Croatia has more than 1,000 islands off its craggy coast on the Adriatic Sea. Some islands are major tourist draws complete with sandy beaches and major amenities, others so remote, mountainous and wild, they’re the perfect place to get away from it all.
You can’t come to Croatia and not go to the islands. You’d be missing out on a major part of what makes Croatia so great. There are many ways you can make it: large ferries, private transfers or my choice, sailboat.
However you choose, you’ll be sure to find that exploring from the water gives light to a unique beauty often lost by simply experiencing this country by land.
So with 1,000 islands to choose from, how do you narrow it down?
How to choose which Croatian islands to visit
- Do your research. Croatia is quickly becoming a top tourist destination, so plenty of information exists out there that can help you tailor your sailing holiday to exact destinations that have what you’re looking for. Once you’ve chosen where you want to go …
- Pick your starting point. In my case, it was Marina, a beautiful, coastal town 20 minutes from Split airport. Depending on the length of your holiday and where you want to visit, choosing a relatively close starting point will allow you to maximize your time. Often this will be dictated by where you pick up your boat or transportation, but choose wisely. Places on the map are sometimes farther than they appear.
- Map it out. Does your itinerary make sense? Be sure to map out places where you can dock, moor or anchor for the day and/or night in the respective islands of your choosing. Every island offers different amenities so you want to be prepared. This tip is more for those who choose to charter their own boat.
- Be flexible. Croatian weather is so unpredictable, especially in spring, early summer, so you may not do everything you had hoped for and may not reach every destination you wished. But the bright side is, there are so many islands and tiny pockets of Croatia to explore you won’t leave disappointed, only wishing you had more time to explore.
Our Croatian Sailing Itinerary
We had one week and relatively unpredictable weather, so with a starting point in Marina, our sailing crew opted to head south to the islands of Vis, Hvar, Brač and Šolta. We also made a final stop to the inland city of Trogir.
This passage is pretty well known and popular. We knew we were sailing through well-chartered territory and having been to these islands once before on a previous trip to Croatia, my sailing crew and I felt like we knew what we were getting ourselves into.
That being said, we managed to explore new places and have new experiences. This is the beauty of Croatia.
*In this post, I’ll tell you the best things to do and see at these places. However, since our activities were limited on Šolta I’ll leave it out of this article for now.
What to see and do in Vis
Sailing from the mainland, Vis was the island farthest away on our itinerary, so that meant we had quite a sail ahead of us. It’s also the smallest island, but that doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of things to do.
We spent two nights in the small bay of Vis town, the first moored in the bay and the second docked on the town quay. Being centrally located in the town, we took advantage of some of the great activities and sights close by. Scroll down to read my top four things to do in Vis.
1. Rent electric bikes and tour the town
Parts of Vis can be quite steep and unpaved, so these electric bikes were a great option to explore off the beaten path.
2. Visit Fort George
Take those bikes and go up the hills and check out the views. The fortress doubles as a restaurant, bar and lounge and is quite picturesque.
3. Eat some peka
Our sailing company gave us some great recommendations of places to eat on the islands, and this was high on the list. Peka is a typical Croatian way of cooking lamb, fish or octopus and it’s usually accompanied with some rice or potatoes. If you’d like to try this dish, stop at Roki’s. They provide a shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off. The ride to the restaurant is filled with memorable sights and the experience is like no other. Make a reservation early because this dish takes hours to prepare. Oh, and bring your appetite. Bonus: They produce their own wine and give you a tour of their on site wine cellar.
4. Enjoy the morning with a sunrise paddle
One of my favorite travel tips is wake up early and enjoy the area where you’re at. No crowds, just you and the town. There’s nothing like the quiet and stillness of the early morning just as the sun is coming up. Our boat came with a paddleboard, so I took advantage of the calm water and got some exercise in all while enjoying the view.
