First Time in Croatia: Top 15 Places to Visit

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Croatia is brimming with top-tier attractions. While many people know about Dubrovnik, Split, or Plitvice Lakes, there’s so much more to explore in this beautiful country. No matter where you go, you’ll find at least a dozen fascinating spots nearby.

Over the years, we’ve traveled through Croatia extensively, by car and yacht. The country offers countless reasons to plan your vacation and route carefully to experience the very best it has to offer.

This guide focuses on must-see cities and places for first-time visitors to Croatia. It excludes the capital, Zagreb, and some overly hyped spots like Zlatni Rat beach on Brač Island. Personally, I didn’t find Zadar with its unique Sea Organ particularly compelling for first-time visitors either.

Split

Split is not only a major airport and port but also a key transportation hub in Croatia. It’s an excellent starting point for exploring the country. The city itself has plenty to offer, including the Diocletian’s Palace in the old town, the scenic waterfront, and several excellent beaches.

Split Croatia
City of Split Riva aerial view, Dalmatia, Croatia

As Croatia’s second-largest city, Split is a vibrant historical and cultural center.

Best Hotels in Split

Here are some top recommendations for accommodation in Split, ranging from luxurious 5-star hotels to cozy hostels:

Radisson Blu Resort & Spa – a luxurious 5-star resort with a spa, island views, an outdoor pool, and a restaurant offering delicious meals.

Apartments & Room Kartolina– centrally located, these clean and comfortable apartments offer great value for money.

Apartments Korta– slightly more expensive but well-situated in the old town, these apartments feature a terrace, kitchen, and playground.

Hostel Dvor– highly rated on Booking.com, this hostel offers a shared kitchen and is located near the old town. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property.

Hurricane Hostel– perfectly balanced in terms of price, location, and quality. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hostel.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik needs no introduction, especially after its prominent feature in the “Game of Thrones” series. The city is surrounded by massive walls that you can walk along, with numerous attractions within and around these fortifications.

Dubrovnik is also home to some of the best beaches in the region and lends its name to the stunning Dubrovnik Riviera. It’s the most expensive destination in Croatia, but it’s worth every penny.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Where to Stay in Dubrovnik

Apartment Perica– typical Croatian apartments with a balcony and parking, offering panoramic city views. The price is reasonable for Dubrovnik, though it varies by season. Early booking is recommended.

Red Keep Apartment– excellent vacation apartments close to the city center and beaches.

Trogir

Trogir is a true medieval gem, situated on a small island connected to the mainland by a bridge. The city’s center is a maze of cobblestone streets and historic buildings, making you feel as if time has stood still.

The entire town of Trogir is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s no surprise given its history dating back to the 3rd century AD. We’ve traveled extensively, and Trogir is uniquely impressive, a must-see in Croatia.

Located conveniently near Split, Trogir is easy to include in any itinerary.

Croatia, Trogir
Croatia, Trogir

Where to Stay in Trogir

That Place Studio Apartmentbeautiful, centrally located apartments with all amenities for an independent stay at a reasonable price.

Guest House Tiramolaa stylish, small guesthouse in the heart of the old town.

XII Century Heritage Hotela historic boutique hotel offering stunning sea views. Stylish and relatively expensive.

Plitvice Lakes

The Plitvice Lakes, nestled in the mountains of central Croatia, offer a unique experience with their endless series of lakes and waterfalls, seamlessly flowing from one to another.

A visit to Plitvice Lakes is worth a dedicated trip. You can drive from Split or any Dalmatian coastal city, or start your Croatian adventure here if you’re traveling by car. Plan to spend at least half a day to explore this natural wonder fully.

Croatia, Plitvice Lakes
Croatia, Plitvice Lakes

It’s also advisable to stay overnight nearby, as there’s plenty to see and enjoy.

Accommodation options at Plitvice Lakes >>

Krka National Park

Krka National Park, closer to the coast and Split, is reminiscent of Plitvice Lakes but with a notable difference: here, you can swim in the lakes and waterfalls, unlike at Plitvice.

