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2020 Guide To Where To Go In Croatia: 19 Places That Never Ever Make The Big Lists
Are you trying to decide where to go in Croatia? We know it is hard to choose what to visit in Croatia. Luckily, traveling around Croatia guarantees you a unique and memorable holiday experience. While everyone has now heard of Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar and a stack of our beautiful islands, how many of these underrated destinations have you heard about – or visited?
Visiting other cities and even visiting during the off-season brings great delight to any traveler in search of a unique holiday experience. Here are several of our favorite places to go in Croatia, a selection of Croatian cities, towns, and islands that you may never have heard of.
Despite Zlarin’s small size (population of just 300), it is undoubtedly an island with dazzling beauty. It is known locally as the ‘Golden Island’, because it’s really that eye-wateringly gorgeous! This small island is just off the mainland, separated by the Sibenik Channel and is mostly famous for its history of coral harvesting. There is even a Coral Museum where you can learn more about it.
And, recently Zlarin announced that it would pilot a project which will see it become plastic-free in 2019. Yay! Zlarin’s goals are to eliminate all single-use plastic items such as all of the plastic plates, cutlery, straws, cups and all of the 15,000 plastic bags that end up on the island each year.
Aside from coral and the plastic free initiatives, there is a lot of history in Zlarin, dating back to the 13th century. If however, you’re more about beaches and beauty, then Zlarin also has that covered, and then some!
The long sandy beach is ideal for families who want to run free and explore, and the green background gives you that ‘castaway’ feel. You won’t find big chain hotels on the island, but you will find private accommodation, which helps you get that home-away-from-home vibe to your break. Or, if you don’t want to spend the night but still want to explore one of the best holiday destinations in Croatia, consider including Zlarin on your sailing itinerary!
Motovun is located in Istria, a lush peninsula in northern Croatia, and perched on top of a steep hill that dominates Mirma River. If you are looking to take an out-of-season vacation in one of the most picturesque and best places to visit in Croatia, skip the summer touristic hotspots and leave behind the big city, Motovun is for you!
As you tour the town, you will walk over 1,050 steps to get to the town. Many tourists love coming to this city not only for its unique experience but also for its medieval atmosphere with a panoramic view over the surrounding vineyards and Motovun forest. If you’re trying to decide where to go in Croatia in June, for example, adding Motovun to your itinerary is always a good idea.
The Motovun forest is nearby, so make sure you try your hand at truffle hunting, the subterranean smelly, super-expensive fungus which is found locally. If that’s too much, you can buy them from many stores in the area or do what I do and just have it in a restaurant.
Truffle hunting rates as one of the best vacation in Croatia memories I have. The thrill of the hunt was absolutely exhilarating.
About a 15-minute drive from Motovun you will find Oprtalj, another Istrian hilltop town that is worth a stop. This small town also features fortified town walls, a bell tower, and winding alleyways. It’s a fantastic place to immerse yourself in the rich history and fascinating folklore of Istria.
Oprtalj’s churches are adorned with works of art while the restaurant which overlooks the valley below serves traditional dishes—don’t forget to try the local truffles if you have not already!
Try to plan your visit to Oprtalj around the town’s famous chestnut festival – known as a kestenijada! We spent a glorious day at the festival with the two kids. Between the huge kid’s park, music, beer, wine, food and of course chestnuts, there is plenty to keep you (and the kids) happy for many hours.
Known more formally as the Royal City of Knin, this is one of those many majestic places to see in Croatia, in more ways than one!
Knin is known for its royal history and is home to the second-largest fortress in Europe. Here you can learn about its former inhabitants and royal legacies, while enjoying plentiful outdoor activities in the fresh Dalmatian hinterland.
When visiting popular destinations in Croatia, it’s easy to merely focus on the capital and on the coastal cities, full of summer fun, but what about the other Croatians towns to visit in this beautiful country?
Vukovar is situated in eastern Croatia, and is known for several things. First, it is the country’s largest river port and sits where the Danube River and Vuka River meet, and second, is the site of a bloody battle in 1991, known as the Battle of Vukovar. Third and I think the most amazing, the Vučedol Dove!
