Travel - Destinations
By: - at September 17, 2013

Top 15 Interesting Places to Visit in Croatia

Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, in no small art thanks to its proximity to the Adriatic Sea and a very diverse climate and terrain. Like other parts of the Balkans, it has an incredibly rich history, beginning with the arrival of the Croats in the present-day territory of Croatia during the great migrations of the 7th century. Apart from the numerous beaches and scenic lookouts, the countryside of Croatia covers a wide range of terrain. This is seen throughout Croatia's cliffs, mountain ranges, and infamous Adriatic highlands. Croatia's historical legacy and dynamic terrain makes visiting this dynamic country so memorable and attractive.

map of croatia
By Captain Blood, from Wikimedia Commons

Here are the top fifteen places to visit while staying in Croatia.

15)  Krka National Park
Named after the river that encloses it, this national park is one of several in Croatia. What makes it notable is its beauty and sheer variety of wildlife and plant life in the region. Although located in the southern European region climate-wise, the park has a mosaic distribution of different types of habitats, making it an especially rich nature preserve. In raw numbers, there are over 860 different species and subspecies of plants in the park alone. This includes a number of plants that are unique to Krka, and are not found anywhere else in the world. The river is inhabited by some 18 species of fish with 10 species that are endemic to the river, making it one of the most notable parks in the country.

Skradinski Buk Waterfall on the Krka River
Skradinski Buk Waterfall on the Krka River

Of course, that's not all Krka has to offer for visitors. There are over two hundred different species of birds, including ospreys, short-toed eagles, peregrine falcons, Eurasian eagle-owls, the Griffon vulture and many more indigenous species of birds. If you aren't an ornithologist, but prefer bats, Krka also has some eighteen species of bats, most of which are classified as endangered or near extinction. Visiting Krka is well worth it, especially since the area has a very well developed tourist infrastructure, allowing you to go on sightseeing tours without having to worry about ruining the delicate ecosystem. For history buffs, the park is also host to the remains of a number of Roman fortresses that date back to the third century when Croatia was one of Rome's colonies on the Adriatic coast.

14)  Salona
If you are interested in learning more about the rich history of the region, especially during Roman times, you need to head over to Solin, which is part of the Split conurbation. The town is famous for its plentiful archeological sites coming from the settlement of Salona, which was one of the most important cities of the ancient Roman province of Dalmatia. Salona was important both politically and religiously, though its prominence waned with the building of Diocletian's Palace just a few kilometers down the coast. The city never regained its standing and was eventually destroyed by invading Slavs somewhere around the seventh century.

Ancient Roman Ruins in Salona
Ancient Roman Ruins in Salona

However, the destruction wasn't complete and ruins of the Roman settlement survive to this day. Counting 60,000 inhabitants at the height of its influence and power, the city was home to plenty of industries that provided it with plenty of goods for trading. Public baths (the thermes), extensive fortifications, gates, and a forum that served as the nexus of the city's political, religious, and financial life. Ruins of all of these buildings can be seen today because they were well preserved by archaeological and restoration efforts over the years.

Ruins of Salona Near Split, Croatia
Ruins of Salona Near Split, Croatia

If you hold even a passing interest in the history of Rome, visiting Salona is an essential addition to your list of places to visit since it demonstrates not only how Emperors lived, but also the common people that made up the majority of the Roman Empire.

13)  Pula
Of course, the Roman history of Croatia is not the only worthwhile element of Croatia's history. A good way to see the entire history of the country in a nutshell is to visit the city of Pula.

Roman Amphitheater in Pula, Croatia
Roman Amphitheater in Pula, Croatia

Church of St. Francis:
Church of St. Francis
By JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most important cities in the province of Dalmatia, it had a particularly well developed infrastructure, including a massive amphitheater that is one of the six largest Roman structures of this type still left standing. The fall of the Roman Empire brought radical change to the city brought on by the sacking of Pula by the Ostrogoths. The city was subsequently controlled by dozens of different entities, from the Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne, through the trade republic of Venice, to the Austrian Empire and beyond. Its rich political history has endowed the city with a unique blend of cultures and traditions that survives to this day.

In terms of physical examples of history, Pula is well known for its numerous ancient Roman buildings including the amphitheater that is pictured above. Other notable landmarks include numerous arches and gates leading into the city that formed part of the fortification line, as well as the Augustan Forum. Later stages in the city's history are marked architecturally by churches, especially the Byzantine chapel of St. Mary Formosa and the Church of St. Francis.

