Last Updated on 31st March 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
Croatia is a breathtakingly beautiful country in Southern Europe that’s characterised by its rugged coastline, charming cities, and wealth of history. Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll soon discover that Croatia has a number of hidden gems worth discovering. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best secret spots in Croatia that you must visit for yourself!
By Kate of Our Escape Clause
Tucked into a quiet corner of Croatia’s Kordun region, just a 90 minute drive or so outside of Zagreb, you’ll find one of the best hidden gems in Croatia: the gorgeous village of Rastoke.
Technically an outpost of a larger town called Slunj (though one of the most picturesque suburbs imaginable), Rastoke is known primarily for its waterfalls. The waterfalls are famous not for their size, but for the fact that they literally run through and under the town!
Rastoke is situated where the Korana River (which also feeds Croatia’s famous Plitvice Lakes National Park) meets the Slunjčica River. The picturesque location isn’t just beautiful, though: historically, it was an ideal location to build water-powered mills, the earliest of which opened in the 17th century.
The combination of natural and manmade beauty makes Rastoke a beautiful hidden gem. If you’re driving from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park, you’ll be perfectly situated to stop in Rastoke along the way!
Rastoke is only about 25 kilometers from the world-famous Plitvice Lakes, but it feels worlds away–in large part because it is far enough off the beaten path in Croatia that you’re unlikely to run into a crowd.
Even a short stop for a coffee, a quick wander, and a chance to soak in the views of the tiny town is well worth the effort. If you’d like to stay longer, though, the area surrounding Rastoke is an excellent place to find outdoor adventures in Croatia, from white water rafting to spelunking to horseback riding.
By Martha of May Cause Wanderlust
Trstenik is a tiny fishing village in Croatia. It is nothing more than a handful of red-roofed houses surrounded by mountains and facing a calm bay. But it is also so much more than that: it is one of those rare places where you can find peace and tranquillity, away from the tourist trail.
Trstenik is located on the coast of the Pelješac peninsula of the mainland, 90km from Dubrovnik and reachable by car in 1.5 hours, via Ston. You can also get there by sea if you are sailing in the Dalmatian Coast: there’s a small but perfectly formed harbour and a dock for boats.
Being a small community, there’s not a huge list of things to do in Trstenik, but it is a delightfully quaint place where you could easily spend a day or two in blissful calm. There are only a couple of places with rooms or apartments to rent, so it is worth booking ahead.
You can take a walk along the beach, or skim stones on the smooth water of the harbour. Unfortunately, you won’t see the sun set over the water, as the bar faces south. You could try fishing. Or, if that’s not your thing, watch the locals do it. And at the end of the day, there are a couple of restaurants on the harbour serving super-fresh seafood – some straight from the ocean!
Top tip: bring beach shoes if you fancy doing some swimming – like many beaches in Croatia, the beach is shingle.
Brijuni National Park
By Kate Shaw of a Rambling Unicorn
One of Croatia’s more interesting hidden gems, Brijuni National Park is home to an odd mix of attractions. Located just off of the Istrian Peninsula, the Brijuni consists of 14 uninhabited islands near Pula. From pristine beaches to preserved dinosaur footprints and a safari park, there is something for everyone at the Brijuni Islands.
The area’s history is especially fascinating. A network of ruins can be found across the islands, such as the Byzantine Castrum and the Basilica of St. Mary. By the late nineteenth century, Brijuni was a key part of the Austrian Riviera. An exclusive Austro-Hungarian beach resort on the islands attracted wealthy beach-goers from across Europe.
After World War II, Brijuni became part of Yugoslavia. Former Yugoslav leader Josip Tito made the islands his official summer residence and met with leaders there from across the world. After Tito’s death, Brijuni National Park was established in 1983 to preserve the islands for public use and recreation.
Today, the unusual variety of buildings and attractions on Brijuni reflect the area’s complex history. The Boathouse and grand hotels, a legacy of the Austro-Hungarian empire, greet visitors as they arrive on the largest island.
