Anyone on the hunt for the best islands to visit in Croatia is likely to be spoiled for choice. There are more than 1,000 options stringing up and down the length of this country, all speckling the azure waters of the bath-warm Adriatic Sea. There are big ones, small ones, popular ones, remote ones – you name it!
Mhmm…from the legendary party marinas of Hvar to the forested ridges of Korcula and the moody bays of Pag, there are plenty to get through. Some are easier to reach than others, with direct ferries out of Split or Dubrovnik. And there ones that are all about getting off the beaten track, requiring perhaps just a little bit more effort.
Virtually all of the best islands to visit in Croatia have their peak season throughout the European summer months. That means they are at their busiest between May and September, with the absolute pinnacle of crowds and prices coming in July and August. The good thing is that they’re far south enough to warm up early and cool down late, so shoulder-season trips to these parts are very much a possibility.
Crafted at the intersection of two rugged karstic mountain ranges, Pag looks like the sweep of a painter’s brush on the map of the central Adriatic. Strangely shaped and brooding by appearance, this isn’t the pine-covered isle you’ve seen in the brochures. Its wild, lunar-like backcountry is a picture of solitude and serenity, all framed by the heights of Velebit mountain on the mainland and an inky-blue sea beyond.
Pag is hard to pin down, though. At one end, it’s a place where you’ll cruise rock-rimmed coast roads in search of eerie lagoons, go snorkeling in pebbly coves like Boyani Beach, and encounter unusual inland lakes. At the other, it’s a no-holes-barred party mecca – Zrce Festival Beach is one of the undisputed top places to dance and drink your summer away in Croatia.
No ferry is needed to get to Pag. It’s one of the rare Croatian islands that has a direct road link to the mainland. That cuts the drive down to about an hour from Zadar and to just over two hours from Split. There is one boat link coming over from Trajekt Prizna at the island’s north end, which is the most convenient arrival point for anyone driving down from Zagreb.
Brac certainly is no secret. A big blob of an island, it sits smack dab in the middle of the Adriatic Sea like a Balkan dumpling. It’s much-visited on account of the fact that it’s the first main Dalmatian Island out of Split, the second-largest city in Croatia, and there is something in the region of 12 ferries per day heading to its main port of Supetar from there.
The headline act on Brac is the beach of Zlatni Rat (the Golden Horn). Many people hail it as the single finest beach in Europe. We’ll let you be the judge but suffice to say you’re sure to gasp in awe as you swing around the south coast road to see a glimmering spit of perfect gold-white pebbles jutting out into the turquoise water.
Once you’re done lazing around and soaking up the rays there, adventures await in the wild backcountry. It’s a world of rock-scattered vineyards and fields, where the winding country roads lead to either Supetar (the aforementioned port town) or Bol (a slick historic town with creative tavernas and luxury coast hotels).
No list of the best islands to visit in Croatia could possibly miss out on Hvar. This is the poster boy of Dalmatian tourism and has been for a while. Images of shimmering millionaire yachts moored up in the harbor abound, and the biggest town – appropriately named Hvar Town – has a rep for being the liveliest summertime party mecca in the country (check out Hula-Hula and Kiva Bar for the two wildest places).
If you can manage to peel yourself away from cocktail drinking on the quaysides for a moment, then Hvar has other secrets to divulge. Its center is a mass of limestone ridges that are draped in fragrant evergreens, dashed through by purple lavender thickets and half-crumbled farmsteads from way back when. Cycle trails and hiking paths connect up the whole lot, offering somewhere truly serene and quiet to balance out the hedonism.
To experience Hvar’s quieter side, we’d recommend staying either on the eastern half of the island, which is way less visited, or in the smaller port of Stari Grad. The latter is actually an immersive place with an ancient history, and some say it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the Balkans.
Southerly Mljet is a burst of emerald in the middle of the Adriatic blue. It’s one of the last islands in Croatia before you cross the border into Montenegro, and boy is it a grand hurrah of a goodbye. Lush like nowhere else on the map, this one’s famed for its thick woods of gnarled Aleppo pines and cypress trees.
