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The Best Balkan Islands To Explore This Summer
If you haven’t decided where to go yet, this post will have you drooling over the entire Adriatic Sea. This sidearm of the Mediterranean is famous for its historic cities—Venice, Split, and Dubrovnik, to name a few—but it’s also known for the extraordinary coastline and islands.
Consider putting some of the following best Balkan islands to explore this summer on your itinerary.
Some say that this is the very best island in the entire Adriatic; Hvar has pretty much everything. From historic towns and nightlife to secluded beaches and unique natural attractions, you find it all on this island.
The island has been inhabited for more than two millennia, and its main hub is Hvar Town. There, you’ll find nearly all of the island’s party hotspots—you may even spot a celebrity! It’s also home to a gorgeous waterfront and numerous beautiful buildings. Other smaller towns you should visit on the island are Vrboska and Jelsa.
Besides these urban areas, Hvar Island boasts plenty of nature as well. The inner parts are covered with pine forests while beaches dot the coastline. Perhaps the island’s greatest natural attraction is the Stari Grad Plain, an ancient agricultural landscape that’s been designated as World Heritage by UNESCO.
Don’t forget to spend time in the little towns and explore more of Hvar than just Hvar Town. We recommend that you start with Jelsa.
The island of Brac is one of the best day trip destinations from Split, and it’s a rather large island.
Brac’s landscape consists of undulating hills, woods, and farms. There are two main towns on the island, Bol and Supetar, which offer great restaurants and places to sleep and places to swim and relax.
Brac’s most famous highlight lies on the coast. Near the town of Bol, you’ll find Zlatni Rat, arguably the greatest beach in Croatia and definitely one of the best in Europe. Jutting out into the Adriatic Sea, this large sandy triangle deserves a visit.
The sixth-largest island in Croatia, Korcula is one of the most visited islands in the Balkan. It’s included on pretty much every cruise trip and boating excursion itinerary to the Dalmatian islands. Its main features are dense forests that are excellent for hiking and wonderfully historic Korcula Town.
Sometimes referred to as “little Dubrovnik,” Korcula has beautiful squares and many architectural highlights such as churches, houses, and palaces.
Besides Korcula, which you have to visit, Vela Luka is a town worth exploring as well—and also where you get off and on the ferry.
Of all the larger Dalmatian islands, Mljet is the one that’s closest to Dubrovnik. This long and narrow island is, in fact, one of the best day trips from Dubrovnik, a wonderfully lush island home to many historical sites and gorgeous nature.
Mljet is actually the greenest island in Croatia, almost entirely covered in forest and fringed by a rocky coastline and azure-blue Adriatic waters. Less-known than nearby islands like Hvar and Korcula may be the most delightful and peaceful islands in the Balkan. Although lots of tourists do visit Mljet, many of them stick around the tourist hub of Pomena. The rest of the island is an oasis of natural beauty and tranquility.
The entire northwestern part is protected as Mljet National Park, established in 1960. This park is a fantastic destination for nature and outdoor lovers, home to a lake with another island in it. Popular activities include hiking, cycling, and kayaking.
If you want to immerse yourself in nature, far away from the madding crowds, you should head to the Kornati Islands. This large archipelago lies off the northern Dalmatian coast, almost exactly between Zadar and Sibenik; it consists of many dozens of islands and islets.
The entire archipelago is, in fact, a national park — Kornati National Park. Although the islands themselves might not appear to be very interesting, consisting of barren hills, it’s the underwater world that makes this area so special.
It’s often said to be a “nautical paradise” because of the park’s numerous diving and snorkeling sites. Just be sure that you get the correct tickets to enter the area to enjoy the park’s delights.
The Brijuni Islands, also known as Brionian Islands, are a collection of fourteen islands and islets in the northern Adriatic, off the coast of Istria. Human history on the Brijuni Islands goes back to Ancient Greece, but most human activity was limited to quarries. In fact, many tons of stone from the islands were used to build Venice’s bridges and palaces. Other human-made attractions include the 13th-century St. Mary’s Church, which the Knights Templar built, and the remains of the Byzantine palace from the 2nd century.
The largest island in this archipelago is Veliki Brijun Island, home two more than 200 dinosaur footprints. Additionally, there’s a safari park home to many different animals.
One of the Balkan islands that’s easiest to access, Lokrum Island, lies just off the shoreline of Dubrovnik. From the harbor of Dubrovnik, it’s only 20 minutes by ferry to this woodland-covered island. Once you’re there, you’ll have a few options for activities.
Several hiking trails lead along the shoreline and through the forested heart of the island. Several beaches offer quiet sunbathing with a view of the Old Town in the distance, while an old monastery and historic botanical garden provide something for history and nature lovers. Additionally, there’s also a snack bar near Lokrum’s small harbor, a fun place to relax with some food and/or a drink.
While the Croatian islands receive all the attention, the islands in other countries on the Adriatic Sea often get overlooked in the Balkans. That’s definitely the case with Mamula, Montenegro.
This small uninhabited islet off the coast of southwestern Montenegro is home to a once-mighty fortress. This bulwark takes up most of the island’s surface area and has a fascinating history. Constructed in 1853 by an Austro-Hungarian general, Benito Mussolini was converted into a concentration camp during the Second World War, a camp infamous for its cruelty and torture.
In 2016, the Montenegrin government approved plans to turn this former fortress and concentration camp into a luxury resort. So now, this small and unique island is a luxurious seaside resort, complete with pools, solariums, palm trees, nightclubs, and beaches.
Our Lady Of The Rocks, Montenegro
Beautiful islands aren’t always found out at sea. Sometimes, they lie in the middle of a lake or, in this case, in an awe-inspiring bay. In the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bay of Kotor, you can visit Our Lady of the Rocks, a small rocky island just off the coast of Perast.
This is a man-made island, though, created by piling rocks on top of each other and even by sinking whole ships loaded with rocks. The island is named after its main feature—the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks. This historic church houses a museum, while a gift shop and small lighthouse make up the island’s other attractions.
Our Lady of the Rocks is a tiny island, and you don’t need more than about an hour to explore it. However, it is a significant highlight in the Bay of Kotor, which is one of the most breathtaking bays in all of Europe.
Bled Island, Slovenia
Lake Bled is renowned for many things. People go there to explore the lake on its typical wooden boats—the only ones allowed—to enjoy spectacular views of Bled Castle, hike the trails, and visit Bled Island.
Topped with an iconic church, Bled Island is the subject of the quintessential picture of Lake Bled. You can get there on one of those wooden boats, known as pletnas, that have been transporting visitors to the island for hundreds of years. After landing, you have to climb 99 steps up to the Assumption of Mary Church, the island’s centerpiece and one of Bled’s most famous buildings.
After landing, you have to climb 99 steps up to the Assumption of Mary Church, the island’s centerpiece and one of Bled’s most famous buildings – but trust us, it’ll be oh-so-worth-it.
Ksamil Islands, Albania
These four small islands are located in southern Albania. When we say small, we mean small; the Ksamili islands are just 17.5 acres, the perfect getaway, we think.
To get there, head to Sarandë beach, which by the way, is well-known not only for its blue water but also for the proximity to the archaeological sites of Butrint National Park. UNESCO protects the astonishing cultural heritage of this amazing park. From there, you can row or paddle out to the Ksamil Islands.
Have we convinced you to island-hop through the Balkans yet?Share