Croatia, the land of 1,000 islands, is an absolute paradise for sailing. Taking a sailboat along the Croatian Coast is a truly unique experience, which includes typical Venetian villages with ancient bell towers, baths, medieval fortresses, quaint taverns and some of the clearest waters and pristine beaches in the Mediterranean.
Dropping anchor in one (or ten) of these spectacular islands during your sailing trip around Croatia is definitely a highlight of the coastline. You’ll discover secluded coves inaccessible from land, bathe at sunset in spectacular waterfalls and savour delicious local food and wine in the taverns of some of the most beautiful hidden islands.
There are more than one thousand Croatian islands, all varying in size from small tree-covered rocks to some of the larger islands in the Mediterranean.
Croatia’s islands offer everything from stunning national parks, nudist beaches and 24-hour party pontoons, and each island has its own unique personality, attractions and sights.
But which islands are the best? Well, it’s incredibly difficult to narrow it down, so we’ve done our best to bring you a list of the top 10 best islands to visit in Croatia.
Sitting off the northern coast of Croatia, in the Kvarner Gulf, is Cres, the 20th largest island in the Mediterranean. Cres is a densely green and hilly island with pebbly beaches and a rugged coastline. Among the most notable attractions in Cres are the gigantic Griffon Vultures and the freshwater lake of Vrana.
This unique earthly phenomenon is one of the deepest freshwater lakes in Eastern Europe. Cres is full of beautiful classic Venetian architecture and one of the island’s highlights is the open-air museum of Osor. Water sports, scuba diving and hiking are all popular activities on Cres.
9. Kornati Archipelago National Park
Kornati is located in the central Adriatic Sea and northern part of Dalmatia, and is comprised of around 130 uninhabited islands, reefs, and islets. The Kornati islands, with their incredible natural beauty, diverse rocky coastlines and well-preserved, rich marine ecosystems, were declared a National Park back in 1980.
The Kornati islands are becoming increasingly popular with the international sailing community, which is having a significant impact on their development, with top-quality shoreline restaurants popping up in every available cove.
These islands are perfect for hiking, kayaking and re-connecting with nature among Kornati’s beautiful vineyards, olive groves and fig trees.
Lying on the northern Croatian coast, Krk is the most populated and most accessible island from the mainland and is similar in size to Cres.
The mile-long Krk Bridge connects this island to mainland Croatia, providing easy access to its ancient towns, small fishing villages, popular city beaches, quiet swimming bays and its vibrant cafes, restaurants and bars.
The northwestern coast of the island is rocky and steep and the climate is generally warmer in the south. Visitors to Krk will find a laidback Mediterranean atmosphere and an abundance of historical and cultural monuments underneath a bustling and dynamic island lifestyle.
Pag is the fifth-largest Croatian island and sits in the northern Adriatic Sea. Pag is home to the legendary Hideout Festival and, as of 2007, the bars and clubs of Zrce beach, near Novalja, were granted 24-hour licences, so this island is now known as one of Croatia’s hottest party destinations. However, the remainder of Pag’s beaches are relatively untouched and there are plenty of wide, shallow coves tucked into its rocky coastline to explore.
Its landscape is barren and dry, and Pag is also famous for the sheep that graze on it and produce the renowned pungent Pag cheese.
Moving further south along Croatia’s coast, we come to the island of Brac, which sits just off the coast of Split. Despite its proximity to Split, Brac is much less visited than its popular neighbours Hvar and Korcula.
Brac is a relatively dry and rocky island, with rolling hills, fig trees, olive groves and secluded bays with crystal clear water perfect for scuba diving.
Vidova Gora Mountain, the highest of the mountains on the Adriatic islands, has a great view point of Bol, Hvar and Vis, and we also recommend checking out Dragon’s Cave on the south side of the island.
5. Brijuni National Park
The Brijuni National Park is a group of 14 incredibly beautiful islands on the northern Croatian coast, separated from the Istrian peninsula only by the narrow Fažana Strait. This Park is made up of two main islands – Mali Brijun and Veli Brijun – and around a dozen islets.
Only the largest island, Veli Brijun, can be accessed by public ferry, so chartering your own boat and sailing through these pristine waters to quiet, hidden coves and islets is absolutely perfect.
There are almost 700 plant species and about 250 bird species on the islands, making them a beautiful natural haven for escaping the crowds and getting back in touch with nature.
Known as ‘Little Dubrovnik’, Korcula sits on the southern part of the Croatian coast and is the most popular island not connected to the mainland by a bridge.
This ancient city harbours a glorious old town and is known for its unique and beautiful architecture, and its coast is indented with beautiful bays and inlets. Quiet coves and small sandy beaches colour the southern coast of Korcula, while the northern shore is much more jagged and flat.
The most beautiful building of Korcula is the Cathedral of St. Marco, built in Gothic-Renaissance style and completed in the 15th century. The vegetation is rich and varied and Korcula is scattered with excellent wine-growing vineyards, which, along with small fishing villages, acts as a real source of income for the traditional local residents who inhabit this beautiful island.
Mljet also lies on the southern Croatian coast and is by far Croatia’s greenest island, scattered with dense forests, green fields, pastures and small villages. Mljet contains two salt lakes, Veliko and Malo Jezero, which are located in the Mljet National Park on the north-western end of the island.
Right in the middle of Veliko Jezero Lake sits a small island with a large building – a former Benedictine Monastery turned cafe/restaurant. This small island can be accessed by the local boats that sail there from both sides of the lake. The raw and untamed island of Mljet is one of Croatia’s most captivating and alluring islands, and its stunning scenery and peaceful atmosphere draws crowds from all over the world.
The island of Vis is the furthest of the main central Dalmatian islands from the coast. From the 1950s right up until 1989, Vis served as a military base for the Yugoslav National Army and was cut off from all visitors. This isolation created an undeveloped, remote and mysterious island that international visitors now flock to.
This island is divided between two beautiful small towns sitting on the edge of two large bays: Vis Town in the northeast and Komiza in the southwest.
Vis is certainly one of the most authentic Croatian islands, with miles of vineyards, a rugged coastline and more fresh seafood than you could ever consume. With its slower tempo and relaxed authentic atmosphere, Vis is definitely one to check out.
Hvar’s combination of lush rolling hills, fantastic beaches, ancient medieval streets and a vibrant nightlife are what makes this island one of the most popular on the entire Croatian coastline.
Characterized by mild winters and warm summers with many hours of sunshine, Hvar sits happily between Brac, Vis and Korcula. Often referred to as the new ‘St Tropez’, Hvar’s increasingly glamorous reputation is attracting celebrities and Europe’s elite, and more and more luxury yachts are pulling into its harbour. Hvar Town may be the most beautiful on the island, but Stari Grad, the oldest village on the island, and Jelsa, as well as a number of smaller villages, are well worth a visit.
Many tourists flock from all over the globe to see the sight of the famed lavender fields turning silvery-purple and Hvar’s green pastures dotted with flowers and delicious wild asparagus.