Located on the Adriatic coast in the Mediterranean, Croatia offers thousands of miles of coastline and has 1,246 islands dotting its pristine waters. Over the past decade tourism in this lesser known European destination has skyrocketed stretching from Zagreb, the beautiful capital city with its traditional European architecture down to its charming small cities perched on cliffs along the coast making it no wonder this country is quickly become a hot spot destination. Also after the hit series Game of Thrones was filmed in Dubrovnik and various cities around the country, there is more reason than ever to add Croatia to the bucket list. After spending a week sailing around the coast during Yacht Week and over several other trips to Croatia, here are my five favorite cities.
Dubrovnik- topping the list is the famous walled city of Dubrovnik. This historic city has endured for centuries surviving even the most recent devastating conflict in the 90s. Built in the 7th century, Dubrovnik now welcomes over 2 million visitors every year largely attributed to being the primary filming location for King's Landing in Game of Thrones. I visited during the off season in February which helped to greatly thin the size of crowds and reduce the high summer prices for lodging in the old city. Walking around the top of the walled city with the beautiful terracotta tiled roofs to my left and the water stretching into the horizon on my right, it was easy to see why the directors selected Dubrovnik as the center of the Seven Kingdoms. Stepping inside the old walls to wander around on foot and explore the churches and museums, it was hard to believe that the architecture of the buildings and churches inside were not just the set for the show, but have actually been standing for centuries. There seemed to be no areas of the city that were not picturesque and the weekend quickly flew by as I explored the streets. Many of the town inhabitants and local tour guides played some role on the show and were happy to provide details of their experience filming some of the most famous scenes including Joffery's death and Cersi's walk of shame through their hometown. There are multiple Dubrovnik Cards offered from 1to 7 day passes that include admission to the various museums and monuments as well as entrance to the wall and other top attractions that can be purchased at most visitors stores or for a discount online in advance.
Hvar- One of the first stops on the Yacht Week tour around the coast was to the lovely old city of Hvar that is located on the longest island in the Dalmatian archipelago. Famous for its excellent weather and consistent sunshine throughout the year, Hvar lived up to its reputation. The city has a long history dating back to about the 5th century and there is an abundance of places to visit including the Formica overlooking the city, the Franciscan Monastery from the 16th century, and of course St. Stephen's Square and Cathedral which welcomes visitors as they enter the port. Although it was a quick visit on the sailing trip, this would definitely be a beautiful city to spend a relaxed vacation.
Vis- Another port stop during Yacht Week was to the lovely city of Vis. Here we signed up for a "military tour" to see Fort George and some of the military strong points that were built as defense mechanisms and structures into the island and the rock faces making them extremely difficult to locate. On the tour we visited several of the large military tunnels that were dug throughout the island after 1945 while the island served as a major military base for Yugoslav army. We continued around to tour the rest of the island and visited the small church St. Spirit with a gorgeous view of the town of Komiža below. After finishing the tour with a wine tasting from the local vineyards, we spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling in the stunningly clear waters. That evening we loaded back up on water taxis and returned to Fort George for an evening party which was hosted by a DJ in the center courtyard of the historic and beautiful fort.
Bol- home to one of Croatia's most iconic beaches, Zlatni Rat, Bol is another of Croatia's up and coming summer destinations. The massive white pebble beach was filled with sun bathers and the adjacent grove of trees had several trendy bars with live music- perfect for an afternoon of day drinking or soaking up the sun. However, since we were on a limited schedule to explore the port, we continued on further up the coast until we came across a small vespa rental where we got several of the scooters and spent a few hours cruising around exploring the hills. There were some fantastic overviews of the expansive coastline below and little coffee shop restaurants overlooking the beaches below. After a delicious dinner of seafood and pizza at a local restaurant, we headed by open trolley with the rest of our yacht group friends to Club 585. This was one of my personal favorites because the DJ that was playing that night was super chill and shared his headphones and turntables. If you can't tell by the photos, I had an absolutely terrible time.
Split- the second largest city in Croatia also happens to be a gorgeous coastal town. with an old district that is restricted to pedestrians. Since we had a few days left in town we had the chance to explore Split and see the Cathedral of Saint Domnius where visitors can climb to the top of the bell tower for an unparalleled view of the sprawling city below. At the heart of the Old Town is the Diocletian Palace which was built in the fourth century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also very recognizable because it is where Daenerys’ kept her dragons and visited them on Game of Thrones Season Five. Also inside the Old City are several museums, numerous art vendors, and of course Game of Thrones souvenir shops. Just outside the Palace/Fortress walls is a long boardwalk facing the port with several open air ice-cream shops and patio restaurants lining the edge of the historic district. Again, another beautiful seaside town that is a perfect summer destination!