Croatia is magical not only because of its contrasting regions, from coastal paradises to towering mountains and golden valleys. Croatia is otherworldly because each of its cities, towns, and villages ooze ancient history, UNESCO pearls, and architecture illustrating the Medieval times, to Roman, Gothic, and Baroque.
Croatia’s considerable history has left traces in all corners of the country, which today sees the footprints of curious travelers from all over the world. But if you had to choose, which Croatia tourist attractions would make your list?
Let us be your guide
The Zagreb Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the striking symbol of Croatia’s capital that will catch your attention immediately upon arriving in the city. Though it was initially built in the 11th-century, an earthquake severely damaged the Cathedral in 1880, resulting in its Neo-Gothic look today thanks to Austrian architect Hermann Bolle who added the two famous spires. Known as the largest Gothic-style sacral building southeast of the Alps, the Zagreb Cathedral is also currently the tallest building in Croatia. Apart from its bewitching beauty, inside, you can also find the tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac made by the famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.
St. Mark’s Church
If you’re looking for the most colorful building in the capital, all roads will lead you to the Upper Town, and namely to the vibrant rooftop of St. Mark’s Church. This famous church has roots dating back to the 13th-century, making it one of the oldest buildings in the capital. First a Romanesque building, only to be radically reconstructed in the 14th-century to give it its Gothic flair and valuable south portal, the flashy tiled roof of the church was not introduced until 1880 by architects Friedrich Schmidt and Herman Bollé. The iconic rooftop features the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, and the emblem of Zagreb. The church is even open for mass today!
You may have heard a thing or two about the popular Pula Arena. Built from 27 BC – 68 AD under Roman rule, the Area was once home to gladiator fights, later to knights tournaments and medieval fairs, and could have accommodated a maximum of 25,000 spectators! Today, it is the only remaining Roman amphitheater to have all four side towers entirely preserved and is also the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia. While the gladiator fights are long gone, the Arena today hosts film festivals and music concerts.
Poreč is a perfect peninsula town and popular summer resort located in the region of Istria. With a history spanning almost 2,000 years, Poreč is most famous for its 6th-century Roman Euphrasian Basilica, which features Byzantine architecture and has been part of UNESCO’s World Heritage since 1997. Poreč, which was known as Parenzo until 1947, has preserved its Roman presence, and its cobblestone streets will lead you to an abundance of ancient architecture. But it is Poreč’s captivating coast that has steadily drawn tourists to the town since the 1970s.
Rovinj is arguably Istria’s most romantic destination, but it is also known as the star of tourism in the region. A charming coastal town and fishing port, it is Rovinj’s pastel-colored buildings and 14 islands in its archipelago that attract hordes of tourists every year. Rovinj, which is also known as Rovigno, is officially bilingual, with Italian and Croatian both spoken in the town. Its history dates back to the Venetians and Illyrians, though today, it boasts one of Croatia’s Michelin-star restaurants.
Plitvice Lakes is Croatia’s first national park and a bucket list destination for travelers from all over the world. What could easily be considered the 8th Wonder of the World, Plitvice Lakes is unique for its natural travertine barriers and 16 crystalline, cascading and interconnected lakes which are divided into upper and lower levels. The vibrant colors of the park scream hues of green, grey, emerald and blue which are perfectly coupled with its lush forest – and you get to explore it all thanks to wooden paths that twist through this natural paradise. Not only is Plitvice one of the most visited attractions in the country, but it has also been a part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1979.
Krka National Park
Croatia’s most Instagrammed location can be found within the boundaries of Krka National Park, located just outside of the town of Šibenik. While it boasts only half of the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes, Krka is no less impressive. With a series of seven waterfalls, and most famously Skradinski Buk, visitors to Krka can actually swim in the fresh shallow waters. Krka, however, is so much more than its waterfalls. Here, you can also visit a Franciscan Monastery from 1445, an Eastern Orthodox Monastery from 1345, and delight in the 1,022 plant species recorded at the park to date! We recommend you enter the park in Skradin to enjoy some of the best risotto in the country.
Zadar’s Sea Organ
Croatian architect Nikola Bašić created the Sea Organ in Zadar in 2005 to redesign the coast after the devastation from the war. Today, the Sea Organ is one of Zadar’s top attractions, though you wouldn’t even know it existed thanks to its deceiving look no different than steps descending into the sea. You could hear the Sea Organ in all of its glory, however, as the sea pipes play seven chords of 5 tones. The Sea Organ’s unique design won Bašić the European Prize for Urban Public Space back in 2006, and we think there is no better place in Zadar to enjoy what Alfred Hitchcock called the best sunset in the world.
