Having explored Croatia since 2000 and calling it home for the last decade, I’ve uncovered some genuinely remarkable hidden gems beyond the popular tourist destination of Split or the well-known city walls of Dubrovnik.
My travel guide is a culmination of my adventures through Croatia’s less-trodden paths, perfect for those seeking experiences off the beaten track in my beautiful country.
The lesser-known spots in Croatia are not just places; they’re experiences that offer a blend of adventure and tranquility. From cycling through its untouched natural beauty to spelunking in hidden caves and enjoying serene fishing trips, these hidden gems reflect a deeper, more authentic side of Croatia.
Here’s my handpicked list of Croatia’s top hidden spots, each one a testament to my enduring exploration and love for this country. Let’s embark on this journey and uncover the secrets of Croatia together!
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Adventure & Exploration
1. Pijana Pruga – The Drunk Railroad
Located in Eastern Istria, close to the village of Kožljak, is the Pijana pruga, a railway with an intriguing name and even more peculiar characteristics. Situated at the foot of Učka, it overlooks the verdant expanse of Čepić field.
This railway, now defunct, presents an oddly hanging appearance in parts. Its most distinctive feature, which earned it the nickname “drunk railway,” is the way it weaves erratically – veering sideways, then abruptly descending and ascending.
Initially connecting Lupoglav with Štalje, this 50 km track was built from 1948 to 1951 by the voluntary efforts of Istria’s residents. Its last journey occurred in December 2009, marking the end of an era for this unique railway – but now presenting a great secret spot for photos in Croatia.
2. Kopacki Rit Nature Park
Head 12km northeast of Osijek, and you will find an undiscovered Croatia and Kopacki Rit – one of the largest wetlands in Europe. Nature lovers will delight in the abundance and variety of vegetation growing in and around the Drava and Danube rivers.
The meeting of these two rivers has created the park’s wetlands, providing the perfect environment for wildlife of all shapes and sizes – deer, boar, beaver, fox, fish, eagles, herons, and even the rare black storks.
The best times to enjoy this travel gem are in the Spring and Autumn when the wildlife and colors are at their peak! Guided tours and educational trails are available for visitors, along with areas for horseback riding, bird-watching, and canoeing.
3. Brijuni National Park – Least Known Of The National Parks In Croatia
Brijuni National Park, a bit of an unsung hero in Croatia’s lineup of attractions, offers a unique blend of natural beauty and historical intrigue.
This cluster of islands near Pula isn’t just about lush landscapes and turquoise waters; it’s steeped in history, too.
Once the preferred retreat of President Tito, this small island is dotted with ancient ruins from Roman times and even a dinosaur footprint, adding a layer of mystery to your visit. Picture an ideal place where exotic animals roam free (thanks to Tito’s penchant for gifts), and each corner tells a story.
Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or just looking for a peaceful escape, Brijuni provides a captivating experience that’s a world away from the usual tourist trail. And the best part? It’s just a ferry ride out, making it an easy addition to your Croatian adventure.
4. Lastovo Remote Island
Lastovo, often overlooked in the buzz around Croatian hotspots, is a hidden gem that’s every bit worth a visit. This remote island, shrouded in lush Mediterranean forests, feels like a step back in time.
With its history as a Yugoslav army base, Lastovo has remained relatively untouched by mass tourism, offering a tranquil retreat. Imagine wandering through thick forests, swimming in some of the clearest waters you’ll find in Croatia, and enjoying sandy bays all to yourself.
It’s not just the natural beauty; Lastovo’s authentic island life is its real charm. The journey to get there might be a bit longer, but the serenity and unspoiled landscapes are the rewards waiting for you. If you’re seeking a peaceful escape with a touch of adventure, Lastovo is your go-to spot.
5. Zrmanja River
If you’re seeking an adrenaline rush mixed with stunning natural beauty, the Zrmanja River Canyon in Croatia should be on your radar.
