Whisper it quietly, but Stari Grad on Hvar is one of the rising stars of Croatian tourism, quietly building a luxury tourism offer to match its very own UNESCO World Heritage Site and fascinating 2,400 year history.
- Welcome to Faros!
- How to get to Stari Grad and get around
- 5 things not to miss
- Where to stay?
- Where to eat?
- Top 5 day trips from Stari Grad
- 5 things you didn’t know about Stari Grad
- Stari Grad for Kids
- More information
Hvar Town may be the glitzy cousin on the island these days, but what is modern-day Stari Grad is where the island’s urban life began, after the Ancient Greeks from the island of Paros found a very deep bay which provided shelter for their ships some 2,400 years ago. They named the new settlement Faros, after their native island, bringing with them olive trees and vines.
They planted in the fertile soil next to the harbour in what is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stari Grad Plain. It was the start of a fascinating history of this gorgeous old town (Stari Grad literally means ‘Old Town’). The town has long offered a cultured, historic and much more chilled alternative to Hvar Town, with a strong focus on excellent gastronomy.
If you are looking for chilled and authentic Dalmatia with a bit of quality at an affordable price, there are few better options than Stari Grad.
There is actually an airfield in the Stari Grad Plain, but it is available for helicopters and light aircraft only. There are no commercial flights. Most air arrivals come to Split Airport. The TC airport guide explains how to get the onward connection to the ferry to Stari Grad. Other options are Zadar Airport and Dubrovnik Airport, from where you can connect to Hvar by road or boat.
Many tourists drive to Hvar, and with Stari Grad just off the ferry, you are almost home as you disembark. Getting to the ferry is simple enough. The majority arrive from the north and the main A1 Zagreb to Split motorway. Exit at the Split signpost at Dugopolje and head to the centre. Then follow signs for the ferry (Trajektna Luka), and you are only a 2-hour ferry ride from heaven. Alternatively you can come from Dubrovnik and the south. Here is a guide on how to get from Dubrovnik to Split.
The majority of tourists arrive by boat, and the main hub for ferry traffic is Stari Grad itself. The ferry terminal used to be in the town, but these days lies about 1 km out of town. Buses meet every ferry and take you to Stari Grad bus station. But you can also walk if you do not have too much luggage.
The Stari Grad ferry goes all year, with 3 sailings in the winter schedule (October to late May). There are several more crossings in the summer season. The journey time from Split to Stari Grad is 2 hours. For a full range of options about getting from Split to the island, check out the detailed TC Split to Hvar guide.
Private Boat Transfers
Alternatively, you might be looking for a little more comfort and privacy, or in the market for a speedboat tour. Nikola of Nostress Boats offers an outstanding and competitive service for fast, efficient transfers, as well as some truly excellent day trips aboard his boat. Learn more on the Nostress Boats website.
Everything within the town is walkable, and you do not need a car to enjoy Stari Grad itself. The local bus service has a reasonable network of connections to other main settlements if you want to explore on a day trip. Car hire is readily available on the island, and it is often a better option that renting on the mainland. Apart from the cost and wait of bringing a car across, you may only want to hire for 1-2 days. Scooters are a very popular way to get around the island. You can hire one at several outlets in the town.
Croatia’s only island UNESCO World Heritage Site
While some empires rise and fall, the impact of the Ancient Greeks is very much still felt today. On arrival, they took control of a very fertile plain next to their new capital, dividing it into equal plots and introducing things for which Hvar is famous today – quality wine and quality olive oil. And 2400 years later, that fertile plain, nurtured by the Greeks, is one of Croatia’s eleven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Stari Grad Plain. It is one of Hvar’s great untapped tourism jewels, and it only took me 8 years of living here to realise it exisited. Take a tour of the history in the video above.
Tvrdalj of Petar Hektorovic
The top attraction in Stari Grad is the Hektorović Tvrdalj, the ‘castle’ built by one of Croatia’s most famous poets, Petar Hektorović (1487 – 1572). Situated at the back of the largest square in the town, close to the court, Hektorović built an original legacy, and carved pithy and witty sayings in stone around the building in Latin, Italian and Croatian. The entrance bears the inscription: “Petar Hectorović, son of Marino, at his own expense and by his own effort built this for the use of himself and his friends.”