If your time is limited, you might choose between Krka and Plitvice. There’s no need to stay overnight in the park since Split or Trogir are nearby and make for convenient bases.

KRKA waterfalls Croatia
KRKA waterfalls Croatia

Ston and Mali Ston

While not the most obvious choice for first-time visitors, Ston and Mali Ston made it onto our list for two reasons. First, they boast the longest defensive wall system in Europe, winding over the local hills above the town. However, the main attraction here is the local oysters.

Mali Ston is renowned for its oysters, cultivated in their natural environment. You can sample them fresh from the source or at the numerous taverns and restaurants in the area.

Mali Ston is conveniently located on the way to Korčula Island and Dubrovnik from Split, making it a perfect stop for a couple of hours.

Croatia, Ston
Croatia, Ston

Hvar – Old Town

Hvar Town is the capital of Hvar Island, one of Croatia’s most beautiful islands. It’s easy to reach by ferry, whether you’re traveling by car or public transport. The ferry system is well-organized and efficient.

For the best views of Hvar’s old town, climb up to the local fortress. Hvar is incredibly popular with tourists, second only to Dubrovnik. To avoid the crowds, consider visiting during the off-season in May, June, September, or October.

Croatia
Croatia

Recommended Accommodation in Hvar Town

Hotel Moeesy, Blue & Green Oasis 5* – a luxurious option for staying on Hvar Island, featuring a pool with a view, a private atmosphere, and a short 5-minute walk to the old town. Ideal for a honeymoon.

Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel 4* – slightly less expensive than Moeesy but still offering luxury and comfort.

White Rabbit Hostel – a budget-friendly hostel with excellent guest ratings, modern decor, and a friendly atmosphere. Prices start from €25 per night for a bed in a 6-bed dormitory.

For more apartment options in Hvar Town, check out Booking.com.

Korčula – Old Town

Korčula Island is among the top three most beautiful and popular Croatian islands, alongside Hvar and Brač. The capital, Korčula Town, resembles Dubrovnik with its old city walls, narrow streets, and historic buildings.

In addition to its charming old town, Korčula Island is famous for its fantastic beaches and local wines, especially around the village of Lumbarda.

In my opinion, visiting Korčula is a must on any Croatian itinerary.

Croatia
Croatia

Where to Stay in Korčula

Aminess Korcula Heritage Hotelideally located with excellent breakfast and high-level service.

Hotel Korsala lovely seaside hotel within walking distance of the old town and near the beach.

Marina Apartmentsa stylish apartments with beautiful views, offering great value for money.

Rovinj

Rovinj is the most beautiful and romantic town in northern Croatia, located on the Istrian Peninsula. It has an Italian flair and a stunning coastal area, surrounded by the sea on three sides.

The area around Rovinj is rich in attractions, pristine beaches, and historical sites. During the fall, the local countryside is known for its truffle season.

Rovinj, Croatia
Rovinj, Croatia

Recommended Apartments in Rovinj

For a reasonable budget near the old port or in the old town, consider these options:

 

Guest House Pina – comfortable rooms near the old port, great price for a central location.

Center of Rovinj, sea view apartment – apartments with sea views, located right in the city center.

Apartment Adriatico Eterno 1 – modern apartments with all amenities, excellent location.

Apartment Frida – stylish and cozy apartments in the old town, well-equipped for a comfortable stay.

Pula

Pula, located on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula, is a captivating city known for its rich history and stunning architecture. The centerpiece of Pula is its ancient amphitheater, which rivals the grandeur and scale of Rome’s Colosseum.

Surrounding Pula are beautiful beaches, lush nature reserves, and historical sites, making it an excellent destination for an extended stay. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient ruins, enjoying the seaside, or simply soaking in the local culture, Pula has something for everyone.

Pula, Croatia
Pula, Croatia

Makarska Riviera

The Makarska Riviera is where we first fell in love with Croatia, and we keep returning for its unrivaled coastal beauty. It’s undoubtedly the best beach destination on mainland Croatia.