The Tito History Museum provides a fascinating look into Tito’s life on the islands. His beloved car is on display at the museum, along with some creepy-looking taxidermied exotic pets. A photographic exhibit recounts his meetings with other heads of state and famous movie stars on Brijuni.
The safari park, located on the island’s opposite side, is home to a variety of exotic animals. Some of these animals are descendants of pets that once belonged to Josip Tito. A nearby dinosaur park features preserved dinosaur footprints that are over 125 million years old.
Be aware that the islands do not allow vehicles on them. However, the largest island has a number of bicycles and electric golf carts available to rent. Touring Brijuni on a golf cart is a great way to see the island’s many attractions as well as its lovely beaches.
By Alice of Adventures of Alice
Trogir is a beautiful town on the coast of Croatia, situated just off the mainland and North of Split. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, meaning it is a protected site. It’s well-known for its unique buildings such as the traditional baroque, Renaissance and Romanesque style buildings/houses.
The site’s main history starts with a Greek settlement in the 3rd century BC. Greeks from the island founded Tragurion, a settlement that then became part of the Roman empire. As such, there are many historic sites to visit in Trogir, so if you are interested in history, you definitely won’t run out of things to see.
A popular historical site to visit is the Cathedral of St Lawrence, which is a Roman Catholic triple-naved Basilica constructed in Trogir. It is beautiful and the cost to enter is very cheap (about €3.5) making it well worth the visit.
You can also see part of the Town walls, which were built between the 13th and 14th centuries. And, still standing, in the centre of the Town is the Town gate, built in 1593!
There are multiple choices for restaurants, bars and cafes in Trogir. So, if you like the atmosphere and style of the buildings but history isn’t your thing, it’s also a great place just to stroll through and experience the old town.
The wineries of Istria
By Zoe of Zoe Goes Places
Croatia is not famed for its wine production – despite producing almost 70 million litres a year. The key difference between Croatia and other popular wine-producing countries such as France and Spain is that almost all of those 70 million litres are consumed domestically. Quite simply put; Croatians are keeping their incredible wine for themselves!
One of the biggest wine-producing regions in Croatia is Istria, with its fertile soils and mild climate. There are many, many wineries in Istria – each with its own collection of vineyards, sometimes spread across the peninsula to make use of the different soil types.
The majority of these offer wine tasting and/or have a wine cellar to purchase their products by the bottle. What’s more, without the cost of international shipping, taxes and marketing campaigns, the cost of Istrian wine is relatively low by European standards!
A wine tasting set menu in Istria usually consists of around 5 wines (red, white and rose) as well as a small snack, such as breadsticks or cheeses. Tastings usually cost around 100 Kuna (~15USD) on average.
Additionally, many of the wineries also produce olive oil. And, it’s not uncommon for an olive oil tasting to be included alongside the wines. So, when the olive oil arrives in a small shot glass, it’s not for dipping your bread, it’s for sipping!
Most visitors to Istria stay in the popular coastal city of Pula. Famed for its ancient Roman history as well as being home to the only international airport in the region. Even from within the city, visits to wineries are still possible.
This Wine Tasting in Pula Guide lists the best wineries nearby and how to get to them. All in all, wine tasting in Istria provides great value for money. Plus, the wines can typically be enjoyed sitting in the warm Croatian sun!
By Greta of Greta’s Travels
If you’re looking for off the beaten path destinations in Croatia, you have to add Omis to your list. Omis is a picturesque little town, located just 25km away from the popular tourist destination of Split.
Omis can be visited on a day trip from Split, either by joining a tour or by taking the local bus, which costs around 3 EUR and takes around 30 minutes to get there. Omis sits by the mouth of the Cetina River, and is nestled between the tall cliffs of the Cetina Canyon and the Adriatic Sea.
Omis has an incredibly well preserved Old Town centre, with those distinctive brick walls and red roofs that characterise most Croatian old towns. Whether you’re travelling solo, with a group of friends or with family, Omis has plenty to offer for every type of traveller.
