You have more than 1,000 Croatian islands to choose from: which one is for you? An overview, practical advice and hidden tips from a Brit who lived for 13 years on a Croatian island.
- Croatian islands: an overview
- Before you start: what island experience are you looking for?
- Croatian islands and accessibility
- Cres and Losinj
- The Kornati islands
- Vis and Bisevo (Blue Cave)
- Elaphiti Islands
- Palagruza and Jabuka, the final frontier
Croatia, the land of more than a thousand islands, endless coastline and more beaches than you can sun worship on in a lifetime. Truly The Mediterranean as It Once Was. But how many islands exactly, and which one to choose for your holiday?
As with most things in live Croats cannot agree on how many islands they have. Some promotional literature says 1,244, while others cite 1,185 as the true number. One thing is for sure however; if you are looking for a holiday with some company, your choice just became a lot easier. That is because less than 50 are inhabited these days.
And there is plenty to see and enjoy on the inhabited islands, whose attractions vary considerably. Choose from more established tourist destinations such as Losinj, Krk, Pag and Korcula, or head for the blissful serenity of distant Lastovo or Susak. Whichever island experience you are looking for, you will find it in Croatia. Let’s take a look!
Before jumping and booking your ferry tickets, it makes sense to step back and consider what kind of island experience you are looking for. Croatian islands offer such different experiences that you can easily end up disappointed when your perfect island was just along the Adriatic.
Party tourism is on the rise, and the undoubted leader in this regard is Pag, with its famous beach at Zrce near Novalja. And yet the same island offers the tranquillity of the ancient olive groves of Lun. Similarly, Hvar Town in peak season has become a popular party destination, but head 3 kilmotres out of town to the peaceful village of Velo Grablje, and you are in a different culture and a previous lifetime.
Some come for the beaches, some come for the nightlife, some come just to relax. A growing number, however, are looking to pack in as much into that holiday as possible, which means you need to understand one important thing – the realities of the ease of island hopping.
Having lived on a Dalmatian for 13 years, I have learned a thing or two about accessibilty and the importance of the ferry timetable.
An idyllic island holiday booked back home doesn’t look quite so spectacular close up after you have arrived at the ferry from the airport, only to realise that the last ferry has gone.
Similarly, rough weather causing the cancellation of the early morning catamaran which is essential to you making the return flight can be an expensive happening.
If you are travelling to Croatian islands, you should have at least a small thought to the topic of accessibility. Renting a car – it might be cheaper to do so on the island (read more about the pros and cons).
Some islands are very close to the mainland and make for great day trips (Brac and Solta, for example – ferry time under an hour. Others, such as Ciovo and Krk, are connected by bridge, making things even easier. But there are plenty of islands where you will spend much of the day on the ferry. So do a little research and find out which is the ideal solution for you.
The other important consideration is how easy it is to island hop. Moving from island to island is very popular, but it only makes sense if the ferry and catamaran timetables suit your needs. Sadly, in many cases in Croatia, they don’t especially if you are driving.
With all that in mind, where are the most interesting islands to visit? A brief overview below, from North to South…
The assertion that Croatian islands are full of diversity is proven after 5 minutes on the most important and most northern islands – Brijuni.
You didn’t expect to find zebras, Shetland ponies and an elephant roaming around Croatian islands? Not only that but Brijuni hosted no less than 60 world leaders in the last century, including Arafat, Ghadaffi and other tasty characters.
For Brijuni, a spectacular archepelago a short ferry ride from the Istrian peninsula, was the main base for President Tito until his death in 1980. It makes for one highly fascinating visit.
There are not many places in Croatia where you can fly directly to Venice, just one of the new connections to Losinj Airport. The Island of Vitality has undergone a luxury transformation in recent years, and Mali Losinj is not one of the top island destinations on the Adriatic. Don’t miss the Museum of Apoxyomenos. Learn more about Losinj.
Losinj is also connected by a very short bridge to Cres, another natural heaven and home to the rare Eurasian griffon, which you can visit at the Beli eco-centre. Find out more about the island of Cres.
Many tourists are surprised at the lack of sandy beaches in Croatia, a coastline where rocky and pebble beaches reigh supreme. There are exceptions, however, and the small island of Susak, a little to the west of Losinj and Cres, is one. It is a fascinating island, full of tradition. Among its many claims to fame is the fact that its traditional dress boasts the shortest skirt in Croatia. It was also sadly a huge centre of emigration. TCN took a closer look at the history and culture of Susak.
If you are looking for an island with connectivity, look no further than Krk. Home to Rijeka Airport, Krk is also connected to the mainland by a bridge. With the expansion of the Croatian motorway network, Krk is not just 2 hours by car from Zagreb. This makes it a very popular island for Zagreb locals to escape to, and many have weekend houses there. The main stone town, also called Krk, is beautiful, but make some time to also visit Vrbnik and the Zlahtina vineyards of the island’s famous indigenous variety. It is also a gourmet island, and it won’t be long before you are indulging in the local speciality, surlice.
Among Rab’s more unusual claims to fame is that one of its sons founded San Marino, while an abdicating British monarch started the culture of naturist tourism while on a visit to Rab in 1936. After lunch one day, Edward and Mrs Simpson asked for and received permission to go skinny dipping in a local bay. It is an event which marks the start of FKK tourism in Croatia, a very important aspect of Croatian tourism today. Known as the Happy Island and famed for its churches, get to know Rab a little better.