Byzantine Chapel of St. Mary Formosa
Byzantine Chapel of St. Mary Formosa at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

For aficionados of military history, the city also has plenty of fortifications from the time Austria controlled the city. In short, it's the perfect city to visit if you want to catch a glimpse into Croatia's intriguing, tumultuous history.

12)  Velebit Mountain Range
Sometimes, history is not enough to keep everybody entertained while on vacation. Taking in some of the natural beauty Croatia has to offer can please travelers who have had their fill of history lessons, and are looking for more adventure than historical sites can offer. The Velebit mountain range and the National Park that covers a sizable part of its northern elements is a great choice for more adventurous vacationers. Often neglected by tourists in favor of more well-known areas and nature preserves such as the aforementioned Krka National Park, it is nonetheless one of the most striking places to visit in Croatia. This mountain range is brutal, beautiful, and breathtaking.

Velebit Mountain Range
By Ekem, from Wikimedia Commons

The Velebit is predominantly made up of simple rock formations which form sheer cliffs and exposed, naked surfaces bathing in the Mediterranean sun. The sea-facing slopes of the mountain range are usually almost naked, save for grass, shrubbery, and plenty of rocks. The slopes facing inland are, by contrast, often covered in dense forests. Together, these come to form one of the most memorable regions in Croatia, especially when you consider the variety of flora and fauna present on Velebit. If you're limited by time, consider, at least, visiting National Park Sjeverni Velebit (Northern Velebit), which offers the most beautiful sights and experiences in the Velebit range by far.

11)  Rovinj
Often described as one of the most picturesque cities in Croatia, Rovinj has an equally storied history, starting as a settlement of Illyrian tribes, then a Roman town, a Byzantine city, a Frankish frontier town, and finally, at the apex of its power and influence, the most important city in Istria aligned with the Republic of Venice. For over five centuries, Rovinj benefited from its relationship with the mighty trade republic, until Venice's fall, at which point it was absorbed by the Austrian Empire. Subsequent history is common to all Croatia after World War I.

The Pier and the City of Rovinj on Istria Peninsula
The Pier and the City of Rovinj on Istria Peninsula

The long and varied history of Rovinj is reflected in its architecture, from the Monkodonja hill forts dating back to 1800 BCE to the modern day fishing ports. The city is known for its beauty, unmarred by years of urbanization and industrialization that have shaped most of Croatia. This is primarily due to the entire Rovinj archipelago, which consists of a total of 19 islands lush with vegetation that are set against the backdrop of the Croatian mainland. The historic architecture of the city is just an added bonus for visitors who have the chance to explore this picturesque city. 

10)  Hum
Fascinating oddities aren't just nature's domain in Croatia. Humans have plenty of their own, and one of the most interesting is the little town of Hum, located in central Istria. What makes it notable is the fact that it's the holder of the Guinness World Record for the smallest town in the world. The 2001 census placed the official number of inhabitants at just 17 people. Although one would expect it to be little more than just a few huts arranged around a road, but the town is actually known for its incredibly well preserved medieval urban architecture and layout.

Bell Tower in Hum
Bell Tower in Hum

The city's defining feature is the defensive wall enclosing it. In fact, most of the houses in the town are actually built into the defensive walls. The history of the town first begins around the 12th century, where it is mentioned in several documents. The Parish Church of St. Jerome is notable for the preserved early Glagolitic writings held inside, which are one of the oldest existing artifacts of Croatian literature of the Middle Ages. Coupled with the scenic landscape surrounding the smallest little city in the world, Hum is worth visiting, especially if you enjoy medieval towns and architecture.

9)  Trogir
The rich history of Croatia is embodied by its many historical towns. Trogir is one of UNESCO''s World Heritage Sites, a town with over two thousand years of history of settlement and habitation. Originally founded in the third century BCE, Trogir was founded by Greek colonists, developing into a major port during the Roman Empire. The rise of the aforementioned Salona resulted in Trogir losing prominence. When Salona was sacked by migrating Slavs, Trogir harbored refugees from the once great city.

Aerial View of Trogir, Croatia
Aerial View of Trogir, Croatia

Nothing lasts, and Trogir was sacked by the Saracens in the 12th century, but recovered fast and became one of the most important economic centers of Croatia. In subsequent centuries it enjoyed a history similar to Pula, with its fortunes waning and waxing, as empires rose and fell in the region.

Historic District of Trogir
Historic District of Trogir

The rich history of Trogir makes it a mandatory stop on any voyage aiming to provide more than just the bare minimum of Croatian history. Trogir is an exceptional place, as it's commonly regarded to be one of the finest complexes of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings in Europe. In fact, this is one of the reasons it has been classified as a World Heritage Site. The intricate mosaic of urban Trogir is one of the most fascinating sights in all of Croatia.

