The Most Beautiful Towns in Croatia

Hvar is one of Croatia's most popular tourist towns on the stunning Dalmatian coast
Hvar is one of Croatia's most popular tourist towns on the stunning Dalmatian coast | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Joseph Richard Francis
26 February 2018

From the hilltop town of Motovun with its ancient Roman relics to the sunny reaches of elegant Dubrovnik on the cusp of the Dalmatian coast, this list of Croatia’s top towns is full to the brim with unadulterated Balkan beauty.

Motovun

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
View of famous small old town Motovun on picturesque hill. Istria, Croatia
© Valery Bareta / Alamy Stock Photo

Draped elegantly over the hilltops of central Istria, the historic heart of medieval Motovun glimmers like a jewel amidst a sea of rolling olive fields and truffle-rich forests. Often hailed as the most handsome town in all Croatia, this mountaintop centre has kept watch over the winding valleys of the Mirna river since it was first raised on the ruins of ancient Kastelijer sometime after the 10th-century. Today, it buzzes with an indelible Italian-come-Slavic charm, the aromas of frying white truffles and pizza pies alike moving between its crenulated fortifications.

Korcula

Natural Feature
Map View
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Set in the shadow of the rising limestone and dolomite ridges of the Dinaric Alps, Korcula is a true gem of Dalmatia. It can be found clinging elegantly to a curved spit of land on the northern cusp of Korcula Island, encompassed by the lapping waves of the Adriatic Sea on three sides and verdant groves of swaying palm trunks and evergreen pines on the other. Within its streets, marble-clad homes glow with gradients of faded beige and alabaster white and red roofs conceal earthy eateries touting fish stew and super-dry Croatian wines. Meanwhile, boats bob melancholically between the stone walls of the age-old port.

Zadar

Cathedral, Church
Map View
Center of Zadar, Croatia.Roman Forum with churche St. Donat and Cathedral of St. Anastasia
© Ivan Coric / Alamy Stock Photo
Behind a wall of modern high-rises and clusters of brilliant white yachts, Zadar’s old town continues to hum with life in the gentle breezes of the Adriatic Sea. It’s a smorgasbord of styles and tastes, with layers upon layers of history coalescing between its marble-clad alleyways and open squares. On one corner, the much-rebuilt facade of the Church of St Simeon fuses the gothic and the provincial baroque; nearby, the Byzantine rises of the Church of St Donatus stand stoic and strong, side-by-side with the crumbling remnants of a Roman forum. Where the town meets the crystal-clear shore waters, the rumbling tones of the Sea Organ issue forth from beneath the marble steps.

Trogir

Natural Feature
Map View
Trogir, Croatia. Sunny promenade along the pier of old Venetian town, Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.
© Alpineguide / Alamy Stock Photo
Straddling the mainland and a rocky island over a small naval channel two-thirds of the way down the country’s Adriatic coast, Trogir is steeped in the histories of ancient Greece, imperial Rome, republican Venice and trendy modern-day Croatia alike. The centre of town is cut by narrow lanes where swaying laundry lines drift in the maritime winds and overhanging timber balconies play host to Italian pizzerias and open-air wine bars. Nearby, the formidable walls of the mighty Kamerlengo fortress and the romanesque rises of the city’s cathedral stand tall, watching over the clusters of bubbling beach shacks and pebble coves that pepper the inlets of Okrug Gornji island across the bay.

Pula

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Ancient Roman Amphitheater and Church in Pula, Istria, Croatia
© Eva Bocek / Alamy Stock Photo

Crowned by the mighty colonnades and archways of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres outside of Italy, ancient Pula is much more than just the gateway to the shimmering beaches of the Verudela Peninsula and the windswept coves of Kamenjak (although they certainly are two good reasons to visit). In the summer, warm breezes caress the marble forums of the historic town centre, two-thousand-year-old temples loom large and orthodox churches glimmer white in the sun. Elsewhere triumphal archways honour the city’s age-old luminaries and clusters of locals sip frothy beers in the open-air bars that line the narrow side streets all around.

