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Things to Do in Croatia

Croatia combines a spectacular, island-dotted Mediterranean coastline with ancient history and farm-to-table cuisine. Sun-and-sand seekers can find pebbled beaches lined with pristine waters along the Dalmatian Coast from Split, while those in search of luxury hotels, fine dining, and chic parties head for Dubrovnik or the island of Hvar—arguably Croatia’s glitziest beach destination. But the coastal towns are not without their cultural highlights: In Split, the ruined Diocletian’s Palace makes up half the town and boasts ancient Roman monuments every bit as impressive as those in Rome; and the compact Old City of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking tours of these historic sites cover the main highlights while providing insider information from a guide. Plus in the capital, Zagreb, sightseeing tours lead travelers on foot or by bike or vehicle through neighborhoods such as Donji Grad (Lower Town) and Gornji Grad (Upper Town) to landmarks including Jelacic Square and St. Mark’s Church. Nature lovers can visit Plitvice Lakes National Park, a forest reserve containing 16 interconnected lakes, on a day trip from Zadar, Zagreb, or Split. And adventure-seekers thrill at the hiking, rock climbing, rafting, and biking opportunities available in the inland Dinaric Alps, craggy karst peaks that stretch from Italy to Albania. For a true taste of Croatia, take a day trip to the wine-producing Pelješac peninsula or Konavle Valley (both around an hour’s drive from Dubrovnik), where much of Dalmatia’s wine, olive oil, and fresh produce is harvested.
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Pula Arena (Pula Amphitheatre)
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Built under the reign of Emperor Vespasian between 27 BC and AD 67—around the same time as Rome’s Colosseum—Pula Arena (Pula Amphitheatre) is one of the largest Roman amphitheaters in the world. Today, it’s the best-preserved ancient monument in Croatia and is still used as a performance venue that accommodates up to 20,000 spectators.

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Baredine Cave (Grotta Baredine)
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Tunneling to depths of 433 feet (132 meters), the Jama-Grotta Baredine is one of Istria’s most impressive natural wonders. While most visitors come to admire the dramatic stalactites and stalagmites, the cave is also famous for a subterranean lake filled with cave olm, fish-like that are creatures endemic to the region.

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Elafiti Islands (Elaphites)
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A cluster of 14 islands along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, the Elafiti Islands (Elaphites) are one of the country’s most popular destinations and a popular day trip from nearby Dubrovnik. The archipelago’s largest three islets—Kolocep, Lopud, and Sipan—are the focal point of island-hopping tours.

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Pakleni Islands (Paklinski Islands)
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Just minutes offshore from fashionable Hvar Island along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast lies the Pakleni archipelago (Pakleni Otoci). It’s the perfect destination for an island-hopping tour with 17 beautiful islands fringed by pebble beaches and lush pine forests.

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St. Mark’s Cathedral (Korcula Cathedral)
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Situated in the center of Korcula’s old town, and hemmed in by a web of streets, is St. Marks Cathedral also known as the Korcula Cathedral. The Gothic-Renaissance style church was completed in the 15th century at the hands of local artisans and with the help of Italian masters. The result is a façade featuring a handful of curious characters — such as a squatting Adam and Eve, and a wide-eyed elephant — and an interior filled with a collection of impressive artwork, including two paintings by Tintoretto.

Given the tight city quarters, it can be hard to grasp the cathedral’s grandness from just beyond its front doors, or even from within. With that in mind, get a better perspective — a 360-degree one, in fact — by heading up to St Mark’s cupola-topped bell tower. There, you can take in unparalleled views of the town below, coast beyond, and even islands dotting the crystal blue sea in the distance.

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Dubrovnik Old Town
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Located at the southern tip of Croatia, perched above the rocky coastline of the Adriatic Sea, the enchanting city of Dubrovnik attracts visitors with its medieval architecture and labyrinth of limestone-paved streets. Its Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains surrounded by 14th-century fortified stone walls.

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Trakoscan Castle
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Set against a backdrop of hillside vineyards and lush woodlands, Trakoš?an Castle is Croatia's best preserved and most visited medieval castle. White-trimmed crenelations, a dramatic drawbridge, and red-roofed towers add a fairy tale element, while the sprawling grounds feature a romantic landscape of English-style gardens and a lake with hiking trails.

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Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje)
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Visitors to the Croatian city of Zadar are inevitably drawn to the melodious sounds emanating from the city’s most popular sight: the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje). This massive underwater instrument, designed by architect Nikola Bašić, plays musical notes generated by the sea. The constantly shifting waves never play the same tune twice.

