Top Attractions on the Dalmatian Coast

A trip to the Adriatic coastline means visits to villages carved from golden stone and walks along fortress walls that have stood guard for centuries. Out in the impossibly blue sea, craggy and forested islands—some offering peaceful escapes and some thumping with a hedonistic bass line—beckon. Once touted as the next Riviera or Ibiza, the Croatian coast instead offers visitors its own kind of vacation magic.

Highlights
Ul. od Sigurate 7, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia
A city of red-tiled rooftops, pine- and cypress-shaded hills, and sparkling turquoise waters, the Old Town of Dubrovnik stuns with both its architecture and scenery. Its surrounding stone walls, built between the 11th and 13th centuries to protect the city from war and epidemics, stretch for a full 1.3 miles, comprising an immense system of forts, bastions, and walkways that offer breathtaking views. Hike along them, then be sure to check out the Lovrijenac Fortress, built atop a 100-foot rock looking out toward Venice (Dubrovnik’s historic rival). The Old Town’s main street of Stradun, known locally as Placa, is also worth exploring. It’s especially nice in the late afternoon, when the sun shines off the historic buildings and swallows soar in the blue sky above.
26B Vukovarska ulica
One of Dubrovnik’s oldest fortresses stands atop a 100-foot rock, guarding the western land entrance to the Old Town. Vigilantly turned toward Venice, it serves as a monumental tribute to Dubrovnik’s foresight, encapsulated in the motto of the Ragusan Republic engraved above the main entryway: “We do not sell our liberty for any gold in the world.” After entering the Old Town through the Pile Gate, walk down to Kolorina Bay and climb the stairs to the fortress. Because it’s far less busy than the city walls, the theatrical space offers a more intimate way to experience Dubrovnik’s history and charm, with breathtaking views to boot.
Though it’s a stunner in its own right, the Adriatic gem of Dubrovnik achieved recent fame as a backdrop for HBO’s hugely popular series Game of Thrones, where it doubled as King’s Landing. Climb the 175 stairs up to Lovrijenac Fortress to see the site of the tournament honoring the fictional King Joffrey. A beautiful spot just outside Pile Gate played Blackwater Bay in the series. The lush 15th-century Trsteno Arboretum, 20 minutes from Dubrovnik, was used to film all the palace garden scenes. While you can do a self-guided walk (there’s a map mounted on an Old Town wall to help), the Game of Thrones tour from Calvados Club is worth the splurge. Guide Lucija Podić, who worked as a makeup artist on the show, will share insider intel you’d never get otherwise.
Lokrum, Dubrovnik, Croatia
If you’re looking to escape the tourist hubbub in Dubrovnik’s historic core, follow the locals to Lokrum. Just a 15-minute ferry ride from the Old Town, the island offers magnificent nature walks through botanical gardens and olive groves. Paths climb up to sites like the oldest Benedictine monastery in the region and Napoleon’s Fort Royal at the very top, passing native peacocks along the way. Come for a relaxing stroll, a picnic in the shade, or a refreshing dip in the sparkling Adriatic.
Ulica kralja Petra Krešimira IV, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia
In a swift four minutes, the Dubrovnik cable car will deliver you to the top of Mount Srdi for awe-inspiring views of the Old Town and Elaphite Islands. On clear days, you can even see Italy far out on the horizon. Next to the cable-car station is Napoleon’s Fort Royal, an immense stone fortress that played a strategic role in the 1992 Siege of Dubrovnik during the Croatian War of Independence. Today, the fort houses the Museum of Contemporary History, which showcases artifacts from the Dubrovnik battlefields as well as a BBC film that vividly illustrates the events of 1991 and 1992.
Stradun 21, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia
The Old Town’s main street, Stradun, also known as Placa, can’t be missed—it’s the biggest and widest of all the thoroughfares, and you will probably walk it several times during your stay here. It’s especially nice in the late afternoon, when the angle of the sun makes the pavement shine and the swallows soar overhead. Continue down to the old port and along the waterfront to the far end. Porporela Pier, built courtesy of the Austrian administration’s rule in Dubrovnik during the 19th century, is today somewhat of a lovers’ rendezvous. After your stroll, the benches along the pier provide a simple relaxing moment to take in the views of Lokrum island and Cavtat in the distance.
Nalješkovićeva ul. 3, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia
This shop is more coral sanctuary than ordinary jewelry store. In addition to selling mind-blowing designer pieces, this is the place to learn all about the Adriatic coral: where it lives, and how it is sourced, harvested, and treated to become that deep-red stone used in jewelry. You can watch this magic will happen right before your eyes if you drop in here for a chat with a member of the impressively knowledgeable staff, who will tell you everything you want to know in the time you have available. Get inspired, and then check out the pieces, some of which feature typical Dubrovnik filigree work. Like unique works of art, each item comes with a certificate of authenticity.
Ul. Ćirila Ivekovića 4, 23000, Zadar, Croatia
With Sea Organ and Sun Salutation, architect Nikola Bašić has created two spectacles that harness the beauty of Zadar’s famous sunsets. Sea Organ is a musical instrument fashioned from pipes and holes drilled through stone stairs that descend to the water. A kind of music—whistling, percussion, hypnotic sighs—is released as the sea sloshes forward and pushes air through the pipes. To grab prime seats on the steps, get there a half hour before the sun drops.