8)  Klis Fortress
Equally fascinating is the massive fortress of Klis in central Dalmatia. Like many of Croatia's towns, it has a very rich history, which started with the establishing of a small stronghold by the ancient tribe of Dalmatae. Since then, it has been continuously expanded and upgraded for more than two thousand years, eventually becoming a residence for the kings of Croatia, and one of the most crucial fortifications in the wars with the Ottoman Empire. Sitting on the crossroads between the Balkans and the Mediterranean belt, it was a point of great strategic importance throughout history.

Klis Fortress
Klis Fortress

It is easy to see centuries of history embedded in its solemn stone walls. The entire fortress is situated on the top of a large cliff, shaped like an elongated spearhead. The stone faces of the mountain have been adapted and integrated into the defensive architecture of the Klis fortress, which remains one of the most remarkable examples of fortifications in this region of the Adriatic Sea. Visiting it is a good idea for additional reasons beyond the impressive structure. The fortress is also host to a sizable collection of arms, armor, and uniforms, making it a mandatory stop in the itinerary of any aficionado of military history.

7)  Korcula
For a traveler that's pining to experience the unique culture and atmosphere of Adriatic islands, the island of Korcula is one of the best places to visit. It sums up all of Croatia in a nutshell, including everything the country has to offer. This includes sunny beaches, crystal clear water, and towns with more than a thousand years of history and tradition. Korcula is rapidly developing and has something to offer for practically everyone. Enjoy swimming? Head to the nearest beach. Prefer hiking? The size of the island and its geography allow for lengthy trips into the forest in order to climb the local peaks. Prefer exploring historical towns? There's Korcula.

Korcula Island
Korcula Island

The most interesting town on the island is its namesake. Korcula is a fortified town built in a unique Adriatic style, originally built to protect against violent winds often present in the region. It offers plenty of winding streets to get lost in, exploring the fascinating architecture of a city built on the edges of two cultures. The most interesting buildings in the town include the Cathedral of St Mark built over the course of five centuries, as well as the numerous palaces of the local merchant nobles.

Church and Marco Polo Tower - Korcula Town
Church and Marco Polo Tower - Korcula Town, Croatia

Of course, the sizable fortifications of Korcula are also a major attraction. An interesting fact related to the history of Korcula is that it's the first place in the world where slavery was banned, as a result of the 1214 Korcula town statute.

6)  Zadar
Even in a country as rich in history and sights as Croatia, there are places to visit that are especially important for numerous reasons. Zadar is one of those, tracing its lineage back to Roman times and the development of the city in the first century CE. The city was one of the most important urban centers in the province of Dalmatia and a vital element of the Roman economy there. Although it stagnated after the fall of the Empire, it regained its prominence by the beginning of the Middle Ages. Its advantageous position brought it into political conflict with its neighbors, most notably the Republic of Venice, which was an integral element of the city's history until the republic's fall, at which point Zadar was absorbed by the Austrian Empire.

City Of Zadar Harbor And Velebit Mountain
City Of Zadar Harbor And Velebit Mountain

Fishing Boats in the Port of Zadar
Fishing Boats in the Port of Zadar

The long, rich history of the city shows in the architecture. Unlike many other cities, Zadar has retained its Roman layout, with the most interesting feature dating back to the Roman times being, of course, the forum. However, the true beauty of Zadar lies in its churches, which span nearly all architectural styles, from Romanesque to Baroque. Walking through the streets of the three thousand year old Zadar is akin to using a kaleidoscope: a different sight with every turn you take.

5)  Zagreb
The capital of Croatia is the largest city in the entire country and one of the most varied. Its history dates back to the 11th century, making it one of the younger cities in Croatia. However, make no mistake; its history is just as intriguing as the rest of Croatia. Among other sites (including the seat of the Croatian parliament and government), perhaps the most fascinating part of the city lies in the Gornji Grad (Upper Town) district, which is the medieval old town. It is currently one of the most well preserved medieval urban centers in Europe.

Panorama of Zagreb
Panorama of Zagreb

However, the real treat in Zagreb is its numerous museums that are continuing to devote themselves to the history, art, and culture of Croatia. With over thirty collections spread over the museums in Zagreb, there are more than 3.5 million exhibits to see. The most fascinating of those is perhaps the Archeological Museum, containing 450,000 exhibits including an extensive Egyptian and Numismatic collection. Second is the Croatian Natural History Museum, with over 250,000 exhibits. Art connoisseurs will definitely appreciate the numerous galleries, with the Modern Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art being the most recommended starting point for visitors. Zagreb has something for everyone, especially visitors who are highly inclined to visit art museums. 