Did you know that former Roman Emperor Diocletian chose Split as his retirement home back in the 4th-century AD? And that today, his palace stands as the symbol of the Dalmatian capital? Diocletian’s Palace today forms about half of Split’s historic old town. Built using white local limestone and high-quality marble sourced from the nearby Brač island, the interior of the palace contains most of Split’s main attractions – including the picturesque Peristyle, Cathedral of Saint, Domnius, 3500-year-old granite sphinxes, the Temple of Jupiter, Diocletian’s cellar, and most of the city’s best bars and restaurants. Diocletian’s Palace also became part of UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1979.
Just a few kilometers from Split is Solin, and specifically the ancient Salona, the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. Likely to have been founded after the Roman civil wars under Julius Caesar, Salona was abandoned in the 7th-century. Today, however, we are left with an archaeological park containing the ruins of the Roman characteristics that once highlighted the city – such as city walls, a forum, amphitheater, public baths, aqueduct, Latin and Greek inscriptions, and basilicas. The Tusculum museum on the site also holds a few of the artifacts, though you could also find many other critical archaeological artifacts at the Archaeological Museum in Split just a few minutes away.
Croatia’s Sunniest Island
If you’ve heard of Croatia, chances are, you’ve heard of the island of Hvar. Known as Croatia’s sunniest islands thanks to 2,760 hours of sunshine per year, Hvar is also an oasis for all types of travelers – from the distinguished elite to the party-happy backpackers. The most popular part of the island, however, is the Hvar town itself. Loaded with local restaurants and bustling nightlife, Hvar town is also just a quick boat ride away from the Pakleni islands, and only a hop, skip and a jump away from lavender fields, vineyards, and one of the oldest towns in Europe. Hvar also boasts the most UNESCO heritage than any other island in the world, promising a visit complete with tradition, heritage, and culture – and even just the right dose of fun.
Pelješac Peninsula and Europe’s ‘Great Wall of China’
The Pelješac peninsula is one of Croatia’s best-kept secrets, and a place you may have overlooked on your drives down to Dubrovnik. As the second-largest peninsula in Croatia, Pelješac is known for many things, like its long history of oyster farming, its fully operating saltworks, and, well, its title as the country’s most famed wine region. Apart from its history of Dingač, Postup, and Plavac Mali varieties, Pelješac is also known for featuring Europe’s ‘Great Wall of China’. Namely, the ‘Walls of Ston’, a series of defensive walls built in 1333 when Ston became a part of the Republic of Dubrovnik, are the second longest in the world!
Marco Polo’s Korčula
Marco Polo. We know you learned about the famous Italian merchant, explorer, and writer back in school, but did you know that he is said to be born on the island of Korčula? Korčula is a stunning island with its central town bearing the same name. The Medieval, fortified town of Korčula is likened to a “Little Dubrovnik”. Charming cobblestone alleyways, ancient squares, a vibrant cultural heritage which seeps through the stone walls – yes, you’ll find all of that and more here. Korčula island is also known for its beaches, local delicacies, vineyards, and especially white wines.
Croatia’s Greenest Island
Meet Mljet, the most forested island in the Adriatic. An untouched, refreshing oasis that once mesmerized Odysseus for seven years might just reel you in too. The island’s entire north-west part is covered by a national park which was established back in 1960. Inside it, you’ll find two salt lakes known as the Veliko and Malo Jezero, the Benedictine Monastery on St. Mary’s island, which is one of the oldest church complexes in the Adriatic, and an abundance of fish and marine life, dense Mediterranean forest, stunning swimming spots and hiking and biking trails.
Walls of Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is arguably Croatia’s most popular tourist destination – and it’s not hard to see why. The ancient city is enclosed by defensive walls, which were only truly defined in the 14th-century. Today, they are well-preserved, intact, and see the footprints of millions of tourists every year. The famous walled-city is not only an attraction from the outside, which might look similar to Kings Landing in the favorite TV series Game of Thrones (because it is), but the walls wrap around a wealth of historic sites that sit within the core of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, such as the 14th-century Rector’s Palace, the city gates, the picturesque pedestrian walkway Stradun, to squares, monasteries, and cathedrals. A city with no bad views, Dubrovnik also joined UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1979.