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Things to Do in Croatia

Croatia combines a spectacular, island-dotted Mediterranean coastline with ancient history and farm-to-table cuisine. Sun-and-sand seekers can find pebbled beaches lined with pristine waters along the Dalmatian Coast from Split, while those in search of luxury hotels, fine dining, and chic parties head for Dubrovnik or the island of Hvar—arguably Croatia’s glitziest beach destination. But the coastal towns are not without their cultural highlights: In Split, the ruined Diocletian’s Palace makes up half the town and boasts ancient Roman monuments every bit as impressive as those in Rome; and the compact Old City of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking tours of these historic sites cover the main highlights while providing insider information from a guide. Plus in the capital, Zagreb, sightseeing tours lead travelers on foot or by bike or vehicle through neighborhoods such as Donji Grad (Lower Town) and Gornji Grad (Upper Town) to landmarks including Jelacic Square and St. Mark’s Church. Nature lovers can visit Plitvice Lakes National Park, a forest reserve containing 16 interconnected lakes, on a day trip from Zadar, Zagreb, or Split. And adventure-seekers thrill at the hiking, rock climbing, rafting, and biking opportunities available in the inland Dinaric Alps, craggy karst peaks that stretch from Italy to Albania. For a true taste of Croatia, take a day trip to the wine-producing Pelješac peninsula or Konavle Valley (both around an hour’s drive from Dubrovnik), where much of Dalmatia’s wine, olive oil, and fresh produce is harvested.
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Dubrovnik Old Town
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The medieval core of Dubrovnik and the focal point of most city itineraries, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site, made up of a warren of limestone-paved streets and painstakingly restored medieval architecture. The pedestrianized center is still surrounded by its 15th-century fortification walls and walking along the ramparts provides expansive views over the town.

Navigating the labyrinth of the Old Town unveils many of the city’s most impressive buildings, now flanked by an array of modern shops, restaurants and hotels. Highlights include the reconstructed gothic-renaissance Rector’s Palace; the baroque-style Cathedral of the Assumption, built in the 18th-century; and the landmark Bell Tower, which looms 31 meters over Luza Square. Don’t miss a stroll along the main thoroughfare of Stradun Street, a tour of the Franciscan Monastery and Museum and a visit to the striking 16th-century Sponza Palace.

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St. Lawrence Fortress (Fort Lovrijenac)
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Perched on a 37-meter cliff top jutting out into the Adriatic Sea, it’s easy to see how the dramatic Fort Lovrijenac earned itself the nicknamed of ‘Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar’. The mighty stone fortress is one of Dubrovnik’s most recognizable landmarks, looming over the western gate to the walled Old Town and providing a striking backdrop to the annual Dubrovnik Summer Festival.

Immortalized on-screen as part of the fictional King’s Landing in HBO’s hit fantasy drama, Game of Thrones, Fort Lovrijenac has further cemented its place at the top of tourist itineraries and few views are as breathtaking as looking out over the coastal city from the cliff top ramparts. Built in the 11th century, the fortress was once an impenetrable stronghold, with its 12-meter thick sea walls and infamous 3,000kg bronze ‘Guster’ cannon.

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Dubrovnik Ancient City Walls
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Dubrovnik’s Old Town is completely surrounded by enormous stone walls that date back to the 10th century. Up to 6m (19ft) thick and 2.5m (8ft) high in places, Dubrovnik's Ancient City Walls were built to protect the city and deter would-be invaders.

You can walk along the entire (2km/1.2mi) length of the ancient walls today and it is one of the best ways to appreciate the majesty of the Old Town (and get some great views over the Adriatic sea). There are 2 towers and 2 forts incorporated into the walls that were built and/or strengthened in the 15th century to bolster the city’s defences. The Minceta Tower protects the city’s northern edge; the Bokar Tower protects Pile Gate (the city’s main entrance); Lovrjenac Fort protects the west, and the Revelin Fort protects the eastern entrance.

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Pile Gate
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Pile Gate is a grand entrance into Dubrovnik’s Old Town, on its western wall.

Built in 1537 to protect the city from invaders and monitor trade, Pile Gate was originally reached via a wooden drawbridge, which was raised every evening, the gate locked and the key handed to the prince in an elaborate ceremony.

Pile Gate has an outer and inner gate with statues of St. Blaise, the city’s patron saint. The St. Blaise statue in the niche of the interior arch is the handiwork 20th-century Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. You’ll also find an old door here that dates back to 1460.

As you pass over the stone bridge towards the outer gate you’ll notice a green space below. This space used to be the moat, another defense mechanism to deter those who wished to infiltrate the city.

