Do you have Croatia on your list of places to visit? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the answer is probably yes.
From the incredible cuisine to stunning natural beauty – and, to top it all off, a favorable currency rate – it’s easy to see why Croatia is so appealing. Take it from me, when I visited for the first time I only planned to be there a few weeks, and somehow three months came and went before I knew it.
But it’s not just me. Croatia brings in over 12 million tourists, and it’s on track to double those numbers by 2020. Great news for Croatia, but not so appealing to those looking to enjoy a their vacation without having to stress about crowds.
Have no fear, this is no reason to cross this Balkan country off your list of must-see locations. While hotspots like Split and Dubrovnik will always be packed in high season, there are plenty of other lesser-known but equally beautiful destinations to enjoy all Croatia has to offer without sacrificing your breathing room.
Here are seven of our favorite spots:
Vis, like most things in Croatia, has a fascinating history. It’s the most remote of the central Dalmatian islands, and served as a military base for the Yugoslav army– and, thus, was cut off from foreign visitors – from the 1950s until 1989. The isolation left it underpopulated for decades, but its lack of development is what I liked best about it. It’s authentic, peaceful, and quiet.
While the gourmet delights and local wines certainly impart a feeling of laziness, there is no shortage of things to do here. I suggest visiting one of the many local vineyards, or going on an excursion to the famous ‘Blue Caves’ off the coast of Komiźa, on the west side of the island.
Poreč (poor-ich) is an ancient Roman town that is almost entirely devoted to high-end resorts and boating, making it a bit more touristy than Pula or Novigrad, but still substantially less busy than Split or Dubrovnik.
It’s primarily a family destination, but there are great nightlife options to satisfy the ‘big kids’ too. For the outdoorsy types, there is an interconnected path of jogging and cycling trails along the waterfront, passing by shaded pine forests, beaches, and plenty of restaurants.
Rich in history and culture, the town’s main site, the Episcopal Complex of Euphrasian Basilica, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other historical must-see’s include roman temples, and medieval town walls and fortresses.
Pula is located in Istria, the heart-shaped peninsula in northwest Croatia, just south of Slovenia. Typically referred to as ‘the Tuscany of Croatia,’ Istria is a region made up of stunning natural beauty and acclaimed gastronomy.
Formerly a Roman outpost, the centerpiece of Pula is its remarkably well-preserved Roman amphitheater. As one of the bigger shipping ports, Pula is largely a commercial shipbuilding city, but hasn’t sacrificed any of its small-town charm. A walk through Old Town, and you’ll pass by hole-in-the-wall eateries, more than a few pick-up soccer games among neighborhood kids, and several ancient Roman ruins.
Novigrad is a sleepy little fishing village located in northern Istria. Since it’s situated between two bigger resort towns, it’s often overlooked by tourists.
With a community of less than 4,000 people, Novigrad’s small size is exactly what I loved most about it. It’s not nearly as fancy or as busy as its neighboring towns, but it’s certainly not lacking in things to do and great places to eat.
The center of town is compact, stretching less than one kilometer, but there are several open green spaces to enjoy, whether you want to relax in one of the parks in town, or go cycling through groves of olive trees and vineyards.
Pag is an island that’s connected to mainland Croatia by a bridge, but still retains a very unique, independent culture of its own.
The best part? Okay, maybe not the best, but one of my favorite things about it is its cheese. The dramatic landscape is dotted with herds of local sheep that graze on herbs and salty grasses, which gives their milk (and, thus, cheese) an incredibly distinct, and delicious, flavor. If you can get your hands on some Paški sir (Pag Cheese), you won’t be disappointed. And you know what goes well with cheese? Pag’s delicious white wines.
It’s not all sheep and cheese, though. As unlikely as it may seem from first impressions, Pag has become an upcoming clubbing mecca with Zrće Beach, a summer nightlife hot spot.
A small island packing vineyards, olive groves, beaches and a stunning old town, Korčula is rich in Croatian culture. Whether you want to check out the childhood home of Marco Polo or take part in age-old ceremonies and folk dances, ancient traditions are alive and well on Korčula.
You’ll truly feel like you’ve stepped back in time after spending even just five minutes with the local community here. (Especially if you’re on Intrepid Travel’s Cycle Croatia tour! You’ll spend the evening at a picture-perfect farm on Korcula, where your entire meal is made from ingredients on the farm itself, and where you can sample the family wines aplenty!)
As the sixth largest island in the Adriatic, Korčula has three important towns to know about: the town of Korčula, the largest and main cultural and economical hub on the island; the town of Blato, located inland and home to some of the most historically significant events on the island; and the town of Vela Luka, on the western tip of the island, which houses the main shipping port with convenient ferry and charter boat connections.
Brač covers all the bases you’d want out of a Croatian vacation: beaches, food, wine and local culture. Brač is the third largest island in Croatia, and its highest peak, Vidova Gora, is the highest of all the Adriatic Islands, which may seem insignificant, but the locals seem to be really proud of it!
Two things Brač is most famous for is its radiant white stone, which was used to build Diocletian’s Palace in Split, and Zlatni Rat, the expansive pebble beach at Bol which, whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably seen before because photos of it are plastered on 90 percent of Croatia’s tourism collateral.
There are several sleepy villages and small towns to explore on Brač, but the two main ‘hubs’ are Supetar and Bol. Supetar is a bit more low-key compared to Bol, which revels in exclusive appeal.
So if you’re looking to enjoy all that Croatia has to offer without sacrificing your sanity due to the crowds, definitely look into these incredible options that are a bit off the beaten path, but absolutely worthwhile to visit.
Ready to explore all the beauty that Croatia has to offer? Check out Intrepid Travel’s range of small group tours.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel x2, iStock/Dreamer4787, iStock/rusm, iStock/master2, Intrepid Travel, iStock/xbrchx, iStock/swisshippo, iStock/darios44.)