The Vučedol Dove is the most significant individual archaeological finding from Croatia. It was found in 1938 in Vučedol near Vukovar and made between 2,800 and 2,400. BC. It is a ceramic model of a bird on three legs, made of baked clay, 19.5 cm high. It is dark in color, decorated with white ornaments in the form of a bow, necklace, and wavy zigzag lines on the wings. Just a note, though, the original Dove can be found at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb.
The confluence of these two rivers means natural beauty in abundance, and if you’re a wine lover, there are loads of wineries a short drive away. This all makes Vukomar one of the absolute best places to go in Croatia if you’re looking for Croatia destinations away from the coast and major cities.
Papuk Nature Park
As a nature lover, you won’t have any trouble finding great places to go hiking, camping, biking or boating in Croatia. We’ve covered many interesting areas to explore like Plitvice Lakes National Park (arguably the most famous park in Croatia), several stunning natural treasures like Croatia’s idyllic islands, family-friendly nature spots and even where to go camping.
But, after I traveled to Slavonia in the eastern part of Croatia this year, I was blown away by the natural and cultural diversity of this region.
Slavonia is a much less visited part of Croatia, but it’s here that you’ll find Papuk Nature Park, which may just be the most underrated Croatian park. Moreover, since 2015 it also happens to be Croatia’s first and only UNESCO Geopark.
The nature park lies in a low-lying area in Slavonia known as Pannonia, which is also home to the Slavonia Highlands, one of the most beautiful natural places in Croatia to visit. The mountains that dominate this landscape are by no means high—up to 1,000 meters—but because the valleys are so low, they are very prominent and visible. Thick forests cover virtually the entire landscape, from valley to mountain, and set this particular region apart from the rest of Slavonia.
Papuk Nature Park is 336 km2. You can’t access every square inch, of course, so if you’re planning on going to Papuk—and you should—make sure not to miss Jankovac Forest Park, Skakavac Waterfall, Rupnica and Sekulinačke Mountains, just to name a few of the park’s key attractions.
While here, make sure you step into a local restaurant or two, as Slavonia is known for some out-of-this -world cuisine!
The town of Đakovo (or you may see it spelled Djakovo) is known as a “Bishop’s Town.” It has been a center for bishops since 1239.
The town is home to many things (that I need to go back and explore in much greater detail), but I did manage to see a few sites. There is one thing you can’t miss if you are in the area, both for its sheer size and position on the landscape, and also for how magnificent it is. That attraction is the Đakovo Cathedral, which single-handedly makes the town one of the best destinations in Croatia beyond the famous cities.
The imposing Đakovo Cathedral’s full name is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter and is one of the most important religious landmarks in Slavonia.
Constructed from the mid- to the late-19th century under the watch of Slavonian-born bishop and politician Josip Juraj Strossmayer, the cathedral’s interior boasts several beautiful fresco paintings of the New and Old Testaments. The cathedral took over four years to build and further 12 years to decorate and in the process used seven million bricks.
Interestingly the 15 steps leading to the church, are not a random number. The first three are dedicated to the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, while the remaining 12 are anointed to the apostles.
It was described by Pope John XXIII, as the ‘most beautiful cathedral between Venice and Istanbul.’ The Cathedral is enormous, and I would suggest that if you love architecture, you allow at least an hour here to see just what the Pope meant. The Cathedral is not the kind of place you just open the door, peek in and walk away.
I would strongly recommend you get a local guide when you visit the Cathedral – each section has an engaging story – and a knowledgeable guide can help you navigate the nuances of the intricate and detailed paintings that adorn the walls and ceilings.
A guide will tell you the story of Strossmayer, who was an all-around do-gooder. He helped to establish numerous public institutions across Croatia, supporting poor regions and advocating both religious and political unification. During his political career, he was a strong proponent of introducing the Croatian language into schools and public affairs.
If you do not get a guide, be sure to sit in the back row of this three-nave cathedral. The distance between you and the alter will be 74 meters, and from here you can appreciate the beauty from all angles.
Some people call Istria the best area to stay in Croatia and that’s lots to support that claim. This northerly peninsula is a part of Croatia that is indeed well-visited, but one part that doesn’t receive the tourist interest that it deserves is Rakalj. Rakalj is just a small town, but it certainly packs a punch in terms of beauty. Located on the Rasa Bay’s west bank, Rakalj is on the south-eastern coastline of the Istrian region, and handily close to Pula – ideal for a day trip!
