Croatia is a relative newcomer on the tourist scene of Europe, but it has exploded into popularity because of its well-preserved Medieval villages and great beaches. It is also, at this point, cheaper than Western Europe and, therefore, somewhat of a bargain. Here are my picks for the best of Croatia. A photo album will soon follow.
Dubrovnik, Croatia, is a perfectly preserved Medieval city on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Dubrovnik has a special charm because its city walls — the marble-paved squares, cobbled streets and beautiful buildings of old town, Stari Grad, — were all made with the same light-colored stone, which contrasts nicely with the honey-colored roofs.
Walk the city walls, some of the finest and most intact in the world, with their round and square towers and other fortifications, and get great views of the Dalmatian coast. Entry into the city is usually through the Pile Gate which opens to the city’s major promenade, the Placa or Stradun, a pedestrian walkway which leads to the Clock Tower. Notice the Onofrio Fountain, the Franciscan Monastery, and the Orlando Column en route. Nearby are the Sponza Palace and St Blaise’s Church, done in baroque style.
Other sights worth visiting include the Cathedral and the Rector’s Palace, as well as the Jesuit Monastery and the Dominican Monastery, the largest in the city.
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, and, although a large city, preserves an interesting and rather pleasant Old Town. The current city began as two towns which merged and subsequently expanded. Of interest to the tourist are the Upper Town, which houses St Stephen’s Cathedral, now renamed the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which still has remnants of the Medieval church destroyed by an earthquake, and its Archepiscopal Palace. Other attractions include the Lotrscak Tower, St Catherine’s Church, the Stone Gate, which dates to the 13th century, St Mark’s Church, and the Banski Dvori Palace, the Presidential palace, which has a Changing of the Guard Ceremony at noon from April to September.
The Lower Town is primarily known for its many museums.
3. Central Dalmatian Coast
The Central Dalmatian Coast contains several wonderful destinations which combine much of what tourists to Europe like best — small, enchanting towns which are a delight to stroll.
Split is noteworthy because it was the chosen locale for Roman Emperor, Diocletian’s retirement villa. Diocletian’s Palace, now in ruins, is surrounded by ancient walls and a maze of marble streets. Also within the walls is the neo-Romanesque Cathedral, which originally served as Diocletian’s tomb. It is located on a beautiful square, ringed with columns, called the Peristyle.
Trogir, only about 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Split, is another interesting Medieval town, seemingly made for walking. Most of the sights in the old town are centered near Narodni trg, a square on which the visitor will find the beautiful Cathedral of St Lovro, with its portal depicting Adam and Eve and its Chapel of St Ivan. The Town Hall is also on the square and merits a visit.
Korcula, reputed birthplace of Marco Polo, is another picturesque, Medieval, Balkan town, located on the peninsula of an island in the Adriatic Sea. Stroll its zigzag streets, and admire its fortifications and architecture.
Hvar Island has been compared to the Portuguese island of Madeira and is noted for its incredible weather (some hotels give discounts on cloudy days). Hvar Town boasts a Venetian Fortress on the hill above it and several monasteries, one Dominican, the other Franciscan, at either end of the town. Also of note is the gothic Arsenal, with its imposing arch.
Zadar, Croatia, in the northern part of the Dalmatian region, was coveted, throughout its history by many empires and civilizations, because of its strategic location. It thus possesses reminders of these historical periods. The city is still heavily fortified, with extensive walls along the northeastern and southeastern edges (toward the mainland).
Wander along the marble, pedestrian-only streets of the Old Town and encounter Roman ruins along with several Medieval churches. The most important church is St Donatus Church, actually built atop the ancient Roman forum (remnants are still visible). The Franciscan Monastery is also worth a visit. Near the town are several fine beaches.
5. Kotor, Montenegro (although not in Croatia, Montenegro is very close and is included here for convenience)
Kotor, Montenegro, is a walled, Medieval, “diamond in the rough” just waiting to be discovered by tourists. It has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wander the narrow, cobblestone streets to discover the Cathedral of St Tryphon, the Prince’s Palace, and other interesting attractions.