With a long sea-facing wall preventing it from attack and intrusion, entering the courtyard is something of a surprise, and includes a large fishpool and herb garden. The main gardens have gradually been replanted over the last twenty-odd years with an astonishing variety of Mediterranean plants. Horses often graze in the paddocks alongside the gardens. There is a display of historical tools and agricultural equipment in an enclosed area to one side, and one can climb up a small tower nearby to look over the property. The house itself, which boasts one of the earliest indoor toilets in Europe, is not open to the public, but the gardens and fishpond are a delight to visit, especially in summer, when they are a refreshing oasis of shady peace to shelter in.
For such a small town (the permanent population was less than 1800 at the last census), Stari Grad has an incredibly vibrant cultural scene. In addition to several excellent museums, two theatres (and two fabulous amateur theatre groups) and a host of other cultural activities, the male voices of Stari Grad are known throughout the land, and if you ever get the chance to hear the Faros Kantaduri, don’t miss them. For a taster, check them out in the video above.
Days of the Bay
In 2016, a new festival came to Stari Grad, called Dani u Vali (Days in the Bay). Normally taking place in September in non-COVID times, Days in the Bay is an outstanding 4-day celebration of the very best of Dalmatia, with a focus on the sea and traditional boats.
More than 100 traditional boats attend, and there are many events on land and sea. These include concerts, workshops, exhibitions, fireworks and the Dancing of the Sails. The gastronomic options are worth the visit alone.
The sunsets in Dalmatia are magnificent pretty much wherever you are, but Stari Grad does them as well as anywhere. The open view out to the deep Stari Grad bay is the perfect backdrop for a setting sun. So grab an ice cream and walk along the picturesque riva watching the orange ball slowly sink to the horizon. Feeling romantic? Head to Lanterna beach, a short walk from the old town.
My personal tip for the very best sunset? Drive to the top of Kabal Peninsula (about 12 km). You will see a sign for a tunnel. Here you will find some tunnels ordered by Tito to defend the island. They lie at the very top of the entrance to the bay. A perfect location to defend Stari Grad from attack. An even better place to observe a magnificent sunset with a picnic.
Other things worth checking out
The impressive Biankini Palace, home of Stari Grad Museum, was the Neo-Renaissance family home of the Biankini Brothers and dates back to 1896. In the garden there is a Deodar Cedar which is as old as the building itself.
Right at the back of the old town is the impressive Dominican monastery of St. Petar Mucenik which was founded in 1482, and then fortified with two rounded turrets in 1682 following the Turkish attack on the island. Here Hekorovic is buried, along with his mother, and his words are carved in stone above the church entrance.
There is an impressive array of art on display, of which the most valuable is The Mourning of Christ by Venetian artist Jacopo Tintoretto, and the oldest inscriptions in Croatia, written in Greek from the 4th to 2nd Centuries, are preseved in the small museum.
St Stephen’s Church
St. Stephen’s is a baroque church built after the old cathedral and bishop’s court had been destroyed. Construction started in 1605, with the main façade thought to have been built by Ivan Pomenic from Korcula, who also constructed the current cathedral in Hvar Town. The interior is decorated with works by various Venetian artists.
St. Jerolim’s Church
On the other side of the harbour, the pretty St. Jerolim juts out into the water. Hermit friars – the emerites – lived in what is now one of the island’s best restaurants (Ermitaz) and the medieval church is now an art gallery.
Ten years ago, finding quality accommodation was a real issue. The main hotels were of 2 and 3-star quality and had not seen much investment since the war, and the private accommodation offer was a fraction of what it is today.
The first significant statement of intent that things might change came with the renovation of Apolon, a beautiful historic stone renovation at the end of the recently expanded riva. The 7 luxury rooms and accompanying excellent restaurant (the first on the island to enter the Michelin Guide) had high-paying guests relocating from Hvar Town in search of a more peaceful setting.
Since then, the accommodation scene in Stari Grad has only gone in one direction. There are now a number of 4-star private accommodation options. But the real story is in the development of the hotel scene.
When Maslina Resort opened its doors in the middle of the pandemic in August, 2020, it became the second 5-star hotel on Hvar, and only the 4th on any Croatian island. Located in an idyllic bay on the other side of the ferry, it has quickly established a reputation as one of the top places on the Adriatic for a luxury experience, attracting plenty of column inches in the travel media around the globe.
