Mostly accessible from the main transport hubs of Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia’s key islands offer a flavour of what life was like before tourism. The likes of Hvar, Korčula and Brač can get crowded in high season, but it’s easy to find a quiet beach or a remote family-run tavern to escape to – if you know where to look. Culture Trip rounds up the top 10 must-visit Croatian islands, some well known and some not, but all within day-tripping distance of a renowned mainland town.
Comprising three separate houses, Hotel Lemongarden is unassuming from the outside. Made of sandstone and draped with vibrant flowers and climbing vines, it blends in seamlessly with the rest of the town. However, stepping inside, you realise this is somewhere a bit different. Every enormous room is enhanced with patterned headboards, neon chandeliers and spacious bathrooms. Outside, a lush garden hides a refreshing pool and leads down to a private beach, where you can order cocktails to your lounger and spend the day being pampered.
A peaceful, uncluttered space directly on the harbour, Hotel Milna Osam is steps from the Adriatic Sea. A harbourside pool and a spacious seafront lounge provide places to swim and dry off in the sun, while the bar and restaurant terrace create a magical spot to start or end the day, offering sweeping sea views over the boats as they come and go. If you’re looking for a bit more space, the one-bedroom villa suite comes with a separate living space, providing oodles of room for two.
Gorgeous rooms within a palatial building designed in an old-school Dalmatian style, this bright and airy hotel provides a glimpse into a bygone era. Rooms are enormous, and most come with large sea-facing balconies so that you can take your morning coffee or sunset beverage while looking out to sea. Throw open the balcony doors to let the salty ocean air lull you to sleep – the high ceilings and coastal breeze will keep you cool and revive even the weariest of travellers.
Previously called Hotel Karmen, this renovated spot preserves all of the hotel’s original elements – from soaring ceilings and huge windows or balcony doors to varnished teak elements and vibrant Moroccan rugs. Breathtaking views will greet you when you wake up, and the large balcony gives you ample time to take them in.
This luxurious spot really sums up everything Hvar is about: out-and-out opulence and dreamy beaches. Perfect for those who are looking to experience the decadent side of life on the island, this genuinely palatial hotel features whitewashed rooms with plush king-size beds, accented with calming ivory palm tree murals and eggshell blue wainscot-panelled walls. Bigger rooms come with roll-top baths, although with so many swimming spots on offer – including a cabana-lined private beach – you might be too busy immersing yourself elsewhere.
The neon-dappled Riva Hvar Yacht Harbour Hotel takes its inspiration from Hvar’s vibrant nightlife. A lime-green backlit bar welcomes you upon arrival and serves as a great spot for pre- or post-dinner drinks. Rooms are equally colourful with pops of cherry red and terraces with private sun loungers. The outdoor lounge in the harbour area is a boat watcher’s paradise – keep your eyes peeled for luxury yachts cruising past or bobbing in the distance like billion-dollar birds.
This hostel is a lively place from which to base yourself during your trip to Korčula. Options range from private double rooms to 12-person dorms, and the hostel comes with a spacious pool and two fully equipped kitchens. A huge upstairs terrace with sun loungers offers up a beautiful sunbathing spot, with views over the surrounding greenery. Thanks to its special deals for digital nomads wanting to stay and work for longer, you could even turn your holiday into a staycation.
Housed in a traditional Dalmatian building, the Fabris is a homely hotel right on the harbour in the heart of Korčula Old Town. A shared rooftop terrace affords sweeping views of the area and ocean beyond, helping you get your bearings before you head off to explore. Opt for a sea-facing room with a private balcony and wake up to the morning breeze. Breakfast includes a range of fresh fruit and croissants, as well as hot options, such as bacon, egg and sausages.
This hostel not only offers incredible value, but it also has many of the perks you’d want from a hotel. Every room comes with sea views, regardless of whether you’re in a four-bed dorm or a private room. Painted in bright white and tangerine, rooms all come with lockers, wifi and an on-demand minibar. With breakfast included in the price, you can start your day right with the energy needed for exploring Zadar, or by hopping on a boat to the Kornati islands.
Dating back to 1863, the building that houses the Almayer was fully refurbished in 2017 to become this sleek boutique hotel. With nine rooms in the main building and four more in the annexe across the street, the hotel has a marked focus on art, with rotating exhibitions that showcase both local and well-known Croatian artists. Food and drink come via the secret garden and orangery – a modern, sun-dappled space offering award-winning wines from small and independent wineries.
For a budget-friendly option in Dubrovnik, this hostel inside the Old Town walls keeps you close to the harbour so that you can easily get to Lokrum, as well as the top attractions in town. Rooms range from private twins to eight-bed dorms, and they all come with air conditioning – a must-have in the height of summer. A fully equipped kitchen lets you whip up meals, while a breezy terrace with views of the city is a great spot to share an ice-cold beer with your newfound friends.
This hotel is everything you want from a low-key Croatian getaway. Thanks to the island’s peaceful atmosphere, you’ll feel a million miles away from the crowds of the mainland – just you, the ocean and the lush forest for some company (and maybe a few other tourists). While there is a pool, it would be hard to ignore the incredible ocean just steps from your front door – you could even jump in from your sun lounger if you wanted to. With everything needed for a comfy stay, the rooms are casual, and balconies open up onto the seafront.
