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12 Best Hidden Gems in Croatia (According to a Travel Expert)

As a travel writer who has visited Croatia more than once, I’ve explored the country’s top attractions, as well as many of its lesser-known jewels. It’s home to multiple world-famous destinations that attract countless tourists, including Old City Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes National Park, and glamourous Hvar Town with its renowned nightlife on the island of Hvar. While those places are well worth visiting, if you want to avoid the thick crowds, there are plenty of hidden gems that most outsiders don’t know about. From a unique museum, a magnificent castle, and a cave to lesser-known islands and waterfalls, discover some of these treasures for an especially memorable trip.

Motovun and the Istrian Peninsula Motovun, Croatia
Credit: Motovun, Croatia by © Yasonya | Dreamstime.com

Motovun and the Istrian Peninsula

The Istrian Peninsula has been compared to Tuscany without the crowds, renowned for its wine, truffles, and hilltop towns. Motovun is a highlight and it makes a great base for exploring. Nestled in the Mirna Valley, it stands out from its hilltop perch while surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, and forests, popular for truffle hunting. In fact, there are tours you can join that will allow you to head out with an expert truffle hunter and a pack of truffle-hunting dogs. In town, there are many shops selling truffle items such as truffle olive oil, truffle sea salt, and the like while restaurants and cafes offer menus featuring truffle dishes that can be enjoyed with a local glass of wine and a spectacular view.

Lastovo Island Lastovo Island, Croatia
Credit: Lastovo Island, Croatia by © Å imun Aščić - Dreamstime.com

Lastovo Island

Lastova Island faces the popular Korcula Island off the southern coast of Croatia. If you want to explore an authentic Croatian village and enjoy a paradise-like underwater world with vibrant coral and colorful fish, don’t miss it. There are many treasures beneath the sea and plenty on land too. Swimming in one of the small, secluded bays is also enjoyable during the warmer months, and you’ll find scenic trails for walking and biking that wind through forest and vineyards. The main village, also called Lastovo, lies on a steep slope overlooking olive groves and grape vines while the streets are lined with historic structures like the 15th-century Church of Saints Cosmas and lovely old stone homes with red-tiled roofs.

Dugi Otok Island Sakarun Beach, Dugi Oto Island
Credit: Sakarun Beach, Dugi Oto Island by © Ilijaaa - Dreamstime.com

Dugi Otok Island

Located off the Dalmatian coast west of Zadar, Dugi Otok can easily be reached by ferry, yet it’s somehow remained one of the country’s best-kept secrets. It’s not nearly as busy as the popular destinations, providing a paradise that almost feels private for nature and beach lovers. The inland landscapes are covered with vineyards and orchards, while the beaches are surreal. Sakarun is particularly jaw-dropping with its pristine white sands set along a turquoise lagoon. Cycling around the island is enjoyable too, as there is little traffic to speak of. You might want to meet the island’s friendly donkeys that roam around Mir Lake and through Telašćica Nature Park too.

Sea Organ - Zadar Sea Organ, Zadar, Croatia
Credit: Sea Organ, Zadar, Croatia by © Xbrchx - Dreamstime.com

Sea Organ - Zadar

Located along the northern Dalmatian Coast, Zadar is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia, with 3,000 years of history and multiple Roman and Venetian ruins to explore. But it also has an impressive modern side that includes a pair of unique art installations on the waterfront. The Sea Organ is the most unique, made up of 35 pipe organs that were drilled into steps on the promenade. They’re played using the power of the waves with the tunes best enjoyed while watching what Alfred Hitchcock called the world’s most beautiful sunset.

Museum of Broken Relationships - Zagreb Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia
Credit: Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia by © Luka Mjeda - Dreamstime.com

Museum of Broken Relationships - Zagreb

Zagreb is Croatia’s capital city with its Upper Town, the historic center, an enticing mix of cobbled streets, red-tiled roofs, medieval churches, and magnificent mansions. But there’s a hidden gem here that’s well worth discovering – the Museum of Broken Relationships, which is dedicated to the end of love affairs. Its birth can be traced back to the real-life breakup of its co-founders, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić. The pair had acquired an item together and they weren’t sure who should get it, thus the Museum of Broken Relationships began. Every exhibit is a totem of a breakup and each has a unique story of its own. You’ll find the usual clothing and record albums along with the more bizarre, like a prosthetic and dreadlocks.

The Baron Gautsch Shipwreck - Near Rovinj Shipwreck of the Baron Gautsch, Croatia
Credit: Shipwreck of the Baron Gautsch, Croatia by © Aquanaut4 - Dreamstime.com

The Baron Gautsch Shipwreck - Near Rovinj

The Baron Gautsch was a high-class Austrian passenger ship that suffered a fate similar to the Titanic. Considered the most beautiful wreck in the Adriatic, the ship was built in 1908 and sank just six years later after the captain left an inexperienced understudy at the helm. He sailed right into a minefield, which resulted not only in the loss of the vessel but 147 who were aboard. Divers can visit the ship that’s still in excellent condition, lying in sailing position, on a day trip from Rovinj.

