Things to Do in Dalmatia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lying inland from Zadar in northern Croatia, the Zrmanja River rises in the Dinaric Alps and runs for 44 miles (70 km); the bulk of its course lies within the Velebit Nature Park before it empties in the Novigrad Sea after passing the cute, pastel-colored town of the same name built along its meandering banks. Along with its tributary the Krupa, the upper reaches of the Zrmanja are one of the country’s hottest spots for rafting and kayaking through its spectacular limestone canyons – in parts 656 feet (200 meters) deep – and underneath its tumbling cascades. The most spectacular falls are Veliki Buk, a crescent-shaped mini-Niagra where the pristine waters hurls itself 65.5 feet (20 meters) in two steps over a limestone cliff face; a popular hike to the falls starts at Muskovci, with amazing views over the lush Zrmanja river valley.
Almost on the border with Croatia, the UNESCO-listed Vjetrenica cave system is the deepest in Bosnia and Herzegovina, disappearing 3.7 miles (six km) below the Dinaric Alps into a magical world of subterranean rivers, limestone galleries and glittering lakes. Spectacular tumbling stalagmites and stalactites loom in the semi-darkness of the meandering tunnels and its ever-running waters flow into the Trebisnjica River on the southern edge of the Popovo Polje valley.
Skeletons of bears and leopards have been found in the Vjetrenica caves along with primitive drawings dating back 10,000 years, which can clearly be seen etched into the walls. Many hundreds of rare animal species have been discovered here, including the olm, a salamander-cum-fish with legs, lungs and gills that is peculiar to the region. Visited by thousands before the tragic civil war of the 1990s tore former Yugoslavia apart, infrastructure for tourism at Vjetrenica has recently been upgraded and the caves are once more open to explore. Temperatures underground are at a constant and cool 11°C, so dress warmly as guided tours last around 60 minutes. As the underground pathways are slippery, take sturdy footwear; jackets and hard hats are provided.
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.
More Things to Do in Dalmatia
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.
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.
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.
Just 600 meters (1 kilometer) from Dubrovnik, the car-free island of Lokrum makes a peaceful escape from the city. At its center is a medieval Benedictine monastery complex that’s surrounded by botanical gardens planted with exotic trees, flowers, and bushes. Picturesque swimming spots abound on the island’s rocky shoreline.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Overlooking the Adriatic Sea from a cliff-top perch, the St. Lawrence Fortress (Fort Lovrijenac) is a Dubrovnik icon. Thought to be around 1,000 years old, the 121-foot (37-meter) fortress was used to defend the city for centuries. Today, the fort is better-known for its theatrical shows, coastal views, and starring role in HBO’sGame of Thrones.
There’s no better place to take in the essence of Hvar than in its main plaza while admiring the Cathedral of St. Stephen also known as the Hvar Cathedral. Set upon a backdrop of green hillside, the church you see today was built between the 16th and 17th centuries, with elements of an even older church still preserved inside.
Though the cathedral boasts a relatively humble interior, it is noted for its attractive altars, late Renaissance paintings, and 15th-century wooden choir stalls. For most, though, it’s the exterior that really leaves the biggest impression, with its scalloped rooftop and four-story, 17th-century bell tower that both grandly watch over the expansive limestone plaza that rolls out to the Adriatic Sea.
Constructed in 1537, this sturdy gate on the west wall of Dubrovnik’s Old Town was once locked nightly—and the wooden drawbridge leading to it was raised—to prevent intruders from gaining access to the city. More recently, the gate served as a filming location for Game of Thrones, as the site where King Joffrey was unceremoniously pelted with cow dung.
Zadar is one of the oldest cities of Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline and has its roots way back in Roman times, when the first fortified walls were constructed around the little peninsula where the old town still lurks prettily. By the 16th century, Zadar was the prize possession of the Venetian Republic and its walls were further extended and modified with a series of decorative and imposing entry gates.
The main entrance to the old town is the ornate City Gate (also called the Land Gate), which was finished in 1543 and is close to Foša harbor on the southern side of the old town. Adorned with six columns supporting a pediment, the gate is classically triumphalist in style with three arched gateways – the middle one designed for
wheeled traffic and the two side gates for pedestrians. It is topped with the coats of arms of both Zadar and the Venetian Republic, with a winged lion in between as the symbol of St Mark (the patron saint of the Republic).
The other five gates into the city are the St Rocco and Sea gates – both built by the Venetians; the medieval St Demetrius Gate, which was walled up and subsequently reopened in 1873; the Chain Gate (built under Austrian rule in 1877); and finally the Bridge Gate, built when Zadar was under Italian rule in the 1930s.
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