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Ban Jelacic Square (Trg Bana Jelacica)
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The living heart around which Zagreb beats, Ban Jelacic Square (Trg Bana Jelacica) was built in the mid-19th century when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it marks the boundary between Gornji Grad and Kapitol (both in the Upper Town) and Donji Grad (Lower Town). The huge, paved piazza is named after a military leader of the 19th century, whose equestrian statue by Austrian sculptor Anton Dominick Ritter von Fernkorn was erected in 1866; it has great sentimental value to the Croatian people as it was removed from the square in 1947 by the Communists, and only replaced in 1990 during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Surrounded by elegant and arcaded Baroque buildings – many swathed in advertising hoardings – the vast square is crossed by several of the city’s great boulevards, including Illica and Radićeva. It is lined with bars and cafés that move outdoors in the summer, when locals and visitors jostle for space with buskers, beggars and the trams that constantly rattle around its perimeter. A Christmas market takes place during Advent, and Jelacic Square is where the people of Zagreb see in the New Year with fireworks and live music.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park
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With its emerald-green lakes, rocky caves, and cascading waterfalls framed by soaring dolomite cliffs, ancient woodlands, and fields of wild orchids, Plitvice Lakes National Park is the natural playground of Croatia. The UNESCO World Heritage site has over 73,000 acres (20,500 hectares) of unspoiled landscapes, boasting 16 lakes and 90 waterfalls linked by a network of hiking and biking trails.

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More Things to Do in Croatia

Elaphite Islands

Elaphite Islands

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Travelers looking to explore untouched Croatia while getting a true taste of the Adriatic Sea will find all they’re looking for at Elaphite Islands. This cluster of coastal escapes stretches from Dubrovnik to Peljesac and boasts thick foliage and unspoiled natural wonders that have become difficult to find on the mainland.

Just three of these favorite getaways—Lopud, Sipan or Kolocep—are accessible to visitors, but their diversity means there’s still something for everyone in the Elaphite Islands. Kolocep, the smallest of the three, is surrounded by brilliant blue waters and proves a remarkable respite for tired travelers. Sunj beach has made Lopud the most visited of the three, but those in the know say despite its popularity, Lopud is still perfect for a quiet escape. Sipan, the largest of the three islands, offers travelers the most to do, including tours of some of the stately aristocratic manors of the Dubrovnik Republic.

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Roski Waterfall (Roski Slap)

Roski Waterfall (Roski Slap)

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The cliffs and lush forests of Krka National Park serve as a dramatic backdrop to the the waterfalls of Roski Slap. Located along the Krka River and peppered with historic water mills, Roski Slap features small cascades that make for pretty photo opportunities.

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Bacina Lakes (Bacinska Jezera)

Bacina Lakes (Bacinska Jezera)

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With turquoise waters surrounded by lush pine forests set against a backdrop of soaring mountains, the Bacina Lakes (Bacinska Jezera) are one of Croatia’s most enchanting hidden wonders. The seven lakes, six of which are interconnected, are off the radar for most tourists, but they provide an idyllic setting for outdoor activities.

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Bisevo Blue Cave (Modra Spilja)

Bisevo Blue Cave (Modra Spilja)

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With its startling blue light and luminescent waters, it's easy to see how the Bisevo Blue Cave (Modra Spilja) earned its name. The natural wonder is hidden in the sea cliffs along the coast of Bisevo Island and is made even more enticing by its remote, difficult-to-reach location. The effort is rewarded with stunning scenery and endless photo opportunities.

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Budikovac Island (Veliki Budikovac)

Budikovac Island (Veliki Budikovac)

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Mostly uninhabited and untouched, pristine Budikovac Island (Veliki Budikovac) is an ideal place to experience Croatia’s natural beauty. The island, off the coast of Split, is a great destination for getting out of the city and relaxing, thanks largely in part to its quiet bay, clear turquoise water, and pebbly beaches.

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Dolac Market

Dolac Market

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At Zagreb’s much-loved, indoor-outdoor Dolac Market, all manner of edible supplies and artisanal products are trucked in from the fertile farming regions of Croatia and displayed in myriad stalls sheltered by red umbrellas. The capital city’s premier market has been bustling for 80-plus years and attracts a loyal crowd of grocery-shopping locals as well as hungry visitors on the hunt for a cheap meal. In addition to being a great place for food shopping, it is also an excellent people-watching spot.