Klis Fortress Klis Fortress, Croatia
Credit: Klis Fortress, Croatia by © Lev Tsimbler - Dreamstime.com

Klis Fortress

Located just outside the ancient city of Split, Kils Fortress will look familiar to “Game of Thrones” fans as it was used in the hit series to film Daenerys as she seized the city of Meereen and freed the captives from their masters. It’s part of a key plot and a memorable scene when she puninshed the Meereen rulers by nailing them to crosses for the slaves to see. But even non-GOT fans will appreciate a visit for the history and the views. Its mountainside location means you’ll enjoy a spectacular view over Split and the Adriatic Sea.

Jelsa - Hvar Island Jelsa, Hvar Island, Croatia
Credit: Jelsa, Hvar Island, Croatia by © Anyaivanova - Dreamstime.com

Jelsa - Hvar Island

Most people who visit Hvar Island head to Hvar Town and perhaps a beach nearby without venturing much further. While world-class dining and partying are what draw many, visitors can enjoy a more tranquil side of the island by heading to Jelsa. The town is surrounded by pine forest and has a small, picturesque harbor lined with sea-view restaurants and cocktail bars. You’ll find plenty of delicious, fresh seafood, locally produced cheeses, and fabulous Croatian wines. One of the best sandy beaches on Hvar, Grebišće, can be found on the north side of the harbor and the water is particularly enticing with its brilliant turquoise hue.

Little Plitvice - Rastoke Famous waterfall in Rastoke AKA Little Plitvice, Croatia
Credit: Famous waterfall in Rastoke AKA Little Plitvice, Croatia by © Susy Baels - Dreamstime.com

Little Plitvice - Rastoke

Just about everyone is familiar with Plitvice Lakes National Park as images of its stunning waterfalls often go viral. Of course, this makes it a bucket-list destination among travelers which means if you visit during the tourist season there will be many others sharing the trails with you. Instead, head to the area referred to as “Little Plitvice” in Rastoke. It’s still within the borders of the park and boasts breathtaking waterfalls and canyons along with tranquil solitude.

Baredine Cave Baredine Cave, Croatia
Credit: Baredine Cave, Croatia by © Gert Hilbink |- Dreamstime.com

Baredine Cave

Baredine Cave can be found in the western part of the Istrian Peninsula near Porec. It’s been explored since around the early 1900s and was turned into a tourist attraction in 1995. Visitors can take a guided tour that explores the cave and its stalactites, stalagmites, and all sorts of remarkable formations that were sculpted naturally by the elements over centuries of time. You’ll also see the rare cave olm, a type of salamander that’s endemic to the Dinaric karst area. If you’re interested in climbing, you can be outfitted with a harness and rope. Some interesting exhibits with historical tractors and threshing machines are on display and at the Wine Shop, bread, olive oil, and wine can be purchased.

Trakoscan Castle Trakoscan Castle
Credit: Trakoscan Castle by © Phant - Dreamstime.com

Trakoscan Castle

Less than an hour’s drive from the capital city of Zagreb and you can marvel at Trakoscan Castle which overlooks a lake and colorful gardens. Dating back to the 13th century, the exterior of the castle was modeled after Germany’s romantic castles and is one of the most well-preserved in all of Croatia. Its current appearance primarily comes thanks to restorations in the mid-19th century. A baroque gem, all rooms are open to visitors, and its been impeccably restored with period-style decor. Three floors display a mix of baroque, gothic, and neo-Renaissance styles, with many original works of art and furnishings. The castle also includes some rather haunting underground dungeons and a massive collection of 15th- to 19th-century weapons.

Paklenica National Park Vinjerak and Paklenica National Park, Croatia
Credit: Vinjerak and Paklenica National Park, Croatia by © Xbrchx - Dreamstime.com

Paklenica National Park

Croatia’s second oldest national park, behind only Plitvice Lakes, is Paklenica National Park, established in 1949. It’s far less visited yet no less beautiful. It’s home to the high mountain peaks of Vaganski vrh, at about 5765 feet, and Sveto brdo, just slightly shorter at 5752 feet, along with picturesque streams and limestone canyons. There are miles of trails for hiking, a cave to explore, and along the stream of Velika Paklenica, 13 mills, one of which is open for visits. At the entrance to Velika Paklenica Canyon is the hamlet of Marasovići with traditional homes built from stone. The small fishing village of Vinjerac makes a perfect base, combining the salty sea air with fresh mountain air that’s said to be conducive to healing.

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