The troubled Helios Group, which owned the tired flagship hotels, was taken over by leading Croatian hotel group, Valamar. They are now in the process of renovating the portfolio, starting with Hotel Lavanda. This hotel reopened in 2021 as the 4-star Hvar (Places Hotel).
Four Seasons announced a 140-million euro investment to open a luxury resort in Brizenica Bay, just outside the town, but this is now looking increasingly unlikely.
Stari Grad has an excellent gourmet scene, one which seems to improve year on year. It is also the one town on the island which has a good selection of places to eat all through the year, as Jelsa and Hvar almost close down. One of the many charms of Stari Grad and its delightful old town is how its art galleries, cafes and restaurants blend into the millennia of history. It has been a while since I checked out the food in the town, but a foodie local resident offered this selection as the top places to eat.
Kod Barba Luke
Superbly located by the water to take in those famous sunsets, Kod Barba Luke is a local institution. Located in a stone house dating back to 1643, it was the first restaurant to open in the old town back in 1970. The restaurant is still run by the same family, whose seafood and customer service are but two of many reasons to give Kod Barba Luke. a try
One of the cosiest restaurants in Dalmatia, as well as one of the healthiest. Many people stumble across Jurin Podrum while wandering through the maze of streets in the historic old town, and few regret the find. An emphasis on fresh, fresh, fresh, whether it be catch of the day, or the vegetables sourced from the restaurant garden, the Podrum chef’s creations evoke the taste of truly authentic Dalmatia.
For location, rustic environment and traditional local fare, it is hard to better Ermitaz. Located on the water opposite the old town, its waterfront location and natural setting in pine trees make it a desirable location to while away an afternoon in the company of good food, wine and service.
Unpretentious, good food, friendly service & local ingredients internationally-inspired to create your favourite meal & memories. Look 4 da NOOK & let us get you hooked! Variety of Vegetarian and Vegan dishes available, special dietary requests welcome. Deservedly number 1 on Tripadvisor at time of writing.
A Stari Grad legend, and the very best place for a chat, gossip and the finest local food, Kod Damira is a must-visit if you are looking for affordable quality Dalmatian fare. The daily ‘marenda’ dishes are well worth the visit.
A relatively new addition which is winning hearts and minds with its excellent service and inspiring menu and the freshest local ingredients. Ideally located close to the water in the shade but with superb harbour view. Good family option. Number 2 on TripAdvisor.
Great fish restaurant with excellent cuisine and internationally renowned chef in the heart of the old town. Very friendly and friendly atmosphere in a very pleasant, Mediterranean atmosphere with overgrown terrace.
Hvar Town and Pakleni Islands
There is no question which is the most popular destination on the island – Hvar Town and the nearby Pakleni Islands. One of the great destinations on the Adriatic, Stari Grad is the perfect place to be based for a visit. And after the visit, you can return to the tranquil oasis of calm of the island’s first capital.
There are regular buses between the two, and the drive by car will take you about 25 minutes. Want to know what makes Hvar Town so special? Check out the TC Hvar Town in a Page guide.
Jelsa and Vrboska
Stari Grad is the biggest settlement in central Hvar, but there are others worth visiting. Jelsa is the next biggest town, set in a very pretty harbour and with a VERY relaxed pace of life. Lots to see and do here, especially if you like beaches. And wine, for Jelsa is the Dalmatian wine capital, with several leading producers in and around the town. Learn more in the TC Jelsa in a Page guide.
A very pleasant 3km walk along the coast from Jelsa in the direction of Stari Grad is the pretty fishing village of Vrboska, affectionately known as Little Venice after its short canal. Home to the island’s ACI marina, the old town is gorgeous, and dominated by it unique fortress church. Learn more in 25 things to know about Vrboska.
So many visitors to Hvar miss the magic of Split completely. On arrival, they are dashing from the airport to make the ferry. And then on the way back, their focus is getting to the airport on time.
Split is a pleasant two-hour ferry ride from Stari Grad (and if the weather is good, the views on the open-top deck are unbeatable), and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Diocletian’s Palace, is right next to your arrival point. There is a lot more to Split than the palace, however. Find out more in the TC Split in a Page guide.
Zlatni Rat in Bol
Alternatively, why not check out a speedboat tour with Stari Grad specialists, Nostress Boats? One popular nearby destination is Croatia’s most iconic beach, Zlatni Rat in Bol on Brac. Spend the day on the beach and wandering around Bol. And don’t miss the wine tasting at Stina in the centre of town.
