UPDATED: This blog was originally published on Dec 13, 2016.
You haven’t seen beautiful water until you’ve seen Croatian water. It’s a clear, deep blue that’s so picturesque it’s hard to put into words, and it’s just one of many reasons we can’t get enough of the country’s Adriatic coastline.
This magnificent region is home to over 1,000 islands (just under 50 of which are inhabited). So, it’s not surprising it can be tough to narrow down where to go. Enter our guide: here to expertly help you pick the best Croatian islands for you. Whether you’re into easy day trips or surreal scenery, a party scene or a laidback vibe, rest assured there’s an island in Croatia that’ll fit the bill.
Read on to discover eight of the best.
Best Croatian island for glitzy partying: Hvar
Your first sight of Hvar is the old marina and its bobbing contingent of million-dollar super yachts. The island has become a playground for the rich and famous in recent years, but thanks to an affordable ferry from nearby Split (and a range of island accommodation) it’s not out of reach for the average traveller.
The aquamarine waters and ancient settlements like Stari Grad are the major drawcards, but venture further afield and you’ll be rewarded with rolling lavender fields, boutique wineries, isolated hamlets and little coves without a tourist in sight.
Best Croatian island for mainland proximity: Korcula
Korcula is about as close as you can get to the mainland while still technically being an island. It’s also the most settled isle in the Croatian archipelago, but that just means more classic Croatian architecture to explore. It’s capital, also named Korcula, is known as Little Dubrovnik for its terracotta roofs and photogenic location on the edge of a turquoise promontory.
This is the island for oenophiles, with some of the country’s best whites being produced right here (the coveted pošip grape grows almost exclusively on Korcula). Add in sandy beaches and stunning Renaissance architecture (the Cathedral of St. Marco is a must-see) and you’ve got the perfect island getaway.
Bonus: Intrepid’s 8-day trip that visits there give you a full-on authentic tour of the island, including local farm and family vineyard visits.
Best Croatian island for untouched greenery: Mljet
Where Korcula is settled, Mljet is wild and untamed, probably the greenest isle on the Dalmatian Coast. No wonder it’s rumored Odysseus spent seven years here (lucky guy). A few isolated villages cling to the coast, and there are one or two vineyards a little further inland, but a lot of the island is taken up by the Mljet National Park.
If you’d like a slice of Croatia as it once was (we’re talking pre-historic, not just 20 years ago), this is the place. The island’s two salt lakes are incredibly beautiful, and there’s even a tiny Benedictine monastery in the middle of one of them, Veliko Jezero.
A popular day-trip destination for Dubrovnik locals who want to escape the crowds, Lokrum is sort of a floating botanic garden. The island’s covered in an incredible collection of holm oaks, black ahs, pines, olive trees, giant agaves and rare Mediterranean plants.
Spend the morning swimming off-shore and soaking up the Mediterranean sun, then go explore the island’s ruined Benedictine monastery in the afternoon. Pay close attention to the ferry timetable though, as when the last boat to Dubrovnik leaves…that’s it.
Best Croatian island for diverse landscapes: Rab
Rab is renowned in the Kvarner region for its diversity. Pine forests, golden beaches, bleached white pebbles, high cliffs, olive groves and rolling cultivated fields – whatever you’re seeking, you’ll find it on Rab. The main settlement on the island is the imaginatively named Rab Town, an old stone hamlet built around four elegant bell towers.
Rab draws some big crowds in summer, but come in a shoulder season (like Spring or Autumn) for balmy weather, charming stone backstreets and pebble beaches all to yourself.
Best Croatian island for surreal vibes: Kornati
The Kornati Islands are actually a mini-archipelago in their own right, built from about 130 little isles and reefs and rocky outcrops. Visually, they’re some of the most beautiful and striking islands in the region – not lush, but stark. They’re mostly made up of limestone promontories, scattered olive groves and unspoiled beaches leading down into the turquoise sea.
There’s been human habitation here since the Neolithic Age, but due to subsequent deforestation the islands are now inhabited. Grab yourself a charter and prepare to feel like the last humans on earth.
Best Croatian island for few tourists: Vis
Even to the locals, Vis is a mysterious place. It’s one of the furthest islands from the Croatian mainland, and spent a lot of its recent history serving as a Yugoslav military base. Foreigners couldn’t even visit it until 1989. But this isolation has actually worked in its favour, because Vis escaped a lot of modern development in the latter half of the 20th century (even the locals moved back to the mainland).
Now its an unspoiled paradise, full of boutique vineyards (Vis is the home of the famed vugava white wine), crystal clear waters and two gorgeous little towns, Vis Town and Komiza.
Best Croatian island for glowing caves (!): Bisevo
More of an islet than an island, tiny Bisevo is just kms from Vis (see above) but even more remote and possibly more mysterious. Why? Well, because it’s home to the Blue Cave – a sight that can only be visited by rowboat and gives off the most beautiful blue glow when the sun shines outside.
The glow is created when the sun’s rays enter through the water, reflecting off the limestone floor of the cave. The natural wonder is at its best between 11 am and 12 pm on a sunny day. But it’s that cool it’s worth seeking out anytime. Promise.
Bonus: You can visit this surreal spot as a day trip from Hvan on Intrepid’s 8-day Explore Croatia trip. The trip also includes a walk on Dubrovnik’s city walls, a local dinner on Korcula island, a guided city tour of Split, and more!
Ready to visit the beautiful country of Croatia? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures there.
Feature image c/o Christopher Michel, Flickr