With bright-white interiors and a traditional Dalmatian structure, the rooms at the PineTree Boutique Apartments allow the incredible views to take centre stage. You’ll also have a kitchenette for making morning and evening meals. For those days you’re not in the mood to explore, the oceanfront lounge gives you the chance to jump straight into the sea below. Sip your coffee on your private terrace for a soothing start to your day, or head to the infinity pool for a few laps before breakfast.
Connected to the mainland by a toll bridge, Krk is the largest of Croatia’s islands. Beyond the crowds, you’ll find white-sand beaches, craggy coastlines and looming mountains that make for a beautiful day’s hike. Hire a car or scooter to make the most of its diverse landscapes and buckle in for an adventure. Getting there: You can fly from London Stansted and London Gatwick airports to Rijeka International Airport on the island. If you’re travelling from the mainland, you can get a three-hour bus from Zagreb, or hire a car and drive yourself.
Exposed brick walls in the rooms of the Heritage Hotel Forza contrast with the vibrant paintings and bed throws to create a contemporary feel. Many rooms also come with a private terrace, giving you beautiful sea views to wake up to in the morning. Mealtimes are a hearty and friendly affair – like you’re eating in someone’s very fancy home – with a menu that draws on Italian influences and includes dishes such as a caprese salad with pillowy slices of mozzarella, and gnocchi with a truffle-infused cream sauce.
Combining three of the best things in life – wine, wellness and incredible ocean views – Hotel Vinotel Gospoja is sure to be an indulgent stay. Start your day with a divine massage and a session in the sauna, and finish it with a tasting of the hotel’s wines – one of which is fermented at the bottom of the ocean. Rooms are slick and modernist, with multicoloured globe murals on the ceiling and spacious bathrooms – book the one with a Jacuzzi for a slice of luxury.
Approximately 14km (9mi) from Dubrovnik, and with only 200 or so permanent residents, Lopud is a secret spot steeped in history. Dotted with 15th-century structures, including the striking Franciscan Monastery that greets you as you sail into the harbour, the island feels like a step into the past – especially as no cars are allowed. The southeast end of the island is home to the best beach, Šunj, where you can park up for the day and feast on freshly grilled fish from a makeshift shack at the top of the sandy shore – an idyllic day on an idyllic island. Getting there: There is a one-hour ferry that runs from Dubrovnik to Lopud, departing four times a day (twice a day on Sunday and public holidays) and costs 23 kunas (£2.75).
There’s no shortage of activities to keep you occupied at Lafodia Sea Resort, a sprawling estate on the waterfront. The hotel is home to a full-service spa, six bars and restaurants (plus a bakery), a gym, a tennis court, an outdoor pool and a private beach. Don’t miss out on the watersports activities either – waterskiing is available in the morning and provides the perfect excuse to book yourself in for a full-body massage to soothe aching muscles in the afternoon.
This laid-back spot in the main town of Lopud sits right on the waterfront. A great budget option for those after a hotel experience that’s easy on the wallet, Hotel Glavović is cute and comfortable without any of the pomp and circumstance of other hotels in the area – and fits in perfectly with its low-key surroundings. Take full advantage of the beach life and slip into island time, spending your days lounging on the sand, strolling across the island or feasting on freshly caught seafood in the hotel’s oceanfront restaurant.
In the northern Adriatic Sea, Lošinj is twinned with the island of Cres, the two separated by a tiny channel and connected by a bridge. Lošinj is the smaller of the two but is more densely populated than its neighbour. Nevertheless, the island is much quieter than anything on the mainland, offering numerous beaches where you may not encounter another soul all day. Keep one eye on the horizon – the island is home to an abundance of dolphins and is the first protected marine area for the friendly sea mammals in the whole of the Mediterranean. Getting there: The most straightforward way of getting to Lošinj is to take the ferry that runs from Rijeka to Mali Lošinj, via Cres. There tends to be one departure per day from Rijeka, taking around three hours and costing 60 kunas (£7.20).
Set between the pine trees and the sea, Boutique Hotel Alhambra is a luxury getaway in a breathtaking spot, far from the crowds. The restaurant Alfred Keller is its calling card; featured in the renowned Gault & Millau guide, it serves up a menu of seasonal and locally sourced food accompanied by a 400-strong wine list. Rooms are decorated in earthy tones and have a particularly luxurious sheen to them, providing a peaceful space to retreat to after a busy day of exploring.
Wake to the sun rising over the ocean, and fall asleep watching the moon reflecting off the water from your bed at Vitality Hotel Punta. Most rooms come with spectacular views of the Adriatic and a private balcony where you can enjoy happy hour in peace. The hotel has a focus on wellness, with a large fitness centre, a workout programme included in your room price and a nutritionist on hand for all of your dietary needs. When you’re done exercising, cool off in the ocean just steps away, or refuel at the restaurant, which specifically caters to dietary requirements.
This is an updated version of an article originally written by Peterjon Cresswell.