This hidden gem, less known to the usual tourist crowd, is a haven for rafting enthusiasts. The Zrmanja River, with its crystal-clear waters, carves through dramatic canyons and creates a spectacular backdrop for a thrilling rafting experience.
Whether you’re a seasoned rafter or a beginner, the river offers varying levels of challenges. Along the way, you’ll be treated to sights of cascading waterfalls and lush greenery, making it a perfect blend of adventure and scenic tranquility.
6. Big Game Fishing On The Dalmatian Coast
There’s no better way to spend an exotic vacation than catching some of the biggest fish on the Adriatic Coast.
These tours come complete with the captain and experienced crew to guide you to some of the hottest spots for catching fish near the Dalmatian Islands. The fishing spot is about an hour and a half from the shore and will last all day. All tackles are included in the price and available onboard.
You may also fish for smaller catches as well. However, remember that any fish caught onboard belongs to the captain and crew. They are usually good about giving you a portion and even cooking them onboard often for no additional fee. It was a great time and well worth the experience!
Where: Zadar & Dalmatian Islands
7. Pakleni Islands
The Pakleni islands (Paklinski islands) are located in the Pakleni archipelago and are easily reachable by boat from Hvar’s Old Town. You can take a water taxi from Hvar to Pakleni islands or join a day tour during the high season.
If you’re looking for a real hidden gem in Croatia – we might know just the spot – how about a private villa in Hvar town or a quaint bungalow amidst a botanic garden on Sveti Klement, which makes up part of the Pakleni islands in front of Hvar?
Sailors have always loved Palmižana and particularly Vinogradišće Bay. Still, now the secret is out… thanks to the help of its crystalline waters and well-known restaurants, in recent years, it has become a must-visit for all those who travel to the island of Hvar.
8. Waterfalls & Canyons In Rastoke
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a must-see on a Croatia holiday, but solitude while taking in this natural wonder is hard to find during peak season. If you are looking for a less crowded experience, rent a car and drive 45 minutes north of the leading lakes to the village of Rastoke – a Croatian mill town.
Here, you will find waterfalls, canyons, and vistas shaped by natural phenomena similar to those of the main Plitvice Lakes. The area is still within the national park borders and has come to be called “the Small Lakes of Plitvice” and “Little Plitvice.”
A stop here is worth the breathtaking views, a few moments of solitude, and the sounds of crashing waterfalls. The best part is you won’t feel rushed as you spend an afternoon exploring the hidden wonders of this region. Enjoy dinner in the center of town – fresh trout while overlooking the river!
9. Starigrad Paklenica
Paklenica National Park was established in 1949 and is Croatia’s second oldest national park behind Plitvice Lakes National Park (also a must-see!). In all, Croatia is home to stunning national parks, all offering something different.
Paklenica National Park is 95 km2 and consists of two dolomite limestone canyons called Velika (Big) Paklenica & Mala (Small) Paklenica in the Velebit mountain, which is Croatia’s largest mountain range.
10. Parenzana Route In Istria
This route was once a railway line that connected 33 different locations between Istria, Trieste, and Poreč. In the early 1900s, the railway closed after only being in operation for 33 years. However, it has undoubtedly left its mark on the region and is known for something else today. Cyclists have become enamored with the old railway line and follow parts of it as a guide for their biking trail.
Biking in Istria, in and of itself, is epic. Great trails wind through nature, wooden bridges that span small gorges, and excellent urban areas for cycling. The old railway line serves as a gauge to follow the lay of the land, winding in and out through the forest and up and over the mountainous terrain.
11. Hidden Spots On The Istrian Peninsula
Tucked away in the charming region of Istria, Croatia, lie some truly intriguing hidden gems.
- Bale: this village is a food lover’s delight in Istria, offering memorable experiences with local wine production and olive oil tastings
- Hum: recognized as the world’s smallest town, Hum provides a unique and intimate cultural experience
- Kotli: for those who enjoy tranquility, Kotli is an abandoned mill village with a quiet, rustic charm
- Buzet: a haven for truffle enthusiasts, Buzet is renowned for its truffles and a local distillery that captures the region’s essence
- Labin: steeped in mining history, Labin offers a fascinating glimpse into the area’s past
Secret Gems, In The Surrounding Area Of Dubrovnik
Just a short drive from the bustling streets of Dubrovnik, you’ll find some of Croatia’s best-kept secrets, perfect for escaping the crowds.
