Croatia is blessed with one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. There are 1,185 islands dotted in the crystal clear blue sea, from tiny pale rocky outcrops to larger islands of villages, pine forests and beaches.
It’s those beaches I love the most, and finding a gorgeous little cove with an old monastery perched on the cliffs above, or with a bay full of fishing boats, or waters teeming with colorful fish. I’ve devoted quite a bit of time to finding the best and returning to some favorite beaches in Croatia. Here are a few suggestions:
Most photogenic: Zlatni Rat, Brac
Zlatni Rat means Golden Horn and this beach (or plažain Croatian) wraps around a narrow treed promontory just west of the village of Bol on the island of Brac. The most astounding thing about this beach is that is constantly changes shape. Because it reaches out into the sea, it moves with the wind and the current, sometimes hooking a bit left, sometimes right. This is also the reason everyone wants to photograph it.
Zlatni Rat is a pebbly beach, like so many in Croatia, and has a small café. You can walk there from Bol along a cliff path or catch a small fishing boat which shuttles back and forth in summer. To get to Brac catch the ferry from Split to Bol or Supetar or from Makarska to Sumartin.
Best for children: Šunj, Lopud and Rajska Plaža, Rab
Both these beaches are sandy and have long stretches of shallow, crystal clear water before it starts to get deep—perfect for kids to play in. At Rajska Plaža (Paradise Beach) you can walk out about 1600 ft (500 m) before the water is even waist deep, the downside of this beach only being its popularity. It’s well known as one of the best beaches on the Adriatic Sea and during summer it gets crowded both with tourists and the residents of the island of Rab itself, one of the northern and more populated islands along this coast. To reach Rab island by ferry leave from Jablanac or the neighboring islands of Pag and Krk.
By contrast Šunj is on the small, car-free island of Lopud, north-west of Dubrovnik, though it is the most tourist-developed part of the Elafati Islands which are famous for their vines, olives and fruits. The shallow sandy bay is a half mile (1km) walk from the town of Lopud and has sunbed and umbrella hire plus beach cafes. A passenger-only ferry goes from Dubrovnik to Lopud regularly making this a great day trip.
Best riviera beach: Baška Voda, Makarska
The whole stretch of the Dalmatian coastline south of Split, known as the Makarska Riviera, is well known for its stretch of lovely sandy and shingle beaches. One of the best is Baška Voda, a fishing village which is now a summer hotspot of cool harbourside bars in historic buildings beside pine woods and the pink-colored Bikovo mountains. It’s an easy day trip by road from Split or you can stay in the area and explore the literally hundreds of beaches along this 25 mile (40km) riviera coastline over a few days. There are ferries from Drvenic to the popular island of Hvar.
Best party beach: Bacvice, Split
Split is both a party town and a beach town so it’s not surprising that it has one of Croatia’s best party beaches. By day it’s a long sandy family beach with good, safe swimming, and people playing ball games in the shallow waters; by night the restaurants, bars and clubs that line Bacvice beach turn into party central. Split is one of the hubs for travellers in Croatia as its ferry port is the gateway to the islands of Hvar, Brac, Vis and many others. Bacvice is a short walk from the center of town south past the railway station and around the promontory. If you keep walking you’ll reach quieter rocky beaches such as Ovcice and Firule. There is a great café up some steps on the cliff above Firule and just behind this is the tennis club where Goran Ivanisevic honed his skills.
Best quiet city beach: Kašuni, Split
On the promontory beside split is the forested natural area of Marjan Hill. Dotted around here you’ll find many lovely quiet beaches. You can catch a bus or walk from town out along the road past the gallery of Croatia’s most famous sculptor Ivan Meštrovic—worth a look on your way. Below the gallery are two lovely quiet beaches, Kašuni and Kastelet. Kastelet is the closer to the center of town and has small pebbles, and a coffee bar. A little further on is undeveloped Kašuni (bring water with you). The road down to Kašuni is about 800 m past the Meštrovic gallery, but I find it easier and more pleasant to walk all the way along the coast and beach path from Split center rather than along the road (at the intersection of Dražanac and Šetalište Ivana Meštrovica head diagonally through the park towards the beach and there is a path right the way around).
Best sporting beaches: Premantura, Istria
Six miles (10 km) south of Pula is Premantura Kamenjak Nature Park, a long, narrow peninsula with 18 miles (30km) of coastline. One side is rocky beaches, the other pebbly little coves and small islands. Many of the beaches are naturist, but the real attraction is the windsurfing with steady, moderate winds which are ideal for beginners in summer and stronger winds (the bura and jugo) in spring and fall. The bura is a safe, onshore wind, the jugo is the notorious south wind (reputed to drive people to madness) which can cause waves around this cape due to the shallow waters. The shallow waters are also popular with divers as they are rich with marine life, and sports fishermen come here for the abundant fish especially at Albanez Cove in the south. Be aware of strong currents for swimmers at this southern point of the cape.
Not far north in Istria, near Rovinj, is one of Croatia’s best dive sites, the wreck of the Baron Gautsch, sunk in 1914. Teeming with marine life and still largely unexplored in its lower decks.
Best unique beach: Veli Brijun, Brijuni Islands
Just off the coast from Pula, this is more a curio than a beach holiday destination. This was the island chosen by famous communist leader Tito as his summer retreat and place to entertain royalty and movie stars such as Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth II, and Princess Caroline of Monaco. The building has photos of the islands famous visitors, and there are roman ruins, greenhouses, fossilised dinosaur footprints, live ostriches, deer and squirrels.
For many years it was off-limits to uninvited guests but now we are welcomed there. You can rent a bicycle to explore the island or go around in a tiny tourist train. Get there by ferry from Fažana.
Best hidden beaches: Sveta Nedjelja, Hvar
This is one of my favourites on Hvar. It’s a small hidden cove a little way along the coast from the main township of Hvar (8 miles/12km south). The settlement is small and you have to climb down a cliff path to the sandy beach but it’s worth it for the lovely cliffs and clear water. Growing on these steep cliffs are some of the best vines on Hvar (the town is renowned for its red wines). The steep, rocky cliffs are also popular with climbers.
You can reach Sveta Nedjelja by boat from Hvar which takes an hour, or by road on the main access road which involves crossing Hvar through the infamous Pitve Tunnel which is so narrow it is one direction at a time. There is a new road from the island of Hvar direct to Sveta Nedjelja but it is rough and unsealed and sometimes a little nerve-racking.
This is truly such a small percentage of the wonderful beaches and bays on this coastline—no matter where you go in Istria or along the Dalmatian Coast you’ll be charmed by the combination of traditional villages, excellent restaurants, fun bars, soaring cliffs, crystal clear blue waters, sandy coves and rocky islands.
- Philippa Burne