Croatia is a gorgeous country that has been on many travelers’ radars in the past few years. Known for its rugged coastline, rich history, picturesque cities, and beautiful islands, this South European country is rapidly entering many people’s bucket lists. This is a great place to visit if you want to explore beyond the popular destinations and discover off-the-beaten-path spots. Rest assured you’ll find plenty of unique places and amazing hidden gems in Croatia.
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Croatia Hidden Gems You Don’t Want to Miss
Bordering the Adriatic Sea, Croatia’s main travel hotspots are the cities of Split, Zagreb, Hvar, and Dubrovnik. These are charming cities full of history and culture that are rightly included in most Croatian itineraries.
From a day trip in sleepy fishing villages along the Adriatic coast and unspoiled islands to national parks and city suburbs bathed by waterfalls, you’re sure to find plenty of unique, beautiful destinations in Croatia to make your heart flutter.
If you’re plotting a Croatian vacation, keep reading for a list of secret spots in Croatia that are worth including in your itinerary. These are the places to visit if you want to enjoy everything Croatia has to offer while avoiding crowds.
1. Brijuni National Park
A true hidden gem in Croatia, Brijuni National Park can’t be completely described without explaining its history.
Brijuni is a set of 14 inhabited islands located off the Istrian Peninsula, near Pula. Together these islands house a safari park, pristine beaches, historic ruins, and even preserved dinosaur prints that are millions of years old!
Once an exclusive Austro-Hungarian beach resort that attracted wealthy travelers from around Europe, Brijuni later went on to become a part of Yugoslavia and the official summer residence of Yugoslav leader Tito.
After his death, the islands were designated as Brijuni National Park for public recreation. Tell-tale signs of the island’s history are found all over the national park.
Highlights include the Byzantine Castrum, the Basilica of St. Mary, The Boathouse, the Tito History Museum, the safari park, and the dinosaur park. In case you’re wondering how an animal park got there, the answer is that it houses descendants of exotic pets that once belonged to Tito.
2. Istria Wineries
One of Croatia’s best-kept secrets is its incredible wine production. Even though it produces over 18 million gallons of great wine per year, it’s a fairly well-kept secret outside of the country. However, it has some of the best wineries in Europe. Croatian wine is consumed domestically. On the contrary, in France, Portugal, and Spain, a large part of their production is exported and commercialized.
If you want to learn more about Croatian wine, and even enjoy wine tasting, head to Istria. Istria is a heart-shaped peninsula in northwest Croatia and home to many vineyards and wineries.
Its mild climate and fertile soil have made the Istria region an ideal place for wine production. Which also makes it a great spot for a wine-tasting tour.
Most of the wineries in the region are more than happy to open their doors to visitors, who can taste – and purchase – a great variety of whites, roses, and reds. Best of all, fine Croatian local wines are reasonably priced. Tastings usually run at about $100 kunas ($15 dollars), including snacks!
If you relish the idea of spending some quiet time relaxing by the sea, this is it! Trstenik is the best place for you to enjoy reading, resting, walking along the shore, and fishing.
This quaint fishing village offers the opportunity to get off the tourist trail for some seriously peaceful moments by the ocean. The tiny coastal town consists of a few red-roofed houses on a calm small bay with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.
Trstenik is located on the coast of Pelješac, 55 miles from Dubrovnik. It is a delightfully picturesque spot where you can escape the world for a short road trip. It’s easy to reach via the coastal route through Ston.
As with most Croatian beaches, the sand is rocky. So, your best bet is to take some beach shoes for walking and getting in the water.
If you want to stay overnight the tiny coastal town features only a few apartments and room rentals. There are also a couple of restaurants on the harbor where you can eat the freshest seafood while taking in the splendid ocean views.
Visiting Rastoke is like stepping into a fairy tale. This town on the outskirts of Slunj is about as pretty and picturesque as hidden gems in Croatia get.
Famous for its waterfalls that run over and under the town, Rastoke is located where the Korana and Slunjčica rivers converge. This is a mere 15 miles from the popular Plitvice Lakes National Park.
If you’re traveling from Zagreb to Plitvice, be sure to stop in Rastoke for a few hours, or a few days! It’s perfect for nature lovers as its natural beauty is mesmerizing and it is absolutely eye-candy for Insta content. Strangely enough, it is still relatively undiscovered by tourists, so you’ll be able to explore without running into crowds.
While there, you can also learn about the town’s history and the water mills that opened in the 1600s. If you’re into outdoor fun, Rastoke is the place to go! It offers white water rafting, horseback riding, and other adventures available in the surrounding area.
Only 15 miles from Split (a popular beach hotspot in Croatia), Omis seems worlds away, as it is still a somewhat undiscovered beach haven. Omis is the ideal destination if you’re looking for a relaxing Croatian beach getaway without the huge crowds. Despite its proximity to a major tourist destination, Omis remains one of the nicest hidden gems in Croatia.