First up is Ston, a small historic town renowned for its impressive medieval walls, second only to the Great Wall of China in length. But it’s not just the walls that attract visitors; Ston is also famous for its exquisite oysters, considered some of the best in the world.
Next, there’s Cavtat, a serene coastal village. This charming spot offers a peaceful retreat with its beautiful beaches, quiet promenades, and a touch of historical charm, making it a perfect antidote to the busy streets of Dubrovnik.
19. Pasjaca Beach
Lastly, if you’re in the mood for a hidden beach experience, Pasjaca Beach is your go-to. Tucked beneath towering cliffs, this secluded beach offers a unique setting for a tranquil day by the sea. Its relative inaccessibility keeps the crowds at bay, allowing for a more intimate encounter with Croatia’s stunning coastline.
These spots near Dubrovnik offer a blend of historical allure, culinary delights, and serene natural beauty, making them ideal for those looking to explore beyond the typical tourist paths.
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Cultural & Urban Gems
20. Medika In Zagreb
21. Museum Of Broken Relationships In Zagreb
In Zagreb, we found one of the most unique attractions in the world – the Museum of Broken Relationships.
This museum consists of mementos and stories from broken relationships donated worldwide. The moments range from photographs, a key, and an ax to a toy caterpillar with half the legs broken off!
The stories themselves are surprisingly engaging. Many are pretty detailed and lengthy. Some are funny; others are heartbreaking. The relationships are not just romantic, although most are; it is also about the breakup of many other relationships. There is also a massive scrapbook where you can write your own tale.
I must admit that I also walked out feeling quite sad. It’s impossible not to connect with the people behind the stories – I felt one, in particular, sounded exactly like one of my breakups! And this is a big part of the appeal. It illustrated how people are just the same, no matter where they are in the world.
If you are looking for a fascinating museum utterly different from everything else you will find in Croatia, check out the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb.
22. Tequila Sunrise Beach Bar In Zadar
Hidden Croatia Gems: Sunset from Tequila Sunrise Beach Bar
About a 30-minute walk from Old Town, Zadar is one of my favorite hidden gems in Croatia: the Tequila Sunrise Beach Bar. While it might not be the fanciest spot, it makes up for its excellent waterfront location and the food and drinks.
Expect fast-food fare here, like pizzas and sandwiches, but trust me when I say it’s incredibly fresh. It is so fresh that the pita bread for the sandwiches is made when you order, and at 4 euros for a massive, fresh chicken sandwich, you can’t complain about the price either!
Tequila Sunrise is also located on a set of cliffs from which you are welcome to jump. They aren’t too high, but if you prefer, there’s a ladder available for taking a swim in the sea between drinks.
Of course, like almost everywhere else on the coast by Zadar, Tequila Sunrise has a beautiful view of the sunset, minus all the crowds and tourists from Old Town. Without a doubt, it’s the perfect local spot to grab a drink and bite to eat for those wanting to spend a few hours, or even a day, playing in the sea.
A coastal city that has endured nearly a millennium of scorching temperatures, sustaining a few wars, being beaten by the waves and whipped by relentless winds, Šibenik remains as vibrant – and not as well known as it should.
Šibenik is a city of sun, sea, and stone, a unique combination of characteristics that make this a city unlike any other in Croatia. Šibenik consists of stone buildings, stone stairways, rock cliffs, cobbled streets, and stone arches. It is built on rocks and constructed with rocks.
The town of Đakovo, which is sometimes also spelled Djakovo, is known as a “Bishop’s Town’. Located in the heart of the fertile Slavonia region in northern Croatia, it has been a center for bishops since 1239.
