Croatia – Off the beaten path

boats on Vis island

Dubrovnik, Rovinj, Hvar, Plitvice, Split, Krk – a few of those rightfully famous places we know Croatia for. No doubt about it, the first trips of any newcomer to this country must lead to the spots above. However, those who return to this Adriatic gem will surely want more than that. There must also be alternatives to these medieval coastal towns, favoured islands and national parks invaded by thousands of tourists. I have good news for you: there are! And they are not just ok places. They are awesome top destinations everyone should get to know.

Varaždin church
The medieval city of Varaždin.

In the north of the country, just half an hour from Zagreb, you will find the medieval town of Varaždin. With its Gothic towers and its City Museum the fortress is the main attraction to discover. This small town also offers numerous examples of baroque architecture – palaces, mansions, churches will take your breath away, especially during the Baroque Evenings classical music festival and during Špancirfest around the end of the summer. The latter attracts thousands of visitors every year to see the city turn upside down with concerts, arts and crafts booths, great local eateries and street performers.

smallest city Hum
The smallest city of the world – Hum

Another great area to further discover is Istria. Besides the well-known cities of Pula, Rovinj and Poreč I recommend you to visit Vodnjan and Hum. The latter is known as the smallest city on Earth.With its crazy small population of only around 30 people it still boasts urban features like a church, a post office, and a town hall, hence it gained the title that attracts visitors all year around. Hum is also worth a visit because of the local mistletoe flavoured brandy, Biska, and the truffles that can be found in the region. Vodnjan is a medieval town originating from the 10th century. With its cobblestone winding streets, Venetian style façades and a nice religious art collection this city makes for a great daytrip if you are near Istria.

In the northern part of Dalmatia there is also so much to discover. Pašman is one of the most beautiful, yet still not so flooded islands of Croatia. The island boasts the cleanest seawaters of the whole country and the largest green area of all the islands. If you want an undiscovered haven, this is your place to be. An alternative smaller city to visit is Šibenik. It is located on the Dalmatian coast between Split and Zadar. With its UNESCO heritage St. James’s Cathedral and a few fortresses that offer a fantastic view over the islands nearby, the city is a must see.

Krka National Park waterfalls
It is possible for tourists to swim by the waterfalls of Krka National Park

Just north of Šibenik, the Krka National Park is a nature lovers’ favorite. Similar to Plitvice, Krka is renowned for its waterfalls, rich flora and fauna. The Kornati National Park offers a spectacular sight as well. Take an organized boat trip to Kornati from Murter. You will be mesmerized by the deep blue lagoons amongst the hundreds of barren islands of the park. Make sure to have some shade over your head and a cocktail in hand, though. The heat can be unbearable. To cool off, I suggest a trip to Modric cave near Zadar. You can take part in a guided tour with a proper overall, helmet and a headlight and discover the depths and rock formations of the caves. If you need to rent a car, you will find some useful advice here.

Stiniva beach on Vis island
Spectacular Stiniva beach in Vis

For those looking for calm island holidays, Mljet and Vis in the southern Dalmatian region are great options. Both are considered to be amongst the top 10 best island destinations of Croatia, yet – being a bit further south and out in the sea – the tourist invasion hasn’t started yet. Mljet is known for its green scenery and two salt lakes (one with an island monastery on it) and is a sailors’ hot spot.  (Here you can find more information about sailing in Croatia.) Vis is a wine enthusiast’s paradise and an attractive spot for those who long to discover the untouched Mediterranean. With its charm of the mid-20th century, isolated beaches and crystalline waters Vis will truly meet these expectations.

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UNESCO World Heritage city - Sibenik