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Things to see and do
Built on a small peninsula, the Istrian town of Poreč (www.to-porec.com) dates back to Roman times. Climb the tower of its star attraction, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Euphrasius Basilica and admire the Basilica’s stunning sixth-century Byzantine mosaics.
Just west of Split is the tiny medieval city of Trogir (www.tztrogir.hr), that was was founded by the Greeks in the third century BC. Discover the beautiful Romanesque cathedral and Venetian gothic stone buildings that have earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage site list.
Head for the undulating hills and vineyards of Zagorje (www.tz-zagorje.hr), just north of Zagreb, to explore the historic Veliki Tabor and Trakošćan castles.
Travel back in time to Split (www.visitsplit.com), the capital of Central Dalmatia, which was founded in the third century AD by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Croatia’s second city is a major port, and the main jumping off point for ferries to and from some of the most popular islands, including Hvar and Brač. At its core is the truly amazing Diocletian’s Palace (another UNESCO World Heritage Site), built for Diocletian and which is now a warren of houses, shops, alleys and historic architecture spanning some 1700 years.
The city of Pula on the Istrian coast has some of the finest Roman ruins in Croatia, including a magnificent and remarkably well-preserved amphitheatre which is one of the largest surviving in the world.
Brijuni National Park
Brijuni National Park (www.brijuni.hr) is an archipelago of 14 unspoilt islands located off the west coast of Istria. Stay overnight on the largest island, Veli Brijun, home to a golf course and a safari park.
Driving around Inland Istria will reveal romantic hill towns like Motovun (www.tz-motovun.hr), Buje (www.tzg-buje.hr) and Gronjan (www.tz-groznjan.hr). While here sample the local delicacy, truffles.
Often overlooked by most tourists until comparatively recently, Zadar (www.tzzadar.hr) is one of the most important historical centres on the coast, with a beautiful old town centre and now a thriving music festival nearby (the Garden Festival). Stroll around its narrow cobbled streets, drink coffee on a ruined Roman Forum and listen to classical recitals in the ninth-century Church of St Donat.
Central Dalmatia’s second city, Šibenik (www.sibenik-tourism.hr), is worth visiting for its 15th-century UNESCO-listed Cathedral of St James alone. The Old Town was founded by the Slavs, not the Romans or Venetians.
Krka National Park
The river in Krka National Park (www.npkrka.hr) has sculpted a picturesque canyon, famed for its spectacular Skradinski buk (Skradin Waterfalls) and the islet of Visovac, home to a Franciscan Monastery.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park (www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr) is one of Croatia’s premier tourist attractions – a UNESCO-listed tree-shrouded wonderland of 16 turquoise lakes and waterfalls. Though busy with visitors in the summer, Croatia’s most famous national park never fails to disappoint, with water gushing over ancient travertine beds and tumbling down high waterfalls.
Over thousands of years, the waters that flow through this area have passed over limestone and chalk, creating deposits which form natural barriers between the lakes. The lakes range in height from Proscansko Jezero at 636.6m (1746ft) above sea level, to the lowest, Kaludjerovac, at 505.2m (1386ft), and in surface area from 81 hectares (33 acres) to one hectare (2.5 acres).
The Croatian capital is unquestionably its most interesting city, despite the focus of tourism on the coast. Beautiful architecture, a huge number of museums and galleries, excellent restaurants, a lively café culture and some lovely parks and gardens all make Zagreb an essential part of any visit to Croatia.
Visit the historic monuments of Gornji Grad (Upper Town): the Cathedral, St Mark’s Church (noted for its tiled roof) and the Sabor (Croatian parliament). Then check out the museums of 19th-century Donji Grad (Lower Town).
The Museum of Arts and Crafts (www.muo.hr) traces Croatian craftsmanship through the centuries, and the Mimara Museum exhibits a rich collection of painting, sculpture and ceramics from abroad. Admire Mestrovic’s dramatic sculptures at the Mestrovic Atelier (www.mdc.hr/mestrovic).
Undoubtedly the most famous place in Croatia, Dubrovnik’s old town constitutes one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities on the Mediterranean. Walk a complete circuit of Dubrovnik’s (www.tzdubrovnik.hr) 13th-century city walls, then explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town. Check out the Franciscan Monastery (home to Europe’s oldest pharmacy) and delightful baroque churches. Dubrovnik’s turbulent history can be unearthed at the Rector’s Palace, War Photo Limited (www.warphotoltd.com) and the Maritime Museum.
Art and sculpture
See fine examples of early Croatian religious art at the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments (www.mhas-split.hr) in Split. Appreciate more of Meštrović’s 20th-century sculptures in the city’s Meštrović Gallery (www.mdc.hr/mestrovic).
Home to some of Croatia’s best seafood restaurants, the gastronomic enclave of Volosko is a pretty fishing village just outside the popular resort of Opatija (www.opatija-tourism.hr), while soaking up attractive Adriatic sea views.
The fine golden shingle of Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape) makes it Croatia’s most photographed beach, located just outside the tourist resort of Bol (www.bol.hr) on the island of Brac. It’s also one of Croatia’s top windsurfing destinations.
Escape the crowds on the Kvarner Gulf island of Cres (www.tzg-cres.hr), famous for its colony of Griffon Vultures, the historic settlement of Valun and the laid-back Cres Town.
Hiking and climbing
Velebit is Croatia’s most extensive mountain range and the best area for hiking lies just inland from the coast between Senj and Starigrad-Paklenica, and contains two national parks, Sjeverni Velebit in the north and Paklenica in the south.
Kornati National Park
The Kornati National Park (www.kornati.hr) is an archipelago of some 90 scattered islands and islets. Virtually uninhabited, the islands display a harsh, rocky landscape practically devoid of vegetation. Several renovated stone cottages provide ‘Robinson Crusoe’-type holiday accommodation.
Join the jet set on the increasingly exclusive island of Hvar, renowned for its rugged coastline, excellent wines and lavender fields. Drink coffee or sip cocktails in Hvar Town (www.tzhvar.hr), a Venetian settlement, built around a picturesque harbour presided over by a hilltop fortress.
Dive in the ethereal Blue Grotto and explore the shipwrecks sunk off the island of Vis (www.tz-vis.hr), Croatia’s most remote inhabited island.
Croatia has over 1100 of them, in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the remote islets that make up the Kornati archipelago, to the lavender-scented, party capital of Hvar. Island hop between the largely traffic-free Elaphite Islands of Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan, near Dubrovnik (www.visitdubrovnik.hr), with their secluded and beaches and good-value restaurants.
Korčula Town (www.korcula.net) is a marvel of medieval urban planning which has charmed foreign visitors since the first tourists arrived on the eponymous island in the 1920s.
A top cycling spot is in Mljet National Park (www.np-mljet.hr), located on the green and unspoiled island of the same name. The park boasts dense forests, two interconnected saltwater lakes and, in the centre of the larger lake, the exquisite St Mary’s Island and Benedictine Monastery.
Slavonia’s Kopački Rit Nature Park (www.kopacki-rit.com) is a vast expanse of wetland frequented by myriad migrating birds and well away from the tourist crowds.