The highlight is the Mljet National Park, which occupies the whole western end of the isle. It was established way back in the 1960s to protect some seriously unique landscapes, anchored on a duo of mirror-like lakes called Veliko Jezero (the big lake) and Malo Jezero (the small lake). You can cycle or hike the whole way around both on wooded trails that also reveal the enchanting sight of the Monastery of Saint Mary, a 900-year-old complex sat on its own rocky islet.
The small village of Pomena is the place to arrive and stay on Mljet. It’s actually within the boundaries of the national park and offers a clutch of attractive Balkan B&Bs and beach bars. To escape the crowds you can travel east, where the sleepy marinas of Sobra and Okuklje are a gateway to one of the lesser-known parts of the Croatian archipelago.
Vis is the mysterious child of the Croatian islands. Further away from the shoreline than just about all its big-name compadres, it’s about a quarter of the way to Italy. What’s more, its history is shadowy and obscure since the whole place was out of bounds for decades thanks to its role as a secret Yugoslav military outpost.
Remnants of the age when Tito ruled the roost can still be seen along the shoreline, in the form of protected inlets and hidden submarine bases. Today, though, they take a backseat to the pretty coves and beaches that run along the north shore, from taverna-topped Oključna to the snorkeling mecca of Smokova.
There are two main centers of population on Vis. Out west, Komiža is the down-to-earth option that has roots in the fishing industry. Check out its stone-hewn houses from the 1600s and then launch adventures to the coast grottoes or go scuba diving. Vis town is easier to reach and a little more upmarket.
Krk is one of the best islands to visit in Croatia if you’re after that cocktail of sun, sea, sand, and summer holiday vibes. It might not hit the headlines like Hvar or Brac, but this one caters to more vacationers each season than most all of its buddies put together. The main reason for that is its accessibility and proximity to the rest of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. A few hours down the highway from Zagreb and you’ll be whizzing across the bridge en route to the beaches.
There’s a handful of resort towns that absorb most of the influx. In the north, it’s Omišalj, a boater’s haven with lots of yacht moorings and rocky coves where you can dive straight into the sea. In the south, it’s Krk Town, the most hedonistic point on the island thanks to the overload of promenade bars. Out east, it’s Baška, where families can enjoy one of the longest beaches in the whole of Croatia.
If you don’t fancy being in the thick of the action, consider choosing a stay in smaller Glavotok (for snorkeling areas) or pint-sized Vrbnik (for charming Croatian fish kitchens and a town vibe). They aren’t as well known and don’t feel overwhelming, even in June and July.
Snaking its way through the midst of the Dalmatian Islands about a two-hour ferry from Split, Korcula is one of the greenest in the region. It’s been likened to Greece’s Corfu by settlers from the south for centuries, mainly thanks to its thick covering of woodlands and pine trees, which, today, come pockmarked by wineries and organic farms.
Clocking up 25 miles in length but just five miles at its widest point, the real journey on this island is from east to west. Korcula Town is where most begin and it’s easy to see why – the city spreads over a small headland with a unique medieval herringbone layout connecting its ancient gateways and plazas. Tiny Vela Luka is the hub of the west, and likely where you’ll alight when coming in from Split or Hvar.
The wine is not to be missed. It’s been cultivated here since anyone can remember and aficionados consider it arguably the height of the nation’s growing. The local grape is known as Pošip. Sample it at the Toreta Winery or at the Bire Winery just south of Korcula Town.
The best islands to visit in Croatia – our conclusion
This guide offers tips on just seven of the best islands to visit in Croatia. Remember: There are over 1,000 different options in this salt-washed country, so there are certainly plenty more to consider. This is all about showcasing the crème-de-la-crème, though, which is why we’ve gone hopping from the happening harbors of Hvar to the wooded heights of Mljet and the family fav of Krk. We think it’s the perfect selection for first-time visitors to this corner of the Balkans.