Rakalj has an interesting history and is known for its links to traditional pottery and fishing.
Some of the must-visit sites include the 18th-century Baroque church, the ruins of the old castle, the Church of St Agnes which dates back as far as 1495. There are also many walking trails so you can explore the area on foot or perhaps you can visit one of the secluded beaches, where you can chill out in total peace and quiet. If you’re looking into where to go in Croatia for beaches, definitely take a closer look at Rakalj!
In essence, you can find history, scenery, and plenty of outdoor activities in Rakalj, all without the huge numbers of tourists you find in other neighboring Istrian towns.
I’ve never heard anyone outside of Croatia tell me that they plan to go to Marija Bistrica. Never has anyone asked me about how to get there or what to do there. Yet, this town holds a unique charm and sense of divine healing that I’ve not yet felt anywhere else across Croatia.
It’s the home of The Black Madonna, which is housed in The Basilica of Our Lady. Officially crowned Queen of Croatia by the Archbishop of Zagreb in 1935. She is not actually black, but rather a wooden relic that was created by an artist who remains unknown and was once inside a small chapel located on Vinski Hill. When the Ottomans invaded the town in the year 1545, a local priest placed her inside a church wall underneath a stained-glass window for protection. Shortly after that, he died taking her secret hiding location to his grave.
In 1588, it was reported that a bright light began shining from a particular place within the church wall, and once that location was excavated, the black Madonna was found once again. The town is charming, and a place you should think about making a Pilgrimage to.
Some of the smaller towns in Croatia can be just as interesting as their bigger brothers, but don’t get the plaudits they deserve. This is true of the small town of Komin, located in the Dubrovnik-Neretva country area.
This town may be small, but it is famous for being the site where a huge number of old Roman coins were found back in the early 19th century. Aside from that, we’re talking about a really beautiful town, but one area within the town which is famous for other reasons is Usce.
Kite-boarders flock to Usce during the summer months, because the conditions here are legendary. Located at the mouth of the Neretva River, the combination of shallow and flat waters, with the mild temperatures, means that you can kiteboard here to your heart’s content. Don’t know how? That’s okay there is a kite-boarding school here so you can have a great time learning!
The town of Omiš is in Central Dalmatia, located approximately 25 kilometers southeast of Split. Omiš makes a great base (we recommend Villa Dvor) to explore Split and the surrounding areas instead of paying big bucks to be accommodated in Split.
Once a famous pirate town in the middle ages, Omiš town’s economic prosperity was born from piracy. Omiš had excellent seamen who navigated the Adriatic sea, keeping the town wealthy. This wealth saw the erection of fortified walls, in the late 12th century to protect it from invaders.
The pirates of Omiš were fierce and were known to have fast ships, protecting the city for over 400 years. The Pirates’ alliance was defeated in 1444 by the Turkish invasion, bringing an end to the pirate rule forever.
Major attractions in Omiš include its beautiful beaches, perfect pebble bays, steep cliffs, and crystal clear seas. Other great attractions not to be missed are Radmanove Mlinice and Gubavica waterfalls on the crystal clear Cetina river.
Oh, and of you like adventure head to the Cetina River for a day of rafting or swing like a monkey on the super-fast Zipline. Plenty of variety and a world-class location make this one of the best Croatia vacation spots.
Those visiting the popular town of Trogir should head to nearby Vinisce. If you’re after the best place to go in Croatia for beaches that are secluded, clear, and downright beautiful, then you won’t be disappointed here!
You can enjoy sailing and jet-skiing during the summer months, as well as swimming in the safe waters. There is also a lot of historical sites to check out around Vinisce too, including the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church of St Antun of Padua, and St John’s Church too.
The combination of beautiful and quiet beaches, along with history and Croatian culture makes Vinisce a real hidden gem, and let’s not forget the traditional cuisine to be tasted around here, too.
Nin is a small town in the Zadar Region with only 1,500 people. This ancient town has a small island at its center that is connected to the mainland via two bridges (though these are under construction from the flooding in 2017). You may never have heard of this city, but it is truly worth exploring.
