Close your eyes and let yourself  be cradled by the sound of the sea, surrounded by islands looking out on the crystal-clear bays. Breathe in the perfume of the of the Mediterranean scrub and the attraction of the fishing villages, with the characteristic tavernas where you can eat fish and a thousand typical specialities. Immerse yourself in the history of the medieval villages, where you can walk along cobbled streets and admire the pretty architecture. Welcome to Croatia: a destination that satisfies everyone, from families to fun lovers, nature enthusiasts and cultural holiday fans.

In addition to Istria – the largest peninsula on the Adriatic – there is so much more: the Croatian coast continues for thousands of kilometres, that you eat up with your eyes. Travelling along it by sea is a surprising trip: you will be surrounded by the most beautiful islands of Croatia, like the ones in the archipelago of Kvarner and the Kornati, with their Venetian villages and verdant views. You can admire UNESCO sites and walk in the large nature parks embellished with fabulous waterfalls. The beaches of Croatia do not need any presentation: from Pula to Dalmatia, relaxing with a sea view is guaranteed. Don’t make do with the most obvious destinations: the secret is to stretch. Here are the 16 best things to see in Croatia in all its facets.

Istria

The Istrian peninsula is a continuation of enchanted beaches and old stone villages, where tradition is still alive and does not seem to fear the invasion of tourists too much: in the height of summer, Istria is crowded with holidaymakers, but coming here in the less busy season allows you to uncover the more secret face of the place. The seaside villages and the medieval towns, the Venetian bell towers – one example being that of the church in Rovinj – are true pearls of the Adriatic: a delight for those sailing the Istrian coasts, tasting the culture and taking the odd dip. Not to mention the food: the variety is greater than you would imagine and goes way beyond the classic scampi alla busara. The inland area is full of treasures too: just travel inland a little, for example, to find Motvun, a charming fortified town that extends over a huge valley. This is just one of the surprises that this region full of art and history holds. Its beaches charm the holidaymakers as much as the cultural beauties. 

Rovinj

Located south of the Lim Channel – an enticing fjord surrounded by woodland that lend it the appearance of a canyon - , Rovinj is the most visited city in Istria. Its famous old town is dominated by the Church of St Euphemia, with its bell tower standing tall, reminiscent of St Marco's. Rovinj was an important city for the Venetians. They surrounded it with walls to protect it from pirates. Originally built on an island, it was connected to the mainland in the 18th century. Walking along its steep cobbled streets, with their characteristics tavernas and art galleries, is an emotional experience: its charming corners make it an extremely romantic destination. The sea is full of small islands opposite Rovinj, such as St Andrew's island, also known as Red Island, bordered with its rock and pebble beaches.  

Pula

Pula’s popularity with tourists is linked - in addition to its beaches - to the Flavian amphitheatre, once the backdrop of gladiator fights and still excellently conserved: a majestic vision, which, during the rule of Vespasian, could hold more than 20 thousand spectators. The Croatian Coliseum is surrounded by important monuments, such as the Roman gates –  Porta Gemina, the Twin Gates, and the triumphant Arch of the Sergii – and the Temple of Rome and Augustus, a place of worship dedicated to the goddess and the Emperor Octavian, with the City Hall alongside it.

In addition to its wealth of historical and archaeological heritage, Pula is a lively place, with several museums, shops and restaurants. Located on the far point of Istria, Pula has a jagged coastline: some of the prettiest beaches in Croatia are right here, an amazing setting where you can relax after admiring the beauty of the ancient city. From the Brijuni Islands to the beaches of Medulin and Premantura – don’t miss the Kamenjak peninsula– the summer provides magic: it is there in low season too, especially for cyclist lovers.  

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik was the capital of an independent marine republic, that could rival the excessive power of the Venetians, thanks to its alliance with the Republic of Ancona. The Gateway to the Balkans, it was the crossroads for trade with the East: metals, oil and spices travelled through the port and several consuls supervised the routes. Dubrovnik’s fortune reached its peak in the 15th-16th century: a golden period of which precious traces can still be found. The historical old town, enclosed within ancient walls, is a UNESCO site, with its beautiful historical and artistic heritage and a multitude of churches, squares and palaces: one of the most emblematic is the Rector’s Palace, the political heart of the Republic.

The “pearl of the Adriatic” is surrounded by towers and fortresses looking out onto the sea: what a sensational view. As well as being lively and cosmopolitan, Dubrovnik is a city of culture with a full calendar of events: its Summer Festival transforms the streets, palaces and churches into stages each year. After immersing yourself into the history of Dubrovnik, you may wish to take a trip to Lokrum Island and sunbathe on the best beaches in the area. 

Sibenik

Located at the mouth of the River Krka, Sibenik enjoys an ancient history and until its fall, was a part of the Republic of Venice, later being the birthplace of Niccolò Tommaseo. Anyone arriving by sea immediately catches sight of St Nicholas’ Fortress, with its 32 cannons to defend it from the Turks: a rare example of triangular-shaped Renaissance military architecture. With its harmonious mixture of Gothic and Renaissance forms, the Cathedral of St James is one of the most important religious buildings in Dalmatia. In addition to its historical and architectural treasures - both sites are protected by UNESCO - Sibenik is also known for the natural wonders that surround it. Nearby we find Krka Park, which is famous for its wonderful waterfalls.    