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Elafiti Islands (Elaphites)
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A cluster of isles and islands found along the Dalmatian Coast, the Elafiti Islands are one of Croatia’s most popular destinations and make an easy day trip from nearby Dubrovnik. Fourteen islands make up the small archipelago, but only the largest three - Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan – are inhabited and linked by ferry and taxi-boat to the mainland, making them the focal point of island hopping tours.

Despite their popularity among day-trippers, the trio of islands remain largely unaffected by the spoils of tourism, dotted with a mere handful of hotels and maintaining many car-free roads. Koločep benefits from being the nearest island to Dubrovnik, celebrated for its dramatic coastal cliffs, tranquil pebble beaches and shaded olive groves, whereas neighboring Lopud is best known for its well-preserved 11th century Benedictine monastery, 16th-century churches and sandy Šunj beach.

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Elaphite Islands
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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.

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Ban Jelacic Square (Trg Bana Jelacica)
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The living heart around which Zagreb beats, Jelačić Square was built in the mid-19th century when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it marks the boundary between Gornji Grad and Kapitol (both in the Upper Town) and Donji Grad (Lower Town). The huge, paved piazza is named after a military leader of the 19th century, whose equestrian statue by Austrian sculptor Anton Dominick Ritter von Fernkorn was erected in 1866; it has great sentimental value to the Croatian people as it was removed from the square in 1947 by the Communists, and only replaced in 1990 during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Surrounded by elegant Baroque buildings – many swathed in advertising hoardings – the vast square is crossed by several of the city’s great boulevards, including Illica and Radićeva. It is lined with bars and cafés that move outdoors in the summer, when locals and visitors jostle for space with buskers, beggars and the trams that constantly rattle around its perimeter.

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Dubrovnik Cable Car
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Dubrovnik’s distinctive orange cable cars speed 778 m (2,552.5 ft) in around three minutes to the top of Mount Srđ from the Lower Station positioned just north of the sturdy walls of the city. Opened in 1969, the cable car was destroyed during the Balkan Wars of Independence in the 1990s but was reopened in 2010; today it serves up to 2.5 million visitors each year who make the journey to enjoy the peerless views across the terracotta rooftops of Dubrovnik, the indented coastline of Dalmatia and the island archipelagos sprinkled across the Adriatic Sea. Sitting at 405 m (1,328.75 ft) above sea level, the scenic viewpoints around the upper cable car station on Mount Srđ are popular local spots for weddings; there’s a souvenir shop selling Dalmatian olive oils and landscape paintings plus the Panorama restaurant, serving up delicious Croatian dishes along with its far-reaching views; book an early-evening table in advance to enjoy the spectacular sunset sliding into the sea.

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Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje)
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On your visit to the coastal Croatian city of Zadar, follow the sound of music to find your way to what is arguably the city’s most popular sight. And it’s not just any music, but rather ocean-made melodies produced by a sea organ, or morske orgulje. The massive underground instrument is composed of 35 organ pipes, which play musical chords prompted by wind and waves from the sea. The result is a haunting harmony of tunes that lures visitors to the coast to commune a bit with nature.

The wave-played instrument was opened in 2005, and was created to give new life to this stretch of peninsular coastline, which had fallen into a rather unloved state after the Second World War. Now locals and out-of-towners alike flock to the harmonic marble steps — where the sounds are pushed through the stone surface via holes — to watch one of the best sunsets around, and while listening to a soundtrack produced by nature itself.

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More Things to Do in Croatia

Dolac Market

Dolac Market

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Lotrscak Tower

Lotrscak Tower

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Marking midday with a single shot from the famous Grič cannon since the late 19th century, Lotrščak Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Zagreb’s historic Gornji Grad (Upper Town). It was built into the defense walls of the original 13th-century settlement of Gradec and closed every night at sundown; reputedly those who were left outside the walls overnight were in grave danger of being robbed.

As Gradec was gradually absorbed into present-day Zagreb, the use of Lotrščak Tower changed and down the centuries it has been a prison, a warehouse, a fire station and even a billiards club. The tower has been extended upwards since the 13th century; today the square, five-story tower houses an art gallery but most people visit to scale the spiral staircase up to the observation post to catch a glimpse of the bright tiles on the roof of St Mark’s Church and gaze out across the parks and Baroque mansions of Zagreb’s Donji Grad (Lower Town).

