Like the the popular Southern European haunts of France, Italy, Spain or Greece, Croatia’s magnetism radiates from the sea. The former Yugoslavian country is no longer the quiet European destination it once was. The secret’s out. And now, visitors flock from far and wide to romp among the sparkling marble streets and blissful architecture of Dalmatian coastal cities like Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik.
But there’s far more to Croatia than simply zipping along the coast on an epic Croatian road trip reveals. With a short ferry, or even bus ride, from the mainland, you’ll soon discover Croatia’s true allure: its islands.
Over a thousand islands sprout from the sea within Croatia’s borders with enough walled medieval towns, unspoiled forests and pristine beaches to make Santorini, Andalusia and the French Rivera blush.
Not sure where to start exploring Croatia’s Adriatic charms? Here are 5 of the best islands in Croatia:
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Can’t get enough of the Adriatic? Don’t skip out on these 5 stunning Croatian islands…
Connected to the mainland by a bridge just south of Rijeka, Krk Island is the largest and most accessible of the Croatian islands. Krk may not be the unspoiled paradise it once was. But despite its summer crowds and, by Croatian standards, blatant commercialism, Krk Island is a pleasant place to while away a couple days.
The main town, Krk is a picturesque ancient port with a rich and varied history. Roman and Venetian influences surface throughout the medieval centre including the Frankopan Castle and the city walls.
As the transport hub for the island, you’ll inevitably find yourself spending at least a few minutes in Krk Town, even if venturing further afoot.
Baška, at the island’s southern tip, is Krk Island’s most popular destination. It’s famed in Croatia for its long pebble beach and superb views.
While most head straight to the waterfront for a dip, hikers will find refuge from the crowds just minutes from the Old Town. Surrounded by barren crags, Baška provides excellent hiking opportunities in nearly every direction with spectacular views of the sea and mountains at every turn. Best of all, with the multitude of hiking trails you don’t have to share your views with anyone—except, of course, for the odd wandering mountain goat!
A mere hour from Baška by ferry or three hours by bus from Rijeka, lies Rab Island, one of Croatia’s most alluring islands. Like Krk, Rab Island possesses a rich ancient history. See it in all its glory in Rab Town, the cultural centre of the island.
Rab’s Old Town is one of Croatia’s most distinctive. Like the beautiful town of Piran in Slovenia, Rab is packed onto a tiny peninsula jetting into the Adriatic. Replete with a host of beautiful churches and steep narrow alleyways, Rab is a pleasant place to wander around and the best place to stay while on the island.
Among the northern Croatian islands, Rab Island is also one of the greenest. Hundreds of kilometres of hiking and cycling trails crisscross the island, undoubtedly an incredible feat for an island only 22 kilometres long and 11 kilometres wide. With its mountainous terrain, Rab Island is sheltered from some of the harsher climates that face other Adriatic islands making it an ideal destination for active travellers.
Hvar Island off of the southern coast, about an hour away from Split by boat, is gaining ground among the well-to-do as Croatia’s answer to the Côte d’Azur. Beautifully populated with endless fields of lavender, ancient olive groves and family vineyards, Hvar Island is a picturesque escape from the mainland.
Although you can visit Hvar on a day trip from Split, you’ll better appreciate Hvar Island at a leisurely pace. Experiencing the island’s finest moments rarely happens in a hurry.
Hvar Island’s historical heart, Stari Grad is Croatia’s oldest town. It’s also one of the two main sea entry points to the island. Brimming with historical architecture, the narrow & atmospheric streets of Stari Grad offer a picture-perfect glimpse into Hvar’s Dalmatian past.
Playing Hyde to Stari Grad’s Jekyll, Hvar Town, the island’s other gateway. Hvar Town is (in)famous for its legendary nightlife, often to the chagrin of Croatians who reminisce about quieter, less rambunctious times. (And its proximity to the Pakleni Islands, Croatia’s nudist nirvana, hardly helps the cause.)
No less rich in architecture than Stari Grad (maybe even better!), Hvar Town is not just the most popular overnight destination on the island, it’s one of the best places to visit in Croatia. And with its excellent transport links, it remains the best place to base yourself to experience the breadth of Hvar Island.
About an hour and a half south of Hvar and three hours from Split, stunning Korčula Island is replete with all the trappings of Dalmatian Croatia. The walled Korčula Town at the island’s northeastern tip possesses more than just a passing similarity to Dubrovnik with smaller crowds.
Its vibe, like its mainland coastal brethren, is unmistakably Venetian. It’s not a surprise: For some four centuries, Korčula chilled out within the Republic of Venice.
Like Hvar Island to the north, Korčula Island lays upon fertile ground. Vineyards and olive trees cover much of the island. Both are still used today to make fine local wines and high-quality cooking oils.
With Korčula’s bays and coves set amid improbably beautiful wilderness, travellers will not find it difficult to get off-the-beaten path. Saddle in and find a pristine slice of nature to call your own.
Croatia shows off its serene side on Mljet Island, the greenest on the Adriatic and one of the most interesting for nature-lovers. Almost three quarters of Mljet Island is covered in dense forests with Mljet National Park covering about a third of the island’s entire area.
Hiking and cycling opportunities are abound on the island. The most popular hike plies between Pomena or Polače and Veliko Jezero, the salt-lake situated at the middle of the national park.
Nature is Mljet Island’s main drawcard, but its most compelling attraction might be the St Mary’s Benedictine Monastery. Situated on its own small island on Veliko Jezero, the monastery dates back to the late-12th century.
Reaching Mljet Island from other islands and the mainland isn’t so difficult. You can check it out on a (long) day trip from Korčula or Dubrovnik. Should you wish to linger though, accommodation is available in Pomena and Polače.
Summary: The best islands in Croatia
- Feeling a serious need to let loose? The (sometimes too) hedonistic pleasures of Hvar Island promise a string of sleepless nights among some fine Croatian scenery.
- Need an escape from the bustle? The greenery of Mljet Island is the perfect escape from the scurry of the popular mainland haunts like Dubrovnik.
- Seeking out a little history and culture? Korčula and Rab are not just great islands, but great European destinations! Both share the charms of other awesome Croatian destinations without (quite) the same massive influx of tourist.