Even if you’ve never been to Dubrovnik yourself, you might have seen it on film; it has lately become even more famous as one of the filming locations of the HBO hit, Game of Thrones. It has been one of the prime jewels of the Adriatic since its heyday in the 15th and 16th centuries, and it’s one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities in the world. A great way to experience it is to actually walk around the walls themselves, you’ll get stunning views onto the city and the blue waters that stretch out around you.
While the origins of Trakošćan Castle’s name are shrouded in mystery, if not totally lost to the centuries, history can at least tell you that this fortress has stood at the same spot since the 12th century. You wouldn’t know this from its current Neo-Gothic style, which came from a 19th-century renovation; originally, it was built as a Romanesque fortress before changing owners, caretakers, and purposes many times over the years.
The Istrian capital of Pula has an ideal location, right on the water, easily fortified and has therefore been inhabited since prehistoric times. Artefacts have been found in the area from the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age, and it even appeared in Greek myths. Most clearly, though, you’ll see it as a Roman city. You can’t miss Pula’s Roman arena, which is reminiscent of the Coliseum, in Rome. Whatever period of history you like best, you’ll find something to excite you in Pula.
Protected in one of the oldest national parks in the whole region, the Plitvice Lakes have become famous around the world as one of the most beautiful natural spots in the world. It’s no wonder, really with the waterfalls snaking through lush green trees, landing in turquoise pools encircled by white borders, it seems like a fairyland that might disappear at any minute. Better go visit sometime soon, just in case.
In a departure from the national wonders and Roman cities on this list, let’s take a minute to recognize a true modern wonder, the Greeting to the Sun in the coastal town of Zadar. In short, it’s a large circle of glass and solar panels that collect energy during the day and then put on a light show at night, much to the delight of anyone who happens to be around. And as if the visual beauty isn’t enough, the designer also installed a sea organ, so the motion of the waves will serenade you as you watch the light show.
Known in Croatia as the Festinsko Kraljevstvo, the Kingdom of Festini Caves offer a beautiful look into a charming version of the underworld. You’ll hear the drops of water that over the centuries have formed stalagmitic and stalactitic creations, which cast their shadows on the walls in lifelike forms, creating at atmosphere that is difficult to find elsewhere. Croatia might be known for its sun, but this cave system proves that you don’t need sun to have beauty.
Some cities wall off their historical sites, keeping them separate from everyday life; not so in Split. The Emperor Diocletian built a palace for his retirement at the end of the third century AD, and it still stands in the center of Split. Over the years, though, the city of Split simply grew up around it, and while there are still sections of what you’d recognize as Roman ruins, much of it just blends into the city. If you want, you can sleep, eat, and of course drink Croatia’s famous wine, all within the boundaries of Diocletian’s retirement palace.
Up for a hike? Head out to Northern Velebit National Park, which is right in the middle of Croatia’s coastline. The park encompasses the northern side of the largest mountain in the country, Velebit Mountain, and there are hiking trails all over. You’ll find deserted houses and shelters, left behind by the former inhabitants of the area. Beyond that, though, you’ll discover fascinating rock formations and a diverse set of local flora.
Like many of the other cities along the Adriatic coast, Rovinj has a history that stretches back through the millennia and contains mention of all sorts of tribes, empires, and other sorts of rulers. They’ve left behind a fascinating collection of mismatched architecture, mostly in pastel colors and with red roofs, all of which comes together beautifully. If you’re into historical linguistics, you’ll be interested to hear that some people in Rovinj still speak Istriot, an almost extinct Romance language that used to be widely spoken in the area.
The Krka National Park was created in order to protect the Krka River, which flows through the park. The easiest way to access the park is by starting from the charming seaside town of Sibenik and then going a few miles north-east. Once you get there, you’ll find stunning waterfalls, Roman ruins, hiking trails, and, if you’re lucky, all sorts of fascinating animals, like the European otter or one of the many species of birds of prey that live there.
The island of Korcula is another spot that has been inhabited since well before people could write or build grand buildings. Now inhabited almost exclusively by Croatians, this is yet another place that has seen different groups of people settle over the centuries ever since the first group got there sometime in the Mesolithic period. Now, you’ll find gorgeous seaside towns and villages, vineyards, and pine forests as far as the eye can see.
From Korcula, go just a little bit to the south-east, and you’ll reach Mljet, another of the gorgeous Croatian islands. This one contains a national park on the western end of the island, where you’ll find the island’s two stunning lakes, Veliko jezero and Malo jezero, which aptly mean ‘big lake’ and ‘small lake.’ Once you’ve seen a sunset on Mljet, be careful; all other sunsets might just pale in comparison.