The historic Old Town and Stari Grad fortress are a wonderful sight for anyone interested in history and culture. From the rooftop of Stari Grad fortress you get incredible views over the town, Adriatic Sea and Cetina Canyon.
For those looking for a relaxing beach vacation, Omis also has a lovely white sand beach with crystal clear turquoise water, located just a short walk away from the Old Town centre.
The Cetina Canyon also provides loads of fun entertainment for adventurous travellers. In the Cetina Canyon you can go white water rafting, hiking and zip-lining. Book your Cetina River Rafting 3-Hour Adventure here.
Tours to the Cetina Canyon zip-line start in Omis, and take you to do an 8 wire, 2,100 metre long experience, with the tallest wire sitting at 150 metres. It’s considered one of the most thrilling and scenic places to go zip-lining in Europe.
Despite being close to a major tourist destination, Omis is still somewhat considered a hidden gem in Croatia. If you want to visit off the beaten path places in Croatia, you can’t miss Omis.
By Helen of Helen on her Holidays
If you’re planning to visit Dubrovnik, look a little further south and make sure you go to the little town of Cavtat too. Cavtat is 13 miles south of Dubrovnik; it’s only another 14 miles to the border with Montenegro, making Cavtat the most southerly town in Croatia.
The centre of the town is the lovely, tree-lined harbour, where superyachts moor next to fishing boats. The harbour is sheltered from the Adriatic sea by two long, finger-shaped peninsulas, which are covered in fragrant pine forests. In the trees, you’ll find little paths leading down to hidden beach bars, bathing platforms and invitingly clear water.
The peninsulas also frame Cavtat’s nightly light show. The town boasts one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets, with the sun dipping directly behind the coastline to the north.
For an out-of-this-world experience, take an evening boat taxi from Dubrovnik to Cavtat and see the sun setting behind the walls of the old town before finally disappearing as you sip a cocktail at one of the harbour-side bars.
Cavtat is a great place for a beach vacation, but there’s a lot more to the town. Modern-day Cavtat is on the site of the ancient Greek settlement of Epidaurum, later taken over by the Romans.
When the city was invaded by Avars and Slavic invaders in the 7th century, people from Cavtat fled to one of the nearby islands and from there, founded Ragusa, which became Dubrovnik. There are a number of interesting Greek and Roman archaeological sites nearby, including the ruins of an aqueduct.
The larger of Cavtat’s two peninsulas is home to the small but atmospheric old town. In the narrow streets you’ll find the childhood home of Vlaho Bukovac, one of Croatia’s most celebrated painters.
At the top of the hill, Cavtat’s cemetery includes a lavish mausoleum dedicated to the wealthy Račić family; there are astonishing views from here along the coast towards Dubrovnik.
Klis Fortress near Split
By Daria of the Discovery Nut
A medieval fortress perched just above its namesake village, Klis is one of the most interesting landmarks in Croatia off the beaten track. Klis was built in the 2d century BC and was a strategic point that resisted the attacks of the Ottoman Empire
This was until March 1537 when Captain Petar Kruzic was executed and the fort was handed over to Turkish hands. The Venetians liberated the fortress 111 years later and converted it into a Venetian fortress.
The best way to reach Klis is by taking a bus ride from Split which takes about 20 minutes. And if you have a car, you can park it just outside of fortress and make your way to the entrance. Alternatively, you can book this Historical Tour of Salona, Klis and Trogir from Split or this Klis Fortress, Split and Trogir visit from Zadar.
The fortress provides incredible panoramic views of Split and surrounding areas. The Game of Thrones played role in putting this landmark on the tourist map with scenes of Meereen and Daenerys being filmed here in 2014.
Still, Klis sees few visitors, so if you are looking for perfect place to escape busy Split, check this place out. Whether you are a Game of Thrones fan visiting this fortress for this reason, or nature or history buff, you will love this place.
