10 Dreamy Croatian Islands You Need to Visit

Krk is the largest of the Croatian islands and also one of the most beautiful
Krk is the largest of the Croatian islands and also one of the most beautiful | © GoranStimac / Getty Images
Photo of Molly Codyre
24 August 2020

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.

Brač

Natural Feature
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Brač’s proximity to the main port of Split is not the only reason it’s so popular with travellers. On the north shore – where the ferry docks – you’ll find Supetar, a lively town with a bar-and-restaurant-lined harbour and a beautiful beach nearby. On the south shore is Bol, home to Zlatni Rat – also known as the Golden Horn and one of the most famous beaches in Croatia, owing to its gleaming white sand. In both towns, churches and residential houses have been built with local Brač stone, also used in the construction of Diocletian’s Palace in Split. Getting there: You can take a 50-minute ferry from Split for 33 Croatian kunas (£3.95), or a 60-minute ferry from Makarska for the same price.

Hotel Lemongarden

Hotel
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Courtesy of Hotel Lemongarden / Expedia

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.

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Hotel Milna Osam

Hotel
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Courtesy of Hotel Milna Osam / Expedia

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.

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Brijuni

Natural Feature, Park, Ruins
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Off the Istrian coast near Pula, Brijuni was the offshore domain of post-war Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito. Here, he hosted world leaders and global celebrities and established a safari park, housing the exotic animals he was given. Today, the main island, Veliki Brijuni, is a national park, with limited opportunities for accommodation – meaning staying here feels like a private island. During your time here, you might also discover dinosaur footprints, Roman ruins and a botanical garden from the Habsburg era. Getting there: Take the ferry from Fažana; the journey is 15 minutes long, with prices ranging from 125 to 210 kunas (£15-25).

Neptun Annex

Boutique Hotel
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Courtesy of Brijuni Depandansa Neptun / Expedia

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.

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Brijuni Rooms Karmen

Hotel
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Courtesy of Brijuni Rooms Karmen / Expedia

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.

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Hvar

Natural Feature
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Practically synonymous with Croatia’s high-end tourist boom, Hvar is where backpackers and yacht-week revellers (almost) rub shoulders with royals, millionaires and Hollywood bigwigs. Five-star hotels and fine dining are commonplace, and the harbour around Hvar Town is lined with cocktail bars and seafood restaurants. But Hvar hasn’t lost its untamed edge of the past – you can still find that buzzy beach bar or isolated tavern when you go looking for it. Getting there: You can take a two-hour ferry from Split for 47 kunas (£5.65), or a 35-minute ferry from Sućuraj for 16 kunas (£1.90).

Palace Elisabeth, Hvar Heritage Hotel

Hotel
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Courtesy of Palace Elisabeth, Hvar Heritage Hotel / Expedia

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.

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Riva Hvar Yacht Harbour Hotel

Hotel
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Courtesy of Riva Hvar Yacht Harbour Hotel / Expedia

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.

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Korčula

Natural Feature
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Korčula’s many treasures hide behind the medieval walls built to protect its namesake main town. Step through the gates, and you’ll find St Mark’s Cathedral, among the finest examples of gothic-renaissance architecture in Dalmatia. The church contains medieval weaponry and works by the famous painter Tintoretto. You’ll also find the house where famed explorer Marco Polo was allegedly born; although no one can confirm its authenticity, historical records indicate that he came from this part of the world. Throw in a few white-sand beaches sandwiched by lush greenery and crystal-clear waters, and you have a little slice of paradise. Getting there: The fastest and most straightforward method of transportation to Korčula is on the fast ferry, which departs from Split at 7.40am, reaching Korčula Old Town at around 10am, and costing 140 kunas (£16.75).

Dragan’s Den Hostel

Hostel
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Courtesy of Dragan’s Den Hostel / Expedia

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.

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The Fabris

Hotel
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Courtesy of The Fabris / Expedia

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.

