands to the north, in the Kvarner Gulf.
And your best starting point for venturing out to these beauties is from the culturally important coastal town of Zadar, which is also worth at least a day or two of your time before you set sail on your island-hopping adventure.
Kick things off with the stunning island of Rab. Perfect for those wanting to bask in a few rays, it’s known as one of the most sun-kissed destinations in the whole of Europe!
To make the most of that bright light, head towards the north, where just outside Lopar you’ll find a string of the most spectacular sandy beaches to be found in all of the Adriatic. Or want a bit more culture, then base yourself in the romantic Rab Town, or try out any of the other main villages on the island.
Connected to the mainland by bridge, so technically you don’t need to island hop there, but Pag (and one of its cities, Novalja) still makes it onto the list of the best Croatian islands to add to your Adriatic itinerary.
That’s since Pag is unlike anywhere else in the Adriatic; if you didn’t know you were in Croatia you might think you’d made a wrong turn and landed on the moon. With little to no rivers or vegetation covering a lot of the island, it’s got a slightly interstellar appearance.
If you’re looking for somewhere that best reflects traditional Croatian life, then Pag Old Town is undoubtedly worth a look-in. And with Pag being one of the least visited of the islands, there’s an almost endless array of amazing beaches and bays that you’ll have virtually to yourself.
The largest Adriatic island off Croatia’s shoreline, Krk is also one of the busiest, especially popular with German and Austrian holidaymakers. That’s no surprise since it’s also one of the most alluring and accessible islands, joined to the mainland by bridge and with its own airport.
Head to Krk Town, tour to Kosljun Island with its Franciscan Monastery or enjoy one of the best sandy beaches in Croatia, in Bashka Beach.
Of course, there are so many more stunning islands throughout Croatia to consider that your choices never seem to end. But one thing’s for sure – regardless of which islands make the cut, your Croatia island hopping adventure definitely won’t disappoint.