Southside beach heaven
Hvar has plenty of outstanding beaches of its own of course, and many locals say that the best are on the south of the island. Take a drive through the Pitve Tunnel and discover southside beach, wine and adventure tourism heaven. The resorts of Zavala, Ivan Dolac and Sveta Nedelja have excellent beaches, while the wines of Zlatan Otok and the outstanding climbing in Sveta Nedelja are additional reasons to visit.
An abdicating British king came for lunch at Jurin Podrum
Hvar Town may be the celebrity hang out these days, but it was not always the case. An early celeb visitor to Stari Grad back in 1936 was the abdicating British king, Edward VIII and his American wife, Wallace Simpson. They lunched at Jurin Podrum, an excellent family restaurant which has been run by the same family since 1917 in the heart of the old town.
Mrs. JFK went waterskiing in Stari Grad bay, guarded by a Tito patrol boat
There was a more flamboyant celebrity visit in 1964, as Jacqueline Kennedy came to visit, accompanied by a Yugoslav patrol boat sent by Tito. Among other activities the former First Lady got up to was water-skiing in Stari Grad bay.
Returning to roots: the Faros to Paros voyage
In 2003, a rather unusual expedition was organised to retrace the steps of the Ancient Greeks all those years ago – a voyage in a traditional sailboat, from ‘Faros to Paros’, Faros being the name the Greeks gave to what is today Stari Grad, close as it sounded to their native island of Paros. The voyage included taking gifts including vines and olive trees which had brought som much prosperity and goodness to the residents of Hvar, and which had originally come from Paros in 384 BC. There is a documentary on the journey (in Croatian) which you can watch here.
Lampedusa and the 150-year sardine connection
Stari Grad has a proud sailing tradition, including some rather unusual features, including a strong connection with the island of Lampedusa, as explained by the local tourist board:
Around 150 years ago, Tomažo Bonaparte, a Hvar ship-owner, went looking for sardines and arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa, not far from the African coast.
After they heard about the successful fishing there, other Hvar ship-owners followed in his footsteps in the years that followed. The sailboat fleet sailed to Lampedusa every year, until autumn 1905 when the last Hvar sailboat “Giorgio”, captained by Frano Maroević from Stari Grad returned to the island of Hvar.
On Lampedusa, they organized sardine fishing, salted them and put them into wooden barrels transporting them in their ships to Black Sea ports and the eastern Mediterranean, where they sold them and returned to the island loaded mainly with corn. Some of them remained on Lampedusa and their descendants still live there and they have a special name – papor.
Devolved Parliament: the Ministry of Other People’s Affairs
Thought the seat of power was in Zagreb?
Welcome to the Ministry of Other People’s Affairs, perhaps the first de-centralised ministry not based in Zagreb. Order yourself a rakija or bevanda at Bistro Kod Damira on the entrance of Stari Grad and join in the conversation.
“We worry about business which is not our own. Who was where and what were they doing, who was drunk, who earns what, who has caught fish, planted olives, picked grapes and who is sleeping with who.” explained Minister Damir Čavić.
Bistro Kod Damira, which is open all year, certainly attracts an eclectic crowd of Bohemians (and not so Bohemians), and is a favourite place for many locals and visitors alike. It is also superbly located as an observation and gossip point for such a ministry.
Beaches of Stari Grad
The Stari Grad bay has more than 40 beaches, bays and coves, a mixture of sandy, pebble and rocky. Many are accessible only by boat, so hire your own boat for the day and discover your own private beach.
The Lanterna and Bonj beaches are either side of the town, but for some of the best beaches away from the crowds, explore the Kabal Peninsula north of the town. The 12km-long peninsula is littered with gorgeous coves, man of which are accessible by car but rarely visited. Zhukova, close to the Rudine villages is the most popular.
Stari Grad is a GREAT destination for kids. Not only because the pedestrianised old town is free of cars and therefore much safer, as well as the child-friendly beaches, but also due to a rich programme of kids events and activities throughout the summer.
The town has one of the most proactive and constructive summer programmes for kids on the coast. Choose between Little Town Pharos, Summer Music School, Creative Workshops, Little Sailing School, and Little School of Swimming and Water Polo. Learn more.
For more information, check out the official Stari Grad Tourist Board website.
To follow the latest news from Stari Grad, check out the dedicated TCN page.