Croatia's sunny coastline is a real mixed bag – but the good news is, everything in that bag is an absolute treat. The generous amount of annual sunshine here brings with it a slow-paced Mediterranean vibe, but there’s plenty of Balkan and Northern European influence to be found in the cuisine, architecture and cultural traditions, too. There are thousands of islands and islets to discover, sprinkled throughout the warm waters of the Adriatic Sea. Want beaches lapped by crystal waters, without another soul in sight? You’ll find plenty of those on Croatia's islands. Or are you looking to be bowled over by some truly dramatic historic sites? There’s no shortage of those here, either.
Here are just a few of our favourite Croatian island destinations – but remember, there are many, many more besides.
Hvar is one of Croatia's largest islands, and it also offers one of the greatest ranges of experiences. You don’t even need to step off the boat here to admire its gorgeous lavender fields and verdant vineyards and olive groves; though of course, they’re even more impressive when you’re walking among them. The island’s main town, Hvar Town, is a chic place known for its stylish bars and restaurants, which give a modern edge to its old-fashioned architecture. The town’s Renaissance cathedral is a must-visit, its beautiful tower dominating the skyline. We also recommend visiting the pretty town of Jesla. Switch your phone off and leave your map behind – with its winding lanes and picturesque harbour, there’s no better place for a spot of aimless wandering.
Croatia's pebble beaches with sapphire-blue waters are legendary, and the island of Brač – just north of Hvar – is home to one of the finest examples of all. The aptly named Zlatni Rat (which translates to Golden Horn or Golden Cape) is a V-shaped stretch of pristine pebbles that points out from the southern coast of the island. You can choose to walk to its very tip to take in views of Hvar and the sparkling sea between the two islands. Or you might prefer to settle down in the shade of the lush forests at the back of the beach. If the beach looks incredible close up (and it does), it looks even more so seen from above. From the top of Vidova Gora, the peak which overlooks the coast, the views are spectacular – especially when enjoyed with a cool glass of wine!
Cres is the furthest north of the islands we’re putting a spotlight on here, and it’s also one of the least-visited. And that means one thing: tranquillity. Its coastline and towns are no less breath-taking than the ones of the more prominent islands, and they come with a peaceful quality that invites you to doze off on the beach, or laze in a pavement café with a book for hours. Swimming in the ultra-clear waters of the Adriatic Sea is the kind of memory that stays with you forever, and the still bays of Cres offer the perfect locations for it. Bliss!
Their location close to Dubrovnik makes the Elafiti Islands ideal for a day trip from the mainland. And because they’re close to each other to, you can visit several of the archipelago’s islands in just a few hours. Dotted with elegant Renaissance villas and covered in rich forests, Šipan is the largest island, and a longstanding getaway for well-heeled Croatians. The Elafiti Islands are known for their amazing seafood, and Šipan is a brilliant place to try it. Just next door is the island of Lopud, the second-largest in the archipelago. Unusually for Croatia, there are sandy beaches to explore here – perfect for a picnic. But the highlight for many visitors is a trip to the 15th-century Franciscan Monastery on the west coast, which sits dramatically on the edge of a sheer drop to the blue seas below. Yes, it is every bit as stunning as it sounds. Prepare to pinch yourself.