Picture this… Spending your days lapping up the Mediterranean sun, diving off a boat into glistening waters, exploring quaint towns scattered along a rugged coastline, eating gelato and meandering down cobblestoned alleyways. If you are sitting here thinking that this sounds like a dream come true, it is about time you plan a visit to Croatia to go island hopping.
With no shortage of picturesque spots to discover, every nook and cranny of this country is begging to be explored. The only problem with planning a trip to this Adriatic paradise is knowing where to begin! To help you get started, I’ve put together all my top tips for island hopping in Croatia.
THE BEGINNERS GUIDE TO ISLAND HOPPING IN CROATIA
How to get around
The most crucial thing to decide before anything else is how you’d like to explore Croatia. You have a few different options- you can go island hopping in Croatia with on an organized boat tour, rent your own yacht or explore the country by land/ ferry. To help you decided which option is best for you, I’ve put together a list of pros/ cons for each.
1. Group Boat Tours
Perfect for: Solo travelers, budget travelers, couples
Sailing in Croatia has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and now you will find hundreds of different companies offering week-long group sail trips island hopping along the Croatian coastline. On my first visit to Croatia, I spent the week sailing onboard the mighty Nerezine on Topdeck’s Croatian Riveria Trip. Every boat has a slightly different route and itinerary, yet you’ll always find there is another boat docked up next to you when you reach a destination (which means plenty of people to hang out with)!
- Everything is organized for you which makes the experience super relaxing
- All breakfasts & lunches are included
- It’s a great way of meeting people, especially if you are travelling solo
- It’s a very affordable way of seeing Croatia
- You won’t get much time in each place (generally you’ll dock up at each place early afternoon and leave the next morning)
- Depending on your boat, you might not have the most luxurious sleeping conditions (cabins tend to be small and lack air condition)
- You can’t bring drinks or snacks onboard, you have to buy it all (even water)
2. Yacht Week
Perfect for: Groups of friends, adventurous travellers
If you don’t want to go with a tour operator, Yacht Week has also become a very popular phenomenon! Taking place during July and August, the concept basically entails you and a group of friends renting out a Yacht to sail around Croatia for a week and go island hopping at your own pace. You are provided with a Skipper to show you the ropes so you don’t have to have sailed before. It’s a little more work than going on a boat with a crew, but as a result, you’ll have more freedom over where and when you dock.
- It’s an ideal activity for a big group of friends
- You have more flexibility of how long you want to spend in each place
- You get the experience of learning how to sail
- Great if you love to party
- It’s expensive compared to group sail-trips
- You have to cook all your own meals
- There is a little more organization needed
Perfect for: Groups of friends, couples, relaxed travellers
If you are after a more low-key, relaxed sail trip through Croatia, MedSailors provides the perfect middle ground between a Topdeck boat tour and Yacht week. MedSailors offers seven-day trips sailing on either their Discovery (Split to Split) or Voyager (Split to Dubrovnik) route. Included in the cost of the trip is an expert skipper to get you from place to place and all breakfast and dinners prepared fresh on the boat, meaning the only thing you really have to worry about each day is perfecting your dive into turquoise waters and which flavour of gelato to order when docking up at the next quaint town.
You can choose between either a regular yacht or a catamaran, both of which fit up to 8 guests. If you are willing to splash out, I would highly recommend opting for the Catamaran- after spending a week on both types of boats, I found that the extra space and comfort that the Catamaran offered was worth its weight in gold! MedSailors is a great option is best if you are travelling with a partner or group of friends (if you have enough friends, you can have the whole boat to yourselves)! However, I would say this style of trip isn’t as suited to solo travellers as a large boat tour would be.
To find out more about Medsailors, read about What it’s like to Sail the Saronic Islands in Greece.
- The most relaxed trip you could take
- You can get experience learning how to sail
- If you have a big group of friends, you can book out a whole boat
- You can bring your own food & drinks onboard
- Solo travellers would have to share a small cabin with another person
- You’ll spend a lot of time with the people on your boat (which is great if you get along but not so great if you don’t get along)
- If you are a party animal, it’s much less “party” focused than other options
Perfect for: Couples, families, DIY-style travellers
If sailing isn’t your cup of tea, going by boat isn’t the only way to see this beautiful country. Unlike most of Europe, the trains aren’t the best mode of transportation in Croatia, and you’ll find more luck getting to the major cities by bus. There are also commercial ferries that go to the islands, although getting the timings right can be a little frustrating and the ferries aren’t always super reliable. Particularly if you want to go island hopping, this isn’t the best option to choose.
- You have ultimate control over your schedule
- You can choose what kind of budget you want to do it on
- It’s a lot more flexible and spontaneous
- There is inevitably a LOT more organization involved
- It isn’t as easy to reach the more remote islands
- You’ll spend a lot of time travelling from place to place rather than being out on the water
SEE ALSO: 10 things that surprised me about Tahiti
Where to go?
There really is no shortage of amazing things to see when visiting Croatia. Although the list of beautiful places to visit in this country is endless, here are a few of my top picks:
As the second largest city in Croatia, Split is renowned for its buzzing beaches and stunning Roman ruins. The most popular landmark in Split is the fortress at its centre, Diocletian’s Palace, which was erected in the 4th century by the Roman emperor. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time to explore Split on my trip to Croatia, given it was the beginning and ending port for our sailing trip and I was on a rather tight schedule.I would recommend spending a couple of days in Split, exploring the fascinating architecture, relaxing on the beaches and getting amongst the lively atmosphere of the place. Whilst you are here, it is definitely worth taking a day trip to Krka Waterfalls. Krka National Park takes 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to by bus are considered some of the most stunning falls in the region. Also, for the adrenaline-lovers, just outside of Split is the town of Omis, which is home to an epic 2 kilometer zipline through the canyon of the Cetina River.