Omis sits by the mouth of the Cetina River nestled between the Adriatic Sea and the Cetina Canyon. Best of all, it has one of the relatively few soft sandy beaches in the country! Add the picturesque Old Town Center and the historic Stari Grad Fortress, and you have a superb spot with something to offer to every type of traveler.
Learn about the history of the place by climbing to the rooftop of the Stari Grad Fortress. Here you’ll experience mind-blowing views of the town’s Cetina River Canyon, and the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic.
Head to Cetina Canyon for exciting hiking, water rafting, and the best zip-lining adventures in Europe. Or simply spend the entire day relaxing by the Mediterranean. Omis is one of the best places to enjoy some truly beautiful scenery.
If a seaside holiday spiced up with history, Roman ruins, and acclaimed gastronomy sounds like your jam, Pula just might be the perfect place for you.
Istria sits on the coast, just south of Slovenia, and it’s main city is Pula. It is also dubbed the “Tuscany of Croatia”. This former Roman port filled with striking natural beauty has managed to preserve its small-town charm in spite of being one of Croatia’s biggest shipping ports.
A day in Pula offers the opportunity to get a glimpse of Croatia’s past as part of the Roman Empire. It’s also an opportunity to learn about its rich cultural heritage.
A stroll through town will take you to several ancient ruins, including a well-preserved Roman amphitheater in the city center.
Sibenik is another historic town on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. The city boasts four imposing fortresses and is located a mere 31 miles from Split and 50 miles from Zadar.
The fortresses, charming cobblestoned streets, and rustic stone buildings give the town a unique look. Some of its landmarks even make the UNESCO World Heritage Site List.
Sibenik is completely encircled by a stone wall. This, together with the stunning views, fortresses, and cathedral, caught the attention of the Game of Thrones producers. It became a filming location for the series after the producers fell in love with the landscape. In spite of its recent brush with fame, the town doesn’t feel crowded and is still deserving of a place as a hidden gem in Croatia.
Sibenik’s proximity to larger tourist destinations makes it a great option for a day outing. You can explore St. Nicholas, Barone, and St. Michael’s fortresses, as well as the stunning architecture of St. James’s Cathedral. It is also a gateway to wonderful nature spots like Plitvice Lakes and Krka National parks.
8. Palmizana- Pakleni Islands
The gorgeous Palmizana resort town on the Pakleni island group is a 10-minute boat ride from Hvar island. However, they are as different as night and day.
While Hvar is famous for its nightlife, Palmizana is best described as a calm oasis of secluded bays and pebbled beaches. It is where Professor Eugen Meneghello decided to establish himself and his beautiful botanical gardens in 1906.
This hidden gem in tiny Sveti Klement is a bohemian resort. It offers secluded beaches as well as great snorkeling and diving options. Likewise, learn about Meneghello’s plant discoveries in the lush gardens that are still run by his descendants.
Meneghello imported a great variety of exotic plants from all over the world for his nature park on the island. These include agaves, succulents, eucalyptuses, olives, tree-like opuntias, and a wide array of cacti and aromatic herbs. You’ll likely catch a whiff of rosemary while going to and fro!
As for dining and lodging options, there are several available, with the Meneghello Restaurant and guesthouse being the most famous ones. And yes, the professor’s family still runs them and can tell fascinating stories about him and the history of the place.
If you’re planning a trip to Croatia, these are some of the best hidden gems to include on your itinerary.
Book Your Flights – You can find discounted fares using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you want to keep an eye on discount fares, we suggest signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights, a daily newsletter with flight sales around the world.
If you travel frequently, consider investing in a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It’s nice to have a space where you can relax before your flight.
Book Your Accommodation
We regularly use Expedia.com and Hotels.com to find lodging when we travel. It’s a great way to compare vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.
If your family knows they want to stay in a vacation rental, we recommend looking at VRBO and Plum Guide.
Book Your Transportation
For rental car agencies, try Rentalcars.com. We tend to use Hertz simply for the quality of service. If you need airport transfers, we recommend Welcome Pickups.
When traveling in Europe, we use AutoEurope to make our bookings. They find the best rates and allow you to compare different car rental agencies. Europcar is another option.
Book Your Tours and Travel Photos
We regularly used companies like Viator and GetYourGuide to book tours when we travel. Both have great communication and a large variety of activities that work for all ages. Other companies to look at include Tours by Locals and Withlocals.
If you’re visiting a city with multiple attractions, be sure to check out a discount pass, such as CityPASS or Go City. Both are worthwhile investments.
Context Travel is another option and they offer more educational-based activities. The former teacher in me loves their tours. For unique, curated activities, check out Headout.
One of our favorite things to do annually is taking photos with Flytographer. They have photographers around the world and we’ve used them on four separate occasions. This is our favorite travel souvenir.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
With the state of travel these days, it’s important to have some type of travel insurance to cover any unforeseen accidents, illnesses, threats, or cancellations. We always travel with insurance and would recommend SquareMouth, Travelex, or Medjet as good options. And if you want to compare different insurance options, use Travel Insurance Master or World Nomads to find the best policy for your group.