Krka

The protected area of the River Krka is a charming treasure chest of biodiversity, with its wealth of fauna and spectacular views. The national park stretches between Skradin and Sibenik and includes several permanent waterfalls that are formed from white tufa rock beds. After overcoming a large canyon, the water’s journey continues to the sea. The impressive waterfalls - the ones in Skradin, in particular Skradinski Buk, with a drop of 45 metres - are some of the most popular nature destinations in all of Croatia.

The Roski Skap Waterfall plunges into Lake Visovac, which has an island in the middle of it, with a Franciscan convent. The visit is carried out on wooden walkways, in a circular fashion, with the possibility of taking a dip while admiring the waterfalls. The area is dotted with windmills and fortresses: you can travel by boat to the Krka monastery, which is built on a small island and contains a collection of rare manuscripts.

Trogir

Moving in the direction of Split, we reach the coastline of Trogir, a wonderful medieval town built on a small island. The place is a concentration of history and charming atmospheres, and is a must for art and architecture lovers. Trogir is a real jewel protected by UNESCO and is one of the most attractive Venetian cities in Dalmatia. Annexed to the Serenissima in 1420, the city has imposing fortifications, with its Kamerlengo Castle acting as an outpost.

With its narrow, cobbled streets, the historical old town is a jubilation of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture: one of the most important is the Cathedral of St Lawrence, in a typical Venetian style. A visit to the Orsini Chapel in the cathedral, a masterpiece of Renaissance art, embellished with precious sculptures, is a must. The history of Trogir has its roots in the far distant past: it was here that an ancient Roman manuscript of the Satyricon by Petronius with the famous Dinner of Trimalchion, was found.  

Split

This is just a taster of what awaits you in Split, a city with thousands of years of history. Founded by the Greeks, the largest city in Dalmatia is home to one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean. And, even more interesting, it also includes one of the most famous Roman monuments in the world, the renowned Diocletian’s Palace. The large fortified villa was built in the typical castrum style, the Roman military style camp, bordered by large towers.

The perimeter walls are interrupted by huge gates, each of which carries the name of a particular metal. The imposing nature of the palace almost causes unease, paying tribute to the power of the glorious emperor who spent the last years of his life here. The complex - which has the same perimeter as the old historical centre – also included Diocletian’s Mausoleum, which was then converted into a cathedral. There are many more things to discover inside the palace walls: we recommend you take a few hours to discover them all in detail.

Zadar

In Zadar the sea literally sings: thanks to the Sea Organ that gives off a melody inspired by the wind and the sound of the waves. It was designed by the same artist who designed the Greeting to the Sun, a unique work dedicated to the light and created using photovoltaic panels. As well as these pearls of urban art, Zadar, a city with a thousand years of history, also boasts a long list of monuments ranging from Roman ruins to ancient churches, such as the Church of St Donatus and the Cathedral of  St Anastasia in Romanesque style.

The city is teeming with culture, exhibitions and museums, and is surrounded by wonderful landscapes: the Kornati National Park, that can easily be reached on day trips from here, has some unforgettable views. The Zadar maraschino, a sweet liqueur made for generations with the delicious local sour cherries, is worthy of note.

Telascica

If you love diving - or you want to treat yourself to a fantastic sailing boat trip - the Telascica Park is the ideal backdrop. Located on Dugi Otok, the largest archipelago in Zadar, it comprises small islands, cliffs and lush bays. The position is strategic: it stands opposite the Kornati islands –, a wild paradise of dozens of small islands. The park is full of attractive nature. Its cliffs stand 160 metres high, plunging into the depths of the sea: the steep rocks called Stene continue for another 80 metres below the surface, and are home to colourful coral and, out of the water, peregrine falcon nests. The view of Lake Mir, which is salty and separated from the sea by a slim strip of land, is amazing. As well as wearing mask and flippers, you can explore the park on a bike or walking along its paths. The Telascica cove is an unmissable stop for yacht lovers, who can find one of the best-sheltered natural ports in the entire Adriatic here. 

Hvar Island

Hvar Island is also known as the “Madeira of the Adriatic”, due to its pleasant climate, its lush vegetation and wonderful panoramic views. Hvar is the longest island in the Adriatic and has many well-known seaside resorts. Located between the islands of Brac, Vis and Korcula, the island is covered in terraced slopes, forests and lavender fields. The Stari Grad plain is a landscape protected by UNESCO, which has stayed practically unchanged since the times of Greek colonisation: with its stone walls and plain used to cultivate vines and olive trees, it is the best-preserved example of Ancient Greek agricultural parcelling of land in the Mediterranean.

Hvar was an important merchant’s port in the past, and still has villages with stone houses built in the characteristic Dalmatian style, and picturesque fishing villages: it is the right place to discover the tradition and art of good food, ranging from goat’s cheeses to fish soups, served by the island’s taverns. And also to discover the ancient art of lace-making, woven with yarn made from agave leaves.