4)  Porec
Located on the Istrian peninsula, Porec is a two thousand year old city whose settlement dates back to the second century BCE, though it didn't become a city until the rule of Emperor Octavian August in the first century CE. As a Roman city from the beginning, Porec's history is tied to the fortunes of the Empire and successor states that emerged in the wake of its fall. Porec was a part of the Roman Empire, then the Byzantine Empire, and then became a part of the merchant empire of Venice. Shortly after, Porec was absorbed as part of the Habsburg Dynasty's rule and then became part of the Austrian Empire. The town has a long and storied history, but perhaps the most notable landmark is the Euphrasian Basilica.

Roofs of Porec on a Sunny Day
Roofs of Porec on a Sunny Day

The Basilica is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. It is one of the best preserved examples of early Byzantine architecture, with its main structure dating back all the way to the sixth century. As the third church built on the same location, it combines all the finest elements of early Byzantine architecture. The most striking element of the Basilica is the intricate mosaics covering its walls and floor. It's exceptional architectural and artistic value resulted in it being granted the title of a World Heritage Site.

Clock Tower in Old Town Porec - Istria Peninsula
Clock Tower in Old Town Porec - Istria Peninsula

When you visit it in person, you will definitely understand why it was designated as a World Heritage Site.

3)  Diocletian's Palace in Split
Built between the third and fourth century CE, Diocletian's Palace is one of the most important UNESCO heritage sites in Europe. The reason for this is simple: it's the most complete and most well preserved Roman palace on the continent. This fact earned it global fame and recognition and made it a very common tourist destination in Split, a city that effectively sprung up around the palace. The palace itself was built by the Emperor to prepare for his retirement in 305 CE and was one of the largest complexes of its time. It was capable of housing over nine thousand people at its peak. It should also be noted that the palace was also fortified on all sides, except for the southern facade that utilized the sea as a natural barrier.

Diocletian's Palace in Split
Diocletian's Palace in Split

The remarkable preservation of the entire site means that it's an incredibly rich and inspiring place to visit. The Roman architecture of the time is still sure to impress, especially when you consider that it was made with a less advanced technology during medieval times.

Inside the Walls of Diocletian's Palace
Inside the Walls of Diocletian's Palace

Perhaps the most worthwhile sight in the palace is the 3,500 year old sphinx statue, made from granite. Although originally there were dozens of such statues on the grounds only two survive, with a third one located in Split's city museum.

2)  Plitvice Lakes National Park
The oldest national park in south-eastern Europe, Plitvice Lakes was founded in 1949 to protect the unique geography of the region, which resulted in a world-famous cascaded arrangement of lakes. The entire park covers nearly 300 square kilometers and encloses sixteen interconnected lakes, forming a beautiful network that quite literally has to be seen to be believed. Plitvice Lakes is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia, with an estimated 1,200,000 visitors each year. As strict rules apply to all visitors, it's worth preparing for the trip in advance and making sure that you comply with all the regulations enforced by the national park authority.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

However, working your way through the labyrinth of regulations is worth it, as the arrangement of lakes and the intricate ecosystem that formed are globally unique. The lakes are divided into two distinct clusters, separated by a descent nearly 150 meters in height.

Picturesque Waterfalls Inside Plitvice Lakes National Park
Picturesque Waterfall Inside Plitvice Lakes National Park

Although spectacular on its own, the real kicker comes when you realize how colorful the lakes are. Finally, the national park is home to plenty of wild animals, many of them endemic to the area and cannot be seen anywhere else.

1)  Dubrovnik
At the top of the list of must-see places in Croatia is Dubrovnik. Commonly referred to as the Pearl of the Adriatic, the old city of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is due mostly to its architecture, beauty, and historical significance.

Ancient Fortified City of Dubrovnik
Ancient Fortified City of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik was one of the most important cities in the Mediterranean Sea, and serves as the capital of the maritime Republic of Ragusa.

Panoramic View of the Beautiful Beach in Dubrovnik
Panoramic View of the Beautiful Beach in Dubrovnik

Its prominence and wealth brought in through trade and diplomacy made it one of the most influential cities in the region. In fact, at the apex of its power, Ragusa could compete with even the mighty Venetian Empire.

Final Thoughts
Croatia is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Europe, not without a good reason. It is a fascinating region brimming with history and natural beauty. These fifteen sites and sights are all worth visiting, but they only scratch the surface of what's to find in the Republic of Croatia.





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