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Kornati

Natural Feature
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Relatively untouched for centuries, this archipelago in northern Dalmatia is part of a national park and comprises 140 islands over an area of more than 114sqmi (300sqkm). It’s a bizarre and silent world only ever frequented by fishers, seagulls and the occasional scuba diver – though you might find the odd floating restaurant in high season. As the islands aren’t populated, your best bet is to stay in Zadar and take a boat over for the day. Getting there: You can reach the islands either by boat or on an organised tour. Tickets and tour options are available on the Kornati National Park website.

Boutique Hostel Forum

Hostel
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Courtesy of Boutique Hostel Forum / Expedia

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.

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Almayer Art and Heritage Hotel

Hotel
Map View
Courtesy of Almayer Art and Heritage Hotel / Expedia

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.

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Lokrum

Natural Feature
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Don’t be put off by the traffic of crowded taxi boats that set off for Lokrum from the Dubrovnik Old Town Port. This verdant island, where Richard the Lionheart was shipwrecked in 1192, has plenty of space to find peaceful seclusion. While it doesn’t have hotels or guest houses – according to legend, Benedictine monks cast a curse on the island – Lokrum does provide day trippers with a ruined fort and an exotic botanical garden to explore, plus a colony of peacocks. When you want to cool off, take your pick from the many beaches dotted along the island, or the freshwater lake in the southwest corner. Getting there: Ferries leave every half hour during the high season from Dubrovnik Old Town Port. The journey takes about 15 minutes and costs around 150 kunas (£18).

Villa Orsula Dubrovnik

Boutique Hotel, Hotel, Villa
Map View
Courtesy of Villa Orsula Dubrovnik / Expedia
While you might not be able to stay on Lokrum, you can stay in a hotel that overlooks its forest-lined shores. Villa Orsula does just that. Located a short five-minute walk from Dubrovnik Old Town, the hotel pairs beautiful Dalmatian architecture with modern interiors. Surrealist artwork by artists such as Roberto Matta and Victor Vasarely add flair to the spaces, and earthy-toned furnishings complement the jaw-dropping views. A short stroll downhill will take you to the hotel’s private beach where you can sunbathe, read and swim in peace.
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Hostel Angelina Old Town

Hostel, Hotel
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Courtesy of Hostel Angelina Old Town / Expedia

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.

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Mljet

Forest, Monastery, Park
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Named after the Greek word for honey, Mljet has been a tranquil getaway for millennia. Populated by monks who built a monastery on an islet in the large seawater lake of Veliko Jezero in the 12th century, the island comprises one-third of a national park and two-thirds pine forest. A single road runs to the far eastern end, where the sandy beaches of Saplunara are surrounded by affordable accommodation. Hiking and cycling tours can be arranged, and don’t be surprised to see the odd mongoose, imported a century ago to rid Mljet of snakes. Getting there: The ferry that runs between Split and Dubrovnik is the best option for getting to Mljet. Departing Split at 7.40am daily, it arrives at Mljet around 10.30am, and departing Dubrovnik at 4.30pm daily, it arrives at Mljet around 5.20pm. The price is 140 kunas (£16.75) for the Split route and 100 kunas (£12) for the Dubrovnik route.

Hotel Odisej

Hotel
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Courtesy of Hotel Odisej / Expedia

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.

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PineTree Boutique Apartments

Boutique Hotel
Map View
Courtesy of PineTree Boutique Apartments / Expedia

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.

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Krk

Natural Feature
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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.

Heritage Hotel Forza

Hotel
Map View
Courtesy of Heritage Hotel Forza / Expedia

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.

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Hotel Vinotel Gospoja

Hotel
Map View
Courtesy of Hotel Vinotel Gospoja / Expedia

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.

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Lopud

Natural Feature
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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).

Lafodia Sea Resort

Hotel
Map View
Courtesy of Lafodia Sea Resort / Expedia

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.

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Hotel Glavović

Hotel
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Courtesy of Hotel Glavović / Expedia

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.

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Lošinj

Natural Feature
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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).

Boutique Hotel Alhambra

Boutique Hotel
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Courtesy of Boutique Hotel Alhambra / Expedia

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.

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Vitality Hotel Punta

Hotel
Map View
Courtesy of Vitality Hotel Punta / Expedia

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.

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This is an updated version of an article originally written by Peterjon Cresswell.

These recommendations were updated on August 24, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.