We love Nin so much that we chose it as out spot to have our family photos taken there. We think it’s one of the best places to travel in Croatia, for sure. The town has a rich history which is evident as you meander through Nin.
Be sure to visit The Church of the Holy Cross, which the town claims to be the smallest cathedral in the world. Other notable pit stops while you visit Nin are, St. Jacob’s Church, Duke Branimir’s statue, the lower town gates and best of all the remains of a Roman temple.
Nin has also been producing salt since ancient times and can be purchased at the local salt museum. Though, Nin’s major drawcard is the sandy Queens beach, which is quite popular in the summer months.
Local tip: Visit the tiny St. Nikola church which is perched on a mound just outside the center of town for an amazing photo.
For accommodation try one of these Croatian unique hotels, one is just 20 minutes from Nin.
Traipsing around grand old castles is a great way to take a step back in time to the days of kings, queens, nobility and to a time long ago when a conquest was the order of the day. We spent time a few years ago wandering the grand rooms of this castle and just fell in love, inside and out!
Located south of the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik’s is Konavle. This area is a popular holiday destination among many travelers due to the pristine Adriatic Seas and the mighty Snijeznica Mountain of the Konvale Valley.
Wondering where to visit in Croatia beyond the major cities like Zagreb, Split, Rovinj and Dubrovnik? Consider Konavle! It attracts thousands of day-trippers who visit the local wineries and other cultural sites.
The town of Paklenica is small, but the mighty Velebit Mountain that overlooks the town is enormous. The town is the starting point of Paklenica National Park, one of the absolute best places in Croatia for climbers and hikers.
Paklenica National Park was established in 1949 and is Croatia’s second oldest national park behind Plitvice Lakes National Park (a must see!) and is located in Northern Dalmatia. Croatia is home to 8 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. The Velebit Mountains are a part of the Dinaric Alps, which also run through Slovenia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia. They reach their highest point in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There are dozens of beaches suitable for those with children, while many tourists head here for the well-known hiking and climbing. Apart from hiking, climbing and recreational sports, you can take a photo jeep safari, kayaking, caving, canoeing, and rafting on the River Zrmanja.
Despite reading (and hearing) over and over that Hum is listed as the Guinness Book of Records holder for being the smallest town, I can not find proof. Nor can I find any other town in the world so small, though. The Vatican City is smaller, but it’s also a country, so you decide. Either way. I introduce to you the teeny tiny Town of Hum, a superb idea for alternative Croatia holiday destinations.
Located in central Istria, the walls which run around the outside of Hum are still intact and display the former defenses which once protected the town. There are now 27 people who call Hum home – including four little ones. All 27 live on one of Hum’s two streets.
“Where is the best place to visit in Croatia?”, we hear you ask. Well, if you want to enjoy traditional Croatian customs, while still enjoying the beach and the fantastic weather during the summer months, how about visiting the hidden gem of Susak Island?
Located on the northern Adriatic coastline, visitors to this quiet and chilled out island will be able to kick back and relax, without the noise and hustle and bustle of large tourist resorts.
The name comes from the Greek for ‘oregano,’ which you will find growing literally everywhere on this island! The scent is also very fragrant and adds to the island’s charm. Susak Island is also famous for the beaches, which are sandy and idyllic.
Located on the banks of Drava River, this city is 25 kilometers upstream from the Danube. Osijek is the largest city in the area known as Slavonia, Located in the eastern part of Croatia, this city is one of the best places to stay in Croatia to explore the country’s least-known region.
The main tourist attractions here include open spaces that are well preserved, Baroque architecture and well-preserved regional traditions. Enjoy coffee in the city’s main square or take a stroll along the promenade lining the Drava River.
Osijek has lovely parks and zoological gardens along the Drava River which you will enjoy as you travel Croatia. If you visit during summer, you can enjoy numerous summer festivals with the most awaited one being Croatian Tambura festival held each May.
Now you know where to go in Croatia in 2020. Consider not basing yourself in a large city center, but exploring a less-known destination instead! Tell us, which of these places will you add to your 2020 Croatia travel itinerary?
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