The Klis fortress is open every day from 8:30 AM until 8:30 PM. Always make sure to check the exact hours ahead of your visit, as there could be some seasonal changes to the opening hours. Entrance fee is 60 kuna per person and can be paid in cash or by credit card. Of all the secret spots in Croatia, this is one place you shouldn’t miss!
By Sarah of Roadmaps and Restaurants
The romantic and medieval hilltop town of Motovun is one of the best hidden gems of Croatia. Motovun is located an hours drive from the popular tourist city of Rovinj, within the heart of the Istria region.
Meaning “a town in the hills,” this charming little town sits atop a large hill that is primarily accessible by walking though visitors may find some local cars and hotel shuttles on the cobblestone streets. Multiple parking lots also exist at the base of the hill.
Motovun’s history dates back to before the Roman era when a Celtic tribe lived in the area. The town is filled with incredible architecture and history. It also offers magical views of the surrounding vineyards that fill the valleys.
Ancient walls surround the town that are accessible to visitors to walk around and take in the views. They make great photo spots! Visitors can also explore the Church of St. Stephen that was built at the beginning of the 17th century.
Below the village exists the Motovun forest, which is ripe with black and white truffles. Motovun attracts locals and tourists alike to both participate in truffle hunting but also enjoy the delicious flavors of the truffles. Exceptional dining options include Konoba Mondo, which was visited by Anthony Bourdain, Pod Napun, and Pod Voltom. All serve out of this world truffle dishes.
The town also holds an annual film festival, frequently referred to as “a Woodstock of film festivals,” that celebrates independent films and films made in small studios. The festival is popular with both Croatian youth and foreign backpackers. A tent camp is even created in the foothills of the town where anyone can pitch a tent.
By Milijana Gabrić of World Travel Connector
Neretva River mouth is one of the most beautiful and unique places in Croatia. The Neretva River is the only delta river in Croatia. Gorgeous Neretva Delta Valley is nicknamed ‘Croatian California’ for the sun, sea, river, and beaches.
The fertile soil along the river is cultivated with various Meditareaniean fruits like tangerines, oranges, lemons, grapes, olive trees, peaches, and nectarines. The valley is a famous agricultural area in Croatia, often displayed on the ads of the Croatian National Tourism Board for its distinctive beauty.
But the most spectacular part of the delta valley is the river’s mouth near the town of Ploče. When the Neretva River enters the Adriatic Sea, it makes a picture-perfect bay with two large sandy beaches, shallow water, and one-of-a-kind sandbars.
Neretva River mouth is a haven for sandy beach devotees and kitesurfers. While most of the Croatian beaches are pebble and rocky, the Neretva estuary beaches are sandy.
But, the Neretva River mouth is one of the top unique places in Croatia. Water in the bay is so shallow that swimmers need to walk hundreds of meters to get the water deep for swimming.
The smooth sand and shallow water make beaches of the Neretva River mouth favorite of families with kids. But besides that, thanks to the favorable thermal winds that come in hot summer afternoons, the river’s mouth is one of the best places for kiteboarding and windsurfing in Croatia.
While the river mouth is relatively unknown to the many tourists who visit Croatia, it’s hugely popular among European kitesurfers for the past several years. Experienced kitesurfers and kiteboarding beginners equally enjoy it for the great wind and shallow water.
Currently, there are two kiteboarding clubs with schools for learning kiteboarding, one camping site, and three beach bars. So, if you are a kitesurfer or sandy beach enthusiast, check out the Neretva River mouth in southern Croatia!
The Neretva River mouth is near the town of Ploče, a 2-hour drive from Split and about an hour and a half drive from Dubrovnik. There are many gems nearby: the famous Baćina lakes, small Modro Oko lake, and unspoiled Kuti Lake, to name a few. Keep in mind, Croatian Neretva Delta Valley is a true nature lovers paradise!
By Raluca of Travel With A Spin
Sibenik is a historic town located on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. It is encircled by a stone wall and has no less than four imposing fortresses. One of them, St. Nicholas fortress, is also an UNESCO Heritage Site.