The town is home to many things, but it is one thing you can’t miss if you are in the area. Both its sheer size and position on the landscape and also for how magnificent it is – The imposing Đakovo Cathedral.
25. Neretva River & Neretva Valley
The Neretva River and Valley in southern Croatia is an often overlooked destination that offers a unique experience beyond the usual tourist path. Imagine kayaking down the serene Neretva River, with its lush surroundings and tranquil atmosphere.
The valley isn’t just a natural retreat; it’s also a hub of agricultural bounty, well-known for producing some of Croatia’s sweetest oranges, tangerines, and nectarines. For those looking for a blend of nature and culture, the Neretva Valley presents a perfect mix.
It’s a splendid spot for those wanting to experience the authentic Croatian lifestyle away from the crowded tourist spots.
Not far from Ploče, the Neretva River turns into the Adriatic Sea, where you can enjoy sandy beaches and great kitesurfing.
26. Pirate Town Of Omiš
Omiš, often overlooked in the rush to Croatia’s more famous coastal cities, is a gem where history, nature, and stunning beaches converge. Located at the mouth of the Cetina River, this small town boasts a rich history showcased by its medieval fortresses perched on the surrounding cliffs.
The beaches here are a dream for anyone who loves the sea, offering a more relaxed vibe compared to the busier spots. But it’s not just about lounging on the sand; Omiš is also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Whether it’s rafting on the Cetina River or hiking up to the old fortresses for breathtaking views, Omiš provides a perfect blend of adventure and tranquility. This town is a must-visit for anyone eager to experience a different side of Croatia’s Adriatic charm.
Nature’s Retreats & Seaside Escapes
27. Elafiti Islands
If you’re venturing to Croatia and keen on discovering unique places that aren’t swamped with tourists, the Elafiti Islands should definitely be on your radar.
This small archipelago, located just a short boat ride from Dubrovnik, is a cluster of islands, each offering its own unique charm. Unlike the more frequented spots, the Elafiti Islands provide a peaceful escape with stunning natural landscapes, quaint villages, and inviting beaches. You won’t find the bustling crowds here, just serene surroundings perfect for a day of exploration or relaxation.
Whether you’re into hiking, swimming, or just lounging by the sea with a good book, these islands offer a refreshing break from the usual tourist trail. So, pack a day bag, hop on a ferry, and get ready to enjoy a slice of Croatian paradise that many travelers overlook.
More Lesser-Known islands
Exploring Croatia’s lesser-known but also some of the most beautiful islands reveals a world away from the usual tourist trail.
- Mljet is a verdant paradise, captivating visitors with its lush national park and tranquil ambiance. It’s a perfect spot for nature lovers, offering green forests and serene lakes
- Vis tells a different story, blending natural splendor with a fascinating military past. Its untouched landscapes and clear waters are a delight for those seeking both history and scenic beauty
- Šolta is a haven for gastronomy enthusiasts, famed for its exquisite olive oil and honey, each with a distinct local flavor
- Krk Island, Croatia’s largest island, is easily accessible via a bridge and offers the convenience of a car journey to an island escape. Its diverse landscapes and rich cultural tapestry make it an appealing choice for a variety of travelers
32. Beritnica Beach
Beritnica Beach, a hidden marvel on Pag Island in Croatia, offers a unique and somewhat offbeat experience.
To reach it, head towards Metajna, following signs from Novalja. Although Metajna is a typical tourist village, the surrounding areas are astonishingly beautiful, especially the pebbly Ručice beach.
Beritnica is accessed via a simple hike from the parking near Ručice. The landscape en route transforms dramatically, revealing a valley near the beach, striking rock formations, and even a canyon filled with fascinating shapes and wild pigeon colonies.
The beach itself, known for its pebbly shores and three massive rocks, is perfect for families. Surrounded by geological wonders, including fossils and remnants of ancient forests, Beritnica is not just any old beach.
33. Dugi Otok & Sakarun Beach
Sakarun Beach is often referred to as the Caribbean beach of Croatia. One of Croatia’s best places for vacation is crystal clear, with a white sand beach located in a secluded bay on the northern tip of Dugi Otok in the Zadar region.