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Rector's Palace (Knezev Dvor)

Rector's Palace (Knezev Dvor)

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Upper Town (Gornji Grad)

Upper Town (Gornji Grad)

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Encompassing the medieval hilltop settlements of Kaptol and Gradec, Zagreb’s Gornji Grad (Upper Town) is the capital’s historic district, looking down over the modern center of Donji Grad (Lower Town) below. Loosely defined as the area north of the central Bana Jelačića square, Gornji Grad’s lattice of cobblestone streets, pretty medieval squares and lively café culture make it Zagreb’s most picturesque neighborhood and visitors to the city will likely find themselves spending a large portion of their time here.

Stroll along the leafy walkway of the Strossmayer Promenade, where the old city walls once stood; light a candle at the revered Stone Gate (Kamenita vrata), now transformed into a shrine to the Virgin Mary; or pay a visit to the adorably quirky Museum of Broken Relationships. The most famous landmark of the Upper Town is the Gothic Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption, perched on Kaptol Hill, but other notable highlights include the mosaic-roofed St Mark’s Church.

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Dominican Monastery

Dominican Monastery

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Built into the eastern flank of Dubrovnik’s fortified walls adjacent to Fort Revelin, the 14th-century Dominican Monastery is designed in a combination of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture that is seen in several of the city’s palaces and churches. The monastery’s church was rebuilt several times over the centuries and was used as an army depot during Napoleon’s occupation of Dubrovnik in the late 18th century; today its single nave features a massive painted Gothic cross by Paolo Veneziano, dating from around 1384, St Dominic by 19th century painter Vlaho Bukovac — widely regarded as Croatia’s finest artist — and sparkling contemporary stained glass in the apse. The elaborate 15th-century Gothic cloister of the monastery surrounds a shady garden that was used as stabling for French army horses and their troughs can still be seen between the cloister’s pillars. The well in the garden provided water for Dubrovnik’s residents when the city was under siege in 1991.

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Ethnographic Museum (Rupe Museum)

Ethnographic Museum (Rupe Museum)

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Stradun (Placa)

Stradun (Placa)

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Stretching from Old Town’s western entrance at the Pile Gate to the harbor in the east, the Stradun (or Placa) was once a shallow sea channel that divided the small island on which Dubrovnik was built from the Republic of Ragusa on the mainland. In the 12th century, the Stradun was filled to create the main street in Dubrovnik’s Old Town.
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Onofrio's Fountain

Onofrio's Fountain

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Just through the main Pile Gate into Dubrovnik’s Old Town, Onofrio’s Fountain stands to the right of Stradun, the main thoroughfare through the cobbled streets. The fountain was constructed between 1438–40 and it is the ingenious end point of an aqueduct that traveled 12 km (7.5 miles) from a spring at Šumet – which still supplies Dubrovnik’s water today – into the city. Both fountain and aqueduct were designed by architect Onofrio della Cava; the latter has a huge brick central dome, originally topped by a dragon, and 16 elaborately carved water taps spouting over a stone trough. Although the dragon was destroyed in the earthquake of 1667, the fountain is one of the city’s most important landmarks and provides shade and respite for weary visitors. A smaller fountain, decorated with leaping dolphins, stands at the opposite, eastern end of Stradun; this was also designed by Della Cava and originally supplied water to the market traders on Luza Square in front of St Blaise Church.

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Peristyle Square (Peristil)

Peristyle Square (Peristil)

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Peristil Square is Split's main square, the former entry hall in Diocletian's Palace. It is derived from a Roman architectural term called the peristyle, an open colonnade surrounding a court.

The spacious central courtyard is flanked by marble columns topped with Corinthian capitals and richly ornamented cornices linked by arches. There are six columns on both the east and west sides, and four more at the south end, which mark the monumental entrance to the Vestibul. Most of the structure is made of white stone from the nearby island of Brač; however, the columns are made of Italian marble and siennite from Egypt. The Vestibul is a cavernous open dome above the ground floor passageway; a foyer that leads you into the emperor's residential quarters. The Vestibul provides great acoustics allowing klapa bands to perform traditional a capella songs there in the mornings.

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Republic Square (Prokurative)

Republic Square (Prokurative)

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Since the late 19th century, the bustling Republic Square (known by locals as Prokurative) has been serving as a gather place, people-watching spot, and town center for residents of Split. Its unique architecture-constructed as a nod to buildings in Venice-proves a remarkable departure from what is found in the rest of the city.

Travelers will find dozens of quiet cafes, tasty restaurants and quiet shops located in close proximity to this central square. Epic views of the nearby harbor and easy access to the Riva Promenade make it an idea place to spend a perfect morning in the sun, or an afternoon or evening taking in the local character of Split.

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Bacvice Beach

Bacvice Beach

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