Top resorts on the Makarska Riviera include:

  • Baška Voda
  • Brela
  • Podgora
  • Tučepi
  • Makarska, the central town
Croatia, Makarska Riviera
Brela, Makarska, Dalmatia, Croatia

Recommended Accommodations on the Makarska Riviera:

Villa Saric K&M, Baška Voda – budget-friendly, with a balcony offering a beautiful view.

Villa Gradina, Baška Voda – excellent apartments near Podluka Beach.

Apartmans Lale, Brela – spacious, well-equipped apartments for 2-3 people, with a balcony and sea view. Close to the beach and promenade. Great value for money. Parking available.

Villa King Apartments, Brela – budget apartments with all amenities needed for a 5-10 day stay. Located near the beach and promenade. Parking available.

Vila Marina Sea&City View, Makarska – offers sea or mountain views from the balcony. About a 10-15 minute walk to the beach. Great value for Makarska. Highly rated for quality.

Apartments Fanito, Makarska – clean, spacious apartments with a welcoming host. Equipped with all necessities. Parking available.

Apartmani Kala, Podgora – cozy apartments with a balcony and kitchen, located near the marina. Several beaches with Mediterranean pine shade are a 3-minute walk away. Parking and internet available.

Apartments Lara, Podgora – quiet, cozy area near the second marina, offering more seclusion and a less crowded beach compared to central Podgora. Ideal for families and couples. The beach features fine pebbles and shaded areas. A 20-minute walk along the coast to the town center.

Biokovo National Park

Biokovo National Park is a mountain range that dramatically descends to the Makarska Riviera. It offers several scenic viewpoints and hiking trails, making it a perfect destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Visiting Biokovo for a day or half-day is highly recommended if you’re staying on the Makarska Riviera. It’s one of the top inland attractions in Croatia, alongside Plitvice Lakes and Krka National Park.

Biokovo, Croatia
Biokovo, Croatia

Omiš

Omiš is a historic port town with a rich pirate history, located near Split. The town boasts a charming old town, as well as beautiful sandy and pebble beaches.

However, Omiš makes this list not just for its beaches. The Cetina River has carved a dramatic canyon through the mountains here, providing an ideal spot for activities like rock climbing, hiking, and rafting.

Popular sites in Omiš include the Mirabella Fortress and the Starigrad Fortress, which offers stunning views from its hilltop location.

Croatia, Omis
Croatia, Omis

Recommended Accommodations in Omiš:

Apartment Aldo– centrally located with easy access to all the main attractions, the port, and nearby beaches. Sea view and highly rated.

Beachfront Apartments Lara– ideal for a seaside holiday, with beautiful views, a balcony, and a welcoming host. Located a few kilometers from the center of Omiš on the Omiš Riviera.

Šibenik

Šibenik’s picturesque old town has been a filming location for the Game of Thrones series. Its top attraction is the Cathedral of St. James, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Towering above the town are several fortresses offering breathtaking views of the coast. Šibenik is well worth a visit, even if just for a few hours, as part of a road trip through Croatia.

Sibenik, Croatia
Sibenik, Croatia

Recommended Accommodations in Šibenik:

InFresh holiday house – spacious and cozy, located near the city center and all main attractions. Includes parking.

Little Oasis– similar to InFresh, located nearby but slightly more expensive.

Primošten

Primošten was introduced to us by locals and is often described as a mini Rovinj. Despite its small size, Primošten boasts a charming old town on a peninsula and cozy beaches just outside the town center.

Primošten can be a standalone vacation spot or a short stop on a road trip. I recommend staying at least one night here to fully appreciate its charm.

Primosten, Croatia
Primosten, Croatia

Recommended Accommodations in Primošten:

Апартаменти Jerko– conveniently located right on the waterfront, just a minute’s walk from the main beach.

Apartment Maxim– near the old town with a stunning sea view from the balcony.

Apartments Dijo– modern apartments with a sunny terrace and sea view, located near Dagna Beach.

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