The rocky coast of Croatia leads to the clear green and blue waters of the Adriatic, and is dotted with islands. Each coastal village, city, and island has its own personality. In 5 days of exploring, we skimmed the surface of its medieval cities, fishing villages, and gorgeous vistas of sea, rocky beaches, and mountains. One visit to the beautiful Croatian coast is not enough! Check our photos to see if you agree.
Philadelphia to the Coast of Croatia
My husband and I left our kids and flew from our home in Philadelphia to Dubrovnik. (Click for more about the magical city of Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik’s surrounding wine country). From Dubrovnik, we took a big air-conditioned bus for just over two hours, and a fun, 20-minute ride on a car ferry, to reach the island of Korcula.
Korcula – an Island in Croatia
Like the Greek Islands, each Croatian island has a different personality. Korcula is a family-oriented, sleepy harbor town, with stone and pebble beaches, and pretty churches. The medieval old town is made of stone, and no cars or vehicles are allowed on its narrow stone streets.
The old town once was surrounded by a stone wall, like a smaller version of Dubrovnik. The remains of the fortress walls are now sidewalk cafes with views of the Adriatic sea, boats, and swimmers. In June, there were no crowds, but there might be in the high season of July/August.
Korcula claims to be the home of Marco Polo. We skipped the small museum with wax Marco Polo figures. But we enjoyed visiting a house with a dubious claim to have been Marco Polo’s, since the house was topped by a tower with a sea view.
I highly recommend Hotel Korsal, located just outside the old town, a few blocks from the bus station. This small, modern inn is directly on the water, overlooking a public pebble beach and boat rental spot. The spacious terrace on the second floor has a mesmerizing water view that encourages lingering. The first floor porch doubles as its restaurant. In this friendly, family-run hotel, where we were welcomed with aperitifs of homemade carob liqueur, our room for 2, including a sea view, and a buffet breakfast on the porch, was $175 per night. Hotel Korsal was chosen and booked for us by the helpful travel agency Proper Croatia.
Ferry Rides in Croatia
We took a ferry from Korcula to Split. Ferries in Croatia are a fun way to have a short, inexpensive boat ride in the Adriatic Sea with little chance of seasickness, since the ferry boats are so large. For connections between many places, you can buy tickets in advance from the state subsidized ferry line, Jadrolinija. In the big city of Split, we rented a car to drive up the coast of Croatia. We had to pay more for an automatic, a downside to renting a car most places in Europe.
Scenic Coast and Sibenik, Croatia
The crystalline water and rocky coastline were so enticing, we were tempted to stop every few miles to jump out of the car to put our feet in. You could stop just to splash or take your time and stay a bit in the many villages along the coast. These are rocky beaches, so you will want swim shoes or sandals. If you want to picnic or sit, bring a blanket.
Who can resist the gorgeous contrast of the orange tiled rooftops, shimmering sea, and bright blue sky? Our views from the hilltop of the Old Town of Sibenik, Croatia was worth having to first drive through the ugly modern city that surrounds the town. Once we parked, we were free to explore the pedestrian-only, medieval Sibenik.
Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll want to climb up the hill to visit the small colorful garden of St. Lawrence Monastery. For more beautiful views, and to see the curious custom in Croatia of putting ceramic photo images of the deceased onto graves, keep climbing up to the Santa Ana Cemetery. Climb to the top of the hill to visit St. Michael Fortress, a medieval fortress that now houses an open air theater, and has views of the sea and the town below.
We drove on, and stopped overnight in a university city, Zadar. The modern and luxurious Hotel Bastion Zadar provided excellent service and a room with a beautiful sea view. The room included both a delicious breakfast buffet that we enjoyed on the terrace and, importantly in a city with a large pedestrian zone, a parking spot.
Zadar had an artsy feel, and is a city big enough that we fantasized about living here for a month or so. Visitors to Zadar flock to the promenade along the sea front, which is lined with sidewalk cafes and has a playground. The promenade itself is a draw for strollers, enjoying the view and ice cream.
A huge modern art installation on the seafront promenade is Sun Salutation (or Greeting to the Sun), a series of ground level solar powered lights that collect energy during the day and light up at night. As dark falls, people gather around the Sun Salutation, and you hear kids and grownups delight as the floor lights flicker and some dance on what looks like a giant disco floor by the sea.
Nearby is another modern art installation, the Sea Organ, an enormous musical instrument. Pipes were laid into the seafront promenade. Waves lapping into the pipes play a strangely haunting series of sounds. The disjointed notes reminded me of whale song, weird, spooky, and oddly fun.
In contrast to the modern art installations, our brief visit to Zadar also included exploring a Roman temple that was converted into a church, and watching kids climb on Roman ruins placed haphazardly in a city square. We lucked into a short parade of locals dressed in traditional Croatian folk dress, some playing what looked like inflated sheepskin, all of them singing traditional Croatian folk songs.
Farther up the coast, we stopped in Jablanac, a picture-perfect fishing village perched on a ledge between a hill and the sea. The single street in the tiny town rims the harbor. The town soundtrack is the lapping water, the sounds of boats, the occasional voice, and birdsong. A sleepy village, with a rocky swimming beach, and nothing to do but relax and appreciate its natural beauty. We loved it.
We climbed to the top of the hill to visit the town’s cemetery, with scenic views of the sea and mountains beyond, and the Croatian custom of ceramic photographs on the graves.
In Jablanac, we stayed overnight in the only hotel, where a basic room for two included a buffet breakfast yet cost only $75. It was tricky to maneuver our rental car down the mountain road to this fishing village. We were the only English-speaking people and the only tourists we saw were German families.
One Visit is Not Enough
Our 5 days exploring the Croatian coast was a pleasure and whet our appetite for more. But Croatia is not just coastline. Croatia’s interior includes a national park with bright green water and waterfalls and the cultural capital city of Zagreb.
Have you ever been to a coastal area that was such a pleasure you wanted to return again and again? Tell us about it in the comments below.