Tucked away in the Adriatic Sea, Dugi Otok is a slice of paradise that often flies under the radar. This elongated island, whose name literally means “Long Island,” is a haven for those seeking a tranquil escape.
One of its crowning jewels is Sakarun Beach, known for its crystal-clear waters and fine, white sand, a rarity in Croatia where pebbly shores are the norm.
Unlike the bustling beaches of more famous Croatian islands, Sakarun offers a serene getaway. It’s ideal for a leisurely day of sunbathing or a refreshing swim, especially if you have a young family seeking a safe beach for kids to play.
Sakarun Beach on Dugi Otok is a must-visit, but I do recommend that you remember to bring your essentials, as amenities here are minimal, preserving the beach’s unspoiled charm.
34. Baredine Cave
You will not need the traditional spelunking gear for a visit to this hidden gem of Croatia! Baredine Cave, located in Istria, has been explored since the beginning of the 20th century and, after much exploration, was turned into a tourist attraction in 1995.
Walk through the underground cave, admiring ancient stalagmites, stalactites, and many other “sculptures” created naturally by water moving through the passages. While in the cave, stop to view the underground animal world – yes, animals have made this a habitat!
Kids and adults alike can suit up with a rope and harness to do a little climbing. If you are not used to this activity, be prepared to be somewhat sore the next day. However, the momentary discomfort is certainly worth the experience.
Artifacts are displayed in the gallery for history lovers, and an outside display contains 50+ old tractors unique to the area. Don’t forget to stop in the Konobon Gallery to learn about the process of making bread, wine tasting, and olive oil, essential means of commerce for this region.
Where: Nova Vas 52446, Poreč, Istra, Hrvatska
35. Grebišće Beach – Jelsa, Hvar Island
Hvar’s best sandy beach for families is Grebišće, located on the north side of the Jelsa harbor. It’s nothing flashy, but the kids who want to make sandcastles will love it. After a day at the beach, don’t forget to explore Jelsa, a small village not far from Hvar Town. This perfect place is a real Croatian hidden gem as it’s a quiet, adorable town surrounded by pine forests but with all the amenities you’ll need.
Historical & Architectural Wonders
Ilok is a small town close to Vukovar, located in Vukovar-Srijem County. The little town is perched on a hill overlooking the Danube River, the slopes of Fruška Gora, and many vineyard hills surround the town. It is known to be a well-preserved medieval town with viniculture since Roman times.
37. Porer Lighthouse In Istria
The Istria region of southern Croatia is in itself something of a hidden travel gem. Istria has everything, from the crystal turquoise water of the Adriatic Sea to the gentle hills and vineyards of its wine regions and architecture dating back to the ancient Venetians; there is incredible beauty, culture, and history everywhere you look.
This is why the area is now having a resurgence of visitors from around the world. But one tiny corner of this nature and foodie paradise has stuck in my memory more than any other.
On a tiny rock of an island just 80 meters across, standing humble yet proud, is the Porer Lighthouse at the southernmost tip of Istria. Only accessible by a 30-minute ride on a tiny fishing boat, the tower still protects passing ships from the rocky coast, as it has done for almost 200 years.
By daytime, the pure beauty of the 35-meter tower, surrounded by the glistening Mediterranean waters, is transformed when the sun sets, and the stars come into view against the clear night sky.
The protective beam of light swings around the lonely rock, casting an eerie glow across the rocks and the waves that break against them. The tower becomes a ghost-like presence in the darkness, captivating and slightly spooky simultaneously.
Where: Cape Kamenjak|
Kutjevo is a small town in Požega-Slavonia County, located on the south slopes of the Papuk and Krndija hills in the narrow valley of the Kutjevčanka River in continental Croatia. The town was created in the 13th century when the Cistercian abbey founded the area and started growing wine.