If I could make one recommendation about visiting Vis, it would be to do so ASAP! After featuring in the latest Mamma Mia movie, it is only a matter of time before an island featuring stunning 17th-century architecture, delightful seafood tavernas and dreamy little beaches becomes overrun with tourists. Be sure to visit the quaint old town, feast in some local seafood and climb up to the fortress to catch the sunset (all whilst singing Mamma Mia at the top of your lungs).
Milna is a quaint little village located on the island of Brac. With a tiny population of 883 people, this place is honestly adorable as it retains the authenticity of a Mediterranean fishing village. It may not be the liveliest spot in Croatia, but it is certainly a place worth visiting, even if it is just for an afternoon. Spend your time here sampling wine from the local vineyards and wandering along the picture-perfect marina with gelato in hand. You’ll soon be lost in the irresistible charm of the place.
From its thriving beachside party scene, grand hilltop fortress to it’s quaint-as-anything old town, Hvar has a little something for everyone, making it one of the most popular islands amongst the tourists visiting Croatia.
For the party-goers:
Hula Hula Beach Club is the spot to go. During the afternoon, you can indulge in seafood platters and elaborate cocktails, then as the sun goes down, dance the night away to world-renowned DJ’s. If you want to rub necks with the rich and famous, check out Carpe Diem, a classy establishment and nightclub that requires a boat to get out to this exclusive island.
For the nature-fanatics:
Outside of the main township, you’ll find vast fields of lavender, olive trees and vineyards to wander through. I would highly recommend a visit to Hora Farm in Stari Grad (which is apart of the Medsailors Discovery itinerary). Here, you can sample some incredible local wine and fresh produce overlooking a stunning vineyard.
For the thrill-seekers:
If you are a watersports fan, you’ve come to the right place. Choose from jet-skiing, tubing, stand-up paddleboarding and speed boating, all taking place on the glorious glistening waters of the town.
For the view-lovers:
For the best view in town, climb up the hill in Hvar to the town’s majestic fortress. You’ll pay a little bit of money to get inside the fortress, but once you see the view over the town from the top, you’ll see why it is 100% worth it.
The island of Korcula took me by surprise and quickly became my favourite stop on our sailing trip. You can spend hours wandering through the narrow alleyways of this glorious old town, or make a trip up to the top of the bell tower for a 360 degree panoramic view of the terracotta-roofed city from up high. A major highlight of Korcula is the very unique Massimo Cocktail Bar… I’m talking happy hour with a twist. You’ll feel like rapunzel as you climb up a ladder to the top of one of the turrets on to the Korcula Town Wall where you will find the bar located. Here, you can enjoy scrumptious cocktails, brought up to via a pulley system on the side of the tower! Once you’ve had your pina colada fix, head to the sandy beach Vela Przina at sundown with some takeaway and get lost in the gentle lapping of the waves and the clarity of the water. Then, after dark, don’t miss a night out at Boogie Jungle, a unique nightclub just outside of the city. A ranch-style establishment, you’ll find yourself partying the night away surrounded by dense Mediterranean greenery!
If there is any place in Croatia that will leave you speechless, it’s got to be Dubrovnik. From the moment you fix your eyes on the two kilometers of ancient city walls that fortify the old town, you’ll feel like you’ve transported back to medieval times. Or, more appropriately, the set of Game of Thrones. There is so much to do and see in Dubrovnik, so I would definitely recommend spending a few nights here and giving yourself lots of time to explore. Here are just a couple of highlights to tick off in Dubrovnik:
- Wandering the city’s marble streets, admiring the stunning architecture from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras
- Walk around the incredible city walls, which are now a UNESCO Heritage site
- Go cliff jumping into the shimmering azure sea
- Visit the world’s oldest working pharmacy
- Check out the original Iron Throne if you nerd out over Game of Thrones
- Take a cable car up to the top of the hill for stunning views over the city
Mljet is by far one of the most naturally beautiful islands in the Adriatic and should not be forgotten on your Croatian island hopping adventure! With most the land remaining untouched, this Mediterranean paradise is covered in rich forests, olive groves and two stunning turquoise lakes. After spending a lot of time in different towns on our sailing tour, I absolutely loved coming to a place where I could escape and feel fully immersed in nature. Hire bikes and cycle through Mjlet National Park, float on top of the salt water lakes or simply take a wander through the forest. There are a couple of basic shops and cafes along the waterfront, but besides this, the island remains mostly uninhabited.
See also: My recipe for Croatian Palačinke (mushroom & cheese crepes)
Other places to go:
Although I didn’t make it to any of the following places on my own trip, here are a few other places I would definitely recommend researching into when planning your trip to Croatia.
- Plitvice National Park– Home to Plitvice Lakes, which is one of the most amazing natural wonders in the whole of Europe
- Zagreb- Capital city of Croatia and a up-and-coming hub of culture, arts, music and gastronomy
- Pag Island– An island once only known for its unique moon-like landscape and distinctive culture has recently transformed into a popular clubbing mecca
Now all you have to do is prepare yourself for gifts that island hopping in Croatia will bring you- aka never-ending seafood, turquoise water and sun-kissed skin…
Want to explore another Mediterranean paradise? Check out my top 10 things to do in Santorini.