Set sail on the shimmering Adriatic Sea to experience the charming harbor towns, pebbly beaches, and rich history of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast.
If Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast isn’t already on your travel radar, you’re going to want to add it immediately. Nearby countries like Italy and Greece have long reveled in the spotlight as established European beach destinations; however, Croatia only began attracting tourists after it claimed independence in 1991 following decades of quasi-communist rule. Now, Croatia’s stunning coastline is quickly becoming a European hotspot. Picturesque Islands like Vis and Hvar offer charming harbor towns, fascinating historical sites, amazing seafood cuisine, and beaches defined by the brilliant blue water of the Adriatic Sea. To best experience Central Dalmatia, spend a day or two on the mainland in Split, then set sail for a couple of days exploring the islands. Here are 15 photos that will have you packing your swimsuit and boat shoes right away.
Explore Croatia’s Second-Largest City
Come summertime, Croatia’s second largest city lures travelers from all over the world with its impressive Roman ruins, maze of charming backstreets, and prime seaside location. Set along the shores of the Adriatic Sea in central Croatia, Split serves as an ideal jumping-off point to visit the famed islands of the Dalmatian Coast.
Marvel at Diocletian’s Palace
For good reason, Diocletian’s Palace stands out as the main tourist draw in Split. Emperor Diocletian built the palace in the 3rd century A.D. as his grand, seaside retirement escape. Made from local marble and limestone, the imposing structure features numerous artifacts, including three sphinxes from Egypt which are over 3,500 years old. The palace, octagonal mausoleum, and astounding cathedral remain some of the best-preserved ruins from the Roman Empire.
INSIDER TIPClimb to the top of the cathedral’s bell tower during the late afternoon, when the crowds from the cruise ships have thinned out. At the top, you’re met with beautiful panoramic views of the city.
Šolta is the closest island to Split and, therefore, often the first or last stop for sailing adventures in Central Dalmatia. Palm trees, tavern-like restaurants, and medieval stone buildings line the island’s cozy main harbor, Maslinica Bay. On either end of the harbor entrance, you’ll find a swimming area filled with a few locals and sailors enjoying a morning dip. For lunch, head up the nearby hill to Restaurant Šampjer for fresh fish, traditional shrimp buzara, local wines, and lovely Adriatic views. Sneak around to the other side of the island for dinner at the beloved waterfront restaurant in Rogač Bay, Pasarela.
Party Like a Rockstar
One of the best summertime party coves in all the Dalmatian Coast lies a stone’s throw from Hvar on the island of Palmižana. Okay, more like a 5-minute water taxi–but close enough! Beach bars surround the shallow, sparkling water and sailboats come and go from the cove, sometimes mooring for a few cocktails and a quick swim or sometimes anchoring overnight so as not miss the party at the island’s famous Laganini Lounge Bar & Fish House.
INSIDER TIPSometimes great beach bars lack quality food, but that’s not the case at Laganini. One of the best chefs in Croatia is at the helm in Lagnini’s kitchen. It’s definitely worth making the reservation to dine on fresh langoustines and savory seafood truffle risotto.
Dine at Konoba Dionis
Sure, Palmižana is known for its party scene, but it’s also home to a hidden-gem restaurant tucked far inland on secluded hillside surrounded by olive trees. Run by a father-son team, Konoba Dionis is just about as authentic as you can get. Enjoy a divine octopus salad, savory aubergine pie, fried zucchini flowers, and freshly caught bream drizzled with olive oil and capers. Beyond the extraordinary flavors of each traditional dish, the Dionis dining experience is made even more special with its remote and rustic atmosphere.
Find Hidden Beaches
Palmižana is part of the Pakleni Islands in Central Dalmatia. Due to its squiggle-like shape, a myriad of coves can be found along the coastline, each one more scenic and secluded than the last. For a perfect day trip from Hvar Town, charter a boat or water taxi with your beach towel and snacks in hand. Circle the coastline of Palmižana until you find a picture-perfect inlet with no one else in sight.
Immerse Yourself in Café Culture
Of all the islands in Central Dalmatia, Hvar may garner the most name-recognition for its swanky summertime scene, but Vis is where the charm lies. Located further out into the shimmering cerulean waters of the Adriatic, Vis attracts fewer day-trip tourists and more of the leisurely sailing crowd. Catamarans line the bustling harbor of Viska Luka Bay, while Vespas zip past the open-air shops and cafés along up the promenade.
Roki’s, a family-owned tavern & winery, is the best place to experience Peka, an authentic Croatian dish. With Peka, usually lamb, veal, fish, or octopus, is cooked for hours in a metal dome over glowing coals.
Go Back in Time
Preserved through time and turmoil, Vis exudes an unspoiled charm that’s hard to come by these days. From the 1940s through the early 1990s, the Yugoslav Army occupied the island, which meant development and tourism were essentially nonexistent for decades. Seaside towns lack the commercial presence so often found on beautiful islands, vineyards, and cacti speckle the dry inland countryside, and quiet pebbly beaches with beautiful turquoise water surround the entire island.
Stroll Through Old Town
Get lost in the labyrinth of backstreets that comprise Old Town Vis. You’ll find picturesque stone facades accented by mint-colored shutters and marble alleyways with fresh laundry fluttering in the breeze from open windows above. It might feel like you’re walking around on a movie set, but this is real life on the dreamy island of Vis.
Pet Stray Cats
The sleepy cats found all over Vis exemplify life on the island, mellow and unhurried. You only have to stroll a few steps off the buzzing waterfront to find quaint scenes and picture-perfect moments.i
Get a Bird’s-Eye-View
Hvar is one of the most enticing beach destinations in Europe, and Hvar Town is the island’s main hub. Begin your experience at the 13th-century hilltop fortress overlooking Hvar Town. The relatively easy 15-minute stroll down into town affords magnificent views of the terracotta rooftops, Venetian bell towers, and glitzy multi-million dollar yachts in the harbor below.
INSIDER TIPThe town of Stari Grad, a 20-minute taxi ride to the other side of the island, can sometimes be favored over well-known Hvar Town. Low-key, yet seemingly more cultured, Stari Grad is well worth the visit.
Get Away from the Crowds on the North Shore
Most tourists visiting the island of Hvar stick to the main towns, Stari Grad and Hvar Town. To get off the beaten path, venture away from the crowds on an excursion exploring Hvar’s jaw-dropping coastline. The north shore, in particular, near Stari Grad, boasts electric blue water and plenty of protected inlets perfect for a swim.
See Croatia’s Most Photographed Beach
Brač is home to one of the most curious and photographed beaches in Croatia, Zlatni Rat. Jutting out perpendicular to the shore like a tiny peninsula, the pebbly beach beckons sun-seekers with its unique shape and piercing blue water. Don’t set your towel out for a seemingly ideal spot at the very tip of the beach, though. The very end of Zlatni Rat is constantly changing shape with fluctuations in the tide and current.
Sail Around Rocky Inlets
More relaxed than neighboring Hvar, Brač is must-visit on any Dalmatian Coast itinerary. Its beautiful coastline is comprised of numerous inlets, which make it the perfect island to explore by boat. Known for dramatic, rocky terrain, Brač is particularly famous for its white stone that was used to build the White House in Washington D.C.
Wander Around Bol
Bol is a relaxed and charming harbor town on the island of Brač. Local fishing boats bob playfully in the marina, brilliant magenta geraniums climb across stone facades, and casual waterfront cafés offer an idyllic spot for a cappuccino. A visit to Brač should include a morning swim at Zlatni Beach followed by an afternoon wandering the peaceful waterfront in Bol.