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Upper Town (Gornji Grad)

Upper Town (Gornji Grad)

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With narrow cobblestone streets, red tiled roofs, and gorgeous medieval squares, Upper Town (Gornji Grad) is Zagreb’s historic district and most picturesque part. Many of the city’s most visited tourist attractions are here, including the Stone Gate, Zagreb Cathedral, and the Bloody Bridge.

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Dubrovnik Cable Car

Dubrovnik Cable Car

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Dubrovnik’s distinctive orange cable cars speed 2,500 feet (778 meters) in about three minutes, from the lower station just north of the city walls to the top of Mount Srđ. During the ride, you can enjoy peerless views of Dubrovnik’s terracotta rooftops, the coastline of Dalmatia, and archipelagos sprinkled across the Adriatic Sea.

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Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata)

Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata)

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One of Zagreb’s oldest and most renowned landmarks, the Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata) dates to the 13th century. The atmospheric entryway leads to the medieval Upper Town and hosts a shrine to the Virgin Mary. In addition to tourists, the landmark attracts religious devotees, who come to pray and light candles.

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Telascica Nature Park

Telascica Nature Park

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With blue coral lagoons, dramatic limestone cliffs, and a fascinating saltwater lake, Telašćica Nature Park is one of Croatia’s most magical natural wonders. On the island of Dugi Otok in the Adriatic Sea, Telašćica offers visitors endless hiking, diving, swimming, fishing, and wildlife-viewing opportunities.

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St. Mark's Church (Crkva Svetog Marka)

St. Mark's Church (Crkva Svetog Marka)

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The Catholic parish church of Zagreb’s Gornji Grad (Upper Town) is one of the most distinctive buildings in the city, thanks to its brightly patterned tiled roof. Built in the 13th century, there is now little left of the church’s original construction save for a couple of windows and its ornate central doorway, a Gothic addition from the late 1370s. The statues of the Holy Family and the Apostles in the niches just inside the doorway are by Czech sculptor Ivan Parler and were added at the same time. Thanks to damage by fire, several of these statues have since been replaced by wooden reproductions.

Following the devastating earthquake of 1880, St. Mark's Church (Crkva Svetog Marka) was rebuilt once more and its emblematic roof was added, which is adorned with the coats of arms of Zagreb, Croatia and its various regions. Despite its jewel-colored stained-glass windows, the church’s interior is not well lit, but it does have several exceptional artworks: highlights include the Pietà and the Crucifix over the altar, both by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia’s much-revered 20th-century sculptor; and a series of softly colored biblical frescoes by artist Jozo Kljaković. St. Marks sits on its own cobbled square at the hub of Zagreb’s political and religious life, surrounded by the Croatian parliament buildings.

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Dubrovnik Ancient City Walls

Dubrovnik Ancient City Walls

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With their imposing watchtowers looming over the medieval city and dramatic fortifications edging the sea cliffs, Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls are an impressive sight and deserving of their star-attraction status. Dating back to the 10th century, the remarkably preserved walls—among the finest in the world—mark out the perimeter of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and offer magnificent views over all corners of the city.

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Diocletian's Palace

Diocletian's Palace

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Built in the fourth century as a retirement complex for the Roman Emperor Diocletian, this vast, fortress-like compound still dominates Split Old Town. After the palace was abandoned in the sixth century, locals flooded into it. Now, the 220 Roman-era buildings within the palace boundaries house homes, shops, bars, and other businesses.

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Hvar Spanish Fortress (Tvrdava Fortica)

Hvar Spanish Fortress (Tvrdava Fortica)

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Skirted by a fringe of trees, the 16th-century Hvar Spanish Fortress(Tvrdava Fortica) rises above its namesake seaside village. Not long after the castle’s 16th-century completion, it dutifully protected Hvar citizens from attacks by the Turks, and then shortly thereafter was all but destroyed due to fires from a lightening storm. But the fortress was rebuilt, and its Middle Aged walls survived — and all of it stands tall today as arguably Hvar’s most prized sight.

The castle can be reached by first trekking up the staircase-filled backstreets of Hvar, then onto a zig-zag path that takes you farther up a hill of flowers and greenery. It’s not a brisk walk by any means, but your efforts will be rewarded with spectacular views of the town, harbor, and islands beyond. Meanwhile, catch your breath and quench your thirst at the castle café.

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