The defending structure was built in the 16th century on an islet, only a narrow path connecting it to the mainland. One can also buy a combined ticket ticket for two of the other fortresses, Barone and St. Michael.
Both of them offer wonderful views over the city and St. James’ Cathedral, a Dalmatian architectural masterpiece. This is also the most visited attraction in town and since 2017 UNESCO included it on the World Heritage Sites List.
Besides this, Sibenik has countless pretty cobblestone streets and stone buildings that give the town an unique charm. The general atmosphere in the city convinced the Game of Thrones crew to film several scenes there.
As a consequence, the city gained international fame and more and more tourists started to include it in their itinerary. However, despite the popularity it gained lately, Sibenik still doesn’t feel crowded and would make for a great city-break or addition to an itinerary through the Croatia.
Sibenik is at only 50 km from Split and 80 km from Zadar. Thus, it can be easily reached from both more famous destinations. It is also a gateway to other beautiful spots like Krka National Park, Trogir or Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Pakleni island group
By Roxanne of Faraway Worlds
Just a 10-minute boat ride from Hvar, lies the beautiful and relatively quiet Pakleni island group. A trip to the largest island, Sveti Klement, home to the pretty resort of Palmižana, is one of the more relaxing things to do in Croatia.
Palmižana is the largest settlement on the island, with a beach, a couple of good restaurants and beautiful gardens, first established in 1906 by Professor Eugen Meneghello on the 300-year-old estate.
He imported exotic plants and created a botanical park on the island, which still exists today. Plants include tree-like opuntias, agaves, numerous cacti and succulents, mimosas, eucalyptuses, olives and various aromatic herbs. However, it’s rosemary that the estate is renowned for, giving the island its second name, the Island of Rosemary.
The Meneghello family still run the gardens as well as the renowned Meneghello Restaurant, and can tell fascinating stories about the history of the place. The family established the first guesthouse on the island in the early 19th Century and the restaurant is more than 100 years old. The food in Palmižana is simple and good, dominated by local seafood and plants.
There are a number of beautiful bays and pebbled beaches in Palmižana, with just a handful of accommodation options. If the main beach is busy, it’s worth walking a little way along the coast to find a more secluded bay.
There is also excellent diving and snorkelling around Sveti Klement, with interesting coral and reefs. This area of the Adriatic is also the site of a large number of ancient shipwrecks and the Meneghello family also has an impressive amphora collection, some of which are on display at the restaurant.
Jelsa on Hvar Island
By Missy of Travels With Missy
Most people when they hear the island name of Hvar, picture decadence and partying. And whilst that is partially true in the town of Hvar, the rest of the island is completely different in tone and appearance.
The town of Jelsa is surrounded by pine forests and a small harbour beckons you as you approach the town. Jelsa is often passed on in favour of some of the larger towns on the island such as Stari Grad and Hvar, but this little gem of a town has plenty to offer.
Starting with its beautiful harbour location lined with beautiful restaurants and cocktail bars. For such a small town, there is ample choice of excellent seafood restaurants serving delicious Croatian wines and locally produced cheeses and olive oils.
Croatia is not renowned for its sandy beaches but its water colour is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Jelsa has a small beach and plenty of incredible swimming spots which are easy to find.
Walking along the main road you will spot paths through the pine trees that will lead to a secluded rocky outcrop, perfect for a day swimming and tanning. Make sure to bring a packed lunch and water.
The secret beach of Mala Stiniva is worth the scary drive and visitors will be rewarded with one of the most stunning bays on Hvar island. But let’s keep that a secret for just us.
Jelsa is a small town and can easily be explored in an hour or less. There is a super public bus system that connects travellers with Hvar town and Stari Grad. Buses are also timed with the arrival and departure of ferries.
Jelsa is the perfect place to spend a few days resting, eating excellent food and swimming in some of the clearest water you will find in the Adriatic Sea. Just don’t forget to pack your sea shoes!
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