A stone’s throw away, Sun Salutation features a series of circles made from photovoltaic glass panels set into the pavement. The panels gather energy from the sun throughout the day, and come evening, lighting elements beneath the glass create a mesmerizing display that simulates the solar system. The solar energy collected by Sun Salutation also helps power the entire waterfront.
5 Poljana Grgura Ninskog
A UNESCO World Heritage site, this 1,700-year-old palace sits on the Adriatic seafront, serving as the focal point of Split. It was built by the Roman emperor Diocletian as a seaside retirement home and has served as a refuge for many a conqueror over the centuries. Today, some 2,000 locals reside within the compound’s thick walls, making it a lively urban quarter. Getting lost in the labyrinth of surrounding streets is the best way to explore downtown Split—as you meander around, you’ll stumble across lively cafés and shops tucked into millennia-old buildings. Be sure to check out the Peristil, an imperial square framed by two colonnades, where Diocletian used to address the public. Towering above the square is Split’s major landmark—a 187-foot-tall belfry that you can climb for panoramic views of town.
15 Trg Braće Radić
Running along the side of Diocletian’s Palace is the Riva, a seafront promenade lined with tall palm trees, bustling cafés, and shaded benches. Stretching from the bronze map of Split to the popular Marmontova shopping strip, it’s one of the busier places in town. Join the fashion-conscious locals gossiping over coffee at sunny cafés, or simply hang out here while you wait for your ferry to the islands.
Obala Hrvatskog narodnog preporoda 25, 21000, Split, Croatia
A stone’s throw from downtown Split, Marjan is a hilltop park about the same size as New York City’s Central Park. Known as “the lungs of the city,” it’s the ideal urban escape, offering places to run, bike, swim, and even rock-climb. A serene path through fragrant pine forests leads up to Telegrin Peak, revealing charming chapels and sweeping sea views. Along the park’s waterfront, there are also several popular beaches, Kašjuni Cove being the favorite.
One of Dalmatia’s most underrated cities, Šibenik is finally being recognized as an exciting coastal destination. Its medieval heart is a stone maze of steep alleyways dotted with charming squares and hidden cul-de-sacs, not to mention a pretty harbor and a seafront promenade lined with cafés. Crowning it all is the Cathedral of St. James, an architectural masterpiece incorporating style elements of both the Gothic and the Renaissance. The cathedral is said to be the world’s largest church built entirely of stone—most of which was quarried in the nearby Adriatic islands. Of particular note in this UNESCO World Heritage site: the frieze of 71 heads on the cathedral’s outer wall, which depicts 15th-century citizens of Šibenik with many different moods and personalities.
The most impressive ruins in the Old Town of Zadar can be found at the ancient forum, just steps from the seafront. Commissioned by the first Roman emperor, Augustus, and built between the 1st century B.C.E. and 3rd century C.E., the spectacular square offers a glimpse of life in early Zadar through its temples, porticoes, and colonnades. Walk around to find the remains of a temple dedicated to Minerva, Jupiter, and Juno; frescoes of mythological scenes; and an intact column that was repurposed as a pillory in medieval times.
Trogir, Croatia
If you want to encounter Croatia from a unique angle, Secret Dalmatia is the tour company for you. Their menu of offerings features a diversity of custom experiences, from taking cooking classes with a charismatic home chef in her private 13th-century palace on Trogir’s ancient harbor to chartering a private boat for an exploration of the Kornati Islands (which are only accessible by water). Secret Dalmatia’s guided hiking or cycling trips through the region’s hinterland, with its rugged canyons and emerald-green lakes, are a great way to get off the beaten path and truly experience Croatia.
A former military base for the Yugoslav National Army, the island of Vis was closed to foreigners for decades. Today, however, it’s one of Croatia’s best-kept secrets, mainly for its beaches, food, and history. Book a tour with Vis Special and explore the island’s old military sites, abandoned when the army left suddenly in 1992. The tours take in everything from rocket shelters and bunkers to weapon-storage halls and “parking lots” (read: tunnels) for submarines. They also stop at the former communications headquarters for the Yugoslavian secret service (which are dug into a mountain) and Tito’s Cave (where the erstwhile Yugoslav president hid during World War II). Lest this all sound grim, know that these sites occupy some of the most gorgeous spots on the island.
Trg Sv. Stjepana 42, 21450, Hvar, Croatia
If Dubrovnik is the Pearl of the Adriatic then Hvar Town is Mini Pearl. It has everything to offer that Dubrovnik has but on a far smaller scale. Hvar Town is a picturesque little town located on the southwestern coast of Hvar Island. The heart of the town is the Pjaca (Piazza). At one end is the town’s cathedral, at the other end is the bay and all around are shops, art galleries and plenty of restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating to soak in the wonderful weather. There’s even a small park, near the Pjaca that has bench seating that you can plop yourself down on and catch views of the bay and the sea beyond. We took the catamaran ferry from Split to Stari Grad which is located on the northern end of Hvar Island. Ferries are also available directly to Hvar Town. Information on the ferry service can be found at http://www.jadrolinija.hr/default.aspx?lang=2. From Split, it’s a two hour ferry ride. From Stari Grad, there’s a bus that goes to Hvar Town. The thirty minute bus ride from Stari Grad to Hvar Town passes through the scenic hillsides of Hvar Island with the sparkling turquoise colored waters of the Adriatic Sea providing the backdrop.
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