Kutjevo is known to be the wine capital of Inland Croatia. It has a very famous Old Wine Cellar dating back to 1232. It is the home of some excellent local wines, including the Kutjevo Graševina, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Traminer. Next to the Old Wine Cellar, you will see a beautiful old Kutjevo castle built on the former Abbey site, connecting the castle to the wine cellar by a cellar passage.
Krapina is a small town in the Croatian hinterland established in the early 13th century. It is a part of the Krapina-Zagorje County and is very close to the city of Zagreb. Krapina is the largest region in the Croatian Zagorje. The town of Krapina is the county’s political, cultural, and administrative center.
40. Klis Fortress
Just a short drive from the bustling streets of Split lies Klis Fortress, a hidden gem with a story to tell. Perched high on a hillside, this fortress offers not only a slice of Croatian history but also some of the best panoramic views of the coast and the city.
The fortress, which dates back over two millennia, played a pivotal role in defending against various invasions, notably the Ottoman Empire. Today, it’s a quieter spot, away from the usual tourist crowd.
Walking through its ancient walls and gates, you can almost hear the echoes of the past. It’s also gained recent fame as a filming location for the popular TV show “Game of Thrones.
Castles Hrvatsko Zagorje
41. Trakošćan Castle
Just an hour’s drive from Zagreb takes you to Trakošćan Castle. Known as Croatia’s most famous castle, it gazes over a stunning artificial lake and lush gardens. Its well-preserved exterior, reminiscent of romantic German castles, is a photographer’s delight. Don’t miss the chance to dine on traditional Croatian cuisine at the nearby Hotel Trakošćan.
42. Miljana Castle
Miljana Castle, dating back to the 16th century, stands as one of Croatia’s most picturesque castles. At the same time, the Baroque-era Castle Orsic offers a lovely park, a beautifully preserved chapel, and a museum dedicated to the Peasants’ Revolt. Each castle brings its unique story and charm, making them must-visit spots for history buffs and casual explorers alike.
43. Veliki Tabor Castle
In the Hrvatsko Zagorje Valley, you’ll find Veliki Tabor Castle, one of the historic sites on Croatia’s UNESCO Tentative list, rich in legends and history. It’s perfect for a cultural day out, especially during peak season with its medieval workshops.
65. Kornati Archipelago In The Kornati Islands
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Bjelovar is a hidden gem in Croatia’s Bjelovar-Bilogora County and is the center of the county in the Croatian interior. It was established in the 18th century and has been voted the third most beautiful city in continental Croatia.
Known for its dairy and cheese production. The city has a centuries-old milk and cheese-producing history. It is the agricultural and livestock region in Croatia, thanks to its fertile soil. Bjelovar is a haven for foodies looking to taste authentic local flavors.
It’s not just about the food, though. The city’s recreational opportunities, like walking and cycling paths, make it perfect for those who love the outdoors. If you’re after a Croatian experience away from the coastal crowd, Bjelovar is a spot you shouldn’t miss – it’s a peaceful getaway with a hearty dose of local charm.
67. Truffle Hunting In Motovun
Truffles are famous worldwide, and the Istrian truffle is renowned for fetching some of the highest world prices. But those tiny fungi are not easy to find – truffle hunting is about patience and very well-trained dogs.
In Motovun, you will find the Kotiga & Karlic families. They will teach you all there is to know about truffles and how to find them – all you have to do is keep up with the truffle-hunting dogs.
Oh, and Motovun isn’t just about truffles; put in your best travel shoes and head off on a leisurely walk around the old hilltop town. Motovun is a 12th-century medieval town, and I dare say it is the best-preserved and still used hilltop town in Istria.
The village of Motovun is perched at the top of a round hill and currently has approximately 600 people. To get to the top, you need to walk a very steep cobblestone road – we pushed the stroller and partially carried the tired and sick 6-year-old, which was arduous work, so keep that in mind if you are traveling with small kids or older people.
You already knew that Croatia was worth visiting, but now you know all about Croatia’s hidden gems and tourist attractions off the well-trodden path. So tell me, which of these best hidden gems makes it number one on your list?