What to see and do in Hvar
So I’ll admit, our visit to Hvar was a quiet one. We went early in the season, many things were not yet open and the weather wasn’t exactly cooperative. So here’s a pretty picture of me paddle boarding at sunset. Hvar is not the biggest of the Croatian islands, but there’s plenty of quiet pockets to enjoy.
Here’s a list of places you should go if you visit Hvar.
1. Take a boat to Hvar town
Hvar town is the largest and most well-known of the Hvar island cities. It’s also party central, if that’s your thing. I remember the first time we visited, the tour guide said actress Demi Moore vacationed there, so if that’s any indication of the celebrity sightings there. This place is a bit crowded, but worth visiting. If you choose to swim in the waters by the harbor, bring your water shoes. There are a lot of spiny sea urchins and you don’t want to be stepping on one of those and ruining your holiday.
2. Visit sleepy Starigrad
So swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum, Starigrad is a cute little town on the sea with a picturesque town and lots of great restaurants. The ferry from Split drops you off a few meters away from the main town and the walk through the park and along the water is quite relaxing.
What to see and do in Bol, Brač
In Brac, we went to Bol one of the largest and most frequented cities on the island. It’s popularity in part due to the large sandy beach known as the Golden Horn beach. It juts out into the sea and gives it it’s name. Really well-serviced port with grocery store, restaurants and winery.
1. Visit the Golden Horn beach
Arguably the most famous beach on the island, the Golden Horn beach turns into a resort of sorts during the summer. As one of the rare sandy beaches in Croatia, the beach draws crowds of tourists who partake in water sports, swimming and sunbathing. The aptly named beach, whose sandy shore juts out to the sea leaving a horn shape, is a short walk from the main harbor in Bol.
2. Eat some lamb
Now, if you’re not a fan of lamb or not a meat-eater, this one isn’t exactly for you. Lamb is a very popular dish on the island. The way the locals cook the lamb is renowned and always recommended by those familiar with the dish. We enjoyed some lamb at the seaside restaurant Topolino, italian for mouse, that’s located right on the harbor.
3. Have some local wine
If you sail right into the city’s main harbor, you can’t miss the large yellow building with large Croatian letters. It’s an old wine cooperative and inside there’s the Stina Winery. Sip on some local wines you’ll only ever find in Croatia. It’s wine cellars are filled to the rim with wine produced on Brac and the other Croatian islands.
What to see and do in Trogir
So our weeklong sailing holiday concludes in Trogir. We returned the sailboat to Marina and shuttled our tourist friends to the airport. But before saying au revoir and bon voyage, we took a detour to Trogir, about 15 minutes away, to kill some time.
1. Tour the old town
Trogir has the advantage of its proximity to the main airport serving the Split area, but the small city itself resembles a small Split complete with Riva and centuries old charm.
2. Enjoy a drink or a meal on the Riva
Like Split, Trogir has a riva of its own sprinkled with large boats and often stands where you can browse local crafts and food. The restaurants on the riva are particularly good and worth a visit, even if it’s just to have an afternoon Aperol spritz at sunset.
3. Climb the fortress
On the far end of the riva is a stone-built fortress you can’t miss. It’s the Kamerlengo Fortress, built by the Venetians in the 13th and 15th centuries as protection from invaders on the Adriatic Sea. The landmark is open during the summer for tours at around 10 Kuna for adults and 5 Kuna for children. The fortress itself is pretty impressive from the outside, but the views from up top are worth checking out. Fortress opens at 9 a.m.
Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or a newbie on the water, seeing the Croatian islands has to be on your “must do” list if you visit the Dalamatia Coast of Croatia. There’s plenty of ferries or transfers from the mainland to the islands if being on the water isn’t really your things. But whatever your choose, you need to go. The food, culture, music and the landscape are remarkable and can’t be missed on your next holiday.
Now, enjoy some final pictures from our trip.
Au revoir and á bientôt. Until next time. 😀