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Located on the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is one of Europe’s most beautiful countries. If you plan to experience it, be sure to consider spending time in at least one of its very best places to visit.
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In a country with countless picturesque villages, Pucisca has often been called the most beautiful small towns in Europe. This small town on the northern coast of Brac is a regional center for quarrying and cutting stone, and its gleaming white stone, which is indigenous to the island, is what makes it truly one-of-a-kind. You’ll see lovely stone houses with paved white roofs that add to the town’s charms, along with Renaissance palaces and Baroque buildings, all made from white stone that leaves visitors in awe. There are also many gorgeous beaches and secluded coves, as well as a multitude of eateries serving delicious traditional Dalmatian cuisine. Those who want to get active can enjoy diving, water skiing, swimming and cycling.
Zadar is an ideal place to experience the Dalmatian coast minus the crowds. This walled port is a 3,000-year-old city that’s rich in history and natural beauty, yet it’s still relatively undiscovered. At the heart of the city is the Old Town which offers multiple fascinating attractions, including Roman ruins, a wealth of old Romanesque churches and medieval architecture. Enjoy wandering the tranquil streets of marble, and soaking up the sun and the sand on unspoiled beaches. Just before sunset, head to the waterfront promenade where you’ll join others who gather to watch one of the most spectacular sunsets on the planet – in fact, Alfred Hitchcock himself famously claimed them to be the most beautiful in all the world.
The “Mediterranean Flower,” as Croatia’s second-largest city is often referred to, sits on a peninsula off the Dalmatian Coast. Split’s main draw is its historic core, filled with stunning Renaissance and Gothic architecture. The magnificent city was born when Emperor Diocletian decided to build his own perfect retirement destination, with the spectacular walled palace constructed to his exacting standards between 298 and 305 AD. The complex is more like a small city itself, with its maze of marble walkways and buildings that house cafes, shops, bars, two lively markets and chic apartments, built from the very barracks where the emperor’s soldiers once lived. Outside of the historic center, visitors can enjoy swimming at Bacvice beach and taking a stroll along the waterfront promenade.
The Kvarner Riviera is located next to Istria along the North Adriatic coast. Its centered around the city of Rijeka, and also includes the famous resort of Opatija, as well as Lovran, Kraljevica and the islands of Krk, Cres, Rab and Losinj. This mostly undiscovered region offers everything from forest-covered mountains to postcard-perfect beaches, with the opportunity for some unforgettable beach hopping, hiking in the wild Gorski Kotar Mountains and exploring Krk Island on two wheels. The southern end of Krk is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire country, Velo celo or “Golden Beach,” a more than a one-mile stretch of sand set below a dramatic, barren range of mountains.
Located at the southern tip of the Istria peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, Pula is a seafront city that’s home to a well-preserved 1st-century Roman amphitheater, considered one of the most famous sights in all of Croatia. In ancient times, fans flocked to the amphitheater to watch gladiator fights. Today, it’s the only remaining amphitheater to have four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved, and is also the sixth-largest in the world. There are many other popular ancient sites as well, including the Temple of Augustus, The Triumphal Arch of the Sergii, the Forum, which was once the main square in Roman times and serves as a bustling piazza with multiple cafes today, as well as Hercules Gate, the oldest standing Roman monument, dating from the 1st century BC.
One of the most beautiful islands in Croatia, Vis was once a base for the Yugoslav Army during the socialist years. It was closed to foreign visitors for nearly four decades, from 1950 to 1989, and deserted by much of its local population. Today, it offers an ideal destination for those who are looking for a more unspoiled, authentic spot in Croatia. Some of the country’s most exclusive wines are produced right here, including Plavac and Vugava, and it offers many breathtaking, secluded bays that are perfect for wiling away the afternoon. Check out the old fishing boats in Komiza, snorkel in the brilliant cerulean waters of Stiniva Cove, sometimes among loggerhead turtles and bottlenose dolphins, and enjoy dining on fresh, local seafood – paired with fine wine from the local vineyards, of course.
Plitvice National Park
Plitvice National Park is one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in Europe, with its maze of lakes and waterfalls, lush greenery and clear azure waters. It’s a top attraction in Croatia and so fantasy-like it seems as if it were computer generated and plopped right down in Croatia. The park’s most notable features are the 16 interconnecting lakes that are divided into upper and lower clusters. They were formed by natural travertine dams and range in color from royal azure to turquoise, blue, green and gray. Visitors can explore the lakes and the surrounding area by taking a stroll on the assorted wooden walkways, or via boat. It takes six hours or so to explore all of the lakes on foot, but by accessing the park’s free boats you can cut that time down to about four hours.
Mljet is the greenest of all the Croatian islands. Nearly three-quarters of it is covered by forests, and the remainder is made up of picturesque vineyards, fields and small villages. This beautiful island is famous for its wine, goat cheese, olives and two salt lakes that serve as popular swimming spots for locals and visitors alike – a building that was once part of a 12th-century monastery stands in the middle of Veliko Lake and serves as a cafe today. The island has a rich history and was already mentioned back in the 4th-century BC in Greek writing. There are multiple fortifications and tombs, including the Roman Palace, the largest after Diocletian’s Palace in Split, as well as a number of shipwrecks and Greek amphora along the coast that provide evidence that Greek sailors stayed here during their ventures on the sea.
For a small island, Korcula packs a big punch with its sandy beaches, charming villages, lush green forests, vineyards, olive groves and some of the most brilliant blue waters you’ve ever seen. It also happens to be the alleged birthplace of the famous merchant traveler Marco Polo (Venice disagrees) and its main town of the same name is a historic fortified town complete with medieval towers and walls, along with magnificent Venetian Renaissance architecture and lively, colorful markets. You can also check out Marco Polo’s alleged home and the town museum – if you visit during the summer, watch for sword dance performances held weekly throughout the season. The Moreska sword dance is one of the town’s most famous symbols, and well worth watching.
Hvar is one of Croatia’s most popular destinations. The island that sits off the Dalmatian coast is spectacularly beautiful, with many idyllic beaches, lush vineyards and lavender fields. If you want to view the Gothic palaces, beautiful churches, 13th-century walls and walk the marble stone streets without bumping elbows with others, spring is the best time to go for pleasant temperatures and few crowds. Stand in the town square and you’ll be surrounded by many historic buildings, including the Cathedral of St. Stephen and the 17th-century Arsenal. Afterward, enjoy the scenery by hiking in the cliffs, lounging on the beach or swimming in secluded coves.
Dubrovnik is a popular spot for romance. In fact, here you can even walk in the footsteps of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor who used to enjoy their own romantic liaisons in this beautiful city, strolling the narrow side streets and marveling at the dazzling turquoise waters of the Adriatic. The main draw is its charming, pedestrian-only old town, packed with elegant Baroque churches and aristocratic palazzi, contained within medieval fortifications. In the city center, there are many flower-filled gardens, quaint cafes and tiny pars with private nooks that are perfect for cozying up together and reflecting on the day.