Hvar

Natural Feature
Map View
© Vito Arcomano / Alamy Stock Photo
Hugging a yacht-dotted inlet on the extreme western edge of Hvar Island, the locals of this sun-seeking-traveller staple are half rustic farmers and half jet-setting gentlemen. Its center is a den of glossy marble squares, shady stone alleyways and steep stairways that give way to a hub of ochre roofs and medieval frontages. Meanwhile, rugged hillsides vanish into the blurring heat haze of the Mediterranean, awash with curious limestone outcrops, rolling vineyards, winding coastal paths, hidden coves and hedonistic beachside party shacks. No wonder nearly 200,000 visitors hit Hvar every year.

Rovinj

Building, Cathedral
Map View
Old town of Rovinj, Istrian Peninsula, Croatia. Image shot 11/2016. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

A sea of terracotta-tiled roofs, sun-kissed waterside walkways and stuccoed Italian-style homes that cascade down to the edge of a rocky, pine-dotted shoreline, medieval Rovinj juts out into the turquoise waters of the Adriatic midway down the Istrian Peninsula. The heart of town is a labyrinthine maze of winding cobblestone alleyways and tight-knit piazzas concealing rustic seafood konobas (taverns) – the very picture of coastal Croatia. Above the swaying washing lines and shady streets, the soaring tower of St Euphemia’s Basilica looms as aromas of freshly cooked truffles twist between its Roman relics and haunting gothic carvings.

Dubrovnik

Historical Landmark
Map View
Town of Dubrovnik UNESCO world heritage site view, Dalmatia region of Croatia
© Dalibor Brlek / Alamy Stock Photo

No line-up of the most beautiful towns in Croatia could possibly be complete without a mention of Dubrovnik, which rises dramatically from the Adriatic cliffs in the far south of the country. Cut through by the bustling thoroughfare of Stradun, this is a place where vaulted baroque ceilings can be seen mixing with touches of Ottoman influences; the soaring keeps of the old Ragusa Republic still crown the hilltops and the legends of Balkan knights persist between the aged city gates, palaces and bell towers. More recently the town has figured as the backdrop for the monarchic capital of King’s Landing in the epic TV drama, Game of Thrones – a regal role for a truly regal town.

Split

Architectural Landmark
Map View
The waterfront promenade and tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius in the city of Split in Croatia.
© Eric Nathan / Alamy Stock Photo

In spite of its status as the de facto capital of Dalmatia and all the unceremonious urban sprawl that goes with it, sunny Split has done well to cling to its rich historical veneer. The architectural pride of the city is unquestionably the central kernel of Diocletian’s Palace – a medley of marble arches, tightknit alleyways, glimmering piazzas and peristyle constructions that bears a well-deserved Unesco tag. As if that wasn’t enough, Split’s idyllic harbourside – the Riva – flaunts swaying palm trees and chic cafes right down on the shore.

Zagreb

Building, Cathedral
Map View
The Cathedral of Zagreb is one of the highest buildings in Croatia. The steeples are 105 metres high, Zagreb, Croatia, Europe
© Gunter Kirsch / Alamy Stock Photo
Forgetting the Stalinist sprawl of Zagreb’s outer districts and focusing on its core of Austro-Hungarian elegance, travelers to this buzzing Balkan capital are invited to lose themselves between cobblestone streets and rattling trams, subterranean beer bars and opulent Baroque palaces. In the city’s more historic Upper Town, a web of crisscrossing roads sits enfolded between the rises of the Kaptol and Gradec hills, rich with 13th-century church spires, hipster cafes and winding lanes. On the horizon, Mount Medvednica dominates – a treasure trove of ski runs, hiking trails, lichen-clad forests and mysterious medieval fortresses.

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