One of the favourite beaches is Mina Bay, in Jelsa: the area, surrounded by mountain peaks, has the richest, lushest vegetation. The Pakleni Islands archipelago, a paradise made of cliffs and islands with small beaches loved by nudists, stands opposite Hvar. For those with a love of socialising, Hvar has a lively night life and several clubs and beach bars. There is more: the island is loved by the jet set, to the point it is a little like the Croatian equivalent of Saint Tropez and the Cote d’Azur.    

Zagreb

Dominated by woodland, the city of Zagreb is a metropolis with many green spaces and handsome buildings. Built between the River Sava and the slopes of Medvednica, the Croatian capital is unexpectedly beautiful, with its Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, Austro-Hungarian palaces and beautiful churches. A symbol of the High City – mostly pedestrian and the main place for inhabitants to meet up - is St Mark’s Cathedral, in the centre of the square with the same name, which is extremely characteristic with its multi-coloured painted roof.

The city contains many galleries and restaurants and plays host to several cultural events and festivals of international renown. It is also a popular place for shopping: don’t miss a walk around the Dolac, the famous open-air market. Close to Zagreb, we find the fortified city of Medvedgrad, known for its majestic castle and for the paths loved by trekking enthusiasts. Don’t miss a visit to Samobor, the city-museum where you can look at the ruins of the medieval town and walk among the pastel-coloured houses, ancient churches and craftsmen's workshops.

Gorski Kotar

When we think about Croatia, our mind immediately conjures up beaches and suntans. There are some great opportunities for excellent trekking through fields and forests: for walking enthusiasts, the preferred destination is Gorski Kotar, a huge verdant high plain in north-west Croatia. The Risnjak National Park, in Gorski Kotar, is the most mountainous area of the country: an expanse of  beech and fir trees populated with deer, wolves and eagle owls. The highest peak is the Risnjak that reaches 1500 metres: with a backpack you climb to the top and look at the island of KrK from a distance. If you don’t love climbing too much, you can enjoy more relaxing experiences, such as pleasant walks amidst characteristic villages and round Lake Fužine and Lake Lovke, that are extremely picturesque and where you can try fishing and rowing. Or even a dip in the river, after carefully testing the temperature of the water.

Opatija

The tour of Istria ends in beauty with Opatija, located in a sheltered position on the Kvarner Gulf. Just a few kilometres from Rijeka, it is the most important town on the eastern Istria coast and boasts a long tradition of tourism that has its roots in the 19th century. Opatija was one of the favourite locations of the Habsburg élite: the luxury villas surrounded by parks, palm trees and camellias contribute to its aristocratic appearance. One of the prettiest residences is Villa Angiolina, decorated with trompe l’oeil, mosaic tiles and precious furniture, surrounded by a botanical park where you can walk among sequoia and ginkgo biloba trees. The Riviera of the same name boasts a 12-kilometre promenade that touches the coastal towns. A trip to the Ucka Nature Park, an unspoilt area of great natural interest, is recommended. 

Plitvice

The Plitvice Lakes are the most famous park in Croatia, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An enchanted world opens up amidst the landscapes of eastern Lika: a protagonist is the beauty of the sea life that is constantly renewing and rising. The Plitvice National Park is a group of lakes located at different heights, lying amidst woods, pools and waterfalls. Steep rock walls, thick with vegetation, rise over the water: the reflections, colours and emerald hues leave you without words. The itinerary can be travelled on foot, along the wooden walkways and paths: a regenerating experience. It is possible to board an electric boat to explore the largest lake, or on a comfortable train to have a broader view of the park and its 16 lakes connected by waterfalls: the karst land provides jaw-dropping beauty.

Brac Island

Brac Island is known for its famous white stone, used to build – as well as some of the most beautiful buildings in Croatia, for example Diocletian’s Palace in Split - the White House in Washington. The island of white marble – the largest in Central Dalmatia – is, however, even more well known for its fantastic beaches. One of these is Zlatni Rat, near to Bol: a wedge of pale sand that makes its way into the turquoise sea for hundreds of metres, continuously changing shape depending on the whims of the wind and tides. A real emblem of Croatian tourism, with several beaches next to it, surrounded by green pine forests and wrapped in the fragrance of sage and rosemary. The bays in Supetar the main town on the island, in particular Milna Bay, are beautiful.

The coast offers several equipped beaches and diving centres for water sports lovers: but also fantastic cycling itineraries, to leisurely explore the most charming corners of the island and the wine trails. Smutica, a local drink containing red wine and goat's milk is something to try. There are several historical testimonies and artistic and architectural attractions, like the ruins of the fortified early-Christian basilica in Povlja.  

Set sail for Croatia with Costa Cruises

Surprised by the number of things that you can see in Croatia? Don’t worry, to see all the most interesting places, you don’t need to plan a thousand holidays, you only need one: with a Costa cruise you can look at the coast in all his splendour and easily reach the best destinations. From port to port, there are several excursions to discover the most attractive beaches and the prettiest villages.

Set Sail with Costa Cruises