I doubt I will ever visit an island with as much diversity as Pag. it means so many things to so many people. Looking to party at a festival? Novalja and Zrce beach is the Mecca of the Croatian partying on the coast in summer. World class cheese? Pop in to Gligora, the Pag company regularly named as producing the world’s best cheese.
The best lamb on the spit in Croatia? That would be Pag. The most impressive olive grove in the country? Show me one more majestic than the 1,000 olive trees more than 1,000 years old in Lun. An island which has its own UFO landing site, UNESCO lace production and fascinating salt production history? That would be Pag. Learn more about this unusual island close to Zadar and connected by bridge to the mainland.
Having lived for so long on the lush Dalmatian island of Hvar for so long, I was never particularly interested in the Kornati islands. They seemed so barren by comparison, and yet I heard so many great stories from people who had visited. Especially those who were sailing through its national parks. Hidden bays, tiny rustic restaurants, some of the best lamb in the world. By the time I was an hour into my first visit, I was hooked. I didn’t record my first impressions, but a Croatian TCN colleague did – beautifully written. And if you are looking for a restaurant suggestion, few meals surpassed this celebration at Festa on Zut.
One of Croatia’s most underrated islands, Solta lies just 50 minutes by ferry from Split. It suffers in the spotlight of its more glamorous neighbours, Hvar and Brac, and much fewer tourists visit.
They are missing out on a truly authentic experience on an island famed for its quality olive oil and honey, while its Dobrocic grape variety is related to Zinfandel. Here are 25 things to know about the gorgeous island of Solta.
Croatia’s tallest island and also one of its more accessible and popular, Brac has so much to offer. Just an hour by ferry from Split and with direct flights from 7 European countries, its famous island stone is visible in many landmark buildings around the world, including The White House, Budapest Parliament and Diocletian’s Palace.
But there is so much more to Brac than its stone. The mysterious Dragon’s Cave, stunning Blaca Monastery and the ancient village of Skrip are just three. Add to that fabulous food, wine and olive oil, and there is plenty to entice in the Total Croatia Brac in a Page.
For many, simply one of the most beautiful islands on the planet. And an island full of riches. Often called the sunniest island in Europe, home to the oldest public theatre in Europe and the birthplace of organised tourism in Europe, Hvar also has more UNESCO heritage than any island in the world. And that is just the start! Take a close look at Croatia’s premier island with the Total Croatia Hvar in a Page.
Arguably one of Croatia’s most fascinating and beloved islands, Vis swapped its status of closed military island until 1991 for film location for Hollywood blockbuster Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again in 2017. Among its most bizarre claims is that it is the home to cricket in Europe outside the UK (way back in 1809). Add to that its close proximity to one of Dalmatia’s top attractions – the Blue Cave on Bisevo – and it is not hard to realise why this once sleepy island is becoming an international hit. Learn more on the Total Croatia Vis in a Page.
Whatever temped Marco Polo to abandon this Dalmatian paradise is not known, but it is doubtful he found many more beautiful spots on his colourful journeys along the Silk Road and beyond.
Home to the delicious Grk and Posip white wines, Korcula is a natural haven which is concentrating on quality tourism, based on its natural beauty, culture, heritage, gastronomy and adventure tourism. Learn more about the island which was the first place to abolish slavery way back in the 13th century with the Total Croatia Korcula in a Page.
In a competition for most beautiful island with unspoiled nature, few would beat the green paradise that is the island of Mljet. With more than half of the island given over to the Mljet National Park with its endless green forests and two saltwater lakes, Mljet offers some of the best nature in Croatia. Both St Paul and Odysseus were shipwrecked here, and they could not have found a more divine island. Mljet’s accessibility has improved considerably in recent years. In addition to the regular ferries, a daily seasonal catamaran also connects it to Dubrovnik, Korcula, Hvar, Brac and Split. Find out more about magical Mljet.
Few inhabited Croatian islands are as remote, or as stunning, as Lastovo. The island’s distance from the mainland has made it somewhat independent and producing its own cultural traditions. The fascinating Lastovo Carnival, for example, is one of the most famous and unique in Croatia. Lastovo breathes nature and tranquillity, and must of the island is given over to the Nature Park in the video above. Connected daily to the mainland by ferry and catamaran (no, this one is not advisable for a day trip, come for a minimum of a couple of days and chill), don’t miss the outstanding lobster and other seafood. Here is what you can expect on Lastovo.
In Dubrovnik and looking to escape the crowds? Help is at hand! The Pearl of the Adriatic can get very busy in summer, but thankfully there are several less busy Croatian islands which are easily accessible by regular boat.
The Elaphiti islands are a collection of islands in front of the famous city, with a total population of around 850. They take their name from the deer which used to roam there, and the three main islands of Sipan, Lopud and Kolocep all offer unique charms to their growing number of visitors. Learn more in the TCN overview of the Elaphiti islands.
And then there are the tourists looking for something extra remote. Islands which are almost totally inaccessible, and yet which can be reached. The closest of the Croatian islands to Italy is Jabuka, a lump of volcanic rock and impossible to visit. Closer and only ever so slightly more attainable is Palagruza. The famous and remote lighthouse island has a resident donkey to keep the lighthouse keeper. Want to visit? It helps if you are dating the lighthouse keeper, as one TCN correspondent was, with hilarious written memories of the experience.
Looking for something quirky during your island stay? Here are 25 things you would never expect to find on a Croatian island. Some of them are VERY unusual!